Monday, September 29, 2008

Theodicies, nice but unnecessary?

Can the atheistic force of the evidential problem of evil be countered by noting that, were there a good God, there would be some true theodicy?
......Atheists can hardly complain (coherently) that such a response does not take the problem seriously enough if, while using their standards to judge hypothetical Gods, and while having the power to reduce the amount of serious suffering in the world (as they usually do, to some extent), they do not use it to that end because they do not regard that problem as sufficiently serious. (They can complain incoherently, and justify such incoherence on the grounds that they do not claim to be more than evolved apes; but then, why bother to justify it?)
......Theists do see evil as a problem though, and not just as a problem that God can help them to deal with. Even theists may wonder, when bad things happen to them, whether that is because they are bad people, or if bad things can happen to good people (they may find that in either case there is some problem with God being what they would call ‘good’). Still, they can always believe that there must be some explanation (even if we could never understand it) since they do believe in a good God; they can always be Sceptical Theists, much as atheists can be Promissory Materialists (or go Mysterian) when faced with the problem of how awareness could possibly arise from within an entirely material universe.
......There must, similarly (they may think), be some explanation of why God does not tell them what that explanation is (cf. how evolved apes would not be expected to know much beyond the ordinary phenomenal world), and very probably the same explanation (as on my preferred theodicy). Having said that, there is an important role for a theodicy in an evidential argument for theism, or in some similarly rational justification for a particular theology (as with my theodicy and Open theism) and hence for a particular metaphysics (as with Open theism and Presentism).
......Such arguments may not be necessary to justify theism but even so, we might be morally obliged to give them if we can. God would surely prefer to tell us why we must suffer the evils of this world, as Rowe has recently argued (via the analogy of God with a parent taking her child to the doctor or dentist). According to my preferred theodicy, God would prefer to let us find out such things for ourselves—if we can (and we can, on that theodicy, since that theodicy)—because such causal and epistemic distance is what we asked for and he agreed to (whence his obligation not to tell us) when he decided to create the Earth (as well as Heaven).
......I therefore disagree with those theists who say that we should not give a theodicy on the grounds that the Bible asks (rhetorically) “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why has thou made me thus?” Why should she not, I wonder, since her form is that of a rational agent with problems? While I agree that we are in no position to judge God (as I begin this post by observing) because good is by definition (according to divine command metaethics, which are plausible if there is a God) whatever God wants, giving a theodicy is not a matter of judging, or even of apologising for God, but of trying to understand Creation.

1 comment:

Jeff said...

I think you are quite right in your observations around the incoherence of an atheist using the "problem" of evil as proof that there is no God.
It reminds me of the film "Labrynth" The David Bowie character says to the whiny human girl something like "You keep saying that things unfair. It makes me begin to wonder what your basis of comparison is."
It seems to me with out an ultimate moral compass (i.e. God) we are ill-equipped to judge whether there is too much evil in the world or not.
However, it does seem to me that theodicy might be helpful if one granted a different argument for the existence of God. Most arguments don't say much about the character of God.
A theodicy might help in demonstrating the nature of God once his existence was granted.