Friday, November 7, 2008

Moral evil and naturalism

The only argument against theism that is worth considering at all seriously as an argument against theism[note 1] is the inductive problem of evil.

The inductive argument from evil holds that it is unlikely that God would have created a world containing the degree, kind and amount of evil that we observe.

Now, one might offer the inductive argument from evil as an argument for some supernaturalistic hypothesis, such as that there is an evil god (either alone or along with a good or neutral one), or that there is an indifferent god, or the like. In that case, what I will say below does not apply. But, among contemporary philosophers, the primary hypothesis competing with theism is not one of these unorthodox supernaturalistic ones, but naturalism. And then the philosopher offering the inductive argument from evil needs to show not just that the degree, kind and amount of evil that exists in the world is unlikely on the theistic hypothesis, but that it is more unlikely on the theistic hypothesis than on the naturalistic hypothesis.

But to show this is tricky. Much of this point comes from C. Stephen Layman (I am grateful to Todd Buras for letting me know of Layman's argument). Let us grant for the sake of argument that the conditional probability of the degree, kind and amount of evil that we observe is, say, 10−20 given theism. Denote theism by T and let E is the event of there being the degree, kind and amount of evil that we in fact observe. Then it's granted for the sake of the argument that P(E|T)=10−20. Do we know that the probability of the degree, kind and amount of evil that we observe is more than 10−20 given naturalism, i.e., that P(E|N)>10−20, where N is naturalism?

Many of the evils that we observe are of such a kind that they are only evil because of conscious life—pains are like that. Therefore, E entails the existence of conscious life, but says a lot more than that conscious life exists. Hence: P(E|N)<P(C|N), where C is the claim that there is conscious life. If P(C|N) is no greater than 10−20 then we do not have P(E|N)>10−20. Thus the naturalist to use the argument from evil against theism must be able to estimate P(C|N) as greater than 10−20. I do not think we are in a position to make that estimate. And without it, we are not in a position to know that the inductive argument from evil supports naturalism over theism.

Moreover, many of the evils that we observe are moral evils. That there are moral evils entails that there are morally responsible persons, and that there are moral truths. IF R is the claim that there are morally responsible persons and M the claim that there are moral truths, then in order to use the inductive argument from evil as an argument against theism and for naturalism, one would have to show that P(R and M|N) is bigger than 10−20. But I don't think we are in a position to know that. First, it may be very unlikely that persons would arise given N. Second, it seems quite plausible that for moral responsibility one requires persons who engage in a form of causation very different from the natural causation around them—if all we have is the kind of causation that ordinarily goes on in nature, we don't have moral responsibility. If so, then the likelihood of R given N is nil, or perhaps very small. Furthermore, these persons would have to have moral beliefs to be morally responsible. But to secure intentionality for moral beliefs is a tough task for the naturalist. It's hard enough to secure intentionality for empirical beliefs on naturalistic theories, but perhaps some kind of causal theory of content can be made to work. But it does not seem likely that in a naturalistic setting (except an Aristotelian one—and that's not what people usually mean by "naturalism") we could get intentionality for moral beliefs.

And while I do not know of an entirely convincing argument that the existence of moral truths is incompatible with naturalism, the existence of moral truths is not as prima facie likely given naturalism as given non-naturalistic hypotheses like theism. (In fact, theism entails the existence of moral truths.)

Moreover, among the evils that E reports, there are some truly horrendous moral evils. While bare-bones theism may have difficulties with explaining these, naturalism likely has a difficulty with explaining them, too. But theism, unlike naturalism, is at least compatible with positing a supernatural tempter, a devil, to help explain these horrendous moral evils. So, once again, it is not clear that naturalism does better.

Of course one can tell stories about the evolution of persons, responsibility and even the capacity for horrendous moral evil. But are these stories any better than stories that the theist can tell—stories about divine design, the value of human and demonic freedom, etc.?

If I am right, then the argument from evil does not support naturalism. The naturalist can still offer the argument as an ad hominem, but if she is serious about thinking that the argument is a good reason to reject theism, she needs to be open to the possibility that it is a good reason to abandon naturalism.


Skeptical said...

Why do you say that theism entails the existence of moral truths? I can see that it entails some truths about value, but that is a far cry from claiming that it entails that there are moral truths. (I assume that to be a moral truth is to be something such that, if there exist creaturely agents, then those agents can act in ways that somehow violate or are contrary to that moral truth.)

Gordon Knight said...

Could not the anti-theist state the case of moral evil hypothetically-it is the theist who holds that moral evil is real etc, and on that assumption, the problem of evil is so much greater

(analogously, the skeptc does not have to assert that there is a distinction between dreaming and being awake, only that non-skeptics accept that distinctoin

Alexander R Pruss said...


Theism holds that God is perfectly morally good independently of everything outside himself. This is not compatible with moral relativism, emotivism or moral nihilism. Maybe there is some weird moral view that could be compatible with that, but it'll be a moral view that, I bet, we can easily argue against.


I take the suggestion to be that the atheist can replace E with the logically weaker E* which is the conditional claim if theism holds, then the degree, kind and amount of evil is such-and-such (a material conditional?). The problem with this is that, in fact, both E and E* hold, and when evaluating theories we should consider in our evidence the logically stronger of the two, at least in a case like this.

And if our atheist actually thinks that there is no objective evil, then her view is utterly implausible, and rather than an argument, a visit to Auschwitz is in order.

Gordon Knight said...


I have met lots of people who do not believe in objective good and evil. While I think they are wrong, I don't think they are insane. David Hume was by all accounts a remarkably decent human being.

I also don't think that the belief in objective evil requires theism. Think of the british intuitionists-though Moore and Ross were also certainly not naturalists.

There are also lots of people who claim to have defended a naturalistic account of objective good and evil. These accounts may be wrong (I certainly don't buy them), but assuming they are wrong just begs the question.

The position as I see it is this. I, as a theist, am confronted with apparently gratuitous evil. It does not matter to methat there is no naturalistic way of understanding evil. What matters to me is the apparent contradiction, which stands or fails independently of the problems other weird philosophical views have.

Roger said...

To the claim that objective moral values don't require theism, I'd have to say that every attempted justification of objective moral values I've ever seen either struck me as obviously defective/weak, or seeming to strongly imply theism even if this went unspoken by the presenter. Personal experience, I guess, but it is what it is.

And I think I see Pruss' point. While evil may be an issue a theist has to contend with in their belief system, objective moral values is something a naturalist/atheist must contend with in their own system. It may well be the case that the existence of objective morals may seem so clearly to exist, and that such an existence points towards a theistic resolution, that one may find their naturalism/atheism untenable (or at least weak compared to the theistic option). Theists aren't the only ones who have to worry about consistency and clear objections to their beliefs, after all.

Alexander R Pruss said...


The version of the problem of evil that is really an issue is the inductive one, not the deductive one. So we're not so much talking of coherence of theism with our observations of evil, but the probability of theism given the observations of evil.

And when we're talking probabilities and confirmation of hypotheses based on observations, then we do need to look at alternate hypotheses and see how they fare under the evidence.

Anonymous said...

I believe it is a mistake to press the naturalist to offer an account of moral evil (henceforth evil).

The theistic world view carries the burden of explaining things in the world that are evil and how those things are compatible with God, since the theistic world view affirms the existence of evil and the existence of God. But the atheistic world view need give no account of evil, since the atheistic world view can claim the existence of evil to be false. This is at least true for objective evil; I take it that subjective evil, or something that is evil simply in virtue of a subjective judgment about it, can be easily explained by reference to naturalistic psychology.

If we cast the argument in the form of a reductio, we assume that God exists and then derive a contradiction between God and the amount of evil in the world (or the probability of a contradiction, if you prefer, which probability will mark the argument's conclusion ("God does not exist") as well); but if on the other hand we assume that naturalism is true, then when one introduces the premise affirming the existence of such-and-such an amount of evil in the world, that premise will be false since on naturalism no amount of evil does or can exist, and so no contradiction can be shown to exist between naturalism and evil, and as such no conclusion, marked by any probability whatever, can be drawn that denies atheism.

The only party that has to offer an explanation for evil is the party that affirms the existence of evil. This remains the case no matter what feelings one has when visiting Auschwitz, whether these be feelings that evil must exist or feelings that no benevolent God could have allowed such activity. But you may be willing to reason dialectically, addressing yourself only to those who with you accept the premise that evil exists.

This is not to say that the inductive argument from evil, when placed in the light of other arguments for God's existence, does enough to compel someone to abandon theism, or that it does enough to justify someone in endorsing atheism in the light of those theistic arguments.

Gordon Knight said...


I don't understand the moral argument for theism.

Theism grounds morality in two ways:

(1) via divine command theory

(2) from some metaphysical fact about God, being e.g the higest good.

(1) is ultimately arbitrary--really just a variety of subjectivism in which only one subject matters

(2) relies on the assumption of objective moral truths that do not depend on Gods will

Call me a platonist....

AP: I think I now agree, but I would put the point in a different way. The probability of objective moral truths given naturalism is low (compared to theism). But this is an additional inductive argument. I think a similiar case can be made with respect to beauty, consciousness, etc. even the much maligned fine-tuning. while these arguments increase the probability of theism, they don't undercut the claim that apparently gratuitious evil reduces the probability of theism.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Compare the claim "But the atheistic world view need give no account of evil, since the atheistic world view can claim the existence of evil to be false" with the claim "But the atheistic word view need give no account of intelligent life, since the atheistic world view can claim the existence of intelligent life to be false." The second claim is clearly implausible. (And the fact that there are some intelligent(!) atheists--namely eliminativist materialists--who deny the second claim is beside the point.)

That there is intelligent life is, clearly, a fact. Likewise that Auschwitz was objectively evil is, equally clearly, a fact. Any theory that does not have room for either of these claims is clearly false.

Anecdotal evidence suggests, by the way, that most atheistic philosophers accept the objectivity of moral claims.

Roger said...


I'd disagree with your judgment of 1 - William Lane Craig and other philosophers have given defenses of theism-based objective morality that I think are more impressive than what that reduction implies. Arguments for 2, meanwhile, have yet to make an impression on me - as I said, those I've read that were at all persuasive ultimately seemed indicative/suggestive of a divine agent, regardless of what the argument intended to demonstrate.

But, as I said, others' mileage will vary on this.

Gordon Knight said...


It was years ago, but I saw WLC give a talk defending some kind of divine command theory. I was totally unimpressed. The whole argument seemed to be based on a false dichotomy (naturalism or theism).

It also matters what you mean by naturalism. Is Aristotle's ethics naturalistic?

AP: I think everyone in everyday life is an ethical realist (with the possible exception of some sociopaths). Even Mackie admits as much. But isn't it cheating to rely just on this to refute one's rival. Would such an approach be appropriate against, e.g. a skeptic w/respect to the external world.

Roger said...


As I said, I'm sure others will disagree - particularly with estimations of how one or another given philosopher defends or presents an idea. I think WLC does a great job of presenting and defending the concept, especially when compared against alternative views. What I take out of the argument is that the theist is in a superior position when it comes to accounting for and explaining these things. You disagree - fair enough.

Yes, it does depend on what is meant by 'naturalistic'. But I have problems with the modern presentation of naturalism that go being questions of how to view aristotle's metaphysics. Whenever I encounter it, it seems to add up to little more than 'Anything, so long as God/gods are excluded'. I remember reading Chalmers discussing Nick Bostrom's simulation hypothesis, and arguing that if the hypothesis were true, then miracles, designing deities, etc would be expected - yet it would differ from theistic perspectives, because all these things would be naturalistic. In large part, that seems like a distinction without a difference.

(Not that there wouldn't be a tremendous difference between, say, God and an imagined finite programmer(s). But I find it odd that someone can insist naturalism is capable of swallowing the latter, yet not the former.)

Gordon Knight said...


I think you and I agree that naturalism is a pretty bankrupt metaphysical world view. I also think it is on the wane, but maybe I am being optimistic.

But I do think that there are lots of different metaphysical options. The choice is not between theism and naturalism, but between naturalism and oodles of alternative metaphysical views, some theistic, some not.

To speak anachronistically, Aristotle certainly seems to have a view akin to naturalism..but his conception of nature was much broader and richer than, e.g. Paul Churchland. So I wonder if his view is naturalistic? what makes something "natural"?

Anonymous said...

How does showing the absurdity of a naturalist stance against the existence of intelligent life (properly understood) show the absurdity of a naturalist stance against the existence of evil? If one admits intelligence exists, one must admit evil exists? Sheer counter-denials, directed against these twin denials made by the naturalist, are not sufficient.

The naturalist who denies the existence of evil demands an account of evil that would show it to be, to whatever degree, improbable on naturalism. No account of evil I am aware of can cause such a difficulty for the naturalist. First, if evil is whatever goes against God's commands, then evil does not exist on naturalism since God does not exist on naturalism. Second, if evil is, as the Stanford article "The Problem of Evil" seems to suggest, any "undesirable states of affairs," then the naturalist again faces no difficulty, since on naturalism there is nothing to suggest desires will always or even often be satisfied (e.g. on naturalism there is nothing to suggest any improbability in a lion's going hungry for the night, or in a human's doing so if the undesired states of affairs must concern to human desires). Third, if evil is a privation, an absence of something that ought to be present in virtue of a thing's essential nature, then the naturalist can once again without difficulty offer an explanation for why it is not improbable that such privations should exist on naturalism (e.g. there is nothing in naturalism to suggest the improbability of a lion depriving a gazelle of its leg, or a human of her leg for that matter). Fourth, if evil is defined as gratuitous cruelty and harm caused intentionally (in the context of compatibilism about free will), then the naturalist need see no improbability of this on naturalism, since naturalism does not suggest the improbability of organisms finding pleasure in gratuitously causing harm to other organisms, given the plausibility of the attraction that lies in a sense of power and dominance that comes from exerting control over another organism by causing it gratuitous pain; the growing naturalistic explanations for such behavior that invoke genetic and neurological influences (cf. make such behavior easier and easier to account for on naturlism.

But the upshot is that on any definition of evil, evil will either not exist on naturalism or the state of affairs described by evil will not be improbable on naturalism. Which brings me to the point that the naturalist is right to deny evil at least insofar as it leads to a more focused discussion about what is and is not improbable on either theism or naturalism. Since the meaning of evil is not obvious or intuitive (I believe Moorean non-naturalism to be groundless), it is more helpful to construct arguments against God's existence not from evil but from: the breaking of God's commands, undesirable states of affairs, privations, or gratuitous cruelty and harms caused intentionally.

That Auschwitz was objectively evil will only be a clear fact depending on which definition of evil is in play. Naturalism has room for certain definitions of evil -- undesirable states of affairs, privations, gratuitous cruelty -- but not for others -- such as whatever goes against God's commands. Yet I take it the naturalist sees little to be gained in proceeding to cap off these descriptions with the label evil.

Roger said...


Yes, I think we're in agreement on naturalism - and I even share the suspicion that it's on the wane. There's just not much 'there'.

On whether there are viable alternatives to both theism and naturalism-as-we-know-it.. well, we'll see. I'm doubtful - I can only repeat that whenever I've seen an argument striving to have objective morality without God, the result was either unconvincing about the objective morality, or unconvincing about the lack of a God (as in, God tended to be the unspoken and naturally implied elephant-in-the-room.) Aristotle may actually be a good example of this, as history indicates theism (at least western, Catholic theism) did not react to the philosophy with revulsion, but incorporated it. (I've just ordered a book from Fr. William A. Wallace on Aristotle's thought in a Catholic worldview, for that matter.)

But, I think we've hit an impasse on this one, and seem to be in agreement on enough to let it slide.

Alexander R Pruss said...


The objective occurrence of evil is only somewhat less obvious than the objective existence of intelligent life--that is the reason for my analogy. While there are some naturalistic philosophers who deny the existence of intelligent life and there are philosophers who deny the objective occurrence of evil, these views do not, I think, need to be taken any more seriously than the views of solipsists and Berkeleians.

On my methodology, it is simply given data that there is evil, intelligence, other minds, a physical world, etc. Once one starts denying parts of this data, then things are going to go weird fast.

Once such sceptical hypotheses are on the table, a theist can simply herself make use of a sceptical hypothesis like: Appearances to the contrary notwithstanding, suffering is never bad. This view is prima facie compatible with theism. (It is not compatible with Christian theism, perhaps, but that is a different question.) Once one adds enough such sceptical hypotheses into the mix, the problem of evil will be defanged. Or one might simply posit that none of the apparent evils that we have heard about have ever happened. (The standard riposte is that then we are deceived, and deception is an evil. Well, then, add the sceptical hypothesis that deception is not actually an evil, appearances to the contrary notwithstanding.) Two can play at the game of denying some of the obvious data, and it's a game we should avoid. (Of course, if one has a positive and non-question-begging argument for some particular sceptical thesis, that argument needs to be examined.)

If one is particularly worried about these sorts of crazy views, then one will need to restrict the target of my argument to atheistic/agnostic philosophers who accept an objective morality. There are plenty such. I even suspect that a majority of atheistic/agnostic ethicists believe in an objective morality, though there is self-selection there (ethics is much more interesting if one thinks morality is objective).

By the way, I was not claiming that evil is unlikely given naturalism. I was claiming that, as far as we know, the kind, degree and amount of evil we observe is unlikely given naturalism. See my discussion of C, R and M.

I do sense an interesting thing from this discussion. I am suspecting that while the atheist philosopher may well believe in objective morality, contemporary non-philosopher atheists do so more rarely. If so, it would be interesting to examine, both sociologically and logically, why.

Vlastimil Vohánka said...


You wrote: "I do not know of an entirely convincing argument that the existence of moral truths is incompatible with naturalism ..."

"I even suspect that a majority of atheistic/agnostic ethicists believe in an objective morality, though there is self-selection there (ethics is much more interesting if one thinks morality is objective)."

Q. Smith, a prominent atheist, seems to be moral nihilist.

Here the nub of his 2003 argument:

1. Necessarily, global moral realism is true (everything has value).

2. Necessarily, aggregative value theory is true (each location has a finite amount of value, a location can be a person, any other animal, a plant, a particular of matter or energy, a point of space or time, or some larger complex of particulars of these kinds, for example, a forest, an orchestra or an hour of time; values add up).

3. Contingently, it is true that future time is infinite.


4. Moral nihilism is contingently true (it does not morally matter what we do, it does not matter what actions humans or other agents perform).


5. God does not exist.

More often we see an inferences from atheism to nihilism (like in the novels by Dostoyevsky). QS goes the other way round:

"... I argue from moral nihilism to the nonexistence of God. ... Traditionally, it is argued that nihilism is true because God does not exist. I argue the converse; God does not exist because nihilism is true."

QS's theistic friend Bill Vallicella shares his view, in a sense:

"One thing Q sees with cystal clarity is that in a godless universe, human life is utterly absurd. This is something that very few atheists have the spiritual depth to comprehend. Atheists ought to be nihilists."

I want to raise these questions:

1. What do you think about the argument? Does not it indicate that a negation of moral nihilism is incompatible with naturalism?
2. The premise (2) seems crucial. Assuming (1), are there some alternatives to (2)? Assuming (1), are there some alternatives to aggregative value theory for a naturalist/an atheist/a theist?
3. Assuming, pace QS, a negation of moral nihilism, does not it indicate a promising argument against naturalism -- or even against atheism?


Vlastimil Vohánka said...

Sorry about the abominable typos. I had to hurry.

Alexander R Pruss said...


Smith's second claim is clearly false. At least once infinities show up, one cannot just aggregate the goods/bads. Rather, one needs to compare the values at the locations. Thus, even if worlds w1 and w2 have the same aggregate value, if w2 dominates w1, so that the value at each location of w2 is at least as great as the value at each location of w1, and if at some location w2 is better than w1, w2 is preferable to w1.

ET said...

The argument from evil to the non-existence of God or the notion that God's existence is less likely or less likely than his existence rests not just on moral law, but also on physical law. Physical law rests on order, which rests on God. Moral law rests on God too. Moreover, and just as importantly, it all rests on the existence of contingent beings, beings which could not exist without a non-contingent being, i.e., God. Why? Because evil cannot exist without contingent beings and contingent beings cannot exist without a non-contingent being, the name we give to which is God. And for the argument to even get off the ground and be asserted or understood we have to have rationality, which itself requires God, as well. The argument from evil, at every point, relies on and presupposes the existence of that which it claims to be arguing against.


Trent Dougherty said...

Alex, agree with everything you've said with the possible exception of "the existence of moral truths is not as prima facie likely given naturalism as given non-naturalistic hypotheses like theism." I think I do--in the end--agree, but there are issues for those like me who think that moral truths are metaphysically necessarty truths (but then again I think atheism is metaphysically impossible, so we might need to have recourse to impossible worlds for the discussion anyway, it's very tricky).

However, I just wanted to point out that one might have views about the prior probabilities of N and T which make a difference. In my case, I think the prior of T is much much higher (many orders of magnitude) than N. I understand why people miss this and think the opposite, but it would need to be taken into account in a bayesian assessment of the rationality of atheism. Also, if one sees things the way I do--which I owe to Swinburne--then that's another difficulty for the inductive argument from evil becuase *even if* the liklihoods worked in favor of naturalism, it could stil have the lower posterior because of a very low prior.

Also, there is the issue of theism not being the negation of naturalism (even accepting your partitioning off of evil god stuff). The math gets a litter harder when you distinguish--as you do in the post--between bare theism and Christian theism.

I hasten to add that I don't think any of this helps the inductive argument for atheism from evil in the end. Only saying that it gets a bit more complicated. Underneath it all, I'm goading you into writing a book on this.

Alexander R Pruss said...


You're better qualified to write that book.

I agree that moral truths are necessary. But, nonetheless, a necessary truth may have an epistemic probability less than one. Handling that in a Bayesian setting is tough, but as Barbie should have said, philosophy is hard. The entailment from T to M is probably a bit more obvious than T itself is, and so P(M|T) is probably a bit bigger (maybe literally infinitesimally bigger) than P(M|~T). One reason is that P(naturalism|T)=0 while P(naturalism|~T) is non-zero, and P(M|naturalism) is very low.

I do think that for a lot of us in the West, the only live options (in the Jamesian sense) are theism and naturalism.

Alexander R Pruss said...

Trent: Or we could write the book together some time.

Anonymous said...

"I do sense an interesting thing from this discussion. I am suspecting that while the atheist philosopher may well believe in objective morality, contemporary non-philosopher atheists do so more rarely. If so, it would be interesting to examine, both sociologically and logically, why."

I also find interesting the sociology, logic, as well as the psychology underlying the split between those who affirm the existence of evil and those who deny evil. I'll give the more interesting theories I know of in a moment. However, I do not believe the matter concerns psychology (for short) alone. Asking for a definition of evil, then determining whether the content of the definition warrants being invested with a moral character by being referred to by the name evil, seem to me to legitimate philosophical requests, and so to the extent that these requests go unsatisfied, there exists legitimate philosophical, non-psychological grounds for disagreement on the part of the naturalist who denies evil.

(In addition to the definitions of evil involving divine commands, undesirable states of affairs, privations, and gratuitous cruelty, I neglected to add the definition involving a failure to live up to objective moral duties not deriving from God's will. But I believe evil in this sense too cannot exist on naturalism, since the notion of objective moral duties are incoherent without a divine lawgiver, who on naturalism cannot exist. As Schopenhauer says when criticizing Kant, "Putting ethics in an imperative form as a doctrine of duties, and thinking of the moral worth or worthlessness of human actions as the fulfillment or violant of duties, undeniably spring, together with obligation, solely from theological morals...[F]rom the theological morals Kant had borrowed this imperative form of ethics tacitly and without examining it" (On the Basis of Morality II.4). And G.E.M. Anscombe echoes the point in "Modern Moral Philosophy": "To have a law conception of ethics is to hold that what is needed for conformity with the virtues failure in which is the mark of being bad qua man (and not merely, say, qua craftsman or logician)--that what is needed for this, is required by divine law.")

Different psychological theories can be given that attempt to explain both belief and unbelief in God. From a naturalist point of view, Marx claimed that belief in God arose in the minds of the working class as a result of their desire to construct a system of values which would rectify the what they perceived as injustices being done to them by the superior class, since such a system of values would pronounce judgment in their favor and against their oppressors; as a result Marx believed belief in God would evaporate as working conditions improved. Freud asserts in The Future of an Illusion: "Thus the benevolent rule of a divine Providence allays our fear of the dangers of life; the establishment of a moral world-order ensures the fulfilment of the demands of justice, which have so often remained unfulfilled in human civilization; and the prolongation of earthly existence in a future life provides the local and temporal framework in which these wish-fulfilments shall take place." (Presumably the "demands of justice" are the result of wish fulfillment and not to be understood as having any objective ground.)

Since, as I understand it, theism is a necessary condition for evil, I take it that the naturalist who has a psychological reason for denying evil could employ the strategy of first denying God, thus removing one of evil's necessary conditions. And so I take it Alvin Plantinga's remarks sum up the theistic point of view concerning the psychological reason for someone who denies evil: "As a matter of fact, [the theist] may be inclined to see the shoe as on the other foot; he may be inclined to think of the atheist as the person who is suffering, in this way, from some illusion, from some noetic defect, from an unhappy, unfortunate, and unnatural condition with deplorable noetic consequences. He will see the atheist as somehow the victim of sin in the world -- his own sin or the sin of others" ("Theism, Atheism, and Rationality"). I take it that, once the idea is narrowed to apply to evil, attachment to sin and a resistance to repenting leads one to deny evil through denying God, thus allowing oneself to continue to enjoy performing evil actions without pangs of conscience or the call to reform, or that sins perpetrated upon one by others lead one to deny the possibility of a loving God and hence of evil, since if he existed no evil of such a sort (or what would have been evil had He existed) would have been allowed by Him (the inductive argument from evil, again). As Paul says at Romans 1:18, "The wrath of God is indeed being revealed from heaven against every impiety and wickedness of those who suppress the truth by their wickedness. Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them."

That psychological theories exist on both sides of the question of the existence of evil suggests the following, I believe. Whether one does or does not believe in evil, one should introspect about the possibility that one's belief or denial of evil is the result of the relevant psychological motivation that may apply to one. Thus, those who affirm evil may introspect as to whether their belief is motivated by a wish fulfillment for justice and the like, while deniers of evil should introspect as to whether their denial may not be motivated by a desire on their part to have an excuse to continue to engage in certain behavior.

Once these psychological issues have been addressed as thoroughly as possible -- "More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it?" (Jeremiah 17:9) -- the way would be open for a discussion of the philosophical issues connected with the existence of evil.

ET said...

I wonder what the relative value of a probabilistic type argument for the existence of God compared to the non-existence of God is when in fact the deductive case seems to settle the matter. Arguing probabilistically does not have to, but sometimes makes it appear as though one does not think the deductive arguments get the job done. If even 1 of the 5 ways gets the job done, the job is done. I guess one can offer the other types of arguments to those who have yet to be convinced of any of the 5 ways, as a back-up, if you will, without meaning to imply that 1 of the 5 ways does not actually settle the matter.

Beyond that, it would seem that with probabilistic type arguments one will always be in a position of not being able to settle the prior probability or really be able to determine how to weigh the various factors, with those on one side putting more weight on x while others put more weight on y.

We should also note that it is not just that the problem of evil relies on moral values; it relies on cognitive values as well, at the very least. But values presuppose [purposive] activity and [purposive] activity presupposes beings who can act and beings who can act are either contingent or not, not to mentioned ordered. If contingent, they have to be caused. To avoid an infinite regress one has to reach an uncaused cause. But the uncaused cause is the very being that the problem of evil is out to disprove, considered or emphasized in one aspect by the name used. The problem of evil presupposes evil and presupposes our ability to understand evil from the start. It also examples contingent beings at work in rational, cognitive acts, acts which give rise to values and which are recognized in the problem of evil itself. The problem of evil and its assertion as an argument against a necessary first uncaused cause [which we refer to as 'God'] cannot but rely on things which can only be explained by the same necessary, first, uncaused cause [which we refer to as 'God'].

And a naturalism which excludes a necessary first uncaused cause excludes the very foundation it needs to ultimately explain the existence, order, activity, contingency, passivity, realm of values (not just moral), etc. of the very secondary causes it needs to invoke for the coming into existence of the things it wishes to explain.