Debate: Is Evil Evidence against Belief in God?
Rowe (William L.), Howard-Snyder (Daniel) & Bergmann (Michael)
Source: Peterson (Michael) & Van Arragon (Raymond) - Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion, 2004
Paper - Abstract

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Editors’ Introduction

    In his essay, William Rowe claims that the existence of pervasive and horrendous evil provides strong evidence that God does not exist. He argues that we have good reason to think that at least some of the evils in our world are such that God would have no justifying reason for permitting them. Since God would only permit evils if he had a justifying reason for doing so, it follows that we have good reason for thinking that God does not exist. Daniel Howard-Snyder and Michael Bergmann argue that this is not so. They agree that God would only permit evils if he had a justifying reason for doing so, but they contend that our failure to see God's reasons does not constitute evidence that there are none.
Contents My Response
  1. This debate filled me with dreariness. Rowe is surely right that there’s a case to answer here – and that it ought to be answered by a theodicy of some sort – the usual candidate being the logical constraints of granting free will, combined with the practical considerations of the fecundity of the earth as configured having unfortunate consequences in the form of natural disasters.
  2. But Howard-Snyder and Bergmann’s response isn’t a theodicy, but a rather smug suggestion that our tiny minds cannot fathom why God works the way he does, nor why he hides himself and fails to provide consolation when allowing all this nastiness.
  3. The debate is supposed to be orthogonal to any positive arguments in favour of theism. So, we are to imagine there are none, and still to consider that the argument from evil fails as an argument for atheism. This reminds me of the “dogs are Venusian spies” analogy in "Law (Stephen) - Darwin, Creationism and Evidence", where a position can be maintained as logically possible by continuing to invent fixes to objections, when in fact there’s no positive reason to believe the proposal in the first place.
  4. Additionally, the standard argument against pseudo-science is that if there’s no conceivable evidence that would refute a theory, then it’s pseudo-scientific. This seems to be the case here. Given that positive theistic argument is excluded, then (as Rowe points out) the argument from evil would still fail (on the noseeum objection) even if everyone’s life was utterly miserable from cradle to grave.
  5. The issue here seems to be that as soon as we posit an omnipotent being, then anything that’s logically possible is – well – possible. It could well be that God has goods and grounds that make it all morally justifiable and make everything come out all right in the end. But, in the absence of positive evidence for the existence of such a being, why should we believe any such thing – and especially believe in a good God? In the absence of positive evidence for the existence of a good God (accepted for the sake of the argument), why is the existence of all this evil not evidence against the existence of an omnipotent good God. As Hume said … “Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent.”. A theodicy can (we may suppose) explain why appearances are deceptive. But in the absence of any evidence for a good God, why isn’t the existence of horrendous evil evidence for a malevolent God – or again, as Hume says, for a good but impotent one?
  6. But this isn’t really an answer – hence the dreariness … the arguments need to be taken apart piece by piece, when I have a moment.

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