Saturday, December 22, 2018

Net result

A few comments on this:

Second, certain heinous evils do not have a “net” good. 

On the face of it, even heinous evils can yield a net good. Events are causes of further events down the line. Everything adds up, for better or worse. In principle, that can be good overall. Whether the net effect is better rather than worse depends on whether God has orchestrated history so that countervailing goods offset evils so that on balance, the final result is better. 

This is otherwise called “The theological problem of trauma.” There is no “net good” of a little girl being raped. One might contrive a philosophical situation in which one had to choose between one person being raped vs. 1,000 people being raped—in which case the single rape was the relative good. 

Not a relative good but a lesser evil. 

But there are two problems with this—even if this is conceived as a relative good, it still doesn’t posit a net good. This argument fails to distinguish between what philosophers call the utilitarian good and the inherent good. The saving of 1,000 lives was a utilitarian good, but still failed to undo or justify the inherent evil of the one rape which the saving cost. This leads to the third problem. 

i) Christians can only play the hand they were dealt. Any theodicy will be wince-inducing. But if you believe in God and evil, then that severely limits the logical options. Reality dictates the available options. If reality was kinder, we wouldn't have the problem of evil in the first place. So any theistic explanation will have a hard aspect. And an atheistic explanation is harsher.

ii) It's true that if an action is intrinsically wrong, then beneficial consequences don't convert it into something good or moral. Likewise, beneficial consequences can't justify intrinsic wrongdoing. 

However, while wrongdoing can't be justified, to permit wrongdoing can sometimes be justified. There is sometimes a morally salient difference between committing evil and not preventing evil. I might not intervene to preempt an impending evil or step in to arrest an evil in progress if the effect of my intervention is to replace one evil with other evils further down the line, or eliminate some compensatory goods. 

Third, this theodicy does not solve the originative problem of evil. Let’s take the problem of having to choose between 1,000 people being raped and 1 person being raped. The argument which states that the greatest of all possible worlds necessarily includes the heinous evil of our world silently implies that God was in a Sophie’s Choice scenario before he created the world. In the novel Sophie’s Choice, the protagonist was sent to a Nazi concentration camp and was forced to choose between the murder of her daughter and her son. She chose her son. She can hardly be blamed for the death of her son. 

The Calvinist use of this Leibnizian theodicy attempts to apply the same justification to God by implying that God was in a similar situation before his free decision to create the world. Of course, if Calvin was right, God’s hand wasn’t forced in any way, and his free decision to create was not in the context of a Sophie’s Choice scenario. Therefore, the question, “Why did God allow sin in the world?” remains unanswered, and the place of a successful theodicy for Christian theology remains unanswered. 

i) I don't think there's a greatest possible world. There are greater good worlds, lesser good worlds–as well as worlds containing evil with no redeeming values. No single world history captures all the goods. Not all possibilities are compossible. By definition, every possible world has a different world history. Some goods inevitably depend on how a particular timeline unfolds. 

ii) Likewise, second-order goods necessarily presuppose evil. You can't have one without the other. 

iii) Apropos (i-ii), there are some restrictions on God's field of action. However, I don't think there's any antecedent restriction on God's ability to create more than one possible world. Perhaps God made a multiverse in which some alternate scenarios play out. That will realize a greater number of goods. 

iv) Maxwell's retreat into mystery just kicks the can down the street. God can't be absolved of responsibility for evil or complicity in evil, although he can be absolved of culpability for evil. 

v) As for Wolterstorff, if you indulge in high-risk behavior and your luck runs out, there's nothing inexplicable about the tragic result. That doesn't require a special explanation. His judgment is understandably clouded by grief, but his reaction is illogical. 

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