Theology: November 2006 Archives

This is the the twenty-ninth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. The last post presented the evidential problem of evil, including five questions that deal with specific kinds or manifestations of evil thought by some to be evidence against the existence of God. This post begins a series of responses looking at answers to those five questions, starting with the first two.

A. The primary response to the logical problem of evil involves free actions of human beings. What about kinds of evil that aren’t the result of the free actions of human beings?

Two things have been suggested about what is sometimes called natural evil (i.e. evil not caused by human beings). Natural disasters, suffering in nature, and so on may not be the result of free human actions, but it’s possible that they are all the result of free beings. Alvin Plantinga has suggested that perhaps non-human, even non-physical, beings are responsible for all the evil that does not result from human choices. Some people might call these beings fallen angels or demons. Even if we do not consider that possibility likely, it remains a possibility that we cannot absolutely rule out. Should we believe that all such evil is caused by such beings? Probably not, but it remains enough of a possibility for theists that it means there is at least a possible explanation. If there is a possible alternative explanation for the existence of a kind of evil, then the claim that a good God would never be able to allow it seems wrong. There is at least one possible way that a good being would allow such things, and that is if other free creatures do it in a way that it would be wrong for God to stop them (thus mirroring the free human beings response to the logical problem of evil discussed in a previous post).

This is the the twenty-eighth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. The last post looked at responses to the logical problem of evil. This post moves on to the evidential problem of evil.

Most philosophers have conceded that the logical problem of evil does not disprove theism. That does not stop them from offering a different version of the problem of evil against the existence of God. William Rowe is probably the most prominent philosopher defending the problem of evil today. He calls this version of the argument the evidential problem of evil.

The evidential problem of evil begins with the existence of evil, but it takes a different strategy. It does not seek to disprove the existence of God by finding a contradiction between the existence of evil and the existence of God. It simply seeks to show that the existence of God is unlikely given the kinds of evil, the amount of evil, how long evil has gone on, and so on. The facts about evil are that it is a lot more than just human free choices. Even if human free will explains some evil, some evil seems not to be explained so easily that way. Even if there are good reasons for God to allow some evil, is all evil explained so easily? What about cases where a little less evil would have accomplished the same purposes? Do we need to have all the kinds of evil? Did it need to go on this long? Does it need to be as widespread as it is? Do the individual cases of evil need to be as bad as they are?

This is the the twenty-seventh post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. The last post looked at the logical problem of evil, which seeks to show a contradiction between the existence of God and the existence of evil. This post now moves to responses to that argument.

The logical problem of evil makes one assumption that theists might not want to give up on so easily. A perfectly good being would in general want to oppose evil, and couldn't an omnipotent and omniscient being could do anything to stop such evil? Actually, the answer isn't so clear. An omnipotent and omniscient being could do anything possible. There are limits to omnipotence. They are not physical limits. They are logical limits. An omnipotent being could not make contradictions true or make square circles. Those are not actions that could be done, and thus a being that can do anything possible could not do them. This is not a real limitation, since there is no such action to be done, and thus God could still be able to do any coherent action.

(One reason why it makes little sense to say that God can do anything is that God would then be able to make true contradictions. If so, then the contradiction between God and evil would not be a problem. God can make contradictions, and thus that contradiction would not be a difficulty for theism. So it is not in the best interests of the person presenting the problem of evil to require that sort of thing of an omnipotent being. For more on this issue, see here and the discussions also at the two cross-posted locations of the same post at Prosblogion and Philosophy et cetera.)

Now it may be true that you can put a coherent description to the following action: God stops the existence of all evil. But that is coherent only if you grant a few things. One way to stop the existence of all evil is not to create. Presumably creating other beings is a good thing, however. Is the world better off with created beings than it is without them? Is it a good action on God's part to create? Most people tend to say yes. But it also seems coherent to describe God as creating in such a way that no one ever does anything wrong. If God could create beings, and those beings could turn out to be perfectly moral beings 100% of the time, then there would be no evil (it would seem). Could an omnipotent being make such a situation the case?

The Logical Problem of Evil

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This is the the twenty-sixth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. My last post finished up a three-post sub-series on the moral argument for the existence of God. I expect to look at the problem of evil for the next six posts. As one of the most common philosophical reasons not to believe in God (the other being no-evidence arguments), I think the problem of evil deserves twice as much time in class than any of the theistic arguments, and since these posts come from my class notes there's going to be a little more detail in these next posts than there was in some of the last few issues in the series.

[Note: The next several posts on the problem of evil are derived in part from discussions in (1) Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking About God (2004) InterVarsity Press, (2) Daniel Howard-Snyder, "God, Evil, and Suffering" from Reason for the Hope Within, ed. Michael J. Murray (1999) William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., pp.76-115, and (3) Peter van Inwagen, "The Magnitude, Duration, and Distribution of Evil: A Theodicy" (1988) in God, Knowledge, and Mystery (1995) Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, ch.4, pp. 96-115.]

The problem of evil takes two forms, the logical problem of evil and the evidential problem of evil. This post starts the Logical Problem of Evil. In a couple posts, we'll move on to the evidential problem.

The logical problem of evil begins with three traditional features most theists believe are true of God. The logical problem then proceeds with an argument that such a being would never allow any evil. Given that there is evil, there must be no such being. [The most important presentation of the logical problem of evil is J.L. Mackie's "Evil and Omnipotence", which was published in the journal Mind in 1955.]

Traditionally, God is held to be omnipotent (or all-powerful), omniscient (or all-knowing), and perfectly good. Since there are no limits to what an all-powerful and all-knowing being could do, such a being could prevent evil. Additionally, a perfectly good being would prevent evil as much as possible. Therefore, a being who has all three characteristics would prevent all evil. But there is evil. Therefore, there must be no such being.The logical problem of evil thus takes the existence of God and the existence of evil to lead to a contradiction. There is no way both could be true, according to the argument.

This is the the twenty-fifth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at why some people think theism serves as the best non-naturalistic foundation for ethics. This post now looks at an objection to seeing God as the basis of morality.

In Plato's dialogue Euthyphro, he has the character of Socrates raise an objection to the idea that morality has something to do with the gods. If something is good just because the gods view it as good, the gods could command anything, and it would automatically be right. You don't have to be a polytheist for that consequence. How could God's mere choice be the basis of morality? Are good things good because God says they're good, or does God just declare them good based on seeing their goodness? If they are already good, then doesn't that mean God's choice didn't make them good?

This is the the twenty-fourth post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I looked at why naturalistic foundations of ethics seem unsatisfying to many people. In this post we'll now turn to what non-naturalistic accounts of ethics can do and why some take theism to be the best account of the foundations of morality.

How does this become an argument for God? What can someone say about morality if moral truths go beyond the natural world? It doesn't immediate show that theism is true. A few possible accounts of morality remain:

A) Moral truths are beyond nature but have no explanation.
B) Moral truths are beyond nature but necessary. Their explanation lies within themselves.
C) God's nature explains moral truths.

Moral truths have no explanation:

The first view is that moral truths go beyond the natural order. Science can't tell us anything about them. However, this view doesn't have anything additional beyond nature to ground these truths. They're true on their own as abstract principles, part of the very fabric of the universe, but there isn't anything that makes them true. They're just true, although they didn't have to be true. Some see this view as having an advantage over theism because it's simpler and admits to fewer entities.

This is the the twenty-third post in my Theories of Knowledge and Reality series. Follow the link for more on the series and for links to other entries as they appear. In the last post, I finished discussing the design arguments for the existence of God, and this post begins looking at moral arguments for God's existence.

[Note: These posts on the moral argument are derived in part from discussions in Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking About God and C. Stephen Evans, "Moral Arguments" in A Companion to Philosophy of Religion, ed. Philip L. Quinn and Charles Taliaferro.]

According to naturalism, the natural world is all there is. There are subatomic particles, waves, fields, etc. There's no room for God, souls, magical forces, angels, demons, a world-spirit that orders all creation, or anything like that. The natural world known to us through physics (and disciplines building on physics, e.g. chemistry, biology, psychology, economics, history, etc.) is all there is, and we shouldn't postulate the existence of anything else.

How can a naturalist account for morality? Consider what you learn from science. You won't find moral truths. It's not as if there are moral facts out there in the physical world together with facts about brain chemistry or nuclear physics. It's hard to find a place to fit morality in. Many theists think an account of morality that seeks to rely only on the natural world will be inadequate, superficial, or illusory. The deep kind of morality most of us believe in requires denying naturalism in some way.

Consider some particular naturalistic accounts of morality.

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