# Eternal life and evil / hiddenness

Occasionally one meets with the idea that, granted, bringing in eternal life really does help a lot with the problem of evil or with hiddenness, nonetheless bringing in eternal life is a cheat because it begs the question or something like that.

I can see how one can object to the eternal life move by saying that some things are so horrendous that God shouldn't allow them even if he compensates those to whom they happened. Or that an omnipotent God shouldn't need to compensate. Or that God has some kind of a duty never to be hidden (but: surely a lover is permitted to hide for a while, since otherwise it would be wrong to play peekaboo with infants who don't understand about object persistence). But the "it's a cheat to bring in eternal life" move is not this move. Rather, it grants, at least for the sake of argument, that if there is eternal life, then God can have a justification for allowing the evil or being hidden.

I am having a hard time seeing how this "it's a cheat" move is supposed to work. Let T = theism, L = eternal life and E = the atheological arguer's favorite evil/hiddenness evidence. Then: T is equivalent to T&L or T&~L. Now to grant that eternal life would solve the problem would be to grant that P(T&L|E) is not significantly less than P(T&L). Now let the theist grant, in a spirit of mutual accommodation and simplification, that E is conclusive evidence against T&~L: P(T&L|E)=0. But now:
P(T|E) = P(T&L|E) + P(T&~L|E) = P(T&L|E).
But P(T&L|E) is not significantly less than P(T&L), it was granted. So, basically, the atheological evidence E lowered the probability of T to around the probability of T&L before that evidence.

Now, if in our background there is the fact that there are person, then P(L|T) is quite high. If God made persons, it is very likely that they (or at least those who do not deserve to not have it--there might be room for tweaking of what exactly L says), it is very likely that he made them to have eternal life. But if P(L|T) is quite high, then P(T&L) is pretty close to P(T). Since P(T|E) is not much smaller than P(T&L), it follows that P(T|E) is not much smaller than P(T).

So I just don't see how the "it's a cheat" move is supposed to work. Once one grants that the probability of T&L does not go down very much given E, then given the very plausible claim that most of the probability of T is contributed by T&L portion, it simply follows that the probability of T does not go down very much given E.

Note that it doesn't matter for the above whether there is any independent evidence for L. All that the argument needs is that before E is brought to the table, L is very probable given T.

What if there were strong independent evidence E* against L? Well, then E* would provide a pretty powerful argument against theism. P(L|T) is high, but P(L|E*) is low, and so P(T|E*) is low. But notice that here were did not bring in E at all. This is a new atheological argument: the atheological argument from the non-existence of an afterlife. It would be a pretty good argument if, contrary to fact, there were strong independent evidence against L.

Here's another way to put the point. If it's granted that eternal life would completely solve problem that E posed for theism, then the only thing that E could do to the theist would be to eliminate the possibility T&~L. But the typical working theist believes both T and L, and what she cares about is T&L, not just T by itself. So a refutation of T&~L is not something she need particularly mind.

I don't claim any originality here. I know that Trent has independently had the same thoughts. I haven't heard the following point, though.

Suppose the atheological arguer (aa) denies that P(L|T) is high. If one says that P(L|T) is not high, then I think one needs to say that if God existed, God wouldn't be very likely to care that much about the persons he created. But if that's true, that should significantly damage the aa's intuition that P(E|T) is low. For if God wouldn't care that much about the persons he created, then maybe he would let them suffer terrible evils.

Or let's put it this way. If there is no eternal life, then created persons perish forever. But few if any of the evils in E are worse than that! Let's say that E is some instance of torture. Well, perishing forever is worse than E, since if suffering torture in this life were the price of eternal life, it would surely be worth it (as many martyrs of have quite rationally concluded).

So the position that P(E|T) is low but P(~L|T) is not low is untenable. In fact, it is very plausible that P(E|T) > P(~L|T). (One might be able to get some nice theorem using this inequality combined with P(T&L|E) = P(T&L), but that's enough for the day.)

Alex,

I think the 'cheat' problem comes--or at least, this is how I see it--in the relation between L and E. Typically, L justifies E only if (1) N(E --> L). That is, L does not justify existing evil, even if |L & E| !> |~L & ~E|, unless it is impossible (for God to bring it about) that L & ~E. Certainly, the objection would go, it is not impossible L & ~E and certainly, |L & ~E| > |L & E|.
This strikes me as a plausible objection. It shifts the problem to the proper analysis of non-gratuitous evil. I don't think (1) is a necessary condition on gratuitous evil. A necessary condition has to be closer to something like (2) N(W -> E) where W is an actualizable world. In any case, I think the cheat question is just noting that, even given L, E is still gratuitous

Ok, I see what you're doing. Actually, this doesn't seem far from Ric Otte's approach (Erkenntnis?), and I think Wykstra pointed to where the 'cheating' occurs. Otte says something like this: the existence of evil is not, in fact, evidence against theism, since any form of theism worthy of belief will predict evil. Christian theism, for instance, predicts the existence of evil. So, we should take evil as confirming theism.

So, if you add to theism certain auxilliary hypotheses (call that theism+), you can fend off the problem of evil. You can even make the existence of evil confirm theism+. But what you have done won't leave the theist+ in a better epistemic position than the theist. The prior probability of theism+ is lower (sometimes much lower) than the prior probablity of theism. This should be no surprise, simply adding auxilliary hypotheses will make the priors lower. So your new hypothesis, theism+, will be (Wykstra's words) 'top-heavy'. The top-heavy hypothesis will avoid the problems of evil, but the cost in priors is too much to bear. The probability of you're updated hypothesis theism+ will be lower than the probability on your updated hypothesis theism, despite the fact that evil confirms theism+ and disconfirms theism. Of course, if you have good independent reason to believe in the afterlife hypothesis, then this won't ne a problem. But the afterlife hypothesis competes with lots of other hypotheses concerning the existence/non-existence of afterlives of all sorts. Some of them will be useful to you, lots won't. So I can imagine the priors for the relevant sorts of afterlife will be sufficiently high.

But the afterlife hypothesis competes with lots of other hypotheses concerning the existence/non-existence of afterlives of all sorts. Some of them will be useful to you, lots won't. So I can [sic] imagine the priors for the relevant sorts of afterlife will be sufficiently high.

I mean't, of course, 'can't'. The move you make to avoid this problem is interesting. I'm trying to figure out why you think P(L | T) is high. You write,

Now, if in our background there is the fact that there are person, then P(L|T) is quite high. If God made persons, ... it is very likely that he made them to have eternal life.

But P(L|T) = P(L).P(T|L)/P(T). Now P(T|L) has to be close to 1; I'm not sure how you get an afterlife, especially the kind you need for the argument, without theism (of some sort). So, theism will confirm the afterlife only if you have very little reason to believe theism is true. If you're convinced theism is true, then P(L|T) = P(L) or at least P(L|T) ≈ P(L). But then P(T & L) will be very low, even if L is not independent of T. That is, you'll have the problem of low priors that Wykstra notes.

Alex, agreed, But what makes you think P(L|T) will be in the neighborhood of .95? It's just an intuition, right? So, here's the problem,

P(L|T) = P(L).P(T|L)/P(T)

The prior, P(L), is no doubt pretty low. What is the prior probability that I survive death? I think I have every reason not to believe that occurs. Indeed, it is stunning news to learn that it does occur. But say it's as high as .4. If so, then P(T|L) would have to be roughly 1.9. Impossible. In fact, the only way P(L|T) = .95 and P(T) is .8, is if P(L) = P(T) = .8. That's simply not credible. If P(L) is .2 (I doubt it's even that high), then since P(T|L) is at least .9 (I'd actually put it at 1), then P(L|T) won't reach .5 unless priors on theism are low, around .3 or so. But then P(T & L) will be low.

I suspect that how surprising one takes it to be depends on how naturalistic one's surrounding intellectual culture is.

Maybe. But I've been a theist for quite a while, and my attitude to the proposition that there is an afterlife swerves close to unbelief occasionally. It would be a peculiar gift to someone (I take it, like most people) who wouldn't have the slightest idea what to do with it.

Suppose the atheological arguer (aa) denies that P(L|T) is high. If one says that P(L|T) is not high, then I think one needs to say that if God existed, God wouldn't be very likely to care that much about the persons he created.

Right, but the problem remains that there is just one way to get P(T) and P(L|T) as high as you speculate. It has to be true that P(L) is very high. Let's say that 'on rational reflection' one would not believe that's high. That allows for lots of wishful thinking in your priors (i.e. prior to theism) about lost loved ones, etc.

Alexander Pruss, I think that your discussion of the possible "cheat argument" with regard to Eternal Life, may well benefit the inclusion of the Fall of Man (Adam's Sin and its implications), and then, of course, the Christ-Event, and what follows with regard to soteriology. The Fall of Man, could well imply both the corruption of man, i.e. the manifestation of man's fallen state, and of course, Sin, and the Fall of Nature as Well. The "Original Righteousnes" of Adam, (and Eve), and of Nature as well, stand in contrast to this. Genesis is remarkably existential in this regard. Adam's Sin inevitably complicated humankind's existential dilemma. I think it must be considered that there are many unspeakable evils that God does not will, and has no particular power to intervene to prevent. The soteriology we find in Christ and his redemption of Humankind is an entirely gratuitous and loving act of God. Its profound significance and complexity has been a source of analysis for millennia. Not having been tested in ways that some have, but having been tested nontheless (with regard to suffering, trial), I don't see how the promise of eternal life in the presence of God's Love (and Christ) can be ruled out as a central feature of Christ's message. It may be of little comfort to those who, apparently, of no fault of their own have suffered excruciating pain and/or injustice, that this grief may be "karmatic". I'm reminded of the account of a Catholic Nun who was confined in a keep, and raped and tortured in Central America; she said "My God died in there". I wouldn't know what to say to her.
(Alvin Plantinga has also advanced a theory wherein Theodicy and Creation are addressed.) It may be crucial to differentiate between what the experience of victimhood as unjustfied evil can do to our faith in and relationship to God, and, what God has offered us, because of his Love for us. to redeem us from Humankind's propensity to go astray. The significance of Death (and the Death-Instinct in human psychology), and Christ's promise of Life may well need to be factored in as well.
--DW Lindeman, NYC area

Presumably only certain sorts of afterlives can potentially compensate for natural evil on Earth. So we had better be looking at L* = the existence of "morally sufficient" afterlives, and in particular these are likely ones wherein we retain our most basic cognitive capacities. Maybe you'd then care to argue that P(L*|T) is high. But I think you'd agree that P(L*|~T) is very low. So strong evidence O against L* is going to heavily favor ~T over T, unless we expect T&L* in conjunction to somehow predict O.

On the other hand, I think we do have a satisfactory O, namely that we observe patients with brain damage permanently lose their basic cognitive abilities. This doesn't seem particularly probable given T&L*! Also, near death experiences won't help much even if we find them convincing, since while these may favor L over ~L, they generally don't much favor L* over ~L*.

@ Alex:

"(In the interests of full disclosure, I am one of those people who don't profess to know that people are unconscious under general anesthesia. All I know is that they don't remember being conscious, but that is compatible with them having been conscious and the contents of consciousness not being recorded to memory.)"

That thought is disturbing. Does it make you reluctant to go in for surgery?

2. Granted, our observations make it plausible that basic cognitive abilities require our embodiment. But now the question is: Do we have evidence that the dead will not once again be embodied? If basic cognitive abilities require embodiment, and if death is the destruction of the body, then if L is true, then the dead will rise again. Do we have evidence against this? If it is said that the dead have never been observed to rise, that claim is highly contentious.

All one needs is that P(O|T&L) is not high. In that case, since P(O|N&~L) is high, our other assumptions about L ensure that P(O|N)/P(O|T) will be greater than 1, so O will boost P(N|O)/P(T|O) up from P(N)/P(T). Would you say that P(O|T&L) is inscrutable? But O is an important instance of natural evil; so couldn't you just have just argued from the outset that P(E|T) is inscrutable, where E is any instance of evil?

3. If we take into account the evidence of the mystics and theologians, it seems that the central aspect of the human telos is a union of God in which our cognitive abilities play a very minor part, because God shows himself directly to us, not by the mediation of our concepts.

Not being too familiar with these thinkers, I guess I don't have a very robust notion of what this means.

Is that much more surprising on T&L than that most people lose cognitive abilities for 6-9 hours on most nights.

I'm not sure what makes you think this is true. Even Descartes observed that, when we're dreaming, we can do arithmetic just fine. Indeed, I know people who have proven theorems in their sleep. So, one's cognitive abilities are not in general lost when asleep. It's not that they lost their cognitive abilities on most nights. It's that they don't exercise them on most nights. But so what? They don't exercise them on most days, either :)

But one might also say: the soul has the abilities, but the circumstances for their exercise aren't right, because the brain is needed for the exercise, just like a bat is needed to play baseball.

Alex,

I'm not disagreeing on your main point. The correlation between brain damage and loss of the exercise of cognitive abilities is not so bad for your position on the assumption that abilities are housed in the soul (whatever that comes to). My point is simply that cognitive abilities are not lost during sleep. A colleague proved two not-so-easy theorems while asleep for a mathematical logic course. I agree it doesn't happen often, and she was the sort of person to worry a lot over proofs, despite a keen ability to do them. It seemed to me a bit unfair that she had more time to work on the proofs, since her work was uninhibited by sleep. But then, neither was mine, though I didn't use the time to work.

I think the following is impossible: "A loving God actually exists, and no human will have an afterlife." Here's an argument:

1. Some people have, through no fault of their own, earthly lives that are on balance an evil for them rather than a good (for short, undeserved bad earthly lives).

2. If a loving God existed, then he would guarantee that no person has, through no fault of his/her own, an overall existence that is on balance an evil for him/her rather than a good (for short, undeserved bad overall existence).

3. So, if a loving God existed, then he would guarantee that no person who has an undeserved bad earthly life has an undeserved bad overall existence.

4. God can guarantee that no person who has an undeserved bad earthly life has an undeserved bad overall existence only if he provides all people who have suffered from undeserved bad earthly lives some kind of life after death. *

5. So, if a loving God existed (in our world), then he would provide some people some kind of life after death.

* (Assuming possibilities like the following are false: some sort of life before one’s earthly life; some kind of short, wonderful experience at the end of one’s life, sufficient to render one’s existence good overall, etc.)

Well, I don't see why P(O|T&L) should be low. What O tells us is that some people lose cognitive abilities for the rest of their earthly lives. Is that much more surprising on T&L than that most people lose cognitive abilities for 6-9 hours on most nights.

Well, take O to be some instance of brain damage that removes your memories of loved ones. Surely O seems like a terrible harm. Even if we take a paradisiacal afterlife is a given, a loving God’s permission of O is incredibly mysterious, such that P(O|T&L) seems either low or inscrutable. If it’s low, then O is massive evidence against (classical) theism. If it’s inscrutable, then the move we’re discussing is redundant.

Now that I think of it, I’m not sure I quite see what the role of eternal life is in this argument. The thought, as I understand it, is that we’re accepting P(T&L|E) is nearly P(T&L) because we’re assuming T&L “allows for” a justification for E. But there’s nothing special about L here. Even if L were refuted, we could come up with some other hypothesis J (perhaps just “God has some mysterious reason or other for permitting any actual evil) such that P(J|G) = 1 and T&J “allows for” a justification of E. But then by the reasoning under discussion, no apparently gratuitous evil could be evidence against theism even in principle.

Life is short and eternity is long. Why should losing memories of your loved ones for fifty years, say, be much more of a problem than losing memories of them for six hours, given that both lengths of time are zero in comparison to eternity?

My intuition is that the negligibility of an experience "in the long run" is compatible with it having great, morally actionable disvalue. Imagine God instantiates a countable infinity of morally immaculate persons, the nth one of whom undergoes n years of torture before experiencing eternal bliss. Then there are always infinitely many good people being tortured throughout eternity. This seems absolutely horrible, even though everyone's suffering is negligible in the long run.

(It's also not obvious to me that temporally distant goods/evils should automatically be weighted as heavily as equivalent but temporally proximate ones, or that my utility function is unbounded. Therefore, it's not obvious to me that the eternity I have to look forward to renders Earthly suffering negligible even in the long run. However, this probably goes beyond the bounds of the discussion.)

I don't see why the proposed J satisfies P(J|T)=1. Finding a J such that P(J|T) is high and J allows for a justification of E does not seem trivial.

Maybe the word "reason" in my example of J was a little misleading. By definition, the existence of a morally perfect God is incompatible with the existence of an evil which God is morally blameworthy for permitting. Therefore, if J is the proposition that something exonerates God for permitting the evil, J is logically entailed by T.

I'm currently having trouble seeing what "allows for" means, such that T&J allows for a justification of E less than T&L.

Therefore, if J is the proposition that something exonerates God for permitting the evil, J is logically entailed by T.

Forgive me. This ought to be "something exonertes God for permitting the evil, provided the latter obtains." Only with that last clause does T entail the proposition.

I'm willing to entertain the idea that the existence of sleep is indeed evidence against classical theism, for some of the reasons you mentioned. However, I think the difference in intuitions springs from the fact, not just that sleep is normal, but that it appears biologically necessary. Given our present design, it is precisely the chronic lack of sleep which is harmful. It doesn't seem quite as obvious (though still probably true) that God could've designed us to be sleepless without sacrificing other valuable traits he intended, than that he could've prevented us from undergoing some head trauma or other without any great cost. Put another way, if I force you to swallow a pill which doubles the amount of time you need to sleep nightly, I think it's easy to recognize that as a terrible harm.

However, while J says that there is a justification for every evil, that does not imply that P(E|J&T) is high.

I agree. But I'm having trouble seeing why this places J&T in a worse boat than L&T.

QUESTIONS ABOUT ETERNAL LIFE (Sorry if I sound like Raymond Smullyan, though I am a fan of his.)

"Eternal Life" means what?

What part of my babyhood is eternal? I don't recall it at all these days.

In my adolescence and throughout college and for a few years afterwords I was a passionate lover of Jesus, a born again Christian, but the passion is no longer there, neither are the beliefs. What part of that life was eternal?

Similarly if I die yet some personal part of me continues throughout eternity, how many memories of what I am today will fade away like my babyhood did over time?

And who or what exactly will "I" be in the future if I continue to maintain the capacity for learning and changing?

And what about the possibility of a merging of minds, possibly via technological implants, possibly via surgically connecting the halves of two people's brains, or via some psychic means in the afterlife. Who would "I" be then?

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