The following steps are quite standard in the problem of evil dialectics:
- Atheist: The world contains many instances of suffering, all of which could easily be averted if there were a God, simply by modifying the laws of nature. For instance, there could be a law of nature saying that knives turn to water before they penetrate hearts, etc.
- Theist: Such laws of nature would be unduly complex. For instance, they would have to specify exactly when knives turn to water, in what way (does the process happen all at once, starting at the tip, etc.), how close they need to be to the heart for the process to start, etc. Simplicity of law is intrinsically valuable—a world all of whose laws are as elegant as General Relativity is a world of great value, in its diversity reflecting God's infinity in its and in its simplicity God's unity.
- Atheist: Any value of such simplicity is far outweighed by the disvalue of suffering for persons.
At this point, we have a serious clash of intuitions and it may not be efficient for the theist to try to bridge it. Instead, the theist might try to argue that humans couldn't coexist with the more complex laws. I am inclined to think that that isn't the best answer.[note 1] Instead I want to consider the following dialectical moves:
- Theist: It is valuable for us to be able to figure out the laws, both for the sake of the understanding itself and to enable us to exercise more meaningful agency. But laws complex enough to stop every kind of suffering would be too complex for us to figure out.
- Atheist: But God could give us more powerful intellects.
It is at this dialectical point that I want to jump into the fray. Three moves are open to the theist. The first is that there is a value in having a range of beings in the world, ranging through completely mindless electrons, unconscious plants, barely conscious lower animals, moderately smart higher animals, moderately smart human beings, perhaps even smarter non-human persons somewhere else, and in any case a whole range of superhuman intelligences (angels). This great chain of being is of significant value. It is valuable that the chain not have significant gaps in it, as there would be if God refrained from creating agents—us—with intellects that are not all that impressive compared to what is higher up. (And, O how great the glory of God, God then became one of these lower agents, and raised another to be the queen of heaven.)
The second move is to note that there is something odd about complaining that God did not create in our place a smarter species. Whom did God wrong or behave less than perfectly lovingly towards by not creating a smarter species in our place? That smarter species? But you cannot wrong or behave less than perfectly lovingly towards someone who never exists. Or us? But I think our existence is overall worthwhile.
The third and most challenging move is to note that there is a value in having enmattered intellects which do a significant part—if the materialists are right (they're not), all—of their thinking by use of a physical organ (the brain), an organ whose morphology arose through natural physical processes of not too small probability. Now, a more complex set of laws given such conditions might require a more complex brain. But it could well be that the energy usage and evolution of such a more complex brain would require further complexification of the laws. I do not know that this is so, but neither do I know that this is not so, and I doubt that anyone is in a position to claim that it is not so. But the further complexification of the laws may require a further complexification of the brain. And so on. There might be a fixed point to this sequence—a brain that can understand the laws of nature that it is governed by. But we do not know that there is such a fixed point. It's fun and humbling to note how easily our thinking hits up against things that none of us know.