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Notes: Hume's Version of the Problem of Evil in Part X of the Dialogues

-The usual, natural way in which people come to belief in God: they seek refuge from the unrelenting misery and uncertainty in the world in a Being that transcends it, hoping for relief from it in this life and an afterlife.

-The “War of Nature”: the whole realm of biological organisms is at war, competing with each other to survive.

-Humans can escape much of this war by combining to form societies, and thus protect themselves against it.

-However, once they escape it in this way, they immediately create new forms of misery.

-the misery they create with superstitious beliefs

-the misery of interpersonal conflict

-Furthermore, there are other forms of misery that the human race can’t escape:

-psychological misery: remorse, shame, fear, anxiety, etc.

-misery from mental and physical sickness and disease

-These forms of misery are constant and universal

-Furthermore, all of the goods that life has to offer combined barely make life worth living

-And the lack of any one of them makes life unhappy

-Even the best things that the world has to offer aren’t very interesting or enjoyable – at least not for any significant amount of time

-proof that everyone is miserable: when someone is asked if they would live the last twenty years of their life over again, they almost always say “No”.

-Objection: People can’t be that miserable, for if they were, they would commit suicide to escape it.

-Reply: No. They don’t commit suicide because, although they are miserable, they are more afraid of death

-Even a life of retreat from the world is miserable. For then one is confronted with the miseries of boredom, languishing, and regret.

-Thus, the misery of the world is inescapable.

-But if so, then if one were to take an honest look at the world – a world in which there is a war of nature, constant, universal, inescapable misery, and in which the good things in life provide no deep and lasting satisfaction or enjoyment -- they must admit that this isn’t the world that they would expect the God of theism to create.

-But if not, then it is improbable that such a God exists

-A better hypothesis: whoever or whatever is responsible for the world’s existence is indifferent to our welfare.

-Its only goal is the bare propagation and preservation of the species.

-For nature accomplishes no other end, such as human or animal happiness

-Even on the few occasions that it does, it appears so briefly and infrequently that it appears to be either an accidental byproduct of nature, or perhaps a begrudging allowance to ensure that the species are propagated and preserved.

We can use the logical machinery employed in the fine-tuning design argument to characterize Hume's argument here:

Data (D): A world in which there is a war of nature, constant, universal, inescapable misery, and in which the good things in life provide no deep and lasting satisfaction or enjoyment.

H1: D is due to an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good God.
H2: D is due to causes that are indifferent to our welfare.

1. We'd expect D if H2 were true.
2. We wouldn't expect D if H1 were true.
3. If we'd expect D if H2 were true, but we wouldn't expect D if H1 were true, then H2 is more probable than H1.
4. Therefore, H2 is more probable than H1.


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Reformed epistemology, roughly, is the thesis that religious belief can be rational without argument. After providing some background, I present Plantinga's defense of reformed epistemology and its influence on religious debunking arguments. I then discuss three objections to Plantinga's arguments that arise from the following topics: skeptical theism, cognitive science of religion, and basicality. I then show how reformed epistemology has recently been undergirded by a number of epistemological theories, including phenomenal conservatism and virtue epistemology. I end by noting that a good objection to reformed epistemology must criticize either a substantive epistemological theory or the application of that theory to religious belief; I also show that the famous Great Pumpkin Objection is an example of the former. And if a copy should make its way to my inbox...

UPDATE: Thanks!