About Me

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Australian philosopher, literary critic, legal scholar, and professional writer. Based in Newcastle, NSW. My latest books are THE TYRANNY OF OPINION: CONFORMITY AND THE FUTURE OF LIBERALISM (2019); AT THE DAWN OF A GREAT TRANSITION: THE QUESTION OF RADICAL ENHANCEMENT (2021); and HOW WE BECAME POST-LIBERAL: THE RISE AND FALL OF TOLERATION (2024).

Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Problem of Evil - event at Uni. Melb.

This coming Tuesday, 15 September, I will be one of four speakers at a session to take place at the University of Melbourne on the Problem of Evil - the difficulty of reconciling the existence of evil in the world (or perhaps the kind of evil, with its actual extent and intensity, origin, effects, etc.) with the supposed existence of the orthodox Abrahamic God, a being that is said to be all-good (in a sense that has something to do with lovingness or benevolence), providential, all-powerful, all-knowing, etc. Such a being would appear to have every reason to wish to prevent or eliminate evil, as well as having the power to do so. So, whence the evil? Obviously lots of theologians and philosophers of religion have attempted to provide answers over the years.

It will be held at 1:00pm - 2:00pm in the Copland Theatre, Economics & Commerce, on the main University of Melbourne campus. For those who want more, there's an informal follow-up session afterwards in Union House with some light refreshments + QNA, until 3:00pm.

The other participants are Rev. Dr Peter Adam (Principal of Ridley Theological College), Barney Zwartz (Religion Editor for The Age), and Lyn Allison (a high-profile former Senator for the Australian Democrats). The MC is Catherine McDonald, the co-founder & convener of Melbourne’s Philosophy Cafe. The event is hosted by the University of Melbourne Secular Society.

Do come along if interested. This is intended to be a cozy discussion rather than a debate, and - who knows? - the two theologians may even agree with the two ungodly types (Lyn Allison and myself) that the Problem of Evil is a real difficulty for traditional theists. A lot of theologians seem to think that these days, though they may also have different views as to what the main line of tradition is. Perhaps we'll see some Karen Armstrong style insistence that no one really believes (or should believe) in that sort of God anyway. Then again, maybe we'll get some spirited attempts to justify the ways of God to Man. And maybe Lyn Allison will have surprising views - I don't know exactly what position she takes on this topic.

However it plays out, the event is certain to be illuminating ... and with any luck, entertaining.


Brian said...

Barney Zwartz? I'd stay away from that guy for the same reason it's pointless debating creationists. Mendacity is his middle name, at least when it comes to reporting the views of Richard Dawkins and other new atheists. Anyway, that's just my opinion. :)

Have you read Stephen Law's version that the problem of evil is just as easily proof of an evil god that allows some good so that greater evil can occur?

Frankus said...

Now I wish I really did have those super powers I just said I wished for on Facebook. I would use my power of flight and super speed to be there. Sadly, I am and will be on the other side of the world.

I think one must abandon human reason to believe in an omniscient and omnibenevolent god. The traditional attempts to square god and evil fall outside of what one would expect from a reasonable and good god, as far as we understand 'reason' and 'good'. Theists tend to say that 'God's ways are not man's ways', or 'what we think is evil may not really be bad but necessary for a greater good'.

My two responses are:

1) We can only know and understand as we do; without access to the (non-existent) supernatural. Things need to make sense to me. Evil and a good God do not make sense without appeal to a supernatural or unfathomable understanding.

2) Even if it were the case that evil exists for some greater good or it is a necessity for God's plan for us, I reject the god that creates this necessity. I don't think 'the ends justify the means' is justified with regard to the evil in this world. God is a pretty shitty god if he exists at all. I glad he does not.

Russell Blackford said...

Brian, I have not only read a version of it - I've edited a version of it. He talks about this in his essay in 50 Voices of Disbelief. (How did you guess I was going to say that?)


Brian said...

When is the auspicious day that we'll be able to buy said tome?

Russell Blackford said...

You can pre-order it from Amazon or Amazon UK right now. Probably better than waiting until it gets good distribution in Australian bookshops (hopefully it will, but it might take awhile). Or go here to order from the publisher:

Anonymous said...

Perhaps the goal is not the most perfect world but the most free. As such we stand delicately balanced between chaos (where freedom becomes meaningless) and perfection (where freedom is not possible).

When contemplating why evil exists in a world made by a benign deity, it helps to remember that God is not a behaviorist.

Evil comes in two flavors, physical evil (hurricanes, plagues, earthquakes, disease, old age, etc.) and moral evil (murder, theft, abuse, hatred, etc.). The first deals with the fact that the universe is often a painful and unjust place where the innocent suffer. The second deals with the evil committed by less than perfect humans on their fellows.

Moral evil is relatively easy to answer: God gave us free will to chose either good or evil. God did not wish to create a race of mindless, puppet automatons lacking the ability to chose. For all the evil done by man throughout history, our current situation is preferable to being a mindless slave. Those who would prefer otherwise in effect want to be slaves.

Furthermore, love isn't love unless it is freely given. For God to force us either by design or will to love Him always would result in the making love meaningless. God is not a rapist. As the Good Book says, "God is Love". The ability to chose evil (and all the resultant pain and suffering caused by men) was given to us for the sake of love. Do we pay too high a price for love? I honestly don't know. But the other alternative (quoting thought policeman O'brien in "1984") would be "God is Power". He could stop the gulags, concentration camps, etc. only by making the whole universe itself a concentration camp — with Himself as commandant.

God chose love instead of power, because a perfect world was to horrible to contemplate.


Anonymous said...

Physical evil is a bit trickier to address. Why do good and innocent people suffer? Why is suffering even possible? To make pain and suffering impossible, the universe would have to be perfect — and frozen in its own perfection. Since any change would mar its inherent perfection, such a universe would be a dead place where change and growth. Perfection = completion = death. It would be a dead place devoid of life. If moral evil is the price we pay for freedom and love, than physical evil is the price we pay for life.

One response to the existence of physical evil might be that the intensity of the evil is relative and our response to it dependent on what we are conditioned to accept. We can imagine a world with fiercer hurricanes devastating whole continents or a world with nothing more intense than light breezes. The inhabitants of the second world (not knowing anything worse) might complain about the breezes and wonder why a benign God allows them to exist.

There are also an infinite number of potential universes that contain more opportunities for 'physical evil'. Universes, perhaps, where tsunamis are as common as thunderstorms. Or conversely, in a less violent universe, the inhabitants might wonder why a kind and loving God allows paper cuts to occur.

To sum up, perfection is an absolute state. The slightest movement, even of a single atom, would mar that perfection. Such a universe wold be frozen and lifeless. By definition, a perfect universe cannot change, therefore change is never desireable for a perfect universe.

There is a story that God created a perfect universe before He made our own. Not liking the results — a place of eternal death — he cast it aside and began work on the deliberately imperfect universe we live in. The first universe still exists. It's called Hell.

But why do the innocent suffer and why do evil people prosper? Well this brings us back to free will. Even if the potential for free will existed, it wouldn't mean much if the universe had a built-in system of rewards and punishments designed to coerce behavior. So does anyone wish that God was a Tyrant, using the physical universe as a system of rewards and punishments, and humanity reduced to the level of pigeons inside of a BF Skinner box?

And so we have a world where innocent children die or are born handicapped, people through no fault of their own suffer the pains of living, and evil people often live happy lives of material contentment. But it beats the alternative. As I said at the start, God is not a behaviorist.

One of the many things I find baffling about Atheists is their claim to be "free" of control and superstition, unlike us poor sheep-like believers. You claim to desire freedom from control and freedom of thought above all else. Yet here God has set your mind free to chose and the universe free to be alive, without safety or security or guarantee. Neither the mind enslaved nor the universe frozen.

And yet you're not happy.

If God is not a behaviorist, the Devil most certainly is. This is apparent from the opening scene in Job where Satan bets God that Job is only good because he has been physically and materially rewarded. And that's the whole point of the story, whether we should be good no matter what or be good only if things are well. God's answer is as obvious as it is harsh. For those who would wish that God was a behaviorist, coercing them and making slaves of them, God has this to say, "Gird your loins like a man."

A perfect universe would be a place of perpetual slavery and eternal death. An imperfect universe with its pain and suffering is far more preferable. So stop your friggin whining. A free universe full of life is no place for pussies.

J. J. Ramsey said...

Anonymous: "One of the many things I find baffling about Atheists is their claim to be 'free' of control and superstition, unlike us poor sheep-like believers."

Atheists don't necessarily think that believers are sheep. That believers are incorrect, yes, but there is a huge difference between being incorrect and being stupid.

"You claim to desire freedom from control and freedom of thought above all else. Yet here God has set your mind free ..."

We don't see very good evidence for God's existence, let alone for him setting anyone's mind free. Mind you, I don't put that much stock in arguments from evil, since I find premise A3 in Theodore Drange's formulation of the argument from evil tough to defend conclusively. (Drange isn't as bothered by premise A3 as I am, but we do agree that it is the argument from evil's weak point.) However, if we are going to bother with God-talk at all, shouldn't there be better evidence of God than assorted conflicting ancient stories and tales from friends of friends?

The Moiety said...

"A perfect universe would be a place of perpetual slavery and eternal death."

- Anonymous

Isn't Heaven supposed to be a Perfect Universe?

And BTW, I have yet to see any apologetic defense of Evil that doesn't wind up as incoherent a mish-mash of assertion and non sequitor as you have provided us. It's the nature of the beast.

It's always a Gish gallup of nonsense until blood trickles from the ears, or a version of the Mysterious Ways of God. Considering that the Church has has two millenia to come up with something better...

MosesZD said...


Morality, without religion, is a fact. It is, apparently, an inherent property of societies, regardless of their cultural differences (which include religion and god-concepts).

It's time, I think, for your side to get over it. Science has pushed your God right off the top of the mountain into, well, nothingness.

Anonymous said...

We don't see very good evidence for God's existence,

Why not?

Russell Blackford said...

The question is "Why?" or "What evidence?" There is no such evidence.

Janet's Dad said...

Russell: Nice job today with some very clownish and counter parties who went merely for seeming like charming wise characters rather than having any coherent arguments. They simply refused to engage with your "this is not a straw man" problem - argument, and stayed deep in the hay.

This is the book I read recently that I wanted to recommend to you, by the bishop of Edinburgh, Richard Halloway,

"Review of Godless Morality"

If you could replay debate, it might have been interesting to challenge Barry on his whole, "I'm doing what god wants me to do" schtick - which he says is what "real" Christianity is all about.

Ask not what god can do for you, but what you can do for god simply sounds like a recipe for evil.

No one called him on that. Claiming to have some insight into the mind of god, as guidance for right and wrong - has always enabled great evil ... the deists, as you pointed out, were honest with what that implied, revelation was out. Knowledge was in.

Halloway makes this same argument for ethics ... and Robert Wright offers it as well ... isn't it enough to simply get them to admit that this argument isn't a Christian one?

Janet's Dad said...

In other words Russell wouldn't it be better in these debates to keep away from the "I'm an Athiest" "i'm a believer" kind of back and forth and make them OWN their own friggin book.

Once they reach for the deist way out, you've one. These are the same arguments that saw monarchs out the door - I don't see why they aren't still valid.

Christianity has teachings, why is it so falling off a log simple for them to walk away from those teachings into some "infinite" and "unknowable" entity who's will we can't understand. That isn't what the bible says. It says God has opinions - you should not have had to make this case - the bible makes the case.

Janet's Dad said...

er, I mean, you've won.

Brian said...

Scott, how was Barney Zwartz? I've found him to be dishonest. At first I thought he was just ignorant, but after having seen him agree with arguments that show bits of theology or apologetics false or untenable, he later repeats them in his articles as if they were certain. He does the same sort of thing with the new atheists.

I wonder if Russell will put up a summary.

Russell Blackford said...

Most of it will actually be online as a video, sooner or later, over at the University of Melbourne Secular Society's site. The bit that won't be was the Question and Answer session with the audience after the first hour (this was in another room and involved access to muffins and light refreshments).

As we were specifically told it was not to be regarded as a debate, and the main aim was to explain positions rather than form teams and score points. So, I, at least, will not talk about who "won" or "lost", and I'm not even the best person to put up a summary of what happened.

Let's just say that (1) it was an interesting and enjoyable experience, and (2) that I feel pretty good about how it went. ;)

I was feeling a bit under the weather (still suffering from recently flying back from Atlanta in one day, while not entirely well). Hopefully, that won't be too obvious on the video; it certainly didn't stop me from enjoying the whole thing.

Janet's Dad said...

that is charitable Russell, but since the non debate was about the problem of evil, and the Christian's basically said, "what problem of evil" ... and you were left trying to assert that there was indeed a deep and intractible and real problem for people who believe as most christians do, (theodicy), and further that this has never been properly answered, and secondly that if we are honest about the problem, we should "quit" being Christian, I'd say that the tape will show, you (we) got sandbagged. Barry and the priest got to say basically "you atheists just don't get it" and we got to say, but "why did god do it this way", and they just say, "it is not for us to ask why".

You didn't seem tired a bit.

Janet's Dad said...

Russell you got suckered. You went there to discuss the problem of evil. The Christians simply mocked the idea that there was a problem of evil. You opened with a forthright and fair discussion of "the problem" which they then proceeded to say you were mischaracterizing or "presuming" to understand ... the priest simply mocked you, and he used HL Menken as a foil to do it - saying that you simplified things and were "wrong" ...

I think Hitchens and Paine before him, were right, they go right for the heart of the matter, they call these teachings wicked - you, being civil and charitable and honest simply get sandbagged.

Paine argues that the bible perverts Justice by treating morality as a "pecuniary" matter - this is the kind of charge that sticks -

It was infuriating, you going into a discussion of "the problem" of evil, and them simply saying, "you don't accurately represent my views".

I don't fault you for this, but in hindsight, charity and civility were wasted on these men who simply expect your deference and do nothing to earn it.

Russell Blackford said...

Well, maybe. I predicted what they'd say in my opening, so nothing they said surprised me or should have surprised the audience.

But anyway, I'm really not going to get involved in a discussion of who "won" or whether it makes sense to talk about "winners" under the circumstances.

Janet's Dad said...

Yeah, here is the summary:

Russell opens: lays out an articulate, honest and full account of theodicy, speaks what amounts to a perfectly cogent essay with proper punctuation and everything. Has just flow in from Atlanta ... where Jesus is Lord. Seems glad to be back in a godless nation.

Barry Z: who are we to know the ways of god? God is not here for us, we are here for god. Most christian's don't get this. I used to be an Athiest, and I was lost like you are.

Rev. Pete: HL Menken, said, most problems have a simple solution that is wrong. Russell is Wrong. Did I mention that I'm charming and have that gift that all Irish priest have, mind if I have some time alone with your son?

Lynn Allison: Bush is Evil, but says that he takes direction from God, does anyone here besides me think this is nuts? Why can't people choose to die the way they want instead of the way God wants. Let me tell you how painful and slow a godly death can be.

Parrhesia said...

I was there today too, and I too had a great time and left feeling optimistic and inspired (I think I managed to hold my stridency in check although I may have been a little shrill).

I definitely don't think Barney's Warts is dishonest: I think he is 100% genuine. He's obviously had a "revelatory" experience, and those experiences seem very real to people. I feel more sorry for him than anything else, it's as though a part of his brain has kind of shut down. It strikes me that thesim is almost a kind of traumatised response to the world, a "blocking out" of reality. But I do think Barney had a point about the consolation religion provides to many people. I would argue that overall religion creates much more harm than good, but it is worth thinking about that there are vulnerable and fragile people who cling to such consolation.

It was more the other theist (whose name eludes me right at this second but he did look a bit like Senator Palpatine!) that got my goat: he conflated Social Darwinism with Darwinism, and he continually missed the point about the inherent pain and suffering in nature. I also thought his oft-referred to point about people not wanting a "dictator" god was fairly stupid on a number of levels, mostly 1)as a parent, I think I would be morally culpable to not stop my children from hurting each other if I could; and 2) if we have been bequeathed free will by god, then we wouldn't want a dictator god because being dictated to would go against the nature of a being with free will - it's just a circular argument.

But it was a good time, and although I might disagree with the theists it was sporting of them to come and face the atheist rabble, and they were pretty good-natured about the whole thing really. So I agree with Russell: not a win-lose situation at all.

Janet's Dad said...

Barry Z to Lynn Allison:

yes, you have been vocal about how painful death can be, many people have found it helpful to distract themselves by thinking of god. Have you ever thought that Jesus is better than anesthetic, many people find great consolation in prayer when they don't have enough pain killers. Pain is redemptive, BTW did you know that Jesus died on the cross so that your sins may be taken away? This is the only thing that makes sense.

Janet's Dad said...

some random athiest:

why did god create Hantavirus?

Well fed Theist:

purses lips, feeling like this whole "being a good sport thing" was a mistake.

"I don't know".

Janet's Dad said...




Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) is a deadly disease transmitted by infected rodents through urine, droppings, or saliva. Humans can contract the disease when they breathe in aerosolized virus.


Who are we to ask why?

Janet's Dad said...

in my humble opinion Russell should have got up, said two words: "Bubonic Plague" and then sat down, instead he treated his interlocutors as peers instead of the opourtunistic pathogens they actually were.

"We do not need to lie down in the chalk outlines drawn for us on the sidewalk by our adversaries" - Sam Harris

Brian said...


As a way of explaining my opinion and unfortunately revealing more about my psychology than you'd like and derailing the topic somewhat. Here's a post I wrote a while back about a Barney Zwartz article and the dishonest treatment of Dawkins and atheists contained therein. The article was written after Zwartz had be shown that these were not the positions of Dawkins et al, so it is simple dishonesty. I won't claim my blog post is well written or whatever. In fact, a quick scan of it reminds me of how emotional I get when I think someone has lied or misreprented. I wish I had Russell's tolerance or Bertrand Russell's. :(

I used to debate Barney on his blog for a long time. At first I thought he was like Parrhesia described. I was very calm and polite too (hard to believe I know). But in the end I came to the conclusion he was a liar. I gave him plenty of opportunity to show me he wasn't a liar, but he never did. My blog post may show why I think he's a liar in some small way. Others may disagree, with my opinions, which is fine. But in my experience with people, I find that once youve identified someone as being dishonest, you don't need to be too humean about that induction. ;)

Anyway, back on topic, it seems its not only on the internet, but in real life, that religious types use the prestige of people like Russell to act like they've their position is intellectually worthy.

Russell Blackford said...

Parrhesia, were you one of the people who asked questions in the second hour? I was very impressed by the quality of the questions, including the ones from the Christian Union people who turned up and wanted to give me a hard time about free will and the source of morality. The students were all smart.

(Barney Zwartz and Peter Adam copped a harder time, of course, since most of the audience was, I assume, Secular Society people.)

Brian, I'm afraid that I actually liked Barney and Peter (and Lynn if it comes to that). No one said anything that I found surprising or that made me feel the least bit uncomfortable or on the spot. Barney's view that "no one believes in that God anymore" is plainly silly, but I knew it was what he'd say. The free will defence is hopeless for many reasons, mainly because it is an incoherent idea, but not least because, even if we had some kind of spooky free will that lets God off the hook for our heinous acts, it would have nothing to do with the many millions of years of suffering in the animal world before we even came on the scene. Besides, neither Barney nor Peter really pressed it. One student pressed it with me in private discussion, after asking me a question about it in the QNA, but he was the only one.

Debating, or non-debating, a good old-fashioned (but smart) fundamentalist would have been harder. But then, there's a huge question mark about whether we should appear with such people.

Andrew said...

Thanks for your kind words about the CU crowd, Russell. And thankyou for your presentation, which was lucid and good-natured. I was one of the people who was trying to push you on free-will. As always, (do atheists find this too?) I only saw the right way to express the problem afterwards.

If you don't mind indulging me one more time ;-) can I put it you that you might be working with a slight caricature of the Christian free-will position?
What I mean is, you seem to be using determinism (or rather compatibilism) to sheet all the blame for human moral evil to God as the only moral agent.
But the standard Christian anthropology is not compatibilistic but rather dualistic. We would say that God is volitionally a se (which you seem to allow) and people are too - at least in some sense.

Perhaps to be fair on the theistic free-will argument you should deal with it at full strength where humans have genuine moral agency too rather than presenting a response to the less common God plus determinism.

Russell Blackford said...

Andrew, I'm not sure that there is "the" standard Christian position on free will. There are deterministic positions and there are other positions. The question for me (relevant to what you say) is simply whether positions that try to get God off the hook for all the world's suffering (past, present, and future) by blaming it on human (and/or Satanic) free will are plausible. I don't think they are plausible or even coherent.

However, a blog comment is not the place to argue that fully. I said something about why I think that, when you raised the point with me yesterday, and I discuss ideas of free will and autonomy in a quite different context in my PhD thesis. I'll doubtless discuss it at length elsewhere on future occasions. So, for the purpose of your comment, I'll just restate that I consider this solution - incompatibilist free will - to be one of the highly implausible solutions to the Problem of Evil.

As for being kind about the Christian Union folk ... if anything, I'm biased towards being kind about such people. At least they care about the issues, and they are usually kind and thoughtful. I was once the Vice-President of the equivalent body on my university campus, and would probably have become President the following year - and who knows where that would have led? lol - if I hadn't taken what, for me, was the intellectually honest decision that I could no longer believe in God or the truth of the Christian doctrines in general. The fact that I came to that conclusion didn't suddenly make other people in the Evangelical Union bad people.

Anyway, I was pleased that the Christian Union folks I dealt with yesterday seemed bright and that the whole thing was very civil.

All I say to them, if any others are reading, is that they should ask themselves whether they really have good reasons to believe what they do and whether they can really, in all intellectual honesty, defend the traditional concept of God. Obviously nothing Barney Zwartz said could be very helpful to you.

I had my say yesterday and don't have the time or energy for a long debate about it on a blog thread. It's really up to you and the others to work out what you think, and this is a good time in your lives to do it.

I should also reassure you that you don't need to be a Christian, or religious in any way, to be a kind person or to lead a meaningful life. Of course, I realise that there may be more at stake than that, depending on your theological position about what happens after death, etc.

Best wishes to you and your friends. Thanks for coming along.

Parrhesia said...

Yes, I did ask questions (loud girl with hair dyed vivid red) but I'm probably not as young as most of the students there. I wish I had have been as sharply engaged at their age as they are, but I was turned off schooling at a young age due to bullying and frittered most of my 20s away on sweet nothings . . . so now that my brain is switched back on, I've taken to philosophy with a vengeance. :-)

Russell Blackford said...

What question(s) did you ask, Parrhesia? From my end of the room, it was hard to keep tabs of who said what among the audience members. Anyway, I'm glad you came. If there's ever a next time, don't be shy. Please come up introduce yourself.

Parrhesia said...

My question was to Peter Adam. I was annoyed that he just wasn't getting the point about the inherent pain and suffering in nature, and think I went a bit OTT grilling him about it. I ranted about billions of species being extinct over billions of years, and Tyrannosaurus Rex eating Diplodocus, and how animals have nervous systems to feel pain, and the fact that if god existed he had made it this way on purpose. I wanted to know why he thought god would do that when he didn't have to, and I told him I didn't want to hear that we can't "know" god infinitely therefore we can't say anything at all, I just wanted to know what HE, Peter Adam, thought the reason might be. I was frustrated with his lack of ability to answer, but then I realised afterward his lack of ability to answer actually made my case. I did have a better question planned, but at that point in the discussion I had become so annoyed with him not getting it I felt compelled to speak up.

I also made the comment about Lyn not seeming angry, or strident for that matter, and it was good to get a laugh, especially from you because I really admire your thinking. I did want to come and say "hi" afterward, but I got caught up in a conversation with a nice young girl whose mind was addled by Foucault. I look forward to the next time we meet. :-)

Parrhesia said...

Brian, I know this might be too late in the conversation and you might not read it, but do you think your frustration with Barney could be a result of the Dunning-Kruger effect?


Russell Blackford said...

Ah, yeah ... I loved that exchange about the Tyrannosaurus, etc. And the one about "strident".

We'll talk next time!

Brian said...

Brian, I'm afraid that I actually liked Barney and Peter (and Lynn if it comes to that).

Understood. I have no doubt he's polite and charming. My problem is I believe he's lied about Dawkins and others positions to make him seem wiser and his arguments seem so commonsensical that no body could support such a strident, militant, bomb-planting fundamentalist atheist as Dawkins and by association people like me. He's probably a Hans Lander type. (Apologies for Godwinning the thread in a Tarantino kind of way.) That being the case, then until he recants, he's persona non-grata in my book. In anycase I'm only speaking for myself, obviously.


Dunning-Kruger effect. I sincerly believe that a tutor in my short lived post. grad. diploma of philosophy at Monash suffered from that. He denied a lot of physics, maths and didn't even seem to know what empiricism was vis a vis rationalism and annoyed me enough with his haughty style that I couldn't be bothered continuing. He probably, indeed declared, that I was ignorant of such things. So, while I try to admit ignorance regarding topics I don't understand, I probably have am as arrogant as I am ignorant. I know of a few people that'll support that conclusion :)

Brian said...

Russell, Zwartz used the discussion for a blog article. As any person would.


I read a few paras and stopped. I know his spiel.

Janet's Dad said...

see what I mean, that was that, just pious christian shoulder shrugging.

then in the comments, "oh the evil of Aushwitz" ... it is like we are living in this cartoon of history where pogroms were invented by post enligthenment german philosophers.

It's like Luther didn't read the bible, and come to his antisemitic theology by paying the kind of close attention that barry wishes more christians were gifted with as he is.

It is like by his "I serve god" pivot, he isn't making his case WORSE ... one can only look at Barry and see in actual fact a kind of medieval character, touching the pyre, and saying the suffering you are about to feel is redemptive.

Barry a little yellow star to wear ... for the good ol' days when evil athiests selected a whole group of people by religion for extinction. Hint Barry, Poland ... very Catholic.

Brian said...

Scott, who is this Barry of whom you speak? ;)

Janet's Dad said...

Bwian, I mwent Barney, not Bwarry

here is my post on his blog: lets see if he prints it ...

@ Ralph God because God teaches and inspires only to good.

After Auschwitz?

The father of protestant Christianity, the man who said "by faith alone" ... wrote the blue print for the holocaust in the 1500's ... the poles and the Germans didn't just think this crap up because of "evil" ... they had extensive theological support for their views.

My God, you act like the Holocaust wasn't in fact a religious, faith based, faith justified act?

Martin Luther himself, finds ample justification in the Gospels for his distinctly NOT GOOD prescription for how to deal with the Jews ... are you guy really going to insist that this was "evil" and not, what it obviously was, an extension of the longest running program in Christendom?

Seems more to me that Auschwitz was just what God, and his most important scholars had been pointing to for 500 years.

Brian said...

Scott, if my past experience is correct. It will be posted, and ignored by Bawwy. After all, he benignly sits above such stuff. Some dweebs will sputter against you. But he'll repeat his arguments as if they were as pristine as the mountain snow....

Careful. You're sounding almost as much of a crank as me. ;)

Andrew said...

Yes, but Just remember guys.
Pete can't help it.
Barney can't help it.
Adolf couldn't help it.
And I can't help it.
There is no free will.

Brian said...

Scott, did anyone tie Evolutionary theory into Nazism or whatever.

Brian said...

Andrew, if that's the case, then the feelings I hold towards them are not my fault. Indeed, I can absolve myself of any responsibility.

Janet's Dad said...

no I think barney and pete are down with evolution, Rev pete did try to land "godlessness" and "german philosophy" and a general move away from the moral structure that religion provides as a the source of human evil.

The whole thing really sucked for Russell and Lynne, they just wanted to mug and shrug. They left Russell looking like he was trying to hard and tried to make out like he "just didn't get it" ... Russell came to engage and talk, they came to make faith look good and reasonable and honorable and moral.

In the cookie talk there was more of the kind of "how can you sit there and say that" kind of thing and Pete and Barney did a lot of cheek puffing and mugging for affection.

Evolution came up on the Atheist side, with our guys saying "why did god do it this way, huh?" ... which I think is a silly kind of question to ask so I don't know why we ask it.

Barney wanted to give lynne Jesus instead of mophine and Russell wanted to someone to admit that he wasn't just setting up a straw man with his Theodicy. Barney srugged and Rev Pete winked and said, Auschwitz is what you get from Atheism ... I wonder what they have to do to piss Russell off?

Russell Blackford said...

The German philosophy thing was in the discussion afterwards, IIRC. If so, it won't show on the video. But even if early-20th-century German militarism (I'm pretty sure it was WWI that was being talked about, not WWII and Nazism) had roots in Hegel, Nietzsche, etc., it is irrelevant to the problem of evil or even to the issue we were discussing at the time as to whether a specifically religious morality is a good thing. The point just seemed to be, "Yes, religion has made moral mistakes, but so have some philosophers." Well, I don't actually dispute that, and I doubt that anyone in the audience would have either. In fact, all philosophers doubtless have things to answer for. Then again, most of us have the good sense not to claim any divine inspiration.

But people who are debating, or even just chatting in good faith, will often bring up matters that are of dubious relevance. I don't think that Peter was even being sneaky, just making a point that seemed to him to be somewhere in the right ballpark, in order to defuse some of the criticism of religion that was coming at him pretty thick and fast (assuming this was at the point of the discussion where I remember it).

Brian said...

Scott, when you don't have an argument, act like the opposition is arguing against you because you are right. At least that's what I gather from Bawwy type theists......

Russell, again you prove how much you are a decent person. Shame on you! How can you be a strident, militant, theologically unsophisticated atheist and act so?

Janet's Dad said...

Russell, my recollection what that he said it in his taped comments, which he opened by sandbagging you with HL Menken. Not sneaky. He sandbagged you with Menken!!

The least you could have done what make them own Luther. I mean the guy goes on for tens of thousands of words on how it is right and godly and good to burn synagogues. And we have to hear how philosophy motivated all those uneducated (but pious peasants)to do pogrom after pogrom thought out the history of europe??

I want to persuade you Russell that we are having these conversations in no small part because guys like Harris, and then Dawkins and Hitchens, and the other strident neo atheists, had the courage to "take the gloves off" ... to argue that it is faith and belief in these systems of revelatory religions that are an engine of human conflict and suffering.

Now if you keep going on about how innocent and well meaning these clowns are, you are skating very close to the dreaded accommodation that the strident have been branding their fellow atheists who keep thinking they can keep their darwin-o-slokia if they give away the sudetenland

Russell Blackford said...

Why is that a silly question to ask, Scott? It's a very powerful question, and one that has left many Christians and other religious folk very troubled. It's at the heart of the whole problem of evil: why has God set things up so there is inevitably so much suffering, etc? It's a bit hard not asking that question when you are the atheist at a seminar on the problem of evil!

And good for the Christian speakers for coming across as earnest, nice, and thoughtful. I don't even have problems with their attempts to deflect the hard questions, rather than answering them directly. It was a predictable approach for them to take in the circumstances. I'm sure that plenty of people in the audience thought they were evasive, but that was the risk they chose. Others may have thought they were charming and likeable, and may not have been worried about the relative lack of direct engagement. But good for Barney and Peter if their approach had some success with some audience members. It's all good.

The aim wasn't for someone to be intellectually crushed or humiliated, just to have an interesting, and perhaps revealing, discussion. The audience saw what happened, and individuals could form their own conclusions about what it meant as to who had the more solid arguments.

Janet's Dad said...


lets do a rage exercise.

close your eyes imagine rev. pete adam, he looks just like buggs bunny.

You come in sputtering unfortunately you look like elmer fudd.

He says, "what's up doc?" What ya' huntin'?

You say, Wabbits.

Weally? Wabbits?

He says, Say, doc, you ever heard of HL Mencken?

Why of course I have. Mencken is a hunter just like me!

Nah, Doc, you got it all wrong. (bites carrot)

Menken says that every problem has a simple solution that is usually wrong. Ahahahaha, Get it, see, Mencken says you are wrong! Ahahahah. What a jamoke.

Rabbit pulls your hat down over your eyes and dives in his hole.

Really, that is what happened ... I admire you for being calm, but blast that wabbit! Mencken would have!

The priest, realistically considered, is the most immoral of men, for he is always willing to sacrifice every other sort of good to the one good of his arcanum -- the vague body of mysteries that he calls the truth.
-- H L Mencken, Treatise on the Gods (1949)

Russell Blackford said...

Scott, lighten up a little. At the time, you were happy with how it all went. You seem to have been brooding about this a lot since. And this has nothing to do with so-called accommodationism. Accommodationists, whom I have been criticising, are people who tell atheists to shut up and not make even civil and thoughtful criticisms of religion. It's most unlikely that I'd ever do that. It's also most likely that my criticisms of religion and of moderate believers will, indeed, continue to be civil and thoughtful.

Brian, I'll have a look at Barney's blog ... though not tonight. I guess I might post something more substantial about it myself if whatever he has there makes it seem necessary. I was actually trying to avoid doing that and just have a chat in the thread.

Andrew, the free will comment was a bit smartarse. I'd have expected better of you, given our interactions so far.

Goodnight, all. I was planning on an early night.

Janet's Dad said...

Russell, come on, i'm not brooding ... this is all supposed to be light hearted and fun - .

But seriously, seriously, I was not at all happy about the the Rev.

You know what Irish Diplomacy is?

The ability to tell a man to go to hell so that he looks forward to making the trip.

That is what Rev. Pete wanted out of this and he got it. Not only that he got the satisfaction of using HL Mencken to mock what Atheists have to say!

In the name of civility, we seldom have the nerve to say the kind of stuff that HL Mencken would say.

Seriously, Rev Pete is laughing his arse off that he sandbagged you with Mencken ... to his mind, it confirms that there is a god.

Janet's Dad said...

It is a silly question because if you want to ask why there is so much suffering in nature, you don't need to drag evolution and the whole idea that "god set up evolution" into the discussion.

Evolution is the answer to the question, "why is it this way", not the condition that we need an answer for.

They have to answer for anencephaly, river blindness, cyclonic winds, catastrophic brush fires, plate tectonics, meteors, malaria, smallpox, and the propensity of lightning to strike steeples ... none of which sully the unifying principle of biology by submitting it to the inscrutable ways of God.

It is a bad question because it at one validates the "evolution is gods algorithm" blather, and lets god off the hook for the much more obviously horrible stuff that the average joe commonly calls "acts of god" ...

In other words, you take a set of ideas that we hold up as a central argument against god's involvement in our lives, and ask "why is it this way", and leave all the events that everyone is accustomed crediting to God, the biblical tools of (plauges, famine, storms, fires, etc ... ) aside.

I mean if you are going to ask why god allows evil, Job is a much better place to make your stand than Darwin.

Just saying. All in good cheer, and support ...

Russell Blackford said...

Well, we disagree. I think evolution destroys many of the pre-scientific "answers", and I'll go on pointing this out in any debates or whatever. But we can agree to disagree.

I guess I now need to read Barney Zwartz's account of what happened, which may be hard to stomach. But it comes with the job.

Brian said...

Russell, I'm glad you're out there debating and fighting the good fight. You certainly don't strike me as a fatheist. Though I would like to see you open up a can of philosophical whoop arse on the Barney's of this world. :)

Janet's Dad said...

The God that Miller, and Wright suggest might have created evolution or moved particles around, was the God you were trying to argue was minted yesterday, and has very little to do with the god that Christians actually believe in.

That was the core argument that you wanted to convince the audience of in order to assert that there is a problem of evil for Christians a la Bart Erhman in "Gods Problem".

Barney simply got to assert that you had it wrong, and he got to speculate on why Auschwitz might deepen our appreciation for God with no one to remind him of the deep scriptural basis of the Holocaust, or the fact that pogroms have always been neighbor on neighbor violence, not the work of scholars in the thrall of obscure philosopher masterminds, but the work of average Christians in the care of average priest following the mainstream teachings of the Church.

In addition to the God that so moved Luther to reform the church and make a full time business out of Jew hating, Barney, got to walk right past the God in the bible who creates storms, props up kings, has opinions about shellfish, and the causes of storms, floods, plagues etc ...

Suggesting that you are even open to hearing how they account for evolution in their theology is simply doing too much for them.

You bring them current, right to your level, while they are dragging around a book written by goat herders in Palestine full of nonsense about witches, devils, satan, and this fully dualistic account of reality ... as if we should really wonder what the authors of this nonsense also might have to say about evolution. They have nothing to say about it because by their accounts you are an ensouled creatures in a drama of Good and Evil being watched by an all loving god.

I'm trying to persuade you that in the context of arguing that Christianity can't just walk away from the problem of Evil because it makes claims about who god is, what he wants and what he does, and in so doing it embraces one of the core attributes that we've learned is in fact an engine of human capacity for doing great harm to others - great faith - being committed to anything beyond appeals to reason.

As Bush famously said, if you don't fight them there, you have to fight them here ... why make it so easy for them to leave the confines of their self imposed revelations? Why give them such an easy, "get out of the iron age free" pass, and invite them to have a go at telling us how god works though evolution?

Again, we agree on the implications of evolution, what I don't see is why we can't agree that allowing Barney and Rev Adam the luxury of telling us how a good god moves molecules and planned evolution for our arrival within his creation is good debating tactic in this context.

I hope I haven't chased this too far down the rabbit hole for your endurance and patience - and I offer these thoughts in humor, good will and a spirit of regard and admiration.