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Arguing About Gods 6: Problems of Evil

01/16/2012

Oppy says that he thinks that the problem of evil does not provide a reason for any person to change his mind on the matter. This means that ultimately, he thinks it is an unsuccessful argument. It’s hard for me to judge exactly where he thinks a rational person can disagree, but he does offer some very helpful analysis on libertarian freedom and ‘sceptical theism’ as he calls it.

Here’s a line of thought I was working on last night:

Imagine a person witnessing a rape, and concluding that there is no reason to interfere, since for all he knows, the world might turn out better due to this rape. We have no way of judging if preventing the rape would be a good idea.

We’d would say that this is really lame. Sure its possible that rape could lead to a better world, but it seems really, really unlikely. We have plenty of reasons to judge the harm that is done by rape as not worth it in pretty much every situation, and no reason to think it is ultimately beneficial. We would call the person’s line of reasoning totally wrongheaded.

And yet this very line of reasoning is used to excuse God from neglecting to prevent evil. We point out horrors like rape, and a common theistic response is that for all we know, God has a reason to allow rape for the greater good. We have no reason to say that God lacks a reason to prevent rape.

But if we think that God has a reason to not prevent evil, then we lose our grounding when we say that we have a reason to prevent evils. If we accept such deep skepticism on moral matters in order to excuse God, then we also lose our ability to make normal moral judgments.

Kindle Notes:

Suppose that freedom is libertarian, that is, suppose that if an agent X acts freely in performing action A in circumstances C at time T in world W, then it is not made true by the truth-making core of the world W prior to T that agent X will do A in circumstances C. (6408).

Note: Indistinguishible from chance.

All that Plantinga says about an agent with (libertarian) freedom is that “no . . . antecedent conditions determine either that he will perform the action, or that he will not (6566).

in circumstances in which a perfect being could not make a universe in which everyone always freely chooses the good, the perfect goodness of that being ensures that it will make no universe at all (6690).

What do I think can be learned from the preceding discussion? First, it is highly questionable whether Plantinga (1974) provides a satisfactory response to the standard “logical assertion” about moral evil. Second, there is a logical argument from moral evil in Mackie (1955) that (plausibly) stands or falls with a compatibilist analysis of freedom. Third, the acceptance of a libertarian analysis of freedom imposes non-trivial constraints on the kinds of principles of sufficient reason that one can endorse (and, hence, on the kinds of cosmological arguments that one can promote). Fourth, there are probabilistic analogues of the more powerful logical argument from Mackie (1955) that bear serious comparison with currently popular “fine-tuning” arguments for intelligent design (6880).

If we are not prepared to judge that it is unlikely that a particular instance of rape and murder is not also a very great good – and that is just the kind of judgment that acceptance of (ST1)–(ST3) is supposed to preclude – then we do not have sufficient reason to interfere, and to prevent the rape and murder, no matter how little it would cost us to do so (7139).

Note: Very good objection.

The conclusion for which I have argued here is that what Bergmann calls ‘sceptical theism’ really does involve an unacceptable scepticism if it is strong enough to provide a telling objection to evidential arguments from evil (7142).

For the sake of definiteness, the “argument from heaven” can be set out as follows: 1. Necessarily, there is no evil in heaven. (Premise, justified by appeal to the orthodox conception of heaven) 2. If there is morally significant freedom in heaven, then it is not the case that, necessarily, there is no evil in heaven. (Premise, justified by appeal to the libertarian conception of freedom) 3. (Therefore) There is no morally significant freedom in heaven. (From 1 and 2) 4. Heaven is a domain in which the greatest goods are realised. (Premise, justified by appeal to the orthodox conception of heaven) 5. (Therefore) The greatest goods can be realised in a domain in which there is no morally significant freedom. (From 3 and 4) 6. (Therefore) A perfect being can just choose to make a domain that contains the greatest goods and no evil. (From 5, appealing to the omnipotence of a perfect being) 7. A world that contains the greatest goods and no evil is non-arbitrarily better than any world that contains the greatest goods, incomparably lesser goods, and the amounts and kinds of evils that are found in our universe. (Premise) 8. If a perfect being chooses among options, and one option is non-arbitrarily better than the other options, then the perfect being chooses that option. (Premise) 9. (Therefore) It is not the case that a perfect being made our universe. (From 6–8) (7480).

Recall that the simple libertarian analysis with which I began places the following necessary condition on free action: an agent is free to do an action of kind K in circumstances C only if it is within the power of the agent to perform such an action in those circumstances. (Perhaps we can strengthen this necessary condition to a necessary and sufficient condition: an agent is free to do an action of kind K in circumstances C if and only if it is entirely within the power of the agent whether or not to perform such an action in those circumstances (7562).

Sennett’s proposal begins with the suggestion that we adopt instead the following necessary condition on free action: an agent is free to do an action of kind K in circumstances C only if either (1) the action is free according to the simple libertarian analysis or (2) somewhere along the causal history that leads the agent to perform that action there is another action that is free according to the simple libertarian analysis (7569).

As I mentioned at the outset, I see no reason to suppose that there are successful arguments from evil, that is, arguments that ought to bring those who suppose that there is an orthodoxly conceived monotheistic god to change their minds on this matter (7702).

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