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:

Let: 
'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.

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