Evolutionarily Imperfect Worlds
October 28, 2010 — 16:55

Author: Michael Almeida  Category: Uncategorized  Tags: , ,   Comments: 7

I want to consider a response to a Darwinian Problem of Evil . There are of course other ways to formulate the Darwinian problem. The atheological argument goes this way.
1.1 Were it true that God existed, then there would be no non-human animal suffering in any possible world.
1.2. Possibly, there is non-human animal suffering.
1.3. /:. God does not exist.
Notice that for the atheist, (1.1) is presented as a non-trivially true counterpossible. And it is assumed that MT holds for counterpossibles. It follows from (1.1) that (1.4) is true.
1.4. Were it true that God existed, then it would be true that no non-human animal in any possible world has the essential property of possibly manifesting the disposition to suffer painful mental states in some world.
But, if these are counterpossibles and genuinely non-trivial, then there is much less reason to affirm (1.4) than to affirm (1.5).
1.5. Were it true that God existed, then it would be true that some non-human animals in some possible worlds have the essential property of possibly manifesting the disposition to suffer painful mental states.
In fact, theists and atheists agree that, actual non-human animals have the essential property of possibly manifesting the disposition to suffer pain. So we should expect that it takes much less of a departure from the actual world for the consequent of (1.5) to be true than for the consequent of (1.4) to be true. Of course, it might well be that non-trivial counterpossibles have truth-conditions that make similarity to the actual world irrelevant to their assessment. But then it seems like counterpossibles, true or not, are irrelevant to philosophical argument.
To conclude the argument. If (1.5) is true, then (1.4) and (1.1) are both false, and the Darwinian Problem of Evil is unsound. It is a further advantage of this response that, if it is an essential property non-human animals to possibly manifest the disposition to suffer pain, then the existence of non-human animal suffering is compatible with the existence of God. If the property is essential, then it is impossible that God should fink or mask that disposition in every possible world. But then it is possible that God exists in evolutionaily imperfect worlds.
1.6. It is possible that God exists in evolutionarily imperfect worlds.

Comments:
  • David Warwick

    “1.4. Were it true that God existed, then it would be true that no non-human animal in any possible world has the essential property of possibly manifesting the disposition to suffer painful mental states in some world.”
    There are two questions: what the animal is capable of, and God’s course of action.
    The animal first: there are possibly worlds where animals are incapable of feeling pain … if so, whatever happens in those worlds, there’s no animal suffering. If the only goal was to minimize animal pain, this would be the most straightforward world that would achieve that aim.
    However, we live in a world where animals can feel pain.
    Pain, though, is not a necessary condition. An individual animal in our world capable of suffering pain might theoretically live a pain free life. A pampered lapdog in an Imperial court, say.
    So the question is: is there a possible world where animals might feel pain, yet events transpire that none of them ever do?
    The answer would seem to be yes – there is a possible world where a trillion coin tosses all come up heads. An atheologian would concede that a world that seems even more unlikely than that – one where every animal death happens to be painless – is possible.
    Given the possibility, the question becomes one of God’s actions.
    If the thesis is:
    1. Animals can possibly suffer pain.
    2. God exists and can influence events to at least some extent.
    3. God seeks to minimize all pain.
    Then we’d expect a world where events show some trend where events transpire in a way that minimizes animal suffering.
    We’re confident about (1), the atheologian can neatly solve the problem by discounting (2), but if we accept (2), (3) remains a problem.

    October 29, 2010 — 7:37
  • David

    >>So we should expect that it takes much less of a departure from the actual world for the consequent of (1.5) to be true than for the consequent of (1.4) to be true.
    This seems right, but in trying to determine whether to accept (1.4) or (1.5), don’t you have to consider the similarity to the actual world of the consequent on the assumption that the antecedent holds, not just the consequent taken by itself?
    Compare, (a),Were it true that Martians exist, they would have contacted us; (b) Were it true that Martians exist, they would not have contacted us. It wouldn’t be reasonable to say that we have more reason to accept (b) than (a) because in possible worlds close to the actual world, Martians haven’t contacted us.

    October 29, 2010 — 9:56
  • Steve Jeffers

    > 1.1 Were it true that God existed, then there
    > would be no non-human animal suffering in any
    > possible world.
    I think this overstates the atheist claim. I think the claim would have to be that pain is *possible*, and that the presence of a benevolent God need not completely eradicate pain, but there would be evidence that pain was … mitigated to at least some extent (up to and including it being eliminated).
    Human suffering makes sense in a bigger picture of a world with an afterlife – it’s a price worth paying for infinite bliss (the infinite payoff imagined by Pascal’s Wager). Or knowledge of suffering is necessary for an informed decision that might lead us to Hell.
    This isn’t a factor in animal suffering.
    (In most – not all – religious traditions, there are very few sanctions against humans who inflict pain on animals. The Christian God actively encourages it: Genesis 9:2 – “And the fear of you and the dread of you shall be upon every beast of the earth, and upon every fowl of the air, upon all that moveth [upon] the earth, and upon all the fishes of the sea; into your hand are they delivered.”)
    We can, of course, imagine a world with more instances of animal pain. Perhaps it is impossible to eliminate all pain and God is eliminating all possible pain. But we find it easy to imagine a world with all the conditions of ours but with fewer instances – even just one less is enough – of animal pain. A naive way of putting it might be ‘were I God, I feel I could do more to alleviate the suffering of animals’.

    October 29, 2010 — 11:23
  • Mike Almeida

    David,
    I’m not sure I follow you. The question is whether it is possible for God to coexist with pointless animal suffering. The atheologian says yes. It is possible that necessarily no non-human animal suffers pain. They offer the counterpossible argument above. My worry is that the counterpossible is false. Does that make better sense?

    October 29, 2010 — 11:56
  • Mike Almeida

    Compare, (a),Were it true that Martians exist, they would have contacted us; (b) Were it true that Martians exist, they would not have contacted us. It wouldn’t be reasonable to say that we have more reason to accept (b) than (a) because in possible worlds close to the actual world, Martians haven’t contacted us.
    But that’s only on the assumption that there is some tension in the view that there are non-contacting Martians. That is, if you think the Martian-contact worlds are closer, then you think something like Martians are sociable types who would likely contact us. Somethign like that. But in the countefactuals I consider, there is no reason at all to believe that God-painless-finked worlds are closer to us than God-painless-essential worlds are closer. In fact, since the actual world includes beings that have the property of essentially possibly manifesting their disposition to suffer pain, you should expect that the God-painless-essential worlds are closer.

    October 29, 2010 — 12:03
  • Steve Jeffers

    “The question is whether it is possible for God to coexist with pointless animal suffering. The atheologian says yes.”
    ‘Pointless’ wasn’t in the original post. Originally, you had an atheologian framing the question but adding ‘pointless’ renders it distinctly theistic:
    [1.1 Were it true that God existed, then there would be no (pointless) non-human animal suffering in any possible world.]
    If:
    1. God can not possibly coexist with animal suffering.
    2. There is animal suffering.
    Then, inevitably:
    3. There can be no God.
    The atheologian goes down the pub at that point.
    But adding ‘pointless’ changes it to:
    1a. God can not possibly coexist with pointless animal suffering.
    2. There is animal suffering.
    3a. Either there is no God or all animal suffering has a point.
    God can be disproved with one instance of pointless animal suffering.
    So for God to exist, every instance of animal suffering in exactly the form it took must be essential to an omnibenevolent plan. This is not falsifiable, but is extremely difficult to imagine – say a lizard fifty million years ago died alone after ninety seconds of agony … but if it had been eighty-five seconds of agony the divine purpose would have been utterly thwarted?
    It’s reasonable, I think, for the atheologian to ask if any sensible discussion of such a divine plan is possible.

    October 29, 2010 — 13:16
  • Mike Almeida

    ‘Pointless’ wasn’t in the original post. Originally, you had an atheologian framing the question but adding ‘pointless’ renders it distinctly theistic:
    I can’t follow this.

    October 29, 2010 — 13:21