Responding to David Wood (part 1)

I will respond to David Wood's review of our debate on evil in parts. David Wood points out that our debate proposition could’ve been different. We could’ve debated each other on any one of five propositions:

1)The extent of suffering in our world poses an interesting problem for theists, since God is said to be all-powerful and wholly good.

2)The extent of suffering in our world is at least some evidence against theism.

3)The extent of suffering in our world makes the existence of God improbable.

4)The extent of suffering in our world makes the existence of God implausible.

5)The extent of suffering in our world makes the existence of God impossible.

We debated proposition #4 above.

Just what the difference is between propositions #3 and #4 isn’t immediately clear to me, but David thinks there is a big difference between the two. What is the difference between the words “improbable” and “implausible?” Any thesaurus will show that a synonym for the word “improbable” is the word “implausible” and vice versa. I suspect he merely wants to use rhetoric in showing a bigger gap than is necessary between the first and the last potential debate propositions in order to show I had a bigger burden than I really had. Of this 4th proposition Mr. Wood claims that “the skeptic needs to show that the evidence drawn from the problem of evil not only outweighs the evidence for God’s existence, but that one side of the scale almost drops to the floor.” If that is what he thinks, then he should’ve stated this in the debate itself so we could discuss exactly what our respective claims were. But he didn’t.

I do think the problem of evil outweighs other nebulous philosophical arguments on behalf of the philosophers’ god, which is the very best view of God that such arguments can lead a person to accept anyway. And I do think the problem of evil outweighs the historical claims of miracles in the Bible coming from an ancient pre-scientific superstitious people. However, I do object to this burden of proof he’s now throwing upon me. He never stated this in the debate itself. Why does he do so now?

David is correct that I didn't throw the burden of proof in his lap, and I don’t now. We each share our own burden of proof. The particular burden of proof in any debate will always depend upon the wording of the debate proposition that we both agreed to. I would’ve agreed to this debate proposition: “The extent of suffering in our world does not make the existence of God implausible,” with me taking the negative side. To me these are equivalent propositions, and it puts into better light what each of us needed to show. The question was this: “Whether, given the extent of suffering in our world, it’s implausible that God exists.” The way the proposition is actually stated, David must give reasons why suffering does not make implausible the existence of God. What I did not have to show is that his side of the argument is outweighed by the problem of evil so much that his side “almost drops to the floor.” That is an unreasonable standard not only for the debate proposition itself, but also for nearly any inductive argument.

David states I am “claiming that a certain argument has the power to effectively refute theism.” Where does he get that out of the proposition itself? The proposition never said I must refute his position. I just don’t see it. He goes on to state that “if an inconsistency, or an unproven assumption, or a false premise is found somewhere in his (John’s) argument, then he must show that his argument can be modified so that it avoids this problem. Otherwise, he has not proven that we should answer the topic question in the affirmative.” But again, where in the debate proposition does he get the impression that if I have not “proven” my case that I lose the debate based upon the wording of the proposition itself? I would never have agree to that standard of proof. And he never argued for such a standard in the debate itself. So why does he do so now?

In David’s own words he claims that all he needed to show was that “the evidence gained from suffering isn’t so utterly strong that it removes all plausibility from the claim that God exists.” But why does he add the word “all” here, as in “removes all plausibility?” I don’t see it in the debate proposition itself, do you?

With that as a background, no wonder he claims he thinks he can show me wrong, “rather easily.” Again, in his words: “ light of certain difficulties with the argument from evil, I don’t see how John could possibly demonstrate so lofty a conclusion.” But as we’ve just seen, I don’t see why I had to demonstrate such a conclusion at all.