A different kind of sceptical theism
December 29, 2011 — 11:11

Author: Alexander Pruss  Category: Problem of Evil  Tags: , , , ,   Comments: 22

Standard sceptical theism focuses on our ignorance of the realm of values. I want to suggest a different kind of sceptical response to an evil E. This response identifies a good G such that it is clear that the occurrence of a good relevantly like G logically requires the permission of an evil relevantly like E, but instead the scepticism is in that we have on balance no significant evidence against the conjunction:

  1. G obtains and
  2. G outweighs E and
  3. there is no alternative good G* dissimilar from G that doesn’t require anything nearly as bad as E and that would be more or approximately equally worth having.

If the triple conjunction holds then G justifies E, and so if we have no significant evidence against the triple conjunction, we have no significant evidence that E is unjustified. (Yeah, one can dispute my implicit transfer principle, but something like that should work.)

And it’s fairly easy to generate examples of G that do the job for particular E. Take Rowe’s case of the horrendous evil inflicted on Sue. Let G be Sue’s having forgiven E’s perpetrator. We have no significant evidence against the conjunction (1)-(3), then. Granted, we may have significant evidence that G did not obtain in this life, though even that is probably a stretch, but we have no balance no significant evidence that G didn’t obtain in an afterlife. My intuitions strongly favor (2)–there is a way in which forgiveness seems to defeat evil–but in any case we have no significant evidence against (2). As for (3), granted there are many great moral goods that don’t require anything nearly as bad as E, but I don’t think we have on balance significant evidence that these goods are roughly as good as or better than G. Now, of course, it can be the case (whether due to a logical contradiction or dwindling probabilities) that we don’t have significant evidence against any conjunct but we do have significant evidence against the conjunction. But I don’t think this happens here.

Assign probabilities. Let’s assign 1/2 to each of (1)-(3), and suppose they’re independent. Then the probability of the conjunction is 1/8, which isn’t very significant as compared to the kinds of probabilities one gets in fine tuning arguments. And in a large random sample of justified evils, we’d expect there to be lots of them looking like the probability of their being justified, bracketing the existence of God, is 1/8 or less.

One might think that there are many evils, though, and one could multiply the 1/8s from them to get a really tiny probability that they’re all justified. But one can’t do that, because the cases aren’t independent on the hypotheses under consideration. If God exists, they’re all justified.

With a bit of creativity, it’s not hard finding G’s that logically require E. And for what it’s worth I think it’s easier for horrendous evils E than for minor evils. Now, it would be hard showing that (1)-(3) in fact hold, but the theist doesn’t need to do that. A weaker sceptical move is enough.

Comments:
  • Take Rowe’s case of the horrendous evil inflicted on Sue. Let G be Sue’s having forgiven E’s perpetrator. We have no significant evidence against the conjunction (1)-(3), then.
    Alex,
    (2) is “G outweighs E”; later you suggest that G “defeats” E. I take it that either formulation is supposed to imply that, roughly, the obtaining of G is morally sufficient reason for God to have allowed E. Some perhaps simpleminded questions:
    A. When God allows E, does God know (or have some other epistemically strong attitude toward the proposition) that G will obtain? If not, can we ourselves be justified in allowing E, assuming we can easily prevent E, if (say) we merely hope that G will come out of E? Indeed, can we ourselves be justified in allowing E, under those circumstances, even if we know that G will obtain?
    B. Another version of the question I asked Dianelos Georgoudis on the December 27 thread: All else equal, is a world in which (G & E) obtains really better, or at least no worse, than a world in which (~G & ~E) obtains?

    December 29, 2011 — 13:18
  • 1. I think defeat entails outweighing but not conversely.
    2. I was assuming a positive answer to A, though one can modify the story to replace “G” with “a sufficiently large probability of G”.
    3. I think the answer to B is yes.

    December 29, 2011 — 15:37
  • Mike Almeida

    If the triple conjunction holds then G justifies E, and so if we have no significant evidence against the triple conjunction
    This isn’t true (or, more cautiously, isn’t obviously true). Let W be a world in which G obtains, outweighs E and entails E. Suppose there is no other good G’ similar to G that does not entail E. It still does not follow that E is justified. There might be another world W’ that is better than W and that does not include either G or E. So, take Plantinga’s Smith bearing up magnificiently to his suffering. Let’s concede that his response to the evil outweighs the evil. Surely there are better worlds where Smith does not suffer at all. There are better worlds, no doubt, where Smith does not exist at all. But then take Jones who suffers some severe assault. This might make possible the very best, fairest, most balanced exercise of justice the world has witnessed. Concede for the moment that this great good outweighs the evil against Jones. Surely there are much better worlds where Jones is not assaulted at all. So that evil is not justified, or not as far as I can see.

    December 29, 2011 — 15:51
  • 3. I think the answer to B is yes.
    I’m trying to grasp this outlook. Suppose Sue is Jesus-like in her willingness to forgive wrongs done to her, and Sarah takes sadistic pleasure in horrifically wronging Sue. Are you saying that the world keeps getting better (or at least becomes no worse) with every horrific wrong Sarah does to Sue, provided Sue ends up forgiving those wrongs? Should our motto be “Make the world better — Seek out intentional personal harm and then forgive it”?

    December 29, 2011 — 16:41
  • Mike:
    “Suppose there is no other good G’ similar to G that does not entail E. It still does not follow that E is justified. There might be another world W’ that is better than W and that does not include either G or E.”
    Wouldn’t the aggregate of the goods of W’ then be a good G* greater than G that does not require E?
    Steve:
    Yes, in fact it seems obvious that the world is getting better. But at least we can say this sceptical thing: The business of weighing the goods and evils here is a tough one, and we are in no position to be confident that horrors outweigh the value of forgiveness.
    As to the motto, when one seeks out personal harm, one is intending evil to oneself, and that is approximately as wrong as intending evil to others.

    December 29, 2011 — 18:16
  • Yes, in fact it seems obvious that the world is getting better.
    Not to me! But I may just be slow. If the world gets better with each episode of horrific-but-forgiven wrongdoing, what grounds our moral obligation to prevent — or even refrain from committing — the wrongdoing if we’re justifiably confident that the victim will forgive it?
    As to the motto, when one seeks out personal harm, one is intending evil to oneself, and that is approximately as wrong as intending evil to others.
    I thought you might say that. Notice, though, that the horrific wrong done to Sue in Rowe’s example was intentional evil at least as bad as self-intended evil, yet you say that the world is better if Sue suffers it and forgives it than if she never suffers it in the first place. Surely self-intended harm is no worse, as such, than other-intended harm. If the latter can be outweighed by forgiveness, so can the former. The motto stands.

    December 29, 2011 — 19:25
  • “If the world gets better with each episode of horrific-but-forgiven wrongdoing, what grounds our moral obligation to prevent — or even refrain from committing — the wrongdoing if we’re justifiably confident that the victim will forgive it?”
    First of all, it is rare that we are in a position to have such a justifiable confidence. But bracket this thought.
    I admit that the line of thought is paradoxical.
    I think the paradox arises partly because we have some incorrect consequentialist intuitions.
    I think such paradoxes are going to occur in other cases if we take on board, as I think we all should, Socrates’ intuition that moral goods and evils far outweigh non-moral ones.
    For instance, suppose (no doubt contrary to fact) that the best empirical data showed that when a person suffers horrendous physical pain for several hours early in life, there is an 80% chance that the child will be significantly more compassionate later in life. If we accept the Socratic intuition, then on consequentialist grounds we should not give anesthesia to a child who is about to have major surgery. But obviously, whether or not the empirical data is there and correct, we should give the anesthesia.
    Cases like that might make one reject the Socratic intuition. But I don’t think we should reject the Socratic intuition. Instead, we should reject the consequentialist reasoning here.
    This reasoning is hard to reject. My best attempt is some thought like this. The moral progress of an individual is in the first instance something between that individual and God. It would be perfectly reasonable for the young person to reject anesthesia given such data (assuming the young person is mature enough to give informed consent in the matter), but a parent should not impose this great sacrifice on the young person. Of course, parents have serious duties with regard to the child’s moral development, but the between-the-child-and-God character of moral development needs to be respected. (I suppose the non-theist will replace considerations of “between-the-child-and-God” with considerations of autonomy.)
    I think this applies equally well in the case of forgiveness.
    “Notice, though, that the horrific wrong done to Sue in Rowe’s example was intentional evil at least as bad as self-intended evil, yet you say that the world is better if Sue suffers it and forgives it than if she never suffers it in the first place. Surely self-intended harm is no worse, as such, than other-intended harm.”
    But it is not our primary moral duty to maximize the value of the world. Our primary moral duty is to will the good and refrain from willing evil, even as a means to maximizing the world’s value.

    December 29, 2011 — 20:35
  • Alex: Here’s another worry. If (F & E) outweighs (~F & ~E), and especially if it obviously does, then the wrongdoer can say this to the victim who survives horrific wrongdoing: “I’ve done my part to make the world better, by wronging you, than it would’ve been had I not wronged you. So I meant well, to the world anyway. Now it’s up to you to complete that task by forgiving me.” On your view, I can’t see anything to fault in the wrongdoer’s perverse message.

    December 29, 2011 — 20:36
  • Again, I think this is a question of consequentialist intuitions.
    It is quite plausible, even independently of the Socratic intuition in my other comment, that the execution of Socrates has led to great goods for the world. The world is much better for Socrates’ having been executed: this example of upholding one’s conscience at the cost of one’s life has surely helped to inspire many to uphold justice when the costs were much smaller. Socrates died a few years earlier than he would otherwise have, but quite possibly many injustices were destroyed in the future. (I am not proposing this story as a good G justifying Socrates’ execution, because the entailment condition plainly does not hold.)
    But now imagine a far-sighted juror who could foresee these effects of Socrates’ execution. Imagine he votes to convict Socrates while saying to Socrates: “I’ve done my part to make the world better, by wronging you, than it would’ve been had I not wronged you. Now it’s up to you to complete that task by being a good example of fortitude in your death.” Clearly that would be a perverse message. Yet the first sentence in the message is very plausibly true, and plausibly so is the second. So the perversity of this message does not lie in its falsity, but rather in its being used as an excuse for wronging Socrates.

    December 29, 2011 — 20:44
  • So the perversity of this message does not lie in its falsity, but rather in its being used as an excuse for wronging Socrates.
    My wrongdoer’s message needn’t be offered as his excuse for wrongdoing (remove “So I meant well…” if it suggests otherwise; it’s inessential). Its perversity lies in its implausibility quite apart from its failure as an excuse. The right response to the wrongdoer’s message is this: “Are you crazy? If you want to make the world better, start by not committing horrific wrongs!” The example is meant to challenge your claim that a cycle of horrific-wronging-plus-forgiveness would make the world better and better.

    December 30, 2011 — 6:45
  • Steve:
    We may just be having a clash of intuitions. I don’t find the claim implausible at all.
    But I can see a line of thought compatible with my basic contentions that does make the claim false. Namely, one might worry that there are diminishing moral returns for the forgiver with each act of forgiveness of a horrendous evil. There seems to be a non-linearity in moral goods. Suppose x seriously risks her life ten times each time to save the life of a stranger, and y does so twenty times. It doesn’t seem right to say that y has twice as much of the good of exercising courage.
    Why this non-linearity and dwindling? Perhaps the forgiveness becomes habitual. Or perhaps there is a lack of the sort of diachronic diversity of goods in the life that is important to flourishing, when the same evildoer is being forgiven for the same sort of evildoing regularly? In any case, it is not implausible that there is a dwindling of returns, and hence it could be that if there were such a cycle in a single life, eventually it would stop improving the world for the evildoer to do the work. I myself am inclined to think that even so, the world will continue to improve, despite the dwindling, but the marginal improvement will decrease.
    Still, in the post I was just defending a sceptical position. So all I need is that it might well turn out that the forgiveness defeats or at least outweighs the evil. Judgments between kinds of good are difficult.

    December 30, 2011 — 7:26
  • Steve Maitzen

    We may just be having a clash of intuitions. I don’t find the claim implausible at all.
    Thanks for being patient. I’m not convinced it has to bottom out at a clash of intuitions if we explore further axiological consequences of your view.
    1. On the Christian scheme, it’s God’s forgiveness (rather than the victim’s) that’s essential, or most important: without God’s forgiveness, the wrongdoer is in big trouble even if the victim forgives the wrongdoing. (I think making the victim’s forgiveness secondary is confused, but I take it to be the Christian view.) Combining it with your position, and assuming that repentance leads to God’s forgiveness, horrific-evil-plus-repentance makes the world better than it would’ve been had the horrific evil never occurred. I don’t see repentance working that way. We might say that repentance for horrific evil makes the world better than it would be without such repentance — but better than it would’ve been without the evil in the first place? That view seems to make light of the evil, or treat it as ersatz evil, or treat it as merely an instrumental cost.
    2. I’ll play the heaven card. (It’s not my doctrine; it’s theism’s, so I’m allowed to.) Horrific-evil-plus-forgiveness (HEPF) never occurs in heaven. Were HEPF to occur in heaven, heaven wouldn’t be improved by it: not trivially because heaven can’t be improved (assuming it can’t be), but because HEPF doesn’t — or, at a minimum, doesn’t always — improve a world.

    December 30, 2011 — 12:09
  • Patrick

    If we actually believe that the good of forgiveness can outweigh the evil of raping and murdering a 5 year old girl, then you’ve just inverted the Problem of Evil. Now we have a new problem: the world is full of unraped, unmurdered 5 year old girls. How can a good God permit such a state of affairs to continue?
    If instead we merely argue that its logically possible that the good of forgiveness can outweigh the rape and murder of a 5 year old girl, we have a different problem. Because then we have to believe that
    1. the amount of 5 year old girls who are raped and murdered is exactly correct, and
    2. every instance in which a 5 year old girl is raped and murdered is an instance in which it is morally best if it happens so that someone can engage in forgiveness, and
    3. every instance in which a 5 year old girl is NOT raped and murdered is an instance in which it is morally best that it NOT happen.
    Which means that the only way to find out whether the universe is improved by raping and murdering a given 5 year old girl is to try it and see if anyone successfully stops you.
    “But it is not our primary moral duty to maximize the value of the world. Our primary moral duty is to will the good and refrain from willing evil, even as a means to maximizing the world’s value.”
    Perhaps it is not best to then come up with a conception of “the good” that requires that willful evil take place. It then becomes logically impossible to satisfy both of your demands (will the good, refrain from willing evil) at the same time.

    December 30, 2011 — 20:50
  • Patrick:
    First of all, not everyone is equally likely to actually forgive. Second, morality is about the maximization of the good. Third, there is the issue of the great harm to the rapist’s soul. God can choose between goods to different people.
    Steve:
    Ad 1: But God’s forgiveness requires the evildoer’s repentance, and that can’t always be secured if God respects the evildoer’s free will. Human forgiveness doesn’t require the evildoer’s repentance. (This asymmetry is interesting to think about. It may be that the reason for the asymmetry is that God is, after all, the ultimate judge.)
    Ad 2: All those in heaven have the opportunity to have a forgiving attitude towards those who did horrendous evils in this life either to them or to those they love (and those in heaven will love everyone). And there is a value in a diversity of goods, and an-going chain of horrendous evil and forgiveness does not exhibit that good. Moreover, it does not exhibit the good of justice.
    I should add that my own view is that we’ve got a ton of incommensurability between different kinds of goods.

    December 30, 2011 — 21:02
  • Mike Almeida

    Wouldn’t the aggregate of the goods of W’ then be a good G* greater than G that does not require E?
    Yes, it would, but it need not be similar to G. There might be no other good similar to G, as you stipulate. But here’s another way of seeing the worry. Suppose there is a best possible world. Indeed, I think it is provable that there is one, even provided a restricted principle of recombination. For any infinitely improving class of worlds C, there is a world W that includes every on-balance good element of C as a part (perhaps as a part of a complex cycle eternal returns or complex series of epochs or pick your favorite structure). I do not say that W is a multiverse, since it’s parts need not be isolated. It is rather one big universe. But then it is easy to see that W is more valuable than any member of C. But then there is no infinitely improving class of worlds. This holds perfectly generally, for any infinite sequence one might present as *the* class of infinitely improving worlds.
    Suppose, then, that there is a best possible world, W. There is surely some good G, in some world W* such that (i) W* not a part of W, (ii) G occurs only in on balance bad worlds, (iii) G entails and outweighs E, and (iv) no other G’ similar to G entails and outweighs E. If there is such an E, it meets your conditions but isn’t justified. God presumably could not actualize a world that included G and E.

    December 31, 2011 — 16:06
  • Right, but (c) says that G* is NOT similar to G, so G* seems to satisfy (c). Or did I get lost in the dialectic?

    December 31, 2011 — 17:38
  • On reflection, I think that in the case of Sue I’ve conflated two evils.
    E1: The horrors suffered by Sue.
    E2: The moral badness of the rapist’s action.
    We can separate these two when looking for justifying goods. What I said about forgiveness applies quite well to E1 if we accept Socrates’ principle that moral goods far outweigh physical evils. The moral good of forgiveness, if it occurred, outweighs the horrors.
    Notice also this intuition (I don’t like arithmetizing this, but I think it does capture a helpful intuition). Suppose some small harm is intentionally imposed on Sue. It is not implausible that the moral value of Sue’s forgiveness of the small harm could outweigh her suffering of the small harm. But observe also that the moral value of forgiveness is proportional to the harm being forgiven. It is twice as morally impressive to forgive twice as great a harm. Now, if A > B, then 2A > 2B. So if forgiving the smaller harm has a value A that outweighs the disvalue B of the smaller harm, then forgiving a twice as large harm has a value 2A that outweighs the disvalue 2B of the twice as great harm. If this linear dependence continues for much greater multipliers, then it follows that no matter how great a harm one has suffered, the value of forgiving it will be greater than the disvalue of suffering the harm, as long as this is true in the case of more modest harms.
    Now, I could say, as I did in the post, that G, the good of forgiveness, outweighs E1+E2. But I don’t need to. The horrendous evil people are really worried about in this case isn’t the harm to the rapist, but Sue’s sufferings. And it is E1 that encapsulates Sue’s sufferings. E2 is a harm to the rapist. It is a horrendous harm to the rapist, but here a free will response is pretty plausible–it is presumably a harm the rapist freely accepted, while having the option not to. The moral harm to the agent of freely doing evil is always a deserved harm, since ex hypothesi one is freely doing evil.

    January 1, 2012 — 12:04
  • Take these sorts of stories out of Rwanda, which are legion. Imagine we then said to the person forgiving her children’s killer: “That’s pretty impressive morally speaking, but your action does not measure up to the killer’s–what he did was more impressive, albeit on the side of evil, than what you did.”
    Holding that the value of forgiveness outweighs the disvalue of evil makes it is possible to say that the victim can defeat the evildoer rather than remain a victim. That seems a desirable thing to say. Of course that it’s a desirable thing to say doesn’t prove that it’s true, but on a modest pragmatism, it is some evidence for truth.

    January 1, 2012 — 12:40
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Alex,
    You speak of Socrates’ intuition that “moral goods and evils far outweigh non-moral ones”. If God is love then, clearly, Socrates is right. Also I think Socrates’ intuition nicely reflects Jesus’ talk about building treasure in heaven. And both fit very well with the soul-building theodicy.
    “The moral progress of an individual is in the first instance something between that individual and God.”
    I agree. Indeed the value of an individual represents the similarity of that individual’s moral character and God’s.
    “But it is not our primary moral duty to maximize the value of the world. Our primary moral duty is to will the good and refrain from willing evil, even as a means to maximizing the world’s value.”
    Right, but please observe that the fulfillment of our moral duty has the consequence of maximizing the value of the world after all. Also I find it plausible that the fulfillment of our moral duty will also have the consequence of maximizing the value of non-moral goods in the world. A society in which even only a small percentage of people are Christ like would certainly be a better one. Actually it is difficult for me to imagine how the modern world may escape disaster except by becoming more genuinely religious.
    “Why this non-linearity and dwindling? Perhaps the forgiveness becomes habitual.”
    I think the deeper reason is this: Value lies not in one’s moral state, but in one’s dynamic overcoming of the imperfections of one’s moral state. (Think of the parable of prodigal son.) Thus if one is already a forgiving person there is little value in continuing in that state. Rather some other greater moral challenge is to be overcome. Having become a better person does not satiate one’s need for goodness, on the contrary it makes the longing greater still.
    “ On reflection, I think that in the case of Sue I’ve conflated two evils.
    E1: The horrors suffered by Sue.
    E2: The moral badness of the rapist’s action.
    ”
    I agree. To solve the problem of evil we must ponder creation from the point of view of God. And God loves equally both Sue and her rapist. This insight helps solve Steve’s paradox.

    January 2, 2012 — 22:47
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Steve Maitzen,
    “All else equal, is a world in which (G & E) obtains really better, or at least no worse, than a world in which (~G & ~E) obtains?”
    To use Alex’s example, suppose it is the case that only one who has forgiven evils is worth having (or rather instantiating) some particular great good. Then clearly world (G & E) is the better one.
    “If the world gets better with each episode of horrific-but-forgiven wrongdoing, what grounds our moral obligation to prevent — or even refrain from committing — the wrongdoing if we’re justifiably confident that the victim will forgive it?”
    The world already includes sufficient evil in order for the great good of forgiveness to be possible. So it is not like one has to add some evil in order to give the victim the opportunity of gaining that great good. Everybody has enough opportunity for forgiveness anyway.
    So, interestingly enough, we may have found an answer to the difficult question about the amount of evil in the world. If there were much less evil then absurd cases as the ones you suggest would become sensible.
    In general I think the following is true: There is clearly a big difference between the creator’s and a creature’s moral relationship to creation. We can perceive with some clarity what the creator’s moral purpose with creation is. We can also perceive with some clarity what our moral purpose in creation is. These two perceptions do not clash with each other, but rather confirm each other.
    I think your line of thought merits more critical study though. So, suppose we could build a “paradise on earth”, a society where natural evils are minimized to such a degree, and where people get such an effective moral education, that there remains little reason for forgiveness. Don’t we here find a case where our perception of God’s and of our moral purpose clash? If the actual world with all its evils is such a great idea, shouldn’t we avoid producing a paradise on earth?
    The answer lies I think in the details. From what we know about how the world works it is questionable whether such a paradise on earth is feasible in the first place. Or rather, what we may visualize as feasible does not turn out to be desirable after all. Take for example the case of the natural evil of death. Not to die for billions of years in this particular world we occupy now strikes me *not* as being desirable, even in the best of conditions. Or take the case of the evil of ignorance. A world in which we would already know all we might wish to know would rob from us the joy of discovery. A world in which virtually all people would have an almost perfect moral character would be a world in which we would lack the opportunity of self-transcendence, and indeed the opportunity of feeling joy for doing what is right. I find that one of the great intrinsic goods of the actual world is that we are given the opportunity for improvement in a non-trivial way.
    Perhaps I can clarify what I mean as follows: I have a young daughter, and I very much would like the earth to be a better place for her to live. But if I were given the choice of sending her to a “paradise on earth” I suspect that on careful consideration I would decline. Indeed I now try not to make her life as comfortable as I possibly could, not so much in order to strengthen her against probable future tribulations, but because I find that too comfortable a life is unworthy of her. She deserves challenges.
    “The right response to the wrongdoer’s message is this: ‘Are you crazy? If you want to make the world better, start by not committing horrific wrongs!’”
    Quite so. Indeed we can see that what ultimately matters is our willing to do good rather than evil, and not the consequences of our deeds. For if what really mattered were the ultimate consequences then (on Alex’s example) the juror’s condemning of Socrates would have been a morally good choice. But, as we can plainly see, it clearly was not. – Incidentally this line of thought is one of the strongest reasons why I am theist, for the idea that what counts is not the ultimate external consequence but rather to choose what is good over what is evil, fits very well with theism and very badly with naturalism.
    “On the Christian scheme, it’s God’s forgiveness (rather than the victim’s) that’s essential, or most important: without God’s forgiveness, the wrongdoer is in big trouble even if the victim forgives the wrongdoing.”
    As it happens I think this is not the right Christian view. Given God’s moral perfection, God’s forgiveness is given. What is essential for our salvation is that we forgive those who hurt us. That much is I think very clear in the moral teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels: We must forgive in order to be forgiven. Only who forgives others is worthy of God’s forgiveness. Therein lies God’s justice.
    In any case I think that non-theists should not care very much about what they think the “Christian view” is, but should care about their own moral perception and its ontological consequences. Incidentally please note that there is greater merit when a non-theist overcomes evil. In a way to be a non-theist and do good despite one’s belief in the ultimate meaninglessness of existence and in one’s disappearance at death – is really great. There is a bit in the Gospels which pertains to this point: Blessed are those who have not seen [God] and yet have believed [in God’s way].
    “Horrific-evil-plus-forgiveness (HEPF) never occurs in heaven. Were HEPF to occur in heaven, heaven wouldn’t be improved by it”
    On the soul-making theodicy the afterlife is not a static state but a continuation of the salvific purpose of creation. I don’t know about “horrific evils” but if there is to be moral improvement in the afterlife then there must also be evil to be overcome there. For one we shall have to deal with all the evil we have committed here.
    “Heaven” is thus an ambiguous word; even though we may safely assume that in the afterlife God’s presence will be clearer than now. I personally believe that the end (in both senses of the word) of our salvific life is “theosis”, i.e. the union with God, an event in which our human nature dissolves in the nature of God and in which our separate/individual life ceases.

    January 2, 2012 — 23:33
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    I find that atheistic thought can be very useful because it challenges theists to think outside-of-the-box as it were. In this context I think that Steve Maitzen’s ideas deserve more careful consideration. In his paper “Ordinary Morality Implies Atheism (http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Maitzen-Ordinary-Morality-Implies-Atheism.pdf) he raises a thought which I believe does falsify some common theistic beliefs. This thought is based on our clear moral perception and is therefore impervious to the defense from ignorance (or from skeptical theism).
    Steve starts by expounding a principle which Jeff Jordan calls “theodical individualism”, i.e. the belief that “Necessarily, God permits undeserved, involuntary human suffering only if such suffering ultimately produces a net benefit for the sufferer.” Eleonore Stump proposes the following similar wording: “If a good God allows evil, it can only be because the evil in question produces a benefit for the sufferer and one that God could not produce without the suffering.”
    This principle strikes me as too strong (and also kind of egoistical). The weaker and clearly sufficient principle is this: “If our world is of the kind that an ideally rational creature would choose over all other kinds then God is justified in creating rational creatures in our world”. Now our world is clearly one where we risk suffering undeserved, involuntary and sometimes horrific evils (or “horrific” evils for short), and indeed one where some of us do suffer horrific evils. Are we justified to believe that our world is nevertheless of the kind that the ideally rational creature would prefer? Absent a defeater a theist is certainly justified to believe that. What’s more, on the soul-making theodicy I think we can understand why it is that our kind of world is to be preferred: Given all the great goods most of us most of the time already enjoy, and given the excellent end all of humanity will necessarily enjoy, we can see that the risk of personally suffering such horrendous evils is a worthy feature without which humanity does not merit its ultimate perfect happiness – and only deserved happiness is perfect happiness. Incidentally, this insight resonates especially well with Christian theism: Christ wouldn’t strike us as great and as worthy of love and His life wouldn’t be as beautiful if He hadn’t risked suffering horrendous evil, which He of course did suffer in the end. I wouldn’t feel good sitting at Christ’s table if I hadn’t been willing to risk suffering horrendous evil myself. Which leads me right back to my principle, for (knowing what I now know) had I been given the choice I would have preferred a world where I may suffer horrendous evil. Only such a world allows creatures to become as perfect as Christ.
    We can now evaluate better theodical individualism: The net benefit for each sufferer is to exist in the only kind of world which produces perfect happiness for all. One could say that every single evil is “justified” in that it belongs to that kind of world. But it is not like a single evil necessarily produces a net benefit for the sufferer, in the sense that the sufferer is better off because that evil has befallen her. Indeed the meaning of the expression “evil E ultimately produces a net benefit for the sufferer S” depends on whether one considers E alone or E in context. Given the integrity of reality it is in general only a rough first approximation to consider single causes. Thus theodical individualism as stated is ambiguous. If restated as “Necessarily, God permits undeserved, involuntary human suffering only if the possibility of such suffering is a necessary feature of the kind of world which produces the greatest net benefit for the sufferer then I think it is true. So far then, so good.
    In his paper Steve argues that theodical individualism corrupts ordinary morality, because since each evil ultimately profits the sufferer we should not try to protect the sufferer from that evil. But, as we saw, it is not the case that each evil by itself benefits the sufferer. Rather the sufferer benefits from existing in a world where particular evils such as this one may, and sometimes do happen. As for ordinary morality, it is in some cases obvious that we should try to stop an evil from happening if we can. Incidentally, the same moral obligation does not necessarily apply to God, because God’s moral obligation is to create the best possible kind of world, which I argue is the one where the greatest happiness will be attained, which in turn is a world where evils may and sometimes do happen without being stopped by God. (In general morality is a function of a person’s condition and place. A good swimmer should jump into a river to try to save a child that has fallen in; somebody who does not know how to swim should not. It was good for Mary to have used the precious stuff to wash Jesus’s feet; it would have been wrong for Judas to do the same.)
    I conclude then that Steve’s argument against theism fails. Still there is a thought in it which I think successfully falsifies a common theistic belief. In his paper he suggests that if every evil is guaranteed to ultimately benefit the sufferer then it makes sense to cause evils to the people one loves. Here’s an example he does not mention but which I think illustrates his point well: Many Christians believe that most people who reach adulthood will go to hell to suffer for ever, whereas children die in a state of innocence and are therefore guaranteed to go to heaven and eternal bliss. If these beliefs are true then it makes sense for a loving father of four children to kill them all, because even at the very high risk of going to hell himself he would be guaranteeing eternal bliss in heaven for his four children. But we see clearly that it does not make sense for a father to do such a great evil. Therefore these common theistic beliefs about hell are not true.

    January 10, 2012 — 14:49
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    Thinking more about theodical individualism I believe I have found a connection between God’s greatness and God’s hiddenness. Here, first, are my assumptions:
    1. God, the greatest conceivable being, is not less than a person, but also not just a person. Indeed we can plainly see that God is truth (as the OT says), that God is love (as the NT says), and that God is beauty (as the Quran says). A being which is less than truth, or less than love, or less than beauty, is clearly less than the greatest being we can conceive.
    2. God, being love and beauty, would create a world in which the greatest kind of love and of beauty can and will ultimately obtain.
    3. The greatest kind of love is self-transcending (Christ-like) love, and the greatest kind of beauty is instantiated in a world in which free persons self-transcendingly love. To push this point: Self-transcending love is a thing of such beauty that a world in which self-transcending love obtains is greater than any world in which it doesn’t.
    4. Self-transcending love obtains only when one is willing to accept some evil without expecting a personal profit.
    5. Theism and soul-making theodicy (“soul-making theism” for short) are true.
    Now here is the problem. On soul-making theism everyone will enjoy perfect (and thus eternal) happiness at some point. But then it is impossible to not profit by doing some good (and especially by loving self-transcendingly), because doing some good moves the whole of creation closer to that perfect state. Therefore, the only kind of world in which self-transcending love can possibly obtain is one where one cannot know about one’s ultimate profit. This then must be a religiously ambiguous world in which one cannot have so much warrant about God and the perfect design of creation that one is prevented from the possibility of loving self-transcendingly. In conclusion, on soul-making theism God’s perfection implies that God must create a religiously ambiguous world.
    Thus, God’s hiddenness, far from being a potential defeater of soul-making theism, is implied by it. A perfect God would cloak Him/Herself from creation to the degree that gives all personal creatures the freedom of realizing the greatest thing of beauty there is, namely to love self-transcendingly, to be ready and willing to sacrifice themselves for love. Which entails not only the presence of evils, but also of what creatures must believe may be unredeemable evils. As it entails that creatures must believe that loving and doing good may be in vain. It is by being created in the condition which gives the freedom to love self-transcendingly, and by using that freedom, that personal perfection is earned and thus at-one-ment between God and creation is realized.

    January 18, 2012 — 23:59