the argument from evil revisited

In light of a recent response to my post on the argu­ment from evil, I felt I should make some­thing clear: the argu­ment from evil is not my argu­ment. The argu­ment and the respons­es to objec­tions that I raise in my post are not mine (and I even cit­ed the ref­er­ences that was para­phras­ing). And I’m not even entire­ly con­vinced this argu­ment is sound (I’m still mulling over what I think are poten­tial­ly good objec­tions to this argu­ment). I pre­sent­ed this argu­ment as a very com­pelling argu­ment against the exis­tence of God — the argu­ment that orig­i­nal­ly made me con­sid­er athe­ism. I haven’t real­ly talked about the objec­tions I think are real­ly trou­bling for the argu­ment, because I think that most peo­ple, upon first com­ing across this argu­ment, mis­un­der­stand it to be much weak­er than it actu­al­ly is. So, I want­ed to con­vey, in that post, the for­mi­da­bil­i­ty of the argument.

Hav­ing said that, I want to respond to the post that prompt­ed this clar­i­fi­ca­tion (please read on).

In this post, the author claims that the argu­ment (and the respons­es to objec­tions) rely on premis­es that are incon­sis­tent with the tenents of West­ern reli­gion. Well, the fact that this argu­ment is quite pre­v­e­lant and hot­ly debat­ed in phi­los­o­phy of reli­gion seems to indi­cate that these tenents are at best con­tro­ver­sial. If the argu­ment from evil so obvi­ous­ly con­flict­ed with Judeo-Chris­t­ian con­cepts of God and evil and so on, then it nev­er would have become an argu­ment that the­olo­gians would even wor­ry about coun­ter­ing. So, here I fur­ther clar­i­fy the tenents of West­ern reli­gion that the argu­ment relies on, but that the author of the ref­er­enced post claims are in fact incon­sis­tent with West­ern religion:
1. The author states that: “Because few peo­ple actu­al­ly believe in God fit­ting the cri­te­ria pre­sent­ed, the argu­ment is social­ly worth­less”. But he (or she? the author’s name is Drew, so could be either, I sup­pose) does­n’t explic­it­ly state which of the three cri­te­ria he (or she) thinks is prob­lem­at­ic. At most, he argues that my assump­tions con­cern­ing omnibenev­o­lence are prob­lem­at­ic — but that is just bick­er­ing about the def­i­n­i­tion of omnibenev­o­lence, which is not the same thing as say­ing that God is not omnibenev­o­lent. If Drew thinks that the def­i­n­i­tion giv­en of God — as hav­ing the three fea­tures giv­en — is prob­lem­at­ic, he should specif­i­cal­ly state which fea­ture he thinks is not part of most peo­ple’s con­cep­tion of God.
2. The author states that: “West­ern reli­gion makes no assur­ances that Heav­en is bet­ter than Earth. Rather, West­ern reli­gion assures us that Heav­en does not have the poten­tial to be bad. That does not tell us that Earth is bad.” Um…well, I don’t know what to say about that. I find Drew’s claim to be con­tro­ver­sial — I think he needs to back this up with some­thing. My under­stand­ing of heav­en has always been that it is a bet­ter place than here — that it is the par­adise (akin to Eden) that we had for­feit­ed when we com­mit­ted the first sin. So…is the author imply­ing that Earth is par­adise? That the suf­fer­ing and mis­ery here isn’t a bad thing that any good per­son would want to alle­vi­ate? If so, these are high­ly con­tro­ver­sial claims that the author needs to back up.
3. The author states that: “West­ern reli­gion does not share this def­i­n­i­tion of evil [where evil is char­ac­ter­ized as suf­fer­ing]; which is the intent to do harm.” Well, the idea behind this is that suf­fer­ing and mis­ery is con­sid­ered a bad thing, which good peo­ple try to elim­i­nate as best they can. If you are uncom­fort­able with call­ing this “evil” than just call it suf­fer­ing or what­not — the argu­ment still holds either way (it will just be called “the argu­ment from suf­fer­ing,” in which an omnibenev­o­lent God would want to elim­i­nate all suffering).
4. Drew claims that:

The author makes an assump­tion in the def­i­n­i­tion of benev­o­lence. The com­mon def­i­n­i­tion is “A dis­po­ti­sion to do good.” If a dis­po­si­tion is a “rel­a­tive posi­tion,” as the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary defines it then an omni-benev­o­lent being is always more inclined to do “good” (there’s that darn per­cep­tion again) than the observ­er. There­fore, an omni-benev­o­lent God would be more inclined to do “good” than the author, me, or you. That does not mean he will always do good.

Per­haps Oxford does define benev­o­lence this way — but is this what we real­ly mean by God’s omnibenev­o­lence? I under­stand God as being moral­ly per­fect — with not mere­ly a dis­po­si­tion to do good, but is such that he always does good. If he does some­times do bad things, can he real­ly be moral­ly per­fect? You can sub­sti­tute “moral­ly per­fect” for “omnibenev­o­lent” in this con­sid­er­a­tion about free will if you like — if the def­i­n­i­tion of “benev­o­lence” is the only thing that is both­er­ing you. If you think then, that God some­times does bad things, then either you think that moral per­fec­tion does entail always doing the right thing, OR you think that God is not moral­ly per­fect. I think that either of these ass­sump­tions is con­tro­ver­sial, and needs a bit of back­ing up.
5. Final­ly, Drew claims that:

The author uses God’s lack of evil as evi­dence of his omni-benev­o­lence. This implies that an omni-benev­o­lent being is intrin­sicly such. How­ev­er, we can­not be sure that God’s omni-benev­o­lence is not a result of his per­form­ing the first benev­o­lent act; he has a head start, always putting him one step ahead of us on the road of benevolence.

Frankly, I find this to be a bit con­fus­ing. So, God is omnibenev­o­lent because he per­formed the first benev­o­lent act…is that real­ly con­sis­tent with how we under­stand omnibenev­o­lence? That seems to be a very strange con­cep­tion of omnibenev­o­lence, and not one that I share. Again, Drew needs to back this claim up a bit, if he holds it.

8 thoughts on “the argument from evil revisited”

  1. I think these argu­ments are based on unsup­port­ed assump­tions on the basis of Drew’s exist­ing bias­es about what God is, and def­i­n­i­tions of things like “omnibenev­o­lence”.

    I do not believe there is any incon­sis­tan­cy with the tenets of West­ern reli­gion, only with how we have cho­sen to inter­pret texts such as the Bible.
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    1. The author states that: “Because few peo­ple actu­al­ly believe in God fit­ting the cri­te­ria pre­sent­ed, the argu­ment is social­ly worthless”. 
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    I’m not quite sure what Drew means by “social­ly worth­less”. How­ev­er, whether or not God is or is not benev­o­lent is in no way depen­dent on the num­ber of peo­ple who believe in it. our def­i­n­i­tions of what con­sti­tutes God or benev­o­lence may change as soci­ety changes, but chang­ing our def­i­n­i­tions and pre­sump­tions of such will not change the under­ly­ing truth, what­ev­er it may be. 
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    2. The author states that: “West­ern reli­gion makes no assur­ances that Heav­en is bet­ter than Earth. Rather, West­ern reli­gion assures us that Heav­en does not have the poten­tial to be bad That does not tell us that Earth is bad.” 
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    1 Corinthi­ans Chap­ter 15 ver­sus 40–42 has a slighty dif­fer­ent view on that.

    As for Earth … The Earth is not good or evil. It just is. At the most, it is what we make it.
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    3. The author states that: “West­ern reli­gion does not share this def­i­n­i­tion of evil [where evil is char­ac­ter­ized as suf­fer­ing]; which is the intent to do harm.” 
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    Yes, it does, just not direct­ly. West­ern reli­gion pro­motes love and good­ness to one anoth­er. That can be seen as pro­mot­ing the oppo­site of suffering.
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    4. Drew claims that: 
    If a dis­po­si­tion is a “rel­a­tive posi­tion,” as the Oxford Eng­lish Dic­tio­nary defines it then an omni-benev­o­lent being is always more inclined to do “good” (there’s that darn per­cep­tion again) than the observ­er. There­fore, an omni-benev­o­lent God would be more inclined to do “good” than the author, me, or you. That does not mean he will always do good. 

    Per­haps Oxford does define benev­o­lence this way — but is this what we real­ly mean by God’s omnibenev­o­lence? I under­stand God as being moral­ly per­fect — with not mere­ly a dis­po­si­tion to do good, but is such that he always does good. If he does some­times do bad things, can he real­ly be moral­ly per­fect? You can sub­sti­tute “moral­ly per­fect” for “omnibenev­o­lent” in this con­sid­er­a­tion about free will if you like — if the def­i­n­i­tion of “benev­o­lence” is the only thing that is both­er­ing you. If you think then, that God some­times does bad things, then either you think that moral per­fec­tion does entail always doing the right thing, OR you think that God is not moral­ly per­fect. I think that either of these ass­sump­tions is con­tro­ver­sial, and needs a bit of back­ing up.
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    I can’t real­ly refute Drew any bet­ter than Tina has, but I do have this to add to her assessment:

    Which is more moral and benev­o­lent: To allow free will, or to force good­ness and right­ness on those who do not choose it? I believe that both actions are moral and good, but there are dif­fer­ent “lev­els”, if you will, of moral­i­ty. I think allow­ing free will, espe­cial­ly when it’s against what you desire, is far more moral than “forc­ing” every­thing to do things in a way you think is acceptable.
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    5. Final­ly, Drew claims that:
    The author uses God’s lack of evil as evi­dence of his omni-benev­o­lence. This implies that an omni-benev­o­lent being is intrin­sicly such. How­ev­er, we can­not be sure that God’s omni-benev­o­lence is not a result of his per­form­ing the first benev­o­lent act; he has a head start, always putting him one step ahead of us on the road of benevolence.
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    We can’t prove that God lacks evil. We have numer­ous exam­ples in the Old Tes­ta­ment that God is jeal­ous and venge­ful. He claims that “right” for him­self more than once with “Ven­gence is mine”. By the def­i­n­i­tions we have, both of those are evil things. Does this mean God is evil? No, I don’t believe so. Only that God does not *lack* evil (we we define it), but accepts it as part of Her/Himself. It is human “inter­pre­ra­tion” that pre­sumes God is infal­li­ble and pure­ly good.

  2. Wow. I guess I missed the whole “Drew” post.

    I’d like to re-inforce Tina’s state­ment that the “argue­ment from evil” is not orig­i­nal to her (although I do appre­ci­ate her pre­sen­ta­tion of it). This argu­ment is per­haps one of the old­est athe­is­tic “proofs”, gen­er­al­ly asso­ci­at­ed with the Greek philoso­pher Epi­cu­rus (cir­ca 300 B.C.)

    I can appre­ci­ate Drew’s dilem­na; this argu­ment is based on cer­tain assump­tions. As I point­ed out ear­li­er, this argu­ment only affects the “God of the­ism (omnipo­tent, omni­scient, all-good)”, on the basis that only that sort of God is “wor­thy of wor­ship”. If one choos­es to wor­ship a “less­er” God, one that is not omnipo­tent or omni­scient or all-good, the argu­ment from evil is crip­pled at the start.

    But then of course one has a whole new can of worms in explain­ing why such a less­er God would be wor­thy of wor­ship or whatever.

    But for the pur­pos­es of this dis­cus­sion, I think those points are moot. As Geoff point­ed out, if we are to have a dis­cus­sion on the mer­its of the argu­ment from evil, we have to agree on some terms from the start.

  3. Good cre­ates life and evil does­nt. Good is truth and evil is dis­tor­tion of truth. God allows evil because God under­stands evil.

  4. god gives us exact­ly what we ask for. “that’s not true! — I asked to be a movie star and god did­nt give me that!” Um…huh?! — if it’s accept­ed we are all con­nect­ed, then under­stood we are made in god’s image, we can find truth in our­selves — answers appear instant­ly for all ques­tions asked, how­ev­er it takes time to rec­og­nize. why does god allow evil? In our life, what is evil and why is it there?

  5. If truth resides with­in your­self, then who besides your­self is with hold­ing you back from what you seek?

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