by Dima Zhyvov

This post is a continuation of the series on the problem of evil. Please see Part 1Part 2, Part 3, if you have not read them yet.

The probabilistic version of the problem of evil

A proponent of the probabilistic version of the problem advances a more modest claim than his predecessor, which naturally makes it harder for a theist to deal with. He concedes that God and evil can coexist, but he contends that the existence of one seriously undermines the other. Explaining all natural evil as the result of demonic activity, for example, seems ludicrous. Likewise, a suggestion that God could not reduce the evil in the world without reducing the good seems dubious. The world is filled with so many seemingly pointless or unnecessary evils that it seems doubtful that God could have any morally sufficient reason for permitting them. So, according to this view, the probability of God’s existence given the facts of evil is meager.

What shall we say about the merits of this more subtle objection to Christian theism? Is it improbable, when facts of evil are considered, that God exists? Several points present themselves in response[1].

Improbable relative to what?

The logical argument from evil was worth exploring, since it held the promise of a neat demonstration of the incompatibility of God and any evil whatsoever, without our having to consider the messy details of how evil and goodness are to be measured and how they balance out in this world. If the logical version of the internal problem of evil were a sound argument, then God would not exist, case closed. But probabilities are a different story. They are relative to one’s background information. To give an illustration, suppose that Max is a college student in Ukraine. Suppose, further, that 90 percent of college students in Ukraine ski in the Carpathian Mountains at least once a year. With respect to this information, it is highly probable that Max annually goes skiing to the Carpathian Mountains. But suppose we find out that Max is extremely obese.  In fact he is so heavy that he finds it difficult even to walk, let alone ski. Furthermore, we discover that Max is a distinguished member of a Ukrainian chess club, called “Chess Hopes of Ukraine” and that 90 percent of its members have never even tried skiing. Suddenly the probability of Max being among those college students in Ukraine who go skiing has changed dramatically. The point is that probabilities are relative to the background knowledge one considers.

Similarly, with the probability argument from evil, we must ask: probable with respect to what? With respect to evil in the world? Is this all we will admit as our background information? If the facts of evil are our only background information then it is not at all surprising that God’s existence would appear improbable with respect to that alone. Indeed, it would be a major philosophical achievement if theists could demonstrate that relative to the evil in the world alone, God’s existence is not improbable. As a theist I may readily agree that the problem of evil, taken in isolation, does render God’s existence improbable, but that isn’t the really interesting question. The really interesting question I would want to ask is whether God’s existence is improbable to the full scope of our background information, including all the evidence relevant to God’s existence such as the cosmological argument for a Creator of the universe, the teleological argument for an intelligent Designer of the cosmos, the argument from the existence of moral facts, the ontological argument for a maximally great being, as well as evidence concerning the person of Christ, the historicity of the resurrection, existential and religious experience, etc. Once we take all the relevant facts into account it may not be at all clear that, relative to the full scope of the evidence, God’s existence is improbable.

Indeed, the theist might insist that insofar as the probabilistic problem of evil is taken to be an internal problem for the theist, there is nothing whatsoever objectionable or irrational in believing statements that are improbable with respect to each other, so long as one knows them both to be true. Thus, if one is warranted in believing that God exists, then there is no problem coming from the fact that this belief is improbable relative to the evil in the world[2].

Furthermore, one could argue that Christian theism in particular entails certain doctrines that increase the probability of the coexistence of God and evil. In other words, the Christian can try to show that if God exists and these other hypotheses are true, then it is not so surprising that evil exists. Again, since the problem is presented as an internal problem for the Christian theist, there is nothing unlawful about the Christian theist’s employing all the resources of his worldview in answering the objection. What are some of these key Christian doctrines that show that evil is not so improbable on Christian theism after all? I will briefly mention four:

First, the chief purpose of life is not happiness, but the knowledge of God. It seems that people tend to naturally assume that if God exists, then his purpose for human life is happiness in this world. To use Richard Swinburne’s  analogy, people simply presuppose that God’s role is to provide a comfortable environment for his human pets. But on the Christian view, this is false. We are not God’s pets, and the goal of human life is not happiness per se, but the knowledge of God. It follows then, that there may be evils which occur in life that are utterly pointless with respect to the goal of producing human happiness, but they may not be pointless with respect to producing a deeper knowledge of God.

Second, mankind is in a state of rebellion against God and his purpose. According to the Christian story, rather than submitting to God and worshiping Him, people rebel against God and go their own way, finding themselves alienated from God, morally guilty before him, and in pursuit of false gods of their own making. The terrible human evils in the world are testimony to man’s depravity in our state of spiritual alienation from God. Christians are thus not surprised at the moral evil in the world; on the contrary, they expect it. The Scriptures indicate that God has given mankind over to the sin it has freely chosen; he does not interfere to stop it but lets human depravity run its course (see Romans 1:24-28). This only serves to highlight our moral responsibility before God, as well as our wickedness and our need of forgiveness and restoration.

Third, God’s purpose is not restricted to this life but extends beyond the grave into eternal life. According to Christian teaching, life is but a brief moment when compared to eternity that lies ahead. Hence, an earthly life is by no means the end of the story. This is the core of the gospel message: Christ has conquered death and now reigns as Lord over all. Unimaginable recompense and vindication are promised to those who place their trust in Christ as Saviour and Lord. It is this truth that enabled Apostle Paul who bore terrible suffering in this life to write in his letter to the Corinthian church:

“Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation. We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: by great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, the Holy Spirit, genuine love; by truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; through honor and dishonor, through slander and praise. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything”[3]

It is the hope of resurrection that enabled Paul to say and say with confidence:

So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”[4]

Notice how Paul called suffering in this life a “light momentary affliction”. Does it mean that Paul was insensitive to the hardships of those who suffer horribly in this life? On the contrary, he was one of them, but in the light of the promise of eternal life in the presence of God, for Paul all the evils in the world were simply overwhelmed by the everlasting joy God will give to those who trust him.

Fourth, the knowledge of God is itself an incommensurable good. For according to the Christian worldview, to know God, the locus of infinite goodness and love, is an incomparable good, which the suffering of this life cannot even be compared to.

So I think these four Christian doctrines increase the probability of the coexistence of God and the evils in the world. They thereby may be employed to decrease any improbability that these evils might seem to cast on the existence of God.

Sceptical Solution

But perhaps a more telling criticism of the probabilistic argument can be made by critically examining one of its main assumptions. For whether God’s existence is improbable relative to the evil in the world depends on how probable it is that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evils that occur.

Philosopher Timothy O’Connor distinguishes between three kinds of evidential arguments from evil that focus on different aspects of the observable evil in our world[5]. I will list them here:

This-Particular-Evil Argument

  1. There is no reason that would justify God’s permitting some particular evil ____ to occur. (Fill in the blank with an apparently pointless evil, one that seems not to serve any greater purpose.)
  2. If God exists, there must be such a reason.

____________

Therefore, God does not exist

This-Amount-of-Evil Argument

  1. There is no reason that would justify God’s permitting so much evil to occur.
  2. If God exists, there must be such a reason.

____________

Therefore, God does not exist

This-Kind-of-Evil Argument

  1. There is no reason that would justify God’s permitting certain horrendous kinds of evil to occur (For example, recent genocide in Cambodia that I mentioned in the introduction).
  2. If God exists, there must be such a reason.

____________

Therefore, God does not exist

Now notice that in all different kinds of evidential arguments from evil, there is a hidden but crucial assumption behind the typical acceptance of premise (1). There seems to be an important inference from “I cannot see any reason that would justify God’s permitting this” to “Therefore, there is no such reason”. Philosopher Stephen Wykstra calls this a ‘’noseeum inference’, which in a casual form, is simply, ‘If we don’t see ‘um, they ain’t there’. That is to say, one tries to observe something and upon failing to find what one is looking for, he or she infers that what one seeks is simply not there. In our case, we are searching the “territory”[6] of morally permissible divine reasons. Theologians have not uncovered, we are assuming, a fully adequate reason that would justify God[7]. Therefore, defenders of this argument infer from this, there must be no such reason after all.

What are we to think about this inference in our present context? Are we justified in applying ‘noseeum inference’ in this case? To answer this question I think it would be helpful to briefly discuss when and under what conditions such inferences are justified. To do that let us take a look at the following scenarios:

A. My friend and blog partner Matt decides to eat some Tacos for dinner. He looks in his cupboard for his favourite hot sauce, appropriately titled Ass Blaster, and does not see it. He thoroughly inspects the shelves, takes out every single item in his cupboard and yet does not find the hot sauce he is looking for. Is Matt justified in inferring that there is no hot sauce in his cupboard after all?

B. My wife comes home and is looking for me. Now, I am by no means too small an object for her to see, so, suppose she looks everywhere, in every room, she checks our bathroom, our closet, and even under the bed, but does not find me. Would she be reasonable to conclude that I am not at home?

In the two scenarios above I think it would be entirely appropriate for my wife to conclude that I am not at home and for Matt that his dinner is spoiled. But why is that? Why is it reasonable for them to apply ‘noseeum inferences’ here? I think it is because both Matt and my wife could reasonably expect to see what they were looking for upon thorough inspection (We need not suppose that they certainly would have seen it, just that they very probably would have). At least two reasons why it is reasonable for them to expect that they would see their desired objects if they search for them are:

  1. The objects themselves are noticeable and can easily be seen with bare eyes.
  2. The space or territory under the inspection was such that one can survey the whole field

Now consider other scenarios:

C. I have just been to a forest in Sweden. Say, I was collecting mushrooms and blueberries. When I come home, I see my wife worrying about me, because she has read somewhere that there are many ticks in Swedish forests and some of them can carry dangerous diseases. I assure her that I am fine and there are no ticks on me, because on the way back I quickly inspected myself and found no such dreadful creatures on me. Should she stop worrying?

D. There is someone who is culturally and geographically isolated, living in the forests of Siberia. Is it reasonable for him to infer from “As far as I have been able to tell, there is nothing on earth beyond this forest” to “There is nothing on earth beyond this forest”?

Now what shall we make of scenarios C and D? Is the application of ‘noseeum inferences’ here more than or just as justified as in scenarios A and B? Are they analogous or dissimilar? It seems to me that the latter cases violate both conditions mentioned above. Ticks are sneaky creatures and they just aren’t the kind of things you would expect to easily notice without a thorough inspection. Furthermore, I could not inspect my whole body to make sure that none of the suckers are there. I could not thoroughly check my back or my hair because of my epistemic limitations (if I had a mirror with me or else another person, then that would substantially increase my epistemic situation). Similarly, in the case of the Siberian, his inference was not justified because he simply had no idea how wide and big the ‘territory’ of the earth is, and therefore, the most reasonable thing he could do in that case would be to suspend judgment about the whole matter.

These examples involve a “territory” in the literal sense of a spatial or a temporal “region”. But there are analogous cases in which the “territory” is of a more conceptual sort. Consider the eighteenth-century confidence that all that remained for physics to do was to tidy up and extend Newtonian mechanics. Or who in the late nineteenth century could have foreseen the development of atonal music?[8] Our inability to survey the “space” of possible future developments and assign probabilities or the degrees of likelihood to them overthrows any attempts to argue from “So far as I can see there will not be such-and-such development” to “There will not be any such development”. We simply don’t have a clue as to how to assess the possibilities and probabilities here.

Let us go back to our discussion of the probabilistic version of the internal problem of evil and ask: is our inability to ascertain reasons that would justify God in permitting the evils that occur itself a good enough reason to suppose that God does not have such reasons. Using the examples above, we may ask: are God’s reasons for permitting such things more like hot sauces or ticks? I think determining what God’s reasons for permitting evils are is more closely analogous to C and D, and especially the examples I have just cited, than it is to A and B. Why? Because here too we are in no position to map the “territory” of possible reasons. We lack the resources to determine the extent to which the possibilities we can envisage and understand exhaust the field. In scenarios A and B the territory of the search is well mapped. Furthermore, we know that, by the nature of the objects, the hot sauce and I are open to sensory observation, given suitable conditions.

Let us recall what it is we are dealing with here. We are dealing with assigning probabilities as to whether an omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting suffering and pain. In all honesty, I think we have to acknowledge our cognitive limitations. As finite persons, we are limited in space and time, in intelligence and insight. This is no appeal to mystery on my part, but rather an honest recognition of the inherent cognitive limitations that frustrate attempts to say that it is improbable that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting some particular evil. In other contexts nonbelievers readily recognize these cognitive limitations. For instance, one of the most devastating objections to utilitarian ethical theory is that it is quite simply impossible for us to estimate which action that we might perform will ultimately lead to the greatest amount of happiness or pleasure in the world. As Moreland points out[9], because of our cognitive limitations, actions that appear disastrous in the short term may redound to the greatest good, while some short-term boon may issue in untold misery.

Or consider, chaos theory, according to which weather systems or insect populations are extremely sensitive to the tiniest changes. A butterfly fluttering on a branch in Africa may set in motion forces that would eventually turn into a hurricane over the Atlantic Ocean. Yet it is impossible for any of us observing that butterfly on a branch to predict such an outcome[10].

Now before I conclude I want to be clear as to what I am not arguing for. Analogies such as comparing God’s reasons to chaos theories are not perfect. I am not committing myself to the idea that God’s reasons are impossible for us to discern in principle. The reason why I brought this up was to warn us not to make our cognitive limitations a recipe for what there is. Thus I would like to stress that this line of argumentation is neither based on, nor does it call for, a general theological scepticism. It is perfectly compatible with our knowing quite a bit about the divine nature, activities, purposes, and relations with humanity. In fact, our coming to the conclusion of scepticism concerning ‘noseeum inference’ in the case of God’s reasons for permitting evil presupposes a great deal of knowledge about him, his attributes and character. We know, for example, that for God to be good, it is impossible for him not to have a morally justifying reason to permit evil. This is presupposed and without this we would not have even arrived at our present discussion. The idea I have been trying to defend is only that we are unable to form sound judgments on whether there are justifying reasons for God permitting certain evils.

So by way of summary, I think the probabilistic version of the internal problem of evil is also unsuccessful. Firstly, it is not at all clear that once the full scope of the relevant data pertaining to God’s existence is considered, the evidential problem of evil would make Christian belief irrational. Secondly, taken as an internal problem for Christian theism, the probabilities of evil and God in conjunction with some other hypotheses based on key Christian doctrines render the coexistence of God and evil more probable. Thirdly and finally, at least one crucial assumption on behalf of the atheist propounding such an argument is dubious and probably false, which makes the arguments themselves mute and unconvincing.

Click here to see part 5 of the article


[1] I am relying here on the insights of Craig & Moreland in Philosophical Foundations, pp. 542-544

[2] Alvin Plantinga defends this idea well in the last chapter of Warranted Christian Belief, where he discusses whether the facts of evil provide a defeater for Christian belief having warrant in the basic way. I highly recommend his book for anyone interested in this.

[3] 2 Cor 6:3-10, ESV

[4] 2 Cor 4:14-18, ESV

[5] I am quoting here from Timothy O’Connor’s The Problem of Evil: Introduction, in Philosophy of Religion A Reader and Guide, ed. William Lane Craig, p.309-310

[6] I am borrowing this word from William Alston’s essay ”Some (Temporarily) Final Thoughts on Evidential Arguments from Evil”, in Philosophy of Religion A Reader and Guide, Craig, p. 362

[7] Some philosophers such as Richard Swinburne, Peter van Inwagen, and Eleonore Stump would argue that this assumption is premature. Their attempts at theodicy are very interesting and certainly worth  discussing, but I think this article would be too long if I were to talk about each one of them proper and evaluate them. So I will save this discussion for some other time.

[8] I am borrowing Aston’s example from his essay, Some (Temporary) Final Thoughts On Evidential Arguments From Evil, in Philosophy of Religion, ed. Craig, p. 354

[9] Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, Moreland & Craig, p. 543

[10] Lovers of science fiction and popular culture might remember the movie called The Butterfly Effect which was inspired by these considerations.

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Comments
  1. R P says:

    Hello again. This is where you directed me, so this is where I will reply.

    This is a lengthy analysis, and I could not hope to address it adequately inside this little comment box. However, since it is so lucid, I don’t have much to say!

    You write:
    “As a theist I may readily agree that the problem of evil, taken in isolation, does render God’s existence improbable…”

    It is very refreshing to see you have that level of insight. I wish BOTH atheists and theists would remember that last word. Improbable is not impossible. But improbable IS unlikely.

    You go on:
    …but that isn’t the really interesting question … I would want to ask … whether God’s existence is improbable to the full scope of our background information, including … the cosmological argument … the teleological argument … the argument from the existence of moral facts, the ontological argument … the historicity of the resurrection …” etc.

    Fair enough. I readily admit that IF one concedes the existence of God based on OTHER arguments, one can accept He has Divine Impenetrable Reasons for evil. (We’ll abbreviate them DIR.)

    But that doesn’t address the problem of evil at all. All you can say is, “God COULD have DIR for evil. We just can’t discern them.”

    That is a fine argument for the COMPATIBILITY of God and evil given the veracity of the other evidence, but since it doesn’t directly address the problem of evil, to many atheists that simply looks like a dodge.

    What’s more, the compatibility hypothesis is irrational in as much as it demands but cannot hope to demonstrate the existence of DIR.

    In normal rational enquiry, the steady accumulation of consistent observation over time is interpreted as positive evidence. Our confident belief in, say, the atomic theory of matter ultimately comes from the persistent accumulation of mutually-verifiable observation consistent with the theory, and a deficit of observation against.

    That God COULD have DIR for evil is factually trivial. It doesn’t mean He DOES have DIR. Ghosts, aliens, vampires and leprechauns COULD exist. The question is whether we have rational reasons to believe so.

    The accumulated observable evidence is consistent with the proposition that there are no DIR, either because God doesn’t have them or because He doesn’t exist. This you concede.

    The problem is that DIR are like hallucinations. You can never prove I am NOT hallucinating because the frontier of my mind is impenetrable to you. No matter how much indirect but observable evidence you accumulate to the contrary – CT scans, eye motion studies, cognitive interviews – I can always claim I am hallucinating.

    This was the basis of the classic movie “Harvey”, where actor Jimmy Stewart has an ongoing relationship with a six foot tall rabbit that only he can see and hear.

    We distinguish demonstrable belief, like the atomic theory of matter, from undemonstrable belief, like six foot rabbits or vampires, based on mutually-verifiable and repeatable observation.

    But no matter how steady the accumulation of mutually-verifiable observation in support of the problem of evil, you can always discount it by claiming DIR.

    So insulated, it is not possible you could ever change your mind about anything.

    This does not prove God does not exist, and that is not my intent. In fact, I would never make such an argument! But it does show that either we must be irrational or we must accept that the problem of evil is actually a problem.

    Again, hope that helps.

    • Thank you so much for your comment! It made me think hard and deep about these issues. I hope that my response would be a worthwhile contribution to this discussion.
      You have raised several important objections in your comment. Let me see if I understand your concerns correctly.
      It seems like you are saying that even if we grant or concede the existence of God based on other arguments, such a response achieves very little apart from showing that God and evil are logically compatible. Why? Because it merely shows that God and evil are not incompatible with each other and that it is possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil which looks entirely gratuitous to us. Thus you are rightly arguing that if this is all that such response achieves, then the probabilistic version of the problem of evil is not addressed at all. The reason for this is that probabilistic argument is not claiming that God’s existence is impossible given the facts of evil, but rather that, given the evil we observe, God’s existence is highly unlikely. This formulation makes God’s existence not so much impossible as problematic, implausible, and unlikely. Such theistic response appears to an atheist like a dodge because it attempts to hide behind mere possibilities of God’s having morally sufficient reasons for permitting both the amount and kinds of suffering we observe in the world. Such “Compatibility hypothesis” is irrational, because, on the one hand, it demands that God must have morally sufficient reasons for allowing the evils we observe in the world, but, on the other hand, it does nothing to demonstrate the existence of such reasons. Indeed, such theistic response seems to make an irrational jump from what is merely possible to what therefore is rational for us to believe. Mere possibilities, as you have pointed out, are useless in discussing what is and is not rational for us to believe. If one follows this route then why not believe that ghosts, aliens, vampires and leprechauns exist? After all, their existence is logically possible. Indeed, “the question is whether we have rational reasons to believe so”.
      Before I go on examining the concerns that you raised in your comment let me just say that we are in complete agreement about the following:
      If my answer to the evidential challenge from the facts of evil amounts to nothing more than a retreat to possibilities, then I have utterly failed to address the problem of evil in this article. I completely subscribe to your reasoning that if all I have done was defended the “compatibility hypothesis”, then I have not shown that belief in God is a rational belief in the face of the steadily accumulating evidence of more and more instances of seemingly gratuitous evil.
      Now having established significant points of agreement between us, let me elucidate on where we disagree:

      1. Most fundamentally we disagree on the merits of my response to the probabilistic version of the problem of evil. You think that all I have done was presented an argument for “the COMPATIBILITY of God and evil given the veracity of the other evidence”. I think an indirect approach, if successful, establishes the fact that there is no gratuitous evil in reality, which necessarily implies that God does have morally sufficient reasons to permit the evils we observe in the world as opposed to merely establishing that it is possible for God to have such reasons. I will defend this contention below.
      2. Your comment seems to suggest that my skeptical solution did not adequately deal with the crucial assumption on behalf of the atheist without which the probabilistic version of the problem of evil loses all its force. This assumption underpins the reasoning from, “As far as I can tell, there is no morally sufficient reason for God to permit the suffering in the world” to “Therefore, there probably are not any”. I have highlighted the word “probably” to emphasize the rationale behind the argument from evil. A more sophisticated and careful proponent of the probabilistic argument is not saying that since we cannot see any morally sufficient reasons to justify God’s allowing the suffering we observe, then it follows that God cannot possibly have such reasons. This is not the inference I was addressing in my article. Rather, the inference I was examining involved making probability judgments based on our observation of the facts of evil. It is this inference that I took to test and found wanting. My contention here is that we are not warranted in making the step from “I can’t see any” to “Probably there isn’t any”. I will not repeat the arguments for my position here but will simply say that my reasons for believing this have to do with our cognitive powers vis-à-vis the reasons an omnipontent, omniscient, perfectly good being might have for his decisions and actions. Just like, having only the sketchiest grasp of chess, my failure to see any reason for Kasparov to have made the move he did at a certain point in a game, hardly entitles me to conclude that he had no good reason for making that move, so does my inability to discern any sufficient reason for God to permit the evils in world give me no right to conclude that he probably does not have any reasons after all. I have offered other lines of reasoning in the article to support this thesis, which I will not repeat here. Again, my contention is that the skeptical solution, if sound, shows that at least one crucial assumption of the atheist is false when he is making probability judgments on whether God has sufficient reasons to allow certain instances of evil and suffering to exist. This fact critically undermines the force of the probabilistic or evidential argument from evil.

      Now let us go back to our discussion about the merits of an indirect procedure for the theist in rejecting the premise (9) of the external version of the problem of evil (see Part 5 with the comments section). The argument I considered had the following form:

      (8) If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist
      (9) Gratuitous evil exists
      (10) Therefore, God does not exist

      I then elaborated on what I, following the position of an atheist philosopher William L. Rowe, believed to be a valid and legitimate response that the theist could make against the argument for atheism from the facts of evil. This response attempts to reject the premise (9) indirectly by construing an argument, which is just as valid as the skeptic’s and which also contains the premise “If God exists, gratuitous evil does not”.

      (11) God exists
      (12) If God exists, gratuitous evil does not
      (13) Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist

      In your first comment you seemed to agree that the real question becomes whether we have more warrant to believe (9) than we do to believe (11). You do not object to the logical validity of construing the argument (11) – (13) on the basis of (8) – (10). You agree that (11) – (13) follow logically from (8) – (10). You also agree that (11) – (13) is itself a valid argument and that the conclusion (13) follows logically from the premises (11) and (12). What is more, your last comment seems to indicate that you are even willing to concede, for the sake of the argument, “the existence of God based on other arguments” and yet still, according to you, the problem of evil would not be addressed, because what would be shown is at best a mere possibility of gratuitous evil not existing or as you worded it out, that “one can accept He has Divine Impenetrable Reasons for evil. (We’ll abbreviate them DIR.)” (I prefer not to refer to divine reasons for permitting evil in the way you suggested for reasons I will mention below)
      Please let me know if I am misrepresenting your position when I take the word “can” in the quote above to mean a mere possibility of God having such reasons even if his existence is conceded. If this is your view, then I definitely disagree with you. To me, it logically follows that if an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God exists, then He simply must have morally sufficient reasons for allowing suffering we observe in the world or else the attributes we ascribe to him do not mean what we take them to mean (for instance, God’s omnibenevolence simply demands of God having morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil in the world. If this was not the case and this attribute was so redefined as to allow for a possibility of God existing alongside gratuitous evil, then the concept of benevolence becomes so radically different from everything we know about it, that it literally becomes redundant and useless). Again, just to be clear, I am operating here on the assumption that an indirect approach is successful and that the existence of a God with the attributes theists traditionally ascribe to him is conceded. Of course, such inference would not work if what was shown was merely the existence of a God with some but not all of these essential characteristics. If you were to object to the argument (11) – (13) by rejecting (11) I would understand. It is entirely appropriate for an atheist to argue against the warrant theists claim to have for the truth of (11). At this point, atheists can legitimately attack theistic arguments for God’s existence, if in fact theists attempted to defend (11) via arguments for God’s existence. They could do so in various ways. They could claim, for instance, that theistic arguments offered for the truth of (11) are not all that great and especially not strong enough to make us prefer, on rational grounds, (11) over (9). Another strategy for an atheist would be to disagree that these theistic arguments, even if successful, prove the existence of God with all the relevant attributes, etc. All of these atheistic responses I can understand, but for someone to concede the truth of premises (11) and (12), to agree that (11) – (13) is a valid argument and then to take (13) to mean a mere possibility of the existence of morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evils as opposed to the actual existence of such reasons is to misunderstand what the conclusion of this argument necessarily implies.

      Finally, I promised to give reasons for why I would not use “DIR” (Divine Impenetrable Reasons) terminology.
      Since my response is embarrassingly long already, I will briefly mention two reasons:
      1. This name makes it sound like I am committed to the claim that these divine reasons are somehow impossible for us to discern in principle. This is not my commitment as I explicitly stated that in the second last paragraph of Part 4. The claim I defended was merely that our expectation that we should be able to see divine reasons if they existed is faulty.
      2. The situation is slightly more nuanced. God’s morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil and suffering have everything to do with there actually being goods whose attainment would not be possible without allowing certain evils. So what is important is not merely our ability to know certain goods that could justify the existence of certain evils, but also our knowledge of the conditions of the realization of these goods. Thus my position is entirely consistent with a case of us actually knowing the goods that would justify God in permitting certain evils, but yet not knowing what the conditions of realization of these goods are, and hence, wondering how the evils that we see play a part in the realization of these goods.

      So in conclusion, my view, as far as theistic skepticism is concerned, is that our failure to discern God’s actual reasons for permitting suffering in the world is itself not a good enough reason to conclude that it is probable that God does not in fact have such morally sufficient reasons.

      I hope by now it is clear why in my view your hallucinations analogy is inadequate. In the case of hallucinations we are justified in expecting that if the person in question is hallucinating then this would be seen or reflected in the results of the various tests that we conduct (“CT scans, eye motion studies, cognitive interviews”, etc.). Divine reasons for permitting evil, on the other hand, are different from hallucinations just in this respect. We are simply not justified in expecting to see these reasons even if they were there. Using your example, we would say that we are not justified in trusting our “tests”. Notice that this is no arbitrary claim on my part. I argued for it in my article, presenting conditions of when we are and when we are not justified in our inferences from observation as to what is most likely to be the case.

      Thanks again for this outstanding discussion! I hope I have not scared you away by my zeal to write so much 🙂 I know it violates some of the principles you yourself follow on your blog (“Make it witty, accessible and short, and it might have an audience.”), but I just could not resist.

      Cheers

      Dima

  2. R P says:

    Hello again. You’ll have to forgive me – I cannot hope to cover as many topics as you. Also, I fear we are starting to repeat ourselves, which is usually a sign that, although we are enamored with our own words, we are perhaps not communicating as well as we think we are.

    You say:
    “To me, it logically follows that if an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God exists, then He simply must have morally sufficient reasons for allowing suffering we observe in the world…”

    My point (starting back with my first comment) was that your discussion doesn’t actually address the problem of evil. In fact, it comes across as factually trivial. IF an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God exists, then deductively the problem of evil is an illusion.

    If that’s what you are saying, then why the multi-page discussion of the problem of evil? My honest criticism would be to slash your post down to just those few words, and instead refer your readers to the other arguments for an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God.

    I say that because I assume you did not write all of this just to see your words on a screen. I assume you started a blog called Warranted Belief to show others that your beliefs have merit over other people’s beliefs – in short, that you are right.

    If I am wrong, then you can simply disregard my ramblings.

    Perhaps this will clear things up: I am not trying to convince you of atheism. I am trying to show you that your arguments do not address the atheist’s objections. Does that make sense?

    Everything you wrote, all 5 or 6 pages of it, will not convince a single atheist. Perhaps that sounds harsh, but hopefully you appreciate my motivation is not to insult.

    As written, your posts make it seem like YOU think you have overcome the problem of evil, when all you’ve really concluded can be boiled down to a simple syllogism. (Keep it short!)

    The real problem here is not one of theology, or even logic, but epistemology.

    The atheist prefers an empirical approach and asks, “what explanation best fits the observable evidence?”

    To proceed from a priori reasoning in SPITE of the observable evidence comes across like an argument about non-Euclidean geometries: full of sound and fury, but having no meaningful connection to the world as it is.

    The question you should be asking is, what mutually-verifiable, repeatable observations can we make that demonstrates a higher moral purpose to the evil we see in the world?

    When presented with accumulated observational evidence for one claim, and no observational evidence for another, the inference should be clear. In fact, I wish more things in life were that easy.

    Thank you for the great discussion.

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