Making the Problem of Evil work

The trouble with the atheological argument against the existence of God from the occasion of evil(s) is that it is hopelessly speculative. I was explaining this recently to a good friend via an email exchange. I wrote:

Perhaps you could imagine that God wouldn’t do X (that would be incompatible with his all-good nature), and an X will be something like an instance of gratuitous evil (an evil which is not, in the final calculus of things, redemptive – i.e., for which God has no morally sufficient reason). However, there’s no way to empirically verify X. Some Naturalists do give a probabilistic empirical argument against the existence of God this way, by arguing that there are some surprising occasions of evil E, which seem to be gratuitous G. We can formulate this as follows:

  1. P(Gx|Ex)>>P(~Gx|Ex)
  2. Ea
  3. Ga (probably)
This isn’t a deductive-nomological argument, but a statistical, probabilistic inductive argument. Still, nobody thinks, post-Plantinga, that you can have any deductive-nomological argument against the existence of God from evil. All such arguments have to be inductive and probabilistic.
The trouble with this argument is that it is hopelessly speculative. What kind of criteria can we have for measuring the probability claim of the first premise? We would presumably have to know what God knows, or at least know most of what God knows, in order to know that God ‘probably’ doesn’t have any morally sufficient reason for allowing some instance of evil. The argument from evil, even when it appeals to things like the sanctioned death of all the Canaanites who stubbornly remained in the land, is just speculative. Any argument for there being a Gx will be less plausible than the argument(s) for believing that Theism is true, and since mutual exclusivity obtains between Gx and God’s existence, we have better grounds for denying Gx than we can have for affirming it. 



Here’s a thought: suppose an Atheist were to append her argument from evil with an index of defeaters for other arguments for the existence of God, such that if we take any argument for the existence of God, like the ontological, teleological or cosmological arguments, we find that not a single one increases the probability that God exists. Take the set of all such arguments in Natural Theology to be symbolized as NT, and let G represent the proposition “God exists”. Then the claim will go as follows:


With this claim in place, one can proceed to argue that, even if the argument from evil is extremely speculative, it does make it somewhat more probable that God does not exist. Then one can argue that all things are equal, and run the argument in the way I formulated it in the email exchange. Technically one doesn’t even need P(G|NT)=P(~G|NT), one may only need the following, as Paul Draper (whose work on this I highly recommend) sometimes seems to put it (PE represents ‘Problem of Evil’):



About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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4 Responses to Making the Problem of Evil work

  1. By “deductive-nomological” I think you just mean “deductive”; N-D or “covering-law model” is a term in philosophy of science purporting to describe the structure of scientific description. And if you think it’s undreamable to maintain the LPoE after Plantinga, dream a little harder. All you have to do is realize that the key terms in his argument are never given explicit definitions in modal terms — Actualize, Cause, Free Will, and while we’re at it, the distinctions between epistemic, logical, and nomological Possibility. I think we’ve been over this but I’m too lazy to search for it just now.

    “We would presumably have to know what God knows, or at least know most of what God knows, in order to know that God ‘probably’ doesn’t have any morally sufficient reason for allowing some instance of evil”

    The immediate and fatal (D.O.A., R.I.P. fatal, six feet under, pushing up daisies fatal) problem with this claim is that replacing “doesn’t” with “does” in this sentence has the same epistemic warrant.

    It also implicitly affirms utilitarianism, which contrasts with the natural law view Catholics are supposed to espouse. If reason alone, however fallibly, tells us mere mortals anything is evil, it tells us that murdering infants whose parents had “stubbornly” not fled to Asia Minor — in fear of retribution for an ambush their remote ancestors had perpetrated centuries before — is evil.

    Fallacies of vacuity are, last time I checked, still fallacies. There are people I’ve known my whole adult life whose moral character I will vouch for, but I can tell you what sorts of observations (bodies in the basement, school shootings etc.) will cause me to reevaluate this belief. In contrast, there is literally no event, up to and including Yahweh having sent an angel pretending to be his son and providentially guiding The Church for thousands of years with its doctrine of salvation to give millions of people false hope so that it’s that much more hilarious to see the look on their faces when he sends them to hell, which would cause a believer to reevaluate his belief in the goodness of God.

    • The goodness of God is tautological. Perhaps the truth of Christianity is not.

      You’re right about the deductive-nomological, but I used it here intending an obvious analogy from philosophy of science. Perhaps it was misplaced? I’m not so sure, for the legitimacy of analogy is often harder to analyze than the legitimacy of univocal predications.

      “The immediate and fatal (D.O.A., R.I.P. fatal, six feet under, pushing up daisies fatal) problem with this claim is that replacing “doesn’t” with “does” in this sentence has the same epistemic warrant.”

      Obviously if God exists then God is identical to the good. Perhaps you refer again to something like X’s picture or portrait of God? However, clearly there is a prima facie reason to think that if God exists, he is good (tautology, again, that just follows analytically given the definition of the terms), and thus that God has morally sufficient reason for allowing any occasion of Evil. In fact, the conditional: “if God exists then there are no occasions of gratuitous evil,” is an analytic truth. So the objection isn’t so fatal as you here pretend or imagine. Every reason for thinking God exists translates directly into a reason for thinking he has morally sufficient reasons for allowing any occasion of actual evil visited upon anyone or anything.

  2. One wonders exactly how high in the pantheon of certainty you want to place these conclusions grounded in pure abstraction, unguided by experience. Do you really in your heart of hearts think the omnibenevolence of a deity is of a piece with the certainty of a deduction in pure geometry? That doubting this conclusion is not only wrong, but as unreasonable for a person to do as doubting the Pythagorean theorem?

    At the extreme limit of a priori certainty, wouldn’t the presence of enough apparent extreme gratuitous evil be sufficient evidence that we are living in a simulation or dreamworld, since we “know” that god would not allow it? Wouldn’t this be more plausible than the Evil God Hypothesis, according to your principles of reasoning?

    But there’s no need to go that far: if I thought I was in possession of an a priori demonstration of even modest certainty, I would have no qualms whatsoever in jettisoning the bible. Even Pope Benedict admitted recently that several “difficult” OT passages contain “immorality”! One can be more certain on purely empirical grounds that the bible is manmade than one can be sure an omnipredicate being exists, so the choice of which hypothesis to jettison is trivially easy.

    This is what Marxists used to call, “heightening the contradictions”. Biblegod or Philosophergod: whom do you worship?

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