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Atheism 14: Argument from Evil


This chapter begins a series of chapters about the problem of evil. There’s Rowe’s formulation, which Martin defends from a few critics, but I think I like Martin’s approach most (343).

There are many steps, but the argument assumes that lacking moral or logical justification for apparently pointless evil, God can’t exist. There have been many failed attempts at moral and logical justification, all of which have failed (even the author of the chapter on the problem of evil in Reason for the Hope Within admitted as much). These failed attempts make it inductively probably that there will be no successful attempt, and lacking a successful justification, disbelief in God is rational.

The responses seem to be that one cannot leap from previous failures to future failures, but Martin gives analogies that suggest otherwise, like in the case of occult explanations failing (348). Given that naturalistic explanations for evil exist, and given the lack of reasons to accept that God is justified in allowing evil, the rationality of believing in God is diminished.

Is this basically an argument to the best explanation, with naturalism doing much better than theism? Can this be formulated using the language of Bayesian probability? Looks like, based on the later critiques, it can be so expressed.

Martin looks at Plantinga’s treatment of the problem of evil. The point seems to boil down to the difficulty in assigning probabilities to the existence or non-existence of God, given the existence of the evil we see. Depending on one’s use of inductive reasoning, one could say that God is ruled out, or God is totally expected given the evil we see, and there is no clear way to decide between the choices.

Martin’s reply to Plantinga is that these difficulties in assigning probabilities exist in many, many areas, including those of the existence of fairies, gremlins, leprechauns, etc.

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