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”


Ron said...


I think I agree with Rowe here. There are so many other considerations when it comes to theism vs. atheism because it is usually not just philosophic theism but Christian theism or some other type of religious theism involved.

I am curious to see your future posts. Perhaps more on your specific objections to Christianity in particular rather than just philosophy of religion stuff would be particularly fascinating.

exapologist said...

Hi Ron,

I tend to agree too. I think it can be reasonable in principle for a theist to hold onto their theism in the face of prima facie pointless evil if they have sufficient independent evidence for theism (e.g.,suppose they reason the best they can about the standard arguments of natural theology, etc., and after careful scrutiny, fail to see any undefeated defeaters for them. Then they might do a modus tollens on the crucial premise in the argument from evil, while the atheist does a modus ponens). However, by doing my best to evaluate the arguments from natural theology, it seems to me that they fail individually and collectively, and so I personally don't have that option available to me. Who knows, though. It's always open that new arguments for theism will come up, or new compelling responses to the defeaters.

Important Recent Work on Theodicy

Hill, Scott. " Why God Allows Undeserved Horrendous Evil ", Religious Studies (Online First 28 Sept. 2021). In the paper, Hill ap...