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Dec 05 2011

Freudian slip?

Call me an optimist, but I can’t help suspecting that William Lane Craig secretly knows that his arguments for God are deficient, and is just not admitting it to himself. As evidence, let me cite this little slip up from Chapter 7 of On Guard.

First, we’re not in a position to say that it’s improbable that God lacks good reasons for permitting the suffering in the world.

He’s trying to make the argument from ignorance, that humans have limited knowledge of time and space, and we don’t know all the circumstances, and yadda yadda, and therefore God might have a good reason for allowing suffering. But read it again: he’s not saying our human limitations prevent us from saying God is unlikely to have a good reason. He said we can’t call it improbable that God lacks a good reason. Or to cancel out the double negative, he actually wrote that we’re not in a position to say that God probably has a good reason for allowing suffering.

That’s the Christian argument he’s refuting. Christians try to deal with the problem of suffering by saying, “Oh well, God probably has a good reason for allowing this terrible thing to happen.” Craig is saying that we (i.e. Christians) are not in a position to make that claim, and the rest of his argument explains why. He means it as a refutation of atheistic arguments, but it’s just as valid against the standard Christian apologetic as well.

Sure, it’s a goof, and it might even be an editorial error rather than coming from Craig himself. But it is amusing, especially since it works so well against a common Christian rationalization.

8 comments

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  1. 1
    Kevin, 友好火猫 (Friendly Fire Cat)

    God works in mysteeeeeerious ways!!

  2. 2
    Stewart

    God threw a wrench into the typesetter because it makes him mad that people’s belief in him should depend on apologists.

  3. 3
    Stewart

    An inspirational post again (see the latest on Facebook’s “Gnu Atheism”).

  4. 4
    docsarvis

    First, I want to thank you for taking the time to read WLC’s dreck and let us know what he’s saying. I hope your brain recovers fully after you finish the book.

    Second, that sentence is a perfect example of why our grade school teachers kept telling us to not use double negatives. I have a nit to pick with your interpretation of canceling the double negative. If we take the negatives out of the sentence we have:

    First, we’re in a position to say that it’s probable that God lacks good reasons for permitting the suffering in the world.

    Craig is saying god probably has no good reasons for permitting suffering. I have to admit Craig’s writing is so poor it is often difficult to extract his meaning. I suspect his thinking process is just as convoluted and self-contradictory as his writing.

  5. 5
    mikespeir

    No, I can’t say that I know for dead certain that some god, if there is one, couldn’t possibly have a good reason to allow suffering. But until I find out what that reason might be I can think of all kinds of good reasons why he shouldn’t.

  6. 6
    jacobfromlost

    It seems to me the only way Craig could make this argument is if he thinks it is possible that there are certain rules to the “reasons” for suffering that god himself cannot override–rules to existence, as it were, that god operates inside of with humans.

    If god DOES have a good reason for suffering, then **he’s the one who made up the reason in the first place**…

    …which to me, makes it intrinsically a bad reason.

    It’s as if I were to play a game of chess with someone where I make up all the rules, and one of the rules I make up is that I have to shoot my opponent for losing the game, and the rest of the rules I make up ensure that I can’t lose (and that my opponent MUST play no matter what). If I shrug and say, “Well, I have to shoot you in the head now because those are the rules,” is THAT a good reason?

    Craig seems to suggest it is a good reason, but says it in such a convoluted way as to make it seem god has no power over anything, while simultaneoulsy having power over everything.

  7. 7
    Alethea Kuiper-Belt

    Nice analogy, jacobfromlost. It’s one that I remember thinking of when I was a child reading the Narnia books. There’s this sequence where Aslan explains that a death is required, because those are the rules of the universe (the world’s “deep magic” made by the Yahweh, aka “the emperor beyond the sea”). Susan asks if the rules can’t be changed, and Aslan just glares at her, and nobody asks that ever again.

    Even as an 8 year old, I found that to be extremely unconvincing, so when the religious allegory dawned on me a little later, I was already unconvinced. I love how Greta Christina calls this the argument from “Shut up, that’s why!”

    1. 7.1
      jacobfromlost

      Alethea: Susan asks if the rules can’t be changed, and Aslan just glares at her, and nobody asks that ever again.

      Me: This might be good enough story logic for the cosmology of a story, but if you want a model of reality that makes sense in the face of mountains and mountains of evidence of needless suffering around us…it just doesn’t jibe–at least not with an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent, yada yada yada god.

      When you get to the rock bottom basis for any story, it is going to be abstract/ metaphorical/ symbolic/ mythological, not literal. C.S. Lewis got around this by saying that the bible story was powerful because it used archetypes used in lots of other myths, but the bible myths (he claimed) were TRUE. If you claim that, then you are claiming the story logic must correspond to reality if not in a one to one correspondence, AT LEAST corresponding to the CORE of the story (Jesus’s divinity, resurrection, etc). But that is exactly the place where we ask, “Why did god have to go through all that for a loophole to a rule he created?”

      Ironically, I think that’s why a lot of people hated the ending to “Lost” (of my namesake). From episode one, I always took the show as a modern myth that COULDN’T have a one to one correspondence to reality (there are no magic smoke monsters, magic islands, magic coincidences, etc–these are all elements of MYTHS). Some people, however, seemed to expect the very core of the Lost mythos to in some way be demonstrably/ scientifically/ rationally real…while simultaneously being mindblowingly magical by answering all the mythological (qualitative) questions in scientific (quantitative) ways. That would have been a mindblowing ending, but it was also impossible. Of course, if we wanted to make a religion out of it, we could just take what happened as literally real and blow our own minds…apparently the same way C.S. Lewis did with the Jesus myth.

      It’s mindblowing enough knowing that the people in the story are like us, who go on journey’s like us, who have emotions like us, confusions like us, dilemma’s like us, flaws like us, struggles like us, and crippling loss like us. Those are the real toads in the imaginary gardens, and if you think you still need more…that’s when people either reject the story as a story, or say it is literally real. Doing either, I think, misses the point of myth.

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