Sunday, May 27, 2012

Counterevidence and the evidential problem of evil

6.1 The Appeal to Positive Evidence for the Existence of God
If a given, concrete formulation of the argument from evil appeals to cases of intrinsically undesirable states of affairs that give rise to only to evidential considerations, rather than to incompatibility considerations, then, although the existence of God may be improbable relative to that evidence, it may not be improbable relative to one's total evidence. Theists, however, have often contended that there are a variety of arguments that, even if they do not prove that God exists, provide positive evidence. May not this positive evidence outweigh, then, the negative evidence of apparently unjustified evils?
A similar conclusion can be defended with respect to other arguments, such as those that appeal to purported miracles, or religious experiences. For while in the case of religious experiences it might be argued that personal contact with a being may provide additional evidence concerning the person's character, it is clear that the primary evidence concerning a person's character must consist of information concerning what the person does and does not do. So, contrary to the claim advanced by Robert Adams (1985, 245), even if there were veridical religious experiences, they would not provide one with a satisfactory defense against the argument from evil.
A good way of underlining the basic point here is by setting out an alternative formulation of the argument from evil in which it is granted, for the sake of argument, that there is an omnipotent and omniscient person. The result of doing this is that the conclusion at which one arrives is not that there is no omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect person, but, rather, that, although there is an omnipotent and omniscient person, that person is not morally perfect.
When the argument from evil is reformulated in that way, it becomes clear that the vast majority of considerations that have been offered as reasons for believing in God can be of little assistance to the person who is trying to resist the argument from evil. For most of them provide, at best, very tenuous grounds for any conclusion concerning the moral character of any omnipotent and omniscient being who may happen to exist, and almost none of them provides any support for the hypothesis that there is an omnipotent and omniscient being who is also morally perfect.

But it seems to me that the argument from religious experience, as well as the argument from miracles, does implicate the character of God. Certain types of miracles or providential interventions are out of character for an omnipotent evil God. Likewise, if one grants a veridical experience of God, then why can’t one experience the goodness of God?

Certain miracles or providential events suggest a benevolent God rather than a malevolent God. Take merciful answers to prayer. Or take an unexpected providential intervention that we desperately needed at that particular time of life?

This would be analogous to how we size up a man’s moral character. In principle, evil men can do good things, but that’s not characteristic of evil men. And the more good they do, the less characteristic that will be. That’s atypical. 

1 comment:

  1. "Likewise, if one grants a veridical experience of God, then why can’t one experience the goodness of God?"

    I don't know if the following is much of an argument. But since we're on the topic of experiencing the goodness of God, for what it's worth, if anything:

    Not only can a Christian attest to a changed life in the sense of a morally improved life, but he can further attest to something deeper. Something which is more difficult to express in words. He can attest to a particular sort of spiritual life within his innermost person which, at least to him, he knows is from God. He may be wasting away physically and mentally due to various hurts or problems or sufferings, but deep down inside he knows there's still a flickering flame of life which won't be extinguished and which may even burn all the brighter amidst the evils and pains. In fact, sometimes the experience is so joyous, so wonderful, so glorious (indeed these words seem too feeble to capture it) that, even while he longs for relief from the suffering, he is keenly aware of a sort of spiritual buoy or tether. He is not alone in it, but guided, protected, comforted, and even strengthened by another, by God himself. It's certainly not the power of positive thinking or some such.

    What's more, he can also experience it when he's in the company of fellow believers. Such as in church on Sunday morning. Or in a prayer meeting. Or a Bible study group. For example, the Christian can oftentimes attest to a rejuvenation of spirit after spending time with other Christians at church singing hymns and psalms, listening to the Bible taught, engaging in prayer, etc. It's not simply a nice, refreshing feeling of being with good friends again. For oftentimes he doesn't know these people. Plus he has had the nice, refreshing experience of being with good friends, but this is something else, something more. There's a sort of profound mutual comfort and encouragement, far more than mere fellow feeling for one another.

    As such, he's not the only one to experience it. Other believers likewise tell him they've also experienced the same. He has no reason to doubt them. So multiple Christians can attest to this inner sanctified experience, even in the midst of great suffering and pain.

    If God were omnipotent and omniscient but malevolent, then why would he not crush this innermost experience, which seems more fundamental than anything else in the Christian's experience? Indeed, why would he seem to cultivate it? Why would he let it thrive, even at the same time as he presumably crushes everything else in the Christian's life? Why leave alone the most cherished treasure?