Because I’ve frequently presented a supralapsarian theodicy, I haven’t bothered with some other responses to the problem of evil. I’ve neglected other arguments because I find them unnecessary–which is not to say other arguments can’t be good arguments in their own right.
I’d add that a supralapsarian theodicy furnishes a general rationale for the existence of evil. It doesn’t presume to explain why God decrees any specific evil. And, in that respect, the argument I’m going to examine may have some supplementary value.
(BTW, I believe that Paul Manata has blogged on this issue as well.)
There are Christian philosophers who, in response to the evidential problem of evil, question a key premise. They take the position that if God exists, there’s no presumption that we would know his reasons for permitting evil. Therefore, they don’t think it’s incumbent upon a Christian to even give a reason for the occurrence of evil.
Of course, from the standpoint of an atheist, this smacks of special pleading. What are we to say to that reaction?
1.If you begin with the ground level assumption that there’s no evidence for God’s existence, then it’s more natural to view the response of these philosophers as special pleading. It’s like Flew’s famous parable of the invisible gardener. You have no initial evidence for God’s existence. Then, in the face of prima facie evidence against his existence, you add insult to injury by saying you also don’t need to give a reason for the occurrence of evil. You don’t need to give a reason for God’s existence and, what is more, you don’t need to give a reason for the existence of evil. So nothing could possibly count against your belief in God. Not the absence of evidence or the evidence to the contrary. One could justify any belief, however arbitrary or outlandish, on this basis.
2.This objection might have some force against a Christian fideist. Of course, as a fideist, he’d also be immune to that objection. But from an outsider’s perspective, it would carry some force.
However, except for fideists, most Christian philosophers, theologians, and apologists don’t begin with the ground level assumption that there’s no evidence for God. To the contrary, they think there are various lines of evidence for God’s existence.
Hence, there’s an obvious difference between saying:
i) We don’t have to give a reason for the existence of God, and–what is more–we don’t have to give a reason for the existence of evil!
ii) We don’t have a reason for the existence of evil, but we have many reasons for the existence of God–some of which we can give you, and some of which we can’t (since they involve personal experience, which is intransitive).
(i) invites the charge of special pleading in a way that (ii) does not.
And this, in turn, goes to the incommensurable perspective of the believer and the unbeliever. From the unbeliever’s viewpoint, belief in God is like belief in the invisible gardener. The problem of evil is just a special case of that larger deficiency. An aggravating factor. One more thing the theist can’t account for.
Since, however, the average Christian philosopher, theologian, or apologist doesn’t share that perspective, the two sides don’t place the burden of proof in the same position. For they don’t share the same starting point.
3.Beyond the question of special pleading, is it possible or plausible that God could have reasons for allowing (or decreeing) evil which are inscrutable to the human observer? Seems to me that that’s eminently plausible.
Take those science fiction scenarios in which a time-traveler wants to improve the future. He wants to change the past to avert some future tragedy. But every time he tries, he discovers that by averting one tragedy, he precipitates another tragedy in its stead. Although, when he begins tinkering with the future, he’s sure that our world is not the best possible world, that he can create a better world, he finds out that it’s exceedingly difficult to create an alternate timeline in which the overall balance of good and evil is superior. On the one hand, a past evil might give rise to a future good. On the other hand, a past good might give rise to a future evil. He can eliminate one particular evil, but in so doing he either eliminates a resultant good or precipitates another evil which is just as bad or even worse.
Clearly no human being knows enough to juggle all of the alternate outcomes and say which aggregate outcome represents a better balance overall. Actual historical causation is fiendishly complex, and when you add hypothetical variables to the mix, the various permutations are hopelessly complicated. Who’s to say which combination is better or worse? Certainly no finite mind can perform that operation.
4.On a related note, it is plausible that God has a reason not to tell us his reason? Once again, that strikes me as eminently plausible.
Let’s go back to our science fiction scenario regarding the time-traveler. In order for God to tell us why he allows (or decrees) every specific evil occurrence, he’d have to reveal the future in minute detail. Reveal the future to show how past evils give rise to future goods. How the good outweighs the evil.
But, of course, science fiction scenarios involving time travel also explore the logical difficulties of knowing the future. A future you can know is a future you can change. For the future you know is a future which, by foreknowing it, you’re in a position to change. And that, in turn, introduces a counter-suggestive dynamic which undermines foreknowledge.
The reason we can’t change the future is because we don’t know the future. So we don’t know what to do in the present (or the past, under time travel scenarios) which would change the future.
If, however, you know the future, then you know what to change in the past to change in the future. But if, in fact, you act on that knowledge, you undermine the basis of that foreknowledge. That leads us to the intractable paradoxes of time travel.
Hence, there’s a plausible reason why God would refrain from revealing his detailed reasons for allowing (or decreeing) any particular evil. That action would require God to give us a blueprint of the future. But that generates two problems:
i) It would tempt us to tinker with the future. You and I as individuals don’t care about the overall good. We care about our loved ones. Our emotional priorities lie with the welfare of our loved ones. Left to our own devices, we’d lower the wellbeing of the many to raise the wellbeing of the few. To improve the situation of my loved ones at the expense of your loved ones.
ii) And, of course, you can’t change the future unless you know the future. But if you change the future you can’t know the future.
Therefore, God not only has a plausible reason, but a necessary reason, to keep his reasons to himself.
(God can know the future because God has no intention of changing the future. Indeed, he knows the future because he intends the future.)
5.I’d add that (3) & (4) aren’t special pleading. Most science fiction writers are unbelievers. Most science fictions writers who write about time travel are unbelievers. Therefore, when I use this scenario to illustrate a Christian theodicy, I’m drawing on assumptions which even unbelievers acknowledge. Therefore, it’s not special pleading for a Christian to make assumptions which he shares in common with the unbeliever.