Monday, February 4, 2013

Rosenberg’s Argument from Evil Folly

In my last blog entry I mentioned the debate between atheist Alexander Rosenberg versus William Lane Craig, the debate topic being “Is faith in God reasonable?” Alexander Rosenberg denies the existence of objective moral values but in the debate he had with William Lane Craig he argued the problem of evil. Yet without belief in an objective moral standard (as of what is morally good) the argument from evil shoots itself in the foot, because it removes all grounds for attacking even a trivial theodicy (where a theodicy is an alleged reason of why God allows evil).

Suppose a hypothetical theist—call him Theophilus—concedes there are evils in the world but believes it is morally good for us humans to try to fight against them (refraining from doing morally wrong actions, advancing medical technology, learning to share our food with the hungry, etc.) with the limited abilities that we have, with the obstacles we face etc. and that this is better than God making the evils any less bad, such that if God shared this standard of moral goodness, God would allow all the evil that exists in this world, because on this standard of moral goodness God would have morally sufficient reasons for doing so (it is good for humanity to fight against these evils with limited abilities etc.).

An atheist might reject Theophilius’s view of what is morally good, and say that if God adopted the atheist’s standard of moral goodness, God would not allow the evil that we see.

So on one standard of moral goodness, God would not allow the evil in the world, but on another moral standard, God would allow our world’s evil. The problem for atheists who reject moral objectivism but embrace the argument from evil is this: without an objective standard of goodness, there’s no objective fact of the matter about which standard of goodness God would adopt if he existed, and thus there’d be no objective fact of the matter over whether God would allow evil if he existed, in which case the argument from evil would collapse under its own weight.

I’m not saying Theophilus’s theodicy is correct. But even if we grant it as foolish, without an objective moral standard the atheist who rejects moral objectivism is powerless to reject even Theophilus’s theodicy for why God allows evil. So for the atheist to put forth a successful argument from evil, the atheist needs to adopt an objective moral standard. However, it seems that if God does not exist, then objective morality does not exist, and if that’s true, then if objective morality does exist, then God does as well. Paradoxically, the argument from evil can be used as an argument for theism as follows:
  1. If God does not exist, then objective evil does not exist (since there wouldn’t be an objective moral standard).
  2. Objective evil does exist (thereby entailing an objective moral standard).
  3. Therefore, God exists.
It may seem like a trick, but as long as the first premise is true, objective evil implies God’s existence. The argument from evil is emotionally powerful, but emotions sometimes mislead the intellect. As long as the first premise is true, the argument from evil doesn’t work intellectually, even if we don’t know why God allows evil. (Since I’ve argued for the idea that objective morality doesn’t exist if God doesn’t exist elsewhere, I won’t repeat myself here about why objective morality implies God’s existence.)

Without conceding the existence of an objective moral standard, the atheist is powerless to attack even facile reasons for why a perfectly good God would allow evil, at least when such reasons are consistent with the theist’s view of moral goodness. This raises another point: even if the atheist has no grounds for thinking that God (if he existed) would adopt the atheist’s standard of goodness when deciding what evils to permit, couldn’t the atheist at least criticize the theist for having an inconsistency in the theist’s conception of goodness with respect to a perfectly good God allowing evil? That depends on the theist, but it’s relatively trivial to construct a view of goodness that is consistent with a perfectly good God allowing evil in the world, as the case of Theophilus illustrates. Even if Theophilus’s view of goodness is mistaken, it isn’t self-contradictory. Similarly, even if my own view of moral goodness is mistaken, I doubt there is anything self-contradictory about it with respect to a perfectly good God allowing evil in the world, in part because I don’t claim to have a complete picture of what moral goodness constitutes (though I’m pretty sure we’re to love our neighbor as ourselves), and I concede that there might be goods I am unaware of that constitute at least part of the reason for why God allows evil.

But even if I were to have an inconsistency in my own personal view of moral goodness, without an objective moral standard atheists doesn’t have a good argument from evil that is reasonable for them to accept. Without an objective moral standard, there’s no objective fact of the matter about which standard of goodness God would adopt if he existed, in which case there would be no objective fact of the matter about whether God would allow evil if he existed, in which case the argument from evil would collapse under its own weight. Consequently, atheists who reject moral objectivism shouldn’t be using the argument from evil.