Conclusively Solving the Problem of Evil – A Discussion / Debate
The aim of this dialogue / debate is to test the solution offered by New Apologetics to determine whether it is, in fact, the definitive solution to the philosophical / theological problem of evil. Our intention is to continue to respond to Dan’s questions and objections until there are no remaining questions or objections, or until the theodicy proposed by New Apologetics is shown to be lacking in some way.
Justin Schieber and Graham Oppy have been invited to take part in the exchange as well.
Dan will begin the discussion by posing questions in the comments section of this post. New Apologetics will respond accordingly.
No stone or non-stone ought to remain unturned.
[Editor’s note: Dan decided to not continue the debate after the second statement, and therefore we did not have opportunity to explore the question in its full depth as intended at the outset. Issues concerning theodicy were not touched upon, and the discussion which did take place covered only one aspect of the question: “are arguments from evil good evidence against the existence of God.” In private dialogue following the debate, Linford and McHugh came to agree that the Expectations Defense does indeed defeat evidential arguments from evil, broadly, though this fact does not in itself increase the “prior probability” of theism and the burden of proof still remains on the theist to support their positive claim.]
Dan Linford’s First Statement
From what I understand of your theology already, it offers some novel challenges to how I approach the Problem of Evil (POE from herein). I tend to think of arguments for and against the existence of God in pairs: there are arguments (or evidence) for a specific deity and arguments (or evidence) in opposition to that same deity. It is only be consideration of the situation in totality (all the arguments/evidence for that specific deity) that will allow us to determine whether or not that deity exists. Design arguments, for example, purport to demonstrate the existence of God from evidence of design in nature. Construed rather broadly, the evidential POE purports to show the non-existence of God from evidence of poor design in nature (especially the kind of poor design that results in suffering, whether of humans and animals). In so far as evidence is relevant at all, it seems that the two kinds of arguments stand or fall together.
Your argument for the existence of God is based upon an ontological argument, according to which God necessarily exists. As such, to provide empirical evidence that God does not exist seems to be as relevant as an attempt to provide empirical evidence that ‘1+1=3’. That is to say, statements which are necessarily true are not typically those which can be refuted on the basis of empirical evidence. This might be a reason to think that the evidential POE does not work at all. Since Plantinga has generally been understood to have shown that the logical POE has no legs to stand on, it might seem that you have won already.
Nonetheless, there is a reason to think that the statement ‘God exists’ differs from ‘1+1=2’. This is because, unlike numbers, God has causal efficacy. According to your theology, everything other than God is the contingent product of God’s creative act. Thus, if there exists anything which either (1) God did not create or (2) something God created did not create, a contradiction ensues. If I can show that there likely exists something which is logically incompatible with God’s existence, then a problem will have been posed for your theology after all. This would amount to showing that God does not necessarily exist because God does not exist in our world. Given your definition of God as a necessary being, this would have the implication that necessarily God does not exist (a kind of reverse ontological argument).
After all that, here’s a question: do you think that the above is accurate or would you object to it in some way.
Christopher McHugh’s First Statement
Thank you, Dan, for agreeing to participate in this dialogue. I believe that it will be a beneficial read for anyone on either side of the contemporary debate.
I agree with the majority of what you have written in your post with one small exception. You write:
“If I can show that there likely exists something which is logically incompatible with God’s existence, then a problem will have been posed for your theology after all. This would amount to showing that God does not necessarily exist because God does not exist in our world. Given your definition of God as a necessary being, this would have the implication that necessarily God does not exist (a kind of reverse ontological argument).”
The reasoning you offer above works only on the assumption that the Modal Ontological Argument from Divine Justice (MOADJ from here on), does not succeed as a deductive argument in itself. Of course, if one were to identify a false premise (or a premise at least *likely* to be false) or an invalid inference in the argument, then that would level the playing field, and would result in the standard evidentiary contest that you describe above.
However, if it is a sound deductive argument, then it does prove the existence of God, and this incurs the ineluctable by-product of rendering all evidentiary concerns inconsequential – including all musings on the problem of evil or whatever facts are considered merely “likely” to militate against the necessary existence of God.
In view of this, I’d like to define the following areas of inquiry for this discussion. Please feel free to add more or to call these into question:
1) Is the MOADJ a conclusive proof for the existence of God?
2) Does the existence of the kinds and amounts of evils in the world count as evidence against the existence of God on the condition that there is no conclusive proof for the existence of God?
3) If God exists and possesses all of the classically conceived omni-attributes, then why does evil (of any kind) exist?
These are three very different questions, though the answer to any one will have an impact on how we address the others.
For example, if we answer yes to question 1, then the “debate” is over, but the exposition of the “why” of evil in question 3 remains a serious existential question even though evil cannot be used as part of a case against the existence of God. We can also answer question 2 independently of 1 or 3. Consider that it may be the case that there are adequate defenses against every possible version of argument from evil even though one may not have a proof for the existence of God and even though one may have no explanation for the “why” of evil. I assert that there are such adequate defenses, but that they constitute something of a “cheap shot” against those who are legitimately troubled by the question. My preference is to offer a full theodicy instead, and this covers both questions 2 and 3.
In brief, my position can be stated as follows:
1) The existence of God is conclusively proven through the MOADJ.
2) No argument from evil is successful even if the MOADJ is unsound and even if there is no explanation for the “why” of evil.
3) A perfect theodicy accounting for all instances of evil can be adduced such that there are no danglers or counterexamples to the proffered explanation.
I also assert that all evils are really bad, and God is perfectly good. That is, God is perfectly against every instance of evil (and this includes all instances of innocent suffering) regardless of their cause (whether moral, natural or whatever). I also hold to be true all that the Church teaches about redemptive suffering, and I affirm that God will not fail to draw forth a greater good from every evil. This may seem like a morass of confusing contradictions, but it isn’t.
We can address any of these questions, and (for the sake of our readers) we should probably address all of them. It may make sense to defer question 1 to the end since it is the most technical and pertains to something ostensibly outside of the boundary of the initial intent for the discussion. Of course, I will follow your lead, and will take your questions in the order you deem most prudent.
Dan Linford’s Second Statement
Without having a tremendous amount of time at present, I will simply say that your response was not at all adequate and for several reasons.
To start off with, we may sometimes be presented with arguments which have false conclusions and yet have a great deal of difficulty stating which of their premises are false. Thus, even if I were unable to pick out some problem with your MOADJ, the ability to provide sufficiently powerful countervailing evidence to its conclusion is evidence enough that at least one of its premises is false, even if we cannot determine which one that might be.
Second, instead of addressing the difficulty which I was beginning to outline, you simply asserted that your view was true. In fact, the following is a very strong assertion indeed and one which appears to be trivially false:
“2) No argument from evil is successful even if the MOADJ is unsound and even if there is no explanation for the ‘why’ of evil.”
And so I ask: why think that anything like (2) is true?
Let’s try this out:
1. An omnipotent, omnibenevolent God would not allow for the existence of truly gratuitous evil.
2. Insofar as the Biblical God does this, She cannot actually be omnipotent and omnibenevolent.
3. It seems that there is gratuitous evil in the world.
4. Therefore, it seems that this world is logically incompatible with God.
Perhaps a definition of ‘gratuitous evil’ would be useful as well. I don’t mean for the following to be a fully rigorous definition (I’m not providing necessary and sufficient conditions) but just a bit of an explanation.
In the context of the POE, the term ‘evil’ simply refers to any observation which would be surprising or unexpected on theism, but which would not at all be surprising/unexpected on the alternative. Typically, however, the term is used to discuss specifically instances of suffering, whether caused by nature (natural evils) or caused by other people (moral evil).
It seems relatively obvious that many instances of human suffering could have come about because God needed them for some greater good. However, that doesn’t seem to be the case for all possible instances of suffering.
‘Gratuitous evil’ then refers to those instances of suffering which do not result in any greater good. Such evils are unneccessary and do not accomplish anything. Such evils are needless.
So long as gratuitous evils are (1) logically possible and (2) logically inconsistent with the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent being, a problem has been created for Chris’s view.
Christopher McHugh’s Second Statement
In this response, I reiterate the essence of my objection to your proposed definition of “evil”, and I also restate my objection to your evidentiary criterion. I then reiterate the Expectations Defense to show that no possible version of an evidential argument from evil can be successful against Christian theism.
ON THE DEFINITION OF EVIL
In my first response, I asserted that your proposed definition of evil is so broad and counterintuitive as to render it incoherent. I am not trying to be mean, of course. smile emoticon
Your definition was stated as follows:
“In the context of the POE, the term ‘evil’ simply refers to any observation which would be surprising or unexpected on theism, but which would not at all be surprising/unexpected on the alternative.”
As I understand it, this definition of “evil” then counts any kind of surprising or unexpected event, given the truth of theism, as an *evil*. Such a definition, though, is at odds with what “evil” means on any known understanding of the term.
Question: Is the act of Jesus (i.e. God incarnate) washing Peter’s feet an evil?
Answer: No, but on your definition of evil it is.
There are many events that are surprising/unexpected if theism is true, but despite their surprising quality, they are definitely not evils, and therefore this definition won’t work.
ON EVIDENCE AND UNEXPECTED EVENTS
You offered the following as a proposed way of understanding “evidence” in the context of this discussion:
“…if the God hypothesis is made more likely by a given observation than if we did not have that observation, then that observation is evidence for God. Conversely, an observation which lowers the probability of the God hypothesis – one which is unexpected on theism – would be evidence contrary to the existence of God.”
While this criterion makes sense in a lot of cases, it doesn’t work here because a particular event can be highly unexpected on theistic assumptions, but that same event can also directly entail that theism is true. I am not saying that theism being true entails the surprising event, but that the event may necessitate the truth of theism. In such a case, the surprising event does not provide evidence against theism at all.
Question: Is the act of Jesus Christ (i.e. God incarnate) taking the position of a slave and washing Peter’s feet surprising/unexpected on theism?
Answer: The act of Jesus Christ (i.e. God incarnate) washing Peter’s feet is extremely unexpected (check out Peter’s shock and awe).
Question: Does this event count as evidence against theism?
Answer: No. If if happened, then it entails that theism is true.
With that being said, we can now safely look at your questions concerning the Virgin Birth and the evidentiary interpretation thereof. You offered three categories for how to interpret this event from an evidentiary perspective, and I will briefly reply to each.
FIRST POSSIBILITY: THE VIRGIN BIRTH, ETC, REALLY IS EVIDENCE CONTRARY TO THEISM
I answer: Though it is a surprising event if theism (apart from commitment to Christian particulars) is true, the Virgin Birth cannot be considered evidence contrary to theism as such, because (if it happened), then it entails that theism is true.
SECOND POSSIBILITY: THE VIRGIN BIRTH, ETC, IS EVIDENCE AGAINST DEISM BUT NOT AGAINST CHRISTIAN THEISM
I answer: If the Virgin Birth happened, it entails the truth of some variant of theism, and therefore it cannot be considered evidence against theism. Further, if some variant of theism is true (viz., Christian theism), then we must conclude that deism is false.
THIRD POSSIBILITY: THE VIRGIN BIRTH, ETC, ONLY APPEAR TO LOWER THE PROBABILITY OF THEISM
I answer: The Virgin Birth does not appear to lower the probability of theism at all. If it happened, then it conclusively proves the truth of theism.
My position is close to your second possibility, but not really represented by any of the possibilities you listed. I offer the following alterative:
The Virgin Birth, etc. entail the truth of some variant of theism (viz., Christian theism), and (in specifying the truth of Christian theism) can be considered evidence against all forms of non-Christian theism.
REVIEWING THE POSSIBLE EFFICACY OF ARGUMENTS FROM EVIL
In my first response, I argued that no type of argument from evil (no matter what the form) can be successfully employed as evidence against Christian theism.
[We seem to agree that logical arguments from evil are not successful (for reasons echoing Plantinga v. Mackie), and I will set the logical argument aside unless you ask otherwise.]
I offered the Expectations Defense (ED) against all versions of the evidentiary argument.
ED, stated simply, is this:
If Christian theism is true, then it is to be expected that there will be all manner of evils until the end of the world.
Question: If all these evils are expected on Christian theism, how can they then be used as evidence against it?
Answer: They can’t. To try to do so is like using Christmas trees as evidence against Christmas.
The reason why God does not prevent these evils if he is good does not need to be known in order to show that all arguments from evil fail from an evidentiary perspective.
In conclusion, if you agree that logical arguments from evil are unsound, and if you agree with the above reasoning that evidential arguments from evil have no possibility of success (at least against Christian theism), then that entails that arguments from evil cannot be successfully used in any rational case against Christian theism.
It may be a little disappointing in terms of debate drama to kill off literally all arguments from evil so easily in one move, but there is still a lot of fun stuff to look at.
We haven’t even begun to touch upon theodicy, and the question of “where does all this evil come from if God is all powerful and perfectly good” is worth examining in maximal depth.
Additionally, there is also the MOADJ, which proves the redemption, and therefore entails that God exists.
Some fine print:
*Note that my point is not that this victory over all arguments from evil makes theism more probable than naturalism. I am only saying that arguments from evil cannot be rationally used to contribute to a case of improbability for theism.
*I am discussing the evidentiary question of God’s existence for the sake of meeting evidentiary objections on their own terms and showing that those objections are bankrupt. However, I am not in agreement that theism or atheism can be assessed on any evidentiary basis at all because the modal ontological argument (as early as Hartshorne’s basic form) settles the question upon the admission of the logical possibility of either view. Hartshorne’s argument shows that if God is logically possible, then theism is true, and if atheism is logically possible, then theism is false. Since it is impossible to weigh evidence for something until we admit the logical possibility of the object of inquiry, it follows that each side is merely begging the question against the other. Knowledge of the implications of the modal ontological argument is knowledge that the entire evidentiary debate of our present day is provably nonsensical. It will take a while for the conversation at the popular level to catch up, but this ought to happen as soon as more people become aware of what’s what. That may be a tautology, but it is a meaningful one.
For reference, concerning the MOADJ:
THE MODAL ONTOLOGICAL ARGUMENT FROM DIVINE JUSTICE
Part I, Article 3: WHETHER THERE EXISTS A LOGICALLY NECESSARY GUARANTOR OF PERFECT JUSTICE
Objection 1. It seems that the existence of a guarantor of perfect justice is impossible. If such a being were to exist, then there would be no reasonable and informed persons in despair of there being perfect justice because it would be unjust that their situation proceed as it is without intervention. But there are many reasonable and informed people who are in despair of perfect justice. Therefore, a guarantor of perfect justice cannot exist.
Objection 2. Further, perfect justice is a concept that is at least partially subjective. What seems perfectly just to one person may not be so according to the evaluative standard of another. Hence, a guarantor of perfect justice cannot exist because there is no objective meaning to the term “perfect justice.”
Objection 3. Further, if there were a guarantor of perfect justice, then no unjust situations would obtain. However, there are many situations which are, in the assessment of all reasonable people, entirely unjust. Since these situations do obtain, it follows that a guarantor of perfect justice cannot exist.
Objection 4. Further, it can easily be shown that it is logically impossible for any being (regardless of its power) to make just any situation that was once unjust. Consider that it is necessarily true that no perfectly just situation can come from a standpoint of “what ought not to have been” because the purportedly “just” end situation is degraded by the diminishment of its unjust prior state. It therefore follows that it is logically impossible for any being to cause an unjust situation to be perfectly just again regardless of the power brought to bear upon that situation. This logical impossibility, combined with the fact that there are many unjust situations, allows us to conclude that no guarantor of perfect justice can exist.
On the contrary, The Catechism of the Catholic Church, quoting Julian of Norwich, states: “Here I was taught by the grace of God that I should steadfastly keep me in the faith… and that at the same time I should take my stand on and earnestly believe in what our Lord shewed in this time – that “all manner [of] thing shall be well.” (CCC, paragraph 313)
I answer that, The existence of a logically necessary guarantor of perfect justice can be demonstrated by means of the following modal ontological argument:
The Modal Ontological Argument from Divine Justice
Definition 1: A given situation is unjust iff it can possibly be considered to be lacking some due good by some coherent evaluative standard.
Definition 2: A given property is “situationally necessary” iff it is exemplified in every possible situation. [Some examples of situationally necessary properties are “being self- consistent”, “not being self-contradictory”, “being a situation”, “being something”, “being such that 2+2=4”, and so on.]
Axiom 1: If a given property “a” is not compatible with some other property “b”, then it is compatible with its complement, “non-b.” [Let “a” equal any property and let “b” equal any other property. For any property “a”, necessarily one of the following is true: 1) Property “a” is compatible with either property “b” or its complement, “non-b.” 2) Property “a” is compatible with both property “b” and its complement, “non-b.” For example, “being blue” (a) is compatible with “being colored” (b), but is not compatible with “not being colored” (non-b). Further, “being blue” (a) is compatible with “being a crayon” (b) and “not being a crayon” (non-b). However, it is not possible that the property “being blue” is compatible with neither property “b” nor its complement, “non-b” regardless of what those properties are.]
Axiom 2: The property of “being situationally necessary” is not compatible with the property “being an unjust situation.” [For any instance of injustice, there is a logically possible situation in which a just state of affairs replaces the unjust one. For example, if a guilty man is unjustly acquitted, there is a logically possible situation in which he is found guilty. If an innocent man is unjustly condemned, there is a logically possible situation in which he is never accused. A given situation is unjust only in contrast to a logically possible just version of that situation.]
Axiom 3: If a property is compatible with the property of “being situationally necessary”, then that property is situationally necessary. [The conclusion that “If it is possible that x is necessary, then x is necessary” is an established theorem of S5 modal logic. By the same logic, we know that if it is possible that a given property is exemplified in every possible situation, then it is necessary that that property is exemplified in every possible situation. In other words, if it is possible that a given property is situationally necessary, then it is situationally necessary.]
1) If the property of “being situationally necessary” is not compatible with another given property, then it is compatible with the complement of that property. [from Axiom 1]
2) The property of “being situationally necessary” is not compatible with the property “being an unjust situation.” [Axiom 2]
3) The property of “being situationally necessary” is compatible with “not being an unjust situation” [from Axiom 1 and premise 2, modus ponens]
4) If the property of “being situationally necessary” is compatible with “not being an unjust situation”, then the property of “not being an unjust situation” is situationally necessary. [from Axiom 3 and premise 3]
5) The property of “not being an unjust situation” is situationally necessary. [from 3 and 4, modus ponens]
6) Since “not being an unjust situation” is situationally necessary, either there is no sense to the concept of “injustice”, or there is an infallible justice-making power which is also situationally necessary. [The action of this power “redeems” and transforms unjust situations reconciling them to perfect justice. Such a reconciliation would have to be metaphysically coextensive with the commission of the injustice itself such that every situation is transubstantiated to be exactly the right thing at the right time, otherwise “not being an unjust situation” could not be situationally necessary.]
7) It is not the case that there is no sense to the concept of injustice. [Intuitive postulate]
8) There is a situationally necessary justice-making power. [from 6 and 7 modus tollendo ponens]
Response to Objection 1. Provided that it is logically possible for there to be an unknown morally exonerating reason why it cannot be inescapably shown (beyond the possibility of doubt) to suffering people that there is a guarantor of perfect justice, then this objection does not hold. It is logically possible that there is an unknown morally exonerating reason for such a lack of direct incontrovertible intervention. Therefore, Objection 1 does not hold. It need not be that the unknown reason remains unknown nor that it be intrinsically unknowable. However, the mere logical possibility of positing the existence of such an unknown reason is enough to refute objection 1. [Note: The presently unknown reason will be discussed in a separate article specifically dedicated to its explication.]
Response to Objection 2. The fact of there being some subjectivity to perceptions of justice does not in any way exclude the possibility of there being an objectively perfectly just situation which meets or superabundantly exceeds all of these subjective evaluative variations. It may be the case that many standards of evaluation are themselves conditioned by injustice and in need of remediation. The mere logical possibility that this is so is enough to refute Objection 2.
Response to Objection 3. This objection fails because it is logically possible that there is a morally exonerating reason why a guarantor of perfect justice does not prevent unjust situations from happening, but rather somehow “redeems” them by making them consistent with perfect justice. As with Objection 1, it need not be that the morally exonerating reason remains unknown nor must it be intrinsically unknowable. However, the logical possibility of positing the existence of such an unknown reason is enough to refute objection 3. [Note: The presently unknown reason for “redeeming” rather than preventing injustices will be discussed in a separate article specifically dedicated to its explication.]
Response to Objection 4. This objection is legitimate only if there is some point in time at which a situation is unjust, and then at a later time it is rendered just. However, it is logically possible that the reconciliation of an unjust situation to perfect justice is not a temporal transition, but an atemporal transformation which is metaphysically coextensive with every point in space and time. On such a model, there would never be a time in which a bad situation was not reconciled to perfect justice, but it would be true that through the redemptive action of the guarantor of perfect justice, “the facts ought to be the case” at all times regardless of their appearance. As Julian of Norwich says: “And therefore when the judgment is given, and we are all brought up above, we shall then clearly see in God the mysteries which are now hidden from us. And then shall none of us be moved to say in any manner: Lord, if it had been so, it would have been well. But we shall all say with one voice: Lord, blessed may you be, because it is so, it is well; and now we see truly that everything is done as it was ordained by you before anything was made.”
[Dan Linford opted out of continuing the debate at this point, and none of the other invited interlocutors chose to participate.]