Bleg: Top objections to Irenaean Soul-making theodicy?
May 13, 2012 — 20:12

Author: Trent Dougherty  Category: Problem of Evil  Tags:   Comments: 6

I am defending a soul-making theodicy for animals in the book, and I am going to briefly summarize some objections and reply to them. Google Scholar turns up not a whole lot on the surface, and I might as well respond to people’s actual concerns, so, if you please, let me know what objections/articles/chapters you find most worthy of being responded to. Thanks.

  • Robert Sloan Lee

    Point of clarification: Are you asking for objections to the soul-making theodicy (in general) or for objections a soul-making theodicy for animals (in particular)?
    If the former, then a general case against Hick’s soul-making theodicy can be found in Lars Svendsen’s book, A Philosophy of Evil (Dalkey Archive Press, 2010), pages 51-55.
    The general line of Svendsen’s case follows:
    “We know that the world’s suffering is unjustly dealt and strikes randomly; innocents are often the ones hit hardest. Even if suffering can be cathartic, in the long run it often proves destructive. … Usually, good leads to more good, while evil leads to more evil. Suffering isn’t something that makes us grow; as a rule, suffering is purely destructive. Intense pain doesn’t often make a person stronger; instead, it destroys their worth, there confidence, their ability to communicate. … There are a multitude of evils that don’t seem to serve any positive function, and this is the foundation for the evidential argument against God’s existence. Starving to death, as millions of people do every year, isn’t something that leads to personal growth or the like.” He ends by rejecting Hick’s appeal to the good of mystery as being unable to justify those evils which soul-making does not cover.
    He seems to be using the term “know” in a very loose sense (and it isn’t exactly clear how he comes to think what “usually” is the case with good and evil typically lead to), but perhaps this argument be somewhat modified and applied to animal suffering. Also, while there might be other lines of arguments which are more “worthy of being responded” to, this captures ideas that merit some response.
    I hope that helps.

    May 15, 2012 — 10:26
  • Gordon Knight

    That is an important and powerful objection. But one thing to bear in mind is there is a difference between
    (1) suffering is usually conducive to the moral development of the person who suffers, and (2) a world with suffering is one that overall is more conducive to the moral development of creatures overall than one without suffering. Its not just the person who nearly starved as a child, it is also how the rest of us respond to that suffering. We also need to take the afterlife seriously–soul making can’t just be this this-life.
    As for the non-human among us, I have always thought soul making applies to them as well as us. I think this require that we recognize the fundamental continuity between human and the rest of creation. Is this your take as well, Trent? I am curious how you develop your argument.

    May 16, 2012 — 18:30
  • Dan Speak

    Hi Trent,
    I hope the book is coming along well. I’ve been wrastling with some of the stuff you are hoping to address in my efforts to put together a chapter on free will and soul making theodicies for the new Blackwell Companion to the Problem of Evil. Lots of tough stuff. You’ve probably already found these pieces, but just in case:
    Mark Maller
    Also, Nick Trakakis has an argument for the claim that soul making theodicies can’t account for natural evil (in short, because moral evil would provide us enough push-back for soul making). Animal suffering plays a fairly important role in his argument. And if it succeeds it will throw a pretty important wrench in what you are trying to accomplish. It is here:
    I suppose my own most general worry about an Irenaean approach to animal suffering has to do with the viciously interlocking teleologies of predation. So it is not just that animals suffer when they are eaten by predators. It is that this particular brand of suffering appears to be built into the basic ordering of the world. It takes some work to get me to see how this kind of system is necessary for moral maturation (in some moods, Hick’s positive appeal to mystery gets some traction for me). So I don’t say impossible… and I certainly look forward to hearing what you have to say about it, Trent.

    May 17, 2012 — 13:59
  • Thanks Dan, I hadn’t seen the Maller paper actually. I’d be glad to have a look at your Blackwell piece. I’ll show you mind if you show me yours…

    May 17, 2012 — 15:23
  • Dianelos Georgoudis

    I think that Svendsen’s argument fails because it assumes that on theism there must be a justification for each single evil. In fact theism only entails that there is a justification for all of creation (including its evils). It may well be that theism is true and that a justification for every single evil does not exist. In fact I think that this is the case.
    As for animal suffering, the question turns not so much on the theodicy but on the ontology of animal suffering, for the theist should not automatically project the human condition to the animal condition. A trivial solution is to deny that there is animal suffering in the first place, a view that sits especially naturally with subjective idealism. But let us assume that (as I happen to believe) animal suffering does exist. This does not answer the question of who the subject of that animal suffering is. Most would answer that individual animal beings are the subjects of the respective suffering, but, on theism, why think that? We humans find that we are individual sufferers, which in turn makes good theistic sense, especially on the soul making theodicy. But since animals are not moral beings, why should God have created them as individual sufferers? At this juncture the question arises: If individual animals are not the subjects of their pain, then who is? On theism the answer to that question immediately suggests itself: The one who is the ground and knower of all joy and of all pain, God.

    May 17, 2012 — 22:01
  • Robert Sloan Lee

    Dianelos Georgoudis,
    I agree that Svendsen’s argument fails to make its case. I was just trying to pass along a little something I came across in the hope that Trent might find it of some use. Also, I find Trent’s project and your comments intriguing. As to your suggestion that God is the one who experiences animal suffering, Linda Zagsebski presented a paper at Baylor a few years back entitled “Omnisubjectivity” (which was later published in Oxford Studies in Philosophy of Religion). Given your thoughts on the issue, you might be interested in having a look at her paper on her website (if you are not already familiar with it):
    Best Regards

    May 18, 2012 — 0:53
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