Friday, April 6, 2012

Theodicies, the Philosophical Fool's Errand

Willy Wonka meets Jesus.


Happy Good Friday!

Over on Christian apologist Glenn Peoples' blog, he responds to the challenge that making excuses for a good god that allows for a lot of evil is no different than people believing in an all bad god that has mysterious reasons for allowing for too much good.  He says he has three responses to this that he mentioned on his podcast and I've responded to the ones that showed up in his blog post and takes a while to describe what he sees as the principled difference between "motivated" and "unmotivated" ad hoc explanations (ones that serve only to save theories rather than ones consistent with them) and says many things typical of Christian apologists defending their "all good" god.  It may help to read his post, though you may be able to pick up on things anyway.

Here, I'm reposting my lengthy comment (with some grammar corrections and minor clarifications):

Also of note is that sometimes we have competing explanations (or entire worldviews) that each require a number of ad hoc explanations simply because we know we don't know everything (like your planetary example) and if we actually managed to explain everything given what we know, that would be pretty amazing wouldn't it?  And so in that event, it can be a matter of counting up the quantity (and motivational quality) of ad hoc explanations on either side to find out which explanation is stronger on balance.

Anyway, I should mention the moral argument fails to break the balance you've laid out because the sense of the existence of moral duties might be created to precipitate extra anguish and tormenting guilt in the world that satisfies the evil desires of the "all evil" god.  In other words it is a great thing for an evil god if everyone believes in good and evil so that we suffer for failing to heed our obligations.  

I'm not going to get into the entire case for Christian historical claims that you mention...

...but I will refute the worldview anyway.  The Christian philosopher's god is defined as a morally perfect being. Perfection entails *at least* the lack of any blemish in actions. Evil is by definition a blemish (and is an admitted component of your Christian worldview).  Hence any accommodation of any evil for any reason under any circumstances entails a not morally perfect god and hence your Christianity is refuted.

Even if good and evil are not justified outside of the Christian worldview, this merely moves the bar back to disconfirming the hypothesis that good and evil exist.  If we treat good and evil as a hypothetical account of reality and find that (as defined) they only could exist in your Christian worldview and we find that it is logically impossible on those terms (as I've just demonstrated), then Christianity is falsified in simply a slightly more elaborate way.

I believe in naturalistic moral realism, but as you should be able to see, it is unnecessary to defend that here.

In case it wasn't obvious the popular free will defense is an accommodation of evil. A morally *perfect* being in control of everything that is created does not barter with components to get the "best" deal out of the moral equation. A morally *perfect* being does not ask itself, "what good do I get out of the deal *on balance* if I allow free will?" It's just not the definition of perfection to allow even a single blemish for any reason whatsoever.

Another popular defense is the idea that perhaps this is the best possible world that could be actualized. We can't *absolutely* prove that it could even be even an iota better and hence this defense is supposed to be a good enough crack for the Christian god theory to squeak by. However, this defense erroneously presupposes that this god (who has free will to do anything) must create anything *at all*. If literally all creation possibilities entail the accommodation of evil for any reason, creation of any sort is not a morally perfect action this entity would undertake.

Hence, we can say that morally perfect beings never allow for a single moral blemish...except for when we are talking about Glenn's god.  Nice and ad hoc in that bad way.

And if for some bizarre reason Christians feel free to lower their standards of what "moral perfection" necessarily entails (and I wonder why ever they would do that), we'd have to decide what we think a good metric for judging the reality presented to us is in terms of what the Christian theory seems to entail. From all of my background knowledge about what it means to be a "good person" and what it would take to facilitate the maximum amount of good people, it would require giving most everyone throughout history a living chance at an adult life (as in not dying as a fetus, baby, toddler, or someone under an "age of reason"), the proper brains to think reasonably, proper education on all relevant topics (spiritual and otherwise), proper enculturalization to make sure people overwhelmingly tend to desire the correct things, proper resources to make sure that people are not living desperate lives that drive them to evil, and patrolling possible extremes so that no one is abused. This is exactly the kind of world we push for as humans and for good reason.  However, our world is nothing like this and so there is no way to make sense out of well worn Christian metaphors of Yahweh as a "good shepherd" or "heavenly father."  How many news stories of children locked in closets and neglected by their parents for a decade of their lives, for example, does it take to figure Christian excuses for such things are "unmotivated" on the part of supposedly well meaning theists?

Nice try, I suppose.


Also I have an extensive argument map defending the logical argument from evil that can be found here.



The Nerd said...

But don't you see? God had to allow just enough evil to make the world that much more badass.

Ben Schuldt said...

Emphasis on "bad" and "ass." :p

Patrick Shawhan said...

After reading your post and evaluating your argument map I believe both 0D_1 and your response to point 0D_1 to be inadequate. If 0D_1 is given full consideration you should note that the operating definition of "evil" is not synonymous with "sin". As it stands you are either equivocating the word "evil" or you are attacking a straw man.

Ben Schuldt said...

Hey Patrick,

Thanks for taking the time to read through things and address something specific.

However, the argument still works whether the issue is natural evil as a result of the Fall, human sinning, fallen angels, or anything else. The Bible doesn't allow humans even a hint of evil. There are sins of commission and sins of omission and if a human were in charge of everything that exists no evil would be tolerated. Yahweh would send himself to hell. The only reason we can be perfect in imperfect circumstances is because there is no possible way to control it all and we are stuck doing the best we can. That's just not the position a creator god is in.

Patrick Shawhan said...

Hey Ben,
Sorry for the long delay in our correspondence. It has taken me a while to circle back around and see your response.

Basically there are 2 possible operating definitions for "evil".
First, and this is the primary definition when considering theodicy, is undeserved human suffering. This is certainly the definition of evil being invoked when one offers up a 3 year old cancer patient as evidence of the existence of "evil".

Second, and this is the kind of evil that Christians obviously agree exists, is sin. And by sin I mean any thought or behavior that either by action or inaction seeks to displace God from His rightful position as Sovereign Lord. Disobedience, for example, is a sin because when one disobeys God that one has exalted his own authority and opinions above God's.

The difference between these two definitions is crucial. This is because if the former "evil" is allowed to exist then God is not just. I agree that this kind of evil is contradictory to and untenable within the Christian worldview. However, there is nothing contradictory within Christianity about God allowing the second kind of evil to exist. What is it to you if God wants to allow Himself to suffer our rebellious activity? At worst this is masochism, but even if we see this as self-flagellation it is unclear why the divine toleration of sin is itself a sin.

It is sin for humans to unnecessarily tolerate sin because our inaction demonstrates a lack of love or devotion for the God that created us. However, God's temporary tolerance for our sin just demonstrates his love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness. Rather than betraying Himself (as we betray God by unnecessarily tolerating sin) He is actually portraying Himself to be exactly who He said He is.

Considering all this, I still say that thought string 0D is either equivocating "evil" or attacking a straw man.

Patrick Shawhan said...

By the way, I live in St Louis now and would not be at all opposed to meeting up in person and chatting about this stuff. I guess I'm kindof a nerd that way.

Ben Schuldt said...

Are you free Tuesday night? Or perhaps Thursday night?

Patrick Shawhan said...

I think we can work something out. I will FB you about it.