Notes on Swinburne’s “Why God Allows Evil”
1. The kinds of goods a theistic god would provide: deeper goods than just “thrills of pleasure and times of contentment” (p. 90). For example:
1.1 Significant freedom and responsibility
1.1.1 for ourselves
1.1.2 for others
1.1.3 for the world in which they live
1.2 Valuable lives
1.2.1 being of significant use to ourselves
1.2.2 being of significant use to each other
2. Kinds of evil
2.1 Moral evil: all the evil caused or permitted by human beings, whether intentionally or through negligence (e.g., murder, theft, etc.)
2.2 Natural evil: all the rest: evil not caused or permitted by human beings (e.g., suffering caused by hurricanes, forest fires, diseases, animal suffering, etc.)
3. The gist of Swinburne’s answer to the problem of evil: God cannot – logically cannot -- give us the goods of significant freedom, responsibility and usefulness without thereby allowing for the possibility of lots of moral and natural evil. This is why he has allowed the evil in our world to occur. Let’s look at his answer to the problems of moral and natural evil in detail now.
4. Why God allows moral evil: it can’t be prevented once God gives us the goods of significant freedom and responsibility. This can be seen by taking a close look at the nature of these goods:
4.1 On the nature of significant freedom and responsibility
4.1.1 trivial vs. significant freedom and responsibility
18.104.22.168trivial freedom is freedom to perform non-moral actions of one’s own choosing (e.g., what kind of car to buy, where to go on vacation, etc.); significant freedom is freedom to benefit or harm ourselves, other humans, animals, and our world
22.214.171.124 trivial responsibility is responsibility for non-humans and inanimate objects (e.g., taking out the garbage, washing your car, etc.); significant responsibility is responsibility for the welfare of our own lives, the lives of others, and our world
4.1.2 significant freedom requires having a strong inclination to do what is bad or wrong; otherwise, choosing what is good or right is less significant, since such choices wouldn’t require much serious deliberation. In short, good choices have less significance when you don’t see bad choices as serious alternatives
4.1.3 significant freedom and responsibility includes the ability to freely choose what kind of person you will become, including the character traits you will have.
4.1.4 being able to shape your own life and character is a great good. It gives you a significant kind of ownership of your own life that you wouldn’t have had if God made you virtuous from the get-go, with little or no choice about the kind of person you are or become
4.1.5 therefore, it’s better for god to make us in such a way that we can shape our own life and character
4.5 if God gives us significant freedom, then it’s logically impossible for God to know what we will do in advance – his omniscience doesn’t include knowledge of our future free acts.
4.6 if God gives us significant freedom, then it’s logically impossible for God to step in and prevent the bad consequences of our bad actions.
4.6.1 for then it would be obvious to us that God exists, and that he’s perfectly good. But since such knowledge would coerce us to do what is right, it would undermine our significant freedom
4.6.2 also, if God constantly “looks over our shoulder” and intervenes when things are about to go wrong, then that would undermine our significant responsibility for ourselves, others, and our world
4.7 lives with significant freedom and responsibility are more prized and valuable than lives with mere trivial freedom and responsibility
4.8 therefore, if god creates people, he will give them significant freedom and responsibility
5. Why God allows natural evil:
5.1 Reason#1: a world with easily discoverable laws of nature – i.e., a world in which causes regularly produce certain types of predictable effects – is the best way to give persons a knowledge of the consequences of their actions without hindering their freedom.
5.1.1But any world like that will produce natural evils.
5.1.2 If God intervenes whenever suffering will occur as a result of the operation of the laws of nature, then we no longer have a world that operates in a way that we can predict.
5.1.3 If so, then we lose much of the significant freedom and responsibility for which God created an orderly, predictable world in the first place
5.2 Reason #2: a world with natural evil drastically increases the range of significant choice
5.3 What about animal suffering?
5.3.1 We have some evidence that animals suffer significantly less than humans
5.3.2 A good god would also provide some sort of analogs to the great goods he would provide to humans (even though they don’t have free will)
5.3.3 If so, then, again, he can’t allow those goods without also allowing for the possibility that animals will suffer – even horribly
6. Evil and God’s rights:
6.1 parents give their children existence, food, shelter, love, and many other sorts of care, with the motive of seeking their benefit.
6.2 this gives them the limited right to allow their children to suffer in order to achieve a greater good – either for the child’s sake, or for someone else’s
6.3 but God is the supreme parent: he is responsible for our existence, sustenance, and well-being on a much more fundamental level.
6.4 therefore, he has much greater rights than ordinary parents do to allow his children – human beings – to suffer
6.5 still, there are limits to even God’s rights to let us suffer – he can’t let us suffer immeasurably, and/or forever
6.6 but God has ensured that this won’t happen, e.g.
6.6.1 he has created us with built-in psychological limits to suffering
6.6.2 he has created us with built-in physiological limits to suffering
6.6.3 he has created us as mortals (thus preventing us from eternal suffering)
7. What if these goods don’t fully account for evil in the world? God will compensate the victims by providing them with an afterlife in which they will have a significant and worthwhile existence
Daniel Johnson reviews the book for NDPR .
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