The Argument from Evil
Michael J. Murray (Oxford University Press: Apr 30, 2011), 224 pages.
While the problem of evil remains a perennial challenge to theistic belief, little attention has been paid to the special problem of animal pain and suffering. This absence is especially conspicuous in our Darwinian era when theists are forced to confront the fact that animal pain and suffering has gone on for at least tens of millions of years, through billions of animal generations. Evil of this sort might not be especially problematic if the standard of explanations for evil employed by theists could be applied in this instance as well. But there is the central problem: all or most of the explanations for evil cited by theists seem impotent to explain the reality of animal pain and suffering through evolutionary history. Nature Red in Tooth and Claw addresses the evil of animal pain and suffering directly, scrutinizing explanations that have been offered for such evil. ~ Book Description
The Brothers Karamazov, Constance Black Garnett, trans. (Modern Library: 1977), p. 244.
It's not that I don't accept God, you must understand, it's the world created by Him I don't and cannot accept. Let me make it plain. I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage, like the despicable fabrication of the impotent and infinitely small Euclidian mind of man, that in the world's finale, at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, of all the blood they've shed; that it will make it not only posible to forgive but to justify all that has happened with men — but though all that may come to pass, I don't accept it. I won't accept it.
Why I Am Not a Christian (Simon and Schuster: 1957), p. 12.
If you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to God's fiat or is it not? If it is due to God's fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God's fiat, because God's fiats are good and not good independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God.
"Tremors of Doubt" at The Wall Street Journal (Dec 31, 2004). Of 2004's Indian Ocean tsunami.
As a Christian, I cannot imagine any answer to the question of evil likely to satisfy an unbeliever; I can note, though, that — for all its urgency — Voltaire's version of the question is not in any proper sense "theological." The God of Voltaire's poem is a particular kind of "deist" God, who has shaped and ordered the world just as it now is, in accord with his exact intentions, and who presides over all its eventualities austerely attentive to a precise equilibrium between felicity and morality. Not that reckless Christians have not occasionally spoken in such terms; but this is not the Christian God.
Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary, (Daniels: 2009), chp. 2, Crisis #6.
In October 2001 there was an incident reported in the local news that tipped my perspective farther from deism toward an atheistic-leaning agnosticism. A driver struck a pedestrian on a freeway in Fort Worth and continued the journey home, parking in the garage with the victim still on the hood of the car. The victim was conscious and pled for help, but the driver simply left him there for four days until he died, then with the help of a friend, dumped the body in a local park. The universal reaction to this incident was one of shock and outrage. Yet as I considered the millions of children who have died of starvation, wasting disease, and natural disasters, knowing that an omnipotent god could have come to their rescue in response to their pleas but did not, it was difficult not to see a parallel between God and the negligent driver. The more I contemplated the world in which we live, the harder it became to identify any clues that a benevolent, omnipotent Personality intervenes and orchestrates any of the events in our lives.
William A. Dembski (B&H Academic: Nov. 1, 2009), 254 pages.
Theodicy attempts to resolve how a good God and evil world can coexist. The neo-atheist view in this debate has dominated recent bestseller lists through books like The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins), God Is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens), and The End of Faith (Samuel Harris). And their popularity illuminates a changing mental environment wherein people are asking harder questions about divine goodness. Surprisingly, these books please intelligent design champion William Dembski, because “They would be unnecessary if Christianity were not again a live issue.” Entering the conversation, Dembski’s provocative The End of Christianity embraces the challenge to formulate a theodicy that is both faithful to Christian orthodoxy and credible to the new mental environment. He writes to make peace with three claims: (1) God by wisdom created the world out of nothing. (2) God exercises particular providence in the world. (3) All evil in the world ultimately traces back to human sin. In the process, Dembski brings the reader to a fresh understanding of what “the end (result) of Christianity” really means: the radical realignment of our thinking so that we see God’s goodness in creation despite the distorting effects of sin in our hearts and evil in the world.
Nathan Jacobson & Dace Starkweather
In more recent philosophical expressions of the Problem of Evil, the argument is carefully articulated to ensure that the evil under consideration is unquestionably gratuitous. That is, while there is suffering for which the theist can posit some possibly redemptive or soul-making purpose, there is also suffering for which it is nigh impossible to imagine any greater good being served. Specifically, attention has turned to natural evil, and to the suffering of animals in particular. For example, William Rowe's widely discussed argument imagines a fawn, alone in the woods, engulfed by a raging forest fire, suffering for days before dying. How could a good and powerful God, if he existed, allow this kind of suffering, which is immeasurable every day? On the other hand, when I watch tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra attempting to cross the Mara River as they finish their annual migration across the Serengeti, many of them violently ripped to pieces in the attempt by basks of writhing crocodiles, it is not obvious to me that this militates against the existence of God.1 I am awed and quickened by the spectacle. Though I naturally root for the antelope, I see tragic beauty in this contest for survival, red in tooth and claw. I'm not altogether sure that a world of harmless bunnies, tribbles and parakeets... a world without riptides, sandstorms, cliffs and fires, would better bespeak a great and beneficent creator. Indeed, I wonder whether a world whose magnificence is due in part to its being as wild and untamed as ours is not itself a justification for the peril and pain entailed therein. But, when I say that I am not sure, that is the truth. I am by no means unsympathetic to the suffering of animals. My heart is rent when I watch PETA's documentaries exposing our oftentimes callous and cruel treatment of animals bred for human consumption. It is egregious to kick a dog, to string up a cat. Furthermore, we have the biblical vision of heaven which portrays a time and place when the lion lies down with the lamb, implying perhaps that the current, ravenous state of nature is not the way it's supposed to be. Considering the abundance of animal suffering, it has always struck me as a bit unfortunate that the examples offered by Rowe, Tooley, and others in thesearguments are usually abstract, when they needn't be.2 So, as I continue to reflect on what we should infer from a natural world that is as violent as it is breathtakingly beautiful, I offer the following contribution. It is a riveting account from the journal of a close friend, Dace Starkweather, who experienced the very real, fiery devastation of Pike National Forest3, and bore witness to the woodland creatures and free range cattle that suffered there. I don't think anyone has ever questioned whether Rowe's example is paralleled in the real world, but this vivid, real-life account makes the question of apparently pointless natural evil all the more poignant.
Unknown on Pessimism and Despair said...
"A Dramatic Inferno" in Nation (July 6, 1912). Cited in Unamuno, Tragic Sense of Life.
If there were in the world a sincere and total pessimism, it would of necessity be silent. The despair which finds a voice is a social mood, it is the cry of misery which brother utters to brother when both are stumbling though a valley of shadows which is peopled with — comrades. In its anguish it bears witness to something that is good in life, for it presupposes sympathy. ... The real gloom, the sincere despair, is dumb and blind; it writes no books, and feels no impulse to burden an intolerable universe with a monument more lasting than brass.
Professor of Philosophy and Chair at Asbury College
Dr. Michael L. Peterson is currently Professor of Philosophy and Chair of the department at Asbury College, where he has taught for thirty years. He received the Ph.D. from the State University of New York in 1976 and has taught at the University of Kentucky, Roberts Wesleyan College, Princeton University, Greenville College, and Georgetown College. Dr. Peterson does research, writing, and speaking in the areas of philosophy of science, philosophy of education, and philosophy of religion. Dr. Peterson has written: Evil and the Christian God (Baker Books); Philosophy of Education: Issues and Options (InterVarsity Press); God and Evil: An Introduction to the Issues (HarperCollins/Westview); and With All Your Mind: A Christian Philosophy of Education (University of Notre Dame Press). He is senior author of Reason and Religious Belief (Oxford University Press, going into its 4th edition), His newest book commitment is Christian Theism and the Problem of Evil (forthcoming, Blackwell of Oxford). His next writing project is on philosophical theories of human nature.
Steven Nadier (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux: Oct 28, 2008), 320 pages.
In the spring of 1672, the German philosopher and mathematician Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz arrived in Paris on a furtive diplomatic mission. That project was abandoned quickly, but Leibniz remained in Paris with a singular goal: to get the most out of the city’s intellectual and cultural riches. He benefited, above all, from his friendships with France’s two greatest philosopher-theologians of the period, Antoine Arnauld and Nicolas de Malebranche. The interactions of these three men would prove of great consequence not only for Leibniz’s own philosophy but for the development of modern philosophical and religious thought. Despite their wildly different views and personalities, the three philosophers shared a single, passionate concern: resolving the problem of evil. Why is it that, in a world created by an allpowerful, all-wise, and infinitely just God, there is sin and suffering? Why do bad things happen to good people, and good things to bad people? This is the story of a clash between radically divergent worldviews. But it is also a very personal story. At its heart are the dramatic—and often turbulent—relationships between three brilliant and resolute individuals. In this lively and engaging book, Steven Nadler brings to life a debate that obsessed its participants, captivated European intellectuals, and continues to inform our ways of thinking about God, morality, and the world.
Peter Van Inwagen (Oxford University Press: June 2008), 198 pages.
It is generally supposed that the fact that the world contains a vast amount of suffering, much of it truly horrible suffering, confronts those who believe in an all-powerful and benevolent Creator with a serious problem: to explain why such a Creator would permit this. Many reflective people are convinced that the problem, the problem of evil, is insoluble. The reasons that underlie this conviction can be formulated as a powerful argument for the non-existence of God, the so-called argument from evil: If there were a God, he would not permit the existence of vast amounts of truly horrible suffering; since such suffering exists, there is no God. Peter van Inwagen examines this argument, which he regards as a paradigmatically philosophical argument. His conclusion is that (like most philosophical arguments) it is a failure. He seeks to demonstrate, not that God exists, but the fact that the world contains a vast amount of suffering does not show that God does not exist. Along the way he discusses a wide range of topics of interest to philosophers and theologians, such as: the concept of God; what might be meant by describing a philosophical argument as a failure; the distinction between versions of the argument from evil that depend on the vast amount of evil in the world and versions of the argument that depend on a particular evil, such as the Lisbon earthquake or the death of a fawn in a forest fire; the free-will defense; animal suffering; and the problem of the hiddenness of God. ~ Product Description
Alvin Plantinga and Michael Tooley (Wiley-Blackwell: May 2, 2008), 280 pages.
Is belief in God epistemically justified? That's the question at the heart of this volume in the Great Debates in Philosophy series, with Alvin Plantinga and Michael Tooley each addressing this fundamental question with distinctive arguments from opposing perspectives. The first half of the book contains each philosopher's explanation of his particular view; the second half allows them to directly respond to each other's arguments, in a lively and engaging conversation. Knowledge of God offers the reader a one of a kind, interactive discussion. "It's difficult to locate this book, since, in the series, there is already a book entitled Atheism and Theism. The difference is that this book is more focused on the rationality of theism — is it reasonable to believe in God — than the question of God's existence (though the latter obviously informs the former). The book is divided into six sections. Both authors get a 75 page opening statement, a 35 page response, and a final 15 page rejoinder." ~ Timothy Perrine at Amazon.com
Philip Yancey on Pain said...
"That Hurts", Books and Culture: A Christian Review (May/June 2008, p. 32)
Theologians blithely attribute pain to the Fall, ignoring the marvelous design features of the pain system. Every square millimeter of the body has a different sensitivity to pain, so that a speck of dirt may cause excruciating pain in the vulnerable eye whereas it would go unreported on the tough extremities. Internal organs such as the bowels and kidneys have no receptors that warn against cutting or burning—dangers they normally do not face — but show exquisite sensitivity to distention. When organs such as the heart detect danger but lack receptors, they borrow other pain cells ("referred pain"), which is why heart attack victims often report pain in the shoulder or arm. The pain system automatically ramps up hypersensitivity to protect an injured part (explaining why a sore thumb always seems in the way) and turns down the volume in the face of emergencies (soldiers often report no pain from a wound in the course of battle, only afterwards). Pain serves us subliminally as well: sensors make us blink several times a minute to lubricate our eyes and shift our legs and buttocks to prevent pressure sores. Pain is the most effective language the body can use to draw attention to something important.
William Hasker (IVP Academic: Apr 30, 2008), 228 pages.
Noted philosopher William Hasker explores a full range of issues concerning the problem of evil. Having taken account of the current state of the discussion and squarely facing some of the most trenchant arguments marshaled by John K. Roth and D. Z. Phillips, Hasker forges a constructive answer in some depth showing why the evil in the world does not provide evidence of a moral fault in God, the world's creator and governor. A fresh and provocative contribution to the ongoing discussion of theodicy. "Hasker's book is a model of first-rate philosophy. Beginners are unlikely to get a better introduction to the problem of evil; Hasker is a master at summarizing and getting hold of the core of the issues at stake. Veterans will be brought up to speed on the current debate; Hasker is sure-footed and fair in his assessment of friend and foe. Through it all there shines a beautiful mind that manifests a heart on fire with honesty, compassion and robust faith." ~ William J. Abraham
The Black Swan (Random House: 2007), p. 8.
History is opaque. You see what comes out, not the script that produces events, the generator of history. There is a fundamental incompleteness in your grasp of such events, since you do not see what's inside the box, how the mechanisms work. What I call the generator of historical events is different from the events themselves, much as the minds of the gods cannot be just by witnessing their deeds. You are very likely to be fooled about their intentions. ¶ This disconnect is similar to the difference between the food you see on the table at the restaurant and the process you can observe in the kitchen. ... the human mind suffers from three ailments as it comes into contact with history, what I call the triplet of opacity. They are: a) the illusion of understanding, or how everyone thinks he knows what is going on in a world that is more complicated (or random) than they realize; b) the retrospective distortion, or how we can assess matters only after the fact, as if they were in a rearview mirror (history seems clearer and more organized in history books than in empirical reality); and c) the overvaluation of factual information and the handicap of authoritative and learned people, particularly when they create categories — when they "Platonify."
The Brothers Karamazov, Constance Black Garnett, trans. (Modern Library: 1977), p. 254.
There was in those days a general of aristocratic connections, the owner of great estates, one of those men — somewhat exceptional, I believe, even then — who, retiring from the service into a life of leisure, are convinced that they’ve earned absolute power over the lives of their subjects. There were such men then. So our general, settled on his property of two thousand souls, lives in pomp, and domineers over his poor neighbours as though they were dependents and buffoons. He has kennels of hundreds of hounds and nearly a hundred dog-boys — all mounted, and in uniform. One day a serf-boy, a little child of eight, threw a stone in play and hurt the paw of the general’s favourite hound. ‘Why is my favourite dog lame?’ He is told that the boy threw a stone that hurt the dog’s paw. ‘So you did it.’ The general looked the child up and down. ‘Take him.’ He was taken — taken from his mother and kept shut up all night. Early that morning the general comes out on horseback, with the hounds, his dependents, dog-boys, and huntsmen, all mounted around him in full hunting parade. The servants are summoned for their edification, and in front of them all stands the mother of the child. The child is brought from the lock-up. It’s a gloomy, cold, foggy, autumn day, a capital day for hunting. The general orders the child to be undressed; the child is stripped naked. He shivers, numb with terror, not daring to cry.... ‘Make him run,’ commands the general. ‘Run! run!’ shout the dog-boys. The boy runs.... ‘At him!’ yells the general, and he sets the whole pack of hounds on the child. The hounds catch him, and tear him to pieces before his mother’s eyes!... I believe the general was afterwards declared incapable of administering his estates. Well — what did he deserve? To be shot? To be shot for the satisfaction of our moral feelings? Speak, Alyosha!
Nick Trakakis (Springer: Nov 29, 2006), 276 pages.
Why would a loving God who is all-powerful and all-knowing create a world like ours which is marred by all manner of evil, suffering and injustice? This question has come to be known as ‘the problem of evil’ and has troubled both ordinary folk and specialist philosophers and theologians for centuries, with no answer seemingly in sight. However, in a series of publications from the late 1970s onwards, Professor William Rowe – one of the leading philosophers of religion today – has put forward a powerful case in support of the view that the horrors littering our planet constitute strong evidence against the existence of God. In this book, the first extended study of Rowe’s defense of atheism on the basis of evil, Nick Trakakis comprehensively assesses the large body of literature that has developed in response to Rowe’s work, paying particular attention to two strategies employed by critics: firstly, the appeal to mystery – the idea that God may well have reasons for permitting evil that lie beyond our comprehension; and secondly, the appeal to theodicies, where this involves offering explanations as to why God allows evil to abound in his creation (free will theodicies, for example, argue that God could not prevent us from acting wrongly without at the same time curtailing or removing our free will). Trakakis unearths significant difficulties in both strategies, and concludes that – absent any evidence in support of theism – the God of theism must be judged to be "beyond belief". ~ Product Description
Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier, eds. (Prometheus Books: Feb 6, 2006), 432 pages.
A growing number of powerful arguments have been formulated by philosophers and logicians in recent years demonstrating that the existence of God is improbable. These arguments assume that God's existence is possible but argue that the weight of the empirical evidence is against God's actual existence. This unique anthology collects most of the important arguments for the improbability of God that have been published since the mid-1900s. The editors make each argument clear and accessible by providing a helpful summary. In addition, they arrange this diverse collection of arguments for the improbability of God into four thematic groups: Part 1 contains cosmological arguments based on the weight of the evidence relative to the origin of the universe; Part 2 presents teleological arguments based on the weight of the evidence relative to the order in the universe; Part 3 deals with inductive evil arguments based on the weight of the evidence relative to the widespread and horrendous evil in the world; and Part 4 contains nonbelief arguments based on the weight of the evidence relative to the widespread nonbelief or the reasonable nonbelief in the world. The list of distinguished authors includes William Rowe, Theodore Drange, Quentin Smith, Victor Stenger, J. L. Schellenberg, and Michael Martin, among others. With this new anthology as a companion to their earlier anthology, The Impossibility of God (2003), Martin and Monnier have created an indispensable resource in the philosophy of religion.
Alexander R. Pruss, Dep. of Philosophy, Georgetown University (Nov. 2004). Referenced images absent.
I will sketch an argument that if we follow St. Augustine in seeing the cosmos—i.e., the sum total of all created existence—as a work of art, then we have good reason to be sceptical of the judgment that there are gratuitous evils. I will do so by stating several features of works of art each of which, when transferred to the case of the cosmos, makes it difficult to conclude that any evil we see is gratuitous. However this account does not undercut the religious claims that from the goodness of things in the universe we can tell something about God’s goodness. Paradoxically, evil does not give a strong argument against the existence of God, but good might give a strong argument in favor of it.