Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Mark Nelson on reductio versions of the Argument from Evil

A redated post.

The is from Mark Nelson's paper Naturalistic Ethics and the Argument from Evil,' Faith and Philosophy, vol. 8, no. 3, 1991.

Nelson argued in this paper that the moral premise of the argument from evil is undermined if the atheist construes that premise in a non-realist way, that is, he does not think that any propositions about what one ought to do can be true.
For reference, here are 1, 2 and 4 to which he refers in the paper.

1) if there were an all-good, all-powerful God, then there would be little or no evil in the world.

2) But there is much evil in the world.

4) If there were an all-good God, he would want there to be little or no evil in the world.

He writes, concerning the possibility of a reductio version of the argument:

Third, while not taking the argument as a reason for atheism itself, the naturalist can still try to offer the argument as an ad hominem argument that anyone who holds the non-relativistic ethical theory that the theist in fact holds should reject theism. That is, even if the naturalist does not believe premises 1 and 2, she can argue that the theist must (or at least does) hold premises 1 and 2, and that these jointly entail 3 (atheism-VR). Since few theists these days deny 2, the real issue is whether the naturalist can show that the theist must, or does, accept 1. In the present context, this boils down to whether the naturalist can show that the theist must, or does, accept 4, and this is a tall order. While some theists accept 4 or ought to, given their other philosophical commitments, it is by no means obvious that all do or even should, since, for theists, the acceptability of 4 depends to some extent on the truth about morality, and even among theists there is considerable disagreement about what this is. In sum, it's not as if the naturalist can point to a set of moral propositions to which all theists must share and say "See! These commit you to 4!" And the theist should be wary of letting her critic pin some definite moral theory on here, since it may be difficult to say what moral theory a world view commits us to, except from a vantage point "inside" it, as it were. Moreover, the theist might regard the ability to handle the problem of evil as a condition of adequacy for any theistic theory of morality. Finally, such an ad hominem argument does not satisfy the conditions for a disproof of the existence of an all-good, all-powerful God.

64 comments:

Edward T. Babinski said...

Please see, Non-Exclusivism, Universalism, Evil, and, Philosophy As One Big 'IF'

Anonymous said...

Here's an "argument from particular horrors" version of the POE that seems harder to dodge via these maneuvers:

1. A schizophrenic mother kills her baby by putting it in the microwave, believing that God told her to do it.
2. If an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God exists, then no schizophrenic mother kills her baby by putting it in the microwave.
---
3. Therefore, it's not the case that an omnipotent, omnicient, and omnibenevolent God exists.

Any thoughts?

John W. Loftus said...

Vic, this is an example of a smart person defending a dumb idea.

The premises are actually these:

1) if there were an all-good, all-powerful God, then there would be little or no intense suffering in the world.

2) But there is much intense suffering in the world.

4) If there were an all-good God, he would want there to be little or no intense suffering in the world.

Doesn't this formulation make all of the difference? I think obviously so, for no sane person can deny there is intense suffering in this world.

Besides, the Argument From Evil (aka Suffering) is one that would have to be considered by Christians even if no atheist made it and is one major reason why Christian thinkers have embraced panentheism. It's not an atheist argument at all since the conclusion doesn't lead to atheism, only that if God exists he either isn't omnipotent, omniscient or omnibenelovent.

01010101 said...

Loftus nearly puts the Evidential Problem of Evil/ Unmerited Suffering in proper form.

1) if there were an all-good, all-powerful God, then there would be little or no unmerited suffering in the world.

2) But there is much intense unmerited suffering in the world, over centuries (natural disasters, disease, "collateral damage" in wars--non combatants).

3) Ergo, there is no all-good monotheistic God.

So you deny the definition of God--not omnipotent, or not monotheistic (the EPOE argument applies to all Abrahamic religions), or not benevolent. This form is immune to the "free will" defense (ie, there's no free will involved in perishing in a plague).
The only response would seem to be that perhaps the victims are compensated in the afterlife.

Victor Reppert said...

But couldn't one just ask why we should accept premise 1?

Some people think that we all deserve intense everlasting punishment in virtue of the fact that our federal head, Adam, rebelled against God. So, for them, the question would not be why we suffer so much, but rather why we suffer so little.

Now, I could argue against this response on the grounds that it implies an incorrect and deviant moral code. But that assumes that there is a correct and non-deviant moral code. But the subjectivist denies this.

mchoux said...

Vic,

That would work for humans but what about the intense suffering of innocent animals? What did they do to deserve intense suffering?

mchoux said...

Vic,

I wrote this awhile back. It got published in the Reasons To Believe newsletter (Austin Texas Chapter). It would apply to all arguments from evil and suffering:

In arguing about the problem of evil and suffering I use to try to place God in a human category and say He must behave a certain way. What I failed to take into consideration is the holiness of God. Holiness when applied to God not only refers to moral purity and perfection but to everything that sets God apart from His creation and His creatures. Holiness is God's essence. It's who He is. God is set apart from His creation and transcendent. He's distinct. We are to imitate God in His holiness in certain ways but there are also ways we are not to imitate God. We cannot be like God in every way. He alone is God and He therefore has rights and prerogatives that we don't have. Just to name a few ways I'm not like God: God is infinite in wisdom, God is all-powerful, God is sovereign, God is self-sufficient, God is all-knowing. When I try to be like God in every way it leads to pride and arrogance. He is the Creator and I am the creature.

The Bible tells us that God is love. It doesn't say He is ONLY love. And while God is love it's a holy love. For the Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not only this but the Bible also speaks of a holy hatred that God has. So, it's my contention that the problem of evil and suffering doesn't even get started. For God's love isn't merely a human love but a holy love. This isn't the same omnibenevolence that we try to ascribe to God. For God has a holy hatred as well. Nonetheless, He is completely holy and deserves our worship.

acksmur said...

Since when is a reductio an ad hominem? Another Christian confused by the informal fallacies. Maybe studied with Feser?

Victor Reppert said...

I don't think Nelson is claiming that such an argument is commits the ad hominem fallacy. What he means is that it is directed "to the man," that is, to a particular Christian's ethical view.

Matteo said...

Any argument that invokes the "sum total of suffering" is somewhat suspect, since no particular being can ever suffer more than one being's worth of suffering (which suffering includes sympathy for the suffering of others). If there were such a thing as the sum total of all suffering then it would probably be better that one man be tortured to death than that a billion of them stub their toes. No sane person thinks this.

Moreover, as long as any rational being who has suffered feels from the standpoint of eventual eternity that the suffering was worth it, and that God did right by that being, then the argument loses all force. For all we know, eternity might not seem as bright if we never suffered anything on the way to getting there, and had never earned a "badge of honor" for having endured it. It is the end of the story that counts, not the middle.

God is about glory and not mere comfort. Otherwise, God Himself never would have allowed men to kick His ass and nail Him to a tree in Round One (in Round Two, the devil found out the hard way that opening the gates of the kingdom of Death to the God of Life was an exceptionally bad move). Given that God wants to share the essence of this victory with us, I don't think a cakewalk is in prospect.

Those who argue that there should be no temporary suffering if God exists seem to lack a spirit for eternal victory.

Thrasymachus said...

I don't see what the big problem is.

Suppose Christian takes up some normative claim that means evil isn't even prima facie gratuitous (something basically everyone else writing on the problem accepts). Maybe they think it is a good thing humans suffer lots lots, or whatever.

Our subjectivist's first move is just to say this is ridiculous. *Surely* something like the Mutilation (where a woman was beaten, raped, and had both arms severed above the elbow), or Sue (where a child was raped and killed) aren't unsurprising on the idea of a morally perfect God. They surely are bad things, things that *appear flagrantly* to be what a morally perfect being would prevent.

Suppose Christian shrugs and goes 'nope, don't see that at all - my account of moral perfection is that we, if anything, all deserve to suffer more, and in an arbitrary fashion'.

Now suppose Subjectivist tries to take a principled line, for example: "surely you're committed to things like justice, right? So isn't it bizarre how evils are distributed so unequally? Surely God would dole things out in a fair manner?"

Christian cuts him off, effectively running a counter ad hom concern: "Who are you to say whether justice is a good thing or not? After all, you don't think there is any fact of the matter at all about such things!"

The subjectivist reply is obvious: "I'm trying a reductio, remember? So I'm arguing *as if* I were a moral realist to make the argument. And I'm arguing *as if* I were a moral realist to defend my premises, trying to convince you that moral realists (like you) should accept the normative claims I am relying upon to run the argument. *I* don't personally believe there is a right answer to these questions, but *you* do, so I'm trying to persuade you that if there was a right answer, it would be this one, not yours."

Subjectivists chances of succeeding is low, but that isn't because he is a subjectivist and he can't pretend realism whilst defending his premises. It is unlikely to succeed because Christian is committed to normative claims that are alien to humankind (denial of "suffering is bad", "Justice is good", etc.) and if he's at least consistent, and willing to bite the bullets regarding seemingly awful events, then he's safe.

But if so, subjectivist already *has* a reductio. Granting that no other objections to the argument from evil succeed, this line demonstrates the following. "If Moral Realism is true, God exists only if CINC (Concatenation of Insane Normative Claims) is true." (Obviously, if moral realism is false God *can't* exist).

Given the vast bulk of people (and frankly, an even vaster bulk of reflective people) don't accept CINC, this is big blow to Theism. If Calvinism (for example) really entails CINC, then Calvinism is ridiculous.

01010101 said...

The first premise can at least be considered from a "legalistic" standpoint: were some Being (say in a spacecraft) known to have ordered say, the virus leading to the spanish influenza of 1919-20 (killing millions), humans would consider that Being evil (because of the unmerited suffering it inflicted)--guilty of crimes against humanity (now, add up all such influenzas, and plague). Or rather, one would doubt such a Being exists (yet, God by definition must control nature). Voltaire's Candide works on a similar premise

Ilíon said...

As clear sign of a lack of intellectual seriousness is using "she" where English grammar requires "he". A person does this has surrendered his intellectual seriousness -- and his intellectual honesty -- to feminism, and is himself engaging in feminist politics, not in the pursuit of reason and truth.

Ilíon said...

VR: "But couldn't one just ask why we should accept premise 1?

Some people think that we all deserve intense everlasting punishment in virtue of the fact that our federal head, Adam, rebelled against God. So, for them, the question would not be why we suffer so much, but rather why we suffer so little.
"

Or, to put it in terms that do not make reference to "thestic" assumptions: Why is there good in the world? How is it that there good in the world?

The so-called "Problem of Evil/Pain" isn't a rational problem; its enduring appeal and seeming strength is entirely emotional -- it is not problem for "theism".

On the other hand, the generally unrecognized "Problem of Good" *is* a rational problem, and one that atheism cannot even hope to answer.

Anonymous said...

Leibniz thought it was a problem--as did the Stoics, and many others.

Then maybe they're pagan infidels too, eh, Idion. Perhaps the world should be destroyed, according to calvinist nutjobs.

BenYachov said...

This Theistic Personalist bullshit again?

All arguments from Evil presupposed a Good God=a perfectly good moral agent.

Except God, as understood in the classic sense by Philo, Augustine, John Damascus, Pseudo-Dionis, Maimonedies & Aquinas can't coherently be conceived of as a moral agent.

God is ontologically and metaphysically good but not a moral agent.

So the whole "problem of evil" is a pseudo-problem.

Every time I hear this crap I feel like a Theistic Evolutionist listening to some dumb Gnus genius refutation of YEC.

Oh wait I do believe Evolution is compatible with Theism and Catholic Christianity! Silly me!

None starter anyone?

BenYachov said...

>if there were an all-good, all-powerful God,

Define "Good" please. Do you mean good as in "morally well behaved"?

Or the correct view Good as in "being purely actual, Perfect and thus wholly desirable and the first desired"?

Because one is not the other.

BenYachov said...

You would think "J" would grow up and get a life by now?

Patrick said...

Premise 4 may not apply if an additional divine attribute is taken into consideration, namely God’s perfect justice. The theodicy outlined below, called “Theodicy from divine justice”, may show why this is the case.

- God’s perfect justice prevents Him from relieving people with unforgiven sins from their sufferings (see Isaiah 59,1-2).
- Unlike God Christians are not perfectly just. Therefore, unlike God, they are in a position to help people with unforgiven sins. By doing this they may make those among them who haven’t yet accepted God’s salvation receptive of it (Matthew 5,16, 1 Peter 2,11-12, and 3,1-2), which in turn frees these persons from suffering in the afterlife.
- The greater God’s beneficial power due to His love, the greater God’s destructive power due to His justice (see Matthew 13,27-29). Striving to prevent as much suffering as possible God can only interfere to such a degree that the beneficial effect of the interference is not neutralized by the destructive effect of it.
- Someone who dies before he or she reaches the age of accountability, i.e. before he or she can distinguish between good and evil (see Genesis 2,16-17, Deuteronomy 1,39, and Isaiah 7,16) faces no punishment in the afterlife, as he or she would not have been able to commit sins. So, God may not be inclined to prevent such a person’s death.
- A person’s suffering in this life may have a redeeming effect (Luke 16,25) and consequently contribute to a decrease of the respective person’s suffering in the afterlife; the amount of suffering in this life is so to speak subtracted from the amount of suffering in the afterlife. So, God may not be inclined to relieve this person’s suffering.
- A person’s suffering in this life may make the person receptive of God’s salvation (Luke 15,11-21), which in turn frees this person from suffering in the afterlife.
- There are degrees of punishment in the afterlife depending on one’s moral behaviour (Matthew 16,27, 2 Corinthians 5,10), one’s knowledge of God’s will (Matthew 11,20-24, Luke 12,47-48), and, as mentioned before, one’s amount of suffering in this life (Luke 16,25).
- Those people who suffer more in this life than they deserve due to their way of life are compensated for it by receiving rewards in Heaven.

BenYachov said...

Anyway what I wrote stands.

The so called "Problem of Evil" is a pseudo-problem for a Classic Theist and only is a problem for a Theistic Personalist.

BTW nobody can answer me by arguing if God exists He must be a Theistic Personalist deity or by assuming a priori without proof the God of the Bible is also such a "deity".

Both are non-starters since the New Atheist critic would have put on the hat of a Theistic Personalist Apologist & try to convince me of the existence of a "god" neither of us believes exists in the first place.

Don't Waste my time.

BenYachov said...

You really need to move on "J".

Feser banned you get over it.

BenYachov said...

>the idea of an monotheistic and omni-benevolent Creator cannot be defended, regardless of the thomistic trickeries.

Rather the Thomist agrees with you if you equate omni-benevolent with "perfect moral agent".

It's not trickery rather it's a case of a Gnutoid complaining " Boo hoo! My one size fits all anti-gods polemic doesn't have the same assumptions as your theology. No Fair!".

Otherwise known as "No fair you are not a fundamentalist!".

Cry me a river.

BenYachov said...

01010101? Truth Over Faith? J? Uncle Meat?

Like it matters......

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ben: this is an interesting attempt to defuse the problem. Shooting from the hip here, can't we recast the problem for the Classical Theist?

E.g., if God is the sustaining cause of all that is, and evil is part of all that is, then isn't God sustaining the existence of evil? And isn't this, primae facie, a problem?

If God is the sustaining cause of the world that produces Tsunamis that create hundreds of orphans that starve to death, are you saying this is something that God could not control? That can't be, right? He could sustain the universe differently, so such events wouldn't happen. And, whether you call Him a moral agent or not, if He does actively sustain such atrocities with such consequences, does that not call into question whether this sustaining cause is something that we should worship and is Good?

In other words, it isn't clear that Classical theism makes things so tidy and easy. After all, didn't Aquinas put in quite a bit of effort to address the problem of evil, despite being a Classical Theist?

Ilíon said...

Eric Thomson: "Ben: this is an interesting attempt to defuse the problem. ..."

It's not interesting ... it's foolish and false. It's the attempt to salvage God's "honor" -- which is to say, his reputation amongst those who insist upon being his enemies, and will only find something else over which to blame him for having given them live and existence -- at the cost of trying to turn him into a mere thing.

Eric Thomson: "E.g., if God is the sustaining cause of all that is, and evil is part of all that is, then isn't God sustaining the existence of evil?"

Yes. Of course God is sustaining the "existence" of evil; he has never denied this, and has, in fact, admitted it.

Eric Thomson: "And isn't this, primae facie, a problem?"

No.

The alternative is that there exist no Creation at all.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ilion said:
The alternative [to a world where God sustains some evils] is that there exist no Creation at all.

Primae facie, another alternative is the existence of a world with less evil. E.g., a world without starving to-death tsunami orphans. That's the point.

Anonymous said...

"In other words, it isn't clear that Classical theism makes things so tidy and easy."

It actually is, once you bother to read about it. Ol' Ben here's sorta presupposing someone does that.

Patrick said...

Blue Devil Knight: “Primae facie, another alternative is the existence of a world with less evil. E.g., a world without starving to-death tsunami orphans. That's the point.”

The theodicy outlined in my first post may provide an answer to this objection. As for the third point of that theodicy a good illustration of it can be found in the description of the church in Jerusalem in the Book of Acts. Here God’s beneficial power was so great that it could heal a crippled beggar (Acts 3,1-10) yet at the same time His destructive power caused the death of two persons who committed what might be regarded a minor sin; they had been cheating (Acts 5,1-11).

BenYachov said...

@BDK

How is it going guy?:-)

>E.g., if God is the sustaining cause of all that is, and evil is part of all that is, then isn't God sustaining the existence of evil? And isn't this, primae facie, a problem?

Not really since Evil in Thomism is privation. It has an accidental existence but not an ontological one. Things that fail to be what they are suppose to be are "evil" or rather they suffer evil. Thus God doesn't create Evil since Evil has no being itself it is a lack of being. So there is nothing for God to create. Evil is a hole in reality it has no reality.

>If God is the sustaining cause of the world that produces Tsunamis that create hundreds of orphans that starve to death, are you saying this is something that God could not control? That can't be, right? He could sustain the universe differently, so such events wouldn't happen.

But God has no moral obligation to not create a world with Tsunamis since He is not a moral agent. Moral Agents have obligations non-moral agents do not.
There is no world so Good that God is obliged to create it and none so bad that as long as it partakes of being, that God must refrain from creating it. Natural evil is the result of living in a material world where material things compete for their own perfection at the expense of other material things. God could have created a world where this did not happen but it wouldn't be a material world.

God could have alway created a better world but in Thomism there really is no such thing as the best of all possible worlds thus any better world he creates He could always have still created a better one. God can't create an Absolutely perfect world since only God is Absolute Perfection. God can't create another God since that would be a contradiction. As you know Thomism doesn't allow God's omnipotence to mean He can create contradiction. He can't do that.

>And, whether you call Him a moral agent or not, if He does actively sustain such atrocities with such consequences, does that not call into question whether this sustaining cause is something that we should worship and is Good?

What kind of Good? Morally Good? As I explained that can't be applied to God. As Brian Davies says it's about as meaningful as discussing wither or not Tennis players should be able run the mile in under 10 minutes. Tennis players are not the sort of sportsmen who are suppose to be able to do that in the first place. Or it's like discussing a Tennis players homerun average.

As for worship He does sustain being which is good and he sustains our being which is good. So at minimum we owe Him for that alone since we are moral agents.

>In other words, it isn't clear that Classical theism makes things so tidy and easy. After all, didn't Aquinas put in quite a bit of effort to address the problem of evil, despite being a Classical Theist?

Only because you still might be reading Classic Theism threw the lends of latent Theistic Personalism which sees God as a moral agent(& a giant human megamind with the body abstracted away). Once you give up that view then the problem neatly disolves.

If I may recomend some reading for you(no it's not Feser this time). Brian Davies REALITY OF GOD AND THE PROBLEM OF EVIL. You will like him he doesn't have Feser's right wing political insticts. Also Brian McCabe's GOD AND EVIL he taught Davies & he is politically the opposite of Feser being a sort of Catholic Christian Socialist.
Brian Davies latest book THOMAS AQUINAS ON GOD AND EVIL.

Good reads.

BenYachov said...

I have every belief based on past experience BDK will come up with some good challenges and questions to my view.

But I think 01010101/J/TOF whatever & Ilíon should be quiet and let the grown-ups talk.

Because ignorant ridicule and insult are not rational argument.

BenYachov said...

@BDK

When we call something "good" we need to define what that means otherwise saying God is "Good" or "Evil" doesn't really tell us anything about God.

God is either Good because there is a moral standard and code which He is under and obliged to follow or He Good because He is Perfection Itself by Nature.

Theodicy comes into play by trying to morally justify or excuse God from what appears to be His moral failings in allowing any and all evil.

But Theodicy presupposes God is a moral agent and a perfect one at that. Swimburne explicitly says God is morally perfect.

But if I have a good root beer I can't say it is not good because the root beer failed to stop the holocaust.

We need to look at Aristotle and Aquinas' definitions of Good and Evil and Virtue and the metaphysics and philosophy behind them to understand.

Cheers.

BenYachov said...

I don't at all mind so much Ilion or J/TruthoverFaith/binary number whatever disagreeing with my beliefs if only they would offer rational argument & not just snark.

Which is why BDK is a treasure.

From Ilion I will just get some rant about being the "SON-OF-CONFUSION" and J/Binary numbers I don't know what the hell he is talking about. Something about the Pope banning capitalism?

Sad pointless people. Legends in their own minds.

Anonymous said...

Ben Yachov, DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS! Read what they say if you can stomach it, but never, ever respond to it, or even allude to its existence. That is what they crave. You must starve the beast, and they'll eventually slink away elsewhere.

BenYachov said...

>Rational argument--hmmm-- you mean, like pointing out the flaws in the privation views, and substance (ie, Aqu. wanted to say "evil" could not be a substantial form, but he was wrong--ie, viruses/bacteria, etc),

Which is about as Rational as a YEC saying"What Humans evolved from Apes? So Apes give birth to humans? What nonsense Apes giving birth to humans? We have never seen that happen? Why humans and not dogs? Evolution is not rational!".

That is not a rational response that is just mindless ridicule which is what you clearly intend.

You haven't given me an argument as to why Evil isn't metaphysically a privation.

I already said material things compete for their own perfection at the expense of other material things(virus, bacteria, predatory animals etc) so how that proves evil isn't a lack of perfection and being is a mystery to me.

You step back and let more informed and educated Atheist address the issue.

No good for your worldview can come from your ignorant responses.

Only scandal.

BenYachov said...

>Ben Yachov, DO NOT FEED THE TROLLS!

You are correct.

So I will leave J to post something stupid and wait for BDK to say something intelligent.

BenYachov said...

I can't wait till BDK posts.

That should be interesting.

Victor Reppert said...

Banned means banned.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Binary Guy: wow that antisemitism is out of nowhere. WTF if you want respect why the hell would you do that?

Ben: Anyway, thank you for that very clear articulation of how the Thomist deals with the existence of evil.I have two concerns.

The most obvious concern I have are positively existing beings that do not seem at all like a privation. E.g., asteroids that maim a bus full of orphans. Those are beings that make the world worse, and not a privation. Is the asteroid competing for its own perfection? Are no sections of being better than any others, more deserving or protection?

This connects with my second, deeper worry about this Thomistic claim that Good and Being are coextensive. This comes off as an ad-hoc way to escape the problem of evil by simply redefining evil and not really addressing the woman whose kid was maimed by an asteroid. Technically it seems to be a logically consistent viewpoint, but seems to simply dodge the question.

You might say that the very question only makes sense within personalistic views, but I think that isn't quite right.

If it is true that God could sustain a world without asteroids maiming buses full of orphans, then God is an agent in the minimal sense of being able to sustain different worlds, but actually sustaining this one. But this one is morally worse than it could have been. So God is Good in the Thomist sense, but bad in the moral sense that we can apply to that minimalist core of agency He posesses.

You can say he has no obligations, etc.. But that doesn't really escape the problem. He could make the world a morally better place, but does not. How is that a solution to the problem? I am not obligated to help the girl up who just fell into the street, but I do it because I am not a jerk.

Note I'm not saying Aquinas doesn't have a solution that can't be worked out, but this claim that the problem simply never arises seems almost disingenuous switching of topics from good to being.

BenYachov said...

Ah good questions! I can't wait to answer them tonight. I'm going to skip playing FALLOUT NEW VEGAS. This should be more fun.

I knew you wouldn't let me down BDK.

I'll print out your comments and mull over them before I answer them.

Cheers and Happy New Year.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ben: I am in Rapture, replaying Bioshock.

B. Prokop said...

BDK:

I must be missing something here. Why are asteroids and various other natural disasters considered evil? (your wording) Aren't such things simply morally neutral, no matter how unpleasant?

Earlier this year, hurricane Irene ripped part of my roof off and felled some trees on my property. I didn't consider the wind to be morally deficient - just too strong for my roof and the trees.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Bob you might be right that is a weakness of my exposition. They are "bad things" that a good person would stop, and an evil person would cause to happen.

But I haven't thought through this "natural evil" kind of thing it may well be one of the weaknesses in my concern. I'll need to think about it more.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Bob: it isn't that the events themselves are evil or bad, you were right to jump on that. It's that any agent, even in the minimal sense in which I defined it a couple of posts ago, is subject to moral evaluation for letting such things happen (or worse, actually sustaining them happening).

Note again I'm not saying there isn't a consistent response the Thomist could put together here, I was just balking at Ben not even batting an eye at it just because he is a classical theist. To dismiss it as confused seems a mistake: ask any Priest.

B. Prokop said...

BDK: Thanks for that.

I must be just more accepting of "things as they are" than most philosophically-minded deep thinkers. To use an extreme example that hits as close to home as it gets, when my wife died three years ago from pancreatic cancer, it never occurred to me to ask "Why didn't God prevent that?" As awful as that experience was (and you have no idea unless you've gone through something similar), I found solace in the idea that "That's how the world works". I had no need to explain it away; nor did I have to "justify God's ways to Man" a la Milton. It just was.

Far more distressing to me (while perhaps being more easily explainable) is the evil that Man is responsible for. I get as saddened as the next person over natural disasters, but to really get my blood boiling, just mention some purely human atrocity, like the regime in North Korea or the bloodshed in Syria.

BenYachov said...

@BDK

I don't know what the binary troll is smoking but it must be some really good shit.

He's out there like Pluto man.

Cheers.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Bob: but tweak some things. Instead of your wife, who probably had a good life, make it an eight year old granddaughter who suffers for six months. Her family is torn apart, her parents left a shell of their former selves after watching their little precious one wither away under chemotherapy, weight dropping to nothing, zero youthful energy, hallow eyes, barely able to keep their heads up to avoid vomiting on themselves, the life slowly and painfully fading for everyone to see.

Perhaps you are not the type, but it seems almost inhuman to nevfer ask, 'How could God let this happen, why doesn't He do something?'

Or a group of children on a playground hit by an avalanche, suddenly taken away. If you would not have a crisis of faith to some degree I would frankly question your human sensibilities. Note I'm not saying it would be a good reason to become an atheist (though I think it would), but if it didn't give you reason to bring up some questions to your priest, then you are different than most people I know.

If you have kids, you can probably imagine (but nobody can really know who hasn't experienced it) what it is like to lose a young child. I do not know, but know people who have been through it. They are never the same again. It is one of the most awful things I have had to go through. Simply witnessing others going through it is escruciating.

Again, I'm not saying it should make anyone an atheist, but just that it will cause even the most devout believer to ask some very tough questions of their God.

B. Prokop said...

BDK:

I think you have to decouple grief from questioning. I have thankfully never personally lost a child, but four of my closest friends have. One couple lost their son at 16 years old, the other at 19. The first were and remain Catholic, the second can best be described as New Age Protestants, and they remain as spiritual as ever. You are 100% correct that one never gets over such a thing, but my (admittedly small) sampling shows that your statement "If you would not have a crisis of faith to some degree I would frankly question your human sensibilities" simply doesn't match the data.

Trying hard not to mind read here, but I strongly suspect you're approaching this topic wearing atheist-colored glasses. If you were to lose a loved one (I pray such a thing doesn't happen to you), that would not in and of itself be a cause for you to suddenly become a believer. Likewise, the opposite should be assumed for a believer. There should be no reason to expect a death in the family to initiate a "crisis of faith", any more than it would cause a "crisis of non-faith" for you. Bottom line: where you used the term "human sensibilities", I suspect you were thinking "skeptic's sensibilities".

Full disclosure: I know full well that I myself am approaching this issue wearing Christ-colored glasses. Death is painful beyond words, but the Holy Spirit makes it plain in a thousand different places that such is our lot (just read the Psalms!). Jesus Himself was asked this very question (Luke 13:4). Interestingly enough, the philosophical problem for His questioners appears to have dealt more with some hypothetical guilt on the part of the victims rather than on the part of God. Not to be flippant or disrespectful, but Christ's response can be paraphrased as "Stuff happens".

B. Prokop said...

The first sentence in my last posting is potentially misleading. I did NOT intend it to mean generically "One has to decouple grief from questioning" but quite specifically "You, BDK, have to decouple them".

Sorry for any confusion.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Bob: the point is really about what is reasonable. On the face of it, if any human could stop such suffering, and didn't, you would think them evil. This is something every reflective Christian has to deal with. I know there are ways to deal with it (e.g., Patrick's sadistic calculus above, where if I make you suffer a lot now, you will get extra good treatment later).

I wasn't making an empirical point about people's responses to tragedy, but a logical point about a rational responses to evil in a world supposedly sustained by a perfect being that could have sustained a different world where these things do not happen.

To just say "I don't worry about it, never did" isn't really to respond, but to avoid the problem.

The original post is sort of ostrichy like this: don't commit to any view of morality, or else your interlocutor will be able to pin God down with a particular view of morality and use it to push through the argument. That comes off as not really addressing the concern.

Aquinas struggled with it mightily, it seems, and came up with something interesting, if a bit anemic (but then again, things within the Classical Theistic tradition always come off a bit anemic to me).

BenYachov said...

@BDK well here are my thoughts as I jotted after reading your post.

1. We must not conflate moral evil with natural evil.

(Thanks to Bob for pointing that out & BDK for acknowledging he didn't formulate his thought clearly enough. No harm no foul.)

2. We must not confuse "Evil as privation" with "Evil is an illusion(i.e. Evil doesn’t really happen).

3. The Asteroid is not competing for it’s own perfection when it hits a school bus filled with kids rather the Earth is adding to the increase of it’s mass via it’s powers of gravity at the expense of the Asteroid's physical form and that of the Bus & kids that got in the way.

But this is a natural evil.

4. These views of Good and Evil start with Aristotle and Plato sans any divine revelation and are the result of natural reason and philosophy. Aristotle wasn’t a religious apologist coming up with a Theodicy like Swimburne.

5. Theodicy is largely a post-enlightenment phenomena that post Descartes & Post Locke’s divine volunteerism sees God as a moral agent and in more anthropomorphic terms.

Here is a quote from from a now de-funked blogpost which I saved.

6. QUOTE"God As Morally Deficient
The point for now is just to indicate how different the classical theist’s conception of divine goodness is from that of the theistic personalist – and, for that matter, from the conception taken for granted by atheists who suggest that the existence of evil shows that God, if He exists, must in some way be morally deficient.

While God is not a Platonic Form, for the classical theist, to suggest that God is in some way morally deficient nevertheless makes about as much sense as suggesting that Plato’s Form of the Good might be morally deficient. The suggestion is unintelligible both because characterizing the God of classical theism as either virtuous or vicious is unintelligible, and because characterizing Him as deficient in any way is unintelligible. An atheist could intelligibly deny that such a God exists at all (just as he could intelligibly deny the existence of Platonic Forms), but to suggest that the God of classical theism might be morally deficient merely shows that such an atheist does not understand the view he is criticizing (just as an opponent of Platonism who suggested that the Form of the Good might be unloving or vicious would only show thereby that he doesn’t understand what sort of thing a Form is supposed to be)."END QUOTE

7. As the Agnostic Catholic and Thomistic Expert & critic Sir Anthony Kenny said "Morality presupposes a moral community, and a moral community must be of beings with a common language, roughly equal power, and roughly similar needs, desires and interests. God can no more be part of a moral community with them than he can be part of a political community with them."


Aristotle said, we cannot attribute moral virtues to divinity: the praise would be vulgar. Equally, moral blame would be laughable.

8. Good and Being are not coextensive (i.e. having the same spatial or temporal scope or boundaries) since they are philosophical/metaphysical descriptions not scientific ones.

Being is true and being is good. "True" and "good" are called transcendental attributes of being. These attributes belong to being precisely because it is being, and they are convertible with being itself. If both truth and good are being, it follows that truth and good name the same reality. Each names this one reality under different aspects.

BenYachov said...

Additional:

In reference to the quote from Aristotle "the praise would be vulgar" I should point out that has nothing to do with say Moses saying to God after the Red Sea incident "From Everlasting to Everlasting, Thou art God etc".

The praise Aristotle is referring too would be more like "You did that very well. It's nice to see you step up and do your duty. Well done! Good on you God for saving the Israelites from Pharaoh."

We can praise humans who have moral obligations for living up to them but it would be vulgar to praise God for the Good he does as if it was somehow is duty to do it in the first place.

That is why in the Passover Seder the Jews pray "It would have been enough(i.e.to do only one of these things)....to lead us from Egypt, Drown the Egyptians, Give us the Torah, leading us to the promise land etc) but you did all of them. Thank you for you didn't have to do any of this for us.

BenYachov said...

Speaking personally it has been a Godsend when I learned to give up the vain pursuit of Theodicy. Brian Davies takes a swipe at every Theodicy in his books & finds them all wanting. I used to be a big fan of Plantinga's Free Will Theodicy at one time but since reading Davies, Feser, McCabe, Thrakis (& I hope to be reading DZ Philips soon) I've stopped accepting FWT's phone calls. We broke up. FWT needs to move on.

Thus I don't need to justify God anymore then I need to justify gravity. Plus I am freed from blaming God for having three Autistic kids, Mother-in-Law dying this year, property taxes, two more of my wife relatives dying etc.....

It's not that I refuse to blame God because I am like a spiritually battered wife who refuses to blame her husband. Or because I "feel" it's impious or sinful to do so(it is that but not for the reasons you think). Or that God is bigger than me & I'm intimidated.

It's that I really do, given what I have learned about God philosophically, think it is logically incoherent to do so.

God is not a moral agent and He can't coherently be conceived of being one unless you make a total unequivocal comparison between Him and human beings.

But God can't be compared to us unequivocally or even wholly equivocally but analogously.

That certainly doesn't mean I won't find Evil distasteful or wish or pray God rescue me & others from it. But I know He doesn't owe it to me & I am content with that. I live! I love! I slay bad philosophy & I am content!

Finally as one wag who wrote a response to one of the Reviews of Davies' book REALITY OF GOD etc said. A fellow named Platonistikon wrote:

"There is unnecessary and inherently meaningless suffering in the world; if the universe were controlled by an omnipotent mind with a moral obligation to minimize that suffering, it is at the very least extraordinarily difficult to see how such suffering could occur. I don't deny that theists can come up with some sort of story to save that claim from outright contradiction, but it's not at all clear why any reasonable person should be expected to believe that such a God exists.

A God that does not have any such moral obligation, however, does not face this particular problem. Moreover, when one seriously considers what it might be to be the creator of the entire universe, it is hard to see how this could involve moral obligations. I, for one, have much more reverence and gratitude for a God who owes me nothing but creates and sustains the whole magnificent universe than I do for a super-powerful divine mind who owes me justice but fails to give it to me. No doubt people differ in their sense of what is worthy of worship, but so long as we're just talking about our "preferences," I'm happy to admit that I prefer an incomprehensible transcendent source of all being to a morally inept spiritual oaf."

Any thoughts? Hurry the wife is nagging me for the computer!

BenYachov said...

Anyway here is an Article from the Catholic Encyclopedia on GOOD

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06636b.htm

As you can see it starts with Plato and Aristotle first to form definitions of Good before going on to any divine revelation.

BenYachov said...

Lastly the Problem of Evil ought not be confused with the mystery of evil.

The problem of Evil (i.e. why would a good all powerful God allow evil) is one thing.

The mystery of Evil(i.e. Why evil? Granted that there is no problem of evil that doesn't explain why there is evil) is another thing.

God is not a moral agent and thus can't be coherently blamed for creating a world with evil in it but that still doesn't explain why he created such a world in the first place. Blame or not.

Cheers.

mchoux said...

Okay, I updated it:

It must be admitted at the beginning that God's reasons for creating the way He did are many in number. Logical explanations as to "why" are infinite. We cannot fathom all of God's reasons for doing what He does. But I do believe that God's creative activity gives us a glimpse of His attributes. Creation testifies and gives us types of what God is like. This may be one of the reasons why God created carnivores and allows for death and destruction. As I look at the fossil record I see a God of grace in that He provided the human race with coal, oil, and topsoil through millions of years of death and decay and mass extinctions. I also see a God who is capable of severe wrath and pain. God is powerful. The universe dwarfs us in both age and extent, and this also teaches us of the majesty of God. There are millions of stars and planets that will be born and die in explosions so far away that we will never know of them, and there are wars fought by insects and microbes so small that we cannot see them. The universe testifies of God's power and divine nature. One thing that we learn from God's creating over billions of years about Himself is that God is dangerous and powerful. As Paul says in Romans 1:20 "For His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in things that have been made. We may not like it but God creating over billions of years through death and destruction tells us that God is capable of severe wrath and pain. This doesn't mean that I think that hurricanes are God's way of punishing us. Rather I'm refering to God's original acts of creation and how they reveal His Divine nature. This of course isn't THE explanation as to why God would allow suffering. In arguing about the problem of evil and suffering I use to try to place God in a human category and say He must behave a certain way. What I failed to take into consideration is the holiness of God. Holiness when applied to God not only refers to moral purity and perfection but to everything that sets God apart from His creation and His creatures. Holiness is God's essence. It's who He is. God is set apart from His creation and transcendent. He's distinct. We are to imitate God in His holiness in certain ways but there are also ways we are not to imitate God. We cannot be like God in every way. He alone is God and He therefore has rights and prerogatives that we don't have. Just to name a few ways I'm not like God: God is infinite in wisdom, God is all-powerful, God is sovereign, God is self-sufficient, God is all-knowing. When I try to be like God in every way it leads to pride and arrogance. He is the Creator and I am the creature.

The Bible tells us that God is love. It doesn't say He is ONLY love. And while God is love it's a holy love. For the Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not only this but the Bible also speaks of a holy hatred that God has. So, it's my contention that the problem of evil and suffering doesn't even get started. For God's love isn't merely a human love but a holy love. This isn't the same omnibenevolence that we try to ascribe to God. For God has a holy hatred as well. Nonetheless, He is completely holy and deserves our worship.

B. Prokop said...

BDK writes: "To just say "I don't worry about it, never did" isn't really to respond, but to avoid the problem."

There's also a third alternative - to not see a "Problem" at all, which needs either to be responded to or avoided. It might just be that the correct label for this subject would be "Mystery" - something that can only be comprehended (and at best, dimly) through art, music, or poetry, but not at all through pure reason.

So much (virtual) ink has been spilled on this thread on a subject that would have been better addressed by meditating on Mahler's Sixth symphony, or Melville's Moby Dick, or the Oddington Doom (look it up).

I must admit that I do not understand Ben's "God is not a moral agent" argument in the least, despite reading all his posts about the subject. I'm neither agreeing nor disagreeing with him. I simply do not understand what he is trying to say.

BDK is expressing a quite understandable horror at natural disasters, but his blaming God for them verges on being amusing, considering the fact that he's an atheist.

But as I've said above, for a real mystery, try explaining the existence of genuine evil (which I guess is the same thing as the mystery of free will). I believe this is precisely why Divine Revelation has chosen to express the subject in the form of Myth (Genesis, Chapter 3). The story more clearly illustrates the reality than any possible purely rational explanation (just as music can often express truth far more effectively than words).

Charles Williams did much the same thing in his Taliessin poems, in his myth of the stone images. Reading that, I can grasp the nature of sin and evil far better than from any essay on the subject.

Bottom Line: I think we're in over our heads here.

Shackleman said...

I still contend that the Problem of Evil is a problem for the *atheist*, not the theist. For the word "evil" is utterly meaningless given atheism.

Given atheism, all is blind, meaningless matter, acting out the forces of nature. Nothing more, nothing less. There can be *no* difference, given atheism, between BDK's school bus destroying asteroid, and the axe-murderer's slayings. The former being a blind, purposeless lump of rock acting out the laws of nature. The latter being a blind, purposeless lump of brain-state, acting out the laws of nature.

The moment one allows "evil" into the discussion as a real thing, one must admit to some level of super-nature; for evil implies choice, which implies free will, which implies moral agency----*none* of which are even *possible* if all is just matter and the laws which act against it.

In very simple terms:

1) Given atheism, "evil" doesn't exist.
2) Evil exists
3) Therefore atheism is false.

B. Prokop said...

Shackleman:

Love your syllogism! I call it a slam dunk. Game over. Nothing more to see here. Let's all move along, and allow the shattered remains of atheism to recede in our rear view mirrors.

Shackleman said...

Mr. Prokop,

Thanks. :-)


(My word verification was fittingly "mushies")

Papalinton said...

"The moment one allows "evil" into the discussion as a real thing, one must admit to some level of super-nature; for evil implies choice, which implies free will, which implies moral agency----*none* of which are even *possible* if all is just matter and the laws which act against it.

In very simple terms:

1) Given atheism, "evil" doesn't exist.
2) Evil exists
3) Therefore atheism is false."

There is a word for this form of theologizing; Hogwash.
Theology has been wrestling with its own intestines for some two millennia in an effort to straighten out the kinks, only to find the kinks are a natural part of the human condition. None, absolutely none of the theological luminaries throughout history have come close to unravelling what it is to be human.

As Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) so beautifully put it, "Truth, in the matter of religion, is simply the opinion that has survived."

The "argument from evil" always was and remains wholly and solely a purely theological concept masquerading as philosophy. And like every other theological concept, trinitarianism, omni-maxism, outside of time and nature etc have literally no transferable credibility to any other sphere of human activity other than New Age quackery. Charles Darwin so insightfully reminds us, "Ignorance more frequently begets confidence than does knowledge: it is those who know little, and not those who know much, who so positively assert that this or that problem will never be solved by science."

Blue Devil Knight said...

When the Argument from Evil comes up, someone inevitably claims atheists can't make the argument unless they believe evil exists, or makes fun of an atheist for acting as if evil exists, or says atheists are being intellectually dishonest for pretending that evil exists.

Then, if someone is awake, they rightly point out that there exists such a thing as a reductio argument.

It will happen again.

At any rate, I am not a big advocate of the argument. In practice.

When I meet someone that says they are an atheist, and it is because of some tragedy (usually a child died), I usually try to nudge them back to God. They are likely going to do it anyway, and they will be happier when they do.

When they are an atheist and they are doing it from a place of dispassionate evaluation of evidence, gut level disbelief in weird superstitious beliefs, and the like, without any mention of personal tragedy, then I react quite differently.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Papalinton that quote from Darwin is great!

Perhaps one reason I am confident to post my thoughts here is because I am so ignorant of real theology. :)

Papalinton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Papalinton said...

BDK
"Perhaps one reason I am confident to post my thoughts here is because I am so ignorant of real theology. :)"

Irrespective of the purported claims of sophisticated theology by protagonists and opponents, you are among peers on this site.

Incidentally, what is the difference between theology and 'real' theology? Just curious. I think Oscar Wilde got it right about real theology. And one only need read through the multifarious imputations, permutations, connotations and interpretations of the judea-christian fable to appreciate the high level of esteem that 'opinion' features in god-speak scholarship.

Indeed, majority of opinion = theological fact.