Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Gratuitous evils

  1. (Premise) There are no gratuitous evils.
  2. (Premise) If there is no God, some evils are gratuitous.
  3. Therefore, there is a God.
Here, a gratuitous evil is one that doesn't serve some greater purpose, or something like that. Now, one might think this is question-begging: that the only reason to believe (1) is that one believes (3). But I think not. A lot of people have the intuition that "there is a reason for everything". And they don't mean by that that there is an explanation for everything—they aren't just asserting the standard Principle of Sufficient Reason. They mean that there is a justifying reason—that the evils in their lives contribute in important ways to the value of the lives, etc.

Here is a hypothesis. For some (a few? many? I have no idea) atheists, the conviction that there are gratuitous evils is a consequence of, not reason for, atheism. There is the natural intuition that there is a reason for everything, but a belief in atheism is rationally incompatible with that intuition, so the intuition is abandoned.

7 comments:

Marc said...

Dr. Pruss:

Interesting insight concerning the belief that things happen for a justifying reason.

Suppose the atheist objected by suggesting that "the natural intuition that there is a [justifying] reason for everything" is a consequence of, not a reason for, theism (or for something functionally similar, like fate). On this assumption, the worry that your argument is question-begging seems to reappear.

In response, the theist might attempt to defend the thesis that there's a natural tendency, independently of theistic commitment, to form the belief that everything happens for a justifying reason, and that this natural disposition provides inductive evidence for our having a sensus divinitatis. Or perhaps there's an another argument in the vicinity for the proper basicality of theistic belief.

Alexander said...

I think your hypothesis implies that the argument from evil should seem question-begging to most people. E.g. they would say that the evidential premise of Rowe's evidential argument is obviously question-begging on part of the atheist. That seems odd.

I think a more plausible hypothesis is that certain more or less innate psychological dispositions cause theism as well as the belief that everything happens for a reason, with some possible additional reinforcing causal connections between these two beliefs.

MG said...

I think it is circular to think that there are JUSTIFYING reasons for instances of suffering. I don't see any reason for a naturalist to think that the world would be such that there are justifying reasons for suffering. The only reason to think so is that one also thinks God (or some non-natural something or other, like karma or "the force" or whatever) exists. The "justifying intuition" is inherently theistic or supernatural.

But I think the "Nietzschean intuition" that whatever doesn't kill me makes me stronger—that we can MAKE IT THE CASE that suffering is not in vain—is not dependent on theism/supernaturalism and so is not circular. But it also doesn't show that there are no gratuitous evils.

Marc said...

Dr. Pruss:

I think your hypothesis implies that the argument from evil should seem question-begging to most people. E.g. they would say that the evidential premise of Rowe's evidential argument is obviously question-begging on part of the atheist. That seems odd.

Although I'm not sure I completely follow you here, I suppose one could suggest, in favor of this hypothesis, that the belief which issues from the natural disposition is defeasible -- that, further, it's rationally held in the absence of a respectable defeater. Rowe's evidential premise might suffice as such a defeater. The hypothesis, then, it seems to me, wouldn't imply that arguments from evil should prima facie strike most people as question-begging. Or perhaps I'm not fully appreciating something about your comment.

Alexander said...

I'm not Alexander Pruss. I was referring to Pruss' post, not to your comment. Sorry for the confusion!

Alexander R Pruss said...

MG:

"I don't see any reason for a naturalist to think that the world would be such that there are justifying reasons for suffering."

I think intuitions can give reasons, and a naturalist can have such an intuition. Suppose, for instance, that there is a God, and he implanted in people the intuition that there are justifying reasons for suffering. Then, I think, the intuition does give the naturalist reason to think this. Granted, the consequent belief fits poorly with naturalism, and might end up being defeated if the naturalist has strong reasons for accepting naturalism, but it still seems to be a reason.

Alexander:

"I think a more plausible hypothesis is that certain more or less innate psychological dispositions cause theism as well as the belief that everything happens for a reason, with some possible additional reinforcing causal connections between these two beliefs."

I do think this hypothesis is not implausible, but I also think that the dispositions could give reasons.

Marc said...

Alexander:

Sheesh. I somehow failed to recognize that "R Pruss" didn't follow your name. I either need more sleep, caffeine, or both. Anyway, thanks for bringing my oversight to my attention. No need to apologize at all. The confusion, clearly, was all mine. =)