Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Evils that are evidence for theism

It’s mildly interesting to note, when evaluating the evidential impact of evil, that there can be evil events that would be evidence for the existence of God. For instance, suppose that three Roman soldiers who witnessed Christ’s resurrection conspired to lie that he didn’t see Christ get resurrected. That they lied that they didn’t see Christ get resurrected entails that they thought they witnessed the resurrection, and that would be strong evidence for the existence of God, even after factoring in the counterevidence coming from the evil of the lie. (After all, we already knew that there are lots of lies in the world, so learning of one more won’t make much of a difference.)

In fact, this is true even for horrendous and apparently gratuitous evils. We could imagine that the three soldiers’ lies crush someone’s hopes for the coming of the Messiah, and that could be a horrendous evil. And it could also be the case that we can’t see any possible good from the lie, and hence the lie is apparently gratuitous.


Walter Van den Acker said...

But Alex, the actual evidence for the existence of God would be the resurrection itself. The lies do not add anything to that evidence.
If the lies do constitutie evidence, the evil of the lies is not gratuitous, unless you believe evidence for God is not good.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Consider two events:
L1: The soldiers said that they didn't see Christ get resurrected.
L2: The soldiers lied that they didn't see Christ get resurrected.
L1 is evidence that Christ did NOT get resurrected. L2 is evidence that Christ DID get resurrected (since if they lied that they didn't see it, then they at least thought they saw it). The two events are closely related. They might even be the same coarse-grained event. If so, then my argument requires fine-grained events. And, in any case, coarse-grained events are not appropriate as evidence, I think.

But L2 can still be gratuitous even if it is evidence for the resurrection. For the fact that it IS evidence for the resurrection--and as a Bayesian, all I really mean by that is that P(Resurrection | L2) > P(Resurrection | ~L2)--does not mean that anyone TAKES IT as evidence for the resurrection. The only way to take it as evidence for the resurrection would be if one had evidence independent of the resurrection that the soldiers were lying. And it would be unlikely that we would have such evidence (unless we subjected them to a correctly functioning lie detector).

James Reilly said...

Slightly related question: do you have a favorite book on historical arguments for the resurrection? I like Dale Allison's most recent work, but I was curious to get your take.