Saturday, July 30, 2011

Evidential Problem of Evil

Evidential Problem of Evil

This argument attempts to decrease the probability of the existence of the God of classical theism, unlike the logical problem of evil which attempts to refute it.

William Rowe's formulation

One of the more influential versions of the argument, first published in 1978.

(1) God would prevent suffering, unless he could not do so without losing a greater good

(2) There exist examples of suffering that God could have prevented without losing some greater good

(3) Therefore, God does not exist

Premise 1

Support for premise 1 is appeal to traditional notions of God as all-good. Most theists agree with premise 1.

However, open theism is opposed to premise 1. Open theism is the view that God's omniscience does not include foreknowledge (knowing what free agents other than God will do) or middle knowledge (knowing what free agents would have alternately done in any situation). But open theism advocates a God that is not as involved in human affairs, since he does not know the future and is playing dice with history. In this sense, open theism is more like deism and less compatible with the classical definition of God.

Premise 2

Most critics focus on premise 2 of the argument. Rowe supports premise 2 with appeals to two examples of apparently "gratuitous" evil (evil that serves no greater good):

Evil 1: A deer trapped under a log in a forest fire, burned and slowly dying for days

Evil 2: A real-life example of a little girl who was raped and beaten to death by her mother's ex-boyfriend.

From these examples, Rowe asserts the following inference:

P: We do not know of any greater good that could arise from these evils

Q: Therefore, there is no greater good that could arise from these evils

Rowe includes among "greater goods" anything that we can conceive of, past or future. Even "eternal bliss" is an acceptable greater good according to Rowe. The inference from P to Q is inductive, but Rowe defends it as rational. I.e., the truth of P is taken to be strong evidential grounds for the truth of Q.

The Skeptical Theist response

The traditional concept of God is that his ways are unknowable to man, and hence this presents problems for the inference from P to Q. Wykstra developed this response in 1984, known as CORNEA.

Wykstra's CORNEA Critique

Stephen Wykstra's Condition of Reasonable Epistemic Access (CORNEA) says the following:

C: A human is entitled to infer that [there is no x] from [so far as I can tell, there is no x] only if it is reasonable for that human to believe that if there were an x, it is likely that she would perceive it.

Wykstra calls this the "no-seeum assumption". This principle appears unobjectionable at first sight. Example: If someone looks at a garden from a distance and is unable to perceive any caterpillars in it, it is not reasonable for them to then assume that there aren't any.

Wykstra says that Rowe's inference from P to Q is a "no-seeum assumption." That if there is some greater good that will come about by allowing evils of the above type, it is unlikely human beings would be able to discern them.

Wykstra's parent analogy

Wykstra makes the analogy of a parent who allows her children to experience pains for greater goods (e.g. vaccination), and that a parent's cognitive abilities compared with her baby are at least comparable to human cognitivie abilities compared to God. So it is just as unlikely that we would be able to percieve God's reasons for allowing evils as it would be for a baby to perceive the reasons for a vaccination: not likely at all.

Alston's analogies

Wyksta's analogy is open to criticism, so Alston came up with two different ones:

Student: A student may not understand the reasons an expert does something, but from this he cannot infer that there are no reasons.

Scope of knowledge: If the field of knowledge in a subject is unknown in scope. I.e., because we can't find aliens, we cannot infer that there are no aliens out there.

Based on the above analogies, Alston concludes that Rowe's inference from P to Q is a "no-seeum inference" and hence invalid. However, Rowe responds that unlike in the two analogies, an all-good being should either tell us his reasons for permitting suffering, or at least make his presence more obvious.

Building a theodicy

A theodicy is an attempt to provide a plausible reason for God permitting suffering. This is distinguished from a "defense," which is used against the logical problem of evil by trying to show a possible reason that God allows suffering, even if that reason might be implausible.

Sketch of a theodicy

A theodicy might make use of several tactics. For instance:

Soul making: the idea that God uses pain and suffering for the betterment of character; a person partaking in only hedonistic pleasures non-stop will tend to have a bad character.

Free will: the idea that God allows morally significant free will so that human beings are moral agents and not just robots programmed to act a certain way.

Heavenly bliss: the idea that after death a soul will go to heaven and experience eternal happiness.

So, for instance, the above evils might be explained by serious misuse of free will, soul-building for the people left alive, and eternal heavenly bliss for those who die.

Objections: Dispute that free will exists; we have a duty to curtail someone's free will if they misuse it, and so Go should do the same; natural evil is difficult to account for with theodicies.

Responses to natural evil: Natural evil could be part of soul-building (Hick); it could be to give us knowledge of evil so that we know we know what moral choices are (Swinburne).

Further responses to the evidential problem of evil

If theists think the arguments for the existence of God are strong enough to offset the evidential problem of evil, they can turn the argument around to say that since an all good God exists, then gratuitous evil (evil that serves no greater good) does not exist. Rowe calls this the "G E Moore shift." The formal argument:

(1) God would prevent suffering, unless he could not do so without losing a greater good

(2) God exists

(3) Therefore, there is no suffering that God could have prevented without losing some greater good

Rowe says that this is the theists' best response. However, the problem is that the typical arguments for God (cosmological, teleological) do not seek to establish an all good being, and thus the theist faces severe difficulty in offsetting the obvious suffering in the world with arguments for an all good being.

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