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.

The Failure of the Argument from Contingency

An Argument from Contingency is an argument for the existence of God which employs a broad explanatory principle asserting, for every contingent fact,  the existence of an explanation, reason or cause of some sort. It proceeds from the existence of contingency via the principle to an explanation of the contingency, whereupon it is inferred that this explanation must be necessary, and that this necessary being must be God. Here’s a basic version of the argument, which I intend to show unsound:

(1) Every contingent fact has an explanation. (The Principle of Sufficient Reason, or PSR)
(2) There is a contingent fact that includes all other contingent facts.
(3) Therefore, there is an explanation of this fact.
(4) This explanation must involve a necessary being.
(5) This necessary being is God.

Before I get to my criticism of this kind of argument, I must mention that ‘explanation’ here is always explanation of a certain sort. Put vaguely, an explanation of some fact serves to make that fact comprehensible, to make it less mysterious and surprising. But two ways to accomplish this. The first way is via descriptive explanation, which tells us in detail what the explanandum1 is, and in doing so makes comprehensible the truth of what is explained – to believe that some fact is true requires a clear conception of the nature of that fact, and descriptive explanations facilitate this semantic prerequisite of belief. The second way is via causal explanation, which tells us why the explanandum is. Unlike descriptive explanations, causal explanations involve the postulation of entities, those to which the explanans and explanandum refer. And unlike descriptive explanations, in which the explanans is identical to the explanandum, a causal explanans is always external to the explanandum. It cites a cause, or set of causes, which make the truth of the explanandum comprehensible by showing us how it is the necessary or likely product of some state of affairs which does not include it2. Continue reading

A Logical Problem of Evil

What follows is a reworking of my previous posts on evil, which I wanted to combine into one document. Much of the material is the same, though I’ve clarified it some, and added another objection. Since I seem to have gone about as far as I can for the moment, it’s posted.

EDIT: Best version and last version here.


Groundwork for the Argument

I begin by picking up a thread of inquiry which Alvin Plantinga follows in God, Freedom, and Evil1. There we find Plantinga examining the logical problem of evil, as given by J.L. Mackie in his 1955 paper, Evil and Omnipotence. According to Plantinga, Mackie takes the following propositions to form an inconsistent set..

(1) God is omnipotent
(2) God is wholly good
(3) Evil exists.
(19) A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can
(20) There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do.

.. all of which seem plausible on theism. Yet if the set is inconsistent at least one proposition must be rejected on pain of contradiction. Since (3) is obvious, while (19) and (20) appear to be sound definitions, it appears that either (1) or (2) must go, or both, if the presupposition of God’s existence is false. But Plantinga contests (19) on several grounds, guiding a cascade of revisions, the most important amongst these being that if some evils are logically required for the existence of a greater good, then we would expect that a good being would not eliminate the evil, as this would also eliminate the good. Eventually, he settles on an inconsistent set of propositions from which a valid argument from evil may be constructed:

(1) God is omnipotent.
(2) God is wholly good.
(2′) God is omniscient.
(3) Evil exists.
(19c) An omnipotent and omniscient good being eliminates every evil that it can properly eliminate.
(20) There are no nonlogical limits to what an omnipotent being can do.
(21) If God is omniscient and omnipotent, then he can properly eliminate every evil state of affairs.

So, having constructed this set, why does Plantinga doubt that a logical argument succeeds? Continue reading

The Logical Problem of Evil: On What Perfection Means

Previously on this blog, I offered a logical argument from evil against the existence of God, split over two posts. Some helpful comments on that argument confirmed for me that the weakest link in the argumentive chain was a certain premise..

(C) If God exists, then he instantiates all good-making properties, and no evil-making properties.

.. which I had taken to be an unproblematic consequence of perfect-being theology. Here I’d like to provide some motivation for the connection. For ease of exposition, I assume that God exists, and as in the previous posts, ‘good-making property’ refers to types rather than tokens.  Continue reading

Theism/Agnosticism/Atheism: Three Taxonomies

As a former member of the forums1, I can testify to an everlasting threads contesting the meanings of ‘theist’, ‘agnostic’ and ‘atheist’. Members would register their various opinions over what the terms really meant, and argue vociferously for those definitions. Viewed one way, the discussion was silly – if the point of it was to identify the meanings of words, then disagreement ought to have led discussants quickly to the conclusion that these words had different senses, not into entrenched debate. But viewed another way, the discussion was reasonable – if instead the point was to say what the definitions of these terms should be, then the obvious fact that these terms are understood in various ways doesn’t settle the issue, and discussants can quite rightly hold to their positions in the face of it. Indeed, one might think that the diversity of definition is precisely why the debate is worth having – if a single set of definitions can be negotiated, then we can avoid the confusion which diversity causes.

Anyhow, Emil of ‘Clear Language, Clear Mind‘ thinks settling the question is worthwhile, and to that end explores two commonly adopted nomenclature. The first of these he calls the ‘Old Nomenclature’:

  • Atheism means “the denial of the existence of God or gods.“
  • Theism means belief/faith in the existence of God or gods.
  • Agnosticism means either “the belief that there can be no proof either that God exists or that God does not exist” or is the lack of belief “either way”.

In contrast, the ‘New Nomenclature’:

  • Atheism” means the lack of belief in God or gods.
  • Weak/negative atheism” means the lack of belief ‘either way’.
  • Strong/positive atheism” means the denial of the existence of God or all gods.
  • Theism” means belief in the existence of God or gods.
  • Agnosticism” means either the belief that there is no knowledge about God or gods, or the belief that knowledge of God or gods is impossible.

But how do we decide between them? Continue reading

Dawkins and the Ultimate 747 Gambit

A while back, Lukeprog of Commonsense Atheism began writing a series of posts on the Gambit found in The God Delusion (henceforth: TGD). There, as I’ve done elsewhere, I attempted to defend Dawkins against what I saw as misinterpretations of his argument against the existence of God. This was not so much because I thought Dawkins was entirely clear, but more because I felt assumptions were being made that Dawkins need not be committed to. This post is an attempt to take what I’ve denied on behalf of Dawkins, and turn it into a positive account of the Ultimate 747 Gambit.

What is the Argument?

I’ll begin by pointing out what the argument is not. It is not the series of six numbered points that end chapter 4, which Dawkins introduces thus:

“This chapter has contained the central argument of my book, and so, at the risk of sounding repetitive, I shall summarize it as a series of six numbered points.” ~ TGD, p.157

Continue reading

The Logical Problem: Support from Above

In the previous post, I sketched a valid argument from evil concluding the non-existence of God. I noted then that premise (3) was the most dubious, and promised to give it support. So..

Support for (3)

(A) God exists. (Assumption)
(B) If God exists, he is ontologically independent (i.e. it is possible that he should exist, without any other thing existing).
(C) If God exists, then he instantiates all good-making properties, and no evil-making properties.
(D) Thus, it is possible that God alone should exist, instantiating all good-making properties and no evil-making properties.
(E) Then, there is no good-making property whose instantiation entails instantiation of an evil-making property.
(F) Therefore, every evil-making property is such that its existence is not entailed by some good-making property.
(3) Every evil-making property is such that its existence is not entailed by some greater good-making property.

Continue reading