Mar 31, 2010

how much evil can the world afford?

In a recent post, blog-neighbor Mark Olson turns the Problem of Evil around.
The claim is that theodicy is an intractable problem for the believer given the evil in the world. I think that this is not necessarily the case, but that those who object to the current state of affairs have failed to provide examples of a reasonable alternative world. Failing to do that means their theodicy objections lack force, that is they object to a state of affairs which may actually be exactly what is prescribed.
The quantified theodicist, in essence, claims that this is the best of all possible worlds. And, as Olson points out, imagining a better one leads to epistemic difficulties.

1. Some of them involve a failure of imagination. Imagine a world, for instance, in which humans can regrow limbs, or don't ever have to sleep, or are born with built-in iPods. Now imagine a world that you can't imagine. Which is the best world? How do you quantify the answer?

2. Besides, any rigorously logical attempt will be confounded by the Butterfly Effect.

3. Perhaps a probabilistic argument is more likely to succeed:
1. If at least one instance of evil is gratuitous, then this is not "the best of all possible worlds."
2. It is highly likely that at least one instance of evil is gratuitous.
3. Therefore, it is highly likely that this is not "the best of all possible worlds."
4. Of course, the definition of "gratuitous" might just be a form of question-begging.

5. Returning to #1 above, perhaps the answer involves an inversion the Ontological Argument. Although I cannot yet conceive how.

6. Ultimately, the problem of the imbalance in perspectives is a form of self-directed ad hominem. It may be logically defensible that every instance of evil is somehow necessary for a greater good, but it's difficult to argue the point without seeming damned callous.

3 comments:

Jason Kuznicki said...


The claim is that theodicy is an intractable problem for the believer given the evil in the world. I think that this is not necessarily the case, but that those who object to the current state of affairs have failed to provide examples of a reasonable alternative world.

This doesn't mean that the problem of evil isn't still a problem! Suppose I told you that "apples" was the product of

433556240918365347 * 26543983261

Clearly you should not challenge my solution until you provide one of your own. Failing to do that means your objections lack force.

Jim Anderson said...

I agree that the Problem of Evil is still a live problem--and that offering an alternative isn't normally required when disproving a solution.

But the PoE, if quantified, to use your math problem analogy, would go like this:

1. x is the maximum amount of evil allowed in a universe created and sustained by an omniscient, omnibenevolent deity. E is the amount of evil in the world.

2. E is less than or equal to x.

3. Thus, there is not too much evil in the world to rule out the existence of God.

The skeptic who challenges #2 on empirical grounds has to show that E > x. I think that's Mark's point. There may be other defeaters for #2, but if the skeptic is making that particular objection, they have to quantify x. (So does the theist, which is why I think the PoE is still harder for the theist in the end.)

kingaustt said...

God is real. I went on a walk today and wow, it was beautiful. Beautifullness isn't an accident. It was totally created because the creator loves us. Go look at a pine cone and ask it why it exsists. Jehova, the God of Israel is the one who made it that way. I'm smarter than Jim, (Austin Roberts) but it will never be verified. God made me that way. Well, maybe not. Damn, I wish I could explain why God exists.