Argumentum ad Malum

Suffering

“It’s not that I don’t accept God, you must understand,” said Ivan Karamazov, one of Fyodor Dostoevsky novel’s characters in The Brothers Karamazov, to his younger brother, Alyosha,  “it’s the world created by Him I don’t and cannot accept.”(Dostoevsky 2007, 257) The world created by God is overflowing with horrifying and repugnant evils. Ivan vividly captured some of the moral evil committed by the Turks and Circassians in Bulgaria:

They burn villages, murder, outrage women and children, they nail their prisoners by the ears to the fences, leave them so till morning, and in the morning they hang them — all sorts of things you can’t imagine. People talk sometimes of bestial cruelty, but that’s a great injustice and insult to the beasts; a beast can never be so cruel as a man, so artistically cruel. The tiger only tears and gnaws, that’s all he can do. He would never think of nailing people by the ears, even if he were able to do it. These Turks took a pleasure in torturing children, too; cutting the unborn child from the mothers womb, and tossing babies up in the air and catching them on the points of their bayonets before their mothers’ eyes. Doing it before the mothers’ eyes was what gave zest to the amusement. (2007, 260)

Evils such as these are morally abhorrent. It is painful to imagine that humans are capable of inflicting such inhumane deeds that are far worse than those of  mindless beasts. Arising in any morally sane person is  intuitive repulsive attitude towards such evils.

From such revulsion, atheists have argued that the existence of such evils is the problem for theists. Atheists have looked into the problem of evil’s abyss for far too long. Our intuitive revulsion toward such evils is the abyss looking back at them.  The queerness of our intuitive revulsion of such  evils from a naturalistic perspective is a problem for atheists.

In a naturalistic worldview, our intuitive revulsion toward such evils is nothing but social instincts acquired to aid the survivability of our species. The deeds Ivan mentioned, for example, are neither good nor evil because our species could have acquired different instincts to which such deeds were not intuitively repulsive (Darwin 1877, 99-100).

Repulsive Ivan’s Turks artistically deeds may sound, Richard Dawkins rightly argued from a naturalistic perspective that,

“nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous—indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.”(Dawkins 1995: 112)

Nature just is. “[Y]ou won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice” Dawkins correctly explained, since there is “at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”(149) We are intuitively revolted by such acts because it is of biological worth. Our intuitive revulsion to such evils, in naturalistic worldview, is illusory.

Darwin, Charles (1877) The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, Part One (Second edition 1989, revised and augmented ed) New York: New York University Press.

Dawkins, Richard (1995). River Out of Eden: A Darwin View of Life. Weidenfeld & Nicolson
The Orion Publishing Group

Dostoevsky, Fyodor (2007) The Karamazov Brothers. Wordsworth Editions Ltd. (First published in 1880)

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29 thoughts on “Argumentum ad Malum

  1. Pingback: Because many atheists claim that there is no such thing as objective morals, does it follow that morals are illusory? « Enquiries on Atheism

  2. Typically, I don’t care for what Dawkins says, but in this case I agree with what is quoted, that nature simply is. Are you saying, Prayson, that there is no difference between humans nailing ears to fences, and tigers tearing the entrails from prey? I find there is enormous difference. I can’t find that this argument holds any support for, or argument against, the existence of a higher being. I think humans have incredibly advanced minds and thus have the capacity for great evil as well as great good. Most animals have only the capacity to do what is required to survive and propagate. But how does this relate to a supreme being?

    • It is an honor to respond to your questions Crystal.

      Dawkins, echoing Darwin, captured the truth of a worldview without God. What we call evil, the things Ivan mentioned for example, are at the bottom meaningless. They are not good nor evil from a naturalistic perspective. I argued that our response, our intuition, appear to be a queer then because even though we are told that our revulsion is illusory(Ruse Crick, and Wilson), a biological worth firing neurons, deep inside I find hard to believe that acts like those mentions by Ivan are not evil.

      If a supreme being exists, then our revulsion is not illusory. The acts are truly evil, acts that does not exampilfy the essential nature of that supreme being.

      If nature just is, then Dawkins is correct. The acts such as Ivan’s, are not evil, which is intuitively absurd.

  3. The crux of Atheism.

    Atheism is irrational and doesn’t need any evidence or science.
    It’s impossible for an Atheist to think for themselves. If they did, they wouldn’t be atheists since there is no evidence or science that Atheism or Pond Scum to all Evolutionism is true.
    Atheism is only hearsay, naysay denial of the evidence they ask for and ignore, fallacious logic and deliberate LIES and the love of just-so atheistic FABLES/LIES/PSEUDOSCIENCE i.e. Pond Scum to all Evolution that has become its RELIGION.
    Why are you an Atheist?
    It’s an irrational worldview.
    There’s no evidence or science that Atheism is true.
    There’s no evidence or science that your religion is true.
    There’s no evidence or science that the FABLE you love religiously is true i.e. Pond scum to you evolution never happened or happens and defies scientific laws and principles.
    It’s impossible to have science of pond scum to all evolution since it never happened or happens.
    How can an atheist be happy denying the truth, the evidence, the science and living a LIE in despair and hopelessness?

  4. I hope I understand you correctly. Since evil is only repulsive when we gaze back into its abyss, we must as well stop looking into the abyss and hope to experience only good or laugh aloud at the thrust of an enemy’s sword – since experience is not real. A kind and a good god need not be defended by his believers. And although you claimed you are not putting forward a defense, I can sense an attempt to joggle minds. In speaking from African perspective, I was saying that what we call God is but an experience. Thanks anyway for a thought provoking blog.

    • Tawia, I believe you did not understand me correctly. The case I was making was that atheists have for a long time pass the ball of the problem of evil to theists. I believe theists ought to pass the ball back, or at least share it, with atheists. Our intuitive revulsion towards certain evil, I argued, is a queer in a naturalistic worldview.

      Thank you for reading.

      • Prayson, you continue to treat the word ‘evil’ as if it were a real thing, a noun that is a specific and defined ‘idea’. But evil, when used to describe various kinds of human behaviours and events and natural pathogens that cause untold suffering, is an adjective to describe the kind of deplorable effects within situational contexts. That we respond to this kind of suffering with a feeling of being repulsed is indeed a natural response. No god is needed. In addition, anyone can slap the label on any act, event, or process and it is here we go into detail of describing the association between the depth of suffering and any malevolence that seemed to cause it … evil, in other words, as a noun used to identify what is arguably the worst behaviour, event, or process.

        Enter the atheist argument that if an omni-whatever god were an interactive causal agent in the world as so many religious believers claim, then why would such a critter allow such malevolence that produced repulsive feelings? Why allow so much suffering? Free will doesn’t address the necessity for very real victims of certain events and processes. In addition, it does not address a prey/predator biosphere overflowing with suffering.

        By failing to act, the omni-god is revealed by reality to be either powerless or fictional or malevolent. This is the atheist argument in regards to ‘evil’. If the theist throws the problem back to the atheist, the atheist already has an explanation that seamlessly fits with reality: the interactive, interventionist causal omni-god is imaginary. It is left to the theist to come up with an equivalently suitable explanation that actually fits reality.

        • Thank you for your input and a different angle you brought in in the first paragraph. The second and third paragraphs moved from what I argued in this article. I hope it is okay that I only responded to the first paragraph.

          By evil I mean bad things resulting from sentient beings. I do not include bad things resulting from non-sentient beings(animals, nature, &c.,) as evil. Examples: A male lion killing its young, is a bad thing, but not evil. A male shark forcing mating a female shark is not evil.

          Stating that our intuitive revulsion to sentient beings acts such as the one Ivan mentioned is a natural response of a biological worth does not answer why question of its queerness in naturalistic worldview. Acts such as Ivan mentioned are not really evil as Dawkins, Ruse, Crick, and Wilson made clear. Our intuitive revulsion is illusory. This bring about the queerness in atheistic perspective because not we know it is illusory, why are we still revolted by such acts? Why are we not living in accord to the knowledge that such acts are not really bad and thus those who commit such acts ought not be thought as unnatural(psychopaths)? Why are we revolt by a Catholic priest, for example, who is molesting children? If such acts are not bad(unnatural), ought we not give them a go ahead, since our revolt is simply an response of a biological worth?

          • er neighbours to death Stating that our intuitive revulsion to sentient beings acts such as the one Ivan mentioned is a natural response of a biological worth does not answer why question of its queerness in naturalistic worldview.

            But it’s not queer! You have in your brain mirror neurons that are activated simply by observing. If you watch something being eaten, these neurons fire and create a sensory experience-by-proxy that your brain then evaluates first hand. The same is true when you watch someone get injured; these neurons fire and you create a sensory experience-by-proxy that your brain then evaluates first hand. The interesting thing about these neurons is that they, too, form a kind of secondary neural net from that established by your first hand interactions with your environment. The dream state also activates these neurons… but here’s the thing: your brain responds to this experience-by-proxy with the same chemical production as if you yourself were experiencing them with a first hand interaction. And the reason why this understanding is important is because it appears these neurons are directly responsible for producing what we call empathy and compassion. Some people have many more mirror neurons than others, and although these are very early days of neuroscience, there seems to be a very strong correlation between the amount of these neurons we have and pro-social behaviour. Not unexpectedly, we seem to find a direct correlation between a lack of mirror neurons and sociopathic behaviour.

            So when we observe something being done to another, and then experience our mirror neuron response to the act, without suppressing this response by some other interpretive ‘filter’ (so to speak), we have a visceral response because we experience the same act as if done to us (but without the neural confirmation feedback from those parts of our bodies we would receive if the act were done to us first hand, in which case our mirror neurons are not activated. Other participatory neurons are activated… nerves in the hand subject to damage, for example, sending messages to the brain and the brain receiving confirmation of nerve impulses sent back to act on the hand, which is why when we see an injury to our body, we pause and try to confirm the extent of the damage by accumulating whatever sensory information we have available before moving the affected part and determining the damage effect on function).

            What you assume is ‘intuitive’ is what you deem ‘revulsion’; but revulsion in the language of the brain is a feeling of great discomfort and anxiety after a lot of neural activity that you then interpret to be a strong desire to move away, to disengage, to stop the uncomfortableness of the experience. Revulsion is your brain’s way of motivating you to step away, and this response is caused by all kinds of stimuli – from odors to atmospheric changes, from unusual sounds to sudden visual cues; all involve parts of the brain we activate whenever we sense the potential for danger. What this means is that if pain and suffering is caused to another and we see it but understand this is not an immediate danger to us, then this mirror neuron response is significantly filtered, which then changes our physiological response, changes the extent of our empathetic and compassionate involvement.

            I hope you can better understand now that what you assume to be an ‘intuitive’ response to a specific act is no such thing; the same act can be responded to in many ways when there are all kinds of biological, contextual, interpretive, and intentional factors at play in the responses of different people who observe it. And this is why it is sometimes difficult to get some people (who think rules about specific acts apply to everyone everywhere all the time (ie, it is wrong to kill) to understand that it’s not the act that contains the justification for our response to it but the accumulation of all these factors at play in the individual (sometimes it’s right to kill).

  5. The untold portrait of Charles Darwin; the history of Darwinism/Evolutionism:

    Darwin was a scholastic failure. He lived high off of daddy’s money who was a doctor. Darwin was a scholastic failure i.e. a British numb nut [he didn’t know that the Galapagos birds were finches]; he couldn’t follow his Dad in the medical profession, he couldn’t handle mathematics physics etc. so his papa tried to make him a parson by putting him in the seminary. He was good at drinking beer. Darwin couldn’t learn much – not even to listen to God’s prohibition on incest. He promoted incest and was a product of incest which harmed his children.

    NEWSFLASH: Evolutionism was concocted by Evil Lying Reprobate Atheists that wanted an alternative to Creation by God, a superior intelligence/being [not a religion]. Evil Evolutionism from pond scum to all the organism that ever lived was concocted without the direct observation and repeated testing of the alleged phenomenon as per the scientific method and without evidence in the fossil record, and without any knowledge/discoveries made in chemistry, biology, genetics, microbes, DNA and the instructions/commands in the genome program of life etc.
    The basis for evil evolution was to have an atheistic alternative. There was and there isn’t any basis in observation, testing or evidence for pond scum to you evolution.

    EVIL EVOLUTIONISM has ZERO forensic EVIDENCE since it isn’t a historical fact. Evolutionism was concocted by Evil Lying Atheists without any evidence for Spontaneous Generation [now called abiogenesis] or for Transmutation of one kind of organism [alleged common ancestor] into all the life forms that ever lived, or for Chemical Evolution, or Cosmic Evolution etc.
    Evil Evolutionism hijacks biology and any other field of science post discovery and dictum for evil evolutionism.

    EVOLUTIONARY BIOLOGIST/COSMOLOGIST/PALEONTOLOGIST ETC. IS OXYMORONIC SINCE IT’S IMPOSSIBLE TO HAVE KNOWLEDGE OF EVENTS THAT NEVER HAPPENED I.E. POND SCUM TO ALL EVOLUTION IS ONLY IMAGINED/PRESUMED TO HAVE HAPPENED EVEN IN DEFIANCE OF SCIENTIFIC LAWS AND PRINCIPLES.

    Phylogenetic trees are only based on the presumption that pond scum to all evolution occurred. THIS IS DELIBERATE AND FRAUDULENT TO DECEIVE THE PUBLIC/KIDS. Abiogenesis [formerly Spontaneous Generation] and Transmutation [aka macroevolution] wasn’t and isn’t observed such that these bogus phenomena could then be called Abiogenesis and Transmutation aka Marco-Evolution and be studied.

    Evil Evolutionism was concocted without using the scientific method, without evidence and evolution defies scientific laws and principles. God isn’t a Religion. The God doesn’t want manmade religion. Evolution is the most debauched manmade religion of the atheistic sort. Atheists want to be their own pathetic god and there’s no evidence for or that atheism is true.

    Evolutionism is EVIL!
    Charles Darwin, Universities, and Museums had the Australian aborigines killed for their skin, skeletons, and their dead exhumed for skeletons used fraudulently as evidence of Evil Evolutionism.
    School shooters killed class mates/kids because of Evil Evolutionism.
    WW1&2, eugenics, holocaust, genocide, abortion, etc. were all justified by Evil Evolutionism that universities endorsed.
    Jesus/his true followers didn’t.

  6. Thanks Prayson for this interesting post. As long as popular religion tries to ”force combine” all the gods into one, the arguments will continue. For there are as many gods as there are humans. In Africa, ultimately, god means nature and nature or the universe will never conform to human wishes – perhaps that is what Dawkins meant by ”pitilessly indifferent.” We, as humans, must therefore learn to tap into that infinite intelligence which controls all things.

  7. Absolutely nothing good can come out from man who, even in his own religions (including Christianity), thinks and acts as if he has created God in his own image.

  8. //Obviously, this line of defense is no different in form than the defense offered by those who committed atrocities in the name of National Socialism,..Stalin,..any more or less than it is for YWHA or Jesus.//

    Okay – I’ll defend DCT!
    It is different in form. The Hebrews were ostensibly answering to the ultimate authority – the Creator of the universe – who had established a covenant with them involving such physical terms. His creation is His to judge, and He had demonstrated His authority to them by observable signs.

    By contrast, materialists like Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, and even Hitler had no such authority and were answering to unproven political theories of their own choosing, (assuming you believe they had free will.) Those who obeyed them had no excuse as these guys were mere men. That is a world of difference.

    Another difference is that the materialists executed their evils ostensibly for the good of the people. The Hebrews executed their evils as judgement, the same judgment to which they were eventually subjected under the terms of the same covenant.

  9. The queerness of our intuitive revulsion of such evils from a naturalistic perspective is a problem for atheists.

    No it’s not.

    Those committing these acts are not filled with revulsion. Others are. So the right question to ask is what constitutes the difference? And it is from this inquiry that we find compelling evidence that our moral sense is (in part) built on a biological response of reciprocity and empathy. Not all of us share this sense equally because of physiological differences. This response can be also be altered and even suppressed if you add a filter of some kind… like a cultural filter, or a political one, or a religious one. What’s happening here is inserting a different metric of reciprocity, a different metric of empathy. That’s how we can be assured that we can convince otherwise ‘good people’ to do terrible things… in the name of something else.

    Atheists, I happen to think, are far less likely to be seduced into giving away individual moral autonomy than theists who have already done so in the name of piety. There is pretty convincing evidence from studying larger numbers of non believers that generally translates into a much higher percentage of them practicing pro-social behaviours we consider representative of a higher degree of morality when compared to the percentages of similar behaviours we find in larger numbers of religious believers. There is a reason for that, and I suspect it’s all about accepting individual responsibility for personal behaviours and their moral consequences.

    But if I believe that there really is a moral law from a moral law giver and I am convinced that I have orders from this law giver to commit an act that otherwise I might not do, then I am avoiding having to accept personal responsibility for the act and a means to justify the moral consequences for it independent of my personal moral intuitions. This is the problem WL Craig faces with his justification of the Canaanite genocide: god ordered it and we must follow orders from The Big Guy. Obviously, this line of defense is no different in form than the defense offered by those who committed atrocities in the name of National Socialism, or The People under Kim Il Jong, Mao, Pol Pot, Stalin, Genghis, Manson, or Jones any more or less than it is for YWHA or Jesus.

    The problem for theists is deciding whether or not to endorse Divine Command Theory and, if so, coming face to face with the moral version of the Euthyphro paradox. You try to get around this by obfuscating human behaviour under the term ‘evil’, which begs the question. But if the theist rejects DCT, then there is no necessary need for a moral law giver, no moral law, and one finds one’s self after a long and serpentine metaphysical journey through the landscape of a pious Oz shoulder to shoulder with the despised atheist who arrived here in a straight line.

    • Thank you for your comment. I believe it is only the first paragraph of your comment that is relevant. The rest missed the mark because I did neither argue for objective morality, nor defended Divine Command Theory in this article. Avoiding going down a rabbit trail of topics, important as they are, that I did not rise in this article, I, thus, only responded to your first paragraph which addressed the case I made in my article.

      You held that the queerness of our intuitive revulsion of such evils from a naturalistic perspective is not a problem for atheists, but sadly you did not give any reason(s) for your opinion.

      I stated in the article that any morally sane person would be filled with such a revulsion. Stating that those committing such acts where not filled with revulsion does not challenge my position. 1. I could argue that they were not morally sane persons. That we find color blind person does not mean that there is nothing objective about coloration. 2. I could argue that such persons, who were not filled with revulsion, are deluded in either thinking their the deeds are atoned for(when done in name of God) or for the good of their nations(when done in name of Socialism or Nationalism).

      I have shown that from naturalistic worldview our revulsion is nothing but a biological response to aid our survival. Thinking that such acts are indeed revolting is illusory. Our intuitive revulsion, thus, is a queer in a naturalistic worldview.

      Let me know your thoughts in this particle topic. Thank you once again.

  10. I don’t see how that is a problem for atheists.
    For the theist that (atop much naturally caused suffering) is in direct contradiction with the idea of a loving and moral God. The idea that there is intent behind the natural suffering, and the ability but clearly not the will to stop human suffering is uncomfortable and troubling. Please don’t confuse this with a blanket dismissal of God hypotheses, only the ones including reference to benevolence, love and omnipotence.

    However, for the atheist it poses no issue in terms of ontology. The suffering and the experience of moral indignation are both compatible with a godless world.

    • Thank you for your input. I have argued elsewhere in this blog that there is no such contradiction. Leading thinkers such David Hume, J. L. Mackie, William L. Rowe and Paul Draper on this issue have long made it clear. Rowe, representatively stated:

      Some philosophers have contended that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of the theistic God. No one, I think, has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim. Indeed, granted incompatibilism, there is a fairly compelling argument for the view that the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God. (Rowe 1979: 335 fn1)

      It is not the problem of evil per se that is an issue in naturalistic worldview but the queerness of our intuitive revulsion towards certain kind of evil. Since suffering and the experience of moral indignation are illusory in naturalism I would agree they are both compatible with naturalism.

        • Yes. For an expounded argument see Michael Ruse & E. O. Wilson (1989). The evolution of ethics in New Scientist 17, 108-28, Ruse (1989). “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics” in The Darwinian Paradigm. London: Routledge and Francis Crick (1994) The Astonishing Hypothesis – The Scientific Search for the Soul, London, Simon and Schuster.

          • If naturalism is true, yes, experience isn’t real. Francis Crick correctly stated:

            “You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behaviour of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.”(Crick 1994: 3)

          • I’m missing the step where the idea something emerges from the physical world becomes something that isn’t real. It’s equivalent to saying that colour isn’t real. Although I am happy to concede colour isn’t real if experience isn’t, I do wonder what value it adds to conversation.
            Compare that to experience according to the theistic world. Experience is intrinsically something of its own with no physical property that is either loosely related to, or not at all related to the material world. But you’d argue that is real?

          • Experience and colors, among other things, are all illusory from naturalistic perseptive (see the literature above). The value it add to the conversion is that such things as colors, experience(revulsion toward certain evil), aboutness &c., are a queer in naturalism.

          • When I say explain, I mean
            (1) Explain how you can know that.
            (2) Explain what that has to do with the conversation you truncated
            (3) in keeping with the conversation, explain how God’s existence makes our experiences more real than in Prayson’s interpretation of the atheist worldview

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