Looks like I’ll get that written debate after all! (Kind of.) Eric over at Standtherefore.com responded to my original post about the argument of evil in the comments, and reposted the response here. Obviously, since I think that it’s a stupid idea to have only one side have the burden of proof (e.g. like Graham Oppy said), I will respond, and hopefully Eric will respond, making it a fruitful discussion.
Both are inductive arguments, so I will assume you meant “direct” when you said “deductive” and “indirect” when you said “inductive.”
Good “after the fact”
But you and I both know that even if something “seems like a stretch”, the possibility of that thing is not necessarily negated. The possibility still exists and must be assessed by taking into consideration the available background information.
On the Christian worldview, it is consistent to say that God will “utilize” evil (or natural disasters) to satisfy His ultimate purpose (salvation for the most possible amount of free persons).
This is an attack on the first premise. This line of thinking comes from Plantinga, as far as I know. He showed that “God is morally perfect” does not mean that “God will prevent all the evil that he can,” and that “God is omnipotent and omniscient” does not mean “God can prevent all evil.”
But this is not my argument. This argument focuses on evils that are apparently pointless; imagine a fire where “a fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering” (Rowe in Stump and Murray 1999: 159). As far as we can tell, there is no point to this suffering; “it is not a necessary precondition of any greater good, it is not a means of avoiding a greater evil” (Nicholas Everitt The Non-Existence of God PDF location 246).
By responding that the apparently pointless evils will serve a greater good is to say that the world would be a better place if all of the apparently pointless evils remain. But what reason is given? We are told that the argument I presented holds only if the Christian worldview is not taken into account.
Eric is saying, essentially, that “we are not in a position to know that [DI1 is true], because we are not in a position to know whether or not there are some greater goods which counterbalance any given instance of intense suffering” (Everitt Not-Existence of God PDF location 247). I have to ask, is there any conceivable good which could only have occurred as the result of (say) millions of people tortured and killed? Would (say) the millions of people’s suffering be counterbalanced by this good? If there is a possible good that could counterbalance all of this suffering, which, to me at least, appears pointless, then I’d love to hear it.
If the theist thinks that the problem with the sceptic’s argument is just that it is possible for the world to contain goods which we do not know exist, then she ought to be able to say what possible goods she has in mind to counterbalance the evils. It is true that the sceptic is here presupposing a further principle, namely:
- Every logically possible good is such that we can describe what it is like.
But unlike [claiming to be able form rational beliefs about all the goods which the world may or may not have], this principle looks defensible, and if it is… it will leave the theist in the unsatisfactory position of saying that it is logically possible for a good to have various properties (being a precondition of a given evil, counterbalancing that evil) even though she cannot think of even a possible good which has them. If she cannot think of even possible candidates, how can she claim that it is possible for there to be such candidates? (Everitt Non-Existence of God PDF location 247-8)
I think that the fact that we cannot find a good to which counterbalance the apparently pointless suffering offers at least weak evidence for the claim that there is no good to which counterbalance the apparently pointless suffering. (That is to say, given the fact that we can’t find any good to which counterbalance the apparently pointless suffering, we have more reason to believe there is no good than before we had been unable to find any good.)
The Problem of Assumptions
Eric says that,
But these “assumptions” (as you call them) are the basic Christian doctrines… These arguments defeat Christianity “only if” the teachings of Christianity are not considered. Therefore, we circle back to initial worldviews.
In a sense, he’s right. If one assumes that Christianity is true a priori, then of course the arguments against it won’t be sound. But, what are the arguments to accept the assumptions/doctrines? Am I going to be given a reason why the assumptions/doctrines are valid? Will I be reasonable to reject the assumptions/doctrines? Will anything be able to falsify these assumptions/doctrines? Is it possible to make an argument for/against the existence of God without this problem of “initial worldviews”? Until these can be answered, I think the defense that “the basic Christian doctrines” refute the argument of evil does not hold.
There is an important distinction here that you miss. The FWD is a defense of the existence of “moral” evil, which can only be caused by moral agents (i.e.humans). But, hurricanes, floods and earthquakes have no moral component at all. They are the ”morally neutral” result of a world which operates under fixed natural laws. Therefore, although they do cause death and suffering, natural disasters are not really “evil” in the best sense of the word.
Eric here admits that the FWD is not an objection to the argument from evil as I have presented it, since they focus on apparently pointless suffering. Granted, I think a case could be made that “apparently pointless suffering” could be called “evil” regardless of whether it is from a moral agent. However, the argument of evil begins with the assumption that God exists (with certain properties), and God is a moral agent. Thus, we can say that apparently pointless suffering is evil.
God’s ultimate desire for us is not our “temporal” happiness, but our “eternal” salvation. Therefore, if God brings us eternal salvation or deeper dependence on Him, by allowing pain and suffering in our lives, perhaps then we should be thankful. Natural disasters may be utterly pointless with respect to producing happiness but they may not be pointless with respect to producing a deeper knowledge of God.
This assumes that there is no way to acquire eternal salvation without apparently pointless suffering. Should we believe that every case of apparently pointless suffering is to have people acquire eternal salvation? What about animals? Are we to assume that the cases of apparently pointless suffering of animals throughout the history of evolution (or, even if you don’t accept evolution (which I hope you would), current suffering of animals) is so they will acquire eternal salvation?
It should be noted, though, that in this section of Eric’s response titled “On the Free Will Defense,” he doesn’t actually defend the FWD. But, I will advance another critique of the FWD just because I can.
Most people don’t want foreign object in their eyes; we are also born with a reflex to blink which ensures that I don’t get foreign objects in my eye, and this happens instinctively. It also would not be improved if it wasn’t instinctive.
Along with this line of thought, what if we acquired the ability to control our heart rate? Does the increase of this freedom make the universe a better place? Not really. If he loses this ability does the universe then become a worse place? Not really.
It is true that many exercises of our power of free choice are valuable, and indeed morally valuable. But such freely performed actions are valuable not principally because they are free, but principally because they are the doing of something good. And bad actions do not have their badness offset by the fact that at least they are free–if anything ,the fact that they are free makes them worse. In these absolute scales, freedom will be neutral. And if that is right, the addition of freedom to the universe could be an improvement to the universe only if the freedom was exercised in a particular way. So if there are any evils in a world in which there is no freedom, they cannot be removed merely by adding to the universe the power of free choice. What would be necessary would be that the power of free choice should be exercised in some ways and not in others. (Everitt Non-Existence of God PDF location 263)
As Everitt concludes in his chapter on the problem of evil,
Free will is not an especially valuable capacity to have, and certainly not so valuable that it is worth having if it is the source of great evil in the world.
If the previous point were mistaken, and free will was especially valuable, God could have created beings who had compatibilist free will whom he foreknew would always choose well. The fact that he did not tells against his existence…
In all of this, animal suffering is left unexplained by the ‘greater good’ defense…, and by the free will defense… (Non-Existence of God PDF location 269-70).
The Argument Still Stands
I think that Eric’s rebuttal does not solve the problem of evil, and that the form that I have presented is still a sound argument.