Monday, October 10, 2005

Moral Realism and the Problem of Evil

Here is that version of the problem of evil again:

(1) Gratuitous evils probably exist.
(2) Gratuitous evils are incompatible with the God of theism (omnipotent, omniscient, all-good).
(3) Therefore, the God of theism probably does not exist.

Now it seems on its face that only atheists who are moral realists can use this argument. Without believing that there are some truths about what is right and wrong, and therefore some non-relative truths about what act a good being should be expected not to do, premise 2 cannot be affirmed. But even one of the naturalist commentators on this blog accepted the conclusion that if naturalism is true, then a non-realist ethical philosophy follows. So if it can be argued that naturalism entails non-realism about ethics, then it follows that naturalists can't use the argument from evil against theism, because they cannot affirm (2).

20 comments:

Kold_Kadavr_flatliner said...

Would you believe I love humanity? Even the French?

Mike D said...

It seems like (2) should be stated differently to make the logic work. Something like:
"It is inconceivable that the God of theism would fail to prevent gratutitous evil from occuring if He were both omnipotent and all-good."
Stated this way the naturalist would only need to hold that it is wrong to prevent harm from occuring to another if you are capable of forseeing and preventing the harm

Tom Gilson said...

I had an extended series of discussions about this on my blog. In the end, my main disputant said, "I reject that approach [absolute or realist ethics], and that does mean that I give up the ability to say that in their own times and places, slavery, suttee, and child sacrifice were wrong." Going on, he affirmed that in their cultural settings, there was no moral fault assignable to these behaviors and attitudes.

I don't know how he knows what's the right thing to do when he gets out of bed in the morning.

In other words, you are right: those who claim a moral problem in theism have a bigger problem without it.

Steven Carr said...

It is theists who have given up the right to say that slavery, suttee and child sacrifice should noe be allowed, as they do not know why God is morally right to allow such things.

Ezekiel 20:25 I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by; 26 I let them become defiled through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn —that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the LORD.'

Anonymous said...

Philosophers often use counterfactual arguments. That is, they use premises that other people believe to show problems with those others' views. This seems fine.

Mike D said...

Steven focuses on the interesting issue. Is it morally wrong (for anyone including God) to allow harm to happen to a person when you have the knowledge and ability to prevent the harm from occurring? I believe it is not wrong in most cases. The movie, Minority Report exposited the problems with crime prevention through thought control. It illustrated that the greater wrong is to regularly act to prevent harm from occurring. This type of super-caution strips all moral freedom.

It is wrong-headed to think that God is morally obligated to prevent harm from occurring.

Victor Reppert said...

So how would you pose the problem of evil as a counterfactual argument that would not commit you to moral realism?

Steven Carr said...

Can Victor name one atheistic philosopher who claims that the people of Kashmir are not objectively suffering?


As can be seen from Mike's response, theists are committed to the view that we should not attempt to find a cure for cacner, because God allows people to suffer with cancer for a very good moral reason.

Tom Gilson said...

That's a non sequitir, Steven, as surely you know. It would follow as a logical implication only if we knew that the moral value of suffering for that person and for all others would be diminished if anyone provided any help. Part of God's purpose for suffering, though, is to draw people closer together in supportive communities, and also to give even distant persons opportunities to help.

A complete and utter scoundrel said...

This is how you pose the argument counterfactually:

1) If I were to beleive that theism is true, I should believe that moral realism is true and that there are genuine cases of real, moral evil.
2) If I were to believe theism, I'd believe that an omnimax God exists.
3) If I were to believe theism, I should believe that God stands in a non-relative relation to what is good.
4) If I were to belive theism, I'd be believing to be true three propositions which, conjunctively, are unlikey to be true.
Therefore,
C) If I were to believe theism, I'd be beliving in a set of propositions which is unlikely to be true.

Basically, naturalists can bootstrap their premises on the possibility of theism being true..

Steven Carr said...

is tom saying that we cannot know whether or not to help somebody, but we can know God always has a moral reason to allow abortion, slavery and child sacrifice?

Surely we should always do what God does when there is suffering, which is to pass by on the other side.

Tom Gilson said...

Steven, no, that's not what I'm saying, but if you want to believe that God always passes by on the other side, this is not the place for me to try to explain the whole answer. Let me just say it grieves me that you would view God that way--it's so far from the truth of who he is.

Mike D said...

In the theistic world I live in, direct divine intervention is the exception, not the rule. Ancient records of his direct interventions are often accompanied by shock and awe. The affect was usually short lived. He seems to have delegated the responsibility for direct intervention to his agents. The responsibility for mitigating activities such as abortion, child slavery, and illness is in the hands of His agents. There are subtle, covert interventions He seems to permit Himself in response to specific requests by his agents. Somehow He finds this methodology productive.

Steven Carr said...

Tom gave no evidence that God allowed child sacrifice so that people can help each other.

This is just not so. God gave people over to laws allowing child sacrifice nso that people could be filled with horro, not that they could help each other

Ezekiel 20:25 I also gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by; 26 I let them become defiled through their gifts—the sacrifice of every firstborn —that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the LORD.'


But Tom at least seems to concede that it is morally right to allow people to torture his children for fun. After all, God Himself allows similar evil, so there is a morally good reason (even if unknown o us) why people should be allowed to torture Tom's children for fun.

And , according to theists, that would be objectively a moral thimg to do.

Perhaps the idea that it is moral to allow people to torture Toms' children for fun fills him with horror? That is no reason to prevent such torture as it is part of God's plans that certain people should be filled nwith horror (see Ezek.20)

We cannot say that acts which horrify us are always morally wrong, as sometimes God wants people to be horrified, and God's desires are by definition for moral things.

Does Tom really think God did not pass by on the other side when the tsunami was on its way to kill 300,000 of God's beloved creatures?

Psalm 89 gives us a clue as to what would have happened if God really did refuse to pass by on the other side

8 O LORD God Almighty, who is like you? You are mighty, O LORD, and your faithfulness surrounds you.

9 You rule over the surging sea; when its waves mount up, you still them.

Steven Carr said...

Mike D. writes 'He seems to have delegated the responsibility for direct intervention to his agents.'

That is one way of putting it, perhaps best exemplified by Job 1
12 The LORD said to Satan, "Very well, then, everything he has is in your hands, but on the man himself do not lay a finger."

We know that if Satan asks for permission to wreak evil , it is morally correct to allow Satan do do pretty much what he wishes, and it would be immoral for God to forbid Satan to harm people.

Indeed, Victor might well claim that such a command from an omniscient, omnibenevolent being was morally binding on Satan.

Mike D said...

There is an obvious distinction between allowing evil and commanding evil. I don't see where God commanded Satan to afflict Job. The only command from God to Satan was not to cause physical harm to Job and this was later rescinded. It violates the intent of the account of Job to suppose that God enlisted Satan as his agent. It is clear in the story that Satan is acting at counter purposes to God.

I still maintain that God is not morally obligated to intervene to prevent harm, evil, pain, suffering, fear, etc. There is a world suggested in the biblical account where he does all this but we are not there yet. The greatest good in this world seems to be faith. It is even more important than the preservation of physical life or the avoidance of pain.

"What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" Matthew 16:26

At the same time, as we place value on the soul, Jesus exemplified that providing for physical needs (healing, feeding, giving) is linked to the spiriutal. I concede that much of the ongoing suffering in the world is due to Christ's followers failure to dedicate themselves to the task God has delegated.

Sko Band said...

This is such an elementary proof strategy I am surprised it was even brought up. It is just a form of reductio, as you would learn in any freshman logic class. You don't have to believe the argument. It is a time-honored tradition in philosophy to show problems in another's position by assuming his views are true and deriving a contradiction with his own views.

Omar said...

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Omar said...

Hi Sko Band,

The argument from evil works as a reductio ad absurdum only against those theists who are committed to moral realism. However, many theists are not committed to any form of moral realism, e.g. theists who adhere to a divine preference theory of value.

tizitanatesfa said...

It's not like you're doing God any favor by believing in Him; it has always been about you - man - than about Him.
How exactly do you establish a relationship between God and the evil happening gratuitously - and that with your choice to or not to believe in God?

One important fact is the autonomy of man - to choose what he does, including evil, which cannot be prevented without tampering with his freewill.