Monday, May 2, 2011

Review of ISCA

I have returned from the ISCA annual meeting held in Wake Forest, NC (hosted on the campus of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary). It was a great experience in which I met new friends, fellowshipped with people whose books I read, and enjoyed the presentations of others. I drove all day Thursday to first stop in Charlotte and see SES and meet up with a friend, and then move on to ISCA.

I stayed with Larry Bogen and his wife Deb for the length of the trip. Their hospitality and friendship cannot be overstated. Friday morning began the conference, and since they lived right next to the campus, it was a two-minute drive over to Patterson Hall. Upon my arrival to the main meeting room for the conference, I was handed a name tag that needed to be put together. It took me a little while, and while I was finishing I met another member of the conference. Each person attending had such a great spirit and attitude and it was a lot of fun.

As to the presentations themselves, I actually went first. There were about 15-20 in the room I was in. My paper can be found here. In it I argue for what makes a particular world morally preferable to another, that there is no best possible world, and that God is not constrained to create it even if there was. David Baggett, who was in the audience, is quoted in my paper. I actually misjudged the time and, assuming I had been speaking for 37 minutes (instead of 27) abruptly ended my paper for Q&A time. The first questioner asked how we can get around the tautology of saying "God is good," where good is defined as "God" himself. I answered that this is simply God as being the metaphysically ultimate explanation, so that to ask for external or outside factors of what makes that true is just to misunderstand God as being that explanation. In short, it is a tautology, but not a fallacious or problematic one. Another questioner asked us to imagine a world in which there were two people, one who hit the other in the head with a hammer for a million years. At what point would we say God is obligated by his own goodness to put a stop to it? While I responded that the idea of Heaven would be a greater good (since any finite period of suffering is dwarfed by the infinite good), he mentioned it seemed though that the evil done nonetheless was not undone. He suggested justice might be served in such a case by God before the afterlife, though we're not sure when or how that may be. Something to look into!

The next session I attended was Dayton Hartman's "A Presuppotional Response to the Problem of Evil." He did well in explaining that the foundations for logic and morality are either arbitrary or grounded in God himself. Hence, the atheist, if he assumes either of these things, is really borrowing from a theistic worldview in order to argue against it. While I am not big on presuppositional apologetics, I think it holds the most promise with respect to morality.

The first plenary session was next, with Bruce Little. He spoke clearly and convincingly (at times) about his recent work "Creation Order Theodicy," in which he criticizes Greater Good Theodicy by arguing for gratuitous evil. He was sure to mention that God is in no way culpable even in the event of gratuitous evil and its allowance actually argues for a God's existence! It was certainly different and thought-provoking.

I've always wanted to hear Kirk MacGregor speak, so after lunch I went to his session entitled, "Logical Constraints on Divine Prevention of Gratuitous Evil." In it, he contends for gratuitious evil (much like Little) and does so from a Molinistic perspective. He also argued for our intuitively perceiving gratuitous evil. While between these two sessions I was nearly convinced, I ultimately rejected gratuitous evil. However, I am grateful to these presentations for stimulating my thinking and ultimately driving me to the Bible (Rom. 8:28).

After this I met up with Ken Keathley, author of Salvation and Sovereignty: A Molinist Approach, and the dean of faculty at Southeastern. We had a good time of fellowship, and I wasn't surprised in the least when he mentioned he had been a pastor. He is a gracious man and I enjoyed the experience.

At the next session, I headed to Norm Geisler's presentation. It was an adaptation of his book, If God, Why Evil? In this, he argues that although this is not the best of all possible worlds, it is the best way to the best of achievable worlds. During the Q&A, I asked him how he would respond to people like Plantinga who suggest there are no best possible worlds, since whatever criteria one uses could be added on to by one extra of that feature. He looked at me, somewhat confused, and said "you can always have one worse world." I left it at that, but afterwards a few people approached me and said they didn't understand that answer either. Because of this, it's possible he hates me. :) By the way, I have nothing but respect for the man and his work!

Paul Copan was the second plenary speaker, and he discussed the beginnings of evil itself. He first discussed it from an extreme Calvinistic perspective and then from a more moderate and biblical one. His presentation greatly reminded me of Keathley's book in that regard. Afterwards, I briefly spoke to Copan about his book, Is God a Moral Monster? and we discussed some of the ancient Near East context in which the biblical narratives were written.

After dinner, Phil Roberts gave a presidential address on the heart of apologetics, and how we must never divorce ourselves from the local church. Being a good Baptist, I loved it, since it was quite sermonic. The next day I went to Donald Williams' presentation on the "Liar, Lunatic, or Lord" trilemma. He was entertaining in that when it came to reading a lengthy quote by Lewis, he did so in Lewis' British accent! Paul Chamberlain's defense against religious belief as being the root of evil was excellent and thorough, both challenging the presuppositions and pointing out inconsistencies. Michael Willenborg provided an interesting take on arguments from atheism in which he contends since the clause "God does not exist" is either possible or impossible, atheists may be engaging in question-begging in any argument against God. While I did not entirely agree, it was quite a prospect to think about.

The closing panel discussion featured Geisler, Copan, Chad Meister, and Bruce Little. They fielded questions both from the moderator and the audience. The line of the whole conference, though, belonged to Geisler, when he was discussing false prophets. "If we applied Deuteronomy 13 today, there would be far fewer prophets around, since they would be stoned. That is, if they weren't stoned already." :) Zing! I loved the conference and met some great people who are doing some great things for the Lord. I can't wait to go to the next one!


  1. "Michael Willenborg provided an interesting take on arguments from atheism in which he contends since the clause "God does not exist" is either possible or impossible, atheists may be engaging in question-begging in any argument against God. While I did not entirely agree, it was quite a prospect to think about." Yes, it is interesting to think about. What are your disagreements?

  2. Hi Brian thanks for commenting! He actually anticipated them in the paper, for the most part. You'll also have to forgive me, as I do not have a copy of his paper. One thing that I would like to point out is that when making these arguments we can typically distinguish between metaphysical possibility and epistemic possibility. So, in other words, the atheist is merely saying "in the case that X, Y follows." In respect to the problem of evil, that could take several forms as to its consequent (and I think there's good reasons to think those material conditionals fail). But in any case, I think a majority of the time the atheist is not thinking in terms of the ontological necessity of God, so that he's not, typically, asserting as part of his conditional that God's existence is impossible.

    I also happen to think we can assess the truth of at least some material conditionals (or even counterfactuals) that have impossible antecedents (by way of intuition). We do this all the time with respect to the moral law. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. The antecedent is either possible or impossible, and since Michael pointed out that in the previous case if the atheist accepts a necessary being's existence as possible he, de facto accepts the existence of God, we too face the same challenge.

    Michael's response is that we may reformulate the moral argument to say, "if there is a moral law, then there is a moral law giver." But let us not forget the rule of the contrapositive, which is "if there is not a moral law giver, then there is not a moral law." It is extremely important to note in the case that a conditional is true then so is its contrapositive. It's also true the contrapositive is content-identical to the original formulation of the moral argument as discussed above. It would seem quite odd to say a certain conditional is not question-begging but its contrapositive is! As an example, consider that now the consequent is either possible or impossible, so that we face the exact same problem (because of modus tollens).

    I do think Michael may be on to something, however, in that atheist arguments of this sort do seem to take for granted their consequents; that is, it may be they beg the question after all (as he and I discussed during his Q&A portion). It was a lot of fun and I enjoyed meeting him and hearing his paper.

  3. Randy Everist

    In the link below I wrote some comments concerning the Problem of Evil. Maybe they are useful to you.

  4. Thanks for commenting Patrick! This conference left no doubt in my mind that God is not impugned even in the case of gratuitous evil!


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