My Logical Argument from Evil Published on the Secular Web

It took much longer than I thought, first to get it reviewed, and then to work through the reviewing process, but it’s finally up:  A Logical Argument from Evil and Perfection.

Meanwhile, I was delighted to see that John Schellenberg is due to publish A New Logical Problem of Evil. He offers a different way of prosecuting the logical problem, but one which shares with my paper the general approach of using God’s purity and maximal goodness to forestall attempts at theodicy. Well worth reading.

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8 thoughts on “My Logical Argument from Evil Published on the Secular Web

  1. Rethinking stuff says:

    What do you think about other versions of the logical argument from evil? (Quentin Smith’s, Nathan Hanna’s, Raymond Bradley’s, Dean Stretton’s). I’m particularly interested in Dean Stretton’s argument, but there’s a nice objection to it by Bill Craig. I’m not sure if his objection works.

    He basically appeals to divine command theory to explain why we should intervene to prevent evils that God allows. It is because on DCT, we have deontological (God-command) obligations which God does not have. Craig explains his argument briefly in the following link:

    http://www.reasonablefaith.org/gratuitous-evil-and-moral-discernment

  2. Rethinking stuff says:

    I have an argument that’s very similar to Stretton’s argument.

    Let x stand for ‘’Event” or “State of Affairs”.
    1. For all x, if x is morally justified, then x is morally acceptable. premise
    2. For all x, if x is morally acceptable, then x is not morally objectionable. premise
    3. l= For all x, if x is morally justified, then x is not morally objectionable. 1, 2, HS.
    4. There exists at least one x such that x is morally objectionable. premise
    5. l= There exists at least one x such that x is not morally justified. 3, 4, MT.
    6. For all x, if God exists, then there does not exist at least one x such that x is not morally justified; i.e., if God exists, then no morally unjustified x exists. premise
    7. l= God does not exist. 4, 6, MT.

    morally justified event=df an event such that there exists a good moral reason for its occurrence. (usually, a greater good implies the existence of the event or the existence of the event implies the greater good– very roughly speaking).

    (3) and (5) are valid inferences. (2) is definitional. That leaves (1), (4), and (6). I think they are plausible. There might be a problem with them though; I’m not sure. Maybe they are prone to Craig’s objection to Stretton’s argument.

    What do you think?

  3. Rethinking stuff says:

    There seems to be something troubling about Craig’s argument, but I can’t quite express what it is and formalize it. I just find it weird that God acts based on his goodness and is justified in maximizing goodness/virtuousness while his commands to us- which are based on his goodness- go against maximizing goodness/virtuousness. God doesn’t allow us to maximize goodness when we can, even though he does it himself.

    • TaiChi says:

      Hi there,

      “What do you think about other versions of the logical argument from evil?”

      I think that there are several good logical arguments from evil: trying to put together my own version doesn’t reflect a dissatisfaction with any of those you name, it was more about trying to clarify one particular path to atheism among others.

      “What do you think?”

      I think that most theists believe that there exists no x such that x is morally unjustified. If they then accept that “morally justified”, “morally acceptable”, and “morally unobjectionable” are synonyms, then I don’t see why they would agree with you that there exists an x such that x is morally objectionable. On the other hand, they may deny the equivalence – perhaps they understand ‘morally objectionable’ as requiring only that x appear morally unjustified to us, not that it actually be morally unjustified – but in that case they will deny 1 or 2, or both. Either way, the theist can resist your argument, and you’d need to find additional arguments to block the two moves.

      On Craig,

      “As for God’s own actions, I don’t think that God has any moral duties to fulfill, since He presumably doesn’t issue commands to Himself! So it is meaningless to speak of the moral rightness or wrongness of God’s actions.”

      But theists often extol the righteousness of God. Presumably they do not agree with Craig that they are speaking nonsense, and if so, Craig fails to defend theism as it is widely understood.

      We can be thankful that God has not abandoned us to such moral chaos but has given us resources to help discern His moral will for our lives.

      According to Craig, we act morally when we obey God’s commands. It is natural then, to think that moral will is will in accordance with those commands. But God issues no commands to himself, hence what he wills is neither prescribed by those commands nor prohibited by them, so his will is neither moral nor immoral. That Craig himself cannot resist ascribing moral properties to God in this short piece suggests that this is not really a stable position for the theist to take, presumably because theists do not just believe in God but also worship him, and this behavior only seems appropriate for a being which supremely moral.

      But leave aside Craig’s apparent inconsistency, and his heterodoxy: can we give sense to the position he claims to have? I don’t think so. Though he doesn’t elaborate on what good reasons God could have for his non-intervention, it’s difficult to see what these could be other than considerations of the greater good. And if that’s the case, and God is a consequentialist, then it seems to follow that consequentialism must be true. But if consequentialism is true, it is true for humans as well, and then it follows that what a human really ought to do is to act so as to bring about the best consequences. In that case God’s consequentialism supplants DCT as the true moral theory.

  4. Rethinking stuff says:

    Jackpot. This article by Stephen Maitzen captures my concerns quite well. Must-read. http://commonsenseatheism.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/11/Maitzen-Ordinary-Morality-Implies-Atheism.pdf

  5. Rethinking stuff says:

    I know I flooded this thread with my comments, but I have to add one more thing. Schellenberg’s paper is out and everyone is pointing at Alexander Pruss’ reply. See here: http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.com/2012/07/schellenberg-deductive-argument-from.html

  6. Rethinking stuff says:

    About your comments on my argument:

    I can rephrase the argument, roughly:

    (1*) if x really is m. justified, then x really is m.acceptable.
    (2*) if x really is m.acceptable, then x really isn’t m.objectionable.

    But, that as you said leaves us with:

    (4*) there is an x such that x really is m.objectionable.

    I think a rejection of (4*) explicitly contradicts our moral intuitions.
    It also contradicts the behaviour (and possibly, the beliefs) of most theists. If you ask a theist if she thinks that a horrendous evil (such as the nuclear explosion of Hiroshima) was really morally objectionable, she’d probably reply with a resounding “Yes!”.

    The intuition is not just that these evils seem to be objectionable, but that they really are objectionable. The burden of proof is on the theist to show that our intuition is wrong.

    Of course, theists have put forth theodicies and such to counter our intuitions that horrendous evils are ultima-facie gratuitous. The point of my argument is to strengthen our intuition that evils are ultima-facie gratuitous by further adding the intuition of objectionability (which theists seem to share as well) of horrendous evils.

    Now, you would probably reply that our intuition of objectionability already underlies our intuition that horrendous evils are gratuitous, and that I really didn’t add anything. I think that’s probably true, but I also think that once objectionability becomes explicit, the argument from evil becomes more dialectically effective.

    About Craig’s apparent inconsistency:

    Craig would probably say, in reply to you, that God’s goodness is understood in terms of virtue. So, basically, God has no obligations, so he technically doesn’t do anything right or wrong, but God is all-loving, all-just, etc. It is that sort of Goodness which theists worship.

    The problem of evil would then, roughly, be: God is not all-loving since he has permitted the existence of gratuitous evils (-only a non-loving being would allow such evils). So God doesn’t exist.

    Craig also explicitly rejects consequentialism. But he does say that a virtuous person would allow for prima facie evil things to happen for the greater good. He believes, however, that this only applies to God and not to humans.

  7. Rethinking stuff says:

    Also, I think moral objectionability might be tied to moral motivation somehow, but I’ll have to look into that.

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