Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Why Is There Evil In The World (And So Much Of It?)

I recently read Greg Welty's Why Is There Evil In The World (And So Much Of It)? (CFP 2018), available here:

I previously read a draft copy. The book is pitched at a popular level, although it demands an intellectually serious reader. 

This is a Christian theodicy from a Reformed perspective, by a brilliant, philosophically astute, traditionally orthodox thinker. Briefly put, his book is easily the best treatment of the problem of evil, by a wide margin, currently available.

Greg has roughly two methods of presentation:

He expounds the opposing position, then critiques it.

He expounds his own position, then counters potential objections. In addition, he has a final chapter fielding objections. 

• He defends a version of the greater-good theodicy. For him, the greater-good theodicy is a general theodicy comprising four specific theodicies, including the soul-building theodicy and the higher-order goods theodicy.

• Throughout the book there's trenchant engagement with Scripture.

• He critiques the freewill defense and the natural law (stable environment) theodicy.

• He makes moderate use of skeptical theism.

• He discusses the philosophically contested concept of causality.

I have a few caveats:

i) One objection to the soul-building theodicy is that it's a circular justification for the existence of evil inasmuch as these virtues are only valuable in a world containing evil. Given such a world, these have a purpose, but that fails to justify a world containing evil in the first place. Unless I missed it, Greg didn't address that objection. I have my own response, and I expect Greg has a well-oiled answer if challenged.

ii) I think the greater-good theodicy is overkill. It's a stronger theodicy than required. I think an alternate-good theodicy defense would suffice. And because that's less ambitious, it has a lower burden of proof.

iii) An atheist might object that even if Greg successfully demonstrates the consistency of God's existence with scope and nature of evil, that's special pleading. With sufficient ingenuity, you can make many positions consistent with the facts, but that's saving appearances.

In a sense, a theodicy needs to be supplemented by a case for God's existence. If there's positive evidence for God's existence, then that should figure in an overall theodicy. 

Of course, that's a different kind of book. And Greg provides evidence in his courses on Christian apologetics. 

iv) Greg argues that even if an atheist denies moral realism, he can still deploy the argument from evil because a good God will prevent gratuitous pain and suffering.

I demur. You can't substitute pain and suffering for moral categories. Divine benevolence is a moral category. To claim that gratuitous pain and suffering are incompatible with God's goodness smuggles moral realism back in through the rear door. 

That said, towards the end of the book (p198), Greg points out that naturalism drastically aggravates the problem of evil. Ironically, the problem of evil is incomparably worse for an atheist. 

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