Thursday, October 13, 2005

Reductio ad absurdum versions of the argument from evil

Earlier I posed the question of whether a naturalist could use the argument from evil, if that naturalist was not a moral realist. Some commentators have pointed out that the argument could be advanced by someone who rejected moral realism used moral realism as a reductio ad absurdum argument against theism.

Let's look at the argument from 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.

If the defender of the argument from evil is unwilling to argue that 2 is true, she must at least argue that 2 is entailed by theism. In other words the defender of the reductio must do more than show that theism entails moral realism. I am personally inclined to think that that is true. A theist who believes that God gives commandments cannot maintain that one person's opinion is just as good as another's where conduct is concerned, if one of the persons is God.

But all you need to be a moral realist is to hold that there are at least some moral truths. It's perfectly possible to be a moral realist and to deny 2. An atheist using this version of the problem of evil must show that someone who is a theist and a moral realist but denies to is contradicting herself. That's a tall order.


Steven Carr said...

Can Victor name one atheistic philosopher who claims that the people of Kashmire did not really suffer when the earthquake struck?

Victor Reppert said...

The fact of suffering is not what's at issue here. Atheists would not deny that (though I suppose if you are a non-realist about qualia, like Dennett.....). What they might have trouble accepting is that there is an objectively binding moral obligation to minimize suffering, especially if they don't think there is such a thing as an objectively binding moral obligation.

One escape from this difficulty would be for atheists to say that while they are not moral realists, theists, or perhaps Christian theists, cannot avoid moral realism. Even if they argue this way, they also have to maintain that God, if God were to exist, would have a moral obligation to minimize suffering. Is there a good argument for this?

Steven Carr said...

If I claim to be a charitable person and never do any acts of charity, my claim is false.

And it would be false if I was morally obliged to be charitable, and also false if I was not morally obliged to be charitable.

The statement ‘Everyone can see that I am a very charitable person indeed, but I have never done one single act of charity in my life, because I am not morally obliged to do acts of charity.’ would leave me open to charges of hypocrisy.

People would begin to suspect that I was not a very charitable person, if I never did an act of charity.

A benevolent being is one that does acts of benevolence. All atheistic philosophers agree that acts of benevolence really do exist, even if some claim that we are not morally obligated to do acts of benevolence. I can voluntarily do acts of benevolence without being obliged to do them, and they would be just as benevolent as the acts of benevolence that I was morally obliged to do.

God is omnibenevolent. He is supposed to do all possible acts of benevolence. A benevolent being does benevolent acts, by definition.

Perhaps God is morally obliged to do all possible acts of benevolence.

Perhaps God is not morally obliged to do all possible acts of benevolence.

But if he doesn’t actually do all possible acts of benevolence, then he is not omnibenevolent.