Monday, July 11, 2005

Conversations with Angie: The problem of gratuitous evil

In a previous email, I explained (badly) how Plantinga solved the logical (or deductive) problem of evil. I'm skipping that because I've already talked about it in this blog, and because I didn't do a very good job of it in the emails with Angie.

**************
Angie,

[Skippity skip skipper]

The problem of gratuitous evil isn't much different than the deductive problem of evil. A person may agree that some of the evil in the world is consistent with a good God. You can imagine that there might be a good reason for some of the evil we see. But some evil just seems pointless, arbitrary, and gratuitous. Even if you grant that God's existence is consistent with some evil, surely it isn't consistent with how much evil there actually is and has been in the world. Surely the world wouldn't be THAT bad if there really were a good God. That's the problem of gratuitous evil. It's just like the deductive problem of evil, and can be formulated like this:

1. If there is a good God, there would be no gratuitous evil.
2. There is gratuitous evil.
3. Therefore, there is not a good God.

Gratuitous evil is, by definition, evil that serves no purpose--that is without any good reason or necessity.

I'll admit that the gratuitous problem of evil has some pursuasive power. It's hard to imagine that any greater purpose is served in some of the horrible suffering that goes on in the world. But the weakness in the gratuitous problem of evil is in the second premise. Remember that in the deductive problem of evil, it was shown that as long as it's possible for there to be a good reason for evil, there is no inconsistency between a good God and the existence of evil. All that would be required to account for evil in a theistic world is a good reason for that evil. The second premise in the gratuitous problem of evil basically says that there is some evil for which there is no good reason. The reason this argument is weak is because we have no way of knowing whether the second premise is true. It doesn't follow that just because we can't think of any good reason that therefore there IS no good reason. I want to quote you something from "God, Freedom, and Evil," by Alvin Plantinga, page 10:
Or suppose that the theist admits he just doesn't know why God permits evil. What follows from that? Very little of interest. Why suppose that if God does have a good reason for permitting evil, the theist would be the first to know? Perhaps God has a good reason, but that reason is too complicated for us to understand. Or perhaps He has not revealed it for some other reason. The fact that the theist doesn't know why God permits evil is, perhaps, an interesting fact about the theist, but by itself it shows little or nothing relevannt to the rationality of belief in God. Much more is needed for the atheological argument even to get off the ground.

The only evidence there is to support the second premise is our ignorance, but our ignorance tells us nothing about the truth of the second premise. So the second premise is simply without any support at all. We don't know that any evil is really gratuitous.

The gratuitous problem of evil fails for the same reason the deductive problem fails. They both assume God's existence is inconsistent with evil--all evil in the deductive case, and only some evil in the gratuitous case. As long as it's possible that there's a good reason for evil, then it's impossible to prove that any evil is gratuitous. If there is a good reason for every evil, then God's existence is not inconsistent with any evil at all. That means there is a possible state of affairs in which God's existence is consistent with all evil. Remember that if two things contradict, they cannot coexist in any possible world under any possible state of affairs. So if there is any possible state of affairs at all in which two things are consistent, then it's impossible to ever demonstrate that they are contradictory. God's existence, then, is consistent with all the evil in the world.

to be continued...

Conversations with Angie: The inductive problem of evil

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