Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Utilitarianism and evil

John Loftus says that he subscribes to consequentialism as his ethical system. He also spends a lot of time on the argument from evil. For him, this is the trump card of atheism.

But the odd thing about his position is that many of the phenomena he cites as paradigm-cases of evil could be justified on utilitarian grounds.

So, if Loftus were a logical man, he would begin by running through his cliché-ridden list of moral or natural evils, and eliminate all of these examples which can be justified on utilitarian grounds.

In mounting the argument from evil, he would have to limit himself to whatever residual examples of evil that cannot be justified on utilitarian grounds.

Either that or he would have to argue that teleological considerations are incompatible with Christian ethics or Christian theology.

Let’s take some of his favorite examples of evil:

“The 2004 Indonesian tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people…40,000 people who starve every single day in the world. Those who don’t die suffer extensively from hunger pains and malnutrition all of their short lives…the Titanic…leukemia…schizophrenia and dementia…pandemics which have destroyed whole populations of people. Lethal parasites kill one human being every ten seconds. 100 million people were slaughtered in the last century due to genocides, and wars. Well over 100 million animals are slaughtered every year for American consumption alone, while animals viciously prey on each other.”

http://adebateontheproblemofevil.blogspot.com/2007/01/extent-of-suffering-in-our-world-makes.html

1.One fundamental consideration is that, according to consequentialism, a particular phenomenon doesn’t have to be good in and of itself to be justified. It could be evil, considered in isolation. What makes the existence of the phenomenon justifiable is that it is either instrumental to some greater good or common good, or else the possibility of this phenomenon is contingent on general conditions which make other phenomenon possible that are instrumental to a greater good or common good.

2. A particular pain may be evil, but a capacity for pain is a survival advantage.

In addition, the capacity for pain is what makes possible a capacity for pleasure.

3. Parasitism, predation, starvation, illness, aging, and death are Mother Nature’s method of population control. Overpopulation would destroy the ecological balance.

4.Ships can sink due to the existence of water, gravity, icebergs, &c. But water, gravity, and icebergs are not, themselves, natural evils.

5.Human beings can drown because human beings are natural land animals. But to be a natural land animal is not a natural evil. And there are benefits to being a land animal.

6.Even though war and genocide are moral evils, they are made possible by abilities which are not naturally evil. For example, man’s capacity to make tools.

7.A tsunami may be a natural evil, but it is made possible by things like earthquakes which function as a natural safety value to release and equalize pressure points around the globe.

8.Likewise, a tsunami is also made possible by the existence of oceans. But the ocean is not a natural evil. Indeed, it’s necessary to life on earth.

I could go into more detail, but you get the general picture.

You may find my analysis of moral and natural evil to be rather callous. But that’s because many people find utilitarianism to be rather callous. Yet I’m simply measuring Loftus’ examples of evil by his own utilitarian yardstick.

9.I’d add that there is a teleological dimension to the Christian philosophy of history.

10.I’d also add that teleology is not the only consideration in Christian ethics or Christian theology. Life in a fallen world leaves us liable to various tragedies and calamities.

Yet there are compensatory values, for the Fall is a prerequisite of redemption, which represents a second-order good unobtainable apart from the Fall.

5 comments:

  1. Regarding that last sentence, Steve, would you agree that the "compensatory" good, as you put it, of redemption, is a better "world" than that of the pre-fall reality of just obedience and fellowship?

    That is precisely why he decreed it that way, is it not?

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  2. Yes, Berny, I agree with you.

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  3. I’m simply measuring Loftus’ examples of evil by his own utilitarian yardstick.

    Actually, I don't see an intellectual problem with suffering in this world. It's all part of the travails of chance and natural selection. A hurricane or tsunami isn't something I can blame God for, since this is the earth that developed in our solar system which in turn developed in this galaxy. The fact that there is the law of predation, in which most creatures prey upon one another, isn't an intellectual problem for me either. This is the way it is, that's all.

    So when you claim that, In mounting the argument from evil, he would have to limit himself to whatever residual examples of evil that cannot be justified on utilitarian grounds, such a claim is seriously flawed.

    You still don't get it do you? This particular problem is not mine. It's the Christian theist's problem. And I can use any particular ethic that the theist adheres to for my argument, even if I myself don't adhere to that ethic, or am a relativist, a witchdoctor, a heathen, a pantheist, or an agnostic about all such claims.

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  4. John W. Loftus said:

    "And I can use any particular ethic that the theist adheres to for my argument, even if I myself don't adhere to that ethic, or am a relativist, a witchdoctor, a heathen, a pantheist, or an agnostic about all such claim."

    Yes, you *could*, but you *don't*.

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  5. "7.A tsunami may be a natural evil, but it is made possible by things like earthquakes which function as a natural safety value to release and equalize pressure points around the globe."

    Earthquakes "function as a natural safety value"? Was this intentional or Freudian?

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