Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Clayton on evil

Clayton wrote: I've got the numbers:
(1) There has been at least one event e in the history of the world such that anyone who could have prevented e would be morally required to do so.
(2) God never fails to fulfill a moral requirement.
(3) If God existed, e wouldn't have occurred.
(C) God doesn't exist.

Logically, it seems good to me. Let 'e' be the gang rape and butchering of a helpless woman in Darfur. Or, substitute some other event if you like.

Such an event is one God would be morally required to prevent and yet it happened.
My question is whether you think God is obligated to prevent all occurrences of this type. Logically, one would have to say yes. However, this would have the implication that anyone who wanted to do something like commit a gang rape would be prevented from doing so. I don't see how God could do that without creating the World of Clockwork Orange, in which humans are systematically prevented from carrying out wrong actions. I think God has an interest in creating a world in which there free responses by human beings are free to make choice and where there are normal consequences for those actions, even if that means allowing gang rapes in Darfur and unjust invasions of Iraq.

Pre-emptive strike against the hidden goods response:
(a) If there were such hidden goods that would show that all things considered it would be wrongful to intervene on her behalf, God created us as utter moral imbeciles. Such a claim seems flatly inconsistent with the idea that God created us as morally responsible agents.(b)

Not moral imbeciles. Well, human beings with limited information. We must act not knowing all the effects of our actions. It's different with God. (I suppose some Christians, committed to the doctrine of Total Depravity, would say that we think there is unnecessary evil in the world because we are moral imbeciles). We are, however, somewhat morally challenged compared to the Almighty.

If God created a world in which her enduring such an event is a necessary part of bringing about some e' that is the hidden good, intuitively, it sounds as if God is using a person as a mere means to an end. Very un-Kantian.

Who died and made Kant the morality god? More seriously, in a heavenly future life everyone desires the happiness of everyone else, and therefore the feeling that one's intense suffering played a role in someone's enhanced ability to enjoy eternal life would also enhance my eternal life.

(c) To say that God should have let this happen to her or endorse a theory knowing this is an implication of such a theory seems to low a lack of respect for our fellow persons.

Not, on my view, if you think clearly about what it would take to prevent not only this tragedy, but all others like it.

If we ever got our hands on a person who could have prevented such a thing but didn't, we'd have a hard time preventing a mob from lynching him.

People who make comments like this seem to forget that we are talking about a being who is running the universe. Guaranteeing the nonoccurrence of a tragedy has many, far-reaching implications, implications that we as humans only have as small grasp of.

I take it that you think the reason my argument fails is that you can knowingly say:

(*) God was right to allow that woman to be gang raped and butchered.

I say that that's false and not for epistemic reasons. Now, you say that I'm making an appeal to emotion. It may well stir the emotions. Here's a question that I think is significant. I think you cannot be a decent person and believe (*). Any decent person should find that claim quite beyond belief. You would think that if theism were true, God would not put us in a position whereby the claims we are rationally compelled to endorse insofar as we believe in God's existence make us less than morally decent people. That is a second sort of argument and one that is distinct from my first numbered one.

On the contrary, I think you can be a decent person and believe that God, before the foundation of the world, predestined some to everlasting heaven and the rest to everlasting hell. (Though sometimes I wonder how they pull it off). I don't see that this affects one iota my desire to alleviate suffering, or to act in compassionate ways. Mother Teresa was someone who believed, surely, that God had permitted the great sufferings of the people with whom she dealt, but she also believed that God wanted her to do all she could to decrease the suffering of those people. Just because I think God sometimes allows the human race to be scourged does not mean that I am raising my hand volunteering for the job of being the Scourge of God.

And, kudos to Clayton for meeting the terms of my challenge. I was starting to think that the argument from evil was just an emotional objection.


Anonymous said...

I don't see how God could do that without creating the World of Clockwork Orange, in which humans are systematically prevented from carrying out wrong actions.

Really? Surely you've read Hume!? But if you missed it, you won't miss it when you read the transcript of my debate.

What I'm wondering is if you'll be surprised by what I have to say. It's a novel approach. You'll both like it and hate it.


Anonymous said...

Not to mention that if we pray for safety when we travel, then exactly how can God grant us safety from someone hell-bent on robbing us when we stop for food at a restaurant? If God cannot do something to prevent that robber from exercising his free will to rob us, then he is a useless God. if he can't do anything about that, then he can't answer prayers. If he can, and you should surely think so, then he can do it often as needed.

Steven Carr said...

'However, this would have the implication that anyone who wanted to do something like commit a gang rape would be prevented from doing so. I don't see how God could do that without creating the World of Clockwork Orange, in which humans are systematically prevented from carrying out wrong actions.'

Victor decries the idea of heaven , where people are systematically prevented from carrying out wrong actions.

Unless Victor can think of a way of systematically preventing humans from carrying out wrong actions, by creating (or making a new creation) of humans who do not want to do wrong actions?

And Victor argues adamantly in other threads that perhaps God actually is systematically preventing humans from carrying out wrong actions.

I quote him 'On what grounds do we deny that God isn't doing plenty to keep things from being a whole lot worse than they are now? How many potential Hitlers had heart attacks at an early age who, had they lived, would have made the world a worse place than it now is?'

Defending a non-existent God who obviously does not intervene to save schoolgirls being shot by a madman, cannot be done consistently.

And Victor keeps repeating the myth that suffering builds character.

They guy who shot all those Amish girls had a bad experience when he was young. It did not improve his character.

Theists often claim that God can somehow remove even the tiniest of evils, like the original authors of the Bible making a mistake. (even though they had free will)

If God can do that, then God can prevent all other evils.

But you can forget all about Christianity being consistent and logical.

God acts. God doesn't act.

God prevents evils. God doesn't prevent evils.

It is all just made-up. Victor has no evidence of a God who does anything.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Perhaps instead of focusing on human evils, focusing on things like tidal waves that wipe out entire communities would be better. Natural events that any moral human would stop.

Also, Victor, I think you were reading too much into the fact that on your blog there weren't forthcoming arguments with 'numbered premises' (the obvious hallmark of any good argument :P). While I don't feel like going over the literature, I'm sure there are some out there.

Victor Reppert said...

BDK: I have said there were interesting versions of the argument from evil out there. The point about numbered premises is simply that we need to have spelled out how we are going from evils to atheism; what moral principles and other presuppositions are being employed, before we decide how to respond to the argument. Arguments of the form "Isn't this awful, explain this, theist!" overlook important logical dimensions of the discussion. There a cases certainly when the inability to explain something doesn't cut against a belief, or if it does, it surely doesn't cut very much. If someone were to point to some gap in the fossil record and say "Explain this, evolutionist! You can't, so creationism is true!" you would object, right? I think the same principles should be applied to the argument from evil.

Clayton Littlejohn said...

I'm pretty sure that the choice between:
(a) The World of Clockwork Orange;
(b) A world in which thousands of helpless women are raped and butchered by roving gangs of men armed with machetes
is a false dichotomy. If it wasn't, however, I'd be happier with nothing than something.

If you know, however, that this is a genuine choice and think (a) is worse than (b), do you oppose human intervention as well? Or, looking back on the "evils" we didn't prevent and God didn't prevent, you think "Oh, thank goodness we didn't act as we would've made the world worse?" I doubt it.

That being said, what justifies the claim that if God is required to prevent a single evil of type X, God is required to prevent all evils of type X? It seems this is crucial to the response you're offering and I can't possibly imagine why anyone would think that.

Victor Reppert said...

Clayton: Do you think that it is objectively true that God must prevent all actions of type X? If you say that it is, you are endorsing the existence of moral facts, which is inconsistent with philosophical naturalism. If, on the other hand, you say that it is subjective, then why should I be persuaded by your personal tastes in morality?

Clayton Littlejohn said...


I didn't know that objective rightness entailed that God existed. I thought the Euthyphro threw that into pretty serious doubt.

Well, suppose I didn't believe in objective value. You do. You also believe there is a God. If those two claims turn out to be inconsistent, which is what the argument from evil would seem to show if constructed as a reductio, then I suppose you can join us naturalists.

Anonymous said...

Do you think that it is objectively true that God must prevent all actions of type X?

Let me speak for Clayton here. He's taking the Christian concept of the theistic God and claiming such a God should prevent all actions of type X. His argument is based on your own beliefs.


Ben Z said...

Ironically, Socrates says that nothing can harm his soul...surely Socrates would go for arguments against the argument from evil.

Victor Reppert said...

I said that I thought that philosophical naturalism left no room for objective moral values. I did not say that objective moral values require theism; there are world-views other than naturalism that could also ground objective moral values.

I do believe in objective moral values. But it does not follow from the fact that I believe that there are objective moral values that I also believe that God is obligated to stop horrific crimes. It's not from a lack of sympathy with the victims; it's the fact that I value, and believe that God does as well, a universe in which our choices make a real difference. Remember, according to Christianity everyone has an eternal career ahead of them, and it just may turn out that eternity will be even sweeter for those who suffered unjustly. We don't know everything that God has to consider when God chooses to act or not act. An omniscient being has considerations perhaps we would not think of in our wildest dreams.

Evils that bother me the most are not the evils of a day or a season, but last for all eternity. But on these matters there is no unanimity amongst Christians; there is a substantial universalist contingent out there, and then there are the eschatological agnostics, like myself.

Anonymous said...

VR: eschatological agnostics like myself.

You continue to impress me! This is the only rational Christian position to take. Your faith does not demand that you have answers to everything. Unfortunately for me, the more agnostic I became about some of these tough questions, the less I could affirm about my faith as a whole.

Talk to you when I get back.

Anonymous said...

VR: I value, and believe that God does as well, a universe in which our choices make a real difference,

One last note. If God is judging us by what we do on earth, then couldn't he also judge us by our intent to do wrong? Let's say he did turn a baseball bat into butter whenever it was indended to do harm (I can think of better suggestions, but this one is parallel to one Lewis suggested). If so, couldn't God do that and just give a black mark to the person who intended such a thing without also allowing his intended victim to suffer brain damage as a result?

Jason Pratt said...

Without going into everything else in this discussion (my general remarks about the AfE were given a long time ago when Victor first posted up a thread on it):

{{[C]ouldn't God... just give a black mark to the person who intended such a thing without also allowing his intended victim to suffer brain damage as a result?}}

Yes, He could. It's an entirely legitimate question to ask why He doesn't, and it's entirely legitimate to expect a good answer for it.

Clayton Littlejohn said...

VR wrote:
I said that I thought that philosophical naturalism left no room for objective moral values. I did not say that objective moral values require theism; there are world-views other than naturalism that could also ground objective moral values.

Then I can't see what possible relevance your question about the obejctivity of value. Not only can you construct the problem of evil as a reductio against believing both that there is a God and that acts of unspeakable brutality occur, but you seem to concede that my objections didn't presuppose naturalism. Was this just the defensive spray of black ink to try to hide the real issue?

Here's a question that bothers me terribly. You seem to think it's important to make declarations about the objectivity of value but when we look at what those values are, it seems you think that it is right for God to allow the most brutal things imaginable to happen to innocent people. It seems there's some seriosuly misplaced concern here. What good does the objectivity of value add if that's what value amounts to?

Victor Reppert said...

Brutal actions are justified only if they result in a good end. We do not have to see the good end, but the good end has to exist. That's why I have argued that Calvinists can't solve the problem of evil.

The problem that ethical subjectivism brings to the problem of evil is that in order to get the argument from evil off the ground you either have to argue that the moral premise of the argument is objectively true, or argue that the moral premise is entailed by theism or accepted by all theists. Also, the moral fervor with which the argument is presented would lead anyone to think not only that you felt strongly about the moral premise to which you were appealing, but also that you believe that premise to be objectively true. There's something odd about saying "Well, I don't think it's really objectively true to say that you shouldn't brutalize people, but you do, so therefore you can't believe in God." This kind of ethical subjectivism seems less than fully consistent.

I certainly believe in human intervention in cases of brutality, and that is why I fault the Republicans who did nothing while one of their own was hitting on pages. God, as I think of it, operates in this fallen world in such a way that humans are left responsible to control evil. Belief in a God who will fix problems when we will not, in my view, undermines morality. My own views on the problem of evil are close to those of William Hasker in his outstanding and paradoxically named essay "The Necessity of Gratuitous Evil."

As for John's question, if God turned baseball bats into butter whenever we wanted to hit people over the head with it, that would discourage us from forming the relevant desires in the first place, and everyone would be virtuous for selfish reasons. We still have the world of Clockwork Orange.

If your value theory says that the elimination of temporal suffering is worth the price of a Clockwork Orange world, I'm not sure how to argue with you. You fundamental values differ from mine, and we're just going to have to agree to disagree.

Mike Darus said...

Victor makes a good point when he asserts that Calvinists can't solve the problem of evil. The discussion is parallel to the age-old debate about God's sovereignty and man's free will. On the one side are those that blame God for creating evil, causing evil, allowing evil, and failing to prevent evil. These are the Calvinists. On the other side are those who blame all evil on sin including disease and natural disasters as a consequent of the Fall. These are the Arminians. Arminians can't solve the PoE either. So the Problem of Evil is no more or less than the same theological debate that has puzzled and inflamed Christians for centuries.

This puts the skeptic in a confusing place. He wants to enter the arena because he smells an easy victory. But the terrain keeps shifting as he encounters Christians scattered along the free will/sovereignty continuum.

The PoE has not been able to disprove the existence of God. It has challenged some theological statements people may make about God. Good definitions of omnipotent an omnibenevolent seem easy but are acutally quite difficult.

The PoE has not disproved Christianity. There is too much theological diversity (espcially on the relevant issues) within Christianity. It has challenged specific theological statements.

The PoE has not bee effective in discrediting the Bible. The Bible does not answer the questions raised directly. Theologians for centuries have attempted to find indirect answers to these issues.

It is on the personal level, that the PoE has real relevance. Why does God permit me to do evil? What resources does he provide for me to do less evil? How do I respond to evil done by others against me? How do I overcome the seemingly random onslaughts of diesease, weather, and life challenges? What is my role in combating evil? These are the questions that define my character and give significance to my life.

Edwardtbabinski said...

Has it struck you that you're never going to "prove" anything to scientific people today who can ask more questions about "consciousness" than your AFR can EVER hope to answer?

Where does consciousness go when you sleep? What would you and your brain-mind be like, act like, think like, if you were never raised around human beings? Why are split-brain patients (with their brain hemispheres split via surgery) able to respond to two different questions simultaneously (are there two brain-minds in there?) Why does one hand of a split-brain patient sometimes "will" to do one thing while the other hand "wills" to do another, like pulling up pants, while the other hand pushes them down, or opens a door while the other hand reaches out to close it so that the person cannot exit the room (are there two "wills" in there)? Why did a brain tumor make a man act like a sex addict, but he ceased once the tumore was removed and the pressure on that part of the brain was gone?

How does the fact strike you that even if consciousness IS a function of the brain that some Christian philosophers are ready to jump on that bandwagon as well?

It also seems increasingly clear to me that all brain-minds get into ruts, ruts of things they grow to believe without question. I don't see even an ocean of "free will" capable of changing some people's minds, take creationists for example, or the minister with his "God Hates Fags" website.


I've never been interested personally in "proving" atheism, and I think your insistence as (well as that of many atheists) that you've all got "proofs," philosophical or otherwise, is to ensure permanent miscommunication and endless arguments.

Rather than attempting such "proofs," I simply have endless questions concerning "revealed religion/holy books," their interpretations and rival interpretations, and tri-omni views of "God" (all problems, but I would not submit them as "proofs" anymore than I think you have discovered conclusive "proofs"). So, I find "belief" in Christianity unbelievable--from Christianity's "Holy Bible" to the "Trinity" to the "God-man" to the "life is in the blood," and the "atonement," etc.

Vic, Do you see "God" in history today working any of those grand and glorious miracles of the first eleven chapters in Genesis? No, he's "resting" (ha), not "flooding the earth." God isn't even stopping the development of technologies far more stunning than that of the mere brick-laying of the Tower of Babel that he took such an interest in that "He came down" to stop it.

Do you see prophets or preachers doing the miracles of Elija or Elisha or Jesus today? No.

Even Christians must admit we are in this "gap" period between the last allegedly big miraculous revelation, "Jesus," and the "Final Miraculous End-Time Super Battle."

Yeah, sure. Still waiting these past two thousand years of non-miraculous history for the BIG MIRACULOUS FINALE. The New Testament is now OLDER than the Old Testament was when the New Testament was first written. Still nuthin. Focus on questions regarding "revealed religion" as I did, Vic. You're never going to "prove" anything to scientific people today who can ask more questions about consciousness than your AFR can EVER hope to answer.