It’s hard to come up with reasonable priors for such theses as Naturalism and Theism and with reasonable conditional probabilities for such evidence as Evils We Can’t Theodicize on Theism. But we can sometimes come up with reasonable comparisons of the strength of evidence. And this might lead to some helpful non-numerical probabilistic reasoning.
For instance, we might have the judgment that the evidential strength of the Problem of Evil (POE) as an argument against theism is no greater than the evidential strength of the Finetuning Argument (FTA) as an argument for theism. Two thoughts in support of this: (1) the low-entropy initial state of the our universe has been estimated by Penrose to be utterly incredibly unlikely (my paraphrase of his 10^(-10^123)) and some of the other anthropic coincidences come with what are intuitively extremely narrow ranges; the theist has proposed various theodicies–they may not be convincing, but it seems reasonable to say that the probability that together they answer the POE is no less, indeed quite a bit greater, than the incredibly tiny probabilities that FTA claims; (2) just as thinking about naturalistic multiverse hypotheses significantly decreases the force of FTA, thinking about theistic multiverse hypotheses significantly decreases the force of POE (cf. Turner and Kraay’s work); (3) just as in the case of FTA we might worry that there is some nomic explanation of the coincidences that we haven’t found, so too in the case of POE we have sceptical theism.
This means that the theist can simply sacrifice FTA to POE: the FTA either balances POE or outbalances POE (I think the latter, because of point (1) above).
Then the theist has a nice supply of other strong and serious theistic arguments, such as the cosmological, non-FTA design arguments (e.g., Swinburne’s laws of nature argument), ontological, religious experience, moral epistemology (theism has a much better explanation than naturalism of how we can know objective moral truths), etc. The atheist has a few other arguments, too, but I think they are not very impressive (the Stone and other issues for the Chisholming of divine attributes, Grim-style worries about omniscience and infinity, worries about the interaction between the physical and nonphysical). At least once POE is completely out of the picture, even if FTA is lost, the theist can make a very strong case.
A defense (in Plantinga’s sense) against the logical problem of evil requires two components: a metaphysical component, which claims that a certain scenario is logically possible, and a value component, which claims that if the scenario in question were actual then it would be consistent with God’s goodness to weakly actualize a world containing evil. In Plantinga’s Free Will Defense (FWD), the scenario in question is one in which every creaturely essence suffers from transworld depravity (TWD). Now, in both The Nature of Necessity and God, Freedom, and Evil Plantinga’s focus is squarely on the metaphysical component, defending the coherence of Molinism and the possibility of every creaturely essence suffering from TWD. The value component is almost completely ignored. Plantinga supposes that, if every creaturely essence suffered from TWD, then God would create a world with evil, and this would not in any way impugn his goodness. But why does Plantinga think this? I suppose he probably endorses:
(1) God’s perfect goodness consists in his actualizing the best world he can
(2) If every creaturely essence suffered TWD, then the best world God could actualize would contain some evil.
John K. Alexander asked me to post this interesting thought experiment, in order to get helpful comments:
Many people play computer games, many of which contain great numbers of fictional characters ‘experiencing’ horrendous evils and suffering. Game players seem to get a great deal of satisfaction/pleasure playing these games and there seems to be nothing morally wrong with getting pleasure or satisfaction this way. After all, the characters are fictional and are not really suffering regardless of whether or not the game mirrors real life to some extent. Imagine that there is a game designer who is designing a game similar to ‘Grant Theft Auto.’ Imagine further that the designer has developed a program that if it is incorporated into the game will make the characters sentient. Should the designer incorporate that program into the game he created? My intuition, and those of actual game designers I have discussed this with, is that the designer ought not to incorporate that program – that to do so would to be doing something wrong. The underlying intuition is that to introduce the ability to suffer is wrong. The characters in the game will go through the ‘life’ created by the game parameters and the game can be fun for those sentient beings that play it, but no one is being actually being harmed in the game. Introducing sentience into the game causes the characters to be actually harmed therefore introducing sentience is wrong. This being the case then if God is the designer He has to make the choice to introduce sentience into the universe He creates because He knows how to do so. It seems to follow that if we should not introduce sentience into our games then God should not introduce sentience into the universe (game) He creates. Furthermore, not introducing sentience should not affect the joy, or sorrow, that He experiences playing His game. This being so, the fact that human beings do suffer seems to be a good reason for believing that God does not exist.
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.
In chapter 6 of his Philosophical Theology (1969), James F. Ross undertakes the very ambitious task of showing that the evil in the world does not provide even a prima facie case against divine moral perfection. Ross takes the phrase ‘a prima facie case’ in the legal sense: to provide a prima facie case is essentially to bring charges that need answering. So, for instance, someone who says that the evils in the world are justified by some greater good which would be impossible without them is conceding that there is a prima facie case and attempting to answer it. Ross believes that there is no such case that needs answering. After explaining his argument, I will show that, even if Ross’s answer to the alleged conflict between the evils of the world and divine moral perfection succeeds, the evils of the world can still be used to make a prima facie case against divine benevolence, and Ross’s strategy cannot be used to defuse this.
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:
- G obtains and
- G outweighs E and
- 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.
Too often, discussion about skeptical theism focuses on whether there are likely to be unknown goods which could outweigh the evils we know of (Officially, I have problems with the notion of “knowing of” an evil, but I’ll set that aside). That can create the impression that an affirmative answer is reached, skeptical theism wins. But that would be a misunderstanding.
Some responses to the Problem of Evil involve defending the proposition that it is on balance a good thing that the world was created. I want to propose a Problem of Mediocrity or Problem of the Just-Good-Enough or more broadly the Problem of the Not-Great world. As I envision it, it’s disconfirmation of theism is compatible with the world being on balance good. It goes like this:
(1) Being the kind of Being God is, we expect greatness in everything He does.
(2) The world is not great.
(3) Hence, theism is disconfirmed.
I’ll refine it a bit below and raise an objection below the fold
The latest (July 2011) Faith and Philosophy contains an excellent article by Jeff Speaks on some difficulties related to establishing the consistency of certain claims (he uses as examples the existence of human freedom and the existence of evil) with the existence of an Anselmian God. The basic idea is this: since an Anselmian God is, by definition, a necessary being, establishing the possibility of an Anselmian God is tantamount to establishing the necessary, and therefore actual, existence of an Anselmian God. But these compatibility arguments typically, in one way or another, assume the possibility, and so the actuality, of an Anselmian God. If we were allowed to assume this premise, our task would be extremely easy! We could argue as follows:
- God (actually) exists
- Evil (actually) exists
- The existence of God is consistent with the existence of evil.
Piece of cake! Now I, of course, take this argument to be sound. In fact, I even think that some people (depending on their background beliefs) might be rational in allowing this argument to increase their confidence in the truth of (3). But clearly this argument cannot be used to respond to atheist arguments from evil against the existence of God. It is dialectically inadmissible in that context.
In his paper, Speaks argues that Warfield’s argument for the compatibility of necessary omniscience with human freedom and Plantinga’s free will defense are both a lot like this. That is, they both assume that, possibly, an Anselmian God exists. But if that assumption is admissible, then we could just use this simpler argument. But obviously we can’t use this simpler argument, so the premise must be inadmissible. (This isn’t exactly the way Speaks puts his points together; it’s my interpretation of what his arguments actually show.)
Speaks states the “principal conclusion” of his paper as follows:
any argument for the compatibility of two propositions must also be an argument for the possibility of each of those propositions. Hence it is impossible to argue for the compatibility of two propositions, one of which is necessary if possible, without arguing for the truth of that proposition. (p. 291)
In this post, I’m going to push back.
Rowe-style arguments from evil contend that there are evils that are inscrutable in the sense that we do not know a justification for them.
Let’s say a justification for E is a reason R such that, in light of R, God would be justified in allowing E.
An evil is inscrutable provided we don’t know a justification for E. But what does it mean not to know a justification? On the strongest reading, there is the ability to understand R in the full detail that God understands it in and know that the reason thereby understood justifies E. On the weakest reading, there is the ability to give some definite description D of R and know that the reason falling under D justifies E.
That there are evils on the inscrutability corresponding to the strongest sense of “know the justification” is not at all surprising given theism.
But on the weakest sense of “know the justification”, as long as we know that God exists, we are in position to know that there is a justification for E, since that God exists entails that E is justified. And then we know R under the description “the reason or collection of reasons that justifies God in permitting E”. And if we want slightly greater specificity, we might advert to some moral theory that gives us a characterization of the sorts of reasons that can justify a permission of an evil.
So for the Rowe argument to impress an intelligent theist who claims to know that God exists would require some in-between sense of “know the justification” that satisfies two conditions: (a) it is probable on theism that we would know the justification for every evil (or every evil that we have sufficiently investigated) and (b) the theist cannot plausibly claim to know the justification for every evil. These two conditions pull in opposite directions.