read Gareth's account of his own deconversion. Of courses, he and I
locked horns a couple of years ago on my book. Since that time I
started my blog, www.dangerousidea.blogspot.com, and haven't been here.
On my site I issued this challenge, and got devoted several posts to
it, mostly last summer. Here's the challenge I gave:
A Challenge to Advocates of the Argument from Evil
I'd like to make an methodological point in discussions of the problem
of evil, a part of the Plantingian legacy. If the theist begins by
offering explanations of the existence of evil, and the discussion
focuses on the adequacy of these explanations, the theist puts himself
at an unfair disadvantage. If I as a defender of the argument from
reason were to say that since we don't now have a detailed explanation
of the evolution of the brain, the argument from reason succeeds, I
would be rightly criticized. I would be accused of the God the the Gaps
fallacy. The same principle applies here to the argument from evil. The
correct procedure, it seems to me, is to ask the atheist to present
his/her argument against theism. Is it a logical argument, a
probabilistic argument, or some other kind of argument. Show me the
argument, let me see what the premises are and what the conclusion is.
Then an explanation, or a possible explanation, for evil might be
required. Or not, depending on the structure of the argument. So I'm
going to issue a challenge to atheists. Give me your version of the
argument from evil. Numbered premises please. And, of course, I want to be given some good reasons why I should
accept all the premises.
Here's what I am getting at. The argument from evil is supposed to have
a special pride of place amongst arguments concerning theism, both pro
and con. Every version of the argument from evil that I saw put on my
blog seemed to me to have questionable premises which
indicated to me that the argument was inadequate, even absent any throughgoing
across-the-board explanation for some particular evils, such as the
Asian tsunami in 2004. To make matters worse for the atheological
argument, the atheist has to appeal to some moral premise (A perfectly
good being eliminates evil as far as possible) which he must either
contend is objectively true (which in my view compromises naturalism)
or appeals to a value that all theists, or maybe all Christians accept.
Some people think that this sort of thing is true by definition, but I
am unpersauded of those claims.
Now I am not at all sure that a good version of the argument from evil
can't be developed that doesn't have some disconfirmatory impact on
theism. It's just a whole heck of a lot harder than it looks. I think
if you greet the problem of evil with the type of skepticism that I
have every right to expect that my own favorite argument will receive
from its critics, it proves to be overrated.
A good volume of essays on the evidential argument from evil came out
in the 90s, edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder.
But I think the idea that the AFE is really powerful, unlike your
average theistic argument, or even just your average philosophical
argument (like Wittgenstein's private language argument), is generated
by the idea that somehow, if the theist can't explain all of human
suffering and give God's reason for permitting it, theism is thought to
A link to Gareth's deconversion story is here.