Friday, January 04, 2008

Does the argument from evil presuppose theism

Bill Vallicella thinks it does.

11 comments:

Hans said...

Of course the argument from evil presupposes theism.

How can you have a reduction ad absurdum without first assuming certain things are true?

Robert said...

Hans said: “Of course the argument from evil presupposes theism.

How can you have a reduction ad absurdum without first assuming certain things are true?”

Hans I believe that you missed the point. The point is that if you are going to claim some sort of **objective evil** against theism as an argument (which is what the argument from evil attempts to do), you can only have **objective evil** if in fact a God exists. If God does not exist then there can be no objective evil, all that you have is subjective evil or whatever an individual or group/culture declares to be evil. In order to have objective evil (or good) you’ve got to have something (or someone) that is both universal and a-cultural, a source that establishes what is good and evil and stands outside all human cultures (and so is truly objective, not man made and subjective).

And who might that universal and a-cultural being who establishes good and evil be? :-)

So in order for there to actually be objective evil, which can then be used as an argument against God’s existence (in the argument from evil) there must be a God. But if there is a God, and this fact is presupposed by the argument from evil, then the non-theist has cut off the tree branch upon which his argument is sitting.

Robert

Anonymous said...

This argument has always confused me. It seems to me that the theist is asserting "God exists," and the atheist is saying, "The existence of evil and the abundance of human misery makes that fact highly improbable."

Now, it is important, I think, to understand what the atheist position really is here. It seems to me that the atheist is saying "If God existed, then the world wouldn't be the way it is. There wouldn't be such evil and suffering, judging from the very concept of God."

I guess the gist of what I'm getting at here could be: Why can't the atheist, on the one hand, propound the argument from evil (perhaps in a discussion with a theist), and at the same time understand that evil really doesn't exist and that the idea of "evil" is a fallible human construct (a by-product of socio-biological evolution). For the sake of argument, after the theist makes his assertion, "God exists," the atheist takes up the argument from evil, but doesn't necessarily need to believe it or its assumptions himself (because he is an atheist).

exapologist said...

I don't get it. Why am I supposed to think that objective moral facts exist iff God exists?

William Hawthorne said...

xapologist,

There's a good case to be made for that biconditional, in my view. Given the intrinsic prescriptivity of objective moral properties, it's exceedingly difficult to flesh out an adequate supervenience relation with only naturalistically acceptable properties in the base. One could argue inductively, as Mackie did, that the existence of these properties in our universe would make God's existence more probable. Or one could argue abductively that a theistic explanation is better than its naturalistic rivals. In any case, Vallicella's project -- which Mr. Loftus failed to construe charitably -- was to argue that if an atheist is committed to that biconditional, then she presupposes theism in her argument from evil (granting a distinction between instantiations of evil an the property of being evil). Vallicella, as far as I recall, was not concerned too much with arguing for the biconditional itself.

Will

exapologist said...

Thanks William,

I'm not as confident about the difficulties in getting an objective account of morality from physicalism, but it seems that there is the all-too-common conflation of naturalism with physicalism in Vallicella's argument. So, for example, why can't I just hold that moral truths are necessary truths, and construe moral properties platonistically?

In any case, I'm not sure I see how theism can explain my (apparently widely-held) intuitions that moral properties are intrinsic to their bearers. On standard divine command theories, moral properties are extrinsic to various actions -- they're not intrinsically right or wrong; rather, God has to impose the rightness/wrongness of the actions "from the outside".

Regards,

EA

Hans said...

How can you only have an objective evil if God exists?

You only have objective evil if Satan exists....

Hans said...

I forgot.

Theists can't find any method of telling Yahweh apart from Lucifer.

Because they only have subjective morality - they take the opinions of one being as moral.

So if their god turns people into a pillar of salt for disobeying him, this becomes good.

And if Lucifer turns people into a pillar of salt for disobeying him, this becomes bad.

They are trapped in a quagmire of subjectivity, and cannot claim that 'turning people into a pillar of salt' is either bad or good, because they have no objective moral values.

One Brow said...

This is how I see the argument from evil.

A = {some state an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God would supposedly not allow to exist because it is obviously evil to most observers, for example, rape of a child}
G = {the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God}
E(x) = {the property that x is evil}

Axioms:
1. A
2. A & G => E(A)
3. G => ~(exists x | E(x))

Lemmas:
4. (P => ~P) => ~P
5. (P => ~Q) => (Q => ~P)

Result:
~G

Rayndeon said...

@William,

Hi Will,

"Given the intrinsic prescriptivity of objective moral properties, it's exceedingly difficult to flesh out an adequate supervenience relation with only naturalistically acceptable properties in the base."

Right, if we try to take a reductive approach to moral properties. That said however, I don't see how you can reduce objective moral properties to the actions of a being. I mean, moral naturalism has nothing to do with reducing moral properties to properties acceptable to naturalism, but to *reduce* moral properties to non-moral properties, in the case of Divine Command theories, the actions of God.

The typical move is to switch over to God's nature; but then, it's not God the concrete entity who is the standard of goodness, but His properties: goodness itself. And of course, God need not exist for goodness to exist since goodness is an abstract property. Therefore, it is very puzzling how one can defend the claim that objective morality requires the truth of theism, when theism seems largely irrelevant to it. There is another way to approach this (a la theistic conceptualism), but I'm afraid we may get too far afield.

"One could argue inductively, as Mackie did, that the existence of these properties in our universe would make God's existence more probable. Or one could argue abductively that a theistic explanation is better than its naturalistic rivals."

Again, I don't see how. The way I see it, the existence of moral properties is pretty much irrelevant to the truth of theism. All properties are as necessary as any others. These properties would exist just as serenely in possible worlds in which theism is false.

" In any case, Vallicella's project -- which Mr. Loftus failed to construe charitably -- was to argue that if an atheist is committed to that biconditional, then she presupposes theism in her argument from evil (granting a distinction between instantiations of evil an the property of being evil). Vallicella, as far as I recall, was not concerned too much with arguing for the biconditional itself."

Well, I don't think that Vallicella's argument works. Why can the atheist not argue as follows?

"There are certain states of affairs that under moral realism count as evil states of affairs. These states of affairs could not satisfy the property of being objectively evil if theism were false. Now, if theism is true, such states of affairs cannot exist. Therefore, it is the case that theism cannot be true."

All that is required is that there are some states of affairs that *if* moral realism were true, such SOAs would count as evil. Since such SOAs are either incompatible on theism, therefore, theism is false. The whole point of the argument is to show an internal contradiction in *theism*. God's perfect goodness, power, knowledge etc supposedly entail the impossibility of objective evils. And yet, objective evils entail His existence. Therefore, under *theism*, God both exists and does not exist. The problem here is not the atheist's. The problem here is the theist's. We must reconcile these two propositions.

In any case, it does not truly matter whether or not there are any actual instantiations of the property "being objectively evil." All that is required is that there are some SOAs that *given moral realism*, would satisfy them, SOAs which are incompatible (presumably) with theism.

Testing123 said...

"This argument has always confused me. It seems to me that the theist is asserting "God exists," and the atheist is saying, "The existence of evil and the abundance of human misery makes that fact highly improbable."

Now, it is important, I think, to understand what the atheist position really is here. It seems to me that the atheist is saying "If God existed, then the world wouldn't be the way it is. There wouldn't be such evil and suffering, judging from the very concept of God."

I guess the gist of what I'm getting at here could be: Why can't the atheist, on the one hand, propound the argument from evil (perhaps in a discussion with a theist), and at the same time understand that evil really doesn't exist and that the idea of "evil" is a fallible human construct (a by-product of socio-biological evolution). For the sake of argument, after the theist makes his assertion, "God exists," the atheist takes up the argument from evil, but doesn't necessarily need to believe it or its assumptions himself (because he is an atheist)."

Exactly. This argument from theists is a joke. Lets say I grant that evil can only be evil if theism is trul; that would just mean... that


If God exists:

(i) Objective evil exists, and this is the only way evil could be objective.

(ii) Objective evil would not exist (PoE)

God simply contradicts himself, and still cannot exist. There is NO reason to think evil has to actually exist under Atheism, for the PoE to follow through....Even if we assume things can only be evil if theism is true, all that would mean is that God conflicts with himself if he exists. This means he cannot exist, as something contradictory cannot exist.