Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Ad the Atheists

Regarding the issue of "unabsolved" (or, better, gratuitous) evils, it seems that those in the camp of the atheists have not succeeded in showing (a) that there are, in fact, gratuitous evils and, accordingly, (b) whatever they wished to show about God himself (say, that he does not exist?). After I raised the point that it wasn't clear how it follows from some evil e's being apparently gratuitous that e is in fact gratuitous, I believe that it was John Park (JP) who immediately directed our attention to certain things John DePoe (JD) had said about the afterlife (which implied that apparently gratuitous evils are not in fact gratuitous evils). (The specifics of what JD said have escaped me, but I believe that they concerned there being justice in the afterlife where there was no justice in this life.) What I think JP did was introduce a red herring: true, one might believe that apparently gratuitous evils are not in fact gratuitous evils because of what JD said; but that's not relevant to the issue of it's not being clear how it follows from e's being apparently gratuitous that e is in fact gratuitous. Those in the camp of the atheists, then, still have yet to show that it follows from e's being apparently gratuitous that e is in fact gratuitous--and, indeed, and accordingly, whatever they wished to show about God himself.

13 Comments:

At 4:21 PM, November 02, 2004, Blogger Clayton said...

Welcome to the blogosphere. I must say that 'Undetached Rabbit Parts' is hands down the best named blog going.

I can't tell from the post but it appears that you are talking about some in house dispute as to whether someone has shown that there are gratuitous evils? Just wondering.

If not, why is it exactly that the atheists have to try to cement the inference from 'X is an apparent gratuitous evil' to 'X is in fact gratuitous evil'? I would have thought that the game went X would appear to be a gratuitous evil and evidence to the contrary, the reasonable thing to do would be to believe that it is. That just is how a prima facie reason or justification is supposed to work--any p.f. reason or justification that isn't overridden or undermined becomes an all things considered reason or justification. It doesn't seem to me, at least, that until someone supplies such a defeater (perhaps you have) the atheist has to go further than directing our attention to apparent gratuitous evils and taking objections as they come. At least, it seems the theist would be in a really tight spot if they said 'Hm, you are right, it really does appear that there are gratuitous evils and I don't have any reason to think appearances are in this case misleading but owing to the metaphyiscal possibility of an appearance and reality gap, I'm epistemically in the clear by refusing to accept that there are gratuitous evils'. At least, this seems as bad as 'Yes, it does look red to me and no I have no reason to think something is amiss but what reason have I to believe that it is red?'.

 
At 8:43 PM, November 02, 2004, Blogger Chris said...

I agree with Clayton. Given that there seem to be gratuitous evils in the world, the burden of proof lies on the side of the atheist to prove that this is a MERE seeming that does not reflect actuality. A theist presumably doesn't want to answer the problem of evil by simply saying "What evil?" And it seems that Mountie (not sure who you are) might be saying this. Or, perhaps you are claiming something that makes me want to repeat a comment I made last week about the atheist saying "Shit happens" and the theist saying "Shit happens, but FOR A REASON" (<----Sorry for all these CAPITALIZED WORDS but I don't know how to use italics in this web browser--help?) The theist is making the logically stronger claim, and thereby needs to back it up with evidence.

Also, I think it might be a mistake to qualify the atheists as attempting to prove that God does not exist. I can't speak for Mackie, but this is how I consider the problem of evil: Theists are making positive claims about the existence of something that has certain properties and we, as rigorous philosophers, have discovered a seeming contradiction concerning those properties and contingently obtaining states of affairs. The debate turns into whether or not the seeming contradiction can be explained away. I'm agnostic about the existence of God, so I don't go around attempting to prove that he does or doesn't exist--but I still feel like I can engage in philosophical discussion regarding other arguments that purport to do either, and evaluate them appropriately. I think it's a radical misinterpretation to say that those who consider the problem of evil to be a genuine problem are thereby out to get the theists. If I came across a solution that I found satisfying, I would not continue to consider it a problem.

 
At 10:36 PM, November 02, 2004, Blogger Johnny-Dee said...

I think you might be misconstruing Ed's (aka "Mountie") distinction between "X is a gratuitous evil" and "X seems to be a gratuitous evil." His point, as I see it, is not that we are to be skeptics about our referentially formed empirical knowledge. (Thus, not that I seem to be blogging, while a Cartesian skeptic could say I cannot know this in fact.) Rather, I take him to be saying that we don't have enough information to conclude decisively that some evil is actually gratuitous or pointless. (Similarly, we might say it seems like I'm doing well in McGrew's epistemology class, but I don't know for certain since I don't have access to all the relevant data for that "seeming" belief.)

But let me step back further. The point I was making at the meeting was this: to demonstrate an evil is gratuitous requires one to show it is impossible for an omniscient, omnipotent God to redeem that evil in this life or "life after death". Unless, one can show that it is impossible for some evil not to be pointless, given the theist's worldview, it gives no traction for the atheist's case using the problem of evil. This is a high standard that has to be met for the argument to succeed, and I'm not sure it can be done in a non-problematic way.

(This is not original to Ed or myself. William Alston persuasively argues for this in "The Inductive Argument from Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition," Philosophical Perspectives 5 (1991); reprinted in The Evidential Argument from Evil, ed. Daniel Howard-Snyder (Bloomington, IN: Indiana Univ Press, 1996), 97-125.)

 
At 12:23 AM, November 03, 2004, Blogger Jonah said...

Chris,
First: I think that there is a misunderstanding here about exactly what the problem of evil is intended to do. It is in fact an argument (one of the few) that intends to show that there is no god. This is, so to speak, the "big argument for atheism." You say, "I think it might be a mistake to qualify the atheists as attempting to prove that God does not exist." I have to disagree here. The current philosophers of religion that I am up to speed on consistently distinguish three positions on the existence of god debate. Theists have the burden of giving reasons to believe there is a god, agnostics have no such burden as they make no positive knowledge claim, and **atheists have a burden to give reasons to believe that there is no god**. So the claim of the atheist is just as much a claim to have knowledge (that god does not exist) as the theist's claim (that a god does exist).

Second: You say, "Given that there seem to be gratuitous evils in the world, the burden of proof lies on the side of the atheist to prove that this is a MERE seeming that does not reflect actuality." Now, given that you seem to be characterizing Mackie's version of the Problem of evil as the logical p of e, your quote doesn't apply. If the atheist is attempting to show that a contradiction exists between the existence of god and the existence of evil, then all that the theist must do to deflect this logical problem is show that there are *possible* ways for both to exist consistently. If on the other hand, the atheist's argument is that the existence of evil makes the existence of god improbable, then it is still NOT the case that the theist must "prove" that gratuitous evils only seem to exist. Perhaps the theist has a way of explaining how both god and gratuitous evils can both consistently exist. Some such theodicies as this already exist in my opinion.

Lastly, it is important to realize that this is a pro-atheistic argument. Thus, I for one have no problem - especially when talking about the pastoral problem of evil - with saying that the problem of evil taken alone renders the existence of god improbable. I think that a solid answer to the p of evil only needs to show that there are consistent ways for both god and evil to exist. Once this has been shown, the logical p of evil is proved unsound, but the "evidential" or probabilistic p of evil still may carry weight. That is fine with me, given that this is the atheist's big argument. I tend to think, "Yea, the p of evil does seem to bring down the probability that god exists. Now let's get on to see what the theist has as far as positive reasons that will bring that probability up - assuming of course that the atheists have no more ammo for their belief that there is no god."

This is too long and i am starting to babble. good night.

 
At 4:03 PM, November 03, 2004, Blogger cheryl said...

okay, i am dying to post, but with no time to do so...and i can see that this is going to be something that sucks up a lot of my time.

(Chris: it's so much better than the damn philosophy forum on myspace, i'll tell you that. i got fed up with that one after about a week, when i realized 99% of those people have no clue what they're talking about. i have noticed that the average joe has this delusion that he is a philosopher, that anyone who thinks about anything is a philosopher, without every having to study it...ah, rant. sorry.)

 
At 3:51 PM, November 05, 2004, Blogger Ed said...

A footnote to one of John's comments:

There are certain instances in which it is perfectly reasonable to conclude that

   (1) it is the case that x

from

   (2) it seems to be the case that x.

These instances are instances in which we have enough information to justify our move from (2) to (1). Take, for example, the instance in which I make the inference from

   (3) it seems to be the case that there is no cat in my room

to

   (4) it is the case that there is no cat in my room.

This is an instance in which, given the body of information I have about my room, the move from (3) to (4) is a perfectly reasonable one.
   There are, however, other instances in which it is not reasonable to conclude that (1) from (2). These instances are instances in which we do not have enough information to justify our move from (2) to (1). Take, for example, the instance in which I make the inference from

   (5) it seems to be the case that there is no gold in Alaska

to

   (6) it is the case that there is no gold in Alaska.

This is an instance in which, given the body of information I have about Alaska (which amounts to very little), the move from (5) to (6) is not a reasonable one.
   I submit that the move from

   (7) it seems to be the case that e is a gratuitous evil

to

   (8) it is the case that e is a gratuitous evil

is like the move from (5) to (6), and is hence a move that is not reasonable, for it is made in an instance in which we simply do not have enough information (about, say, the past, the present, and the future, or even the grand scheme of things) to justify its being made.

 
At 11:50 PM, November 05, 2004, Blogger Clayton said...

With respect to (5)...

I would have thought that given limited evidence, it wouldn't seem to you that there is no gold in Alaska--it just wouldn't seem that there was or wasn't.

As for a justification for the claim that there is gratuitous evil, it does seem that we have much more evidence for that than you suggest you have about Alaska's gold. Here's a little attempt at showing that there is some pretty good evidence for thinking that there are gratuitous evils:

If there were a God of traditional theism, we'd be created so as to be morally responsible. Given that among the conditions for moral responsibility is basic moral competence, under the assumption (stated for reductio), we have basic moral competence. That much ensures that while there may be some unknowable obligations, we can rule out widespread moral scepticism (we know that we should save babies from certain bad things and that when one drowns in a pool counterfactuals of the form 'If someone were so situated as to save them, they ought to').

Now, we know that there are hundreds of thousands of cases every year in which helpless and seemingly morally innocent people have something really terrible happen to them that could have easily been prevented by a third party. As they happen, God is permitted to allow them to happen because of some further good G. We don't know what G is. In fact, we can't even gesture in the direction of it. If we intercede in one of these cases (e.g., saving a drowning infant, sending famine relief to third world countries), we may preserve some lesser good at the expense of the greater good (i.e., the hypothetical good that shows that God is justified in permitting apparently really terrible things happen to people).

As we can't know whether this good obtains or not but do know that its obtaining affects what is permissible and what isn't in the very cases thought to be paradigm cases of moral knowledge, we do not in fact know whether to intercede to, say, prevent something that seems very bad from happening to someone. As we don't know in what we would have thought were the paradigm cases of knowable obligations what our obligations are, moral scepticism is true if the above-stated assumptions are true. As those assumptions included (a) that God exists, (b) that God created us as morally responsible agents, (c) apparently bad things happen hundreds of thousands of times to helpless people such that someone could have easily prevented such bad things from happening, one of these has to be false. We know (c) empirically. We know (b) follows from (a). Thus, if I'm right that moral scepticism precludes moral responsibility and in assuming that if we don't know in the central cases what our duties are, moral scepticism is true, it looks like (a) is false.

Okay, that was complicated, but I think it presents some case for the existence of gratuitous evil in the following sense: not only does it appear that there are gratuitous evils but the theist can't comfortably claim that appearances are misleading. Apologies for the length, but what do you think?

 
At 4:49 PM, November 07, 2004, Blogger Ed said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

 
At 5:56 PM, November 07, 2004, Blogger Ed said...

Clayton,

Some of what you've written is unclear, but from what is clear, I think that you've changed the subject. The subject is no longer the reasonableness of making the move from (7) to (8) but, rather, our not knowing whether we should take some action A in circumstances C to stop evil E because of our being moral skeptics about A--and we are moral skeptics about A because we don't know whether some good G will come about as a result of E--as well as the problem with our being moral skeptics about A, namely, its precluding moral responsibility with respect to A, which makes "it [look] like" God does not exist. I should note that the one who is a moral skeptic about A has the following quandary in his mind (yes, I'm a dualist; and, for good measure, I should add that I'm an ANTI- (no, a Super-ANTI-) Physicalist):

   (Q) If there's a G, then stopping E won't be good; but if there's no G, then allowing E won't be good. Eek! [Notice that you can get a dilemma from this.]

What can the theist say in reply? He can say the following. Suppose that the one in C is some theist T (if we don't suppose this, the criticism to follow--mutatis mutandis--will still work). Why should T have Q in his mind? T would have Q in his mind only if he granted at least two questionable assumptions behind Q. What are these assumptions? Let's see what they are by looking at each conditional of Q, viz.:

   (Q1) If there's a G, then stopping E won't be good.
   (Q2) If there's no G, then allowing E won't be good.

Q1. This implies that if T knew that there would be a G, he would not stop E. But this assumes at least two things: (1) T believes that G will come about iff E occurs; (2) T prefers having G to stopping E (or values having G more than he values stopping E).
   Q2. This implies that if T knew that there would be no G, he would stop E. But this (too) assumes at least (1) and (2).
   The question to ask about (2) is this: "Why would T prefer having G to stopping E (or value having G more than he would value stopping E)?" Here, you might say, "Because G outweighs E" or "Because G will result in more Gs" (of course, the question that is raised here is, "Well, how would the theist know that?") or "Because of 1, 2, ... n qualities of G" or "Because of such-and-such qualities of G"; and so on. All of these answers, though, presuppose that T subscribes to an ends-justifies-the-means philosophy. But why think that T does subscribe to such a philosophy? Unless some reason(s) can be given to show that he does, I don't see why T would prefer having G to stopping E (or value having G more than he would value stopping E).
   Regarding (1), the question to ask about it is this: "Why think that T believes that G will come about iff E occurs?" This is an important question; after all, T might very well believe that God can bring G about even if he (i.e., T) stops E. Unless there's justification for (1), I don't see why T would hold on to it as an assumption.
   Now, if T assumes neither (1) nor (2), then will he have Q in his mind? I doubt it. But if T doesn’t have Q in his mind, then what becomes of the moral skepticism he is supposed to have with respect to A? Moreover, what becomes of the problem with T’s being a moral skeptic about A, namely, its precluding moral responsibility with respect to A, which makes "it [look] like" God does not exist?
   Apart from what has been said thus far, perhaps the most crucial point the theist can make is this: Why would T even be concerned or think about whether or not G would come about as a result of E? True, if T found himself in C, he might think that E is apparently gratuitous. But why would he throw G and Q into the picture? The fact of the matter is that he wouldn't, because G's existence would be none of his business, and the bringing about of G--if it existed--would not be his prerogative. Indeed, he would leave G up to God--if it should be the case that he/another/others didn't (which could mean "couldn't" or "wouldn't") stop E--and would concern himself only with the fact that he should--indeed, ought to--stop E.
   To help you to understand T's attitude, here's a remark that reflects it: "Sure, G might appear on the scene as a result of some E. If G appears on the scene as a result of some E, fine. [Notice that this is a case of y's not being sought through x, but being a consequence of x.] But I'm not going to seek G by allowing E. If I seek G by allowing E, then that's just not right. [Notice that this is a case of y's being sought through x, as well as a consequence of x.]" [Christian theists, cf. Romans 3:5-7.]
   The point of all of this, then, is to say that I don't see why one has to be a moral skeptic about A if one is in C. It is to say, furthermore, that I don't see why one should have to conclude that "it looks like" God does not exist (assuming that the reasoning from being moral skeptics to its appearing to be the case that God does not exist is even sound and valid).

 
At 7:46 PM, November 09, 2004, Blogger Clayton said...

Ed,

My apologies if the argument was unclear, it was late when I wrote it.

I don't think I've changed the subject exactly. The aim was to show that a certain way of defending theism by pointing to the gap between (7) and (8) would come at too high a cost.

The basic structure of the argument was this: It is reasonable to think that if theism is true, God would have created us as responsible agents. The conditions of responsible agency include not just 'negative' freedom, but in addition basic moral competence which includes (i) the intellectual capacities for knowing the difference between right and wrong and (ii) an environment in which we could use these capacities to knowingly choose right (or wrong) actions.

That's the first stage. Maybe it is the second stage at which the going gets tough. It seems that if we were systematically wrong about the cases we would upon reflection identify as the paradigm cases of moral requirement, we'd be morally incompetent. Among the cases that we'd identify as paradigm moral requirements as these: cases in which some innocent person is helpless to defend herself from some evil where some agent could easily intervene without sacrificing some significantly greater good and prevent the harm from befalling this potential victim.

Anyway, your remark that, "All of these answers, though, presuppose that T subscribes to an ends-justifies-the-means philosophy" suggests that you thought that this claim rests on some sort of consequentialist moral view, but it seems that every moral view recognizes that there are obligations to, say, save a small child from drowning, alleviate the suffering of the sick and dying when it is easily within your power to do so, etc. Kant thought that there were obligations to prevent bad things from happening to other people as did Ross and neither of these men were consequentialists in the slightest. It appears that given some undeniable factual assumptions (i.e., there are hundreds of thousands of easily preventable evils that take place every year), it looks like if God is not in violation of the principle mentioned above, it is because there is some theoretical good that justifies God's inaction.

As the abysmal record of theodicies shows, we haven't a clue as to what this theoretical good is and so haven't a clue as to how to detect it, weigh it against other goods known to us, and so haven't a clue as to how to distinguish the case in which you or I are in a position to prevent something bad from happening from the cases in which it would be permissible for someone like God to refrain from intervening.

It seems the theist has to say, with respect to cases that would seem to be paradigm obligations (e.g., saving a small child from drowning when she's fallen into a pool while unsupervised), that there really wasn't an obligation for anyone positioned to save the child to do so. This claim runs so contrary to commonsense morality that I submit the following: if we don't know that anyone in a position to save a small child from drowning, we don't know anything about what actions we ought to perform.

As the theist has to say that we don't know this, I think they have to deny that one of the conditions of basic moral competence isn't satisfied and that is a heavy cost for the theist to pay.

 
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