Feser saga continues

Monday, November 14, 2011
Just posted this on Edward Feser's blog here.

It relates to this post of mine below.

It all ultimately related to my paper The Evil God Challenge.

Edward, you say:

“But your [evil god challenge] argument now sounds like it amounts to little more than the claim that the existence of evil is a challenge to the claim that there is no God.”

Ah right the penny has finally dropped. It is indeed a way of developing that traditional challenge and refining it somewhat.

“Which is just the ancient argument from evil warmed over rather than the novel challenge your "evil god challenge" was supposed to be!”

Warmed over, eh?! Charming. Well, the evil God challenge is a way of developing the evidential problem of evil in such a way that very many standard theistic responses are neutralized or revealed to be hopelessly inadequate. Because, it turns out, those responses work just as well in defence of an evil god. The key point is, the evil god hypothesis remains straightforwardly empirically falsified on the basis of what we see around us, notwithstanding the reverse theodicies I consider.

That’s what makes this way of developing the challenge posed by evil somewhat unusual, and worthy of inclusion in the journal Religious Studies, apparently.

Obviously, you’re not terribly impressed. It’s just the evidential problem of evil “warmed over”, you say. But let’s look at an illustration of the evil god challenge in action.

One author dismisses the evidential problem of evil as an argument against the existence of God as “worthless”. Why is it worthless? The author sweeps the problem to one side because they suppose it’s entirely dealt with by two points. The first point is: they suppose we can look forward to a limitless afterlife in which we’ll enjoy the beatific vision, and this is going to more than compensate us for all the horror we experience in this life. The author quotes St. Paul, who said: “the sufferings of the present time are not worth comparing to the glory that is to be revealed to us.” The second point the author makes is this: that the pain etc. we experience now is the price paid for greater goods to be gained later. They illustrate by pointing out how suffering of child being forced to learn the violin is the price justifiably paid for great good of that child’s later being able to play violin (they admit this isn’t suffering on quite the scale of Auschwitz, but insist the same basic principle applies). Indeed, this particular author adds that, by supposing evil constitutes good evidence against a good God, the atheist is just assuming there’s no God and thus no wondrous afterlife etc. that more than compensates the evils we experience now. So the atheist’s argument based on suffering is hopelessly circular. Indeed, this author says that atheists who run such an argument need “a course in logic”!

But now here’s where the evil God challenge comes in. All these points made above can be flipped in defence of belief in an evil god. A defender of belief in an evil god can say we can look forward to an afterlife of unremitting terror and suffering, and this will more than compensate us for any good enjoyed now. Moreover, these goods we experience now are actually the price paid for greater evils (I give loads of examples in my paper). Moreover, by assuming that the goods we see around us constitute good evidence against an evil God, the evil-god-rejecter is just assuming there’s no evil God and thus no hellish afterlife that more than ouweighs the goods. So this objection against belief in an evil god is hopelessly circular. Clearly, this critic of the evil god hypothesis needs” a course in logic”!

Now, despite the above moves that might be made in defence of belief in an evil God, it remains pretty obvious that there’s just way, way too much good stuff in the world for this plausibly to be considered the creation of an evil God.

In fact, most of us (except e.g. the skeptical theists) will continue to consider the evil god hypothesis absurd on empirical grounds (whether or not also on other grounds), notwithstanding these rather ridiculous attempts at explaining all the good stuff away.

Of course, none of this is to say that the evil God challenge cannot be met. For example, the author in question might perhaps come up with some really extraordinarily good argument for the existence of a good god, an argument that’s so very, very compelling that it more than outweighs the mountain of evidence against such a god constituted by the vast quantities of horror and suffering we see around us (but boy it’s going to have to be a really good argument!).

But that’s what this particular author needs to do to really meet the evil god challenge. Otherwise, their attempts to deal with the problem of evil have been exposed as hopelessly inadequate. Despite all the dismissive posturing about critics needing a “course in logic”.

So who is the author in question?

He is the author of a book called “The Last Superstition” (see pages 161-165)

That’s to say, it’s you, Edward.