Sunday, March 20, 2011

An Intro to the Philosophy of Religion, Ch. 6 Part 2 (Arguments from Evil)

[Rough Draft - comments welcome]

The Evidential Argument part 2: "The Distribution Argument"
Rather than focusing on particular instances of evil, this argument hinges on the distribution of evil; specifically, it claims that the distribution of evil we find is better explained by a non-theistic hypothesis (one in which the universe is indifferent towards humans). [1]

Unlike direct arguments, this argument doesn't provide a quick route to supposing the truth of atheism.  Observing some particular phenomena and concluding that it is better explained by one competing hypothesis over others seems insufficient to confirm that hypothesis.  It is unclear how this argument should be weighted alongside other theistic and atheistic arguments.

The Argument from Hiddenness
An excerpt from Neitzsche summarizes the problem cited against theism.
"A god who is all-knowing and all-powerful and who does not even make sure his creatures understand his intention – could that be a god of goodness? Who allows countless doubts and dubieties to persist, for thousands of years, as though the salvation of mankind were unaffected by them, and who on the other hand holds out the prospect of frightful consequences if any mistake is made as to the nature of truth? Would he not be a cruel god if he possessed the truth and could behold mankind miserably tormenting itself over the truth? – But perhaps he I a god of goodness notwithstanding – and merely could express himself more clearly! Did he perhaps lack intelligence to do so? Or the eloquence? So much the worse! For then he was perhaps also in error as to that which he calls his “truth”, and is himself not so far from being the “poor deluded devil”! Must he not then endure almost the torments of Hell to have to see his creature suffer so, and go on suffering even more through all eternity, for the sake of knowledge of him, and not be able to help and counsel them, except in the manner of a deaf man making all kinds of ambiguous signs when the most fearful danger is about to befall on his child or dog?"
Rea and Murray then move onto John Schellenberg's argument, which I'll briefly construct as follows (bracketing concerns over the necessity that God is perfectly loving):

1 If a perfectly loving God exists, reasonable non-belief does not occur.
2 Reasonable non-belief does occur.
3 No perfectly loving God exists.

The second is very plausible.  Reasonable non-belief refers to people who have reflected on the arguments for God's existence an remained unconvinced.  The first premise seems plausible as well, since a loving God would want to ensure the possibility that humans enter into a relationship with him.  One necessary condition for this to happen is that those humans must believe that God exists.  So God must make his existence known to humans in a way escapable only by irrational means.

Rea and Murray think we should append an important qualification to the first premise: that there may be some reasonable non-belief permitted (in the world) as long as God has morally sufficient reasons.  And thus, the second premise is modified:

2' Reasonable non-belief does not occur unless there is a morally sufficient reason.

This move mimics the evidential arguments move from evil to gratuitous evil.  So now we appear to be left with gratuitous reasonable non-belief.  This modified premise doesn't appear as threatening to theism as the original formulation.  Rea and Murray think that this modified premise can be evaded via skeptical theism, since the justification for it will likely involve a noseum inference (no reason is apparent, therefore there is no reason).  Schellenberg has defended the contention that this noseum inference is valid, and not subject to any kind of skeptical theistic evasion (that we shouldn't expect to detect these reasons in every case).  Though Rea and Murray are clearly unconvinced by this, they move on to discuss potential theodicies that might apply if skeptical theism evasions are inadequate. [2]

Theodicies focused on the goods of free choice of soul-making
Natural order theodicies maintain that certain conditions, such as the predictable regularities of the physical world, are required in order for God to achieve the good of having morally free creatures who exercise their freedom.  Likewise, this theodicy discussed here adds another condition: that humans should have "real incentives" for exercising their freedom.  In other words, if God was apparent in a way that precluded rational disbelief, humans might be coerced in a way that precludes morally significant freedom.  In response to this argument, some note that religious believers are still capable of doing good and bad despite their (alleged) high degree of belief that God exists.

Theodicies focused on the good of filial knowledge
Paul Moser claims that God's hiddenness is necessary so that we can come to know him in the proper way. [3]  In addition to acquiring basic propositional knowledge, Moser thinks that we must cultivate a filial knowledge--that is, "humbly, faithfully, and lovingly standing in a relationship to God as our righteously gracious Father." [4]  This kind of knowledge of God can only come by approaching him in a manner much differently than one approaches a philosophical question.  As Hebrews 11:6 says, "Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him."  Of course, a serious objection to this is that there appears to be a number of people who have made earnest efforts to seek God and have come up empty handed.  Moser maintains that if there are such cases, we can presume that God is waiting for his "appointed time" to bestow filial knowledge.

[1] Paul Draper has offered an argument of this kind in an online article entitled, "Natural Selection and the Problem of Evil."  Alvin Plantinga responds with "Objections to Draper's Argument from Evil."  Finally, Draper gets the last word in his article, "On the Plausability of Naturalism and the Seriousness of the Argument from Evil."
[2] Some other details about this argument are noteworthy, since it is a hot topic right now:

, Ted Poston and Trent Dougherty have argued that distinctions between types of belief (de re/de dicto) create problems for Schellenberg's formulation.  Schellenberg's reply is available, but unfortunately not for free.  
Second, the Infidels library has another good remark/reply/closing remarks series of articles between John Schellenberg and Jeffrey Jordan.  
Third, Stephen Maitzen has given a unique spin to this argument in his article, "Divine Hiddenness and the Demographics of Theism."  Jason Marsh argued that Molinistic assumptions about what worlds God can create defeat this argument in his article,"Do the demographics of theistic belief disconfirm theism? A reply to Maitzen." (not available for free)  Maitzen gets in a last word in the article,"Does Molinism explain the demographics of theism?"  Stephen Maitzen has also defended his thesis (in brief, blog fashion) against objections by Randal Rauser and Mike Almeida.  

[3]See the Prosblogion
reading group series that discusses Paul Moser's book, The Elusive God.
[4] Moser, "Divine Hiddenness Does Not Justify Atheism," in M. Peterson and R. VanArragon (eds.), Contemporary Debates in the Philosophy of Religion (2004), p. 49.


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