Cl – Peter Hurford Debate: Cl’s First Rebuttal
Debate Contention: Peter will defend the claim “needless suffering exists”.
Entry Date: Sunday, February 19, 2012
I’ve concluded that needless suffering exists. On my view, sin caused death, suffering and so-called “natural evil.” According to Genesis, God made the world good and humans had eternal life. Sin entailed a fall from the highest possible good. It was not necessary, God did not desire it. The suffering sin produced cannot possibly be logically required for the higher good to obtain because the highest possible good had already obtained. Criticisms that God “could have made a world without suffering” are nullified.
Even though suffering is needless, eliminating suffering doesn’t eliminate any higher good. Suffering isn’t necessary to produce goods. Obviously, Jesus didn’t believe that removing suffering eliminated higher good, else no sick would have been healed, nor would commands to heal be issued. In fact, we would have been commanded to ignore suffering. This defangs Peter’s “obstruction of divine justice” argument on the spot.
This might complicate judging, but that’s where the logic lead. I’ll counter as many of Peter’s arguments as I can, and see where the second round takes us.
I recently said that most POE arguments reduce to ignorance and/or incredulity.  I stand by my words. Peter’s inability to conceive of a higher good or logical requirement does not justify even the provisional assumption that none exists, and to posture otherwise is to argue from incredulity.  Similarly, my inability to identify a higher good or logical requirement does not justify even the provisional assumption that none exists, and to posture otherwise is to argue from ignorance.  Things that seem intuitively true can be false (e.g. geocentrism), and things that seem intuitively false can be true (e.g. quantum mechanics). Peter needs more than intuition to mount a successful POE argument.
Honest Oversights Or Theatrics?
Peter offers analogies that should raise the suspicion of any rational person. To claim that reindeer can fly one must unjustifiedly assign a property (flight) to a member of a class (ruminant mammal). This is unjustified because no other member shares said property (no ruminant mammals fly). However, to claim that Peter’s examples of suffering might be logically required to obtain higher goods, one need only assume that a member of a class shares the same properties as other members (Peter agrees that many members of the class “suffering” are logically required to obtain higher goods).
Regarding Theodicy #6, to claim that rewarding temporal suffering with eternal joy is “the equivalent of punching someone in the face and then giving them $1,000″ is to mistakenly equate a cheap, finite reward ($1,000) with an infinitely valuable one (eternal joy).
These are textbook examples of the fallacy from false analogy.  Magic notwithstanding, there is no remote possibility of reindeer flying. However, since several members of the class “suffering” are logically required to obtain higher goods, the possibility of Peter’s examples following suit seems significant. So why would he imply only a “remote possibility” that his examples might be logically required to obtain higher goods? Why would he imply that a measly $1,000 is commensurate to eternal joy?
Taking The Offensive
Peter claimed his examples are “proof beyond reasonable doubt” that needless suffering exists. Citing geneticist Stephen O’Brien, PBS writes:
The areas that were hardest hit by the Black Plague match those where the gene for HIV resistance is the most common today. 
Modern science—the atheist’s oracle—suggests the plague may have facilitated HIV resistance. That the pertinent mutation might not have obtained given a different genetic algorithm seems fair grounds for at least the provisional assumption of logical requirement. Now, Peter can say, “But God could have just zapped it away,” or some other variant of “Why didn’t God do it the way I want,” but that’s purely ad hoc not to mention it ignores the fact God already gave us a world without disease and we ruined it.
Alternatively, historians such as Bowsky (1971) and Bridbury (1983) suggest the plague may have been a key turning point in European economic development: wages would not have risen had there not been such a drastic increase in the demand for laborers. Isn’t a deficit of laborers logically required in order to spur demand? Why does Peter act stumped? Are these not grounds to doubt Peter’s claim that his examples are “proof beyond reasonable doubt” of needless suffering?
Let’s look at #4. To say “God could have instilled any of these lessons, love for God, or character from birth” is just a mere assertion that does not explain why God should have done that over some other route. Peter continues,
Given that God knows all lessons, has infinite love for himself, and is of perfect virtue, yet has not suffered, there is no reason to think that suffering is logically necessary for these three things.
According to the Bible, God suffered terribly. Per the same logic securing his previous conclusion, mustn’t Peter concede that, since God has suffered, we have reason to believe suffering might be logically necessary for those things?
Peter’s note that the soul-building theodicy cannot explain animal suffering is irrelevant. One cannot justifiedly fault a theodicy for not explaining a particular type of suffering when another theodicy can (consequence for sin). #4, defanged.
Same with Theodicy #5. Peter writes,
…God could have made something meaningful instead that did not involve suffering…
God did. We ruined it.
…removing the suffering of nonhuman animals and removing birth defects would require an unfathomable amount of re-engineering biology…
That’s irrelevant. God didn’t allow these things so we could solve puzzles.
In the 14th century, humans were tasked with stopping the bubonic plague – not only did they have very little medical resources and containment plans, they lacked a germ theory of disease altogether.
The Black Death was a moral evil that deserved punishment. Regarding Theodicy #2, Peter said victims “were not especially more sinful” than people today. According to the Bible, that’s false. Filthiness is sin.
The suspected primary culprit of the pandemic is Yersinia pestis, a bacterium carried by fleas living on rats which permeated the large, filthy cities of the era. 
The importance of hygiene was recognised only in the nineteenth century; until then it was common that the streets were filthy, with live animals of all sorts around and human parasites abounding. 
Take heed, foolish humans! We were warned not to become “defiled” by rats or other animals designated as “unclean”  and warned not to eat anything they touched.  God commanded us to bury dung outside city limits,  to avoid contact with bodily discharges because they are “unclean,”  to cleanse anything a person with bodily discharge touches,  to evacuate and seal up any house with “greenish or reddish” mildew,  and if the mildew persists after seven days, to “scrape the walls” inside the house,  remove any contaminated stones  and dump them outside city limits. 
Among other things, Wikipedia lists, “decay or decomposure of the skin while the person is still alive, high fever, and extreme fatigue” as symptoms of bubonic plague,  and God specifically warned that failure to obey would result in—wait for it—wasting diseases and fever that would drain away our life. 
Moral evil is any evil act, event or state of affairs that is directly attributable to the actions of a moral agent. The Black Death ravished Europe because moral agents sinned by disobeying God’s Holy Word and allowing filthiness, vermin and parasites to defile them. God warned us. We didn’t need to suffer the bubonic plague to get to Heaven, we only needed to listen to God’s Word.
Bringing It All Home
This evidence is so strong even Peter claims it proves God’s goodness and glory “beyond a shadow of a doubt,” leaving him no rational alternative but to abandon atheism and acknowledge the God of the Bible. Peter recently wrote,
…knowledge of the germ theory of disease contained in the Bible rather than left to be discovered by fallible scientists would have saved billions of lives. Why [God] didn’t do so, given that it would prove [God's] glory and goodness beyond a shadow of a doubt, is unknown.” [19, emphasis mine]
My list is just the tip of the iceberg, and already we have something akin to modern hygiene and germ theory, delivered 3,000 years before Pasteur was so much as a twinkle in his father’s eye—by people atheists often denigrate as ignorant goat-herders. Another source notes,
Jews who obeyed these godly instructions during the time of the black plague were not affected in the same way as others. 
Might that be because God provided clear, comprehensive hygienic commands in the Torah? I agree with Peter that a “god” who makes people suffer pointlessly is worthy of condemnation, cruel, malevolent, and fundamentally opposed to love and compassion,  but as my arguments have undeniably demonstrated, God did exactly what Peter asked for, and much more. Wouldn’t it be a tragedy to forfeit eternal life for an argument so weak it commits one to doubting God’s existence simply because they stubbed their toe?
Followed up in: Cl, Bubonic Plagues, and Bibles, Part I
Editor’s Note: This is an entry in a debate written by Cl, and he retains full authorship and copyright of the below work. It is reprinted here with his permission. (Keep in mind that the opinions here are not my own, but that of Cl, and given that this is a debate against me, I definitely do not agree with everything said in this essay.)
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