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 I presented this argument as a very compelling argument against the existence of God — the argument that originally made me consider atheism.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.