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Notes from my slides today - evil and suffering, Augustine, Irenaus, sceptical theism

Notes from today's lecture on evil and sufering.

n  Problem of Evil
n  Stephen Law
n  The lecture
n  What are we going to do?
n  1. Outline the problems of evil (logical and evidential).
n  2. Outline and assess the free will solutions to evidential problem offered by (I) Irenaeus and (II) Augustine.
n  3. Introduce “sceptical theism”.
n  Prelim: natural and moral evils.
n  (1): logical problem of evil
n  (1) There is an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God.
n  (2) There is evil.
n  The logical problem of evil says (1) and (2) are logically inconsistent.
n  To assert both (1) and (2) is to produce a logical contradiction (like saying that there are round squares, or married bachelors).

n  Dealing with the logical problem
n  Reply. (1) and (2) are not logically inconsistent as they stand.
n  Some important goods require evils (e.g. sympathy requires suffering).
n  God will introduce or allow a limited amount of evil if there is good reason to (i.e. a greater good).
n  (2) the evidential problem
n  1. Gratuitous evil exists.
n  2. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist
n  Conclusion: God does not exist.
n  Gratuitous evil = evil for which no God-justifying reason.
n  The evidential problem of evil (cont.)
n  The evidential problem of evil looks like a powerful argument against the existence of God. Surely there is not just evil, but gratuitous evil?
n  Yes God made all things bright and beautiful. But lets not forget about things like…
n  Augustines theodicy
n  God made Adam and Eve and gave them freewill. Genesis 3 describes the Fall in the garden of Eden.
n  Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, to do evil.
n  This brought about disharmony in both human nature and creation (hence natural evil).
n   We share in the evil nature brought about by Adam and Eve because we were seminally present in them at the Fall. So we, too, deserve to suffer.
n  Augustines theodicy (cont.)
n  Note Augustine tries to explain both natural and moral evil:
n  (i) Natural evil is brought about by the corruption of nature caused by the Fall. Earthquakes, cancer, etc. are not Gods fault, but ours (in other words it’s really moral evil after all).
n  (ii) Moral evil is a result of our own free choices – Adam and Eves, and now our own.
n  Augustines theodicy (cont.)
n  So, it is not unjust that we suffer because we brought it upon ourselves. God could have prevented this suffering but only by denying us freewill, which is a greater good.
n  So the world is, on balance, better than it would have been without free will, despite these evil consequences.
n  Problems
n  We now know there was no Adam and Eve.
n  Reply: But perhaps we might view the Eden story as a myth that tells us something about human nature? It’s an analogy or metaphor. It is not to be taken literally.
n  Problems
n  There has been human death, pain and suffering for 200,000 years (e.g. childhood mortality rates).
n  There was hundreds of millions of years of non-human death, pain and suffering before humans appeared.
n  Tectonic plate movements happen anyway whether or not we sin (causing suffering).
n  This is all inexplicable on Augustine’s theodicy (whether or not taken literally).
n  Problem
n  Even if universe is 6k years old and we are descended from Adam and Eve, why is it just for God to give our children awful diseases because of something our distant (non-existent) ancestors did?
n  We dont normally consider culpability/blameworthiness inheritable.
n  So why suppose it is in this case?

n  Irenaeuss theodicy
n  Suffering is necessary for a greater good: the development and ennobling of human souls. The world is a vale of soul-making (John Hick).
n  E.g. from suffering we learn positive values. E.g. someone that has suffered a serious illness may afterwards say how the learnt and grew through the experience.
n  Criticism of Irenaeuss theodicy
n  Criticism: why could not God make us virtuous to begin with?
n  Why force us through an unnecessary and often extremely nasty test?
n  Hick reply: God doesn’t want “puppet beings”.
n  Further criticism of Irenaeus (2)
n  The way in which natural evils are distributed throughout the world seems inconsistent with the thought that the world has been designed to develop our characters. Why does God reward mass murdering dictators and give sweet vulnerable people horrendous diseases?
n  It makes no sense!
n  The secretive headmaster
n  Suppose you come across a school…
n  The secretive headmaster
n  You observe that it has a strange regime. The teachers horribly flog some children within an inch of their lives for no reason whatever…
n  The secretive headmaster
n  Other pupils receive fantastic rewards, again for no reason all. The headmaster knows everything thats going on in the school. He knows that many children leave physically and psychologically crippled. And he is in complete control.
n  What sort of headmaster runs this school, do you think…?
n  The secretive headmaster
n  Is it reasonable to suppose he is a highly benevolent person with the best interests of his pupils at heart?
n  The secretive headmaster
n  Surely not. Pretty obviously, this sort of regime is more likely to break the pupils characters them build them!
n  But why is it reasonable to suppose the world is run by an all-knowing, supremely benevolent headmaster?
n  Comparing Irenaeus and Augustine
n  Similarities:
n  Both say: the evils we observe are not gratuitous, for they are the price paid for greater goods.
n  Unlike some other free-will theodices, both aim to account not just for moral evils, but for natural evils too.
n  Comparing Irenaeus and Augustine
n  Differences:
n  Augustine: it is the exercise of freewill in the past that is explanatorily important.
n  Irenaeus: it is the exercise of free will in the present and future thats important (allow our future development).
n  Augustine: our suffering is bound up with judgement/just punishment.
n  Irenaeus: our suffering is about development.
n  Augustine makes all evil moral evil; Irenaeus does not.
n  Sceptical theism
n  1. Gratuitous evil exists.
n  2. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist
n  Conclusion: God does not exist.
n  Michael Bergmann: We cannot know 1. is true.
n  The fact we can’t think of good reasons for evils does not allow us to conclude there are none.
n  Sceptical theism
n  Chess Grandmaster analogy: fact the novice cannot think of a reason why the Master made a move does not justify novice in thinking there is no good reason.
n  Sceptical Theism
n  We are in a similar situation with respect to God.
n  Fact that can’t think of a reason why God would allow an evil does not allow us to conclude there is no good reason.
n  Sceptical theism
n  We shouldn’t expect to be able to think of all the reasons there may be. C.f. Looking into a garage and concluding no insects.
n  Sceptical Theism
n  The probability there are such reasons is inscrutable to us. For all we know there are good reasons for the evils.
n  But then we can’t know there are any gratuitous evils!
n  But then the evidential argument from evil fails!


Philolinguist said…
With regard to the Problem of Evil, it may help to distinguish between the intentional and non-intentional contents of suffering. E.g. when I envy someone, there is the intentional side of envy (which has conceptual content, and is directed at an object). Then there is the non-intentional sensation which accompanies envy (i.e., the generic 'psychic' pain or distress which accompanies intentional states such as envy,covetousness or lust; but the pain does not itself have conceptual content).

Traditional moral psychology assigns a causal role to the non-intentional psychic pain, in motivating intentional action to end the distress. The view I'm proposing denies the traditional claim, because a generic pain with no conceptual content cannot be directed at an object, and hence cannot motivate intentional (as opposed to instinctive or reflex) action. So actions for which we can be held morally culpable cannot be caused by non-intentional states.

In a comment on another post in this blog (on William Lane Craig's remarks about animal pain from 18 March 2014), I mentioned the view that God experiences the suffering of all his creatures. Presumably (on such a view) God only experiences the non-intentional generic pain; because He cannot have evil intentional states such as envy, lust, or unrighteous anger and hatred.

On such a view, in what sense is there a traditional Problem of Evil? Some might reply "Even if God experiences my pain, surely I (as a person separate from God) also experience my own pain. Therefore, I can hold my pain against God, and blame Him for my suffering."

Who is the 'I' in that reply? Presumably, it is the chain of conceptual reasoning that rationalizes the pain as 'belonging' to it. If God is experiencing pain in the first-person through 'my' body, then God is the 'I'(I1) who experiences the non-intentional generic pain, but not the 'I' (I2) who has evil intentions accompanying the pain. In what sense does I2 have a claim to also be I1 alongside God? If I2 has no such claim, then there is no Problem of Evil, because God would be the only Self (as I1) who experiences pain, as a result of our evil intentions(as I2).

How can a chain of conceptual reasoning (that rationalizes itself to be a 'person') feel pain? Pain is not just a concept, but arguably 'personhood' is conceptual through-and-through. Some may reply "I am my body, and my body feels the pain", but most philosophers will say that's a literally false statement (or at least highly misleading). The more accurate description is "I feel pain THROUGH my body", so it follows that 'I' am not my body. A bundle of concepts held together by inferences cannot feel pain; though it can hate, envy, lust or covet (as conceptual content directed at an object). So whatever feels pain through our bodies has to be something other than a chain of reasoning, and is not itself a physical body. In so far as we are just one or both of those things, we are left out.
Anonymous said…
Can you actually prove anything you said?
Philip Rand said…

You ask for "proof" for Philolinguist's comments....

Well, if you Google "Rubber-Hand Experiments" and look at the results of these experiments with your "philosopher-hat" then you will find that what Philolinguist posits concerning the "I" is valid.

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