I return now from my hiatus to blog through the last three chapters of Sobel’s Logic and Theism. There are two chapters on arguments against the existence of God, mostly focused on arguments from evil, and one on Pascalian wagers.
In chapter 11, section 4, Sobel presents what he takes to be Hume’s evidential argument from evil, and discusses skeptical theist responses to it. Now, in general, the dialectic between the evidential arguer from evil and the skeptical theist goes something like this: the evidential arguer from evil says, a perfect being would probably create a world with very little (or no) evil, but this world has lots of evil, so it was probably not created by a perfect being. The skeptical theist responds, how should I (who am imperfect) know what a perfect being would do?
Now, according to Sobel, Hume’s version of the evidential argument from evil includes an important maneuver which he calls the ‘beforehand-switch.’ The idea is that a hypothesis is best evaluated by considering what we would predict, using the hypothesis, if we didn’t already know the outcome. So, for instance, we evaluate Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation by pretending we don’t already know the orbits of the planets and using the law to predict them. Suppose, says Sobel’s Hume, that we do the same for the hypothesis that the world was created by a perfect being. We pretend we don’t know anything about what the world is like, and try to predict what world the perfect being will create. Everyone, it seems, should agree that we would predict that the world would have a lot less pain and suffering in it, and it is surely unreasonable of the skeptical theist to deny that this would be our prediction and that we would be justified in making this prediction.
I take as non-starters suggestions such as (i) animals do not feel pain, (ii) animals do feel pain, but it’s not so painful (iii) animals suffer but we will eventually all hold hands in the peaceable kingdom and (iv) animals suffer, but they serve some greater human good, etc. I do not claim that none of these is true. I do claim that no one should believe any of them. But of course animals do and have suffered immensely for millions of years, and it’s to Mike Murray’s [recent credit](http://www.amazon.com/dp/0199237271?tag=ektopos-20) to sharply underscore the importance of this to the problem of evil. It looks to me nearly impossible to respond to this problem without saying nutty things. But I have this (perhaps crazy) argument.
1. There are worlds W in which God predicts or prophesies, before he creates anything, that some divine aims will be achieved through painless, indeterministic, evolution of sentient beings.
2. It is true in W that evolution is a painless, indeterministic process that achieves some divine goals.
3. Since the evolutionary process in W is indeterministic, it is true in W that, possibly, the evolutionary process is painful process that achieves some divine goals (perhaps animals evolve toward carnivorism, for instance)
4. There is a world W’ in which the evolutionary process is a painful process that achieves some divine goals.
5. If there are worlds W’ in which the evolutionary process is painful process that achieves some divine goals, then there is a world in which God coexists with a painful evolutionary process.
6. /:. The following propositions are consistent: God exists, there is a painful evolutionary process that achieves some divine goals.
Now I think (1) and (2) are true. But if they are, then there are genuinely indeterministic worlds in which evolution proceeds painlessly. But if it is a genuinely indeterministic process, then it is possible that things evolve contrary to God’s prediction (though of course God is a perfect predictor). In worlds where things go contrary to God’s prediction, its always been true that God never made such a prediction. So we have two choices. Either we say that there are no genuinely indeterministic worlds in which evolution proceeds painlessly. Or we say that there are worlds in which God exists and there is a painful evolutionary process that achieves some divine goals.
God created the world to exemplify certain values. Someone who propounds
a design argument for the existence of God probably needs to have something
to say about these values.
Scientists often propound particular models that instantiate a more
general theory. These models are sometimes intended to be more realistic
and sometimes less, but the hope is that by studying them and by noting the
divergence, if any, between model and reality we will learn something
about the relevant phenomenon. Some realistic models will be empirically testable and others will not, and scientists of course have a preference for testable models. Thus, an evolutionary scientist might offer a
more or less realistic model of the evolution of wings. The model may well predict what kinds of fossils we will find. If the model’s predictions are not borne out, this does not in any significant way affect the probability of
evolution in general, but studying the model is helpful, and if the model’s
predictions–assuming it makes some–match observations, so much the better
for the underlying theory.