Sunday, October 26, 2008

Arguments against theism from evil / badness

This last week we have been discussing arguments against God's existence from evil. The assigned readings (and OPS assignments) include Hick, Nagel and Swinburne, but we haven't talked about the details of what they have to say. This "Tale of 12 Officers" has also been distributed in class and we read it Friday:

The arguments discussed so far include the following:

The WEAK ARGUMENT from Evil:

1. If God exists, then there would be no evil whatsover, nothing bad at all, not one instance of pain, suffering, injustice, wrongdoing, etc, ever.
2. But there is some evil, some things bad, some instances of pain, suffering, injustice, wrongdoing, etc.
3. Therefore, God does not exist.

While (2) is certainly true, this argument is weak because premise (1) seems highly doubtful: an all-knowing, all good-being, all powerful being could (easily) have good reason for allowing some evil or badness. For example, some kinds of personal growth and development seem to depend on overcoming challenges and obstacles, working through struggles that are or involve feelings that are bad when considered in themselves. Also, perhaps an fairly regularly ordered world would have to result in, at least, an occasional stubbed toe and whatnot. (We also wound up thinking about whether accepting (1) would lead you to think that you should plug into The Experience Machine.)

This Weak Argument is sometimes called The Logical Argument from Evil, which attempts to show that God and the existence of any evil or badness are logically incompatible. Almost nobody finds this argument to have any strength any more, if anyone ever did.

This leads us to The More Challenging Argument, also sometimes call The Evidential Argument from Evil because it claims that the existence of certain kinds of evils provide evidence that there is not a God (or perhaps that certain kinds of evils are logically incompatible with God's existence, not just the fact that there is some evil of some kind):

4. If there is a God, then there is no evil that is unjustified or pointless or gratuitous, i.e., badness, pain, suffering, etc. that does not serve a greater good and for which this good could not have been brought about without that particular evil.
5. But there are some unjustified or pointless or gratuitous evils, i.e., badness, pain, suffering, etc. that do not serve a greater good and/or for which this good could have been brought about without that particular evil. (e.g., Holocaust, slavery, Middle Passage, child rape, torture, etc.)
6. Therefore, there is not a God.

Theists tend to accept premise (4). They accept it because they see what an all-good, all-powerful, all-knowing being would seem to have to do: any being having these attributes would seem to be subject to certain kinds of obligations, imposed by his own nature and abilities.

The challenge then is premise (5). At this point our main concern is trying to figure out what sort of evidence can be given for it, what can be given against it and what sort of replies could be given to each initial case.

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