Tooley’s Main Entry – The Problem of Evil
August 4, 2008 — 14:47

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Afterlife Atheism & Agnosticism Books of Interest Existence of God  Comments: 20

Sorry for the delay in posting this, but I wanted to go over my post with my summer Philosophy of Religion class here at Rochester.
First a preview for those who have carefully read the chapter, then I’ll lay out the core argument for those who have or have not, finally I’ll detail the objections in the preview.
PREVIEW
1. Premises (12) and (15) are more controversial than he lets on. It is hard to evaluate apart from the probability for one of God’s existence.
2. re: Premise (16). There are oddities and worries about it–including the fact that the probability judgements seem utterly inscrutable. But the assumptions about properties are not unreasonable. I do think, however, that the a posteriori probability after taking into account the frequency of the tokens is different and relevant (he considers this objection but doesn’t address it (at least not in my section).
3. (Most seriously) I don’t think the extension from one evil to many (many) evils does much. For either they don’t compound because they are not independent–due to being consequences of a common cause–or they do but not much comes from it due to the fact that if there is a defense/theodicy for one there is one for all.


SUMMARY
*Obligatory but sincere general praise: Tooley truly is to be commended for the organization of this section. He starts with definitions, then lays out the argument in plausibly valid form, then defends the premises one-by-one, finally defending his epistemic methodology. This is model stuff. That said, the argument is needlessly complex, burdened with arcane language, and strange phraseology. I found it awkward reading. I love thinking about Carnap-style logical probability and he does a good job of laying out the very basic issues but I think it was a big mistake to put so much weight on it. I think its by far best just to use a general notion of epistemic possibility. However, given the way he argues for some key claims he might *need* a Carnap-style confirmation theory. My mom taught me to say two good things for every bad thing, so I need to say a couple more good things anyway. So I *do* think he does a good job showing how any semantics for logical probability will yield the same kind of results. [Actually, I have a lot of complaints about this book as a whole, beginning with the cover: Title *Knowledge of God* who cares about *knowledge* of God, I just want to know the epistemic status in such a book. The title makes it sound like the thesis in play is whether we know God exists. But even the back cover reads “Is belief in God justified? That’s the fundamental question at the heart of this volume.” And I must say I found the catalog of evils a bit annoying. Anyway, enough complaining, I can’t dig myself out of this one…]
I. Form of argument
A. Evidential rather than “logical” problem
Rowe chooses, like most contemporary writers, to offer an evidential argument from evil rather than a deductive argument from evil. That is, he will not argue that the existence of God is logically incompatible with theism but rather that it is improbable given the existence of certain prima facie evil states of affairs. [Swinburne said in class once something to the effect that if one takes moral truths to be necessary truths, then the distinction collapses, perhaps he mentions this in _Providence and the Problem of Evil_, I don’t recall.]
B. Deontological rather than axiological
Rowe thinks axiological formulations of the problem of evil–ones which focus on the goodness, value, or desirability of states of affairs leave open too many questions of moral theory and discussion can get side-tracked. I think this is a bad idea. I don’t see that his deontological formulation–which focuses on “wrongness”–is any less vulnerable to such “side-tracking” issues and is indeed more problematic for reasons that I will touch upon later.
C. “Subjective” rather than “Objective”
In a section I found most obscure–though interesting–Tooley seems to be saying that his argument will not assume that moral statements have truth-values. By a “subjective” argument he appears to mean something like one which will show the inconsistencies in an individual’s beliefs regardless of the moral theory they hold. I’m not sure about any of this but I don’t think it’s that important. I expect I’ll be widely disagreed with on this point by readers of this blog, but my main concern is still to focus on the argument itself.
II. Key terms.
A. “wrongmaking” and “rightmaking”
Unsurprisingly, wrongmaking properties are ones which make actions morally wrong and rightmaking properties are ones which make actions morally right. He gives implicit definitions then recommends Ramseyfication if you want something explicit. Why he thinks this is any better than can be done with “goodmaking” and “badmaking” is beyond me. Surely deontological notions must supervene on axiological ones anyway. If he’s going to treat the terms at this level of rarification–side-stepping so many issues–I don’t see why he couldn’t have done the same thing for an axiological treatment.
B. “moral status”
The qualitative notions of right and wrong also have quantitative dimensions. Some moral properties have more “weight” than others. The moral status of an act is the total vector of all its moral properties and their weights.
C. “prima facie wrong”
An act is prima facie wrong if its ultima facie moral status would be wrong if all we knew were all that was true. That is, if, given all we know, the weight of all its wrongmaking properties outweighs the weight of all its rightmaking properties.
III. The argument
The argument as he has it has 21 steps. This is tedious. Much of it borders on the pedantic and so I’ll provide a summary here and details can emerge if necessary.
The argument starts from one of those events which makes men wonder why.
(13) The Lisbon earthquake killed approx. 60,000 ordinary people. [Tooley doesn’t mention the cause of his choice here, but Voltaire delighted in citing this as a counter-example to Leibniz.]
This is just a description, just an is-statement, so we need a bridge to an ought-statement.
(12) The property of choosing not to prevent an event that will cause the death of more than 50,000 ordinary people is a wrongmaking property of actions, and a very serious one. [N.B. “50,000” is not a typo. I think the 10k margin is to ward off worries about some inaccuracy in the reporting of fatalities in the Lisbon earthquake.]
Hence,
(14) Any action of choosing not to prevent the Lisbon earthquake has a very serious wrongmaking property.
This is not enough information yet to discern prima facie moral status. What we need to know is something like
(15) Any action of choosing not to prevent the Lisbon earthquake has a known wrongmaking property such that there are no rightmaking properties that are known to be counterbalancing.
So allowing the Lisbon Earthquake has at least one serious wrongmaking property and no known counter-balancing goods, so its prima facie moral status is that it is morally wrong to allow it. IF that is, it really *is* an ultima facie wrong act (Tooley’s premise (17)). In such a case God would not allow it (Tooley’s premise (3)). But since it happened, it is more likely that God does not exist.
So a crucial step, then, is that prima facie wrongs are more likely to be ultima facie wrongs.
(16) For any action whatever, the logical probability that the total wrong-making properties of the action outweigh the total rightmaking properties–including ones of which we have no knowledge–given that he action has a wrongmaking property that we know of, and that there are no rightmaking properties that are known to be counterbalancing, is greater than one half.
Tooley then extends the argument from one instance of apparent evil to multiple instances at a time and then across time. When this is added, he concludes, God’s existence is not just merely less likely than half, but very very much less likely than half–basically approaching zero in half-steps for each nth evil! And according to Tooley, there’s a lot of n’s!
CRITICISM
I. Against Premise 12
(12) The property of choosing not to prevent an event that will cause the death of more than 50,000 ordinary people is a wrongmaking property of actions, and a very serious one.
Tooley comments, “(12) makes a moral claim, but one that does not seem at all problematic” (122).
It’s not at all clear to me that (12) is true. Actually, I disbelieve it. At least insofar as I understand it. Had Tooley chosen to formulate the argument axiologically instead of deontologically and had he said “badmaking” rather than “wrongmaking” I *might* be able to agree, for natural life is a good and its loss is a bad. But of course the loss of a lesser good might be replaced with the presence of a greater good, and causing this exchange would have a rightmaking property. I believe the people who died in the Lisbon earthquake were richly compensated for their loss, so much so that they now count it nothing. So I believe that while something *bad* happened, a much greater *good* happened and so nothing *wrong* happened.
Issues of counter-balancing are addressed in Premise 15
II. Against Premise 15
(15) Any action of choosing not to prevent the Lisbon earthquake has a known wrongmaking property such that there are no rightmaking properties that are known to be counterbalancing.
Tooley begins by noting that this claim will be challenged by philosophers offering a theodicy, and all he has in response is the rhetorical question, “[W]hat right-making properties can one point to that one has good reason to believe would be present in the case of an action of allowing the Lisbon earthquake, and that would be sufficiently serious to counterbalance the wrongmaking property of allowing more than 50,000 ordinary people to be killed?” (122).
I question whether that *is* a wrong-making property at all and suggest a counter-balancing good as well, but I want to note that I always tell my students never to ask rhetorical questions rather than make assertions or arguments. It tends to signal lack of anything good to say on one’s behalf.
My first beef with this is the use of the word “known”. I don’t think moral status should be determined by knowledge, but rather by *expectation*. I don’t know whether I know that those people were compensated, but I do know that I expect that they were (the average median credence is probably about .66 but is sometimes as high as .9 or .95, it’s only immeasurably smaller than my credence in theism). Knowledge is a red herring.
And the event does have one known good-making property: soul-making. Hick and Swinburne have, I think, done a great job setting out and defending the Irenaean theodicy. Much good comes from a world which is set up in such a way that such dangers exist. These goods arguably outweigh the bads. Bringing about greater good is a very plausible rightmaking property.
The best case against God from evil is still the seeming existence of gratuitous evils. Sometimes some evils just seem utterly gratuitous or irredeemable. From these an argument can be made which side-steps so-called skeptical theism (shameless plug: see my “Epistemological Considerations Concerning Skeptical Theism,” forthcoming in *Faith and Philosophy* and available in pre-print here). Still, it’s hard to make charges of irredeemability stick and the argument from evil in excess of necessity is hard to make work (van Inwagen comments on this in a number of places).
So I reject premises (12) and (15) primarily because I believe in God (though the soul-making considerations might work even without God). And I believe in God because I think that God’s existence is the best explanation of everything else I believe. But of course one man’s ponens is another man’s tollens: Can Tooley just say, “Well, I believe in gratuitous evils because I find them probable and so I don’t believe in God because His existence is logically incompatible with them”? (not everyone thinks that they are incompatible, see Hasker’s 1992 piece in *Faith and Philosophy*. Also, Michael Peterson always has interesting things to say about gratuitous evil). Perhaps, but that wouldn’t make much sense to me. It’s hard to put into words, but the God question seems to me to take precedence. The sort of evidence we have for God’s existence consists of general explanatory considerations. This is not the case with whether some event is a gratuitous evil. It’s just that some events are gratuitous if there’s no God, otherwise they’re not. [This is a really important point to me, one which I’d like to make more formal and general in the future.] At the very least it seems to me clear that the things which independently indicate God’s existence are stronger in magnitude than the rather flimsy default reasoning Tooley seems to be relying on both here and in (16) to which I now turn.
III. Against Premise 16
(16) For any action whatever, the logical probability that the total wrong-making properties of the action outweigh the total rightmaking properties–including ones of which we have no knowledge–given that he action has a wrongmaking property that we know of, and that there are no rightmaking properties that are known to be counterbalancing, is greater than one half.
Tooley thinks this is his most controversial claim, so he defends it at some length. Not knowing jack about the ratios and magnitudes of the whole panoply of moral properties, the probability judgement is utterly inscrutable to me. (Having just pronounced a probability judgement “inscrutable”, it strikes me as likely that this is just the complaint P-man will have.) Still, the way Tooley defends the claim is interesting and appeals to the lover of Indifference principles in me.
So assume there are as many wrong-making properties as there are rightmaking properties and that for each one of magnitude K on one side there’s one of the same magnitude on the other. So then the probability of an unknown property being a wrongmaking property is the same as it is for it being a rightmaking property so they “cancel out.” Thus, the known wrongmaking property tips the scales in favor of judgeing the act as wrong.
This is clever, but pretty weak. It’s of the “as far as I know” variety which is not too good. Still, as I say, it appeals to the Laplacian in me and so I do give it some credence. I thought long and hard about how much credence to give it, and I came up with the uncertain interval of from between .3 and .4 to between .55 and .6. The lowest I ever got was .05, but I threw it out as an outlier. I certainly couldn’t say I believed it. I don’t know if I disbelieve it or suspend judgement. It seems to me now that I probably suspend judgement.
So for me, the most credence I can give the conclusion–if I were certain of all the other premises–is a .7 with a median of .5375.
Also, I don’t think we need to stop with the pure prior probability anyway, but should take into account the actual tokening of those properties in this world, a sort of calibration. It is perhaps the sole feature of maturity that I can claim that when apparently bad things happen I look for the good to come from them. All who know me will verify that this is no rosy-eyed optimism but a hard-won lesson through years of cynicism and bitterness. What’s more, I find that the good of goodness is more good than the bad of badness is bad, if you will. In Tooley’s terms, I find good-making properties more weighty in nature than bad-making properties. Someone more clever than me could probably tie this in to Saint Augustine’s privation view of evil. Certainly I do not find it surprising in light of what Saint Thomas says about being and goodness. Again, these are not polyanna thoughts which come naturally to me, but lessons learned in time.
Tooley very breifly considers this line of reply on p. 134 saying only that he prefers to defend its denial if necessary. I sure hope Plantinga picks on this. At any rate, given the vast amount of space Tooley spends on explicit discussion of methodology and even history (and an appendix full of equations (which, don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed)), he’d have been better off spending some time in replying to this objection.
*Extending the argument
Given the weakness of the single-case stage of the argument–that God’s existence is less likely than half–the extension is a crucial stage. The question is whether all the instances of apparent evil are independent in the right kind of way to accumulate. I’ve raised doubts that there are any known instances of wrong-making properties in Tooley’s argument and also suggested that there are counter-balancing goodmaking properties (and the distribution of such axiological properties is the only way I know of to track deontological properties). Now I’ll offer one reason to think that even if I were wrong about this they are either not independent in the right way to accumulate or that if they do, the problem is not as bad as it might first seem. [Sadly, a lot of the discussion depends too heavily on Tooley’s use of Carnap-style logical probability, but a discussion of that–much as I am tempted to provide it–would be needlessly complicated and would derail the whole discussion.]
First, it’s pretty common to divide evils in to moral and natural. Clearly Tooley focuses on natural evils which I think is a good strategy. Moral evil is usually credited to free will and the especially egregious cases actually tend to turn out to be natural evils of a sort. Now most (all?) natural evils seem to result from a stable universe with constant natural laws and little intervention by God (“intervention” is a neutral term here, I subscribe to the “upholding” view expressed by van Inwagen in the “The place of chance in a world sustained by God”).
The key goodmaking property of a hands-off stable-universe approach is to make possible the very great good of higher-order virtue. Individual disasters are a consequence of the general policy. They are all causal consequences of the same fact (I like facts for causal relata sometimes, but it doesn’t matter, it’s easy to translate). The right kind of argument–it seems to me–is that like Quintin Smith makes in his “An Atheological Argument from Evil Natural Laws” (IJPR, 2001). The question isn’t why this, that, and the other natural evil occurs, but why the laws of nature are such as to lead to these things, why the world is set up for such things to occur unconcerned with the results on conscious beings. That’s what needs explaining by the theist.
But suppose I’m wrong about that. Suppose they do accumulate in such a way. There’s another type/token point that might take the sting out of it. The evidential force of evil must be set beside the evidential force of everything on the pro-theism side. If this is enough to make belief in God reasonable then it gives us reason to think all those evils have compensating goods. If there’s reason to expect the Lisbon earthquake victims have been richly compensated, there’s no less reason to expect that this is also the case for victims of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius (the loss to the world of Pliny the Elder is a bad-making property!) and that the same will be true for all the victims of Hurricane Katrina and of the Burmese Tsunami. [So what the evidence for theism is can be relevant either to a premise in the argument or its extention.]
CONCLUSION
Tooley says, “[U]nless there is countervailing positive evidence in support of the existence of God, or unless belief in the existence of God can be shown to be non-inferentially justified…it is unlikely–indeed, extremely unlikely–that God exists” (146).
Well yes, I totally agree, but I agreed with that–except perhaps the “extremely” bit’–before I started reading this section and I found my doubts growing as I read. This is a weak enough conclusion to be entirely reasonable. It’s just that the there are other things that occur that are extremely unlikely given atheism. Tooley’s argument has the right structure: apparent evil is evidence against the existence of God and more apparent evils are more evidence. Fair enough, only the most radical of so-called skeptical theists will doubt that. But short of going skeptical, a proper epistemic humility should have us hold lightly our judgements about ultima facie evils and greater goods. Tooley has not got to the root of the issue: apparently gratuitous evils and the design of an apparently uncaring world. Had he done so, and focused on explanatory considerations rather than logical probability, he might have done better.
So I think Tooley’s argument is not very successful. I think he makes bad choices about how to formulate the argument–deontological and in terms of logical probability–and I don’t think he defends some key premises. Still, I think there is a roughly structurally equivalent argument which achieves about the same conclusion, weak as I think it is.
———————-
Thanks to my summer Philosophy of Religion class participants for workshoping this post with me, especial thanks to Grace for detailed comments and for generally keeping me on track. Thanks to Jeff for recording the soundtrack, to Jesse for translating it into Hebrew. Ariento, wake Gary up.

Comments:
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    Hey Trent,
    I had a few questions. There are places where I can’t tell if you’re offering a comment or you’re summarizing Tooley’s comments. (Mea culpa–my book is in Texas but my body is in California.)
    You wrote:
    (14) Any action of choosing not to prevent the Lisbon earthquake has a very serious wrongmaking property.
    This is not enough information yet to discern prima facie moral status. What we need to know is something like:
    (15) Any action of choosing not to prevent the Lisbon earthquake has a known wrongmaking property such that there are no rightmaking properties that are known to be counterbalancing.

    I’m not sure that’s right. Knowing whether there are such counterbalancing properties might matter to a judgment about whether there is overall reason to intervene, whether non-intervention is all things considered right, etc…, but I don’t think it matters to whether there were considerations in light of which non-intervention is prima facie wrong on any of the usual readings. If read epistemically, it surely appears such non-intervention is wrong, but further information might show that appearances are misleading. If read in the way Ross uses the term, this information alone suggests that there is something unfortunate to the action, that it has a downside, that there is something in light of which the action is regrettable even if right, etc… (15) seems unnecessary for judgments about prima facie wrong, but necessary for any ultima facie judgment. Anyway, this seems like a minor mistake, but I couldn’t tell from the context whether you thought (15) was needed of if Tooley did.
    Similar worries about the remarks concerning (14) make me concerned about this passage:
    (12) The property of choosing not to prevent an event that will cause the death of more than 50,000 ordinary people is a wrongmaking property of actions, and a very serious one. I
    t’s not at all clear to me that (12) is true. Actually, I disbelieve it. At least insofar as I understand it. Had Tooley chosen to formulate the argument axiologically instead of deontologically and had he said “badmaking” rather than “wrongmaking” I *might* be able to agree, for natural life is a good and its loss is a bad. But of course the loss of a lesser good might be replaced with the presence of a greater good, and causing this exchange would have a rightmaking property. I believe the people who died in the Lisbon earthquake were richly compensated for their loss, so much so that they now count it nothing. So I believe that while something *bad* happened, a much greater *good* happened and so nothing *wrong* happened.

    Again, if someone means by ‘wrongmaking property’ a property that can make an action wrong all things considered if not counterbalanced, it seems you’re not denying what he’s saying. There’s no problem I can see in saying that the descriptive properties that serve as the ground of an evaluative judgment (e.g., that state of affairs is bad/good) is the ground of the judgment that there’s a prima facie reason not to allow it to happen or the ground of a judgment that all things considered an agent is obliged to intervene. I doubt that the action is here, but I think there’s not really any problem for Tooley on this point.
    Concerning your appeal to the soul-making theodicy, I guess I’d like to see some details. If you could explain how that helps with the suffering caused infants in the Lisbon earthquake, that seems an important detail. You also mention compensation, but that strikes me as a rather weak response unless developed in much greater detail. If I see some great evil is about to befall you and could easily prevent it from occurring, it’s not obvious to me that I should feel free to let it happen to you _just_ because I know I can compensate you for the loss. Not if the loss is a serious one (e.g., the loss of a child, a wife, etc…). I’m sure some will say that you’re better off for having lost them because it gives you the opportunity to develop character, grow spiritually, etc…, but that’s a separate issue.
    Anyway, this is interesting:
    So I reject premises (12) and (15) primarily because I believe in God (though the soul-making considerations might work even without God). And I believe in God because I think that God’s existence is the best explanation of everything else I believe.
    That doesn’t help _me_ see where the argument goes wrong. Let that pass. I don’t see how you can say that God is a better explanation of everything else you believe than a God-like being that is less than perfectly good. I guess I’d need to know what beliefs of yours are better explained by the existence of a morally perfect being over some imperfect being.

    August 4, 2008 — 16:31
  • Enigman

    I find discussions like this one very helpful, and I want to mention my agreement with Clayton on (12). Many deaths are not even a prima facie problem for a God of a Heaven to be found in the next life.
    The suffering might be a problem, but is less of a problem if it is mortal suffering because then we cannot ask the sufferers afterwards if they actually felt as bad as we would imagine that they felt. That is, if the problem is that the sufferers suffered a lot, apparently, and we wonder why there was no intervention, to prevent that suffering (not the deaths, which simply take them to the afterlife), well we really have no evidence at all that there was no such intervention. (If we think we do then we are just underestimating God’s powers.)
    If God wanted to stop the suffering, he could do just that, or he could also make it look like he had done it. Why should he also have done the latter? We are given no reason; and furthermore, theists commonly believe that it is better to do a good deed and not to crow about it. Of course, maybe there was no such intervention. There is no evidence of any such. But the argument seemed to rely on there being evidence of no such intervention. And there was no evidence that there was not any such.

    August 5, 2008 — 9:08
  • Andrew Moon

    Trent,
    On your shameless plug (“”Epistemological Considerations Concerning Skeptical Theism,” forthcoming in *Faith and Philosophy* and available in pre-print here”), I bit the hook but I found no link. The paper sounds interesting; was there supposed to be a link?

    August 5, 2008 — 10:54
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    I find discussions like this one very helpful, and I want to mention my agreement with Clayton on (12). Many deaths are not even a prima facie problem for a God of a Heaven to be found in the next life.
    Perhaps I should clarify. On my view, the deaths and the suffering are in fact a prima facie problem for theists, heaven or not. I wanted to explain why I thought Trent’s remarks about wrongmaking properties were mistaken. I see nothing wrong with saying that a wrongmaking property is a property that can go towards making an action wrong. I see something very wrong with saying that ‘allowing 50,000 to perish’ is not such a property.

    August 5, 2008 — 13:02
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    Trent,
    I think your comment has been eaten.

    August 6, 2008 — 11:45
  • How odd, it was clearly here before… Here I go again…
    ———
    Clayton,
    1. Re: My comment on (14) — I think I probably disagree about the prima facie/ultima facie thing. It still seems to me that if you tell me only half the story I can’t make a judgement on its moral status (which is not to say that I couldn’t get a decision theoretic result for how to *act*). Ross doesn’t have “prima facie” copyrighted, it’s a technical term, so I’m not inclined to dispute its use. I think some things Tooley says make it sound like he’s using it the way I used it, but perhaps he means to use it as you say. If I thought about it more I think I’d have to say lots of things about prior probabilities and whatnot. As you say, it’s a minor point and I was just making a segue to the next premise.
    2. Re: My comment on (12) — Part of the problem, as I say, is that I take an axiological approach and he’s talking deontology. I’m probably some kind of consequentialist and so I can’t judge “right” or “wrong” until I know the balance of good and bad. And I don’t know the *balance* until I know both the good and the bad.
    3. Re: My comments about Soul-Making — (i) What counts as a serious loss is completely dependent on whether God exists–“To live is Christ, to die is gain.” (ii) The details are in Hick and Swinburne, but I have some favorite passage embedded in some papers I can paste in. (iii) I think it makes a difference if it’s you watching or God watching. God has prerogatives as Creator that you and I lack. I have similar worries–though perhaps not as strong as yours–but the point is that I can only give the premise what credence is left over after taking out the plausibility of all the points I raise. They dwindle. I can’t give the premise much credence. Here’s one thing that God could know–as far as I know–that we do not: whether someone has the following property: Were God to ask their permission to have them undergo X for compensation Y they would consent. These are among the many reasons I doubt the premise. I think I did not assert it was false. I think I said I didn’t believe it. That’s true, I don’t. Thus I cannot judge the argument sound (not without some weird meta stuff anyway). (iv) What you call the “separate issue” seems to me the *main* issue.
    4. Re: “That doesn’t help _me_ see where the argument goes wrong. Let that pass.” I prefer not to. (i) Tooley is offering an argument. There are lots of ways of construing arguments. One is the logic-y way: a set of sentences written down in the right order according to system S. Given that the argument appears in a series called The Great Debates where two people dialog with one another the argument is probably meant at least in part to persuade me that my belief is false or the agnostic that they shouldn’t’ believe in God. In saying why it fails to do that in my case I am in fact showing you a fault in the argument. (ii) Another purpose of the argument-cum-speech-act is perhaps to express to the reader why Tooley doesn’t believe in God. One reason is that *he* believes (12). Well that doesn’t help *me* see where belief in God might be mistaken…
    5. Re: “I don’t see how you can say that God is a better explanation of everything else you believe than a God-like being that is less than perfectly good. ” — Simple explanations are better explanations, a perfect being is simpler–infinitely simpler–than an imperfect being, ergo a perfect being is the better explanation.
    Enigman,
    Are you sure you don’t mean to say you are agreeing with *me*, Trent? It sounded like you were agreeing with me.
    Andrew,
    Maybe I did forget to put in the link. It’s under “selected papers” here: http://www.trent.dougherty.net/Philosophy.htm.

    August 6, 2008 — 12:11
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    Hey Trent,
    Your comment is showing now. Before it showed on the right side, but I couldn’t access it using either of the computers I have here.
    1. I know that Ross doesn’t get to say how we use ‘prima facie’, but on the two standard uses, I didn’t see that your criticism caused any trouble for Tooley. If we think of a prima facie wrongness as linked to a feature that goes towards making an action all things considered wrong (closer to Ross’ usage), most will say that an agent’s allowing 50,000 to perish is a con, a cost, a downside, a reason to regret, something that goes towards making it wrong that needs to be counterbalanced, etc… If we think of p.f. wrongness in epistemic terms, it seems you were saying that a decision to allow 50,000 to perish doesn’t even have the appearance of wrongdoing. Neither seems right. If I know that you’ve made a decision that involves, inter alia, allowing 50,000 that could have been saved to die, I’d think ‘Hmmmmm, that looks bad’. I might reserve judgment about whether overall, that was the right decision, but that’s perfectly consistent with it’s being prima facie wrong on every reading of ‘prima facie wrong’. But, if the issue has to do with permissibility, which is an overall notion, it might not matter. I take it that this is where the action is anyway. I don’t think anyone thinks that God’s actions cannot be prima facie wrong.
    2. About the deontological/consequentialist thing, I’m guessing you’re not going to concede that on the assumption of a deontological moral theory, there’s a cogent argument from evil. Of course, if you’re a consequentialist the balance matters (same for deontologist). But, it’s not just balance that matters on a consequentialist view. You can’t say that it’s permissible to bring about bad ends or allow bad ends to come about provided the good outweighs the bad on any sensible consequentialist view. What you have to add is that the bad consequences were unavoidable. (e.g., If there’s two equally good ways of extracting teeth, one that is painful and one that is painless, I’m not permitted to use the painful way just because the pleasure gained by extraction outweighed the pain caused. It’s not because the pain was unnecessary given the availability of the painless means.) Are you really going to say that God _couldn’t_ have done better in achieving his ends?
    3. Your remarks here sure don’t look consequentialist, but maybe you adopt some axiological non-consequentialist view. I’m curious about the soul-making view you mention. Is it your understanding of that view that hundreds of infants suffering before their deaths does not even as much count as a serious loss? I thought that there’s some story (which I regard as somewhat silly, but this is just where our value theories will differ) about how there’s a positive value that can be achieved only in the face of certain evils. I would have thought that the suffering of infants wouldn’t be necessary for such soul making. I don’t see how soul-making changes the fact that infant suffering is bad.
    4. I think an agnostic is given a pretty good reason to doubt God’s existence. There’s widespread suffering that God could have prevented. The goods you point to (i.e., soul making) might point out that there are gains that some failed to appreciate, but the existence of such gains is perfectly compatible with there being such instances of disvalue. God gets off the hook for allowing the bad only insofar as it is a necessary means to the good, and nothing about soul making seems to show that infant suffering, animal suffering, is necessary for such goods. I can’t speak for theists. Some I’ve met have such bizarre value theories that there’s nothing that could possibly reach them where they are, but they strike me as a lost cause (e.g., I once had an argument with someone who said that they were better off for being tortured because it gave him the opportunity to forgive. No point in arguing at that point.)
    5. I don’t see that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being is _simpler_ than an omniscient, omnipotent, amoral being. I don’t see any data better accommodated by the hypothesis that the former exists. I don’t buy it. I do see some observation that seems easier to make sense of given the assumption that the latter exists: the widespread suffering of infants and animals.

    August 6, 2008 — 12:57
  • Clayton part deux,
    1. We disagree. Losing one’s earthly life is a necessary condition to entering Heaven proper. Heaven proper is the greatest good of a human. Thus for a human to lose their earthly life is for a human to fulfill a necessary condition for their greatest good. Doesn’t sound too bad to me.
    2. Yes, I’m going to say that. Keeping in mind, however, my later comments about soul-making. God doesn’t allow *that* earthquake. He allows *for* earthquakes. Like PVI says, it’s not as if my wife and I decided to have *that* baby. We decided to have *a* baby. God’s *best* strategy to achieve his ends to to allow *for* earthquakes. The actual earthquakes that might happen to occur needn’t be optimal.
    3. (i) I don’t know what you mean by “loss”. It is bad. But that doesn’t make it wrong. It’s wrong if that bad not balanced by a greater good. I believe there’s always a greater good. (ii) The soul-making idea is that bad things happening is a necessary condition for the existence of higher-order virtues like forgiveness, mercy, compassion, courage, generosity, etc.
    4. These things are bad and it’s hard to see the point they could have even with respect to soul-making. Thus I have less than unit credence in the existence of God. I believe I made it clear that I think evil counts as evidence against the existence of God. I criticized Tooley in part specifically because he didn’t build his argument along the lines you suggest. I was assigned to comment on Tooley’s argument, not the best argument.
    5. I don’t think an omniscient, omnipotent, amoral being is possible, thus the question of relative simplicity does not arise.

    August 6, 2008 — 17:04
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    1. We disagree. Losing one’s earthly life is a necessary condition to entering Heaven proper. Heaven proper is the greatest good of a human. Thus for a human to lose their earthly life is for a human to fulfill a necessary condition for their greatest good. Doesn’t sound too bad to me.
    I’m not trying to be difficult, but that doesn’t make any sense to me. X’s being a necessary condition for Y when the value of Y exceeds X is perfectly consistent with X being bad, regrettable, etc… Suppose purgatory were a necessary condition for entering into heaven. If you can’t honestly say ‘This is bad’ while in purgatory, God isn’t doing his job. (You can _also_ say that while this is bad, it’s worthwhile in light of the greater good that I’ll only get by doing this. I take it you want to say _this_, but I’m just left scratching my head when you want to say this and deny that the initial remark that it’s bad is wrong.) Anyway, as the issue has to do with overall notions rather than contributory reasons, prima facie wrongs, etc…, I suppose that’s the real issue. I simply wanted to point out that one of the criticisms you made of Tooley’s argument really seemed to reflect a mistake about prima facie wrongness, moral status, etc…
    2. I’m not sure you can allow for earthquakes that you can prevent without allowing that particular earthquake. (Interestingly, I think you’re right that there’s something fishy about someone’s saying that they’ve decided to have _that_ baby. Perhaps that’s because you cannot intentionally have one baby rather than another. You can (if you’re God) intentionally prevent that earthquake–maybe that’s the difference?). I guess I have a hard time believing that God’s best strategy is not only to adopt a policy of allowing for earthquakes, but also deciding not to control their effects so that they don’t cause widespread suffering to infants.
    3. As for (i), that’s just not right on consequentialist views. The negative value has to be _necessary_ for the positive value, not just outweighed. Otherwise, there’s no justification on consequentialist views for allowing/making the bad when the good could have been had without it. I get that some evils might be necessary for soul-making, but their necessity does not negate their status as evils (again, Ross is right that you can regret that you did the right because doing what is overall right can involve necessary evils) and making infants and animals suffer doesn’t help with _their_ soul-making. If God’s decision to allow infants and animals to suffer is to help us with _our_ soul-making, that looks a lot like God’s using these infants and animals as mere means to some end. Very unKantian. (I know, you’re not a Kantian, but this makes God look pretty bad to Kantian agnostics.) As for (ii), see 1. above.
    4. You wrote, “I believe I made it clear that I think evil counts as evidence against the existence of God.” Okay, we agree on that much. But, that makes it hard to understand this, “So I reject premises (12) and (15) primarily because I believe in God (though the soul-making considerations might work even without God). And I believe in God because I think that God’s existence is the best explanation of everything else I believe.” It seems that you’re rejecting what _you_ take to be evidence against God’s existence on the grounds that you believe God exists. I don’t see that God’s existence provides the best explanation of _everything_ you believe, since you believe, inter alia, that certain facts about evil count as evidence against God’s existence.
    When I asked initially why you thought God’s existence is a better explanation of everything that you believe than, say, some non-theistic hypothesis you appealed to simplicity. Even if you were to say that, ceteris paribus, a simpler hypothesis is a better explanation than a less simple one, in granting that there’s evidence against the theistic hypothesis, ceteris isn’t paribus, so to speak. So, is your settled view this?
    (A) There are good arguments for an omnipotent and omniscient being.
    (B) There are good grounds for asserting any such being is omnibenevolent.
    In virtue of this, the evidence provided by observations about evil can just be dismissed?

    August 6, 2008 — 19:02
  • Trent Dougherty

    1. To belabor the point it’s *wrongness* I refuse to judge knowing only half the story, not *badness*. Plausibly, the surgen’s slice is bad but not wrong. Plausibly, it’s not even bad. It’s *a* bad in a *sense*. But it’s also a good in a sense: it’s the road to recovery.
    2. It’s not as if you said, OK, there’s this earthquake that’s going to happen and I’m going to allow it. If you prefer, this is a kind of “logical priority”. I think the baby analogy holds. Can’t really tell if you are disagreeing with that.
    3. I can’t help Kantian agnostics, sorry.
    4a. That’s everything *overall* not *each particular* item. My *total evidence* supports theism, even if some of my evidence does not.
    4b. I don’t think I understand the ceteris paribus business, but I do assert both (A) and (B). I reject the word “dismissed”. The evidence against is outweighed by the evidence for.

    August 6, 2008 — 19:39
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    1. You’d not be alone in refusing to distinguish between an action that is prima facie wrong and wrong all things considered. I think that it’s unwise to refuse to do this, it doesn’t do justice to our full range of moral judgments. But, unlike Swinburne, I won’t refer to those who have less complicated moral views “moral pygmies” 😉
    2. I don’t know enough about the logical priority view. But, I don’t think that the baby analogy/earthquake analogy is quite right. I guess it’s because I don’t see what’s wrong with representing God’s point of view as, “OK, there’s this earthquake that’s going to happen and I’m going to allow it”.
    3. It looks like you’ve just conceded that God can be a tad exploitive.
    4. I can’t respond because I don’t know what arguments you think favor theism over alternative hypotheses that don’t involve a morally perfect agent.

    August 6, 2008 — 21:13
  • 1.
    2. I think what’s’ wrong with saying it is that it’s false (or rather that I have sufficient reason to think it’s false, sufficient reason being the norm of assertion).
    3. Um, no.
    4. As I said, the argument is that it best explains my total evidence. My views don’t significantly deviate from Swinburne’s here.

    August 7, 2008 — 11:20
  • Enigman

    2… Yeah, I was agreeing with Trent (sorry Clayton, I’m terrible at remembering names and so I glanced up at the last mention of ’12’ as I was typing my comment and saw what I agreed with as non-italic in your comment) and agree with him on 2 too (nice discussion btw), up to a point… Even if the future is deliberately under-determined by God (for some good reason), there are all these possible earthquakes and (presumably) God could choose in advance whether to intervene or not for each of those (unless one is deistic, and believe he never intervenes). He also chooses whether or not to intervene at each instant during the actual earthquake, which is fairly predictably governed by natural laws (the surface motions depend upon temporally prior subterranean ones)… But still, God could have prior commitments that take precedence over intervention. My own preference is for our having requested, before our incarnation here, to be part of a naturally lawful enterprise here (I call this the Odyssey theodicy), so that to intervene would normally be to betray us (which God would never do of course)… That is, such intervention would be like one’s spook dad choosing to pull one out of summer camp because he saw one bruise one’s knee (via his spook satellite) whilst knowing that one agreed to such things by asking to go to camp.

    August 8, 2008 — 4:47
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    Trent,
    I don’t see why you’d care whether God’s behaviors were exploitive if they were necessary for serving a greater good, but you’re still free to deny that they are exploitive. Here’s what bugs me. Suppose God’s plan is to create a world in which certain natural disasters will inflict serious harms on animals in infants in ways God is fully aware of. The reason for including these beings in creation along with their suffering is that their suffering is a necessary condition of some good that is good for a wholly distinct agent. (If the soul creating theodicy sufficed on its own, I can’t see how the suffering could be good for animals and infants.)
    Do you agree that it would be exploitive for God to do this?
    Do you instead insist that God would never do such a thing? If so, on what grounds? Presumably, if you’re right about morality, God’s concern would be with axiological considerations rather than constraints against exploitive behavior.

    August 9, 2008 — 1:56
  • Christian Lee

    The question isn’t why this, that, and the other natural evil occurs, but why the laws of nature are such as to lead to these things, why the world is set up for such things to occur unconcerned with the results on conscious beings. That’s what needs explaining by the theist.
    The question is why God doesn’t intervene to stop the suffering that occurs as a result of the laws in place. And even if suffering that occurs as a result of natural law is interconnected, in some way, that doesn’t establish either that the relevant probabilities are dependent, nor does it establish that the suffering is necessary for some relevant good. Compensation for a harm is not enough, one must show the harm was necessary for the existence of the good that’s being compensated for. So I can’t tell whether you think Tooley’s argument is sound, and that the Theist can offer countervailing evidence to raise the probability of theism when it is taken into consideration, or whether you think it is unsound. If unsound, which premise do you think is false?

    August 9, 2008 — 2:45
  • Christian,
    See above.
    Clayton,
    “Exploitive” is a weasel word and not helpful. In an intro to logic class this last semester the system we taught had a rule “Universal Exploitation” and the kids simply weren’t aware that the word “exploit” had a use without negative connotation.
    Does God allow some people to suffer for the sake of others? I expect he does.
    I don’t have a problem with God putting me in a system where it might turn out that my suffering is a means to someone else’s good. If I found out that my suffering happened for the sake of someone else’s soul-making, I’d be glad I could help (or if not, I think I’d be wrong in being bitter). I don’t think there’s any right against such use. Some right-libertarians object to taxation for the purpose of neutralizing brute-luck inequalities on the basis that it’s “exploitive”. It uses them as a means. I don’t think they have an inviolable right against being used this way. I don’t own me. God owns me. Even Locke said this. Just this morning I was reading about local hero Frederick Douglass and came across this quote: He says of all human beings that they are “the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker…they are his property.” So right-libertarian principles of self-ownership are too strong to be compatible with justice. But there’s some kind of analogous Enlightenment anthropology assumption behind your concern here. I’m not a right-libertarian and I’m no Kantian (and neither, thankfully, is God (for reasons C.S. Lewis famously noted)).

    August 9, 2008 — 8:57
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    Trent,
    Of course I think ‘exploit’ as I’m using it carries _a_ negative connotation. That’s why I used it. I don’t see any gap between ‘He used a subject with moral status as a mere means’ and ‘He exploited that subject’. I don’t see any gap between ‘He exploited that subject’ and ‘He did something prima facie wrongful’. I don’t see what grounds you have for denying that God does something prima facie wrongful since you’re only concern is with the permissibility of God’s actions and believe that God is permitted to treat persons in ways many of us regard as inconsistent with respecting their dignity and status as ends unto themselves. Sorry you think God sees the creatures you take God to love as mere objects and tools to be used as God wishes. That doesn’t seem like love, care, concern, regard, or beneficence. Not to me, and I’m sure not to many agnostics either.

    August 9, 2008 — 18:55
  • Trent Dougherty

    That sounds about right. In fact, you may have swerved into a very interesting general truth: the dividing line between believers and unbelievers might track well the the line between those who think of themselves as inviolable centers of autonomy and those who do not.

    August 11, 2008 — 11:40
  • I don’t want to sound overly simplistic, and perhaps I’ve grossly missed important points, but doesn’t the argument ignore entire swaths of possible considerations?
    1) If there is in fact a God, why is it justifiable to assume that right-making properties known to God would be made known to us? Is this not tantamount to God simply appearing and going “Here I am”?
    Because something is prima facie wrong, does that mean that anything right-making must also be obvious? Why is this expectation justifiable when trying to determine the ins-and-outs of an event? Is God allowed any sort of privacy when it comes to His reasons? Must He be an open book to be considered real?
    Why is God not allowed the same “inside-himselfness” that we are have where our thoughts and reasons are concerned?
    2) Let’s assume that humanity is under the curse of Sin (Sin being acts which affront God’s standard of right conduct), and that because of this curse God has deemed it Just that our Sin visit us; why then is this reason of Justice not valid with regards to a “right-making property”?
    Is God’s satisfaction in Justice not right-making? Forget 50,000: would satisfying God’s requirement for Holiness be more right-making than sparing the death of even 50,000,000,000 souls?
    I don’t see any concession being made in the argument for the possibility that what is truly ultima facie evil may be allowable in the light of a curse, and that the presence of a curse might even make the appearance of evil inevitable, if not necessary; that God is excused from intervention so that something more right than “people not dying” might be fulfilled.
    Sorry if these questions are tired or waste of anyone’s time!

    August 12, 2008 — 11:43
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    Benjamin,
    I suppose it’s true that the argument does not address the points you raise, but I suppose Tooley can say something like the following in response to your points:
    1. You might be right that there might be some hidden goods of the sort you mention. Tooley’s view, if I’m reading him rightly, is that there’s good grounds for thinking that there aren’t the sort of justifying goods that both override the evils at issue and necessitate them. Moreover, at a certain points someone’s deontological instincts might kick in and they might say ‘Look, even if there are goods of a kind of which we’re unaware, the question remains what justification there can be for God to use infants, animals, and decent people in a scheme for bringing these goods about? That seems inconsistent with respecting their moral status. That seems inconsistent with a picture of God as a loving God.’
    I suppose one might say that God’s no Kantian. I suppose one might say that God’s beneficence does not include love for God’s creatures (e.g., the infants, animals, and ordinary folk killed or caused to suffer great losses by natural disasters).
    2. You wrote:
    Let’s assume that humanity is under the curse of Sin (Sin being acts which affront God’s standard of right conduct), and that because of this curse God has deemed it Just that our Sin visit us; why then is this reason of Justice not valid with regards to a “right-making property”?
    Is God’s satisfaction in Justice not right-making?

    I suppose that the natural response is to say that even if God’s justice would be right-making, it’s simply not true that the victims of natural disasters all had it coming to ’em. I for one don’t think that ordinary folk deserve to suffer the horrors of natural disasters, and I’d say that this is certainly true of sentient creatures without sin who lack the capacities for moral responsibility. And, again, we have to temper the conception of God as one who uses crude instruments like earthquakes to cause us to suffer with the one who allegedly loves us.

    August 13, 2008 — 12:03