Monday, October 23, 2006

More on Clayton and evil

The problem here, Clayton, is that we aren't getting the logically conclusive argument that there couldn't be justifying reasons for God to permit horrific suffering. I admit that there is a pull on my moral intuitions to say that God should intervene in such situations, but when this is spelled out in more detail this is not so clear. There is a special burden that falls on people who claim a silver bullet. And I can see how God's intervening in too many cases might result in our not taking responsibility for doing what is right in the world as we find it. My moral intuitions are exactly the opposite of those of Ivan Karamazov: if God can make it the case so that even the most horrific and senseless-seeming suffering can work out the best in the long run, then more power to God for doing so. Further, I can even see the sufferer in eternity thanking God for the privilege of being allowed to suffer so much on earth. If you don't like my moral intuitions, I don't know how to argue with you.

In order for the reductio to go through, you have to be sure that I really have the moral beliefs in question, and that I feel confident in applying them in the way that you insist that I must. The mere fact that theism entails that there are objective moral values (and I think that it does imply that) does not tell you what objective moral values the theist believes in. God has many more things to take into consideration than does a human being in deciding what ought to be done. Humans invariably truncate our thinking, confining ourselves to the realtively short-term temporal consequences of our own actions. God, on the other hand, has eternal consequences to consider as well as temporal ones.

I would not consider allowing terrible pain and suffering in order to achieve a good final outcome. But I have a limited understanding which makes it wicked for me to play God. On the other hand, God is supposed to be up to the challenge of playing that role, since He (she) is God. If God exists, of course.

1 comment:

Craig said...

I am not a philosopher, but I have been thinking about Clayton's original argument of the problem of evil. I have the following questions.

Clayton wrote:

(1) There has been at least one event in the history of the world such that anyone who could have prevented it from occurring would be morally required to do so.
(2) God never fails to fulfill a moral requirement.
(3) If God existed, this event wouldn't have occurred.
(C) God doesn't exist.

The justification for (1) seems rather straightforward. If we think about all the attrocities committed in recent history, it seems we have all the evidence we need for (1).

To think of but one example, I just read the story of a woman now slowly dying of AIDS who was gang raped and had some of her limbs lopped off by her attackers' machetes.

I am wondering what set of moral values Clayton is appealing to by the word "morally" in the first premise. If, by this word, he is refering to a morality that has its basis in the minds of men (subjective), then I fail to see how God would be bound by that morality. On the other hand, if he is calling into play the morality of the God of Christian theism (objective), how could Clayton possibly have knowledge or understanding sufficient to define how God would be required to act within the context of that morality? How could he possibly know that the only acceptable response by God to a moral violation is to prevent it from happening?

Clayton then attempts to justify his first premise by appealing to the tragedy of a brutal attack on an innocent human being as an example of the type of moral violations that God, if he existed, would be absolutely required to prevent. I can't help but to wonder why, when these types of arguments are advanced, the cited examples of evil are almost exclusively these types of atrocities. I have yet to hear anyone use the example of some of the more subtle evil acts which, if we are appealing to the morality of Christian theism, are considered just as offensive as the atrocities. Consider a Bible verse, such as:

Mat 5:21-22 "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' (22) "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.

If we are appealing to the morality of the God of Christian theism, then, clearly passages such as these explain that his morality defines evil to include far more than just the brutal murders. Here we see that a heart attitude of hatred for another person is defined as evil (after all, hatred is often the basis for murder). I would be willing to bet that Clayton, at some point in his life, has had a heart attitude of hatred toward another person, even if for just a millisecond. If we are applying the moral standard explained in the passage above, that attitude of hatred is just as morally offensive to the Christian God as a brutal act of murder. This raises the question: how should God be required to act, under his own morality, to Clayton's heart attitude of hatred toward another human being? Should he be required to prevent it from happening, just as Clayton says he should in the case of murder? It seems that God would have two options:

1. Prevent Clayton from having a hate thought. But its hard for me to envision how God could do this without violating Clayton's freedom to choose what to think.
2. Destroy Clayton before he has a chance to think his hate thought. But the God of Christian theism says that he loves Clayton and does not want to destroy him.

So, I guess my question is, given an accurate understanding of the morality of the God of Christian theism, that God himself is the perfect moral standard and that ANY violation of that standard, in thought, word or deed, is worthy of punishment, does this affect Clayton's argument?