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Is gratuitous evil a problem?

We have seen that the previous versions of the problem of evil (POE) have largely been abandoned. For posts on these see the following links. The logical problem of evil and the probabilistic problem of evil were internal. Meaning they seek to expose an inner tension within the Christian worldview and thereby show that God’s existence is either impossible or implausible. The premises on which those internal arguments proceeded were;

  1. An all-powerful and all-loving God exists
  2. Evil exists

What if there is a premise that the Christian is not committed to, but is nevertheless true? We might call it the external problem of evil. Would that show the impossibility of implausibility of God’s existence.

The External Problem of Evil

This argument says that God’s existence and the existence of gratuitous evil are incompatible. The proponent of this argument will try to show in an evidential fashion that it is true that gratuitous evil exists – that the tension is actually between these two premises.

  1. An all-powerful and all-loving God exists
  2. Gratuitous evil exists

For instance, he or she could appeal to deranged serial killers or genocidal dictators, school buses filled with children plummeting off a cliff, tsunami’s washing away whole coasts of villages and volcanos leveling whole civilizations, and so forth. Such instances of evil seem over-the-top, done without good reason and uncalled for. By placing this greater amount of suffering on the scales, they would dramatically shift the balance and showing that God’s existence is impossible or improbable.

Paul Draper, an atheist philosopher at Purdue University, has used evolutionary theory as evidence to support his POE argument. Taking Theism (T) and Naturalism (N) as hypotheses,[1] he asks which hypothesis best explains the amount of evil we observe relative to the evolutionary process (E) and the distribution of pleasure/pain (P). In the long evolutionary history of the world there is a tremendous amount of predation and death, not only of human being and their ancestors, but animals as well. By evaluating the simplicity and the explanatory power of each hypothesis he concludes that Naturalism is more probably true.

Is gratuitous evil a problem?

The considerations given to answer the probabilistic POE will equally apply to instances of natural evil. Animal suffering is one aspect of natural evil, but the suffering that accompanies earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, mass extinction events, pestilence, etc., are also included These considerations are listed here, and greatly offset the force of this argument.

In evaluating Draper’s argument closely, we can see is based on three dubious assumptions.

  1. That the intrinsic probability of Theism and Naturalism are equal; i.e. Pr(N) = Pr(T). Draper admits his case depends on, “all things being equal,” but this judgment depends on the background evidence that should include any independent reason for or against God’s existence. For instance, evidence accrued from Natural Theology or from personal experience.
  2. That the probability of the distribution of pleasure/pain in a world with evolution and Naturalism is greater than a world with evolution and Theism, i.e. Pr(P/E&N) > Pr (P/E&T). However, as creatures with limited knowledge we have no reason to suppose that we are in any position to know how to accurately weigh the distribution of pain and pleasure with any good that has or may yet result.
  3. That the probability of evolution on Naturalism is greater than the probability of evolution is on Theism, i.e. Pr(E/N) > Pr(E/T). However, the evolution of biological organisms is dependent on the existence of biological organisms (B). He is thus actually arguing for Pr(E/N&B) > Pr(E/T&B), which with dubious in light of insights gained from the Intelligent Design community. This would include the origin of complex and highly specified information in biological organisms, as well as the fine-tuning of the conditions necessary for existence of biological life, a life-sustaining planet and universe.[2]

The most fundamental flaw in Draper’s argument however is his affirmation that gratuitous evil exists with his definition of Naturalism.[1] Evil is a non-physical property whose existence relies on objective moral values which cannot rightly be assigned to the set of natural things. Naturalism does not, in principle, have the explanatory resources for the existence of evil, let alone gratuitous evil. His argument is then, at bottom, a non-starter by begging the question.

You will recall that everyone is in the arena and has to deal with the problem of evil. What this fundamental flaw shows is that if you are going to wield evil as a weapon, you should first be able to pick it up. How can you thrash a believer over the head when your view denies, or at least cannot affirm, that there is anything there to do the thrashing? In the final analysis then, if the naturalist does pick up evil up as a weapon despite his worldview, it’s just as likely to injure themselves as it is the theist.

Footnotes:

  1. T = Theism: the affirmation an all-powerful and all-loving God exists N = Naturalism: the affirmation that nothing but the “natural world” exists. “By the “natural world,” I mean the collection of all existing physical entities (past, present, and future) together with any entities whose existence depends (either causally or ontologically) on the existence of those entities. “Natural” entities are entities that are part of the natural world so defined, and a “supernatural” entity, if there is such a thing, is simply an entity that can affect the natural world despite not being a part of it.” Paul Draper, “Natural Selection and the Problem of Evil (2007)” Infidels, Cited 25 June 2019. Online: https://infidels.org/library/modern/paul_draper/evil.html
  2. See Hugh Ross, “RTB Design Compendium,” Reasons to Believe. Cited 25 June 2019. Online: http://www.reasons.org/links/hugh/research-notes#philosophy,
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