Theism, Evolution and Randonmess

A good friend of mine with experience lecturing neophyte philosophy students as a Teacher’s Assistant (at the university of Western Ontario) has reported to me that many, if not most, of his students believed that the theory of evolution and the existence of God each entail each other’s negations. This is a depressing report, especially to a theistic evolutionist such as myself. Since the compatibility of both the theory of evolution and the existence of God is so conspicuously obvious to me, it continues to baffle me that anyone should think them contradictory. Perhaps one of the reasons for this naïve assessment is that evolution’s being ‘random,’ is thought (rather unreflectively) to be incompatible with the notion that it has been divinely guided. Ignoring the fact that God’s existence doesn’t, on its own, logically entail his divine involvement in the world, there still doesn’t seem, on the face of it, to be any incompatibility between God’s existence (and divine involvement in the world) and the biological theory of evolution. However, perhaps these people are reasoning in the following way:

  1. If God exists & evolution is true, then God (must have) guided evolution.
  2. If evolution is true, then it was ‘random’ (which is stipulated as part of the theory itself).
  3. If evolution was random, then it could not have been guided.
  4. Evolution is true.
  5. Therefore, God does not exist.

Or
4.* God exists.
5.* Therefore, Evolution is not true.

Where is the problem with this reasoning? I think the problem is clearly with premise 3, though my critique is going to focus on sharpening, through analysis, the (so far) vague concept of randomness which makes its first appearance in the second premise. Here the work of Dr. Craig is useful; he has argued that what all biologists mean by saying that mutations occur ‘randomly’ is that they occur without a view to the benefit of the organism. Craig takes his cue from a prominent biologist, Francisco Ayala, according to whom:

“The meaning of “random” that is most significant for understanding the evolutionary process is… that mutations are unoriented with respect to adaptation; they occur independently of whether or not they are beneficial or harmful to the organisms.”[1]

Elliott Sober reiterated the same point when he explained:

“Let me talk about this idea of ‘guided’ mutations. This has been a kind of lightning-rod term. Creationists and Theists in the United States often hear biologists say that mutations are ‘unguided,’ ‘random,’ and they think that biologists are denying that God has any role in the natural process, and they think ‘well, if your theory says that [then] I reject it because I think that God is involved in everything that happens…’ what I want to describe now is what Biologists actually mean by ‘mutations being unguided.’ What I just described [above] is, I think, a misunderstanding of the biology. The idea that mutations are unguided says nothing about whether God plays a role in nature one way or another. So let me explain what biologists mean, or ought to mean, by ‘unguided mutations.’ When they say that mutations are unguided they do not mean that they have no causes; we all know that mutations have causes. Radiation causes mutations, smoking causes mutations, there are plenty of causes [of mutations] so [that] when you say they’re unguided or random it doesn’t mean that they are uncaused. What it means is that mutations have their causes, but they do not happen because they would be good for the organism in which they occur. Most mutations are deleterious, and the good ones that occasionally come along, the adaptive ones that fuel the evolutionary process, they have their causes too but they do not occur because they would help organisms to survive in their environments.”[2]

All biologists mean by stipulating that mutations are ‘random,’ therefore, is that the mutations do not aim toward (or away from) adaptive advantage. The biologist is clearly using the term ‘random’ in a very technical sense, just as the mathematician might use the term ‘random’ in a technical sense to characterize a certain set/series of numbers, and what the biologist means by this technical-theoretical term doesn’t seem to entail randomness in any sense which would preclude God’s providentially directing evolution. So, the question is, is there some deeper reason why this technical sense of ‘randomness’ does, after all, preclude God’s having a providential hand in evolution? Can this modest statement about biological randomness really purchase the metaphysically rich thesis that evolution was not (and could not have been) ‘guided’ by God? How could one cash-out such an incredible claim? Dr. Craig offers his thoughts:

“[Evolutionary creationists] would say that God has so set up the process that by chance alone these organisms will have evolved. Now… these folks would see the evolutionary process as under the superintendence of God and therefore is a guided process in that God allows it to function so as to arrive at his predetermined ends. Now, why can’t evolution be guided in that sense, in the sense that… the theistic evolutionist thinks of it? There the chance mutations and natural selection are within the broader purposes of God.

Well, what you discover when you read the evolutionary biologist is that of course they don’t deny that the process could be guided in that sense. That’s a metaphysical conclusion to which scientific evidence is irrelevant. What they simply mean is that the production of offspring does not occur with a view toward what will make these offspring survive better in the future, that there isn’t a kind of mechanism that produces offspring that will be well-suited to survival. Well, that’s perfectly within the purview of progressive creationism or theistic evolution. That’s a very limited, narrow, sense of guidedness that doesn’t need to be denied by the theistic evolutionist or progressive creationist. Suppose, for example, the [evolutionary] creationist thinks that the reason that God allows certain types of offspring to be produced is so that they will [become] easy prey for some other predator which he wants to flourish. Well in that sense, yes, it’s not guided with a view toward the survivability of the offspring – quite the contrary – the purpose is that they become prey for some other species or some predator. But the whole process is guided in this broader sense. So the problem here is that Miss Kirby [who thinks there is an incompatibility here] just has a philosophically superficial understanding of what it is to be guided, and the sense in which the evolutionary process is unguided is one that the theologian could affirm.”[3]

This seems pretty airtight to me, and nevertheless not everyone is convinced (on the far right or the far left). Casey Luskin, for instance, writes:

“Generally speaking, I find myself nearly always agreeing with Dr. Craig’s arguments. A few years ago I had the pleasure of watching Dr. Craig offer a compelling debate performance against Christopher Hitchens on “Does God Exist.” But on this issue of the nature of Darwinian theory, I find myself in a rare situation where I disagree with Dr. Craig.”[4]

I find this to be a frustrating situation; why aren’t these new atheists, or these evangelical creationists, convinced, as I am, by this reasoning? To answer that, I supposed I’d have to be a psychologist or a sociologist, or both. What I can do, as a philosopher, is try to come up with additional arguments which might help to change these people’s minds. Here is one such argument I’d like to present:

  1. If the theory of evolution were true, then physical determinism would be possibly true.
  2. If physical determinism were (even) possibly true, then God’s providential control over evolution would be possible.
  3. Evolution is true.
  4. Therefore, God’s providential control over evolution is possible.

It seems obvious to me that the theory of evolution is compatible with the theory of physical determinism; in fact, many naturalists who are strictly materialists or physicalists (and even some naturalists who aren’t) affirm both that physical determinism is true, and that the theory of evolution is true (which further reinforces what has already been said, namely that the technical sense in which evolutionary biologists use the word ‘random’ is compatible with other senses in which evolution might be guided or deterministic). However, suppose for the sake of argument that physical determinism is true (at least, if you like, up to the point of the appearance of the first creatures with libertarian free will), and that evolution is also true; why couldn’t God have so arranged the initial conditions under which the universe began to exist that he deterministically brings it about that evolution produces exactly what he intended it to?

Notice here that I am not claiming that physical determinism is in fact true (it seems to me rather dubious), but that it is possibly true, and that this possibility is enough to demonstrate the logical compossibility of evolutionary theory and God’s divine providential hand in directing the precise course of evolution. This seems to me to be a knock ‘em down drag ‘em out argument – I cannot even imagine what a (reasonable) critical rejoinder would look like, at least presuming that people are reasoning in approximately the way I imagined at the beginning of this post. I suspect that if some person remains unpersuaded by this argument, they won’t be persuaded by any argument, so that this is about as good as we can ever hope to do.

It may be worth saying a brief word about possible alternative arguments for the logical incompatibility of theism and evolution. Perhaps somebody could argue as follows:

  1. If God (being a maximally good, powerful and intelligent/rational being) had to choose between two different ways to bring about an effect, He would, ceteris paribus, elect to use the more efficient of the two means.
  2. Evolution is a means which is less efficient than other means which would have been options for God.
  3. Evolution is true.
  4. Therefore, God did not choose to actualize evolution.
  5. If God exists and Evolution is true, then God did choose to actualize evolution.
  6. Therefore, God does not exist.

The thought here is that a rational being always prefers, all things being equal, the more efficient of any two methods for achieving a given goal. This is a popular definition in economic theory, and sometimes makes an appearance in political philosophy. For instance, in his magnum opus,A Theory of Justice,” John Rawls characterized his idealized denizens of the ‘original position’ as rational in the following sense:

“… rationality must be interpreted as far as possible in the narrow sense, standard in economic theory, of taking the most effective means to given ends.”[5]

The trouble with this definition is well noted by William Lane Craig, to whom I will turn again. Craig has made the point numerous times that ‘efficiency’ can only be a value for a being with either (or both) limited time, or limited resources.[6] As God has neither limited time, nor limited resources, there is no reason to think God could value efficiency. So, as well as this definition may work in economic or political theory, it isn’t very useful theologically or philosophically.

Strictly speaking, I disagree with Craig, but I take his point to be a useful one to show that the presumption of the first premise in this argument seems to be false. I am inclined to think that God could value efficiency for aesthetic reasons, which would help to explain why parsimony, for instance, appears to be indicative of the truth of a theory, and not merely of its usefulness. There are puzzles in the philosophy of science about why parsimony would, on naturalism, make a theory any more likely to be true, whereas on Theism, at least if God values the aesthetic quality of simplicity, it may not be so surprising after all.[7] By analogy, consider that the elegance or beauty of a theory often seems to point to its truth, which seems an odd coincidence unless one is a Theist. Robin Collins has pointed out that beauty itself has been a seemingly useful indication of a scientific theory’s truth. He writes:

“To say that the beauty of the mathematical structure of nature is merely subjective, however, completely fails to account for the amazing success of the criterion of beauty in producing predictively accurate theories, such as Einstein’s general theory of relativity.”[8]

Admittedly parsimony needs to be carefully defined, and even if God does value parsimony it would presumably be in competition with other aesthetic values God might have (as any good engineer will tell you, the simplest way, on the face of it, is not always the best way). However, if God does value parsimony (and hence ‘efficiency’ in at least some cases) for aesthetic reasons, that may provide Him with a good reason to elect the more efficient of two otherwise equally good methods. Efficiency would only be valued to the degree that it allows for an optimal balance between itself and other aesthetic values. This caveat of mine does nothing, however, to take away from the effectiveness of Craig’s response in the case at hand. There simply is no reason whatever to think that evolution is not parsimonious enough that God might have elected to use it (and this is never-minding the theological/apologetic justifications for God’s allowing evolution).

Another argument might go as follows:

  1. Evolution is a process which involves gratuitous evil (evil for which there is no morally sufficient reason which God has for allowing in the world).
  2. God exists if and only if gratuitous evil does not.
  3. Evolution is true.
  4. Therefore, God does not exist.

Or

3.* God exists.
4.* Therefore, evolution isn’t true.

The trouble with this argument is that it is simply a version of the problem of evil, which comes in two forms; there is the so-called ‘logical’ problem of evil, and the ‘evidential’ problem of evil. As it stands today nobody thinks that the ‘logical’ problem of evil, which suggests that the existence of any evil is logically incompatible with the existence of God, stands any hope of being correct. Second, although there are significant problems with the evidential argument from evil, it is worth pointing out that if the above argument is intended to be a version of the logical problem of evil then it incontrovertibly fails, and if it is intended to be a version of the evidential problem of evil then it can be dealt with in all the standard ways in which all versions of the evidential problem of evil are dealt with. In other words, because ‘evolution’ as such is not an essential feature of this argument, but an accidental one, evolutionary theory plays no special role in the argument, implying that evolution as such poses no special challenge.

What other arguments could there be? Although there is always the possibility that there is some other clever argument to think that God’s existence and the theory of evolution are not compossible, an argument which I have never heard or thought of, still it seems unlikely that any such arguments exist or are forthcoming (and even more unlikely that they would be unanswerable). So, I think we can conclude with tremendous confidence that the theory of evolution is not only compatible with the existence of God, but also his divine providence.

[1] Francisco J. Ayala, “Darwin’s greatest discovery: Design without designer,” in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 104, no. Suppl 1 (2007): 8567-8573.

[2] Elliott Sober, “Darwin and Intelligent Design,” Lecture, the Sydney Ideas Lecture Series, The University of Sydney, Sydney Australia, April 22, 2010. http://fora.tv/2010/04/22/Elliott_Sober_Darwin_and_Intelligent_Design

[3] “Is Evolution a Threat to Christianity?” Narrated by William Lane Craig and Kevin Harris, ReasonableFaith Podcast, ReasonableFaith, December 5, 2011. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/is-evolution-a-threat-to-christianity#ixzz3RSURRy2s

[4] Casey Luskin, “Unguided or Not? How Darwinian Evolutionists Define their Theory,” http://www.evolutionnews.org/2012/08/unguided_or_not_1063191.html

[5] Rawls, John. “A Theory of Justice, rev. ed.” Cambridge, MA: Belknap 5 (1999): 12.

[6] See: “UFO’s” Narrated by William Lane Craig and Kevin Harris, ReasonableFaith Podcast, ReasonableFaith, August 17, 2008. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/ufos

[7] See Pruss: http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.ca/2014/03/simplicity-as-sign-of-design.html; http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.ca/2013/08/explaining-simplicity-of-theories.html; http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.ca/2013/07/why-prefer-simple-and-elegant-theories.html;

[8] http://infidels.org/library/modern/robin_collins/design.html

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15 thoughts on “Theism, Evolution and Randonmess

  1. First, and most importantly, you spelled Elliott’s name right.

    I like the way Jerry Coyne puts it: “Rather than calling mutations “random,” then, it seems more accurate to call them “indifferent”: the chance of a mutation arising is indifferent to whether it would be helpful or hurtful to the individual.”

    You say: “if it is intended to be a version of the evidential problem of evil then it can be dealt with in all the standard ways in which all versions of the evidential problem of evil are dealt with. In other words, because ‘evolution’ as such is not an essential feature of this argument, but an accidental one, evolutionary theory plays no special role in the argument, implying that evolution as such poses no special challenge.”

    It seems like you have a one-size-fits-all response to any examples of seemingly gratuitous evil regardless of the evidence brought to you. The common theist response is to invoke skeptical theism, or maybe soul-building. Why shouldn’t this example pose a special challenge? What would an evidential argument for evil be if we removed the evidence and formalized it by replacing it with a nondescript variable E? Not all examples of evil will have equal force; and this one seems to be particularly forceful.

    One reply the theist objector could give is to say some animals do have libertarian free will. Maybe they want to say that their favorite pet dog freely loves him and is not a mere mechanism.

  2. First of all I want to thank you for your comment. I always appreciate feedback. Second, concerning Elliott’s name – I aim to please 🙂

    I like the way Jerry Coyne put it, and I think he is exactly right. Now, you seem to pick up on the fact that I do have a ‘one-size-fits-all’ response to the problem of evil. It seems to me that it is an analytic truth that God exists if and only if gratuitous evil does not exist (at least presuming a world exists at all, and perhaps that the world includes some instance of ‘evil’ – recall that my understanding of evil is the lack of a good). The reason I am not impressed by any evidential cases of the problem of evil is that there is no empirical measure for gratuity. No amount of evidence in principle warrants the conclusion that any evil is gratuitous. If God does not exist, then the slightest paper cut is a gratuitous evil, and if God does exist then it follows with apodictic certainty that no evil, however impressive, is gratuitous. To talk about genuine ‘evil’ invites the moral argument for the existence of God, and to talk about genuine ‘gratuity’ begs the question. Although you are right to think that some instances of evil have more force than others, the ‘force’ they have is psychological and emotional, and this is not in any sense a good objective measure of the probability that some evil is actually gratuitous. For instance, if my Mother, whom I love, were to die in some horrible way, that evil may force me to lose my belief in God (for all I know), and force me to the conclusion that this was an instance of gratuitous evil, but in that case my lack of belief in God and my belief in the gratuitous nature of the evil at hand would not be a conclusion arrived at by a careful and almost ‘cold’ examination of the evidence and arguments. Different examples of evil have more or less force to different people depending on a person’s subjective experience of incredulity and emotional angst, and this is in no way a useful measure for detecting gratuity. Some people don’t see animal death as a particularly difficult evil to live with, while others do. Some people think that the Nazi death camps were such extreme evils that they can’t bring themselves to believe in God, and yet many of the people who were actually there had a fierce belief in and love for God (I’m thinking of Maximilian Kolbe and St. Benedicta of the Cross [a.k.a. Edith Stein], for instance). Evil is emotionally compelling, but not intellectually compelling.

    Now, perhaps I will write a post in the near future providing some more careful and elaborate thoughts on the problem of evil, but suffice it to say for now that I see no reason to conclude from any empirical evidence of evil that that evil is gratuitous, and I am very skeptical of the emotional ‘force’ that such evidence is intended to provide. Moreover, I see no reason to think that evolution provides any special challenge in the sense that some essential feature of the theory of evolution figures prominently in the argument here. People usually simply point to death and predation as features of evolution which are evil, but I think death may be accidental, rather than essential, to evolution. Evolution could, in principle, work without those things – there is a logically possible world in which evolution is true and in which no organisms die (I used to think evolution couldn’t work without death, but now I’m beginning to think that evolution may be able to work just fine without death after all). However, even if evolution required those things essentially, one could give a free will defense of at least predation if one accepted that animals had genuine and morally significant free will. On the other hand, there is no reason to think that evolution (as it exists) couldn’t be the by-product of the free will of fallen angels (in fact, various passages in the Bible point in that direction, though the best example is in the book of Wisdom which protestants reject, so it doesn’t get the air-time it deserves), and that free-will defense would cover any kind of animal death.

    Finally, even if a strong evidential argument against the existence of God could be constructed using evolution, what I was discussing in the above post was the logical compossibility of evolution and theism, so that unless you think evolution could provide us with a logical problem of evil, I will have succeeded at the task to which I set myself.

    Thanks again for your thoughts, and I foresee a post in the (hopefully near) future where I will lay out my thoughts on the problem of evil more deliberately.

  3. re: “The reason I am not impressed by any evidential cases of the problem of evil is that there is no empirical measure for gratuity. No amount of evidence in principle warrants the conclusion that any evil is gratuitous.”

    Invoking Stephen Law’s challenge here: can we say the same thing about an evil God? Namely, that no amount of seeming instances of good should not warrant the conclusion that it is not for the greater evil?

    Evidential arguments are not supposed to be a proofs like mathematical proofs are.

    Why shouldn’t people take their seemings at face value until they find a defeater? And why should your theodicies be any more plausible than the Evil God theodicies?

    re: “On the other hand, there is no reason to think that evolution (as it exists) couldn’t be the by-product of the free will of fallen angels (in fact, various passages in the Bible point in that direction, though the best example is in the book of Wisdom which protestants reject, so it doesn’t get the air-time it deserves)”

    Why would God set up a ridiculous system like that? It’s like if my neighbor wronged me, and I took it out by going to another country and took revenge on stranger.

  4. You ask whether no amount of seeming instances of good should warrant the conclusion that good is simply permitted by a maximally evil God for the sake of further evil, to which I would reply in the affirmative. The only way I can think to argue the contrary would be to suggest that there isn’t a perfect parody here because although we can imagine evils for the sake of other goods, perhaps it is more difficult to imagine the reverse (love may require free will, which will allow for evils, but is there really any evil which cannot be achieved without a similar good – I’m not sure). In any case, somebody could always in principle invoke skeptical (evil) theism, and the point is that there isn’t anything logically the matter with that response.

    The reason I’m skeptical of taking an evil ‘seeming’ to be gratuitous at face value is that ‘seeming’ gratuitous in this context provides absolutely no (or at least negligibly little) epistemic warrant for the conclusion that any evil is in fact gratuitous. In order to decide whether evils are in fact gratuitous we have to answer other questions first, such as whether God exists. I understand that evidential arguments are not supposed to be proofs which boast deductive closure or anything, but that isn’t my problem with them. My problem is that I think the inference they draw is literally unwarranted because we have no good reason to suspect that we occupy an epistemic vantage point from which we can, with any confidence at all, determine whether some evil is likely to be gratuitous. That just isn’t the human situation here.

    Concerning why God would allow angels to exert their free will to bring about either good or evil in this world, it seems to me the case is no different than people exerting their free will on animals. Animals with free will might just as well exclaim “why would God allow these creatures, so much more intelligent and powerful than us, to treat us like slaves, kill us and eat us? – Why would God set the world up such that these humans are able to cause global warming and ruin the planet for all of us?” The free will defense works equally well in both instances, so far as I can see. Creatures with greater power and greater responsibility have a greater capacity to bring about good or evil. As to why God would allow creatures with as much power to do so as human beings, or as angels, skeptical theism can be invoked (though there may be some theological answers we could insert here, which may go some distance).

    Finally, concerning why theodicies would be more plausible than ‘Evil God’ theodicies, the answer will have to come in the form of a response to Stephen Law’s cute thought experiment about God being maximally evil. However, without trailing into a full-blown response here, let me just take this opportunity to point out that Stephen Law’s ‘evil God’ parody doesn’t even remotely relate to the subject of the post. It is an interesting question worth addressing, but I will defer responding to it at length because the context seems slightly inappropriate to me. However, because you know I can’t help myself, I will say just one quick thing about it. It seems to me that his thought experiment’s coherence stands or falls with one of its key assumptions, which is that being itself is not a good. As I’ve expressed before, I am committed to the idea that evil is nothing other than the lacking of a (context appropriate) good. If Being itself exists as the ground of beings, and if existence/being is a good, then a maximally evil God is an incoherence (for reasons relating to the ontological argument, I think a ‘moderately evil’ God would also be an incoherence). This seems about as obvious to me as the reality of the past, and despite some very clever skeptical or presentist arguments, I find the idea so intuitive, distinct and clear that arguments to the contrary seem incredulous to me. So, I am unimpressed by Stephen Law’s argument here, except in the sense that although it seems so easy to see why it is wrong, it is much harder to convince those who do not see why it is wrong that it is wrong.

    • re: “we have no good reason to suspect that we occupy an epistemic vantage point from which we can, with any confidence at all, determine whether some evil is likely to be gratuitous. That just isn’t the human situation here.”

      Similarly, we should have no confidence at all to think there is anything good that isn’t for some greater evil. We should be completely agnostic about any seemingly gratuitous good or bad event. This is really a deep skepticism if theism is true: see https://files.nyu.edu/ss194/public/sharonstreet/Writing_files/Paper%2010%20for%20website%20-%20If%20Everything%20Happens%20for%20a%20Reason,%20Then%20We%20Don%E2%80%99t%20Know%20What%20Reasons%20Are.pdf. Given our human situation, we should never think any event is for the greater good or bad.

      re: your angel response. The difference is that we causally interact with animals, we don’t with angels. If you were God, would you let evils on alien planets cause random earthquakes on earth?

      re: “a maximally evil God is an incoherence” Usually when we debate these things it’s best to give as much ground as possible to your opponent, while still proving them wrong–a meet them half-way kind of thing. For example, If I debate DCT with a theist, it’s best that I presuppose moral realism and still show them how it doesn’t work. Here, you don’t have a reply that can meet me halfway; and I didn’t understand your point where you said ” (love may require free will, which will allow for evils, but is there really any evil which cannot be achieved without a similar good – I’m not sure)”, so maybe I missed a relevant point.

      • If I may join the dialogue. The idea of “evil God” is incoherent if God is understood as the greatest conceivable being. Of cause if we are using God, loosely as idols or counterfeits deities then such idea is coherent.

        Before thus moving on, what we mean by God ought to be clear. If by God we mean the Anselmian God, namely a being that is God is a being possessing maximal excellence in respect to knowledge, presence, power and morality then the idea of evil God is similar to invisible shadow.

      • The reason I do not embrace the kind of radical skepticism you describe is that I believe I have a justified true belief in the existence of God, and I also have a justified true belief in the conditional statement: ‘if God exists, then gratuitous evil does not exist.’ Thus, I have justifying reasons for concluding that any evil event is allowed for the greater good.

        Concerning Angels, I suppose I don’t see the problem. First, why not allow aliens endowed with free will to cause earthquakes on earth? Suppose humans colonize other planets, and centuries from now people on one planet (through poverty, geographical disaster, etc) have reverted to an uncivilized state (without a proper education system) where they are ignorant of other human beings existing in space. Would it really be morally problematic for God to allow some human colony in space to nuke the barbaric people on that uncivilized (or de-civilized) planet? How is that any worse than allowing Europeans to cross the ocean and bring disaster to the Native Americans? Second, what is the moral significance of standing in a ‘causal relation’ to any thing? If we don’t stand in any causal relation to a thing then there can’t be morally sufficient reason for that thing to freely bring about something harmful to me? Moreover, why think we can’t causally interact with Angels? If I pray to St. Michael, is there really no kind of interaction there? If a demon possesses somebody, is that not a form of causal interaction?

        Finally, this point about meeting you half way is a good one, but also a hard one to swallow. It just doesn’t seem like there is much middle ground here. Either there is a perfect parody between what is normally called Theism and the ‘Evil God’ hypothesis, or there isn’t, and (if there is a perfect parody) either we have better reasons for affirming one than we do the other, or we do not. I conceded (at least for the sake of argument) that there was a perfect parody here between what is normally called Theism, and the ‘Evil God’ hypothesis. I then tried to provide what I think is the best reason we can have for thinking that what is normally called Theism is more plausibly true (namely, that the alternative is conceptually incoherent). After having conceded the idea that the ‘Evil God’ hypothesis is a perfect parody of what is normally called Theism (that it preserves the whole thesis of Theism mutatis mutandis), I wonder what else I could have done to meet you half way. Now, when I made my comment, in brackets, about love, I was hinting at one way in which there may not be a perfect parody after all (though I also responded to myself). The suggestion is that free will allows for the possibility in principle of moral evil, but that free will is the only way to actualize love in the world since love, in order to be true and pure, cannot be coerced. So, we can see why a free will theodicy goes some distance in the direction of alleviating the problem posed by evil. However, is there a similar a-theodicy? Is free will, which allows for the possibility of good, really necessary in order to bring about truly evil things which could not have been achieved by other means? I’m not so sure – is ‘hate’ really something which cannot be coerced? However, I conceded the point already for the sake of argument, and made a more general statement about the vacuity of the ‘Evil God’ hypothesis.

        Perhaps in order to meet you half way you would want me to concede the coherence of the ‘Evil God’ hypothesis, at least for the sake of argument. If you did that then I could appeal to things like religious experience in order to give some reason for concluding that what is normally called Theism is more plausibly true. You could always in principle play the skeptical card here and argue that God allows us to have religious experiences which seem to reinforce the notion that He is all good and all loving only in order to bring about greater evils, to which I think my only resort would be to respond that we simply don’t have any positive reason for believing that. It would be like the ‘Matrix hypothesis,’ which, while possible and difficult to disprove, we have no (justifying) reason to believe. However, this whole discussion seems off-base to me, since, again, the post above was about the compatibility of evolution and theism.

  5. Hi Prayson, I think you may be interested in my post about perfect being theology here https://hughjidiette.wordpress.com/2015/01/30/a-tension-between-divine-command-theory-and-the-ontological-argument/

    In short, given God’s aseity, it should be an epistemological question whether God is sadistic (being sadistic may be good for all we know). So, at best, it’s probably not that case that God is sadistic, but given our human condition how are we in a position to know?

    So I may grant that an evil God is incoherent. It’s still epistemically possible that a good God is sadistic and loves torture. These comments will make more sense if you read my blog post.

  6. Do natural disasters seem random with regards to the moral behavior of the region? It seems like it to me; and if that’s the case then random disasters are good? Wouldn’t you have an objection if we used a lottery to randomly imprisoned people and executed people?
    Re: the causal relevance thing, If an angel wanted to flood my town, I’d like to be able to causally interact with the angel and at least find out the reasons for it to prevent it in the future.

    I think your question “there can’t be morally sufficient reasons?” isn’t any more forceful than if I were to ask you “there can’t be sufficient evil reasons from an evil god?”.

    I wanted you to meet me halfway because your incoherent-evil-God answer should have no force at all to the evil God believer or to the atheist. But, more to the point, isn’t your intuition that the evil-god believer should feel some tension with his beliefs and the great amount of seemingly gratuitous good in his world? He should, and, similarly, so should you to the seemingly gratuitous evil.

    re: “However, is there a similar a-theodicy? Is free will, which allows for the possibility of good, really necessary in order to bring about truly evil things which could not have been achieved by another means? I’m not so sure – is ‘hate’ really something which cannot be coerced?”
    The obvious canned answer is: the human position just doesn’t allow us to know. Or, maybe, the evil god wants us to freely hate. Or, maybe, this evil god is only 90% evil and not 100% evil. Or, maybe, your god is only 90% loving. It seems we should allow observation to have some effect on our beliefs rather than it being impenetrable.

    re: “this whole discussion seems off-base to me, since, again, the post above was about the compatibility of evolution and theism.”
    I think random mutation problem is minor compared to the idea that a good God would want to create through evolution.

    • “Do natural disasters seem random with regards to the moral behavior of the region? It seems like it to me; and if that’s the case then random disasters are good? Wouldn’t you have an objection if we used a lottery to randomly imprisoned people and executed people?” – There isn’t a genuine parody here since we clearly do not have morally sufficient reasons to hold such a lottery, but it begs the question to claim that God doesn’t have morally sufficient reasons for allowing natural disasters.

      “But, more to the point, isn’t your intuition that the evil-god believer should feel some tension with his beliefs and the great amount of seemingly gratuitous good in his world?” – No, it really isn’t.

      “I wanted you to meet me halfway because your incoherent-evil-God answer should have no force at all to the evil God believer or to the atheist.” – Maybe it’s too optimistic to hope for the hypothetical evil-God believer to change her mind once I point out a reason to think her belief is incoherent, but I think we can be more optimist with the atheist, since the atheist can in principle make sense of the claim that what is normally called theism could be true, and the atheist simply denies that it is true. The atheist does not have the same commitments as the hypothetical evil-God believer, and may see what is normally called Theism as being inherently more plausible (perhaps some don’t, which is depressing, but at least some do).

      Not to press the incoherence objection too much here, but it seems as though claiming that God is 90% anything, where that property belongs to the divine nature, and is a ‘great-making’ property (where ‘great’ is bereft of moral content, and means something like ‘maximal’), is incoherent. If you want an evil God hypothesis, at least go all the way and call him omnipernicious.

      “It seems we should allow observation to have some effect on our beliefs rather than it being impenetrable.” – Observation may have some effect here (arguments for or against the existence of God may come from observations, and they can justify concluding one way or the other on the matter of whether there is gratuitous evil in the world), but there is no way to observe gratuity, and no observation of evil directly justifies the inference to gratuitous evil.

      “I think random mutation problem is minor compared to the idea that a good God would want to create through evolution.” – Can you explain why you think this is so, especially given that evolution does not necessarily require death, suffering or predation? If you have an argument up your sleeve, I’d love to hear it.

      “the causal relevance thing, If an angel wanted to flood my town, I’d like to be able to causally interact with the angel and at least find out the reasons for it to prevent it in the future.” – You can’t be suggesting that this is what animals do with us, and I’m not sure why you think an angel who can’t be reasoned with is any more of a problem than a dictator who can’t be reasoned with. Is there really an argument here at all? Articulate it, if you can.

      • “There isn’t a genuine parody here since we clearly do not have morally sufficient reasons to hold such a lottery, but it begs the question to claim that God doesn’t have morally sufficient reasons for allowing natural disasters.”
        Do natural disasters seem random to you? I think you’d have to say you can’t find any link between natural disasters and moral behavior. If you think God does have moral reasons, why not at least attempt to find some correlations scientifically? But maybe we can come up with morally sufficient reasons. On some theodicies suffering is soul building; lotteries may soul-build in the same way.

        “No, it really isn’t.”
        To be clear, you don’t think the evil-god believer should feel tension because of the evidence of good? I’m not saying anyone should change their mind. But, minimally, they feel some force and should not dismiss it a priori.

        “Not to press the incoherence objection too much here, but it seems as though claiming that God is 90% anything … is incoherent”
        It’s not incoherent. First, God doesn’t have to be defined as the most evil-being—only as the creator of the universe. Alternatively, whatever property God happened to have would be the standard anyway. To say 90% evil can’t be the standard is to presuppose some standard external to God; it’s an epistemological question as to whether God is 90% evil or not.

        “but there is no way to observe gratuity, and no observation of evil directly justifies the inference to gratuitous evil.”
        Similarly, no observation justifies the inference to gratuitous good.

        “Can you explain why you think this is so, especially given that evolution does not necessarily require death, suffering or predation?”
        Even if it doesn’t necessarily require death, suffering and predation, what we have here on earth is a history of that.

        “You can’t be suggesting that this is what animals do with us, and I’m not sure why you think an angel who can’t be reasoned with is any more of a problem than a dictator who can’t be reasoned with. Is there really an argument here at all? Articulate it, if you can.”
        The difference is that we’re in the same environment with the dictator, and this isn’t the case with angels. Here’s a question: If you were God would you create the world so that an evil group of people could cause harm on another group of people where there is only a 1-way causal direction? For example, suppose fallen angels cause natural disasters. We are helpless against that given the 1-way causal direction. You could disprove the 1-way theory by providing some scientific evidence or some other argument. If it was proven that prayers could affect natural disasters that would be good evidence.

  7. What would a morally sufficient reason be for allowing a natural disaster? If God is all-knowing and all-powerful, then this means he has both the knowledge and the ability to carry out his agenda without suffering, unless suffering is his agenda, which would make me doubt his goodness (because all suffering would be unnecessary).

    • A morally sufficient reason might be what the Eastern Orthodox Christians believe – namely that natural evils are caused by the use of free will by fallen angels. If one has a free will defense of moral evils, and if fallen angels have free will, then one can extend the free will theodicy to natural evils by suggesting that natural evils are consequences of the expression of a being’s free will. This answer is logically possibly true, and, if true, would be morally sufficient just in case a free will defense of moral evils works in principle (which, I think, it does). God is all powerful, but he cannot do the logically impossible (such as create a square-circle, or compel someone to freely do something).

      There are, of course, other ways to answer your question, but all one needs to do is to show that it is logically possible that God have a morally sufficient reason for allowing natural evils. I was working on a post dealing extensively with the problem of evil, but it hasn’t been finished yet. Perhaps you would appreciate reading it and interacting with it when it’s finally done. Thanks for your comments.

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