A Word on Natural Evil
September 2, 2010 — 9:18

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Comments: 20

Alvin Plantinga managed the logical problem of natural evil by the traditional move of assimilating it to moral evil. This dialectical move invites rhetorical flak, but it’s perfectly legitimate in the context of the logical problem. It’s at least epistemically possible that all we have are various species of moral evil.
Let me suggest a different approach to reconciling the existence of natural evil and God. Grant that God can unrestrictedly actualize a naturally perfect world. We are granting that, necessarily, God can actualize a naturally perfect world. Plantinga famously denies this since it is inconsistent with the possibility of universal transworld depravity. But we can concede more than Plantinga does. A naturally perfect world is, as you might guess, a world in which none of the pain and suffering due to natural events occur. There might be natural events such as hurricanes, droughts, pestilence and the like, in naturally perfect worlds, but there is no suffering and pain due natural events. And so there are no natural evils.
Consider the thesis T.
T. Necessarily, God actualizes a naturally perfect world.
Let’s show that T is false. Suppose all of the naturally perfect worlds are in the set S. It follows from T that every possible world is in S.


1.0 Every possible world is in S.
But if every possible world is in S, then there are no worlds that include natural evils.
2.0 There are no worlds W1 that include natural evils.
Let W0 be an extremely valuable, morally perfect and naturally perfect world. W0 is such that, every significantly free instantiated essence freely satisfies the requirements of beneficence in taking every necessary measure to prevent any suffering and pain due to natural events. Since W0 is a morally perfect and a naturally perfect world, W0 is in S.
3.0. W0 is in S.
But if W0 is in S, then W1 is in S. If every agent in W0 is significantly free and freely satisfies the requirements of beneficence in preventing the pain and suffering due to natural events in W0, then there is a possible world W1 in which every significantly free agent freely fails to satisfiy the requirements of beneficence in W0.
4.0 W1 is in S.
But (2) and (4) are obviously inconsistent. Therefore T is false.
5.0 /:. It is not the case that, necessarily, God actualizes a naturally perfect world.
6.0 /:. It is possible that God can actualize a naturally perfect world and God does not actualize a naturally perfect world.
Therefore the existence of God is consistent with the existence of natural evil, which was to be proved.

Comments:
  • Found your problem:
    “T. Necessarily, God actualizes a naturally perfect world.
    Let’s show that T is false. Suppose all of the naturally perfect worlds are in the set S. It follows from T that every possible world is in S.”
    It does not, however, follow that every member of S is possible; your argument, therefore, only shows that Wo, while a member of S, is nonetheless not possible.

    September 2, 2010 — 10:37
  • Mike Almeida

    It does not, however, follow that every member of S is possible
    I think I see why you say this, but it’s false. If a world is not possible, then it is not in S. S contains worlds–that is, possible worlds–that are naturally perfect. If you can describe a naturally perfect non-possible world, then it is not in S.

    September 2, 2010 — 11:06
  • David

    How do you know it’s false that no morally perfect world is a naturally perfect world? Suppose every world in which every freely instantiated essence satisfies the requirements of beneficence also contains natural evil that these essences are unable to avert. Then, it hasn’t been proved that Wo is in S.

    September 2, 2010 — 21:06
  • Mike Almeida

    Hi David,
    How do you know it’s false that no morally perfect world is a naturally perfect world?
    Ain’t it always the way. The atheologian insists that (i) there are such wonderful worlds and (ii) necessarily God can actualize one, and (iii) necessarily, if God can actualize such a world, then he does actualize such a world. But, of course, He didn’t, therefore, no God. Unlike less friendly theists, I agreeably concede (i) and (ii). But I show that even if (i) and (ii) are true, (iii) is false! So it’s a little unexpected to hear the objection: how do you know (i) is true? The atheologian has been insisting on (i).
    Setting that aside, the argment doesn’t need for there to be morally perfect worlds. It will work just as well for worlds in which significantly free agents prevent most of the pain and suffering, but not all of it. It will work just as well for worlds in which significantly free agents and God together prevent all/most of the pain and suffering. It will even work (though I don’t press this point here) for worlds in which suffering is not prevented but fully/mostly alleviated.

    September 3, 2010 — 8:06
  • Also, you need an additional step clarifying that every world that God does not actualize is not a possible world, otherwise you might have possible worlds actualized by Zeus that do contain natural evils. Without that step, even if 1 is true, it doesn’t follow from T.

    September 3, 2010 — 14:48
  • Mike Almeida

    Also, you need an additional step clarifying that every world that God does not actualize is not a possible world
    This is not a bad point, but in this context any ‘god’ other than the Anselmian God is a creature. I agree that a quasi-Zeus is possible. But he’s a creature, and so he can co-actualize a world in the same way we do. We strongly actualize states of affairs that God cannot, such as our freely performing some action.

    September 3, 2010 — 14:59
  • Also, Eli is correct. I’ve diagrammed his comment; I’ve included a link to it for my URL. The diagram is a schematic of what the author here is proposing. There are no inconsistencies in it. Two solutions: use Eli’s solution, use the solution in my previous comment, or otherwise identify that set S and the set of all possible worlds are consubstantial.

    September 3, 2010 — 15:08
  • Mike Almeida

    I’m afraid that’s false. Eli’s objection stated the following,
    It does not, however, follow that every member of S is possible
    That observation depends on there being worlds W in S such that W is impossible. But there are no impossible worlds at all. Some people assume that there are such worlds for the sake of fine-graining propositions, but I do not. The observation also depends on it being true that there are worlds W in S at which is it false that God actualized W. But there are exactly no possible worlds W at which it is false that God actualized W. To put the point positively, it is true at every possible world that God actualized this world and there are no worlds that are not possible worlds. So, every member of S is possible.

    September 3, 2010 — 16:48
  • Mike Almeida

    Maybe this clarification will be useful to you. Consider what T means.
    T. Necessarily, God actualizes a naturally perfect world.
    Semantically, what T entails is T’.
    T’ It is true at every possible world W that God actualized W and W is naturally perfect.
    So, there are no possible worlds W–none at all–at which it is false either that God actualized W OR that W is naturally perfect.
    Now suppose (as in the argument) that all of the naturally perfect worlds are in S.
    1. All of the naturally perfect worlds are in S.
    Now the set of naturally perfect worlds = the set of all possible worlds. How do we know that? We know from T’ that EVERY possible world is a naturally perfect world at which it is true that God actualized this world. But if EVERY possible world is a naturally perfect world, then, of course (2) is true.
    2. The set of naturally perfect worlds = the set of all possible worlds.
    But then of course S includes just the set of all possible worlds. S includes no impossible worlds. Indeed, includes no unactualizable or infeasible worlds, either.

    September 3, 2010 — 17:32
  • Jonathan Jong

    I’m afraid I might be missing something here. How did you move from 3.0 to 4.0? Why does the possibility of Wo entail the possibility of W1?
    Wo is a naturally perfect world, in which all free agents make morally perfect choices.
    I see that if Wo is possible, then there is a possible world which is also naturally perfect, in which not all free agents make morally perfect choices. But this isn’t quite W1. W1 is a world which includes natural evils, i.e., not a naturally perfect world.

    September 3, 2010 — 21:35
  • Mike Almeida

    Jonathan,
    The move from 3.0 to 4.0 is based on the following observation,
    But if W0 is in S, then W1 is in S. If every agent in W0 is significantly free and freely satisfies the requirements of beneficence in preventing the pain and suffering due to natural events in W0, then there is a possible world W1 in which every significantly free agent freely fails to satisfiy the requirements of beneficence in W0.
    Recall that in W0 the beneficent actions of free moral agents includes freely preventing all suffering and pain from natural events. If you prevent the pain and suffering from natural events, you prevent natural evils from occurring. In W1 the agents in W0 freely fail to prevent the natural evils. So, W1 includes natural evil.

    September 4, 2010 — 8:47
  • Interesting. So, in other words, if I follow correctly, the argument shows that to continue maintaining T the atheologian has to reject at least one of two claims:
    (C1) There are agents with free will, where free will is understood to mean that one could do otherwise (in the relevant way).
    (C2) Among the alternatives available to free will are alternatives that, if taken, are (in a relevant way) causal factors for (i.e., directly cause or remove impediments preventing) natural evils.
    Given something like these (obviously they need to be precisified a bit) there will always be possible worlds with natural evil.

    September 4, 2010 — 12:33
  • Mike Almeida

    Hi Brandon,
    Yes, I think that more or less sums it up. If you take libertarian free will and combine it with some very modest modal assumptions, you get the conclusion that, possibly, God can actualize a naturally perfect world and God does not actualize a naturally perfect world. The really fundamental point is that it’s impossible to have very good worlds such as W0, unless there are very bad worlds such as W1.

    September 4, 2010 — 13:04
  • “W0 is such that, every significantly free instantiated essence freely satisfies the requirements of beneficence in taking every necessary measure to prevent any suffering and pain due to natural events.”
    Is this stipulative of the contents W0, or a consequence of what was said before? If it was stipulative, your opponent can deny that there is a world W0 where anybody freely satisfies the requirements of beneficence in taking any necessary measures to prevent any suffering and pain due to natural causes. And if it’s a consequence of what was said before, I don’t see how it follows.
    Are you supposing that a significantly free agent has to freely satisfy the requirements of every virtue? But why? To be significantly free is to make a free choice between one option that permissible and another that is not. One can be significantly free without being free to take necessary measures to prevent suffering and pain. For instance, one’s significant freedom could consist in whether one lies or does not lie. Imagine a world of mathematicians, where one of them manufactures a fraudulent proof (i.e., one containing a carefully hidden fallacy) of the Riemann Zeta Conjecture. This need not cause any pain or suffering to anyone.
    In fact, in such a world, benevolence is possible too, just not benevolence in respect of preventing pain or suffering. One can benevolently help another with a proof, or benevolently point out a mistake (we may suppose that mistakes cause no suffering or pain, but they are, nonetheless, intrinsically bad).
    All that said, I do have the intuition that worlds that contain moral but not natural evil are going to be impoverished as compared to the actual world.

    September 7, 2010 — 10:01
  • Mike Almeida

    If it was stipulative, your opponent can deny that there is a world W0 where anybody freely satisfies the requirements of beneficence in taking any necessary measures to prevent any suffering and pain due to natural causes.
    Sure, anybody can deny anything. What he could not do is reasonably deny it. Indeed, the denial to me is close to absurd.

    September 7, 2010 — 12:19
  • Mike Almeida

    Are you supposing that a significantly free agent has to freely satisfy the requirements of every virtue? But why? To be significantly free is to make a free choice between one option that permissible and another that is not. One can be significantly free without being free to take necessary measures to prevent suffering and pain.
    No, I’m not supposing that at all. As I said early in the comments, it is the atheological proposal that God MUST actualize one of a wonderful world in the set of worlds that are morally and naturally perfect. What I show is that it is not necessary that God does so, given the sorts of worlds that are in that set.

    September 7, 2010 — 12:22
  • Mike:
    I think I see. So the form of argument is this:
    1. It is possible that someone is freely beneficent in preventing suffering.
    2. If God can’t create a world with natural evil, then not (1).
    3. Therefore God can create a world with natural evil.
    While someone can deny (1), it does seem that (1) is plausible. Yes, that’s a pretty plausible argument.

    September 7, 2010 — 15:01
  • Edward T. Babinski

    QUESTIONS
    I phoned Plantinga ages ago, and asked him what “room” there was for “evil” to arise if everything arose from God. There was no pre-existent matter, nothing but the sole and direct will, and wisdom, and goodness of God, free of evil. So how did evil sneak in? How could it arise in the first place? What room was left for it in which to arise? God created things pleasing to Him, directly and solely out of His own power, wisdom, goodness.
    Equally perplexing is the question of how even the capability of doing something “evil” could have arisen. For instance, God cannot do evil. But God can create something (humans) that can do something God Himself cannot do? How come God cannot do evil but humans can do evil? Doesn’t God have freewill? If so, then God can do evil too. Isn’t that part of the definition of libertarian free will? Or does God lack libertarian freewill? But he was able to create human beings with libertarian freewill that were able to choose to do something even God could not do.
    Lastly, how valuable is libertarian freewill? Do the righteous have it in heaven or not? Do the damned have it in hell? If both retain their libertarian freewill throughout eternity, then isn’t it possible that some of the righteous in heaven may fall, and some of the damned may rise? (Such a possibility starts to warp standard apocalyptic Christian theology, raising thoughts that make a person feel “insecure.”)
    But what are the options? Does God remove libertarian freewill after a person dies? That sounds like God doesn’t think very much of free will.
    Or, if the “environmental circumstances” in heaven are “so perfect” that the surroundings themselves lead to people never choosing evil, then again, that is to say that the circumstances out weight the power to choose. And that’s similar to simply removing free will, via overpowering it.
    Or, let’s say, the righteous in heaven merge with God, who can do no evil, but again, that’s like removing free will again, since as we said, God never had the libertarian free will to do evil in the first place.
    These are prima facia questions to me. But others outside of this type of question also arise.
    For instance, it does not appear self-evident that the cosmos is firmly built upon, nor functions on the basis of, human moral decision-making.
    Nor is it obvious that the cosmos is teaching us all moral lessons in each baby’s death from disease or exposure, or accidents, or a twinning embryo having one sibling absorbed into the womb or into its own sibling, or any number of other cases, such as mass extinction events. Where is the meaning behind such seemingly meaningless deaths? It does not appear self-evident. So the “grotesqueness” is not the biggest issue, is it? It’s finding meaning behind this cosmos in which life and death appear at best in equilibrium, and God remains a bit less than self-evident. Though the grotesqueness of some means of death, including some amazing parasites, poisons, and natural disasters, does add a certain horrific poignancy to such questions. What kind of “Designer” would come up with such stuff?
    Note, I am agnostic. And not by choice, but by thought. There are weird tales of visions and unexplained events, but do they add up to classical theism, let alone Christian theism?

    September 9, 2010 — 21:16
  • Dustin Crummett

    I phoned Plantinga ages ago, and asked him what “room” there was for “evil” to arise if everything arose from God.
    How did he react to your phoning him up to harangue him without, apparently, having engaged with his published works on the topic?

    September 10, 2010 — 11:30
  • I expect that he reacted with calm and grace, since that’s the kind of man Al is.

    September 13, 2010 — 11:52