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Evidential Argument from Evil

 
 
Reply Mon 10 Aug, 2009 12:47 am
William Rowe's (paraphrased) Evidential Argument from Evil:

1. God is perfectly morally good (assumed).
2. Natural evils (events not caused by the deliberate actions of moral agents) exist in abundance (e.g., natural disasters, birth defects, chronic diseases, etc.).
3. Natural evils are justified if and only if God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing them.
4. Reasons are morally sufficient if and only if natural evils result in greater compensatory goods.
5. Therefore, a natural evil is gratuitous if and only if it lacks a morally sufficient reason (i.e., didn't result in a greater compensatory good).
6. Given the objective evidence, not all natural evils appear to result in greater compensatory goods.
7. Gratuitous evils are inconsistent with God's perfect moral goodness.
8. Therefore, the appearance of gratuitous natural evils significantly lowers the probability that a perfectly good God exists.

***If you don't believe in the traditional monotheistic conception of God, and if you don't ascribe the omni-attributes to your deity, then the evidential argument from evil doesn't apply.***

Notice that this argument doesn't deduce, hands-down, that the objective evidence refutes the existence of an all-good God. Instead, as an evidential argument, it merely infers from such evidence that the appearance of gratuitous natural evils significantly lowers the probability that an all-good God exists. Indeed, it is an epistemic possibility that God has some morally sufficient reason for, say, permitting congenital birth defects (i.e., they result in greater compensatory goods). However, based on the objective evidence, it is really plausible to assume that this is true? Do we really have any independent reason, aside from retaining our cherished religious convictions about God's goodness, to hold that the appearance of gratuitous natural evils is just an illusion?

Some people are prepared to suggest just that. They'll tell you that just because it appears to be the objective case that some natural evils are gratuitous, it's quite possible that they do have some unseen moral purpose. Spooky! This strategy is called inductive skepticism. When we engage in inductive reasoning, we draw evidential support from particular cases and extrapolate to reach a general conclusion. In fact, we all do this, and we do it all the time, both in science and in our daily lives. For example, do you willingly jump off a cliff? Of course not. Why not? Because you've never seen anyone survive such a feat, so you rightly infer that you'll share a similiar fate should you also take the leap. Have you ever said to yourself "Well, anthrax has killed everyone its ever come into contact with, but maybe I'm the exception. After all, one can never be 100% certain about these things. Down the hatch!" It is true that one can never be 100% certain when reasoning inductively. But assuming you are mentally competent, I doubt you'd leap off cliffs, or ingest anthrax, for all that. Inductive reasoning is a survival mechanism--it keeps us alive. Conversely, inductive skepticism would make your stay on this earth very short indeed. However, in the case of natural evils, some people are quite prepared to deny that we can use this same inductive reasoning to infer that such events not only appear, but probably are, gratuitous; thus, the evidential argument, and the lowered probability that an all-good God exists, is unjustified.

Okay, so some theists want to wiggle their way out of this conundrum by adopting a selective inductive skepticism (one they would never employ in their daily lives!). But for the moment, let's allow them this.

Now, you'll recall the Argument from Design: in brief, the very fabric of the universe seems to exhibit certain cosmic features that admit of order, pattern, design, elegance, mathematical precision, irreducible complexity, intelligent agency, and grand purpose. The cosmological constants appear to be finely-tuned, and were they adjusted but a hair, life as we know it would go extinct. Notice that these are all inductive inferences. The argument from design is itself an evidential argument. But for argument's sake, let's allow the theist that the universe does appear to exhibit these features--just enough to infer that they significantly raise the probability that the universe was created by a Designer.

Here's the problem. Most people who accept the argument from design also tend to be theistic. They subscribe to a particular religious tradition--i.e., they believe that the Designer is God, and an all-good God at that. But consider: if theists embrace the inductive inference that the appearance of design raises the probability of a Designer, and if they also believe the Designer is omnipotent and all-good, then why are they so inimical to the same sort of induction at work in the evidential argument from evil?

In other words, if theists make no misstep when they infer that the appearance of certain cosmic features raises the probability that the universe has a Designer, why do atheists allegedly misstep when they infer that the appearance of gratuitous natural evils lowers the probability that the Designer is all-good? Theists, you cannot have it both ways! Either you are an inductive skeptic, or you are not. This is a strange sort of selective bias. I'll tell you what I think--I think that the selective inductive skepticism theists employ to reject the evidential argument is motivated, at least in part, by an emotional need to shield one's cherished religious convictions from rational inquiry. What other explanation could there be? If you are willing to infer that the appearance of design raises the probability of a Designer, you should be equally willing to infer that the appearance of gratuitous natural evils lowers the probability that the Designer is all-good. Indeed, the world is exactly as we'd expect it to be if it were created by a process of pitiless indifference (evolution), rather than an all-good Designer. Thoughts?
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Alan McDougall
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Aug, 2009 01:33 am
@New Mysterianism,
Hi New Mysterianism Smile

A good thread


Quote:

You stated
Here's the problem. Most people who accept the Argument from Design tend to be theistic. They subscribe to a particular religious tradition--i.e., they believe that the Designer is God, and an all-good God at that. But consider: if theists are willing to allow the inductive inference that the appearance of design is sufficient to significantly raise the probability of a Designer, and if they further believe that this Designer is all-good, then why are they so inimical to the same sort of induction at work in the evidential argument from evil?

In other words, if theists make no misstep when they infer that the appearance of certain cosmic features raises the probability that the universe was designed by a Designer, why do atheists allegedly misstep when they infer that the appearance of gratuitous natural evils lower the probability that the Designer is all-good? Theists, you cannot have it both ways! Either you are an inductive skeptic, or you are not. This is a strange sort of selective bias. I'll tell you what I think--I think that the sort of inductive skepticism at work when theists reject the evidential argument is motivated, at least in part, by an emotional need to shield one's cherished beliefs from rational inquiry. What other explanation could there be? If you are willing to infer that the appearance of design raises the probability that the universe has a Designer, you should be equally willing to infer that the appearance of gratuitous natural evils lowers the probability that that Designer is perfectly good. Thoughts anyone?


I am a theist and hopefully a rational one. I don't see God as some moral being nor do I belong to any religious persuasion or adhere to any dogma or doctrine.

To me god simply is and it is silly to apply human attributes like morality or good and evil to it.

I simply think there are too many indicators, some of those you mentioned such as the fundamental constants, to rule out an Intelligent Designer. If someone wants to call it god so be it

Those like you, respectfully, must also offer up real indicators that no such agent as a god or ID exists

I really do not see a god that we must fear or worship why would an infinite entity require it from we humans, unless in the grand order of things that we are more significant than we realize

It seems to me you are trying your very best to convince yourself that there is no God, but why? it makes no difference to you if you believe in god or not.......?..............or does it? there just might be consequences for out action after we die?
salima
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Aug, 2009 01:44 am
@New Mysterianism,
some theories do entertain the thought that good includes both good and evil-that it would not be possible for any attributes to exist if they were not already incorporated in the 'creator' god. it is the judgment we make of what is good and what is evil that has run amok.

other theories propose that the creatorgod is above both good and evil-but this plane or realm where we live our lives is sorely limited and that is the price we pay for what we are-we have to live with it. in other words, if there were angels in heaven they wouldnt be having much fun would they? risk adds adventure to life, danger adds thrills-so if we want to be happy we have to avoid unhappiness-if we want to be alive we have to try and avoid death as long as possible, etc. we have a constant struggle here, also known as the 'cosmic dance'.

but i actually can and do find greater compensatory goods for natural 'evils'. even the unnatural ones that human beings create-i keep seeing these greater goods coming out of them. over these many years now i have found enough of them that i assume when i dont recognize them they are still there, i simply cant get back far enough to see the whole picture. this doesnt have to support the idea for an all-good creator god either...

---------- Post added 08-10-2009 at 01:16 PM ----------

hehehe-i just remembered that eons ago i used to think there was an all-evil creator god who had put us here just to torture us while he sat around laughing and thinking up worse things to do to us. i was very young once...there's all kinds of evidence for that, too!
0 Replies
 
New Mysterianism
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Aug, 2009 01:48 am
@Alan McDougall,
Alan McDougall;82248 wrote:
Those like you, respectfully, must also offer up real indicators that no such agent as a god or ID exists


I needn't do any such thing. The evidential argument from evil is not an argument for, or from, atheism. The evidential argument merely concludes that, given the objective evidence, the appearance of gratuitous evils gives us good reason to infer the lowered probability that an all-powerful, all-good God exists, period. In fact, I believe William Rowe accepts some form of the cosmological argument.

Quote:
I really do not see a god that we must fear or worship why would an infinite entity require it from we humans, unless in the grand order of things that we are more significant than we realize


If you don't believe in the traditional monotheistic conception of God, and if you don't ascribe the omni-attributes to your deity, then the evidential argument from evil doesn't apply.

Quote:
It seems to me you are trying your very best to convince yourself that there is no God, but why? it makes no difference to you if you believe in god or not.......?..............or does it? there just might be consequences for out action after we die?


Please refrain from making baseless assertions about my psychological motives in all this, Dr. Freud. This is a philosophy forum, and I extend you that courtesy. This familiar canard that anyone who levies an argument in opposition to God's existence is really just insecure or satisfying some personal agenda is really mundane. Of course it makes a difference to me whether God exists or not. Otherwise I wouldn't philosophize about it.
0 Replies
 
Alan McDougall
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Aug, 2009 03:00 am
@New Mysterianism,
Quote:
Please refrain from making baseless assertions about my psychological motives in all this, Dr. Freud. This is a philosophy forum, and I extend you that courtesy. This familiar canard that anyone who levies an argument in opposition to God's existence is really just insecure or satisfying some personal agenda is really mundane. Of course it makes a difference to me whether God exists or not. Otherwise I wouldn't philosophize about it.


Sorry man sorry touchy touchy touchy I am trying to be friendly and you somehow perceive some sinister motive in one comment by me, long before you get to know me at that. I am a friendly old goat and did not realise you were such a sensitive soul :bigsmile:

0 Replies
 
richrf
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Aug, 2009 09:39 am
@New Mysterianism,
New Mysterianism;82246 wrote:
William Rowe's (paraphrased) Evidential Argument from Evil:

1. God is perfectly morally good (assumed).
2. Natural evils (events not caused by the deliberate actions of moral agents) exist in abundance (e.g., natural disasters, birth defects, chronic diseases, etc.).


You could stop right here.

I have no idea what is morally good. You have to define it.

I don't buy your examples of evil. Since when are birth defects and chronic diseases evil? I need your definition.

Rich
New Mysterianism
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Aug, 2009 03:17 pm
@richrf,
Evil = pointless pain and suffering.
richrf
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Aug, 2009 06:38 pm
@New Mysterianism,
New Mysterianism;82374 wrote:
Evil = pointless pain and suffering.


In Chinese philosophy, pain has a very important purpose.

In the case of health, physical pain it is a very important indication that something a person is doing is creating ill health in a body. For example, there are various techniques (cupping, guasha, acupuncture, etc.) to remove blood stagnation. When the blood is moving and the body is healthier, the pain goes away.

Similarly, pain acts to change our way of looking at things both emotionally and spiritually. It is an important feedback mechanism in a body. Similar to a gauge in a machine. It has purpose. Some people are more conscious of it as others, depending upon their culture and experiences.

But, in any case, how is a birth defect norm? It is different from average - but evil?? I know people who have birth defects or have children with such, and I don't know of anyone who considers that evil.

Rich
New Mysterianism
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Aug, 2009 07:50 pm
@richrf,
Rich, we aren't suffering from a poverty of examples when it comes to pointless pain and suffering. We have congenital complications, chronic diseases, debilitating illnesses, genetic abnormalities, natural disasters, stillborn infants, etc. Earth is riddled with incalculable horrors. Hurricanes, tsunamis, famines, droughts, and earthquakes are commonplace. Sure, pain has its uses. But pointless pain and suffering is gratuitous. Nitpicking about one specific example isn't particularly insightful because it misses the point entirely. When a tsunami obliterates a shanty town, killing thousands of innocent impoverished children, and wounding many more, where's the point? They had enough problems growing up in squalor and scavenging for their next meal. One less tsunami wouldn't have been too much to ask. But I don't really need to compile a comprehensive laundry list of examples, do I? Anyone with a modicum of compassion, mental competence, and honesty can see for themselves that pointless pain and suffering is a vivid, all too familiar reality. Besides, if someone really believes that every instance of natural evil can be brushed aside as serving some greater compensatory good, then working to prevent natural evils would sabotage God's plan, wouldn't it?
richrf
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Aug, 2009 09:01 pm
@New Mysterianism,
New Mysterianism;82425 wrote:
Rich, we aren't suffering from a poverty of examples when it comes to pointless pain and suffering. We have congenital complications, chronic diseases, debilitating illnesses, genetic abnormalities, natural disasters, stillborn infants, etc. Earth is riddled with incalculable horrors. Hurricanes, tsunamis, famines, droughts, and earthquakes are commonplace. Sure, pain has its uses. But pointless pain and suffering is gratuitous. Nitpicking about one specific example isn't particularly insightful because it misses the point entirely. When a tsunami obliterates a shanty town, killing thousands of innocent impoverished children, and wounding many more, where's the point? They had enough problems growing up in squalor and scavenging for their next meal. One less tsunami wouldn't have been too much to ask. But I don't really need to compile a comprehensive laundry list of examples, do I? Anyone with a modicum of compassion, mental competence, and honesty can see for themselves that pointless pain and suffering is a vivid, all too familiar reality. Besides, if someone really believes that every instance of natural evil can be brushed aside as serving some greater compensatory good, then working to prevent natural evils would sabotage God's plan, wouldn't it?


So, I think we need a simple definition. Lots of things, for example, natural disasters, do serve a purpose. An earthquake, for example, brings stability to the earth's crust. I realize that thousands or tens of thousands of people die, but the earth has to stabilize itself, and there is a purpose.

A tsunami, is not evil, in itself. It is the way the earth releases energy, after the earthquake. The energy has to be released, in order to stabilize the crust. It is all part of what is sometimes called Gaia. So whereas, there is much suffering, it is not pointless. Hurricanes are a manner by which the atmosphere moves hot air around. It is a natural way for heat to distribute. Call it entropy if you wish. Is all entropy evil? Is water, that has no where to go but back to where it once was (flooding) evil? It has to go somewhere, or else humans will not have water. Volcanoes are the earth's way of releasing internal energy. It absolutely has to happen otherwise the earth will blow to smithereens.

It is just part of the cycle of life. Birth defects happen. I am not sure why. One might conjecture. In a species that is evolving, things happen. Why? I don't know. I don't know how? But I would not call things like congenital complications evil. So, that is why I am looking for a concise definition. The idea of whether something is pointless or not is too vague.

Rich
0 Replies
 
Aedes
 
  1  
Reply Mon 10 Aug, 2009 09:49 pm
@New Mysterianism,
New Mysterianism;82374 wrote:
Evil = pointless pain and suffering.
If I break my leg because I lose my footing, I may experience pain and suffering that are completely pointless. But this is not evil.

Evil, of course, must be thought of as a judgement.

The judgement of "evil" is conventionally justified either when pain and suffering are inflicted with that intent, or when they are inflicted by brazen neglect.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Sun 16 Aug, 2009 12:00 am
@New Mysterianism,
Perhaps the existence of evil is due to the fact that we exist in a realm in which evil, or suffering anyway, is an inevitable part.

The gnostics believed that we were exiled to a world of suffering because of our ignorance of the divine nature.

Even orthodox Christian doctrine, and a good deal of 'pagan' philosophy, accepted the idea that this world is actually 'a world of exile' from the plenitude of God. Hence the ascent to the realm of the Good, usually conceived as Heaven, or 'the return to the One'.

Origen believed the soul was purified through a successioin of lives until it returned to the immaterial plane where it belongs. However this idea was later anathemetized.

Anyway, how could the world be other than it is? How could it be expected that the world could have absoutely no suffering or evil? Because given our material nature, and the fact that the earth is created in matter, how would it possible that there could be such a world and there not be death, disease, illness, and so on? Is there any reason to presume that such a world exists? There is no evidence that it does, and no way to imagine how it could. I don't really understand why anyone has the expectation that the world should be anything other than what it is.

The Hindu Vedantins believe that suffering only arises because we mistakenly identify ourselves with the material realm by being identified with our body, instead of the immortal 'Atman' that is our real identity. According to the Hindu sages, when we wake up to our real nature we will realise that the material world and all of the suffering that it seems to contain is projected out of our own attachment. This of course seems impossible for most of us to accept but such anyway was the teaching of Sri Ramana Maharishi.
0 Replies
 
prothero
 
  1  
Reply Sun 16 Aug, 2009 11:17 pm
@New Mysterianism,
What if God is neither omnipotent nor omniscient?
What if God is powerful but not all powerful?
What if God knows everything there is to know, but the future is inherently uncertain?
Where did the notion of omnipotence and omniscience come from anyway?
Certainly not from the Biblical portrayal of God. Things go awry early in the Garden of Eden.
0 Replies
 
click here
 
  1  
Reply Thu 20 Aug, 2009 05:36 am
@New Mysterianism,
Attributing human attributes to God is shaky ground so we have to always be careful exactly what limitations we put on God and how we can come to those limitations. Basically attributing any human attribute is a possible limitation at least to our view of God.

I would like to start off by commenting on point 4:

4. Reasons are morally sufficient if and only if natural evils result in greater compensatory goods.

Does God giving man the initial free will to choose right from wrong diminish his omnibenevolence? Does God violate an attribute by allowing 'bad' things merely as a punishment? One can ask, "If God is all knowing then he would have seen this initial choice of wrong and put a stop to it before it happened." For God to abstain from doing that, would that take away his attribute of omnibenevolence? Again, I do not think so.
0 Replies
 
jeeprs
 
  1  
Reply Thu 20 Aug, 2009 05:58 am
@New Mysterianism,
and in all of this let's remember which tree the fruit came from in the first place
0 Replies
 
 

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