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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

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LAFE does beg the question if it is simply this:

1. If there are gratuitous evils, then God does not exist.
2. There are gratuitous evils.
Ergo,
3. God does not exist.

Because there is no justification presented for accepting (2) that is independent of a belief in (3). (This is pretty much your account.) But if they had supported (2) with arguments which didn't depend for their plausibility on (3) this would be fine, right? This would demonstrate that it was possible to know (2) without knowing (3).

I've seen a few places in the literature where GE doesn't include "evil that God cannot prevent because it is the deed of a free agent." Thus, the argument as given above might simply invite the theist to shave off the remaining fat via the free will defense.

My concern: does a Moorean Shift also beg the question?

If there is GE, then God does not exist
But, God exists
Therefore, there is no GE

If the modal ontological premise holds, then would knowledge of GE be relevant to knowing the truth of God's existence?

In Defense of LAFE,

Let us begin with defining ‘gratuitous evil’ as any case of suffering or death that is unnecessary for some higher good or in order to prevent a worst evil. A LAFE type argument would begin as follows:

1) If gratuitous evil exists, then the three-O God does not exist;
(where the three O’s are the usual omniscient; omnipotent; omni-benevolent. Henceforth I shall assume that by ‘God’ we refer to a divine being featuring at least the three O’s);

2) Gratuitous evil exists;
Therefore,

3) God does not exist.

Clearly the argument is valid; but is it sound? It would be sound only if the premises are true. So how do we determine whether the premises are true? I suppose we all can agree on premise (1). (It is relatively easy to show that premise (1) is true). But premise (2) is clearly contested. One cannot simply stipulate that gratuitous evil exists; one must argue for it. By the same token, one cannot simply stipulate that gratuitous evil does not exist; one must argue for that too. So a complete LAFE will include (1), (2), and an argument that (2) is true (or very likely to be true). Can such an argument be given? I think such an argument can be given, although it involves several rounds. So I shall try to get quickly to the principal point of such an argument.

Most objections to LAFE involve the claim that gratuitous evil exists only if God is not morally justified to permit certain evils. But, it is argued, God might have a moral justification to permit every case of evil which appear to us gratuitous. For instance, some evil that appears to us absolutely gratuitous might be necessary in order to bring about some higher good, a good that even God cannot bring about without permitting the evil in question. (The same sort of move is made regarding worst evils). If that were the case, then God is morally justified to allow such an evil in order to bring about a higher good. Therefore, even though the evil in question may appear to us to be an absolutely gratuitous evil, it is in fact not a gratuitous evil (by definition).

The above objection against the existence of gratuitous evil faces several problems. I shall mention here two. First, in what sense are certain evils *necessary* for a higher good? What kind of necessity is involved? Clearly, if the necessity in question is broadly logical (in Bill’s sense), then we have no problem because everyone grants that God cannot bridge the laws of logic. But it far from clear that every case of evil can be justified on the basis that it is logically necessary for some higher good. On the other hand, if the necessity in question is merely causal, then surely God could in virtue of his omnipotence circumvent the causal laws and bring about the higher goods while preventing the evils the existence of which are causally necessary for such goods. If one concedes that God cannot do this much, then God’s omnipotence is significantly diminished. Moreover, if God cannot circumvent in some sense causal laws, then it is unclear how miracles are possible.

Second, the above objection alleges that for every evil in existence, there exists some higher good such that the evil is necessary in order to bring about the higher good so that God is morally justified to permit the evil in question. But what are these higher goods? Clearly, since we deem certain evils as gratuitous, we do not fathom such higher goods, for if we did, then we would not deem the evils in question as gratuitous.

It is at this point that the opponents of LAFE introduce the illustrious (or shall I say, notorious) Unknown-Purpose-Defense (UPD). The idea of UPD is that God has certain purposes in allowing evils because these evils are necessary to promote these purposes and we are not currently (or forever) in the position to know these purposes. Thus, God is morally justified to allow certain evils because they are necessary to promote certain valuable purposes and since we are not in the position to know these purposes, we deem such evils to be gratuitous. In fact these evils are not gratuitous, but only God knows why they are not gratuitous.

Notice first that the proponents of UPD all but beg the question against LAFE. Why? Well, the proponents of UPD maintain that God allows evils because they are necessary in order to promote some valuable purposes which only God knows, but we do not or cannot. But in light of the fact that we do not have epistemic access to such valuable purposes, the following question arises: what considerations justify us to believe that such purposes even exist? Since we do not *know* that such purposes exist, we can only stipulate that they do exist. But this would clearly beg the question against the proponents of LAFE.

Secondly, UPD is in danger of violating the Kantian principle that it is against the strictures of morality to treat a rational agent merely as means. For suppose that God permits a certain evil that befalls a person in order to promote some valuable purpose. Clearly, according to such a scheme, the victim of the evil in question is used merely as a means in order to bring about some higher good that may or may not benefit the victim of the evil. Even if we suppose that God will in some future time compensate the victim for the suffering they endure, it is not morally justified to use them as means without their consent. The result of these considerations is that according to UPD God violates the autonomy of persons, a violation that clearly is not morally justified. This is particularly problematical if the proponents of UPD also wish to combine UPD with the free-will defense in order to rule out the possibility that some moral-evils are gratuitous.

Finally, we are told by the proponents of UPD that we are not in an epistemic position to discern the valuable purposes that morally justify God to permit certain evils. Why? Because our epistemic position is so much inferior to the one God enjoys. But, then, how are we in the position to know that God exists, given that we are merely contingent beings, whereas God is a necessary being, if he exists at all. And if we are not in a suitable epistemic position to know that God exists, then we are surely entitled to believe that what appears to us as gratuitous evil is indeed so. In other words, if our epistemic situation is so precarious that we cannot discern with any reasonable certainty that God exists, then nothing stands in our way to infer from what appears to us as gratuitous evil that it is indeed so. In still other words: God’s existence is the only reasonable defeater for the existence of gratuitous evil. But since our epistemic position with respect to God’s existence is fairly precarious, the defeater status of God’s existence with respect to the existence of gratuitous evil is considerably weakened. And I maintain that it is so weakened that we are free to infer from what appears to us as gratuitous evil that it is indeed so.

Greetings all!

Matt you wrote:

"But if they had supported (2) with arguments which didn't depend for their plausibility on (3) this would be fine, right?"

Bill seems to be saying this is impossible since to argue an evil is gratuitous you have to rule out a possible Divine Utilitarian is not using it for a greater earthly or heavenly good, which you cannot do.

Matt,

You're right. If there is support for (2) -- There are gratuitous evils -- which is independent of whether or not God exists, then the argument you give would not beg the question.

But as Hanson points out, this support may be hard to find since you have to rule out the possibility that what strikes us a gratuitious evil -- Bambi's being incinerated in a forest fire? -- is not part of a divine plan that we don't understand.

I've heard it argued that pain as such is evil. That's not entirely clear. What makes a sensory quale evil? And even if pain is evil, how do you know that it is gratuitously evil? Is gratuitousness empirically detectable?

Peter,

I am inclined to agree with you that if the UPD-ist maintains that the evils you say are gratuitous are not, then he begs the question against you. But you also beg the question against him if you insist that your favorite example of evil is gratuitous.

My point in these last couple of posts is that the existence of God can be neither proven nor disproven, and that attempts either way are likely to end up begging the question. You see that clearly in the case of the modal OA and the deontically supercharged modal OA. So it seems you ought to admit it in the case of LAFE.

How does one know that God is possible?

How does one know that a particular instance of evil is gratuitous?

If you know that God is possible, then you know that God is actual. If you know that there are gratuitious evils, then you know, not only that God does not exist, but that God cannot exist.

Peter writes, >> In still other words: God’s existence is the only reasonable defeater for the existence of gratuitous evil. But since our epistemic position with respect to God’s existence is fairly precarious, the defeater status of God’s existence with respect to the existence of gratuitous evil is considerably weakened. And I maintain that it is so weakened that we are free to infer from what appears to us as gratuitous evil that it is indeed so.<<

What you say is reasonable. The first two sentences are clearly true. But I wonder about the third sentence.

Aren't you in a position similar to that of Matt? He seems to think that the conceivability of a perfect being is good reason to accept the possibility of a perfect being, though he does admit that conceivability does not entail possibility. You seem to think that the apparent gratuitousness of certain evils is good reason to accept the genuine gratuitousness of those evils.

If you resist his line, shouldn't you resist your own as well?

Peter,

You contend that God could "circumvent the causal laws and bring about the higher goods while preventing the evils the existence of which are causally necessary for such goods."

Consider a possible world where God does intervene to eliminate all gratuitous evils...the higher goods simply obtain by divine command at the appropriate time. How a free agent make genuine moral decisions in a world like that?

For instance, assume that some choices contribute to the overall good of building one's character. Allison is faced with some character-building choice between good and evil. If she chooses evil, she cultivates her character. Otherwise, all remains the same.

God sees that Allison intends to choose evil. So, God intervenes to have her choose the good and yet still reap the benefits to her character as if she's chosen the evil.

No evil obtained outside of Allison's free intentions, and Allison still "got the goods" so to speak. But, unless God overwrites her memory (and perhaps others), then she will not continue to make morally significant choices.

Perhaps you had specific evils in mind that could be eliminated by divine intervention? Hopefully this was clear, I only thought of it over dinner and didn't have time to proof-read this thoroughly. Cheers.

David, why does Allison need to build her character if not to make better choices and have more understanding in the future? And if that is the goal why couldn't God have created the possible world in which humans have much better characters and understanding and freely choose the good all the time (as Jesus did) or freely choose it a lot more often than most of us(as the saints do)? It seems you need to find some argument to show that the *process* of soul-making or character-building is intrinsically good or necessary to defend your objection to Peter.

Bill,

“Aren't you in a position similar to that of Matt? He seems to think that the conceivability of a perfect being is good reason to accept the possibility of a perfect being, though he does admit that conceivability does not entail possibility. You seem to think that the apparent gratuitousness of certain evils is good reason to accept the genuine gratuitousness of those evils.”

Very good point. However, are the two cases analogous? I am not sure that they are.

Note that the proponents of (what I call *the slingshot version* of) LAFE need only one case of genuine gratuitous evil in order to defeat UPD and, hence, refute God’s existence without begging any questions. This means that they need just one case where they correctly conclude that what appears to be a case of gratuitous evil is indeed so. The question is whether we are in a much stronger epistemic position to bridge the gap between apparent vs. genuine gratuitousness than we are in the conceivability/possibility case at least once. I suggest that we are in a better position in the former case. Why?

First, I maintain that we are in a much weaker epistemic position regarding knowledge of the existence of God when compared to our epistemic position regarding moral judgments. I do not suppose that the proponents of UPD would maintain a radical form of skepticism about moral judgments. Hence, all sides to the dispute can agree that at least occasionally we are right about our moral judgments. Therefore, we are entitled to rely on this premise in our argument on behalf of the contested premise (2) in the slingshot version of LAFE.

Second, as I noted in my post, our epistemic credential regarding the existence of God is pretty weak. I suggest that it is much weaker than our epistemic credential regarding the moral-premise just alluded to above. Note also that the most potent defeater of bridging the gap in the gratuitous evil case is the existence of God. But since (i) this defeater cannot be brought into the argument without begging the question against LAFE; and (ii) even if it were to be brought into the picture, its epistemic credentials compared to our moral judgments are much weaker, nothing stands in the way to bridging the gap between apparent gratuitousness and genuine gratuitousness in at least *one* case.

I do not think that we can so easily bridge the gap between conceivability and possibility. First, since possibility is broader than actuality, the later is insufficient to ground our modal judgments regarding what is possible. Second, in many cases that which we conceive turns out to be impossible and much that is possible we do not and perhaps can never conceive.

So what explains the gap between conceivability and possibility? Or put this question differently: Is there a systematic defeater that hinders bridging the gap? I think there is and it is the very limits of our mind. If this is correct, then our epistemic credential in the case of conceivability/possibility are not as good as in the gratuitous evil case for, unlike in the later case, the defeater in the former is an inherent part of our very epistemic situation. That is, while in the gratuitous evil case the defeater is external to our epistemic situation regarding moral judgments (namely, the existence of God), in the conceivability/possibility case the defeater is an integral part of our mind which does the conceiving. And if our mind is inherently vulnerable to errors about modality, then the gap between what we conceive and what is possible cannot be systematically bridged by denying in one fell swoop the existence of a defeater as we can do, I maintain, in the moral case.

T. Hanson,

My understanding of the logical argument from evil is that the theist must demonstrate that his beliefs don't entail a contradictory set of propositions...in that case, it seems to me that mere possibility will do.

You ask, "why couldn't God have created the possible world in which humans have much better characters and understanding and freely choose the good all the time.."

Because, if lib. free will holds, then God can't guarantee that free creatures will always choose to improve their character or choose the good...otherwise how would lib. free will hold?

Now, perhaps you will grant that the actual world's life-permitting constants seem to have a rather narrow margin of error. The question arises, if this is the sort of world that accomodates human free creatures, and God intends that those creatures exist...can God modify these laws so that we are more likely to choose good over evil? Note that this would be a strictly empirical question for which we most certainly lack the adequate knowledge to address. So, it isn't impossible. :-) (Honestly, I can see some difficulties with my argument here, so your point might still stand.)

I won't make an argument for the intrinsic goodness of soul-making, but I suspect that someone has attempted this kind of theodicy. I haven't read Paul Moser's book, The Elusive God, but it sounds like he might argue this way there. Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

David,

Note the distinction between free will and the exercise of free will. One might retain free will even when one is restricted from the exercise of it in certain circumstances. Your free will to drive a car is not taken away just because exercising it by driving on the left side is prohibited by law (in USA).

Of course, excessive restrictions on the exercise of free will may result in depriving an agent from a reasonable degree of free will. So the fundamental question is what degree of restriction on the exercise of free will is tantamount to depriving an agent from having free will altogether. This is not an easy question to answer. Nonetheless, the distinction between having free will and exercising it is important. And once this distinction is granted, then God could have very well prevented certain moral evils from occurring without thereby depriving the would be actors from their free will.

A second question is whether there is a reasonable sense in which God could have arranged things in such a manner that people would have had free will, always choose what is right, yet in each case they could have done otherwise (lib. free will). What is the sense of 'could' here?

In a sense this is Mackie's question. If we can choose to do the right thing one time, even though we could have chosen otherwise, and if we can do the same twice, three times, etc., then why can't we choose to do the right thing every time, even though each time we could have done otherwise?

This is a serious question which the theist needs to answer. After all, according to certain theistic cannons we are asked to resist temptation. But if we ought to resist temptation every time temptation is present, then by the principle of "ought implies can" we can do so. So the theist who holds to this view presupposes that we are capable of resisting temptation every time. If so, then at least in principle the theist must hold that we can choose the right thing every we are confronted with the relevant choice. Therefore, we can choose to do the right thing every time, even though we could have chosen otherwise.

David, Peter explains my point well. To put Mackie's point in the language of possible worlds: For all x, and all P, if P ought to do x, then it is possible for P to freely choose do x. So there is a possible world in which Allison and everyone else always freely chooses to do what they ought to do. Why could could God not have actualized that possible world? The burden is on the theist to show how such a world is not possible.

Thank you both for challenging me to think about this more.

Being an amateur philosopher, I feel pretentious mounting one of the most famous responses to this in my own voice. I refer you to Plantinga's notion of transworld depravity (God, Freedom and Evil, 1974).

Plantinga's precision won't be attempted here, but you have simply asked how it is possible that God can't actualize a world where persons always freely do what is right?

The answer: it is possible that persons have an essential property--that is, they possess it in all possible worlds--such that they will freely choose to do what's wrong with respect to at least one morally significant action. Plantinga called this "transworld depravity."

Thus, God cannot create significantly free persons who never perform at least one wrong action. (I am noting Peter's distinction here, and agree with it).

That was rather quick!

But suppose it fails. I can think of other means of escape. Show me any possible world where creatures always choose what is morally good, and I can show you a better world (just add another agent...or some other logically possible good). Is there a best possible world? There are reasons to think not (perhaps there are an infinite number of them).

And if there isn't a best possible world, we may need to refer to our conceptual resources to determine if God would abstain from creating at all, or else God would actualize a world based on some other criteria than the maximally-good-world criteria we have assumed. Perhaps God isn't the ultimate utilitarian despite what our conceptual analysis would indicate. But I have a hard time accepting the conceptual cost that comes with saying that God actualized this world (perhaps arbitrarily) but a different creator might have done better.

An atheist might grab hold of this and agree that there is no best possible world. Thus, God shouldn't have actualized any world at all. But there is an actual world. Therefore, God doesn't exist. That seems pretty powerful to me (on first glance). I welcome your thoughts on it.

But this assumes the fact that God actualized a world is contingent. Is it? I haven't thought about it enough to be persuaded either way.

No doubt, Peter--who has considered this topic for a much longer time than myself--and T. Hanson--whom I can only assume is well-informed on the free will defense--can see something that I presently cannot. Presently, I find the evidential argument from evil more compelling than the LAFE.

Hello, Peter.

"... in what sense are certain evils *necessary* for a higher good?"

Briefly:

No evil is necessary to God to bring about a higher good. As God is pure act, he needs nothing. His creation of the world was purely gratuitous, and because God is omnibenevolent, it was purely good. The evil we do is a deprivation of this primeval goodness. In response to evil, God restores to his creation what has been deprived.

Regards,
Bill T

BillT,

First, if what you say is correct, then there are no morally justifying reasons why God allows evil in the world, since God could bring about any good without needing to permit evils.

Second, not all evil in the world is moral evil; there are natural evils that are not caused by our actions.

Third, what was deprived at creation and how? And how does God restore that which was deprived?

David, I think you do not correctly understand Plantinga. For Plantinga, there are true counterfactuals of freedom (statements of the form if placed in C, agent S would freely do A). Now God does not choose which counterfactuals of freedom are true; he doesn't make them true, because if he did then he would be determining the agents to so act, and neither does anyone or anything else. They just are true. That means that God just "finds himself" stuck with whatever counterfactuals of freedom happen to be contingently true. Now, a feasible world is a possible world that it is within God's power to create, given the counterfactuals of freedom that are true; in other words, the set of feasible worlds for God to create is a subset of all possible worlds in which the actually true counterfactuals of freedom are true. Transworld depravity is not the feature of committing some evil act in every possible world in which one exists, but rather, transworld depravity is the feature of being such that in any of the feasible worlds God could create, given the true counterfactuals of freedom, no matter what conditions God made to obtain, that person would commit at least one wrong act.

Immediate problems would seem to include the ungrounded truth of counterfactuals of freedom; ungrounded truths are anathema to some, especially ungrounded contingent truths.

Plantinga also gives an argument that God cannot actualize the possible world in which everyone does what is right as follows. There may be a possible world in which everyone does what is right; but God cannot actualize that world, because if He actualized it, then he would be making the relevant agents act the way they are, and they would not be acting freely. Rather, such a world must be in part actualized by the agents themselves, but since they are acting independently of God and are capable of either acting rightly or not, since they are free, God cannot ensure that they will do what is right. It may be that if God creates a world, it turns out that at least one person will do the wrong thing -- and there is nothing God can do about apart from taking away their freedom.

Steven,

"..., transworld depravity is the feature of being such that in any of the feasible worlds God could create, given the true counterfactuals of freedom, no matter what conditions God made to obtain, that person would commit at least one wrong act."

I wonder what Plantinga will say to this case. Suppose that I have been very good so that every choice I have acted upon is good. I am left with one single choice to make in my life before I expire. Am I now compelled by some modal necessity to make a wrong choice so that I commit *at least one* wrong act?

Peter,

“First, if what you say is correct, then there are no morally justifying reasons why God allows evil in the world, since God could bring about any good without needing to permit evils.”

God is omnibenevolent, which is to say that God always wills what is good for us. To will what is good for another is love. Love is the greatest of all goods. God made us in his image; he made us capable of loving him and one another. This capability is free will. So we are free to exercise our will, because love is possible only if it is freely willed. No freedom. No love. However, freedom entails the possibility of doing evil. God permits this possibility so that we can produce the greatest of all goods, love.

“Second, not all evil in the world is moral evil; there are natural evils that are not caused by our actions.”

We say that an earthquake is a natural evil. But what is the evil? It is not the shaking of the ground. It is the suffering of people. Why do we suffer? Because, as moral beings who have chosen to not always love God and one another, our primeval goodness is no longer fully realized. Our goodness is now a mixture of act and potency, and so we lack the perfection of flesh and spirit that would preclude suffering. Therefore, natural evils are rooted in moral evil.

“Third, what was deprived at creation and how? And how does God restore that which was deprived?”

God is omnibenevolent. All that he creates is fully and perfectly good. Therefore, at the moment of creation, the perfect goodness of man and the universe was fully realized. When man first exercised his free will to not love, he brought imperfection into creation. He partly deprived it of its primeval goodness. He partly reduced what had been act to potency. So the deprivation is the lack of goodness that creation originally possessed.

God restores to creation the goodness we deprive it with every evil deed, word, and thought. But God is not a watchmaker. He doesn’t fix what we break. He is the very source of being of each and every thing at each and every moment of creation. Because he is goodness itself, his being restores goodness to his creation. Indeed, God has already restored creation to its full and perfect goodness.

However, God is eternal, and we live in a world extended in time. Therefore, we do not experience this restoration presently. If we recognize it all, it is only partially through the passage of time. Furthermore, this restoration flows through us as the agents of love that God created us to be. As we can choose not to love, we can obstruct this flow and delay, from our perspective within time, the restoration of creation. But we cannot stop God from being God. His will be done.

To wrap up, Peter, I premise all of this on the God of classical theism who can be known through philosophy. However, as you have probably gathered from my response, at some point a specific theology will take shape as a more detailed discussion proceeds to who God is and our relationship to him. I hope I have succeeded in answering your questions within the precincts of philosophy.

Regards,
Bill T

Steven,

You are correct, here is a revision:

It is possible that persons have an essential, world-indexed property such that they will freely choose to do what's wrong with respect to at least one morally significant action in all feasible worlds.

Peter,

Here are a few papers I've bookmarked on TWD if you're interested. Cheers.

"Supralapsarianism" by Alvin Plantinga. (pdf)

"Transworld Sanctity and Plantinga's Free Will Defense" by Daniel Howard-Snyder and John O’Leary-Hawthorn. (pdf)

"Transworld Depravity and Unobtainable Worlds" by Ric Itte. (pdf)

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