Wednesday, July 26, 2006

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 themselves 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. 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.


Victor Reppert said...

I just fixed the comment line on this one. So I expect all you atheists are ready to meet this challenge. Right?

Steven Carr said...

Are we going to see numbered premises for the argument from reason any time soon?

1) God, by definition, is omni-benevolent.
2) An omni-benevelont being, by definition, does all possible acts of benevolence in its power to do
3) Not all acts of benevolence are done.
4) Therefore, there is no omni-benevlent God.

Mike Darus said...

What does this have to do with evil? It just concludes that God does not make spoiled brats of his children.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

Re: premise 2:

What is in in God's power is one thing; what is in mine or yours is quite another. Is it in God's benevolent omnipotence to will my will for me? Love, freely given and received, is a great good; but love cannot be exchanged without freedom; given freedom, however, love can be squelched, perverted, rejected, etc. Hence, God's affirmation of the good of ahem freedom-unto-love entails risking the loss of another good, namely, love itself. I refer you to Plantinga's God, Freedom, and Evil.

To examine your syllogism by analogy:

1) God, by definition, is omniscient.
2) An omniscient being, by definition, knows all things that can be known.
3) God does not know what it is like to be self-conscious of being me myself (as I type or breathe this instant, or whenever). (Ie., God can't self-consciously "have" the qualia/knowledge of being me, but only of being God.)
4) Therefore, there is no omniscient being.

Er, sorry, try again.

This whole approach seems to fall in the same category of fallacy as asking, Can God create an unliftable stone? Or, Can He speak an unutterable word? No, God can't do what can't, by definiton, be done -- including always willing all good for/as all people.

Incidentally, Dr. Reppert presented numerous numbered forms of the AFR in his book (pp. 74ff).

The Uncredible Hallq said...

I'm surprised you need to write a post to get this question answered. It's like writing a blog post to ask someone to explain the cosmological argument, or the problem of induction. My initial thought was to recommend you seek out a philosophy 101 text book.

Victor Reppert said...

God is supposed to be omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good. Is perfect goodness equivalent to omnibenevolence thus defined here. Is there anything Christianity affirms that logically requires omnibenevolence in this sense.

Blue Devil Knight said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Blue Devil Knight said...

A volatile topic. Nice.

There is an interesting tension in theists in response to the argument from evil, on one hand, and their (typical) arguments that only god can ground moral truths.

On the one hand, we have the ability to perceive moral truths, because God constructed us to be able to judge what is right and wrong. This (or something like it) grounds our moral knowledge.

On the other hand, when you point out something clearly horrible, that God had the power to stop, the theists suddenly become quite tentative and hesitant in their ability to trust their own moral faculties. E.g., a child alone, shipwrecked on an island, dying of starvation after being gnawed by an army of rats, roaches, etc. Someone comes along with an infinite of riches (food, plane, etc) and decides not to help her, letting her die as she cries out for God to help her, clutching the crucifix in her emaciated hand as she passes away.

By my moral faculties, if I had a bunch of stuff to help out that kid, I'd do it. I would hope that any Christian would see the morality of doing the same. Why doesn't God?

If you answer "Well, what is your account of morality, you have evaded the question."

Similarly, but tangentially, shouldn't there be a lot more miracles if the Christian God existed? I think everyone here has probably personally known a child, a good child, who has died a painful death from cancer or some other awful disease. I know that the Christians like to construct complicated rationalizations for their God's behavior, but one parsimonious and reasonable explanation is that there is no supernatural agent out there looking out for us. Tell the girl on the island that there is a loving god watching over her.

Blue Devil Knight said...

P.S. The girl suffered for four months on the island, eating roaches to survive.

P.P.S. She is not a Christian, but a Hindu for whom the cross represents something besides Christ.

Steven Carr said...

Are we going to see numbered premises for the argument from reason any time soon?

People in thisn disucssion do seem to agree that there is no being who does all possible acts of benevolence.

To use Peter Kreeft's analogy of God as a good hunter who rescues animals from traps, there is no being who rescues trapped children.

Anonymous said...

There are many essays on this topic online written by respected atheists. See here

However, it seems clear you are not interested in hearing the arguments with an open mind. If I understand correctly, you believe in an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God who created a "sinful" humankind (though he, being omniscient as well, must have known that we would be "sinful"), then wiped out humankind because we were bad but promised not to do it again (see Noah myth), then sent an incarnation of himself to save his "sinful" creation from his own wrath. Oh and he gave us free will but if we don't choose exactly what he wants us to choose we'll burn in hell forever.

I'm sure I missed something in that story, though, that doesn't sound like it can be quite right. I'm sure you'll correct me, though.

Anonymous said...

The url got cut off, it seems. it is

Francois Tremblay said...

Define moral righteousness (a weaker claim than omnibenevolence) as such:

"Posit a volitional being B. When making a choice where there is at least one perfect alternative and the cost of the implementation of all alternatives are identical (or in the case of a god, where the cost is automatically zero), B will choose a perfect alternative if B is morally righteous."

(1) If a god exists, then it is Creator.
(2) If a god exists, then it is morally righteous.
(3) Given (1) and (2), a god would not have created a non-perfect universe (defined as containing natural or human evil/suffering).
(4) We observe natural and human evil/suffering.
(5) No god exists. (from 3 and 4)

Francois Tremblay said...

Here is an argument by Volker Dittman:

1. There is evil/suffering.
2. A god is morally righteous/omnibenevolent.
3. Either:
1. A god can create a universe without evil/suffering.
2. There is an explanation for all evil/suffering. (With a theodicy.)
3. There is no explanation for some evil/suffering.
4. If 3a. or 3c. is true, then there is no god. This point represents the usual Problems of Evil.
5. If 3b. is true, then all evil/suffering is justified.
6. If 3b. is true, then all human evil is justified. (from 5)
7. If all our actions can be justified, then there is no more morality. We can rationalize the worst crimes.
8. If 3b. is true, then there is no morality. (from 6 and 7)

Anonymous said...

First off, I think you're right when you say that you're at a disadvantage when you, as a theist, must first set out your proofs for god and how they square everyone's observations of the natural world. It's not an unfair disadvantage, though; it's perfectly fair and right that things are tougher for you than for the atheist, because you're making the positive claim ("God Exists"). If you want that claim to have any weight, you must present the positive arguement and then let others attack the logical edifice to see if it holds together. What you're doing right now is just avoiding your responsibility at a theistic philosopher, trying to get the athiests to do your work for you. I can understand why you want your opponents to play the besieged party (it's easier to be on the attack, sure), but just because you don't want to do the work of establishing your premise doesn't mean you can assume it's true and rest on your laurels.

To put it more succinctly, since you haven't presented any positive arguements for god, the "Arguement from Evil" is meaningless. Try this:

1) There is no reason to believe any god exists.

2) Things we call evil exist.

3) Therefore, evil cannot disprove the existance of god, since it's never been proven.

Flippant, I know. But I'll throw you a bone, just to give you a chance to play defense for change.

1) A god exists who is all-
a) -good
b) -powerful
c) -knowing

2) This god wants people to love him, know him, and rejoice in his presence for all eternity.

3) This god created the whole world, including humans and their brains.

4) Humans' brains control how they preceive the world, including what they see as good or evil.

5) Since god is all-good and all-powerful, everything that happens in the world is actually for the good.

6) Some things (particularly natural evils such as tidal waves and virulent plagues) appear to humans to have no good in them.

7) The appearance of natural evil separates some people from the god described in 1) and 2).

8) By 4), the appearance of natural evil is solely a product of the human brain's inability to see the deeper good.

9) By 1), this god could have created humans' brains as being incapable of seeing natural evils (either by making them less perceptive or more perceptive)

10) Since our brains are capable of seeing any form of natural evil that separates us from the god described in 1) and 3), and since that natural evil would separate us from that god, which cotradicts his will as described in 2), that god does not exist.

To sum up without the annoying numbered premises: our ability to perceive and feel outrage at natural evils is the essence of the argument from evil, not the evils themselves. If god had created us with either greater knowledge (so we could see the good that supposedly lies behind the evils) or less moral sense (so we didn't care about drowning children) the problem of evil vanishes. We have the problem of evil, though, and it is the primary problem appolgists have in justifying belief in god. Since no god would let this problem exist, no god exists.

Duke York

Lippard said...

J.D. Walters: "One thing that atheists always seem to forget in discussing the argument from evil is that this world is not the way it's supposed to be."

I don't think atheists forget that--I think the argument is pointing out that this is a fact in need of explanation. How is it that an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent being's creation could end up as something other than what it's supposed to be?

"God's rescue plan does not involve arbitrarily relieving the plight of single individuals, but defeating death and evil once and for all through the resurrection of Jesus Christ."

If this has already happened, where's the elimination of death and evil?

"And I notice a curious tension when unbelievers argue against God. They complain about there not being that many miracles on one hand, but on the other hand complain that if miracles were to happen that would make science impossible."

Can you point to examples of the latter complaint? If we lived in a world of magic, that would certainly make science (and the law) more difficult, but I don't see that it would make it impossible.

Anonymous said...

The arguement from evil does not argue against the existence of god but instead it argues against a specific definition of god that was first given to us by the catholic church. The arguement from evil suggest this definition is logically impossible.

The problem is that theists believe that they 'know what God is'. Atheist in truth simply do not believe in what they have come to believe God is.

Is it really such an insane thing to believe that we know everything about God. That we can put God into a box definition and then become angered when people disagree with us.

Maybe (just maybe) we have no clue what God is. That atheists are created by our own zealoism. Maybe the argument from evil is a big hole in what we believe God is maybe. Maybe we need to rethink our understanding of God? Is this really that insane?