Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Conversations with Angie: The inductive problem of evil


The next version of the problem of evil is the inductive problem of evil. While the deductive and gratuitous problem of evil argue that God cannot exist given the amount of evil in the world, the inductive problem of evil makes a more modest claim. It argues, not that God's existence is impossible, but that God's existence is unlikely. While we can't rule out the possibility that there's a good reason for evil, the amount of evil in the world does seem to make it improbable that there's any good reason for all of it. That makes God's existence improbable.

Since the inductive argument is based on probability, other factors have to be taken into account. Before we can say that God's existence is improbable, we have to consider all the facts and weight them against each other. While the existence of evil may count AGAINST God's existence, there are other things which count FOR God's existence. The evil in the world, by itself, may make God's existence improbable, but when all the facts are taken into account, not just evil, then God's existence may NOT be improbable after all. We have to weigh these things against each other. Although I'm not going to go into arguments for the existence of God right now, I'll just tell you that I think the arguments for God's existence far outweigh the inductive problem of evil. So I would think God's existence is more likely than not even if I thought evil made God's existence less likely than it would be if there were no evil. Do you see how this all goes back to my epistemology I explained in my first emais? I simply weigh the evidence and incline my belief in the direction of the stronger case.

There's one more argument I have that I think answers every version of the problem of evil.

[deleting stuff]


Conversations with Angie:  update


At 7/13/2005 4:26 AM , Blogger Steve said...

i dont really understand your position on why the "inductive argument" against the existence of god.

In particular, I think that by arguing there are two columns "for" and "against" the existence of god, and whichever list is more compelling or longer wins, is a flawed way to approach the problem.

If the claim "god exists" is to survive scruiteny, we must rule out (or otherwise deal with) each conflicting piece of evidence. We cannot simply set it aside and look at other evidence that also looks good.

In this case, we know that god created evil, god is omniscent and omnipotent so god is an accessory to every evil act committed on the planet. That puts god in a precarious position.

We could argue that god's reasoning transcends our knowledge and experience, and we simply cannot know what the point of Gods plan is. However, by arguing that God is "transcendent" of our own understanding then we are in fact rendering most of our world religions meaningless because one cannot "experience" something which is in fact transcendent. It, after all, transcends our ability to understand it.

As such, I believe the inductive argument of evil is part of a larger difficulty in accepting the stated definition of God, and also the religions and societies that have developed around that notion as well.

At 7/13/2005 4:54 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


The approach I'm taking in the inductive problem of evil is the common sense approach all of us use to solve problems in our ordinary lives. For example, suppose you want to know if your girlfriend is cheating on you. On the one hand, you might have somebody telling you they've seen her with other guys, strange phone numbers on her caller ID, etc. All of these things may lend support to the notion that she's cheating on you.

But on the other hand, you know she's a very decent person, it isn't unusual for her to have male friends, and perhaps there's an explanation for the phone numbers that you just haven't thought of.

The object isn't to look and see which list is longer, but rather, which case is stronger--the case for or against her cheating on you. Suppose you know her to be such a trust-worthy person that you've decided she could not cheat on you. What, then, do you make of the person who says they SAW her cheating on you?

Well, you don't need to answer that question before you're justified in thinking your girlfriend did not cheat on you. Several scenarios are possible. Maybe the person is lying. Maybe they misunderstood what they saw. Or maybe there's some other explanation you just haven't thought of.

My approach to dealing with the inductive argument against God is the same. I look at the case for and the case against, and I incline my belief to the stronger case. That doesn't require me to be able to answer every argument from the contrary side.

On the other hand, you argue that "If the claim 'god exists' is to survive scrutiny, we must rule out (or otherwise deal with) each conflicting piece of evidence." By the same reasoning, one might say, "If the claim 'god does not exist' is to survive scrutiny, we must rule out (or otherwise deal with) each conflicting piece of evidence." If both of these claims are true, then nobody is in any position to have an opinion on the existence of God unless they have a pretty sophisticated education in philosophy, because only then will a person have encountered and dealt with every argument for God as well as every argument against God in the entire history of philosophy.

You say that by appealing to God transcending our understanding, that we render our world religions meaningless. It seems to me, though, that we can know some things about God even if we don't know EVERYTHING about God. After all, I don't know everything about my girlfriend. There are some things about her that I just don't understand. But does it follow that there's NOTHING about her I understand? Of course not! Likewise, with God, there are many things I don't understand, but that doesn't mean there is NOTHING I understand.

At 7/14/2005 4:49 AM , Blogger Steve said...

those are some excellent observations. However, first, I want to ask what we "know" about God. Anything that can be attributed to God seems to be contrived by man in my opinion. Or at least, I can see no overriding argument for why I should believe that things are in fact divine and not random or unplanned.

In general, the claim of "does god exist" is a bit problematic, even if we agree that it is also difficult to prove "does god not exist." I disagree with even the nature of the question, since we dont know what God is, or what he is not. Its not about "some things" or "Everything" - we know nothing.

But secondly, any unprovable claim can be validated by your line of reasoning, in my opinion. Any gap in reasoning is a larger plan that cannot be seen; any problem (like evil) is a problem of perception and not reality. The vaguess and abstract nature of the "evidence" for God, what god wants, and the nature of God perhaps explains the multitude of religions that claim the same basic set of "proofs" of God - be them Hindu, Muslim, etc.

Now on a separate note, in terms of not having to address every claim that goes against the existence of God - perhaps I should be more clear, you must address each claim (in my opinion) which conflicts with the proof that God exists. Certain claims cannot coexist, and one must be refuted so as to accept the other. Now, In your example of the cheating girlfriend, lets say that your friend said he saw her cheating on you, but your girlfriend says she was not at that bar. Both claims cannot be true. You are inclined to believe your girlfriend, but only insofar as you can dispute your friends claim. You can pretend you dont have contrary evidence, or you can be ignorant of that fact, but objectively, they are not both true.

At 7/14/2005 5:21 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I agree that the two claims about your girlfriend can't both be true. But in your scenario, it isn't necessary to disprove my friend's claim before I'm justified in believing my girlfriend's claim. If I have what seem to me to be good reasons to think my girlfriend is telling the truth, I may be at a loss as to why my friend is telling me he saw her at a bar. I'm sure I'd spend some time trying to come up with possibilities. Maybe he saw somebody who LOOKS like her, maybe he's lying, etc. Maybe I can't think of any explanation at all. But my failure to come up with an explanation doesn't obligate me to doubt my girlfriend's honesty.

In the same way, if I have what seem to me to be good reasons to think there is a God, I may puzzle over the existence of evil all day, never knowing why a good God would create such a world, and it may even cause me to hold my belief in God with less conviction, but the inductive argument from evil is just not strong enough to overcome the reasons I have for thinking there is a God.

Usually, the way proofs for God's existence work is by starting with some minimal definition that entails a being with certain properties (e.g. personhood, power, knowledge, goodness, immateriality, eternality, etc.), or attributing some funtion such as creation, revelation, miracles, etc. The argument is designed to show that a being with those properties exists. For example, if God is defined as a being with the properties X, Y, and Z, and if some argument that shows a being to exist with the properties X, Y, and Z, then it follows that the God that has been defined exists.

Another way is to begin with arguments that show some being with some properties exist, and then, based on those properties and traditional understandings of what it means to be a god, one might say that some god exists, and has these properties.

"God" is not hard to define at all. In fact, the reason we know the Hindu idea of God is different than the Christian idea of God is precisely because both have defined "God" in particular ways. In the Hindu idea of God, there is no distinction between creation and creator. In the Christian idea of God, there is a radical distinction between creation and creator.

Minimally, the Christian definition of God is a being who is all powerful, all knowing, and all good, who is eternal, and who created the universe. If it happens that no such being exists, then the Christian God does not exist. Maybe some god exists, but not the Christian one.

One might give an ostensive definition of God in the same way one might give an ostensive definition of a human. You might define a person as the one who wrote some book, or the one who built some really cool bow. Likewise, God may be ostensively defined as the one who spoke to Moses on the mountain, or the one who raised Jesus from the dead.


At 7/14/2005 7:18 PM , Blogger Steve said...

alright - I see your point and its well taken.

However, simply establishing that the inductive evil idea isn't sufficient to make someone not believe in God still doesn't establish what evidence you are in fact basing your beliefs upon. At least in the case of your girlfriend, we have people who have a certain claim, it was relatively recently, and we can feel at least a little confident that this scenario even occured, albeit in two different ways to different people. I think, in the case of Christianity, its a bit like saying a couple of people think a girl cheated on a guy 2000 years ago, but another guy says no, it isnt right.

With God we have much less than we have in anything else in our lives to evaluate rationally. God is an idea, not an event or a thing. One cannot defeat an idea which perpetuates itself through the notion that if you dont accept the idea, you dont understand it, or it wants to be misunderstood.

I have heard the notion of God described as a person walking down a road and seeing a beautiful garden. One person says, oh there must be a gardener, it is so perfect it could not have happened without a gardener. And the other person says, yeah but what about those weeds (evil), surely if there was a gardener he would have pulled those weeds up, or perhaps he planted this garden long ago and forgot about it (Voltaire's Deism).

The descriptions of God seem to me to come from a lot of people who knew very little of science and developed a traditional conception of the heavens with a creator and a God, and while people dance back and forth about Gods existence, it all amounts to little more than conjecture. And like a petri dish gone unwatched for hundreds of years, the idea of God has morphed into something which is far beyond the initial activity.

It is not more reasonable to believe in God than it is not to believe in God, I'll be the first to admit, however that to me isn't saying much. "God" means so many things to so many different people, and they attatch meaning to it for reasons that probably deal with stuff in their own lives. I often think of religion as prozac - not to be a Marxist - but only to think that people use God to feel that there is some meaning and order to a garden that offers us little clues as to its origin and purpose.

Now, in terms of the argument that God is not hard to define, I have a problem with that, because it creates a very relative idea of God that in effect calls into question all varieties of Gods definition. If a hundred people all say to me "I own the best car in the world" then i really have no faith that each car is in fact the best in the world, only that each person feels it is that way and they want me to buy into their ideas. Perhaps the presence of so many people saying they have the best car in the world, disqualifies the statement that the "best car in the world" exists at all, because it is so subjective and relative to use a superlative.

In the case of God, I guess I just dont see how all these multitude of definitions and ideas give me any reasons to believe that God is anything more than a personal thing.

Perhaps for me God is gravity - touches everything in the Universe and pulls it together, while defining patterns of movement, and thus temperature and other things such as life (if one considers the orbit of planets around certain suns necessary for the formation of life).

However, making God into one of the four main forces in the Universe isn't your idea of God, but who are you to say different? And similarly, who am I to say that you are wrong to believe God is something else, or a Hindu.

There exists no piece of logic or idea that can pull God out of the realm of mystery that has defined him/her/it for thousands of years. And of course, if there was, there would be no such thing as faith.

But herein lies our discussion, not of faith, but faith in WHAT.

At 7/14/2005 10:48 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...


When I consider what kind of god exists--a Hindu God, a Christian God, or whatever--I look at the arguments. It simply doesn't follow that just because everybody has a different idea of God, that nobody has a correct idea about God. You have to look at the merits of the arguments to determine that. I get the impression that you think just because two people disagree on something that neither knows the truth.

You're right that I haven't given any arguments for God's existence. That's beyond the scope of this particular blog.


At 7/15/2005 5:50 AM , Blogger Steve said...

Well its true, a plethora of options doesn't mean all options are false.

The disagreement between people isn't "proof" that they are both wrong. Indeed, logically, perhaps there exists something which could bridge the gap between their beliefs.

However, I am reminded by a debate I recently had with another individual regarding "cultural relativity." In that discussion, in which I was defending the Islamic faith (from being called barbaric), the other individual said, "how can you say that everything is so relative, that one culture or idea is not superior to another" (Im paraphrasing). And to that I replied, no, not everything in the Universe is equal, and we should not assume that each group or "option" should be regarded as such.

However, one cannot reasonably believe that their culture or society is superior to another, since to do so requires a confidence in their own truthfulness and superiority that is not warrented. Plus, we must know that EVERY culture thinks its better or more true than the others. How do we know we are any different? If its true that 90% of people think they are fat when they are not, and you say, Gosh Im so fat, you COULD be in the 10% thats in fact fat, but your more than likely in the 90% that isn't.

With respect to our discussion, i find it difficult to see how any religion can claim to have the truth, even on the "merits" of their arguments, since who can stand up and really say "I've got the goods on God, its all here in this book, here's the collection plate"

How do we know that our belief in God is any different from the Hindus? That are conception of God is better, because of our evidence, even though other groups of people, perhaps confronted with the same evidence have rejected our God?

Logically speaking, I would imagine my unrefined language and thoughts are not as eloquent as yours (i really respect your ideas and your writing), and there are inevitably holes in what Im saying. I just hope what Im thinking makes sense, even if it is far less educated than yourself!

At 7/15/2005 9:12 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I think you're articulating your views just fine, though I could be having some misunderstandings.

The mere fact that somebody else has a different opinion than me doesn't shake my beliefs. For example, I know that if two claims contradict each other, they can't both be true. (And you seem to agree with that.) But there are people with PhD's in philosophy teaching in college who think we're both wrong. The fact that there are some people out there who don't believe in logic doesn't shake my belief in logic at all.

So why should I have my belief in God shaken just because there's people out there who disagree with me? The reason I don't think the Hindus have it right is because Hinduism is an irrational religion that affirms contradictions. Their concept of God is, in many ways, contradictory. For example, they believe God is both personal and not personal. Their God is not only non-existent, but it's not even POSSIBLE for their God to exist since the definition of their God is inherently contradictory.

If you have looked at the arguments for the Christian God and found them completely unpursuasive, then I can understand your response. IT doesn't look to you like the strength of the arguments give us any warrant in having any more confidence in our own religion than in Hinduism. So our disagreement may be due simply to the fact that I find the arguments pursuasive, and you don't. Since I find the arguments pursuasive, I think I am warranted in saying Christianity is true and Hinduism is not.

That doesn't mean that I'm 100% sure that Christianity is true. I admit that I could be wrong. It just doesn't seem to me that I am.

Think about this for a second. You and I are having some sort of disagreement right now, right? I think a person can be rationally justified in thinking his religion is true, and you think they cannot be rationally justified in thinking their religion is true. Does the mere fact that I have a different opinion than you cause you to throw up your hands and says, "Well I guess neither of us knows whether people can be rationally justified in thinking their religion is true"?


At 7/15/2005 6:34 PM , Blogger Steve said...

well I dont think that a person cannot be rational to think that their religion is true. In fact, I believe it is very rational to believe in God.

However, from an outsider perspective looking in, it appears to me that all these religions all proclaim the same thing, that they have sifted through the evidence to find the truth. I believe what Im saying is that from my position, as an outsider, it is not rational for me to pick one over the other because I cannot see how any can claim more legitimacy from the other.

But that is not to say that from their own perspectives they are not legitimate.

I mean, if you think about it, one cannot disprove that an all powerful God exists, especially if He choses to mask his existence. He is, after all, all powerful. But I think that it isn't sufficient for me, even if it is for others, to believe a religion over another religion.

I view someone who tells me "This religion is different" with a lot of skepticism, because they all seem to say that!

At 7/16/2005 8:05 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I don't see how even an outsider can think all religions proclaim the same thing. I mean if you think about it, excluding Christianity, I'm an outsider to every other religion, and I know good and well that Wicca, Isalm, and Buddhism are all very different religions. If all religions proclaimed the same thing, I don't see how you could distinguish them. They'd all basically be the same religion.

There was a time when I had the idea (don't know where I got the idea) that all religions are basically saying the same thing in different words, but since I've learned a little more about these religions, I've discovered that I was wrong.

For me, religions are like philosophical points of view. On just about any question you might have in philosophy, there are a multitude of different perspective. But the mere fact that there are so many opinions shouldn't prevent me from having my own opinion. For example, Does the external world exist, or is it just an illusion or a dream or something? Well, some people say it's real, and some people say it isn't. Even without being able to prove an answer to the question one way or another, it seems to me that it is far more reasonable to think the external world is real than to think it isn't. Even people who deny the external world live as if they think it's real.

But there are some viewpoints that I don't think are even worthy of consideration, because we are in a position not just to think that they are wrong, but to know with absolute certainty that they are wrong. Take the view on logic for example. I know with absolute certainty that the law of non-contradiction is true. If somebody comes along and tells me that it's not true, that it's a matter of personal preference, western bias, or whatever, I'm just not going to take him seriously.

There are probably thousands of religions out there if you count all the tribal practices and the everything. So it would seem bewildering to an outsider to be in a situation to have to sift through ALL of them to see if ANY of them is true. But I think it's very easy to at least weed out a big chunk of them without really having to know that much about them. There are some of them that are plainly irrational. By "irrational," I don't just mean they believe things I think are crazy or unbelievable. I mean something more specific. I mean they knowingly affirm contradictions or reject logic to some degree. Among the religions that fall into this category are Hinduism, some forms of Buddhism (especially Zen, but also Mahayana), some forms of Wicca, New Ageism. Any religion that denies the existence of objective truths, the existence of themselves, or other self-refuting notions can also be dismissed as irrational.

The test of logic really narrows the scope and makes things a lot easier. One of the best ways to refute any point of view, including religious, is to demonstrate that it affirms a contradiction. One of the best arguments against orthodox Christianity is that it affirms a contradiction--namely that Jesus is fully God and also fully man. If that's a contradiction, then any form of Christianity that subscribes to the incarnation is false. But Christians have never admited that this is a contradiction, and many Christian philosophers have tried to reconcile the two claims to demonstrate there is no contradiction. The reason Christians even bother with such efforts is because Christianity is a rational religion that fully embraces the laws of logic. Christians know that if there is a contradiction in their own worldview that their worldview is wrong one way or another. Contrast that to the famous Mayahan Buddhist, Nagarjuna, who wrote a whole book against logic. Do you think Nagarjuna would care if somebody pointed out a contradiction in his worldview?

I would highly recommend getting Ronald Nash's book, Worldviews in Conflict.


At 7/16/2005 5:38 PM , Blogger Steve said...

I see your point.

However, I do not see the reasons for why one should regard Hinduism as being less logical than Christianity. And for that matter, why should we regard tribal religions as being illogical!?

It is simply that, for their societies, these religions make perfect sense, given their knowledge of science and their cultures. Similarly, is it not rational to think that Christianity and our religions are products of that same mix of science, culture, and history?

It doesn't necessarily follow, and it is sufficient to say, that you are right in your religion. However, I think that to think that your religion and your beliefs represent something exceptional compared to the other beliefs out there seems a bit dangerous.

And even if we follow this line of reasoning, and narrow the group to a "top 5," what is our rationality for picking the one we do amongst the top five?

Is it simply that we were born into it? Or exposed to it, rather than Islam, Judaism, or other faiths?? In which case, it is circumstance, and not logic, which has dictated our choices!

At 7/18/2005 1:47 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...


I don't know enough about tribal religions to say whether they're illogical or not. I was just providing a way to narrow the scope. There are some religions that are easily dismissed, because they are plainly irrational.
Of course once you weed out the nonsense, it is a little more difficult to figure out which religion (if any) is true among those that are left.

I think you made a false dichotomy when you said it is circumstances and not logic that dictates our choices. Let me give an illustration to make my point. If I had been born in another place at another time, I might have believed the earth was flat. The only reason I believe the earth is round is because of where and when I live. So, you might say that I believe the earth is round because of circumstances, and not reason or evidence. But you can clearly see that this is a false dichotomy.



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