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Poston's Paper on Social Evil

Ted Poston won the 2011 Younger Scholar's Prize for Philosophy of Religion for his fantastic paper, "Social Evil".  Here's the abstract:


Social evil is any pain or suffering brought about by game-theoretic interactions of 
many individuals.  This paper introduces and discusses the problem of social evil.  I begin by 
focusing on social evil brought about by game-theoretic interactions of rational moral 
individuals.  The problem social evil poses for theism is distinct from problems posed by natural 
and moral evils.  Social evil is not a natural evil because it is brought about by the choices of 
individuals.   But social evil is not a form of moral evil because each individual actor does not 
misuse his free will.  Traditional defenses for natural and moral evil fall short in addressing the 
problem of social evil.  The final section of this paper discusses social evil and virtue.  I argue 
that social evil can arise even where virtue is lacking.  Further, I explore the possibility of an 
Edwardsian defense of social evil that stresses the high demands of true virtue.  The conclusion 
of this paper is that social evil is problematic and provides  new ground for exploring the 
conceptual resources of theism.

Comments

Patrick said…
The problem of social evil is supportive of theism, as it shows that even with the best intentions people can bring about evil outcomes, which can only be avoided if there is an omniscient and omnibenevolent being telling them what to do. Consequently, the existence of God is necessary for morality.

But even if social evil cannot be prevented the theodicy outlined below, called “Theodicy from divine justice”, may withstand the challenge the problem of social evil presents for theism.

(1) God’s perfect justice prevents Him from relieving people with unforgiven sins from their sufferings (see Isaiah 59,1-2).
(2) Unlike God Christians are not perfectly just. Therefore, unlike God, they are in a position to help people with unforgiven sins. By doing this they may make those among them who haven’t yet accepted God’s salvation receptive of it (Matthew 5,16, 1 Peter 2,11-12, and 3,1-2), which in turn frees these persons from suffering in the afterlife.
(3) The greater God’s beneficial power due to His love, the greater God’s destructive power due to His justice (see Matthew 13,27-29). Striving to prevent as much suffering as possible God can only interfere to such a degree that the beneficial effect of the interference is not neutralized by the destructive effect of it.
(4) Someone who dies before he or she reaches the age of accountability, i.e. before he or she can distinguish between good and evil (see Genesis 2,16-17, Deuteronomy 1,39, and Isaiah 7,16) faces no punishment in the afterlife, as he or she would not have been able to commit sins. So, God may not be inclined to prevent such a person’s death.
(5) A person’s suffering in this life may have a redeeming effect (Luke 16,25) and consequently contribute to a decrease of the respective person’s suffering in the afterlife; the amount of suffering in this life is so to speak subtracted from the amount of suffering in the afterlife. So, God may not be inclined to relieve this person’s suffering.
(6) A person’s suffering in this life may make the person receptive of God’s salvation (Luke 15,11-21), which in turn frees this person from suffering in the afterlife.
(7) There are degrees of punishment in the afterlife depending on one’s moral behaviour (Matthew 16,27, 2 Corinthians 5,10), one’s knowledge of God’s will (Matthew 11,20-24, Luke 12,47-48, John 15,22-25), and, as mentioned before, one’s amount of suffering in this life (Luke 16,25).
(8) Those people who suffer more in this life than they deserve due to their way of life are compensated for it by receiving rewards in Heaven.
(9) As for animal suffering, animals will be compensated for it on the “new earth” mentioned in Isaiah 65,17-25, 2 Peter 3,13 and Revelation 21,1.

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