Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Brief Objection with respect to the Problem of Evil

It is sometimes asserted that while God may not be able to prevent all instances of evil because of free will, nonetheless a loving and good God would seek to minimize every evil he could. This means some proposition is asserted as a moral fact, such as: “every instance of moral evil ought to be prevented, if it can be.” Yet this is patently false. Consider the scenario of a man who intends to run over an innocent old lady in the middle of the street. Another man pushes the old lady out of the way only to be killed himself by the truck. While the man running over the old lady was an evil prevented, the man running over the other man was an evil carried out. We wouldn’t think the man acted in poor moral form by saving the life of another even though he could have prevented the moral evil that did happen. In any case, it’s not at all clear that every instance of moral evil ought to be prevented, even if it can be. The objector needs something else to succeed.

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  1. Hi Randy,

    If there is a way to accomplish saving the woman as well as the man, then that seems to obviously be the best of the three options. The question then becomes whether the world could be arranged in such a way as to maximize this type of outcome, maybe even with certainty or near certainty. That's how I view it since the truck scenario seems closer to a natural problem of evil since the driver is not acting intentionally (at least with respect to killing the man).

    The objection you've raised doesn't seem to counter that possibility.

  2. Hi Mike, I take it to be almost obvious that the man would be held morally guilty of hitting the good man with the car--if we asked someone about this scenario and whether or not it was the same as it would have been were the good man to have simply stepped out into the street and have been accidentally hit by the man they would say it was not. In any case, we have a counterexample to the major premise, for here we have an evil presented (an act for which the guilty party is morally responsible, most would think) that could be prevented, yet no one should think the good man had an obligation to prevent his own death at the expense of the lady (for what it's worth, most atheists think natural evil counts against God, so that even if we dispute it's moral qualifications, it would still apply). So a more nuanced attempt must be given.

    It seems you would say that the attempt is that God must minimize the evil in a maximal way (that is taking into account all circumstances), but I am wondering if even this is good enough (unless, for instance, we think of evil and good in terms of degrees as well). For suppose God minimizes the instances of evil taking into account free will and conflicting circumstances (where both evils could be prevented individually but not compossibly). What of those evils which can be stopped in a maximal sense but nonetheless lead to an overall greater good, and without such evils even worse or more evils ensue? I am not arguing that this is true, but merely that the altered proffered axiom doesn't allow for this possibility. Yet it seems epistemically possibly true, and without any reason to the contrary, I'm just not sure why or how objections of the "a loving God would never . . ." sort get off the ground!

  3. I just reread your post and saw that you said the man intended to run over the old lady! My fault for reading too quickly. I thought we were talking about an accident. What I was suggesting is that accidents could possibly be avoided but still allow for intentional action.

  4. Also, I wonder what would happen if we turned the proposed position around to say that the greatest good should always be favored, rather than evil instances ought to be prevented. That seems to be the flavor of many theodicies. I think interesting arguments stem from that, especially if a God-like nature is the greatest possible good where God has free will but doing evil isn't really a live option. There is a small amount of ink devoted to that here:

  5. Hi Mike, no probs on the misunderstandibg--I do it all the time! To be honest I don't have much time these days, and so while I'll get around to reading the link it probably won't be this month. :)

    I wonder at the wisdome of "greatest good" theodicies. For me, it all hinges on what is meant by "greatest good." Do we mean degree, frequency, or both? For me, I happen to think (for reasons quite independent of this post) that it is only incumbent upon God to create a good world, and that a God who loved each person would want all of them to be saved, were such a scenario compossibly true. Much depends on how many worlds were available, which worlds should be preferred over others, etc. My argument that will develop the defense I am working on I am going to try to get published in a journal, but that is a long ways off.

  6. PS--I know how to spell "wisdom." lol


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