Good Enough
December 15, 2009 — 10:25

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Problem of Evil  Comments: 51

Suppose we take it as settled that God is not required to actualize a world that exceeds positive value N. There are, in short, some good enough worlds. What then happens to the problem of evil? I claim the problem disappears. Two possibilities.
A. If God need not actualize a world whose overall value exceeds N, and God actualizes W whose value is N and whose total evil is E, then (1) it constitutes no objection to the existence of God that he might have actualized W’ whose overall value is N – E. It is true that God might have actualized a world W’ with less evil, or even no evil, but only if he actualizes a world that (by hypothesis) is better than he is required to actualize.
B. If God need not actualize a world whose overall value exceeds N, and God actualizes W whose value is N and whose total evil is E, then (2) it constitutes no objection to the existence of God that he might have actualized W’ that contains less evil than W but whose overall value is also N . It is true that God might have actualized a world with less evil, but only if he actualizes a world W’ that is (by hypothesis) no better than the world he did actualize.
Conclusion (1): If there is a world W that meets the criterion of being good enough for God to actualize, then the existence of actual gratuitous evil constitutes no objection at all to the existence of God.
That’s a remarkable conclusion, I think. We’d all agree–or most of us would–that some world or other is good enough for God to create. The argument above shows that it follows from that widely agreed-upon fact that the existence of gratuitous evil–standardly defined gratuitous evil–constutites no objection to theism at all!
Conclusion (2): If there is a world W that meets the criterion of being good enough for God to actualize, and the value of @ is at least the value of W, then the problem of evil is resolved.
[Revised and Updated, 12.15.09]

Comments:
  • John A.

    Mike
    Interesting argument. Let us agree with your stipulation that God must create a world that is at least good enough with a positive value of N. It follows then that no existing world has less positive value the N unless it was created by someone other then God. The questions is, why should we think that this world is one of these worlds that has a positive value of N? It seems that we have to assume that God is of a particular nature and that he exists as so conceived and would not create any world with less positive value of N. We also have to assume that there exists no one else capable of creating worlds. But why should we accept that this world was create by God unless we have independent verification that this world contains at least a positive value of N?

    December 15, 2009 — 11:57
  • Hi Mike,
    Doesn’t the problem of evil still present a worry if: (i) there is a possible world that is good enough for God to actualise; but (ii) this world is not such a world?
    Yujin

    December 15, 2009 — 11:58
  • Mike Almeida

    It follows then that no existing world has less positive value the N unless it was created by someone other then God. The questions is, why should we think that this world is one of these worlds that has a positive value of N?
    John and Yujin,
    There are really two ways to go. I think it follows from my assumptions (unless you have a contingent God) that there is no world of value less than N, since God actualizes every world at itself. But even setting that aside, it is not especially difficult to argue that our world is an overall good enough world. Not many people object to the overall value of this world. What’s odd is that, once we have that, we have resolved the problem of evil. It’s odd since, almost no one thinks there is no actual worry with evil. But you cannot consistently believe that this world is overall valuable enough and also believe that the problem of evil remains a worry.

    December 15, 2009 — 12:15
  • Mike Almeida

    What I think is important here, and what I’m after, is that there needn’t be any tight logical connection between existing evil and existing good, if my argument is right. It need not be the case that the evil is logically necessary for the good, in order for God to be justified in permitting it. That makes the problem of evil much easier to resolve. The observation of all sorts of evils that serve no greater good does not constitute any evidence at all against the existence of God provided that there is some world W such that W is good enough for God to actualize. If that’s true, then what it takes to makes our world actualizable is just that it has (or will have) as much overall value as W. The actual world need not include any goods that are causally or logically, or otherwise related to existing evil.

    December 15, 2009 — 12:33
  • John A.

    MIke
    “Not many people object to the overall value of this world.”
    But the fact that someone does object, or might object – as I think many existentialists and evidentialists would – means that an argument is needed to show that this world has the value of N. I think we do need to attach some data of N so that we can define N in terms of good versus evil assuming that some evil is morally permissible. Besides, I have an issue with ‘good enough’ being the criterion that God has to meet in order to avoid the problem of evil. Why should we not hold him to a higher standard. Would you, as a teacher, accept ‘good enough’ as the criterion to get an A, or would it be worth only a C. Now, I think there becomes a point where blaming God for the quantities of evil may be nit-picking if we want to maintain that he is not God because he could have done better by, say, one unit of less evil. But I do want to think of God as being more the a C student.
    I do think that your move of separating the good from the idea of evil being a necessary condition for good to exist may have some merit. But I do think some meat needs to be put on the argument to show that this world does meet the criterion of having N so that evils that do not lead to greater goods can be accounted for from a moral point of view. Not that I believe this to be true, but if we do not have any moral duty (as many so argue) to save children who are starving in far away lands then why does God?

    December 15, 2009 — 13:08
  • Mike Almeida

    Besides, I have an issue with ‘good enough’ being the criterion that God has to meet in order to avoid the problem of evil.
    What my argument assumes is that, as you move up from good to better and better worlds, there is some point in the sequence at which you’d agree that it is good enough for God to actualize. It does not entail that such a world is mediocre, but only less than best. Likely there is no best world.
    I do think that your move of separating the good from the idea of evil being a necessary condition for good to exist may have some merit.
    If it does not follow from the argument I gave, I’d like to see how. This is what is significant about the argument, if anything. Once this is established, all a theist needs to argue is that we have no good reason to believe that the overall value of this world–taking the value of each temporal slice of this world from beginning to end–meets the minimum overall value that a God-created world must have. The theist is at least as well positioned as the atheist on this question; I’d say much better positioned. It takes the bite out of the problem of evil entirely. As I said, almost no one I know is concerned about the overall value of this world. They are worried instead about the extant evil.

    December 15, 2009 — 13:22
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    Hey Mike,
    Very interesting argument.
    The initial supposition seems quite plausible. It’s not obvious that God is required to actualize any world, so I don’t think you can say that it’s obvious that God is required to actualize a world that exceeds some positive value N.
    Isn’t this consistent with the further claim that in any world that has a value greater than or equal to N, God violates the rights of one of its inhabitants in creating that world?
    I guess you might think that it’s just implausible to think that this will be a necessary feature of all such worlds, but if it’s a feature of the actual world, a version of the argument from evil is back even though this world is good enough in the sense that it contains as much good (if not more) as some world God is permitted to create. Is the thing to say in response that every rights violation has some finite negative deontic value so that we’ve already folded all the rights violations in when we start comparing the values of various worlds thought to be at least as good as the value that attaches to a world God is permitted to create?

    December 15, 2009 — 13:58
  • Mike Almeida

    John,
    Another way to put the last point (and I should just put this in an updated post) is that, if my argument is correct, theists need neither theodicies nor defenses to solve the problem of evil. It is perfectly solvable without having either one.

    December 15, 2009 — 13:59
  • Mike Almeida

    Hey Clayton,
    I guess I’m not clear on how God is supposed to violate individual rights in these worlds. What do you mean? Something like God violating rights via not making the natural lottery sufficiently beneficial for all?
    You do suggest another interesting way to run the argument. Suppose you’re persuaded that God is not required to actualize any particular world at all (you may or may not believe that necessarily, some world is actual). In that case, whatever world W God actualizes is such that he need not have actualized a better one. But then it does not matter how much evil E is extant in W, the fact that E serves no greater good in W constitutes no objection to God’s existence. The problem of evil vanishes. In my own case, I’m not persuaded that there are no worlds W such that God is required to actualize a world at least as good as W.

    December 15, 2009 — 14:08
  • Clayton Littlejohn

    Hey Mike,
    I don’t have it in front of me, but I vaguely recall some passage from Swinburne’s “Some Major Strands of Theodicy” where he suggests that we can deal with some cases of natural evil by saying that it is permissible for God to put certain groups in peril (e.g., those who are suffering the effects of famine) if it gives others the opportunity to act beneficently, develop their virtue, exercise their free will in morally significant ways, etc… [Maybe Swinburne doesn’t think a famine, flood, earthquake, forest fire is an instance of God putting creatures in peril so much as allowing events to unfold in such a way that creatures will be in peril, but grant the atheologian the use of the premise that God is treating some creatures as mere means to some end. (I think Scanlon thinks there are cases where an allowing is also an instance of treating someone as a mere means, so I’m probably running a few things together here)]
    One reaction is just to say that this sort of response to the POE fails because it assumes that God is permissibly treating some as a mere means to bring about some good. Whether the resulting good is greater than the goods that could/would be brought about without the natural disasters is irrelevant if you think there are side-constraints that make it impermissible for God to pursue goods in certain ways.
    That sort of problem is quickly dissolved if we assign some finite negative value to all (relevant) rights violations. The objection to the ‘good enough’ response seems to assume that when comparing values between worlds, the violation of rights isn’t part of the calculation of the value of these worlds.

    December 15, 2009 — 14:24
  • john A.

    MIke
    I think that the problem that I have with separating good from evil being a necessary condition for (some) goods to exist is that I cannot come up with a good that we find worthwhile that does not require some amount of evil either as a cause or a contrast. But I not so sure you need to separate the two for your argument regarding ‘good enough’ to go thru. Even if evil were a necessary condition for good it is not a sufficient condition therefore you could argue that N = x amount of good and evil and any left over evil does not count against the world being good enough. The world could even start out good enough and slid downward in value and this would not count against God.

    December 15, 2009 — 14:29
  • Mike Almeida

    The objection to the ‘good enough’ response seems to assume that when comparing values between worlds, the violation of rights isn’t part of the calculation of the value of these worlds.
    Well, it needn’t leave out the disvalue of rights violations. The intuition is just this: there must be some possible world that is good enough for God to actualize, assuming there isn’t any best world. We can argue about which worlds those are, but most people I talk to about the problem of evil seem to have no deep worries about the overall value of our world. The general reaction I get is that the overall value of this world is pretty high, and that God could actualize a world with this much overall value.
    Ok, they do worry about the details of evil in this world. They deny that God could allow the sorts of evils we find. And this is what you, in fact, seem to be claiming. Your worry concerns some details about rights violations, which might well be assimilated to evils. So my response is this: if you agree that the overall value of this world is such that God could actualize SOME world or other that has as much value as this one, then I can show you that God can actualize THIS VERY ONE. That’s what the argument shows.

    December 15, 2009 — 14:44
  • Mike Almeida

    One reaction is just to say that this sort of response to the POE fails because it assumes that God is permissibly treating some as a mere means to bring about some good.
    Clayton,
    I don’t assume any theodicy is right. The argument is supposed to show that we do not need any defense or theodicy to manage the problem of evil. So just assume that there are what we would standardly call gratuitous natural evils and gratuitous moral evils, etc. These evils serve no purpose at all. And assume that the overall value of this world is such that God could actualize some world with this much overall value. That’s all I need to show that those evils constitute no objection to the existence of God.

    December 15, 2009 — 14:59
  • nbeckstead

    I think if you assume a certain kind of consequentialism, and you assume that God is only required to create a world above a certain level of value, and we have reason to think that our world is above that level of value, then you have an answer to the problem of evil, provided the assumption was OK.
    You might question this kind of consequentialist view, which is what Clayton appears to be doing. Here’s another way to question things. You might think that there are many respects in which a world can be worthy or unworthy of creation. Some of these respects, like aggregate happiness, may not admit of perfection. Other of these respects, like minimizing suffering, violation of rights, inequality, or use of people as means do admit of perfection. You might think that if God could make a world as excellent in one of these respects as possible, without sacrificing anything of comparable significance, he would. And you might think that God could create a world without gratuitous suffering, gratuitous violation of rights, gratuitous inequality, or gratuitous use of people as means, that was as excellent as ours in the respects that do not admit of perfection. And you could plausibly think that since God did not create one of those worlds, he does not exist.
    Shoving everything about the world into a number representing its goodness might be a reasonable thing to do (I often think that it is). But many people understandably think that the world contains a lot of bad gratuitous features that make it unworthy of creation, and God wouldn’t have allowed these gratuitous features to obtain. You need to argue that this kind of picture of what God would do is wrong.

    December 15, 2009 — 17:50
  • Mike Almeida

    I think if you assume a certain kind of consequentialism, and you assume that God is only required to create a world above a certain level of value, and we have reason to think that our world is above that level of value, then you have an answer to the problem of evil, provided the assumption was OK.
    I’m not assuming consequentialism of any kind. The fact that I observe that most people agree that God can actualize a world whose value achieves a certain level value does not entail any of those people are consequentialists of any sort. It is certainly no assumption in my argument. I’m not sure where that’s coming from.

    December 15, 2009 — 18:51
  • christian

    Mike,
    Suppose that you’re right that God is not required to actualize a world with an overall value greater than N. Suppose that, for all we can tell, our world has a value at least as great as N.
    I think these suppositions, if right, would go some way towards answering the problem of evil. But one could still object to God’s creating our world on different grounds.
    For example, suppose that I have two alternatives A1 and A2. Both are permissible. However, were I to choose to perform A1, I would make things much, much better than if I chose to perform A2. Maybe this involves creating much more happiness or maybe it involves relieving much more suffering.
    We are supposing that I’m not required to perform A1 rather than A2, i.e. that both alternatives are permissible since they involve increasing value beyond N. Nevertheless, it seems to me anyway, we can still find fault with someone who chose to perform A2. It wouldn’t be that they flouted a requirement. Instead, they chose a worse option for no good reason. I think that’s sufficient to make their choice deserving of criticism.
    If you could manage to explain why such a choice was made for good reason, then this may not be a problem. I don’t see how that story is going to go yet.

    December 15, 2009 — 19:07
  • nbeckstead

    It is unfortunate that I phrased the first paragraph the way I did. I didn’t mean to implicate that you, or anyone else, was assuming a certain kind of consequentialism, only that I could easily agree with your argument if you were. Then I went on to argue that your argument was open to reasonable doubts without this assumption.
    Here’s the gist of the point. You might think there are various respects in which various possible worlds might be worthy of creation. Some of these respects do not admit of perfection, some do. Call the respects that admit of perfection “perfection-admitting respects”. The world might be perfect in some of these respects by: containing no suffering, containing no violations of rights, containing no inequality, containing no use of people merely as means, etc. (I’m not claiming that each of this is important, I’m just explaining a view.) Then say that a world W has gratuitous badness in a perfection-admitting respect R if God could have created another world W’ such that W’ is at least as good as W, but is better in respect R.
    Argument:
    1) If God existed, he would not create a world with gratuitous badness in some perfection-admitting respect.
    2) Probably, our world has gratuitous badness in some perfection-admitting respect.
    3) So, probably, God does not exist.
    This is very similar to many arguments from evil. And this argument can be sound even if God has no obligation to create a world greater than value N. The argument only assumes that God would not create a world with value N or greater that had gratuitous badness in some perfection-admitting respect.

    December 15, 2009 — 19:40
  • Luke Gelinas

    Mike,
    Why is what matters the fact that God doesn’t run afoul of requirements, rather than whether God could do better?
    My 2cents on Clayton and Mike: It seems the metric could make a difference. Suppose you think that worlds are ranked in terms of intrinsic goodness. You might also think that the structure of goodness is such that the fact that x is good gives you a reason to bring x about. But then you could further think that not all reasons are like goodness-based reasons–not all reasons are reasons to bring about. So I guess I too think that it’s at least not-implausibly possible that God be susceptible to reasons in these contexts that can weigh against overall-world-value-considerations.

    December 15, 2009 — 21:55
  • Gregory Lewis

    I’m willing to agree that God ‘only’ needs to make a world that is good enough, and that, in principle, a gratuitous or purposeless or unjustified evil could be part of such a world. I just don’t see how there could be morally significant purposeless evils.
    If something like the Mutilation is really gratuitous a defence along the lines of ‘well, the value of the world is pretty high’ doesn’t strike me as a good enough defence. Maybe if I thought better I’d think differently, but I’d say that any world with morally significant gratuitous evil isn’t ‘Good enough’ to be God’s handiwork. Now, I’m not sure when a gratuitous evil becomes significant, but I’m confident the Mutilation, the other ‘theodicial nasties’ and the sort of traumatic evils that drive someone to lose their faith or hate God definitely are.
    I think distribution of evils is important. I think the God as advertised by Christian Theism is one who is devoted not only to the general value of the world, but to the value of each and every life lived within it. So, a bit like Daniel Howard-Snyder said, if God has an opportunity to eliminate an unnecessary evil of the sort that really matter (horrors, for instance, although I think any ‘big enough’ undefeated evil counts too) I can’t for the life of me see why he wouldn’t take it.
    Apologies if I’m not really understanding the argument.

    December 16, 2009 — 6:55
  • Mike Almeida

    The argument only assumes that God would not create a world with value N or greater that had gratuitous badness in some perfection-admitting respect.
    I think there’s a simple reductio. Let W be a world that has no gratuitous evil and whose overall value is N. The overall value of W might be some function that takes deontic and non-deontic values. We’re not assuming consequentialism. Claim: either (i) there is a world W’ such that W’ includes some gratuitous evil and the overall value of W’ = the overall value of W, but W is nonethless morally preferable to W’ or (ii) there is an infinitely valuable world W’ that contains a minor instance of gratuitious evil that is not actualizable and a world W that contains no gratuitous evil but is infinitely less non-deontically valuable than W’ and W is actualizable. Both (i) and (ii) are absurd.

    December 16, 2009 — 8:17
  • Mike Almeida

    We are supposing that I’m not required to perform A1 rather than A2, i.e. that both alternatives are permissible since they involve increasing value beyond N. Nevertheless, it seems to me anyway, we can still find fault with someone who chose to perform A2. It wouldn’t be that they flouted a requirement. Instead, they chose a worse option for no good reason. I think that’s sufficient to make their choice deserving of criticism.
    Christian,
    This looks a lot like trying to have the cake and eat it too. If he is not required not to choose an option for no good reason, then he’s not open to that criticism, and by hypothesis he flouted no requirements. Recall that I’m assuming that there is a world good enough for God to actualize, and I’m claiming that lots of people agree with that, so lots of people (especially non-theists, I should note) don’t feel the force of arguments that appeal to PSR, as your argument (implicitly) seems to do.

    December 16, 2009 — 8:34
  • Mike Almeida

    So I guess I too think that it’s at least not-implausibly possible that God be susceptible to reasons in these contexts that can weigh against overall-world-value-considerations.
    Luke, I’m happy with that. We’re going to get the same result or we’re going to get a reductio of the form discussed in my response to N. Beckstead, two comments up.

    December 16, 2009 — 8:37
  • John A.

    While I can agree that if God exists there is a world that is good enough for him to create, I think your argument is weakest where it needs to be strongest – you need to define what the value of N is. I am really sympathetic to what you are trying to achieve with your argument. We can agree that if God exists he must create a world that does not have a value less the N, and that it is permissible, but not obligatory, for Him to create a world with N+ value. It seems that we can agree that the obligation of God is to create N and that it might have been better for God to create N+, but that not creating a world with a value of N+ is not a valid criticism of God or His goodness if His obligation is only to create a world with a minimum value of N. The issue is that we can disagree as to the value of N. Is it not possible for someone to define N as good + no gratuitous evil?
    It does not follow that if God created our world that our world has a value of N. Thus would presume that God is completely good where completely good has as a criterion that the creator of a world must create a world with a value of at least N. A less then completely good being who had the power to create a world could create a world with a value of G (N+gratuitous evil) which would be a world that a being who was obligated to create a world with a minimum value of N would not create (even if He could). So it seems that what you need to do to demonstrate the soundness of your argument is to present reasons why our world has the minimum value of N. Unfortunately, I do not see haw this can be done without begging the question.

    December 16, 2009 — 9:26
  • Mike Almeida

    The issue is that we can disagree as to the value of N.
    I don’t care what N happens to be, so long as it is some positive value (it needn’t be the product of some consequentialist values, it might be a function of deontic and non-deontic values, or what have you). Whatever N is it follows that the existence of gratuitous evil presents no objection to God’s existence.
    So it seems that what you need to do to demonstrate the soundness of your argument is to present reasons why our world has the minimum value of N.
    What I need for the second conclusion is widespread agreement that our world is on balance a world that is suffciently valuable for God to actualize. I have that. This does not entail that there won’t be people who disagree.

    December 16, 2009 — 10:05
  • Mike Almeida

    I’d say that any world with morally significant gratuitous evil isn’t ‘Good enough’ to be God’s handiwork.
    The position generates a reductio (see comments at December 16, 2009 8:17 AM), unless for the gratuitous evil E-, there is some positive deontic or non-deontic states of affairs or other S+ such that P+ + E- = 0. There is no finite gratuitous evil that outweighs every possible positive state of affairs. To offer one small example, for the gratuitous evil E- you describe, I assume its absolute value is not greater than the absolute value of the existing of God. If there is no such E- that outweighs every possible positive state of affairs, then I have what I need to run the argument.

    December 16, 2009 — 10:16
  • I think the premise
    (R) God is not required to actualize a world that exceeds positive value N
    is ambiguous.
    Here are some readings:
    R1. To actualize a world exceeding value N is not a duty God has.
    R2. There is no world w whose value exceeds N such that God has a duty to actualize w.
    R3. There is no world w whose value exceeds N such that God has a duty whose fulfillment entails actualizing w.
    R4. There is no set (or class or collection) S of worlds such that each member of S has value exceeding N and God has a duty to actualize a member of S.
    R5. There is no set (or class or collection) S of worlds such that each member of S has value exceeding N and God has a duty whose fulfillment entails actualizing a member of S.
    Depending on your views of duty, you might not think there is a difference between R2 and R3, or a difference between R4 and R5. Suppose I owe you ten dollars. Is it automatically the case that I have a duty to pay you at least five dollars? If yes, then you’re probably going to say there is no difference between R2 and R3, or between R4 and R5. But you might go with the idea that duties should not be multiplied (Mark Murphy defends this) and distinguish between duties and what would need to be done in fulfilling a duty.
    Anyway, which of these premises are enough for your argument? Clearly neither R2 nor R3 is going to give you your conclusion. For maybe God has a duty to actualize some world or other of value N+1, without there being any particular world of value N+1 that God has a duty to actualize.
    R5 entails R1, so if R5 is insufficient to yield the conclusion, R1 is also insufficient.
    R5 is sufficient to establish the claim (1) that “it constitutes no objection to the existence of God that he might have actualized W’ whose overall value is N – E”. Just let S be the set of all worlds whose value is at least N-E.
    Note, however, that R1 is not sufficient to establish (1). For it might be that God has a duty to create some particular world of value at least N-E without God having a duty to create a world of value greater than N as such. Moreover, I think our intuitions support R1, nor R5.
    In any case, R5 is insufficient to establish the claim (2) that “it constitutes no objection to the existence of God that he might have actualized W’ that contains less evil than W but whose overall value is also N”. In fact, R5 is irrelevant to (2), since R5 concerns duties to actualize a world of value greater than N, while (2) concerns the complaint that God could have actualized a world of value N.
    The argument you give for (2) is: “It is true that God might have actualized a world with less evil, but only if he actualizes a world W’ that is (by hypothesis) no better than the world he did actualize.”
    The implicit argument seems to be this:
    i. If a state of affairs X is no better than a state of affairs Y, then one is not required to actualize X instead of Y.
    ii. W’ is no better than W.
    iii. Therefore, God is not required to actualize X instead of Y.
    But premise (i) requires some form of consequentialism. The deontologist will deny (i). Indeed, the deontologist insists that one can have a duty whose performance entails actualizing a less good state of affairs than some state of affairs that it would be impermissible for one to actualize.
    Here’s a different kind of objection. When computing the value of a world W, we either include in the value the value/disvalue of God’s actualizing of W or we don’t.
    Suppose we do include it. Then the argument trivializes. God’s doing something he is not permitted to is infinitely bad, and infinitely bad in a way that outweighs all other possible bads or goods. God is the perfect being–the perfect being’s acting impermissibly is something truly cosmically awful (and impossible, too). Then, yes, for any positive N, it is true that any world of value N is a world God would be permitted to actualize. But that’s only because a part of what makes the world have value N is that God is permitted to actualize it–if God were not permitted to actualize it, then the world (which presumably would be an impossible world then) would have negative infinite value.
    Suppose we don’t include the value of God’s actualizing of the world. Then the argument leads to the absurdity that God can actualize a world where there is a planet where people suffer intensely for eternity, with sufferings proportional to their virtue, as long as there is enough good stuff elsewhere. (Assuming incommensurability doesn’t wreck the argument here. But I am not sure how well the argument works given incommensurability.)
    Finally, consider the following as a general principle of action:
    (Q) If in circumstances C one is not required to actualize a state of affairs of value exceeding N, then as long as one has in C actualized a state of affairs of value N, one is not to be criticized morally.
    It seems to me that the argument commits you to this in the special case of God’s actualizing a world, and it’s not clear that the special case is all that different from the general case in Q. But I don’t see any reason to believe Q.

    December 16, 2009 — 10:47
  • John A.

    Mike
    “What I need for the second conclusion is widespread agreement that our world is on balance a world that is suffciently valuable for God to actualize. I have that.”
    How do you have that? You may have it among theists, but how does this square with the results of the recent poll where theists are in a distinct minority? I also take it that if there is disagreement as to the facts then one of the sides is wrong.
    “Whatever N is it follows that the existence of gratuitous evil presents no objection to God’s existence.”
    How does this follow? I think you need to demonstrate that your hypothesis is in fact the way things are for you to be able to make this assertion. I am not trying to be snarky about this, but if you are simply just working out the implications of a ‘if-then’ argument,’ then so be it, but I would certainly like to see more. I would like you to explain what the value of N is. What does having ‘some positive value’ mean and positive value for whom? A person living in great wealth and excess while others are starving might think that the world has positive value because he is not suffering. Or, maybe the positive value of N is that God makes His grace available to all so that all who knowingly and freely accept Him as their savior will be saved. (Given your recent paper in Faith and Philosophy, this seems a reasonable move on your part.)

    December 16, 2009 — 10:48
  • Mike Almeida

    “What I need for the second conclusion is widespread agreement that our world is on balance a world that is suffciently valuable for God to actualize. I have that.”
    How do you have that?
    As I said, most agree to this, theist and non-theist. What they disagree about is whether God exists and whether there is gratuitous evil. But I’m happy to just say that we disagree about what the facts are and leave it at that.
    “Whatever N is it follows that the existence of gratuitous evil presents no objection to God’s existence.”
    How does this follow? I think you need to demonstrate that your hypothesis is in fact the way things are for you to be able to make this assertion.
    It follows from the initial argument. I leave it as an exercise for you.

    December 16, 2009 — 11:01
  • Mike Almeida

    Alex, thanks for the comment; that’s very helpful. I’m assuming both the de re and de dicto versions of what God is not required to do are true.
    1. Each world w whose value exceeds N is such that God is not required to actualize it.
    2. It is not the case that God is required to actualize some world or other whose value exceeds N.
    Implicit in what I argue is that God must actualize some world or other that has value N or greater.
    You add,
    But premise (i) requires some form of consequentialism. The deontologist will deny (i).
    That’s just false. All I need is for there to be a way to rank worlds morally.
    You say,
    Suppose we don’t include the value of God’s actualizing of the world. Then the argument leads to the absurdity that God can actualize a world where there is a planet where people suffer intensely for eternity, with sufferings proportional to their virtue, as long as there is enough good stuff elsewhere.
    Nothing I say entails that. I’ve never said or committed to any claims about what outweighs what morally. I certainly never said (nor would I) that virtue outweighs suffering. But set that aside, and suppose it were true that virtue outweighs suffering in the way you suggest. I would then be in no worse position than those who would claim that such suffering is thereby not gratuitous and so compatible with God existing.
    You assert,
    God’s doing something he is not permitted to is infinitely bad and infinitely bad in a way that outweighs all other possible bads or goods.
    It’s not obviously relevant to my argument. I’m talking about what God is permitted to do. God’s doing what he is permitted to do is not infinitely valuable nor does it obviously contribute anything ot the value of a world.

    December 16, 2009 — 11:33
  • John A.

    MIke – there is no need to patronize me. I am capable of following your argument which I think I have done. All I am asking for is for you to defend your hypothesis that “we take it as settled that God is not required to actualize a world that exceeds positive value N.” My question is why should I accept this stipulation when I do not understand what constitutes ‘positive value N.’ Maybe this is not an issue for you, but it is for me. Again, you do not owe me an answer, but please do not patronize me.

    December 16, 2009 — 12:51
  • Mike Almeida

    Who’s patronizing? The first question is empirical. I agreed to disagree, since it is not a philosophical question. The second question is one I’m leaving as an exercise. I think I’m allowed to do that. Take it as a challenge to show it doesn’t follow. For me it’s something I’ll have to fuss over if I decide to write something about this.

    December 16, 2009 — 13:19
  • Luke Gelinas

    Mike,
    The overall value of W might be some function that takes deontic and non-deontic values.
    I’m not sure whether you can iron everything out like that. There might be certain views where different types of values have different structures, and demand different responses. I think a version of buck-passing might make trouble for people who want to consequentialize everything, and it might make a difference here too.

    December 16, 2009 — 13:27
  • christian

    Mike,
    I didn’t mean to be appealing to PSR. Like you, I’m not impressed by arguments that appeal to it. Take, for example, Thomson’s view of abortion. She claims that a woman that has an abortion simply to go on a cruise, to avoid a hassle, has a right to have an abortion in those circumstances. Having an abortion wouldn’t involve killing the fetus unjustly so what she does is permissible. Nonetheless, says Thomson, she would be positively indecent for doing so.
    My idea is something like hers. One can perform some action permissibly, but one could still deserve criticism for performing it. As a number of others have pointed out above, I think this could be true of God were God to create a world with value at least as great as N. The claim is that if God fails to prevent suffering in creating such a world, then even if it is permissible for him to so fail, he could still deserve criticism if he fails to prevent the suffering without having a justifying reason for so failing.
    At any rate, I can see this line being pushed. It doesn’t strike me as being terribly unreasonable.

    December 16, 2009 — 13:41
  • Mike Almeida

    I think a version of buck-passing might make trouble for people who want to consequentialize everything, and it might make a difference here too.
    Luke,
    Assuming some moral ordering among the worlds does not entail consequentialism. For any two worlds, w and w’, w is morally ranked higher or lower or the same as w’. I don’t care how the order is imposed, whether it appeals to moral value, instances of injustice, or whatnot. Otherwise, we are assuming some incommensurability among worlds. That’s fine too. If it takes that sort of assumption to generate a problem of evil, I’ll take it. But I’m not sure even that would help generate a problem. Keep in mind that the problem(s) of evil all appeal to the possiblity of God actualizing a better world. They all assume some ordering among the worlds.

    December 16, 2009 — 13:48
  • Mike Almeida

    My idea is something like hers. One can perform some action permissibly, but one could still deserve criticism for performing it.
    Those worlds w such that God would criticizable for actualizing w but would do no wrong in actualizing w are also such that God, in spite of his perfect nature, nature, possibly actualizes w. Is that right? If so, I’m not sure how it affects my argument.

    December 16, 2009 — 14:30
  • Luke Gelinas

    Assuming some moral ordering among the worlds does not entail consequentialism.
    Right, I didn’t mean to imply that it did (just that there might be an analogous issue). There could be facts about God’s desires (or what-have-you) that ground the ordering–in terms of divine moral preferability. But I take it that’s not what you’re after.
    It seems POE can coexist with incommensurability, at least so long as it’s not global incommensurability. Just so long as there are some pockets of commensurable worlds, and some are better than others, it seems you can get it going.

    December 16, 2009 — 14:35
  • christian

    Mike,
    The idea would then be that actualizing a world from amongst the set that he could permissibly actualize, would be incompatible with his nature. Thus, he couldn’t actualize a world with a value at least as great as N even though he could permissibly actualize a world with a value at least as great as N. So, it’s not true that he possibly actualizes w.
    That it’s permissible to do A doesn’t show that a perfect being could do A. I’m not sure how this affects your argument. If you’re assuming that God possibly actualizes w, then this would be a reason to think that’s false.

    December 16, 2009 — 14:56
  • Luke Gelinas

    Mike,
    Thinking some more about what would and would not make your view consequentialist–it seems to me that the view will turn out consequentialist if you think that:
    (1) Intuitively deontic values (justice, agent-relative ones, etc) can be adequately expressed by genuine consequentialisms
    and
    (2) The better the world, the better the world-creating act.
    Many people seem to think (1) true. As for (2), nothing I can see in your post rules it out. But this comes back to my earlier question about why we should care merely about God doing his duty (rather than the ‘supererogatory’).

    December 16, 2009 — 15:23
  • Mike Almeida

    Luke,
    I don’t think that is what makes a theory consequentialist (or, as i prefer, axiological). Axiological theories are those that make the rightness or wrongness of actions depend exclusively on the value associated (in various ways with various axiological theories) with their outcomes. If a theory allows that the value of outcomes is relevant to the rightness/wrongness of actions, but not exclusively so, then the theory is deontological (non-axiological). This follows mainly Peter Vallentyne’s work, which I htink is largely right on this score.
    Christian,
    If your view entails that any world with gratuitious evil is unactualizable and some world with no gratuitous evil is actualizable, you’re going to run into the reductio at December 16, 2009 8:17 AM above.

    December 16, 2009 — 17:17
  • Luke Gelinas

    Mike, fair enough. I guess I have questions about getting ‘rightness’ out of goodness of outcomes (mostly because I have questions about rightness generally). And so I like what seem to me to be less loaded definitions of consequentialism. But why couldn’t I agree that a world-creator has no requirement to actualize an above-N world, but nonetheless think that moral perfection requires its bearer to consistently go above and beyond the call of duty?

    December 16, 2009 — 17:41
  • Luke Gelinas

    BTW–and I promise I’ll stop posting after this–one implication of your definition is that theories that make goodness of acts a function of goodness of outcomes, but eschew talk of rightness/wrongness, not only aren’t consequentialist, they can’t be consequentialized at all. That’s a bit strange.

    December 16, 2009 — 18:35
  • David

    I think that there is a problem in how you take “not many people object to the overall value of the world.” The sense in which this seems to me true is that most people think the actual world is a good world and would not think it a better state of affairs that the world not exist. But even if most people think that this a very good world, which also seems likely, it doesn’t follow that most people think that the world is good enough to have been created by God. Having no problem with the overall value of the world is consistent with thinking that the value of the world is below N.

    December 16, 2009 — 21:36
  • Mike:
    I think now I see better what you’re up to.
    What if someone says: “God has a duty to ensure there are no gratuitous evils. Any world with gratuitous evils is a world where God violates his duty, and hence has value negative infinity, and in particular has value less than N. Therefore no world of positive value that contains God has any gratuitous evil.”

    December 16, 2009 — 23:05
  • christian

    “If your view entails that any world with gratuitious evil is unactualizable and some world with no gratuitous evil is actualizable, you’re going to run into the reductio at December 16, 2009 8:17 AM above.”
    I don’t follow that argument. There are too many big words in it for me. But I do think it is obviously analytic that a world with gratuitous evil cannot be actualized by a perfect being.
    Nothing I said above, in my previous comment, entails that though.

    December 17, 2009 — 0:00
  • John A.

    Mike
    I apologize for misreading your comment. I believe you have a valid argument – I question its soundness. I hope you will write more on this topic and this approach to ‘solving’ the problem of evil. I do learn a great deal from trying to understand with your various arguments.
    A question to think about: If the concept of ‘good enough’ can be worked out regarding the world we live in as the criterion that God must meet to meet His moral duties, then can we rethink the goodness of God in terms of His being good enough to warrant praise and thanksgiving. Does God need to be all-knowing, all-powerful, and completely good to warrant our understanding of our relationship with Him as one of being a child to a parent?

    December 17, 2009 — 6:59
  • Mike Almeida

    But I do think it is obviously analytic that a world with gratuitous evil cannot be actualized by a perfect being.
    I suspect this is an untenable view, Christian. There are extraordinarily capable people who hold that a perfect being can (and does) co-exist with gratuitous evil, most notably van Inwagen. I’m guessing he understands the English words pretty well.
    I don’t follow that argument. There are too many big words in it for me.
    Right, sure.

    December 17, 2009 — 8:36
  • Mike Almeida

    one implication of your definition is that theories that make goodness of acts a function of goodness of outcomes, but eschew talk of rightness/wrongness, not only aren’t consequentialist, they can’t be consequentialized at all. That’s a bit strange.
    Luke,
    I’m not sure how strange it is, but there are not-so-difficult ways to accommodate quasi-consequnetialist views that eschew talk of right/wrong action. I assume these are views inspired by Norcross’s work on the topic. This is manageable, I think.
    But even if most people think that this a very good world, which also seems likely, it doesn’t follow that most people think that the world is good enough to have been created by God.
    David,
    That’s surely right. But I was actually urging that most people would not object to God actualizing a world that has the overall value of our world. They object instead to the kinds of evils we find in this world. The point of the post is that if you accept the idea that this world is on balance good enough for God to actualize, you have a solution to your worries about the kinds of evils that exist.
    What if someone says: “God has a duty to ensure there are no gratuitous evils
    Alex,
    I expect some people will say this. I think the position is, on reflection, untenable. Surely the badness of a single instance of gratuitous evil–the pointless scratch on Hume’s finger, say–is not so grave that no amount or kind of positive value would outweigh it. Suppose you agree that there are worlds that are good enough to be actualized and those worlds have overall value N. Lots of world are much better, but these N-worlds are really very good. Ours, say, is an N-world. It’s not credible to maintain that a world W that is infinitely good in every way except a single minor instance of gratuitous evil is unactualizable and a world that meets the value specified in N (say, with no gratuitous evil) is actualizable. The N-world has to be on balance worse than some such W. So the idea is that if you accept that there is some N such that worlds whose overall value is N or better are actualizable, then you can’t credibly hold that God would not allow a single instance of gratuitous evil.
    If the concept of ‘good enough’ can be worked out regarding the world we live in as the criterion that God must meet to meet His moral duties, then can we rethink the goodness of God in terms of His being good enough to warrant praise and thanksgiving.
    John,
    I hope the view that this world is good enough to be actualized does not entail or evince that God is less than perfect. So, I’m urging that actualizing a good enough world like ours is something that a perfect being could do. But of course the metaphysics of perfection is far from settled, and the concept of God for even perfect being theists is in flux.

    December 17, 2009 — 10:04
  • Mike Almeida

    There is an appealing line of argument on gratuitous that I might have taken instead. If it is granted that, some value N, an N-world is good enough to be actualized, then any evil E that occurs in an N-world is non-gratuitous. It’s non-gratuitous since there is no N-world in which E is prevented and a comparable good is not lost. There are other worlds, of course, in which E is prevented and a comparable good is not lost, but those worlds are beyond what God is required to actualize.

    December 17, 2009 — 11:04
  • John A.

    Mike
    Who was it that argued that God was working through us to become what he is capable of becoming? In other words, from a moral standpoint he is only as good as we are. I may be mis-wording this question. I seem to remember it being William James or Samuel Alexander, but it has been 40 years since I read Alexander or that aspect of James.

    December 17, 2009 — 17:28
  • Gregory Lewis

    Mike,
    Feel free to ignore if I’m saying nothing worth responding to, but:
    I think God has more to worry about than a global concern to make an N-world. I think, being morally perfect, he also has commitments (I hesitate to say ‘duty’) to each person in a world he actualizes. I don’t think it would be a commitment to not inflict gratuitous evil (minor instances like finger-scratching seem unproblematic), but it would cover to the other side of the scale, to things like the Mutilation and other horrors. So I think God would be commited to ensure no one suffers these sorts of significant evils without it being needed.
    A commitment like this seems reasonable, and I think it escapes your reductio above: God would actualize a world W without a significant gratuitous evil but not a infinitely better world W’ with such an instance because the latter doesn’t fulfil the commitment I sketched above. After all, providing both are N worlds, I don’t see how W’ being much better than W really matters (after all, there might be a W” much better than W’, etc.)
    Maybe I’m reporting a jejune intuition, but it seems this argument runs into a fairly strong reductio itself. Take an N-world A, and another N-world A’, the world that would result if a particular instance of the Mutilation was added to A (if the mutilation isn’t bad enough, pretend something widespread and horrible is in fact gratuitous, like AIDS, famine, or sexual abuse.) If I understand the argument right, God can decide that instead of actualizing A, he’ll actualize A’ instead because either is good enough. That, to me, seems crazy.
    Apologies if I’ve written a lot and said very little.

    December 17, 2009 — 17:32
  • Mike Almeida

    Who was it that argued that God was working through us to become what he is capable of becoming?
    John,
    I don’t know, but I’d like to know.
    So I think God would be commited to ensure no one suffers these sorts of significant evils without it being needed.
    Gregory,
    So long as we allow it that worlds of some value N are such that God permits them (whatever else is true at such worlds), the added stipulation is going to generate a reductio of the sort at December 16, 2009 8:17 AM above.

    December 17, 2009 — 19:58