Friday, August 25, 2017

The blink of an eye response to the problem of evil

I want to confess something: I do not find the problem of evil compelling. I think to myself: Here, during the blink of an eye, there are horrendous things happening. But there is infinitely long life afterwards if God exists. For all we know, the horrendous things are just a blip in these infinitely long lives. And it just doesn’t seem hard to think that over an infinite future that initial blip could be justified, redeemed, defeated, compensated for with moral adequacy, sublated, etc.

It sounds insensitive to talk of the horrors that people live through as a blip. But a hundred years really is the blink of an eye in the face of eternity.

Wouldn’t we expect a perfect being to make the initial blink of an eye perfect, too? Maybe. But even if so, we would only expect it to be perfect as a beginning to an infinite life that we know next to nothing about. And it is hard to see how we would know what is perfect as a beginning to such a life.

This sounds like sceptical theism. But unlike the sceptical theist, I also think the standard theodicies—soul building, laws of nature, free will, etc.—are basically right. They each attempt to justify God’s permission of some or all evils by reference to things that are indeed good: the gradual building up of a soul, the order of the universe, a rightful autonomy, etc. They all have reasonable stories about how the permission of the evils is needed for these goods. There is, in mind, only one question about these theodicies: Are these goods worth paying such a terrible price, the price of allowing these horrors?

But in the face of an eternal future, I think the question of price fades for two reasons.

First, the goods gained by soul building and free will last for an infinite amount of time. It will forever be true that one has a soul that was built by these free choices. And the value of orderly laws of nature includes an order that is instrumental to the soul building as well as an order that is aesthetically valuable in itself. The benefits of the former order last for eternity, and the beauty of the laws of nature—even as exhibited during the initial blink of an eye—lasts for ever in memory. It is easy for an infinite duration of a significant good to be worth a very high price! (Don’t the evils last in memory, too? Yes, but while memories of beauty should be beautiful things, memories of evil should not be evils—think of the Church’s memory of the Cross.)

Second, it is very easy for God to compensate people during an infinite future for any undeserved evils they suffered during the initial blip. And typically one has no obligation to prevent someone’s suffering when (a) the prevention would have destroyed an important good and (b) one will compensate the person to an extent much greater than the sufferings. The goods pointed out by the theodicies are important goods, even if we worry that permitting the horrors is too high a price. And no matter how terrible these short-lived sufferings were—even if the short period of time, at most about a mere century, “seemed like eternity”—infinite time is ample space for compensation. (Of course, it would be wrong to intentionally inflict undeserved serious harms on someone even while planning to compensate.)

Objection 1: Can one say this while saying that the fleeting goods of our lives yield a teleological argument for the existence of God?

Response: One can. One can be quite sure from a single paragraph in a novel that it is written by someone with great writing skills. But one can never be sure from a single paragraph in a novel that it is not written by someone with great writing skills. (For all we know, the author was parodying bad writing in that paragraph, and the paragraph reflects great skill. But notice that we cannot say about the great paragraph that maybe the author has no skills but was just parodying great writing.)

Objection 2: It begs the question to suppose our future lives are infinite.

Response: No. If God exists, it is very likely that the future lives of all persons, or at the very least of all persons who do not deserve to be annihilated, will be infinite. The proposition that God exists is equivalent to the disjunction: (God exists and there is eternal life) or (God exists and there is no eternal life). If the argument from evil presupposes the absence of eternal life, it is only an argument against the second disjunct. But most of the probability that God exists lies with the first disjunct, given that P(eternal life|God exists) is high. Hence, the argument doesn't do much unless it addresses the first disjunct.

33 comments:

Angra Mainyu said...

Alex,

I have a lot of objections to this reply (unsurprisingly, as usual for the problem of evil), but to keep it short, I would raise a few issues:

1. I take the problem of evil to encompass suffering and also moral evil, including the existence of moral agents with imperfect moral knowledge - i.e., a flawed moral sense -, and also with inclinations to do evil. That is not required for either autonomy, or an ordely world. And character building is not a good in entities that already have always and necessarily a good character.
2. An orderly world and autonomy does not require the huge amount of suffering that has happened, or anything close to that. Different rules can also produce and ordered world. Purely for example, a young Earth creation with all of the animals, plants, etc. (as nearly all Christians believed for nearly all of the time Christianity has been around) would contain hundreds of millions of years less of suffering of zillions of animals. And a young Earth with no predators, no illnesses, etc., can have stable rules too. I think the idea of the Garden of Eden is something like that. The problem is I think the creator's behavior in that story, but aside from that and the issue of whether an omnimax creator would ever create anything like humans, what I'd like say here is that a world like that can contain freedom, stable rules, laws of nature, and so on.
3. When evil people cause others to suffer horribly, if one can stop that at a low risk to oneself and others, there generally is an obligation to do so. It would not be a proper excuse to, say, let a child be raped, or raped and murdered, etc., because that might somehow help build character and/or because God (or the human who looks the other way instead of intervening) will compensate her later. We could expect a good person to intervene in such (and many, many other) circumstances.
4. How is a compensation possible? Even assuming people are in a better place in the afterlife, in which sense is that a compensation? Do people who suffer horribly without deserving it get a better afterlife than the rest? But why? Also, it seems to me that they could get similar or better goods without having had to endure any of that previously.
5. Even assuming that compensation is possible for human persons, there is the suffering of other entities. For example, for hundreds of millions of years on Earth, there has been horrific suffering. How are they going to be compensated? Sure, they can be put in some simulation they like (it has to be fake, because otherwise what they like involves inflicting horrible suffering on other animals!), but what would make that a compensation? After all, the horrible suffering already happened, and any goods that they can be given in an afterlife, could have been given without the earlier suffering, at least in the case of a lot of animals.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think there are analogues to character development on the global scale, namely global evolutionary development. This is valuable.

I am not too worried about the fact that we would expect a human being to intervene but we might not expect God to intervene, in part because I think a part of God's reason for non-intervention is to give *us* the opportunity to intervene.

It's a very good point about (nonhuman) animal suffering not being handled by standard afterlife considerations. One might be able to handle it by the kinds of afterlife considerations in my colleague Dougherty's book, which involve a transformation of these animals.

I also don't know how closely analogous in disvalue animal pain is to human pain--it may be that what would make pain into horrendous suffering would require very high cognitive function.

And as a last resort I am attracted to thinking that those (if there are any such) apparent instances of animal pain that cannot be justified theodically are *merely* apparent. This sounds crazy, I know. But I like the idea that God with good moral reason follows a defeasible principle of minimal intervention. In the case of nonhuman animals, it seems not unlikely that something like epiphenomenalism is true. The minimal divine intervention would then be to remove the qualia of pain without changing any of the physical states. And removing the qualia of pain will not change the overt behavior of the animal given epiphenomenalism. And so we would observe exactly what we do observe, namely pain behaviors.

Angra Mainyu said...

I don't see why global evolutionary development would be a good thing (if that's what you mean by "valuable"; else, please explain). In fact, if it happens in the way it happens in the real world (i.e., involving a lot of pain, fear, and otherwise suffering), it seems to me it's a very bad thing overall. Sure, it could have good results, so it might be a means to a good end. But what I was trying to get at is that it's not a required means at all for an omnipotent agent. An agent like that can just skip the whole process.

I don't think that giving others reason to intervene would justify the actions of a creator, for a number of reasons, such as:

a. That also is generally not a justification at all. For example, let's say a group of men see that A is raping B. They can easily stop A, without taking any risks. But they choose not to, because they want to give a third party, C, the chance to intervene and stop A, even at a personal risk, so that C does something morally praiseworthy. Clearly, the men in question behave immorally. An omnipotent being can always stop that, and great power doesn't bring great lack of responsibility!
b. There are plenty of cases of human suffering at the hands of humans in which no human being has the opportunity to intervene, other than the perpetrator. For example, A makes a careful plan, and goes on to kidnap a child, B. Once A has B in an isolated place, he intends to rape him and then murder him. No other human being knows about that, and so there is no opportunity to intervene. It would be immoral for any human to just let the perpetrator rape and murder the child only to give the perpetrator an opportunity to change his mind at different stages of completion of the crime, if another human also knew. It would also be immoral for non-human possible moral agents (e.g., comic book characters with superpowers). But I don't see how omnipotence or omniscience of the only third party who knows would make it not immoral for that third party not to intervene (as before, great power does not bring great lack of responsibility).
c. There is also human suffering at the hands of non-human entities, and in which no human is in a position to intervene. For example, sometimes lions hunt and kill a group of humans, causing a lot of suffering in the process. Or wolves eat a person alive, etc., when no human being other than the victim(s) is aware of what's happening.

In re: transformation, it seems to me that that would not work, since those would seem to be other things, and even if not, there does not seem to be a relevant connection for compensation. For example, A is an animal that suffers a lot and then is killed. God can make a radically more complex animal A1, but then, A1 is not A, it seems to me. But even if it is somehow the same, it does not seem like A1-A is compensated. How is that a compensation? A does not have conscious awareness of past suffering (let's say A is not that complex). Giving those memories to A1 would be a way to make A1 suffer, rather than compensate it. But without the memories, there does not appear to be a compensation.

Regarding epiphenomenalism and minimal intervention, theory is always underdetermined by observations, but that does not deny the evidence provided by the observations. Pain behaviors are evidence of pain. Fear behaviors are evidence of fear. And so on. Additional pieces of evidence are the similarities between the parts of an animal's brain associated with pain behavior, etc., and the parts of a human brain similarly associated, the fact that painkillers work on them as they work on humans, etc. (for example, pain killers remove pain behavior in humans because they remove the pain. They also remove pain behavior in some non-human animals, etc.).

Brandon said...

My own primary reason for finding arguments from evil unimpressive is that they have the structure of wishful thinking -- every such argument is an argument that something can't exist because someone has the intuition that it morally ought not to exist -- but this is an interesting argument, as well. Like most such arguments, I think one of the things that's interesting about it is what denial of it requires of one's moral theory. Since it seems to require that view that there are unswampable evils -- evils that even an everlasting and infinite good cannot justify, redeem, sublate, or what have you -- to have such a view requires a very specific kind of moral theory. It rules out utilitarianism, and at least most kinds of quasi-aesthetic moral theories, because its difficult to see what would even be a candidate for unswampable evil on such accounts; because of their principle of toleration, based on the subordination of good of the part to good of the whole, natural law theories seem to be ruled out; and so forth. It seems to narrow the field considerably.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Gradual internally-guided development makes an individual or world to a significant degree self-made. And this kind of autonomy is valuable--it makes the creature or world not be a puppet.

I think it's neither the omniscience nor the omnipotence that makes the main difference between the duties of God or humans. What makes for the main difference is the teleological relationship we have to God. As a general rule, I think that any burden we can permissibly impose on ourselves is a burden that God can permissibly impose on us--there is a sense in which God is "closer to us than we ourselves are".

Domenic Marbaniang said...

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. (Rom 8:18,19)

For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, is working for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory, while we do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2Co 4:17-18)


I like the phrase "blink of an eye response". It certainly is.

Kolten Ellis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angra Mainyu said...

Alex,

Regarding the "opportunity to intervene", I'd like to elaborate a little on why I don't think that reply works.

1. Let's say that Bob (a human) sees that Jack is raping Jane, but chooses not to intervene so that some human (other than Bob himself) has the opportunity to intervene. As he sees that no one intervenes, he keeps refraining. Bob's behavior is very immoral.
But this does not change if we make the agent more powerful.
For example,
2. Let's say Spider Man sees that Jack is raping Jane, but chooses not to intervene so that some human has the opportunity to intervene. As he sees that no one intervenes, he keeps refraining. Spider Man's behavior is very immoral.

Adding further power will not help:
3. Let's say that Captain Marvel sees that Jack is raping Jane, but chooses not to intervene so that some human has the opportunity to intervene. As she sees that no one intervenes, she keeps refraining. Captain Marvel's behavior is very immoral.

And so on.
That's what I meant when I said that it's not the case that with great power comes great lack of responsibility.

Now, let's say that A is an omnipotent, omniscient agent. A sees that Jack is raping Jane, but chooses not to intervene so that some human has the opportunity to intervene. As A sees that no one intervenes, A keeps refraining. A's behavior is very immoral. One caveat is that if the agent is completely alien (i.e., its mind), it might not be a moral agent. Would advanced space aliens be moral agents, if they have some analogue to a sense of right and wrong, but not quite the same? I do not know. But assuming that such agents would not be moral agents and could do no wrong, surely, if an agent cannot behave immorally because its mind is too alien (even if it, say, tortures people for pleasure), then for that matter, that agent is also not morally good, not morally perfect, nor morally anything (well, it can be a morally bad thing, like a virus).

Making the agent more knowledgeable won't help, either. Having greater knowledge does not take away and agent's moral obligations.

Now, you bring up the relationship with God. But making the agent the father, mother, etc., of Jack, Jane, and the other person with the potential for intervening will not do, either. In fact, if anything, it seems even worse. I don't see how an omnipotent, omniscient creator (or just an agent like that who is not the creator) could be morally good if it allows the evils we've seen, and that's leaving aside issues such as whether an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect agent would ever choose to create morally imperfect moral agents (assuming the world only contains what he chooses to bring about), and so on.

While you could say that the relationship with God is different, I do not see any reason for that. My moral sense clearly yields that the omnipotent, omniscient agent who refrains from intervening is morally evil, assuming it's a moral agent (else, it's so alien that it's not morally anything).

Alexander R Pruss said...

Angra:

What if the agent is identical with the victim? Does that make a difference?

Alex

Angra Mainyu said...

Alex,

I would say that gradual, internally-guided development is perhaps good for humans, all other things being equal. However, I would say that if that holds, that's about human development, or the development of similar entities. On the other hand, if there were an omniscient, morally perfect being who has always existed, she would not lack any goods just for not having developed gradually. And neither would an angel - I don't see why.
But I don't think God would ever create humans in the first place, or any other moral agents with an imperfect moral sense or evil tendencies (including angels that could be tempted to do evil).

Also, not having developed gradually does not make the creature a puppet (I'm not sure how a world could be a puppet). By the way, do you think Adam and Eve were puppets, or meant to be so?
Anyway, there are examples from fiction and myth, such as:

I. Transporter accidents: when duplicates are made, they're not puppets. Now, granted, having fake memories is a negative, and I'm not saying that lack of internally-guided development is not bad for humans, but they do not end up puppets.
II. The Vision (Avengers) has no such development, but is not a puppet, either.
III. Athena (common versions in Greek Mythology).

Aside from that, allowing suffering in order to help even a human person develop is generally not morally allowed. But if it's allowed, it's only for small amounts of suffering. If human parents let their children be beaten up, tortured, or raped in order to help them develop, those parents immorally fail to act (and are very mistaken about morality).


As for worlds, I don't see how that would be valuable. A world is not a person. Even if allowing horrific evil for some greater good were morally permissible for an omnipotent, omniscient creator (but I don't think that's so at all, for the reasons I've been given and others), Young Earth worlds could have all of the features of our world, including gradual personal development, etc., minus hundreds of millions of horrible nonhuman suffering (yes, granted, one can consistently posit that they did not suffer, but for that matter, one can consistently posit many extremely improbable things; the question is what's probable on the basis of observations, arguments, etc.).

Alexander R Pruss said...

I think the person made via transporter accident is missing out on much.
I think there is an important way in which being self-made makes one more independent and hence more in the image of God.

Angra Mainyu said...

Alex:

"What if the agent is identical with the victim? Does that make a difference?"

Short answer: if she's the only victim, yes, I think so.

Longer answer: If the agent is identical with the victim and she is the only victim, it's unclear to me how she's a victim, given that she can without effort stop the attack. Maybe it's more accurate to say that she pretends to be a victim, even if she suffers, and as long as it's a free choice on her part.
But regardless of whether it's accurate to say she's the victim, sure, that would be much better, in the cases I've considered so far at least. Whether it would be permissible is a different matter, since the perpetrator still is behaving in a very immoral manner. Is it okay to allow it, in order to...? I would need more info on the reasons for allowing it in order to make a more informed assessment. But at any rate, generally allowing such immoral behavior seems to me much less immoral than in the scenarios I was commenting on, or not immoral at all depending on the circumstances.

Now, if it's not the only victim, then no, that does not seem to make a difference as far as I can tell, at least in many of the scenarios in question (it might in some others, but that's not so important I think; if you think it's relevant, please let me know what you have in mind in that regard). Suppose Crystal (Marvel Comics) is walking down the street incognito. There is another woman, Alice, walking too. A bunch of human thugs show up, and decide to rape them both for fun. Crystal could very easily stop them all, but chooses not to do so, in order to give some other humans the opportunity to rescue them. No one comes along, and the thugs get on with the rape, but she decides not to do anything, to either give the rapists an opportunity to reconsider and repent, or to stop each other, or in order to give some other humans a chance to later show up and help, or in order to help Alice build character, or a combination of the previous motivations. Sure, Crystal behaves very immorally, regardless of whether it's proper to say that she is a victim or a person pretending to be a victim.

Angra Mainyu said...

Alex,

Regarding being self-made. I do agree that the person made by the transporter accident is missing out something. I'm not sure how much. The main problem seems to me the fake memories. But on the other hand, I don't think he's a puppet. People made in such ways can still have free will, make their choices, etc.
But that aside, that does not seem to be a problem for other, non-human persons. And on that note, I don't see how being self-made in some way would make a person more in the image of God. Assuming God exists, he is not self-made.
While being self-made may be psychologically healthy and in that sense important for humans, I don't think God would create humans in the first place, if he existed.

Regardless, let's stipulate for the sake of the argument that being self-made is important. Even then, people could be just as self-made in a young Earth world. Or in a young Earth world in which horrific suffering (inflicted by other humans or not) is not allowed. Moreover, I would say that allowing horrific suffering would not be permissible as a means of helping the person being self-made if it did help her, but I don't think it does, in realistic usual cases at least. In fact, there are plenty of cases in which it horrific suffering also causes very serious psychological damage that lasts for the rest of her life.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Descartes said God was self-caused, but I think that's an impossibility.

God is self-existent: his existence, his essence and his will are identical. I think there is an important way in which the kind of selfmadeness that we have is the closest a contingent being can come to self-existence.

Walter Van den Acker said...

I am completely with Angra on this. I would like to add something else. The blink of an eye response to the PoE is, IMHO, not really a response. It is an attempt at minimalizing the impact of evil but it acknowledges the fact that there is evil and that, apparantly, God cannot accomplish whatever goals He may have without vast amounts of evil. And that is what the problem of evil is all about. Are we to believe that a being who is omnipotent, not just very powerful but literally omnipotent, as well as omniscient, is incapable of accomplishing its goals without all the evil we see around us?
Sure that is possible, but up and until we are given a good reason to think that God cannot do X, the IMO outrageous claim that God can do anything entails that God can do X. That's the main reason why sceptical theism does not answer the evidential PoE, and neither does the blink of an eye response.
It doesn't matter what the "compensation" could be, a tri-omni God should be able to do anything that is not logically impossible and unless it is shown that without the amounts of evil we experience, God's good goals cannot be accomplished, claiming that God, whose power is also claimed to be so big that human beings cannot even imagine it, needs evil seems to be a case of denial on the part of the theist.

Heath White said...

Two worries here.

1. If people go to hell, they don't get their earthly sufferings compensated for.

2. As Walter vdA indicates, there may be competing ideas of what divine goodness requires. Is it (a) merely that sufferings must be compensated or defeated? In that case, maybe the blink-of-an-eye response works. Note that this is compatible with a very inept initial arrangement, so long as God can fix things later. Or does divine goodness require (b) the best of all possible worlds, or something like that, in which case the fact that one might get compensated later is irrelevant to the problem. For the issue is not that earthly sufferings are un-compensatable but that they are worse than they have to be.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Walter:

There clearly are good goals that for purely logical reasons cannot be achieved without evil. For instance, the goods of a person forgiving another, of sacrificial love or of exercise of courage cannot be achieved without evil. Those goods cannot be accomplished without evils. Furthermore, the good of a person forgiving many horrendous evils cannot be accomplished without horrendous evils.

Of course, this leads to the question whether these goods are worth the price. And it's the "price" question that I wanted to address.

Heath:

1. It doesn't seem any harder to compensate someone who is in hell than someone in heaven. All that's needed is to give them a furlough or just reduce the intensity of suffering.

Of course, there is the question of a theodicy for hell itself. But at this point, we're just arguing about theism, not about specific religions that posit a hell, like Christianity or Islam.

2. There is no best of all possible worlds because there is rampant incommensurability among the goods. So we cannot ask that God create the best of all possible worlds. At most we can ask that he make a perfectly loving and reasonable choice among the incommensurable goods.

Here's a thought. Suppose that God made a world w1 where everybody from the beginning of time is enjoying deep and meaningful bliss for eternity. Now there is no bound in how much deep and meaningful bliss there can be. There can always be more. Imagine then a world w2 where the deep and meaningful bliss for eternity is twice as big as in w1, but where the period of bliss is preceded by the blink-of-an-eye finite period where people suffer large but finite amounts and there are great goods--see my response to Walter--derived from that suffering. Note that I said nothing here about whether the great goods outweigh the suffering. Then w2 is in two important respects better than w1: (a) it has a greater variety of goods and (b) it has an infinite improvement in bliss over w1.

Now in regard to (b), you might ask: But couldn't God create a world w3 which has the bliss of w2 without the great goods and great sufferings? Yes, surely. But then he could have also created a world w4 which has twice the bliss of w2 plus the great goods and great sufferings.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Walter:

There clearly are good goals that for purely logical reasons cannot be achieved without permitting evil. For instance, the goods of a person forgiving another, of sacrificial love, or of exercise of courage cannot be achieved without permitting evil. Those goods cannot be accomplished without evils. Furthermore, the good of a person forgiving many horrendous evils cannot be accomplished without many horrendous evils.

Of course, this leads to the question whether these goods are worth the price. And it's the "price" question that I wanted to address.

And there are tricky questions about God's intentions and the principle that one should not cause evil that good might come of it, but I think a sufficiently subtle formulation, plus use of Kamm's triple effect, can answer these.

As for omnipotence, either it is limited by logic or it's not. If it is limited by logic, as I think, then what I said above goes through. If omnipotence is not limited by logic, then there is no problem of evil. Even if the evils of this world were *logically* incompatible with God's existence, God could have created a world with them!

Heath:

1. It doesn't seem any harder to compensate someone who is in hell than someone in heaven. All that's needed is to give them a furlough or just reduce the intensity of suffering.

Of course, there is the question of a theodicy for hell itself. But at this point, we're just arguing about theism, not about specific religions that posit a hell, like Christianity or Islam.

2. There is no best of all possible worlds because there is rampant incommensurability among the goods. So we cannot ask that God create the best of all possible worlds. At most we can ask that he make a perfectly loving and reasonable choice among the incommensurable goods.

Here's a thought. Suppose that God made an evil-free world w1 where everybody from the beginning of time is enjoying deep and meaningful bliss for eternity. Now there is no bound in how much deep and meaningful bliss there can be. There can always be more. Imagine then a world w2 where the deep and meaningful bliss for eternity is twice as big as in w1, but where the period of bliss is preceded by the blink-of-an-eye finite period where people suffer large but finite amounts and there are great goods--see my response to Walter--that logically require the permission of that suffering. Note that I said nothing here about whether the great goods outweigh the suffering.

Then w2 is in two important respects better than w1: (a) it has a greater variety of goods and (b) it has an infinite improvement in bliss over w1. World w1 is better than w2, however, in respect of purity--there are no evils. It seems to me that, nonetheless, creating w2 instead of w1 can be morally permissible.

Now in regard to (b), you might ask: But couldn't God create an evil-free world w3 which has the bliss of w2 without the great goods and great sufferings? Yes, surely. But then he could have also created a world w4 which has twice the bliss of w3 plus the great goods and great sufferings.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Dr pruss

"There clearly are good goals that for purely logical reasons cannot be achieved without permitting evil. For instance, the goods of a person forgiving another, of sacrificial love, or of exercise of courage cannot be achieved without permitting evil."

I would modify this statement to "There clearly are goals that for purely logical reasons cannot be achieved without permitting evil. For instance, a person forgiving another, of sacrificial love, or of exercise of courage cannot be achieved without permitting evil."

I am not sure forgiving, courage or sacrificial love are goods in and out of themselves for the same reasons that I don't think that we should not prevent fires because the emmployment of firemen cannot be achieved without permitting fires. Forgiving, courage and sacrificial love are, in my opinion, at the most secondary "goods". They are "good" because they can reduce evil, but if there is no evil , there is no need to reduce it.
Moreover, even if I were to grant that thety are primary goods, it is still a very long way from "there are some goods that cannot be achieved without permitting evil" to "the goods that god wants to achieve cannot be achieved without permitting the vast amounts of evil we see around us".
Furthermore, I do not really understand why a Thomist would say that God "permits" evil. God doesn't merely permit evil, He actively sustains it. If libertarian free will is coherent, I may "freely" choose to do shoot John, but unless God sustains the bullet throughout its paths from my gun to John's head, it cannot kill John. So, a Thomist should argue for why God has to use evil to achieve His goals, not just permit it.

Alexander R Pruss said...

We obviously differ a lot on what is of value.

As for permission, the Thomist has the additional resource of a privation theory of evil. The bullet isn't evil. It is the cessation of heart function, after the bullet enters the heart, that is evil. But that cessation isn't a positive thing, and hence does not require sustenance.

Walter Van den Acker said...

Dr Pruss

I don't think we differ that much on wjat is of value. I obviously agree with you that firemen are valuable in case of fire. But suppose everybody is very cautious and there are no dangerous fires anymore, would that be a good thing or a bad thing? Firemen might not like this, but do you really think that justifies allowing for the occasional fire?
this reminds me of an old joke about a man who always buys his shoes too small because it fels so good when he can get them of his feet at the end of the day.

I really don't see what the privation theory of evil has to do with this. The bullet entering the heart is the cause of the cessation of the heart function, so if the bullet is not sustained, the heart doesn't stop. John's death is the result of my will, my action as well as God's will and action. The Thomist God cannot merely permit anything, because literally nothing happens without being actively sustained by God.

Alexander R Pruss said...

I actually think the old joke could be right on the nose. It could be that the pleasure of removing the uncomfortable shoes outweighs the pain of the discomfort. We laugh because we think that it's typically not the case, but there is no conceptual reason for it not to be the case--it's just a contingent fact as to how strong the pain of the shoes is and how great the pleasure of the removal of them is. I have experience here, having two pairs of climbing shoes, one being new, tight and aggressive, and (therefore!) better for difficult routes and the other being old and worn, better for repeated endurance climbs of easier routes, and comfortable by the standards of climbing shoes. Purely hedonically speaking, the pleasure of wearing the comfortable ones after wearing the uncomfortable ones seems worth it.

Of course, in the cases that interest us most, we are not talking hedonically.

Sure, God sustains the bullet. But the bullet isn't evil. The evil is the subsequent cessation of life.

Walter Van den Acker said...

The point is not that someone cannot get pleasure out of wearing uncomfortable shoes and removing them, the point is that this is subjective pleasure and that said pleasure is contongent on the pair of sheos one chooses to wear. Likewise, I am not saying that there cannot be some subjective goods that cannot be achieved without actively sustaining evil. IOW, yes,n there can be subjective goods that are contingent on evil, but you will have to show that the goods you mention are objective.

And of course the bullet isn't evil, but by your logic, neither am I when I pull the trigger. The point is that we generallly consider someone guilty if he actively participates in something that results in an evil. So, the classical theist cannot hold to a watered down version of God merely allowing or permitting evil. God is "guilty" of evil.

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...

If you'll indulge the smart-aleck parody of your opening sentence, I want to confess something: I do not find this response to the problem of evil compelling.

Rather than focus on the vague expression, "problem of evil," which means different things to different people, I propose we focus on the evidential argument from evil. I'm sure your familiar with the work of Paul Draper in this area, so I'd like to propose we focus on just one of his evidential arguments from evil: the evidential argument from the biological role (and apparent moral randomness) of pain and pleasure.

Draper's argument asks us to focus on three observations:

O1 = a statement about facts concerning "moral agents experiencing pain or pleasure that we know to be biologically useful";

O2 = a statement about facts concerning "sentient beings that are not moral agents experiencing pain or pleasure that we know to be biologically useful"; and

O3 = a statement about facts concerning "sentient beings experiencing pain or pleasure that we do not know to be biologically useful."

Draper's argument from the biological role of pain and pleasure runs as follows:

(1) O is known to be true.
(2) Theism (T) is not much more probable intrinsically than the hypothesis of indifference (HI) [i.e., Pr(|T|) is not much greater than Pr(|HI|)].
(3) O is much more likely on the assumption that the hypothesis of indifference is true than it is on the assumption that theism is true [i.e., Pr(O | HI) >! Pr(O | T)].
(4) So, other evidence held equal, theism is probably false.

Your "blink of an eye" response seems to largely overlap with one of William Lane Craig's theodicies, which I call the "Afterlife Compensation Theodicy." We can define it as follows:

T6: God exists, and will reward believers in the afterlife with glorious pleasure that will outweigh any horrific suffering they experienced in this life.

If T6 were successful, it would refute (3). But what would it mean for T6 to be successful According to the theorem of total probability:

Pr(O | T) = Pr(T6 | T) x Pr(O | T6) + Pr(~T6 | T) x Pr(O | T & ~T6)

This implies two conditions for T6 to succeed. First, Pr(T6 | T) must be high. Second, Pr(O | T6) must be significantly greater than Pr(O | T & ~T6). Here's the bad news for you: T6 fails both conditions.

First, it's far from obvious that Pr(T6 | T) is high. In addition to the dubious assumption that theism 'predicts' a physical universe designed for the evolution of embodied moral agents in the form of human beings,* T6 also makes a variety of theological assumptions, none of which are antecedently more probable than not on mere theism. For example, T6 assumes:

(a) that God, having created embodied moral agents, intends for them to have an eternal afterlife (rather than an eternal biologically embodied existence or no eternal existence whatsoever);

(b) that the only or primary factor God uses to decide one's fate in the afterlife is one's religious beliefs during this life (rather than using one's behavior as the only or primary factor);

(c) that compensating believers in the afterlife somehow morally justifies God in allowing the types, quantity, and distribution of evil we find in the world; and

(d) that God is somehow morally justified in not compensating nonbelievers who have suffered in this life.

For all of these reasons, it's far from obvious that Pr(T6 | T) is high.

(to be continued)

Jeffery Jay Lowder said...



Second, Pr(O | T6) is not significantly greater than Pr(O | T & ~T6). In fact, it appears that these two values are either equal or very close to equal, which again implies that T6 is irrelevant. T6 is irrelevant to the vast majority of human pain and pleasure reported in O1 (since it was or is experienced by nonbelievers who, according to CT, will not be compensated in the afterlife). Furthermore, T6 is, by definition, irrelevant to the vast majority of pain and pleasure experienced by sentient beings (as reported in O2 and O3).

------------

* To avoid any misunderstandings, I again want to clarify the point made above. The content of theism (arguably) does provide some reason for expecting the existence of nondivine persons, and so to that extent provides some reason for expecting the existence of mankind, i.e., Pr(mankind | theism) > 0. But the content of theism does not provide reason to expect that the existence of mankind is more probable than not; in other words, there is no good reason to think Pr(mankind | theism) > 1/2.

Alexander R Pruss said...

T6 as you phrase it does not assume a, b or d. It has nothing to say about the fate of nonbelievers. On the other hand, my story is meant to apply to all. (Which is compatible with universalism but does not require it. I'm not a universalist.)

Doug said...

As usual, JJL privileges his intuition and pretends that whether something is "obvious" to him reflects reality in any way. Nonsense.
Also, the argument goes back at least to Kierkegaard.
I have yet to see the "problem of evil" stand up to this simple observation (NB: the only "out" from the discrete nature of the "problem" is to have it morph into the vastly less compelling epistemological problem)

Caroline said...

I've been thinking about a similar response lately. One way I've been thinking about it is in terms of hurts vs. harms. My working definitions: a harm is something that leaves a person permanently worse off than she was before. A hurt is a transitory suffering/pain that a person undergoes without becoming any worse off in any respect.

(First, there have to be such things as hurts/sufferings which do not leave one worse off in any respect. I think there are such things: my labor pains with my daughter were an example of suffering that did not leave me any worse off in any respect.)

I think that as a Christian, I am obligated to reject the premise that there are any harms at all (at least non-voluntary harms). "All things work for the good of those who love God" and "Not a hair on your heads will perish." I'm committed to the claim that God never allows us to be made permanently worse off in any respect.

This is different from the blink of an eye response. The blink of an eye response admits that there might be permanent harms, but that they are compensated by overwhelming benefits. An event can be permanently harmful in one respect even if it has overwhelming good results. If Jane gets hit by a car, but recovers fully and even gains some great good (say her family relationships improve as a result of the accident) it might still be the case that her hospital stay cost her a promotion at work and so she is in that respect, worse off, even though she is better off by some other measure.

I think that a Christian is committed to saying that God cannot even allow this kind of compensated-for harm in eternity. "Not a hair on your head will perish." In other words, you will lose nothing at all, not a single hair, from the point of view of eternity. Not even something that is compensated-for.

I'm trying to get away from this idea of weighing eternal harms against eternal benefits in some kind of cosmic scale where people are supposed to admit that (eternal) harms were "worth it" in some sense. Instead, there are no permanent harms at all, only hurts, so that although we undergo serious suffering in the moment, nothing is permanently lost.

But to make it clear, I don't find the claim that there are no permanent harms intuitive; I just think I have to be committed to it.

Doug said...

@Caroline, if we examine the (insightful) distinction that you are making, why do you consider the "compensation" that (Kierkegaard and) Prof. Pruss propose insufficient to remove the "permanent" from any harm (i.e., turn them into hurts)? Wasn't that their intention? (btw, "losing nothing at all" needs to be considered beside Matthew 10:39, 16:25. Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24 & Matthew 19:29 -- that is, Christian "sacrifice" is a Chess-player's "sacrifice" - any permanent harm is not called a "sacrifice", but a "mistake" ;-) )

Caroline said...

@Doug,

The reason that compensation doesn't seem like enough to me is that some goods are incommensurable. If I lose my legs in an accident and am compensated for my pain and suffering with $50 million, I might be, on balance, better off. But it would also be completely understandable if I say, "I don't want money, I want my legs back." Amputation just isn't the sort of thing that can be compensated by money. And I think some proponents of the problem of evil think this way: horrendous evils just aren't the sort of thing that can be compensated by soul-building or even by the beatific vision. Maybe on balance I'm much better off having eternal life, but it can still be the case that I'm also worse of in one respect. (Especially because some horrendous sufferings can leave psychic scars and it's not clear that my eternal self will be entirely free of those scars unless I get back, not something better than what I lost, but the thing itself shined up and made new.)

Of course, at the resurrection I do in fact get my legs back. But I think it's important that I get my legs back, rather than just getting the beatific vision and no legs.

I take your point about the Gospel passages. But I think it's important that Jesus doesn't say "Whoever loses father or mother or children will get a well-built soul and the beatific vision!" He says, "whoever loses father or mother or children will get fathers and mothers and children back." So that passage - plus personal experience that God doesn't take things away without giving back the exact same thing, made new - is actually one of the ones that brought me to this view. :) (But I totally get that it's not orthodox doctrine or anything! It's just my personal view of what Christianity has to entail.)

Alexander R Pruss said...

It wouldn't be difficult for an omnipotent being to heal any scars from horrendous suffering. Of course, God would have reason to try to do the healing in a more organically fitting way, rather than just by removing the scars, but if nothing else is possible, then simply directly removing the scars will do.

I also think we need to distinguish between what God in his love for us will in fact do and what it would be sufficient for God to do to defuse the problem of evil.

Doug said...

@Caroline,
(you wrote) horrendous evils just aren't the sort of thing that can be compensated by soul-building or even by the beatific vision.

Granted. But at least one horrendous evil was more than compensated by the resurrection, as you correctly appreciate in the case of your loss-of-legs example (also Paul's language in 2 Cor 4:16-18). Perhaps we simply need to appreciate that the resurrection is ultimately so much more than "soul-building or even ... the beatific vision"?

Doug said...

@Alexander,
As your O/P indicates: the "problem of evil" is not particularly compelling. If it is considered logically, it disappears. It only has teeth if it is considered emotionally/personally. But in that event, "what ... would be sufficient for God to do to defuse the problem" may amount to "paying emotional ransom". That is, if my emotions get to construct the problem, they will also dictate the terms of its defusion (a description of how the problem is often handled elsewhere).