Friday, 20 December 2013

Is the Logical Problem of Evil back on?

The logical problem of evil, the argument that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of God, seems like a dead duck.  Yes, there is evil, but evil is perfectly compatible with a good God.  God may have good reasons for producing or allowing evil.
As a result many people have given up on logical arguments from evil.  They turn to evidential arguments; granted some evil is compatible, is the huge quantity of it compatible with a good God? Even evidential arguments from evil seem to be in trouble from our lack of knowledge.  The evil, even the huge amounts we see, may be necessary for the good.  With our limitations we would never know that God is not carefully maximising the balance of good over evil.

The thing is, unless thoroughgoing utilitarianism is correct, morality does not work this way.

You cannot just give a reason for an act and carry on as if this forgives everything.  “I hurt the child because it was fun” or “I needed to do administer pain inducing chemicals to see if they worked” just won’t wash.  When one excuses (or even praises) an otherwise immoral act one does so because the reason for the apparently bad act is a greater good.  We may stick needles in a baby to vaccinate her against dangerous diseases.  We may administer pain inducing chemicals as part of an attempt to save the life of a child with cancer. In both cases the good, immunity from disease and life, greatly outweighs the bad. 

But a greater quantity of good is still not enough.  If I stick needles in a child I may really enjoy it, it may fantastically improve my life way more than the brief pain reduces the child’s enjoyment of life.  If there is any doubt in the matter of the benefit/disadvantage balance I may recruit a number of people who enjoy watching needles being stuck into children and share the pleasurable experience.  I may add more and more observers gaining more and more enjoyment but at no point does the benefit to myself and the observers morally outweigh the pain to the child. 

The child is an end in herself, not to be used and abused for other’s benefit.  There is a principle involved here: where appeal is made to good outweighing evil: the evil to each individual must be outweighed by good to that individual.

I might feel guilt after sticking needles into a child and try to “make it up” to the child.  Cakes, toys, ice cream or money to buy cakes, toys and ice cream may be proffered.  The benefits accrue to the child, I may even be generous enough that the benefits from the gifts outweigh the needles.  If so, do the gifts excuse my act?  No: I could, just as easily have given the cakes, toys and ice cream without sticking needles in the child.  The needles are unnecessary for the cakes, toys and ice cream.  There is another principle involved: to act as a moral reason the evil must be necessary to secure the good.

Now take Abigail.  Abigail was born in 3000 BCE and very shortly after birth contracted an agonising and fatal disease.  Nature and, thus, God tortured her to death. 

The sad fate of Abigail creates more than a difficulty for any theodicy.  There may be vast amounts of good in the world and all the evil that we see may be necessary for that good.  But none of the evil inflicted on Abigail is necessary for good that accrues to Abigail.  There is little good for Abigail in her earthly life, certainly not enough to outweigh the immense suffering.  Any good accruing to Abigail in the afterlife fails to defuse the evil inflicted whilst she is on earth.  An eternity of bliss in heaven may more than “make up” for the comparatively short period of pain on earth.  But no period of pain is necessary for any period of bliss in the afterlife.

The evil inflicted on Abigail is logically inconsistent with a good God.