A Curious Move in Robin Collins' Defense of the Fine-Tuning Argument

I recently skimmed Robin Collins' chapter on the fine-tuning version of the design argument in The Rationality of Theism (Ed. Paul Copan). I had read it before about a year or so ago, but I didn't catch a problem I noticed this time around. The worry is this. In a section defending the argument against the "Who Designed the Designer" criticism, Collins uses Swinburne's reply that, roughly, an explanatory posit y can explain some phenomenon x even if y is itself complex-yet-unexplained. However, when Collins discusses the "Many Universes" criticism of the fine-tuning argument, he argues that such a hypothesis is implausible, on the grounds that the mechanism that would be required to produce the universes on that hypothesis is complex and functional, and thus would itself require a designer.

In short, Collins seems to accept the following principle when he responds to the "who designed the designer?" criticism of the design argument:

(*) A theoretical posit y can be an adequate explanation of some phenomenon x, even if y is itself complex-yet-unexplained.

However, when the critic uses the Many Universes hypothesis to explain the data of fine-tuning, Collins responds in a way that is in conflict with (*).

So the worry is this. There seems to be no principled way to qualify (*) in a way that makes it legitimate to apply to theism, yet illegitimate to apply to the many universes hypothesis. But if not, then he must either accept (*) in its current, unqualified form or reject it. Now if he rejects it, then unless he takes God to be simple in structure, his hypothesis of a theistic Fine-Tuner can't be a legitimate explanation of cosmic fine-tuning, and thus his design argument collapses.

So he can't take that route. So he must accept (*). But if so, then he loses the reply to the Many Universes hypothesis, and with it any explanatory upper-hand the theistic hypothesis may have had with respect to the data of fine-tuning.

Of course, he could reply that God is simple -- e.g., he could hold to the Thomistic conception of God as a being whose existence is identical with his essence, and that all of his attributes are identical. But he seems to be hesitant to do so in his chapter (and rightly so. See, e.g., Plantinga's Does God Have a Nature? for the problems with such a view). Still, I guess that one could say that, contrary to anything we can imagine, God is absolutely simple, and our inability to comprehend God's simplicity is due to our cognitive limitations. But at that point, the pretence of offering an explanatory account of fine-tuning disappears; and in any case the many-universe proponent could play that game: perhaps at the most fundamental level of reality in the multiverse, reality is ultimately simple.

Notes on Peter van Inwagen's Criticisms of the Cosmological Argument in Metaphysics

Notes on Peter van Inwagen's Criticisms of the Cosmological Argument in Metaphysics

1. Two versions of PSR:
1.1 Unrestricted PSR: For every object and state of affairs, there is a sufficient reason for why it exists or obtains
1.2 Restricted PSR: For every object, there is a sufficient reason for why that object exists

2. Problems for PSR
2.1 Unrestricted PSR is absurd
2.1.1 If Unrestricted PSR is true, then every fact of the universe had to obtain of logical necessity (for the details, see van Inwagen's chapter on the cosmological argument in his Metaphysics)
2.1.2 But that's absurd: some events are surely logically contingent (e.g., my typing this post).
2.1.3 So, not-Unrestricted PSR
2.2 Restricted PSR is plausible, but it won’t help in demonstrating that there is a necessary being
2.2.1 If Restricted PSR is true, it doesn’t have the absurd consequence that every fact in the universe had to obtain of necessity
2.2.2 However, we can only use Restricted PSR to demonstrate that a necessary being exists only if the universe as a whole is an individual object.
2.2.3 But the universe can’t plausibly be taken to be an individual object
2.2.4 Rather, the only plausible way to think of the universe is that of an enormous collection of objects (See PvI's book, Material Beings, for the details of the argument here).
2.2.5 But if so, then perhaps there are infinitely many objects in the universe, stretching through a beginningless past, and the existence of each member of the collection can be explained in terms of one or more other members of the collection.
2.2.6 And if so, then we need not posit a necessary being to explain the existence of the universe.
2.3 Therefore, on either version of PSR, the Leibnizian cosmological argument fails.

Notes on Mackie's Criticisms of the Leibnizian Cosmological Argument in The Miracle of Theism

Mackie’s Criticisms:

1. Criticism of the notion of a necessary being:
1.1 We have no good reason to believe that there can be such a thing: For any object, one can conceive of it failing to exist.
1.2 Conceivability is prima facie evidence of possibility (or more weakly: the conceivable non-existence of x undercuts the justification for belief that x is a necessary being)
1.3 So, prima facie, for every object, it's possible for it to fail to exist (but see the weaker reading mentioned above)
1.4 But if so, then we have prima facie, defeasible evidence against the possibility of necessary beings (but see the weaker reading mentioned above)
1.5 And if so, then this severely weakens our basis for thinking that contingent beings need an explanation in terms of necessary beings. For then it is dubious that there could possibly be a necessary being (or more weakly: our justification for thinking there could be such things is undercut).

2. Criticisms of PSR:
2.1 PSR isn’t a necessary truth (or at least this isn't self-evident, or otherwise derivable from what's self-evident)
2.2 Even if we have an innate tendency to always look for an explanation, it doesn’t follow that the universe has to cooperate with this tendency and satisfy this desire
2.3 Rejecting PSR doesn’t have the implausible consequence that we can no longer do science.
2.3.1 It is enough if we explain the existence of each object or fact in terms of one or more contingent fact, and so on forever.
2.3.2 We don’t have to give a further explanation of the series of objects or facts taken as a whole.

3. Building off the previous points: Since we have reason to think that there can be no necessary being (as we saw in the previous criticism), then we have excellent reason to believe that the existence of at least some objects or facts (e.g., the existence of the set of contingent objects and events in the universe as a whole) is just a brute fact, with no further explanation.

Revised Notes on Paley's Design Argument

The Design Argument, Part I: The Classical (“Old School”) Design Argument

1. Preliminaries:
1.1 Our current topic: the design argument for the existence of a god
1.2 Defining ‘design’:
1.2.1 What do we mean when we say that something is designed? We mean, roughly, that a person of some kind intentionally made or altered something for a purpose.
1.2.2 A word that is often associated with the notion of design is ‘teleology’ and its derivatives, such as ‘teleological’.
1.2.3Etymology: telos: end, purpose
1.2.4 ‘Teleological’: exhibiting or relating to design or purpose, especially in nature
1.2.5 Thus, the design argument is often called the teleological argument
1.3 The design argument has often been called the most rationally compelling and intuitive argument for the existence of God.
1.3 It attempts to provide strong reason for believing that the universe, or at least parts of it, is the product of an exceedingly intelligent being, viz., God.
1.4 The basic idea:
1.4.1 Many of the features of the world have the appearance that an intelligent agent – i.e., a person – made it.
1.4.2 Other explanations for this appearance, e.g., that it looks that way by chance, seem implausible compared to the hypothesis that it was designed by an intelligent agent. For these features of the world are too complex and orderly to make it probable that they got that way through chance or other natural processes. By contrast, we know by experience that intelligent beings are able to create these features
1.4.3 So, probably, it really was designed. And if so then, probably, an intelligent designer of the world exists.
1.4.4 But such a being is what we refer to as ‘God’.
1.5 The most widely-known defender of the design argument: William Paley (1743-1805). His most famous exposition of the design argument is found in his book, Natural Theology, or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity Collected from the Appearances of Nature.
1.6 He compared the universe to a watch:
1.6.1 Just as a watch has features from which one justifiably concludes that it was designed, so, too, does the universe and its parts.
1.6.2 Therefore, it is probable that just as the former was designed by an intelligent being, so too was the universe.

2. Setting Up the Argument
2.1 When and why do we infer that something has been designed?
2.1.1 If, walking through a field, you came upon an object, and were immediately convinced that a person made it, what is it about that thing that would lead you to think that a person had made it? Complexity: having parts This might be necessary for a thing to be recognized as designed, but it isn’t sufficient by itself E.g. rocks, piles of sand, etc. are complex, and yet no one says “design!” when looking at them So there must be something else, in addition to complexity, that leads us to infer design Functionality: the parts work together to perform a function (If the parts weren’t fit together in just the right way, then it wouldn’t carry out the function) Examples: plastic cups (with plastic lids and straws), mousetraps, tables, chairs, houses, bicycles, cars, computers, etc. Let’s call the combination of these two features – complexity and functionality – design indicators
2.2 How do we come to learn that complexity and functionality indicate design – i.e., that they are the design indicators?
2.2.1 It doesn’t seem that it’s an innate idea, i.e., we’re not born knowing this
2.2.2 It doesn’t seem to self-evident that they are the design indicators, either. Compare: “All bachelors are unmarried males”, “and “nothing can be red all over and green all over at the same time”, vs. “all complex and functional things are designed”. The first two are self-evident; the last one is not.
2.2.3 So it must be that we learn that those are the design indicators by experience. Step 1: we observe a constant conjunction of one type of cause (intelligence) producing one type of effect (complex, functional things). This justifies the belief that there is a causal connection between intelligence and complex, functional things. Step 2: after our observations justify this causal connection, we no longer have to observe the cause of a thing to know that it was intelligently designed; rather, we just observe the effect (the complex, functional thing) and then infer the cause (intelligence).

3. Paley’s Design Argument
3.1 Most of the things that we observe to have design indicators are human artifacts: i.e., human-made objects
3.2 However, many things in the natural world have these same design indicators!
3.3 But if so, then, probably, these things were designed as well! For example:
3.3.1 the human eye (Paley’s favorite example)
3.3.2 the wing of a bird
3.3.3 the human circulatory system
3.3.4 whole organisms
3.3.5 whole ecosystems
3.3.6 In general: living organisms and their parts
3.4 But of course, these things weren’t designed by humans
3.5 And to say they were designed by, say, aliens, only pushes the issue back a step: aliens are complex and functional, and so they, too, would require a designer
3.6 So we need some designer that escapes this regress
3.7 That would require an intelligent being that’s not part of the biological realm
3.8 This being we all call ‘God’.
3.9 Standardizing the argument
3.9.1 Human artifacts are intelligently designed.
3.9.2 Living organisms and their parts resemble human artifacts (in that they both have several parts that work together to perform a function).
3.9.3 Therefore, probably, living organisms and their parts are intelligently designed as well.

4. Four main criticisms
4.1 The “Weak Analogy” objection: the analogy between human artifacts and biological organisms (and their parts) is too weak to confidently infer that the latter were intelligently designed
4.2 The “Design Mimickers” objection: it seems as though other, non-intelligent causes can mimic the effects of designers (i.e., complex, functional things)
4.2.1 We see in nature that there are also many non-intelligent causes of complex, functional things (e.g., spiders produce spider webs by instinct; tiny seeds contain an internal principle of order that lead to various kinds of vegetation (e.g., plants, trees, vegetables), etc.).
4.2.2 Neo-Darwinian evolution can produce the complex, functional structures seen in living things
4.3 The “Who Designed the Designer?” objection:
4.3.1 Either all complex, functional things require an intelligent designer, or some don’t
4.3.2 If all entities that have parts that work together to perform a function require an intelligent designer, then since the mind of the hypothetical designer of the natural world seems to bear these traits, then it, too, would need a designer.
4.3.3 On the other hand, if some entities with these features don’t require an intelligent designer (e.g., God), then why can’t we say that same thing about living organisms, or at least the universe?
4.3.4 Therefore, either God needs an intelligent designer, or we have no good reason to think that living organisms – or at least the universe – needs an intelligent designer
4.3.5 The basic point here is that *both* key hypotheses -- theism and naturalism -- have brute functional complexity (i.e., functional complexity that has no prior cause), and so it's special pleading to say that one sort of complexity requires an explanation while the other does not.
4.4 The “Even if it Worked” Objection: Even if the argument works, it doesn’t prove that the designer is the god of theism. I.e., it wouldn’t prove that:
4.4.1 the designer is all-knowing
4.4.2 the designer is all-powerful
4.4.3 the designer is perfectly good
4.4.4 the designer is an immaterial spirit
4.4.5 the designer is eternal
4.4.6 the designer is omnipresent (present everywhere)
4.4.7 the designer is also the creator
4.4.8 there is just one designer
4.4.9 the designer still exists

Notes on Peter van Inwagen's Critique of Clifford's The Ethics of Belief

Notes: Van Inwagen’s “Is it Wrong Always, Everywhere, and for Anyone to Believe Anything on Insufficient Evidence?”


-Clifford’s Principle: It is wrong, always, everywhere, and for anyone to believe anything on
insufficient evidence.

-‘Sufficient evidence’: by ‘sufficient evidence’ philosophers commonly take Clifford to mean ‘evidence that would persuade any reasonable person who is capable of assessing it’.

-Some philosophers have used the following argument against religious belief that relies on Clifford’s Principle:

1) No one is justified in believing any proposition unless they have sufficient evidence.
2) No one has sufficient evidence for the proposition that God exists.
3) Therefore, no one is justified in believing that God exists.

-The argument is valid, but is it sound?

-Some context:
-When philosophers advance this argument, they don’t usually mean to imply that there are no valid arguments for the existence of a god when they say that “there isn’t sufficient evidence”.
-There are of course plenty of those
-Rather, they usually mean to imply that the arguments and evidence offered on behalf of belief in a god wouldn’t convince all rational people who are able to properly assess them.

Van Inwagen:
-Van Inwagen thinks that this is true enough – the arguments and evidence for the existence of a god wouldn’t convince all such people
-However, he thinks that it’s a ridiculous standard of evidence.
-Because if we construe ‘sufficient evidence’ in this way – i.e., if we construe sufficient’ evidence’ as just publicly accessible evidence that would convince any rational person capable of understanding and properly assessing it, then no one has sufficient evidence for most of what they believe.

-Van Inwagen’s main conclusion: Clifford’s Thesis can’t reasonably be used to show that religious belief is immoral or unjustified.

-Note: Van Inwagen agrees with Clifford that there is a real sense in which religious beliefs – indeed any beliefs – shouldn’t be held without sufficient evidence. It’s just that he thinks that Clifford’s standards for what counts as sufficient evidence are absurd.

A closer look at the paper:

Part I:
-Pick any significant subject matter (e.g., philosophy, politics, history, the sciences, etc). There are equally intelligent experts on that subject matter who are aware of all the relevant evidence and distinctions, and hold to the highest intellectual standards, and yet who completely disagree about which way the evidence points.

-But if so, then how can any of them claim to be justified in their beliefs?

-After all, the evidence that they have doesn’t persuade other people who have the requisite intelligence, skills and standards for properly evaluating the evidence

-And yet, when they do evaluate it, they remain unconvinced

-But if so, then that would seem to show that the evidence for that belief is insufficient to justify it

-Van Inwagen’s preferred answer:

-sometimes one of the disputants enjoys some sort of insight into the evidence on a particular issue that others lack.

-The insight is incommunicable, for each person in the relevant debate has communicated to the others all of the evidence that they can

-This insight into the evidence is what justifies them in their beliefs

-However, even if this account is incorrect, there must be some correct answer

-For the alternative is a strong form of skepticism about most of our beliefs, and that is implausible

-Van Inwagen’s notion of skepticism: “Philosophical skeptics are people who…have listened to many philosophical options but take none of them, people who have listened to many philosophical debates but have never once declared a winner.”

-Sub-conclusion: everyone has a large number of beliefs that violate Clifford’s Principle; so either we’re all immoral and unjustified in having these beliefs, or Clifford’s Principle is false.

Part II:

Van Inwagen’s basic argument:
1) Either sufficient evidence is just public evidence that would persuade any rational person who is able to properly assess it, or it can include other things, such as an incommunicable insight into the publicly available evidence.
2 If sufficient evidence is just public evidence, then no one lives up to Clifford’s Principle with respect to most of their beliefs (e.g., philosophical, political, historical, scientific, etc.), in which case it’s hypocritical to attack religious believers for failing to live up to it.
3) If sufficient evidence can include other things, such as an incommunicable insight into the publicly available evidence, then we have no reason to think that religious belief can’t be justified.
4) Therefore, either it’s hypocritical to attack religious believers by failing to live up to Clifford’s Principle, or we have no reason to think that religious belief can’t be justified. (From 1-3)


-Clifford seems to be correct in thinking that we have an obligation to base our beliefs on sufficient evidence. For he’s right that our beliefs have an unavoidable impact on ourselves and others, and this impact can be harmful when the belief in question is false. Thus, groundless belief – even groundless belief in a god -- looks to be irresponsible.

-However, he seems to be incorrect in thinking that evidence has to be of such a quality that it persuades every rational person if it is to be sufficient. For people are only responsible for what it is in their power to do, and it isn’t in their power to have conclusive evidence for their beliefs on all of the sorts of topics that are required for a decent human life (the human cognitive makeup is too feeble to do so).

Reposted: Craig and Moreland on the Case Against Beginningless Traversals

I haven't seen this argument made explicit by Moreland or Craig, but I believe the materials for the following dilemma can be gleaned from their writings:

The Dilemma:
If a traversal of an infinite past is possible, then either the traversal requires a starting point or it doesn't. If it does, then the traversal could never get going, as one could never get a foothold in the beginningless series to begin the traversal (for there are an infinite number of moments before every day in such a past, and so to start at any point, you would have already had to have traversed an infinite number of moments to get to it). But if it doesn't, then the traversal should always be finished, for an infinite number of moments exist before every day in such a past, and thus all the time needed to complete the traversal exists before every day. Therefore, either the beginningless traversal can never get going or it's always completed. But both implications are absurd or otherwise unacceptable. Therefore, a beginningless traversal is impossible.

But I tend to think the argument is a failure. For take the first horn of the dilemma. Obviously one couldn't traverse a beginningless past by starting at some point, for there *is* no starting point in such a past by definition -- just as there is no "starting point" in the set of negative integers {..., -3. -2, -1}) . So the first point, while true, is something that nobody claims to be false.

I've just granted that a beginningless traversal, if possible, has no starting point. That brings us to the second horn of the dilemma. We've seen that Craig thinks we can rule out this possibility indirectly, via reductio: assuming the possibility of a beginningless traversal (i.e., counting, but without a starting point) leads to the contradiction that the traversal both occurs and has never occurred -- the latter being true because the traversal should always be finished. But why should the traversal always be finished? Craig's answer is that because there is an infinite number of moments before every day of a beginningless past, and thus enough time to complete the traversal before every day of such a past. But this is where the argument falls down. For this is to conflate traversing infinitely many moments with traversing all the moments that are to be traversed. But the former, while necessary for completing a particular infinite traversal, is not necessarily sufficient. For one can traverse an infinite number of members of a set, and yet not finish counting them all. So, for example, suppose I were counting down the negative integers toward zero from eternity past and am now counting -3. Then I have so far counted infinitely many negative integers (viz., {..., -5, -4, -3}, and yet I have not yet finished counting them all (I still have to count -2 and -1).[1]

In short, Craig and Moreland think that a beginningless infinite traversal is impossible, since either it could never get going or it should always be completed. But the first disjunct is true but irrelevant, while the second is (at least so far) without sufficient justification.

[1]Craig has denied that he is guilty of this charge:

“I do not think the argument makes this alleged equivocation, and this can be made clear by examining the reason why our eternal counter is supposedly able to complete a count of the negative numbers, ending at zero. In order to justify this intuitively impossible feat, the argument’s opponent appeals to the so-called Principle of Correspondence…On the basis of the principle the objector argues that since the set of past years can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with the set of negative numbers, it follows that by counting one number a year an eternal counter could complete a countdown of the negative numbers by the present year. If we were to ask why the counter would not finish next year or in a hundred years, the objector would respond that prior to the present year an infinite number of years will have elapsed, so that by the Principle of Correspondence, all the numbers should have been counted by now.

But this reasoning backfires on the objector: for on this account the counter should at any point in the past have already finished counting all the numbers, since a one-to-one correspondence exists between the years of the past and the negative numbers.”9

From this passage, we see Craig’s rationale for (3):

(R) The counter will have finished counting all of the negative integers if and only if the years of the past can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with them.

Furthermore, from the passage cited, we see that Craig thinks that the defender of an A0 past agrees with (R). But since the type of correspondence depicted in (R) can be accomplished at the present moment, it follows that the counter should be finished by now. Therefore, Craig’s opponent is committed to a view that entails the absurdity surfaced by the above reductio.


It isn’t clear that Craig hasn’t made his case, however. For consider the following scenario. Suppose God timelessly numbers the years to come about in a beginningless universe. Suppose further that He assigns the negative integers to the set of events prior to the birth of Christ, and then the positive integers begin at this point. Then the timeline, with its corresponding integer assignment, can be illustrated as follows:

…-3 -2 -1 Birth of Christ 1 2 3…

Suppose yet further that God assigned Ralph, an immortal creature, the task of counting down the negative integers assigned to the years BCE, and stopping at the birth of Christ. Call this task ‘(T)’. With this in mind, suppose now that Ralph has been counting down from eternity past and is now counting the day assigned (by God) the integer -3. In such a case, Ralph has counted a set of years that could be put into a one-to-one correspondence with the set of negative integers, yet he has not finished all the negative integers. This case shows that, while it is a necessary condition for counting all of the events that one is able to put them into a one-to-one correspondence with the natural numbers, this is not sufficient. For if the events that are to be counted have independently “fixed”, or, “designated” integer assignments set out for one to traverse, one must count through these such that, for each event, the number one is counting is the same as the one independently assigned to the event. In the scenario mentioned above, God assigned an integer to each year that will come to pass. In such a case, Ralph must satisfy at least two conditions if he is to accomplish (T): (i) count a set of years that can be put into a one-to-one correspondence with the natural numbers, and (ii) for each year that elapses, count the particular negative integer that God has independently assigned to it. According to Craig’s assumption (R), however, Ralph is supposed to be able to accomplish (T) by satisfying (i) alone. But we have just seen that he must accomplish (ii) as well. Therefore, being able to place the events of the past into a one-to-one correspondence with the natural numbers does not guarantee that the counter has finished the task of counting all the negative integers. In other words, (R) is false. But recall that (R) is Craig’s rationale for (3). Thus, (3) lacks positive support. But more importantly, (3) is false. This is because the scenario above is a counterexample to both (R) and (3). For (3) asserts that it is sufficient for counting down all the negative integers that one has an infinite amount of time in which to count them. But our scenario showed that one could have an infinite amount of time to count, and yet not finish counting all of the negative integers (e.g., one can count down to -3 in an infinite amount of time, and yet have more integers to count).

Notes on Mackie's Criticisms of the Design Argument in The Miracle of Theism

Mackie’s (and Hume’s) Criticisms of the Design Argument

1) The analogy between the universe (and biological organisms and their parts) and human artifacts is weak: they don’t resemble each other very well

-objection: this point only applies to the analogical version of the design argument; not the best explanation version.

-reply: Mackie agrees (see p. 137). But then he argues that if we treat intelligent design as an inference to the best explanation, this is weak. For the hypothesis doesn’t have the predictive and explanatory virtues of normal scientific hypotheses.

2) There are rival hypotheses that explain apparent design equally well

-evolution explains the apparent design of biological organisms and their parts

-natural laws and processes, and the constants of nature explain why evolution is possible

3) The same features that lead the theist to infer design imply that the designer’s mind requires a designer

-Theist’s reply #1: The designer’s mind doesn’t need a designer, even though it’s complex and orderly, and its parts work together for a purpose.

-criticism of the reply: If we allow that something can bear the marks of apparent design without being designed, then why can’t we say the same thing about objects with marks of apparent design in the natural world?

-Theist’s reply #2: The designer’s mind may need a designer, but the designer may count as an explanation before we discover the explanation of the designer’s mind.

-criticism of the reply: Okay. But then why can’t we do the same thing when it comes to explaining apparent design in the natural world? E.g., explain apparent design in terms of a natural process (e.g., evolution, which in turn is explained in terms of natural processes and laws that make evolution possible)?

-theist’s rejoinder: We can’t end the explanation in terms of natural processes, for all of our evidence supports the double-barreled principle that order arises from intelligence, and it never arises from natural processes.

-criticism of the rejoinder: Actually, all of our evidence suggests that all order, even the order in minds, is the result of natural processes. Thus, we have the best possible reason to prefer a natural-non-intelligent basis for order and apparent design in the universe.

4) Even if intelligent design were the most reasonable explanation, we can’t infer, from the mere fact that the universe or some of its parts are designed, that therefore the designer is the god of traditional theism:
-can’t infer that the designer is all- powerful, all-knowing, or morally perfect
-can’t infer that the designer is immaterial/incorporeal
-can’t infer that there is just one designer:
-can’t infer that the designer still exists:

Notes on Peter van Inwagen's Discussion of the Fine-Tuning Design Argument

Van Inwagen’s Criticisms of the Design Argument
-Note: Van Inwagen only discusses the design argument from the fine-tuning of the universe.

-Objection 1: Chance
-Every possible combination of values for the fundamental constants of nature is equally improbable.
-But, given that there is a universe, some combination or other had to obtain.
-It’s just that, by chance, the values of the constants of the actual universe allow life to arise.
-So we shouldn’t be surprised that the actual combination obtained.

-Van Inwagen’s reply:
-It is unreasonable to say that something obtained by chance whenever (i) it is just one among a large number of possibilities, (ii) there is a possible explanation for why it obtained that would be a good one if true, and (iii) no parallel good explanation exists for any of the other possibilities.
-But this is true of the values of the fundamental constants of nature in the actual universe!
-The combination of values of the actual constants of nature is just one among an (actually) infinite set of other possible combinations)
-The explanation that the values of the actual constants were intentionally assigned by an intelligent agent would be a good one if true.
-And no parallel good explanation exists for any of the other possible combinations of value assignments to the constants of nature (for they would all lead to a universe without life, which doesn’t seem surprising or in need of explanation).
-So it is unreasonable to attribute the combination of values of the constants of nature to chance until we have other reason for thinking otherwise.
-The “firing squad” illustration

-Objection 2: Necessity
-The values of the fundamental constants of nature are necessary – they couldn’t have been otherwise.
-But if so, then we need not postulate a designer as the explanation

-Van Inwagen’s Reply:
-We have no reason to believe that this is true, and good reason to think it’s false
-The “cube” illustration

-Objection 3: Perhaps we’re “mice in the walls of the cosmos”
-Even if we must conclude that the universe is designed, it doesn’t follow that it’s designed specifically for our sake.

-Van Inwagen’s reply: Even if it’s true, this argument still grants that the universe was designed.

-Objection 4: There is an equally good, rival explanation of the fine-tuned universe
-The fine-tuning for life would be equally well explained if our universe is embedded in a vast “sea” of infinitely many other universes.
-Imagine a natural process that is a “cosmos generator” that continually pumps out universes – perhaps something like a giant quantum field
-Each time it pumps out a universe, it gives a random combination of values to its fundamental constants of nature
-So on this hypothesis, infinitely many of other universes – or at least lots and lots – exist, and each one has a different set of combinations of fundamental constants of nature
-Most of them have no life, since only a few possible combinations of values of the constants are life-permitting
-But the fact that there is life in this is one of those few cosmoi – out of the trillions upon trillions of cosmoi that exist -- that has the “right” combination of values
-This hypothesis is just as good as the hypothesis of intelligent design
-So we have no persuasive reason to prefer the hypothesis of intelligent design

-Objection: OK. But even if such a “cosmos generator” existed, it would be an exceedingly complex object, with laws and constants that would themselves require a designer. But if so, then the hypothesis only pushes the need for a designer back one step – for a designer of the laws and constants of the “cosmos generator”
-Reply: Let’s just stipulate that the cosmos generator has its laws and constants of necessity, i.e., that there is only one possible set of laws and constants for the cosmos generator. It’s not important that this stipulation is true; it need only be a hypothesis with no features for which we have independent reason to think false or impossible. This is both true of this hypothesis and the designer hypothesis.

-Van Inwagen’s Conclusion: Even though we’re unable to determine which hypothesis is true, we have still reached a substantive metaphysical conclusion: something accounts for the fine-tuning of the universe – it’s extremely unreasonable to think that it’s a brute fact that its fundamental constants have these extremely improbable life-permitting values, as the early objections demonstrate. However, we can’t reach a definitive conclusion as to whether the thing that accounts for the fine-tuning of our universe is an intelligent designer or a multiverse.

Revised: Notes to Help Assess the Problem(s) of Evil

Hi gang,

Here is a list of links to recently-posted outlines on various anthologized pieces on the problem of evil:

1. Setup
1.1 Setting up the problem: notes on a key passage on the problem of evil from Hume's Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion
1.2 Contemporary data: statistics on global human suffering
1.3 Formulating the argument

2. Some Contemporary Responses to the Problem of Evil
2.1 Swinburne's response to the problems of natural and moral evil
2.2 Hick's response to the problems of natural and moral evil
2.3 Wykstra's response to the problem of evil, and Rowe's reply

3. Some Contemporary Assessments
3.1 Mackie's assessment of the problem of evil
3.2 Johnson's assessment of the problem of evil
3.3 Rowe's explication and assessment of Hick's and Swinburne's responses

Introduction to the Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil

Earlier, we discussed the most popular and intuitive argument for thinking there is a god: the design argument. That argument appealed to our ordinary observations of the intricacy and orderliness of the universe as evidence of a divine Designer. The present argument is the “evil twin” of the design argument: the problem of evil. It’s the most popular and intuitive argument for thinking there is no god. Like the design argument, it appeals to our ordinary observations, but in this case, the observations are of disorder of various sorts – in particular, evils.

There are two broad kinds of evil the argument appeals to as evidence of the non-existence of a god: moral evil and natural evil. Moral evil is “person-on-person evil” – evil committed by persons against other persons (or by a person against themselves). Moral evils run the gamut from such horrendous wickedness as genocide, slavery, torture, murder, and rape to the more mundane occurrences of “small” lies and petty theft. By contrast, natural evils are bad things that are caused by impersonal forces, such as hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, plagues, the law of predation (i.e., the fact that the only way for carnivores to stay alive is to kill and eat other conscious creatures), diseases, depression, etc.

The basic idea is then that the world is full of moral and natural evil, but a god who is all-knowing, all-powerful, and perfectly good wouldn’t allow such evil; therefore, there is no god – or at least, no god like that. The argument can stated more carefully as follows:

1. If an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good god exists, then evil does not exist.
2. It’s not the case that evil does not exist.
3. Therefore, it’s not the case that an all-powerful, all-knowing, perfectly good god exists.

The argument is an instance of modus tollens (1. If P, then Q; not-Q; therefore, not-P), and so it's deductively valid; so, the only way to rationally resist the conclusion is to show that at least one of the premises is false or otherwise unjustified. Well, why are we supposed to accept the premises?

The support for (1) goes back to at least Epicurus (Hume quotes Epicurus in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion): “Is he [God] willing but unable to prevent evil? Then he is impotent. Is he willing but unable? Then he is malevolent. Is he both willing and able? Whence then is evil?” The logic of the reasoning here can be unpacked and stated more rigorously:

1. If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then God is able to prevent evil.
2. If God is perfectly good, then God is willing to prevent evil.
3. If God is both able and willing to prevent evil, then evil does not exist.
4. Therefore, if God is all-knowing, all powerful, and perfectly good, then evil does not exist.[1]

Premise 2 is supported by observation of and testimony about the evil in the world: we observe, and hear news of, the moral evils of genocide, slavery, torture, murder, rape, kidnappings, etc., and of the natural evils of hurricanes, tornadoes, tsunamis, famine, drought, diseases, depression, etc.

[1] Proof: Let: P=God is all-knowing; Q=God is all-powerful; R=God is able to prevent evil; S=God is perfectly good; T=God is willing to prevent evil; U=Evil does not exist. Then the proof runs as follows:

1. (P∧Q) → R Premise
2. S → T Premise
3. (R∧T) → U Premise
4. (P∧Q) ∧ S Assumption
5. P∧Q 4 ∧E
6. R 1, 5 MP
7. S 4 ∧E
8. T 2, 7 MP
9. R∧T 6, 8 ∧I
10. U 3, 9 MP
11. ((P∧Q) ∧ S) → U 4-10 →I


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: To seek refuge from the unrelenting pain and misery in the world in a Being that transcends it, hoping for relief from it in this life and an afterlife. 

The chief miseries of the world can be summarized as follows:
• 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.
o The misery they create with superstitious beliefs 
o The misery of interpersonal conflict
• Furthermore, there are other forms of misery that the human race can’t escape:
o Psychological misery: remorse, shame, fear, anxiety, etc.
o 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 materials above construct the following argument:

'D' denote the data about suffering sketched above.
'H1' denote the hypothesis that D is due to an all-knowing, all-powerful, perfectly good God. 
'H2' denote the hypothesis that D is due to a cause or causes whose primary end is the mere preservation and propagation of biological species (and are thus indifferent to our welfare).

Then we can express Hume's argument as follows:

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 (all else being equal) H2 is more probable than H1. 
4. Therefore, (all else being equal) H2 is more probable than H1.

Notes on B.C. Johnson on the Problem of Evil

Johnson on the Problem of Evil

0. The setup:
1.1 A 6-month-old baby that dies painfully in a house fire.
1.2 God had the ability to save the baby, but didn’t
1.3 If God is good, then there is a legitimate excusing condition for his not saving the baby

1. First try: The baby will go to heaven.

1.1 First criticism: if it wasn’t necessary for the baby to suffer, then it was wrong to allow it – compensation in the afterlife for being wronged in this life is a separate issue

1.2 Second criticism: was it necessary then for the baby to suffer? If so, then we need an explanation for why it was necessary, as its necessity isn’t apparent

2. Second try: the baby’s painful death will have good results in the long run; so it is permissible to allow it (if it wasn’t, God wouldn’t have allowed it)

2.1 First criticism:
2.1.1 This answer assumes that whatever evils actually occur in the world have result in overall good in the long run
2.1.2 If so, then causing or permitting them is always right (otherwise God will stop them, since he won’t allow things to happen that don’t produce overall good in the long run)
2.1.3 It follows then that if we try to cause a great harm, and we actually succeed, then what we did is thereby good!
2.1.4 But this is absurd
2.2 Second criticism:
2.2.1 In any case, notice that the answer offered here doesn’t explain why God permitted the child to die a painful death.
2.2.2 It only tries to assure us that this horrible thing will result in good overall in the long run
2.2.3 But this only helps if we have some prior assurance that God is good
But notice that we wouldn’t accept this defense for wrongdoing in any other context (e.g., in a court case, where the defendant says that he’s innocent, and that even though the evidence looks to be against him now, the proof that will vindicate him will be discovered in the long run)

3. Third try: God has given us free will so that it’s our responsibility, not his.

3.1 In any other case in which a bystander knowingly allows some horrible thing to happen when he could’ve helped without the risk of injury, we wouldn’t call the bystander ‘good’.
3.2 Why, then, is it right to say that God is good in permitting the infant to burn to death?

4. Fourth try: It’s best to face disasters without help; otherwise we would become dependent on outside help

4.1 First criticism: This would seem to imply that we’re obligated to eliminate, e.g., the police departments, fire departments, etc., which is absurd.
4.2 Second criticism: But if it doesn’t, then notice that such a world doesn’t make everyone independent; rather, it makes the majority dependent upon a small minority of emergency and safety professionals, contrary to the supposed intention of God here.

5. Fifth try: If God interfered in disasters, he would eliminate a lot of the moral urgency we need to motivate us to the point of helping others

5.1 First criticism: emergency professions are a relatively new phenomenon
5.2 Second criticism: such professions function irrespective of whether the rest of us feel any urgency to help.

6. Sixth try: God needs to allow suffering in order to give us the opportunity to develop important virtues (patience, courage, sympathy, etc.).

6.1 First criticism: this may be right; but the amount of suffering in the real world isn’t required to achieve this aim
6.2 Second criticism: The world is constantly striving to make a world without these evils. Are we then making the world worse off for future generations, who will then be unable to cultivate these virtues?

7. Seventh try: God allows evil because without it we wouldn’t know what goodness is.

7.1 This may be true
7.2 However, this only requires that God permit a tiny amount of evil

8. Eighth try: God’s morality isn’t our morality; his is a “higher” morality.

8.1 If so, then it would seem to be an implausibly odd morality – one that calls “good” what we would call “bad”.

9.Ninth try: Maybe God isn’t powerful enough to prevent such evils

9.1 God should at least be as powerful as man, which is often all that’s required to stop a great many horrendous evils that actually occur

10. Tenth try: I don’t know why God permits evil, but I don’t need to have the answer in order to be justified in thinking that there is one. I have faith in God.

10.1 This is only justified if you have good evidence that he is good. Compare: appropriate faith in friends and family vs. faith in strangers or acquaintances.
10.2 But this doesn’t seem to be true of what we’re told of God

Notes on Mackie's "Evil and Omnipotence"

0. Introduction
0.1 Mackie argues that the problem of evil proves that either no god exists, or at least that the god of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, does not exist. His argument is roughly the same version of the problem of evil that we’ve been considering.
0.2 Mackie thinks that one can avoid the conclusion that God does not exist only if one admits that either God is not omnipotent (i.e., not all-powerful), or that God is not perfectly good.
0.3 However, he thinks that hardly anyone will be willing to take this route. For doing so leaves one with a conception of a god that isn’t worthy of worship, and therefore not religiously significant.
0.4 After his brief discussion of his version of the problem of evil, he considers most of the main responses to the problem of evil, and concludes that none of them work.

1. First Response and Mackie's Reply
1.1 Response: Good can’t exist without evil; evil is a necessary counterpart to good.
1.2 Mackie’s reply:
1.2.1 this seems ridiculous: clearly, goodness can exist without evil.
1.2.2 but even if it can’t, this response only works if there is just enough evil, and not one bit more, for goodness to exist. But there only needs to be a tiny amount of evil for this to be so. But there is a lot more evil than is required for goodness to exist.

2. Second Response and Mackie's Reply:
2.1 Response: The existence of evil is the only possible way to get certain important goods.
2.2 Mackie’s reply:
2.2.1unless it’s logically impossible for god to get these goods without evil, it follows that god isn’t omnipotent.
2.2.2 But it certainly seems possible to get any important good without the existence of evil.

3. Third Response and Mackie's Reply
3.1 Response: On balance, the universe is better with some evil in it than it would’ve been without it.
3.1.1 two interpretations of this response: the “aesthetic analogy” interpretation: notice that some bits of a painting or song are sometimes ugly by themselves. however, they contribute to the beauty of the painting or song when placed within them.
Now the history of the world is like a painting or song, in the sense that certain things in it appear – or maybe even are – evil in themselves. however, these things contribute to the beauty and goodness of the history of the universe when placed within them.
3.1.2 the “progress” interpretation: a world in which evil exists, but is steadily overcome and defeated through moral progress, is superior to any world in which evil never exists, and only goodness exists. examples of goods that can only be gotten if evil exists: “sympathy, benevolence, heroism, and the gradually successful struggle of doctors and reformers to overcome these evils.” (p. 268)
3.2 Mackie’s reply:
3.2.1 this response only works for evils like pain and disease – not for other sorts of evil.
3.2.2 true, pain and disease may well be necessary for goods such as, e.g., patience, sympathy, courage, etc.
3.2.3 ut there are many evils that aren’t required in order to get these important goods (e.g., cowardice, wickedness, etc.).
3.2.4 But if so, then this reply is useless as an answer to these sorts of evils.

4: Fourth Response and Mackie's Reply
4.1 Response: Evil is due to a misuse of human freedom.
4.1.1 free will is a great good: it is better for god to create a world with free creatures than a world full of creatures that aren’t free, but obey god and do what is right out of necessity
this is so even if these free creatures frequently misuse their free will and do much evil
4.1.2 and when free creatures do evil, it isn’t god’s fault; rather, only the free creatures who commit the evil are to blame
4.2 Mackie’s response:
4.2.1 if it’s possible for people to freely choose to do what is right on one occasion, then it’s possible for them to freely choose to do what is right on every occasion.
4.2.2 so why didn’t god make this possibility a reality – i.e., why didn’t god create a world with just people who freely do only what is good?
4.2.3 to say that he can’t is to say that there is a possible state of affairs that god can’t bring about.
4.2.4 but of course this is equivalent to saying that god is not omnipotent!
4.2.5 so, this answer to the problem of evil only works if you admit that god isn’t omnipotent, and thus reject all Orthodox conceptions of god.

Notes on Hick's "Evil and Theodicy"

Notes on Hick’s “Soul-Making Theodicy”


Theodicy vs. Defense:
Defense: An attempt to show what God’s reason could be – as a bare logical possibility --for allowing evil to exist.

-the goal of a defense is a modest but important one: to show that God’s existence is logically compatible with the existence of evil.

-Alvin Plantinga offered a defense.

Theodicy: An attempt to explain what God’s reason actually is for allowing evil to exist.

-the goal of a theodicy is more ambitious and important: to provide a plausible explanation as to why God actually permits evil that in our world.

-John Hick is offering a theodicy.

Two major strands of theodicy:
Augustinian theodicies involve the notion of a “fall” of God’s creatures from a state of moral perfection, which in turn leads to the “disharmony of nature” (302).

Iranean theodicies don’t involve – or at least don’t essentially involve -- the notion of a fall; instead, they involve “the creation of humankind through the evolutionary process as an immature creature living in a challenging and therefore person-making world.” (302)

-Hick is offering an Iranean theodicy:

Five main components of Hick’s theodicy:

(i) Epistemic distance and the great good of freely choosing to know and love God
-the world is religiously ambiguous, in order to give us the freedom and autonomy to freely choose to know and love God if we wish.
-it’s logically impossible to freely choose this without epistemic distance

(ii) Original moral imperfection and the great goods of moral development and freely embracing virtue
-Explains the origin of evil, as well as moral evil in general
-Explains moral evil
-Explains why there is natural evil
-it’s logically impossible to get the above-mentioned goods without original moral imperfection

(iii) A universe that results in massive amounts of pain and suffering

-intellectual development can only occur as the result of responding to challenges
-morally significant actions toward others can only occur in a world in which pain and misery are possible

(iv) Continuing moral development in an afterlife

(v) The Universal salvation of humankind

Objection: This Iranean theodicy might plausibly account for the fact that there is some of the natural and moral evils in the world. But it doesn’t account for the sheer quantity, intensity, and indiscriminatory nature of evil.

-Once we see what a great good God’s plan is of bringing all persons to a state of moral, intellectual, and spiritual perfection, and that a world of free creatures is necessary to achieve it, then we will see that the quantity of evil is justifiable. For if God fiddled with someone’s free will in any given circumstance, then to that extent he has prevented or delayed bringing about this plan. And it is inconsistent to want that plan to be achieved, and yet want God to interfere with free will when it affects you.

-the intensity of evil is relative: judging one kind of evil as “most intense” is relative to which evils there are in the world. If God removed the most intense evil that exists, then the second-worst would now be the worst, at which point we would find that evil unbearably intense, and thus in need of removal; and if He removed that one, then the third-worst would now be the worst. Thus, if we kept asking God why such intense kinds of pains and sufferings that exist do exist, and He kept eliminating them, then eventually there would be no evil, and God’s plan would be thwarted.

-the indiscriminatory nature of evil events is necessary to achieve God’s purposes. For if it only occurred when people acted immorally, then this fact would become evident to all. But if so, then it would become impossible to do what is right for the right reasons (we’d all be doing good just out of an immature and unhealthy kind of self-interest)

Notes on Swinburne, "On Why God Allows Evil"

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 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 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

Notes on Ch. 7 of Rowe's Philosophy of Religion: The Problem of Evil, Part Two

Notes on Rowe’s Ch. 7 – The Problem of Evil, Part Two

0. Preliminaries
0.1 We’ve distinguished two versions of the problem of evil: the logical and evidential problems of evil
0.2 We’ve seen that the logical problem of evil may well be a failure. For evil may be justified in cases in which the possibility of evil is logically necessary to obtain a greater good. The example we gave was contained in the free will defense
0.3 Now we’re considering the evidential problem of evil.
0.4 The main response we’ve looked at is Wykstra’s skeptical theism
0.5 We will now consider a new type of response to the evidential problem of evil, viz., a theodicy
0.6 A theodicy is an attempt to give an actual explanation that would justify a good God in allowing evil to occur
1. Another Response to the Evidential Problem of Evil: Hick’s Soul-Making Theodicy
1.1. Like the free will defense, it argues that allowing evil to occur is logically necessary to obtain great goods that outweigh such evil – He can’t get them any other way
1.2 Hick’s account of the greater goods:
1.2.1 the great good of creatures having the ability to develop morally and spiritually virtuous character.
1.2.2 the great good of creatures entering into eternal life and bliss in a relationship with God in the afterlife
1.3 How these goods justify God in permitting moral evil.
1.3.1 If our choosing or lack of choosing could have no negative effect on others, then we would be capable of little or no spiritual growth
1.3.2 It’s true that, quite often that such significant freedom and responsibility doesn’t lead to moral and spiritual growth, but rather massive evil (some use this freedom and responsibility to harm others greatly, and never grow morally or spiritually at all)
1.3.3 But this, too – i.e., a world with massive, indiscriminate evil and suffering, with no rhyme or reason – is required for moral and spiritual growth.
1.3.4 For if God made it so that only mild suffering and evil occurred, or that it only occurred when people did something bad or wrong, then: people would do what is right or good for the wrong reason – out of fear, and not out of duty people wouldn’t be moved with compassion to help the victims of evil/suffering, since they would just say that they deserved what they got, and/or that such suffering is good for them
1.4 How these good justify God in permitting natural evil.
1.4.1 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.
1.4.2 But any world like that will produce natural evils.
1.4.3 And 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.
1.4.4 If so, then we lose much of the significant freedom and responsibility for which God created an orderly, predictable world in the first place

2. Rowe’s Assessment of Hick’s Soul-making Theodicy
2.1 He concedes that this would explain why a theistic God would allow a lot of evil and misery
2.2 However, he doesn’t think it explains the particular horrendous evils he discussed in relation to his argument – the “bambi” and “Sue” cases
2.2.1 The “Bambi” case: pointless natural evil: could’ve let the fawn die very quickly, instead of over a week of horrible suffering, In fact, God could’ve prevented it from getting burned at all And although this would go against the laws of nature, and thus diminish the regularity and predictability of the world slightly, it wouldn’t diminish it so much that the world would be so horribly un-lawlike and unpredictable that we couldn’t make the free, rational decisions required for moral and spiritual growth So why didn’t God step in and save the fawn?
2.2.2 The “Sue” case: pointless moral evil God’s preventing the perpetrator from horribly torturing, abusing, and murdering the innocent little girl wouldn’t permanently prevent the perpetrator’s opportunity for moral and spiritual development. And even if it would, the price is worth it if it would protect the little girl. So why didn’t God step in and stop him, for the little girl’s sake?
2.3 In general, then, although Hick may be right that God would be justified in allowing a lot of suffering, he could’ve achieved the purposes Hick discusses by allowed much less of it

3. Assessment: Where Does This Leave Us?
3.1 The logical problem of evil isn’t fatal to theism, as the free will defense shows that God could justifiably allow at least some evil if it’s logically necessary for a greater good
3.2 The evidential problem of evil has much more force.
3.3 However, it’s not a knock-down argument for atheism. The force of the argument depends on what other background evidence you have
3.3.1 If, after careful, intelligent, and responsible evaluation, the theist is convinced by some arguments for theism: then they can say that it’s probable that God exists. they can then reason that if so, then even if it seems that there are pointless evils, this is only appearance; God must have a reason.
3.3.2 But if the theist isn’t in possession of sufficiently good evidence for theism, then the argument would provide them with a reason to abandon theism
3.3.3 If, after responsible and fair-minded evaluation, a non-theist isn’t convinced by the arguments for God’s existence, then the evidential problem of evil will give him or her a reason to think that theism is false
3.4 Note: this doesn’t mean that theism and atheism are both true; that’s of course impossible
3.5 Rather, Rowe’s claim is that, although only one of the positions can be correct, both the theist and the atheist can be rational in holding their respective views.
3.6 Rowe calls this position, “friendly atheism”

Notes on Rowe's Philosophy of Religion, Ch. 7: "The Problem of Evil", Part One

Notes on Rowe’s Ch. 7 – The Problem of Evil, Part One

0. Preliminaries:
0.1 The basic idea: There is a massive amount of evil in the world. But, at least on the face of it, this can’t be if the God of classical theism exists. For such a being would want to prevent evil (since he’s supposed to be perfectly good), and would be capable of preventing evil (since he’s supposed to be all-knowing and all-powerful). Therefore, the existence of evil is powerful evidence that the God of theism does not exist.
0.2 Kinds of evil
0.2.1 moral evil: “person against person” evil: murder, theft, dishonesty, etc.
0.2.2 natural evil: suffering caused by nature: people killed by hurricanes, animals killed by a forest fire, diseases, etc.
0.3 Versions of the problem of evil
0.3.1 the logical problem of evil this version is a deductive argument it attempts to show that the existence of God is logically incompatible the existence of evil – the existence of either one entails that the other one doesn’t exist it implies that such a God wouldn’t allow even a single instance of evil, no matter how insignificant
0.3.2 the evidential problem of evil this version is an inductive argument it attempts to show that the existence of evil makes it improbable that God exists it allows that some evil – perhaps a good deal of evil – is compatible with the existence of God

1. The logical problem of evil
1.1 statement of the argument:

1. If an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good God exists, then evil does not exist.
2. It’s not the case that evil does not exist.
3. Therefore, it’s not the case that an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good God exists.

1.2 key criticism of the argument: Premise (1) looks to be false:
1.2.1 at least some evil is compatible with God’s existence, viz., evil that is logically necessary to achieve a greater good for example, perhaps free will is a great good -- so good that it’s worth creating free creatures even if they cause a good deal of evil now suppose it turns out that no matter which people God could have created, they each would have performed at least one morally wrong action if so, then if God creates free creatures, his hands are tied – he can’t prevent evil while at the same time preserving their free will now suppose that a world with free creatures is better than any world without them suppose further that God is obligated to create the best world he can then God should create that world, even if it contains evil given this story, it follows that God’s existence is compatible with the existence of evil
1.2.2 therefore, the logical problem of evil is a failure

2. The evidential problem of evil
2.1 pointless evil: evil that could’ve been prevented without thereby preventing an outweighing good or causing another evil just as bad or worse
2.1.1 example #1: a fawn dying a slow, agonizing death due to a forest fire
2.1.2 example #2: a young, innocent child being kidnapped and horribly tortured to death
2.2 statement of the argument

1. Probably, there are pointless evils.
2. If God exists, then there are no pointless evils.
3. Probably, God does not exist.

2.3 one response to the evidential problem of evil: Wykstra’s “skeptical theism”
2.3.1 the basis of premise (1) of the evidential problem of evil is that no good that we can think of would justify God in allowing certain evils (cf. the “dog/fleas” illustration)
2.3.2 but if God is as knowledgeable and intelligent as theists claim he is – viz., he has unlimited knowledge and maximal intelligence -- then we would expect that many of God’s reasons for his actions are wise and good, yet forever beyond our comprehension.
2.3.3 if so, then the mere fact that we can’t think of a good reason for why God allows horrendous evils is a weak reason for thinking that there is no good reason
2.3.4 thus, the basis for accepting premise (1) is bad, in which case the evidential problem of evil is unconvincing
2.3.5 Wykstra’s “parent” analogy
2.4 Rowe’s criticism of the skeptical theist’s response:
2.4.1 Wykstra’s skeptical theism goes a decent way toward explaining why we shouldn’t be surprised to be baffled by horrendous evil if God exists.
2.4.2 however, his “parent” analogy has serious problems the main problem is that if we take the analogy seriously, then like normal parents, a good God would assure us of his presence and goodness when we are suffering horribly but lots of theists attest that God remains “hidden” from them during their darkest hour, even during torture and death both theists and non-theists alike admit that the hiddenness of God during times of intense suffering is a real challenge to their faith

Some Great Philosophy Podcasts

Need something to listen to while exercising or commuting? Interested in philosophy? Own an iPod (or some other sort of MP3 player)? Then check out the podcast Philosophy Bites, with Nigel Warburton. He has nice, short interviews with leading philosophers that offer helpful, accessible discussions of central philosophical arguments and figures.

Two other philosophy podcasts worth listening to are Philosophy: The Classics and Ethics Bites. The latter is what you'd expect: similar to Philosophy Bites, but more narrowly focused on ethical issues, theories, and arguments. The former offers clear, quick summaries of the key ideas and lines of argument in the central classical philosophical texts, concluding with a discussion of their strengths and weaknesses. Can't recommend these fun and stimulating podcasts enough!

(note to iTunes users: the easiest way to get these podcasts on your iPods is through a podcast search, by title, on iTunes).

Special Issue of Theologica In Honor of Dean Zimmerman

  Here . His replies to participants should be available by the end of the year.