Thursday, August 26, 2010

A spin on the problem of evil

Here is a way of looking at the inductive problem from evil.

Start with this. Let E be the bare claim that there is at least one evil. Let T be theism and N be naturalism, and suppose those are the only two relevant options. Then, I think one can argue that P(E|T)>P(E|N). Why?

  • The existence of teleology or proper function is certain on T (at least God will have a proper function, viz., of being his perfect self). Plausibly, evil requires teleology or proper function (evil is a way of something's going wrong) and teleology and proper function are unlikely on N.
  • Alternately: evil requires consciousness, and consciousness is much more likely on T than on N.
  • It is likely that God would create a large number of significantly free persons, and it is likely, given a large number of significantly free persons, that at least one would do wrong in some way. On the other hand, it is not all that likely that there would be a morally responsible being if N were to be the case.
  • Many significant goods, like courage, forgiveness and perseverance, require at least some evil. Thus it is unlikely that God would strive to create a world where evils would be certain not to occur.
  • There is some plausibility in significant contrast stories on which experiencing a minor evil can enhance one's enjoyment of goods. On T, this renders evil more likely, while N doesn't care about us enjoying things.
These considerations do not yield a theodicy. But they do show that P(E|T) is not low while P(E|N) is low. Hence, the bare fact of evil is evidence for theism over naturalism.

This is how the inductive problem from evil should be seen. The mere fact of evil is evidence for theism, but we need to ask whether this evidence for theism is strengthened, left unchanged, weakened or even flipped the other way around when we look at the details of the sorts of evils we observe. For each of these four options is in general possible when we start with some general piece of evidence and then look at the specifics.

Nonetheless, it will make a difference to how we think of the specifics if we start with the idea that the general fact of evil supports theism, and we ask whether this support remains or flips when we look at the specifics.

9 comments:

Michael G. Murad said...

Hello. I studied philosophy and formal logic many many years ago, but I haven't seen the P(X|N) notation before. A quick google search didn't yield an explanation. It might be helpful for readers whose logic/math skills are rusty/incomplete, but who would nevertheless like to follow some of your more technical posts, to provide a link to a cheat-sheet page with information on this and similar notation, and its meaning.

Alexander R Pruss said...

P(X|N) is the conditional probability of X given N.

MG said...

To the idea that significant goods requiring evil:

Even if the details of this one come out in favor of theism, I find it odd that God would want a world with a something like courage. I favor a sort of theistic Platonism a la Robert Adams, and I can't see how courage could be a refection of or participation in (or whatever) God's goodness, since courage doesn't exist until certain sorts of creatures exist. If God is perfectly good, how could a good suddenly come into existence upon the creation of certain sorts of creatures. A good that is independent of God? (Clearly courage exists so I've made a mistake somewhere, but I don't know where.)

awatkins69 said...

"Many significant goods, like courage, forgiveness and perseverance, require at least some evil. Thus it is unlikely that God would strive to create a world where evils would be certain not to occur."

It's true that some goods could not be acquired in a world without evil and strife. But isn't it such that in heaven, acquiring these goods is not possible? Will we say that this world is better than heaven? It seems pretty reasonable to think that God could have just created us all in paradise, and this would be better.

DL said...

It seems pretty reasonable to think that God could have just created us all in paradise, and this would be better.

Isn't that the point? A world with some evil and their corresponding virtues is good; a heavenly world without any evil (but also without those virtues) is better; so to have the combination would be the best of both worlds — a world with some temporary evil that affords opportunities for those special virtues, followed by the eternal heavenly world with its own virtues.

awatkins69 said...

How about one great world with no evils or suffering, and one even better paradise with no evils or suffering? =D

DL said...

Well, I guess we can keep running the argument: whatever "good" setup you have could be made even better by adding some evils and their dependent goods. As long as the evil doesn't outweigh any goods, it will always be better to have it.

Alexander R Pruss said...

" I find it odd that God would want a world with a something like courage. I favor a sort of theistic Platonism a la Robert Adams, and I can't see how courage could be a refection of or participation in (or whatever) God's goodness, since courage doesn't exist until certain sorts of creatures exist."

1. Maybe God can exhibit courage by becoming incarnate in dangerous circumstances. I don't want to push that line too much, because God qua God is not endangered.

2. I would not conclude with confidence that because God can be in no danger, therefore God cannot have any perfection of which courage is an appropriate reflection. Consider another case. It seems that moral growth is something that God can't have. However, our moral growth may be an image of the way God has a goodness that is not externally imposed. In other words, the following is possible in general. God has some feature F in virtue whose literal possession requires an independence that no creature has. And it could be that what would need to mirror F in dependent critters like us would be something that involves evil.

I can't think of a story like this about courage right now. But that's fine. For the simple God surely has infinitely many attributes that are as yet, and maybe forever, unknown to us.

MG said...

"I can't think of a story like this about courage right now. But that's fine. For the simple God surely has infinitely many attributes that are as yet, and maybe forever, unknown to us."

That's a great point—one that I needed to be reminded of.