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7. Rowe’s Noseeum Arguments from Evil

Edited by Daniel HowardSnyder Indiana University Press ePub

STEPHEN JOHN WYKSTRA

In the Midwest we have “noseeums”—tiny flies which, while having a painful bite, are so small you “no see ’um.” We also have Rowe’s inductive argument for atheism. Rowe holds that the theistic God would allow suffering only if doing so serves some outweighing good. But is there some such good for every instance of suffering? Rowe thinks not. There is much suffering, he says, for which we see no such goods; and this, he argues, inductively justifies believing that for some sufferings there are no such goods. Since it gives such bite to what we cannot see, I call this a “noseeum argument” from evil.

In 1984, I criticized Rowe’s induction using CORNEA, the “Condition of Reasonable Epistemic Access.” In brief, CORNEA says that we can argue from “we see no X” to “there is no X” only when X has “reasonable seeability”—that is, is the sort of thing which, if it exists, we can reasonably expect to see in the situation. Looking around my garage and seeing no dog entitles me to conclude that none is present, but seeing no flea does not; and this is because fleas, unlike dogs, have low seeability: even if they were present, we cannot reasonably expect to see them in this way. But should we expect God-purposed goods to have the needed seeability? Arguing from the disparity between a creator’s vision and ours, I urged not: Rowe’s case thus fails CORNEA’s seeability requirement.

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3. Some Major Strands of Theodicy

Edited by Daniel HowardSnyder Indiana University Press ePub

RICHARD SWINBURNE

God is by definition omnipotent and perfectly good. Yet manifestly there is evil of many diverse kinds. It would appear that an omnipotent being can prevent evil if he tries to do so, and that a perfectly good being will try. The existence of such evil appears, therefore, to be inconsistent with the existence of God, or at least to render it improbable.1 Theodicy is the enterprise of showing that appearances are misleading: that evils of the kind and quantity we find on Earth are neither incompatible with nor render improbable the existence of God.2 Even if the evils around us do render improbable the existence of God, we may still have stronger evidence to show that there is a God which outweighs the counterevidence, which suffices to make it rational for us to believe that there is a God. My own view, however, is that theodicy is a viable enterprise, that we do not need to rely on stronger evidence for the existence of God to outweigh counterevidence from evil. This paper is a contribution to theodicy. I accept that an omnipotent being can prevent any evil he chooses, but I deny that a perfectly good being will always try to do so. If a perfectly good being is to allow evil to occur, he must have the right to do so, and there must be some good which is brought about by allowing the evil to occur and could not be brought about by him in any better way, and so great that it is worth allowing the evil to occur. If the perfectly good being is also omnipotent (i.e., can do anything logically possible), then it must be logically impossible for him to bring about the greater good in any better way. The condition about the right is important: even if my allowing you to suffer will do you great good, unless I am in some special position in regard to you (e.g., I am your parent), I do not have the right to allow you to suffer. I believe that God does have the right to allow humans (and animals) to suffer for the sake of greater good—to a limited extent and for a limited period (e.g., 100 years per human)—but I shall not argue for that here for reason of space.3 My concern will be rather with contributing toward showing that evils of the kind and quantity we find on Earth serve greater goods.

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11. Some Difficulties in Theistic Treatments of Evil

Edited by Daniel HowardSnyder Indiana University Press ePub

RICHARD M. GALE

That the world contains the evils it does obviously poses a challenge to traditional theism. For some it is logical in that a contradiction is supposed to be deducible from the coexistence of God and evil. Almost everyone now believes that adequate defenses have been devised to neutralize this challenge, a defense being a description of a possible world containing both God and the evils in question. In such a world God has a morally exonerating excuse for permitting these evils. In particular, it is claimed that the free-will defense, in at least one of its many versions, succeeds in reconciling God’s existence with moral evil—evil that is attributable to creaturely misuse of free will. In my book, On the Nature and Existence of God, I argued that no version of this defense works, and thereby the logical problem posed by moral evil is still with us. This, however, will not be my concern in this paper.

Evil also can be seen as posing an evidential challenge because the evils found in the world are supposed to lower the probability that God exists, and, for some atheologians, so much so that it is less than one-half. There are two different theistic responses to this challenge. The strongest response takes the form of a theodicy, which is a defense plus some argument for thinking that the possible world in which God and evil coexist is the actual world. The weaker response, which I will call “defensive skepticism,” is either (i) a defense coupled with an argument for our not being cognitively capable of finding out whether or not the possible world described in this defense is the actual world or (ii) just an argument for our not being cognitively capable of determining whether or not any evil is “gratuitous” in the sense that there is not in fact, though there could be, a circumstance that would constitute a morally exonerating excuse for God’s permitting it.

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5. Epistemic Probability and Evil

Edited by Daniel HowardSnyder Indiana University Press ePub

ALVIN PLANTINGA

The amount and variety of evil in our world has often baffled and perplexed believers in God. Evil can occasion deeper problems: faced with the shocking concreteness of a particularly appalling example of evil in his own life or the life of someone close to him, a believer may find himself tempted to take toward God an attitude he himself deplores; such evil can incline him to mistrust God, to be angry with him, to adopt toward him an attitude of suspicion and distrust or bitterness and rebellion. This is a pastoral, or religious, or existential problem of evil.

Many philosophers have argued, however, that evil generates a problem of quite another sort for the theist; indeed, nearly every first course in philosophy includes a session on the so-called “problem of evil.” This problem is not pastoral or existential but broadly speaking epistemic; it has to do with fulfilling epistemic obligation, or maintaining a rational system of beliefs, or following proper intellectual procedure, or perhaps with practicing proper mental hygiene. The claim is that the evil in our world—including suffering as well as evil properly so-called, that is, wickedness—is both obvious and undeniable; but then belief in God, in the face of such gross and rampant evil, is in some way intellectually dubious, or questionable, or out of order, or worse. I propose to investigate this claim. First, I shall claim that in its most viable form this objection invokes a version of the probabilistic atheological argument from evil. Second, I shall argue that the prospects for this objection are bleak, both from a rough-and-ready intuitive point of view and from the perspectives of the main contemporary accounts of probability. Third, I shall claim that the main contemporary accounts of probability don’t provide the resources for a proper discussion of this objection. And fourth, after outlining a more appropriate conception of epistemic probability, I shall try to show that in any event the most important question here does not concern the propositional warrant or lack thereof displayed by belief in God; the real question here concerns the nonpropositional warrant, if any, enjoyed by this belief.

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15. The Argument from Inscrutable Evil

Edited by Daniel HowardSnyder Indiana University Press ePub

DANIEL HOWARD-SNYDER

But there are the children, and what am I to do about them? That’s a question I can’t answer. For the hundredth time I repeat, there are numbers of questions, but I’ve only taken the children, because in their case what I mean is so unanswerably clear. Listen! . . . what have the children to do with it, tell me, please?1

1. Only those lacking moral sensibilities, or those with twisted views of providence, could fail to feel the anguish apparent in Ivan Karamazov’s question. At least when most of us reflect on each of the particular horrors he describes—e.g., the boy eaten alive by the general’s hunting hounds or the girl habitually beaten, thrashed, and kicked by her parents “until her body was one bruise,” or some other brutal, debilitating, and undeserved evil—we find ourselves frustrated, unable to grasp what reasons God would have for permitting innocent children to suffer. As Ivan puts it, “it is beyond all comprehension that they should suffer.” Their suffering is, in a word, inscrutable.

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