Thursday, August 12, 2010

More on childbirth and the problem of evil

Say that a "God-disproving evil" is an evil that God, if he existed, would have no justification in permitting. Here is an argument:

  1. (Premise) If there are God-disproving evils, then pain in childbirth is a God-disproving evil.
  2. (Premise) If a pain is a God-disproving evil, then probably significant numbers of theists who suffer this pain thereby become atheists.
  3. (Premise) Very few theists who give birth and suffer the pain of childbirth thereby become atheists.
  4. Therefore, probably, the pain of childbirth is not a God-disproving evil. (2 and 3)
  5. Therefore, probably, there are no God-disproving evils. (1 and 4)
I am not particularly impressed with this version of the argument, though I do think the argument is sound with the conditionals interpreted as material.

But if one wants more than soundness, I am not happy with (1). Maybe a better version would be: The sort of reasoning that makes one think that there are God-disproving evils makes one think that pain in childbirth is one. And then (2) and (3) serve to make one more suspicious of that sort of reasoning.

If one does like (1)-(5), we can add two fun steps:

  1. (Premise) Probably, if there is no God, there are God-disproving evils.
  2. Therefore, probably there is a God. (5 and 6)
Why accept (6)? Well, because if there is no God, and if a world somewhat like ours is actual (this is part of the background of the "Probably" in (6)), we would expect there to be nasty and pointless natural evils.


Andrew said...

This is interesting.
If 1 is worrisome for you (as it is for me), couldn't you revise it by finding the "strongest" God-disproving evil and using that instead of pain in childbirth?

Would the "most convincing/strongest" God-disproving evil be the pain that 'causes' most theists to become atheists? And if that pain where to be plugged in the argument in place of pain in childbirth and still render premises 2 and 3 true. Then would that be the strongest version of this argument?

So even with the strongest God-disproving evil 9whatever it may be), I think (3) will always turn out true.

Alexander R Pruss said...

That's a nice way to do it. I've also been playing with quantifying over types of suffering: I hypothesize that there is no type of suffering such that it makes the majority of the theists who experience it turn into atheists. Of course, "type" has to be counted appropriately. For instance, if we allow as a type "pain that when turns a theist into an atheist", then that type of pain always trivially turns theists into atheists!

I wrote about childbirth, because I was discussing pain-free-childbirth with a friend.

Andrew said...

One question would be whether the type "pain that when turns a theist into an atheist" is a real kind or just nominal, and more generally whether there are different kinds of pain and if so how do we individuate them?

Brandon Reams said...

Perhaps, dealing with Premise 2:

It is the case that a God-disproving evil E does not "deconvert" due to psychological/sociological factors such as:

A.)The person has invested much in belief T (Theism is true) and would lose much if they switched to ~T (Would lose friends, family relations, perhaps finances if in the ministry, etc.).
B.) The person could have some confirmation bias in dealing with E.
C.) Peer group influences interpretation of E.

I don't think these are very strong objections and think the argument still holds sway but things that need to be considered in the final analysis for sure.