God, evil, and appearance

Adam: Consider this:

Neil and Kazumi Puttick, and their son Sam were, by all accounts, an idyllic family. One friend said: ‘If you could bottle up a perfect marriage, theirs would be it’. They were involved in a car accident in 2005. Kazumi’s legs and pelvis were broken. Sam – then 18 months old – had his spine severed at the neck. He would have died were it not for two doctors who happened to be passing by. After being rushed to hospital, Neil and Kazumi were told that Sam’s injuries were catastrophic. Neil was defiant:

I believe in my heart the doctors are wrong and he will win. I believe God is with us and Sam will walk, talk, and breathe again. He was a miracle when came to us, it was a miracle when he survived the crash and it will be a miracle when he recovers. These things do happen and they will happen to Sam.

Sam survived, and although he didn’t recover from paralysis, flourished in all other respects. Neil and Kazumi quit their jobs to devote their time looking after Sam and raising money for his care. The local community pitched in too: one of the things they did was take photographs of themselves from all over the world holding cards saying ‘Hi Sam!’ which Sam enjoyed immensely. Later the local government agreed to pay the costs of Sam’s medical care. Neil and Kazumi continued their work, now directed towards raising awareness of spinal injuries. Sadly, the story doesn’t end there.

Three years after the accident ( just after he’d started at school) Sam contracted pneumococcal meningitis, a highly virulent and aggressive infection. Despite intensive care, it became clear there was no hope of survival. Neil and Kazumi took him back home, and he died shortly afterwards.

Beachy Head is a notorious suicide blackspot, so much so a chaplaincy has been set up expressly to patrol the cliffs and counsel those contemplating whether to jump. Despite this, no one saw two figures wearing rucksacks who leapt to their deaths late at night. The bodies were discovered the following morning. They were Neil and Kazumi Puttick. Sam’s body was in one their rucksacks; the other contained his toys.

The ‘problem of evil’ can mean many different things. It could be a moral problem: ‘What should we do to stop the evil things in the world?’ It could be a motive for existential crisis: ‘How can we bear to live in a world with so much that is evil?’ It could be an obstacle to religious faith: ‘How can I love a God that lets these evil things occur?’ The sort of ‘problem’ I want to talk about is really an argument, that starts from the existence of evil, and ends up concluding that there is no God. Awful stories like the Putticks’ are meant to demonstrate we do not live under the watchful benevolence of God, but rather in one of blind, pitiless indifference to our wellbeing. Continue reading “God, evil, and appearance”

Does the moral argument undercut the argument from evil?

Adam: It is often wondered whether evil gives reason to believe there is no god. There are many such responses to this idea. One is to suggest that although at first appearance suggests that evil ‘counts against’ god, further sober enquiry reveals that this is no evidence at all. Theism can provide a similarly good explanation. In a sense, we give ‘God’s alibi’ to the prosecution to the argument from evil.

Alternatively, and more recently, a popular response is that of sceptical Theism: Namely, the principle that we simply aren’t in a position to judge whether the evils we observe really count against God. We simply aren’t able to judge the matter. Instead of God’s alibi, we simply show that our trial could never reach a safe verdict in the first place.

Also, one can simply accept that the balance of evil in the world really does, taken alone, suggest there is no God. However, this only considers evil alone. Considering the rest of the available evidence, we observe that there are much greater reasons in favour of God.

However one common objection, amongst popular sources at least, is to appeal to morality itself to ‘trump’ the argument from evil. When Atheist offers an argument from evil, Theist says some variant of “Well, to run the argument from evil in the first place, you need some account of what good and evil is. Yet the only plausible source of value is God.”

Charles: I think this argument could just be another argument like fine tuning or whatever else designed to rebut the argument from evil: “Okay, so there’s a problem of evil, but I’ve got an argument from morality which is even better.” However, I think when this sort of response is offered, it’s more an undercutting defeater: that, until Atheist gives a good answer to the moral argument Theist poses, Theist need not worry about answering the problem of evil. Continue reading “Does the moral argument undercut the argument from evil?”