Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Does God Permit Natural Evils?

If I had the time or the will power, I'd refute every one of W.L. Craig's Question and Answer segments. A few weeks ago a theistic writer wrote in asking Dr. Craig whether god causes or permits natural evil. Craig's answer was that god permits natural evil, but "that God is not the sole cause of natural evil."

I beg to differ.

I came across this wonderful argument a while back that argues pretty decisively that if god existed, then he would indeed be the sole cause of natural disasters. The argument goes like this:

(1) God (an omnipotent, omniscience, omni-benevolent being) exists.
(2) Natural evil exists.
(3) God is the creator and designer of the physical universe, including the laws that govern it.
(4) Natural disasters, and the evil they cause, are a direct byproduct of the laws that govern our universe.

I don't think Craig would deny premises 1-3, although he might challenge premise 2. In the Q&A he wrote:

For what is bad about natural evils is not simply the occurrence of certain natural events themselves. There is nothing evil, for example, about one continental plate’s slipping under another, nor about the earth’s trembling as a result. Such natural events are themselves ethically neutral; morality doesn’t apply to rocks and rain and wind. Rather if there is something bad about such events, it’s that human beings get caught in them.

I would agree but go a step further that it is not just people getting caught up in natural disasters that make them evil under theism, but any conscious animal that can suffer as well. That would mean that the millions of years of non-human suffering as the result of natural disasters would be evil under a theistic worldview. So given Craig's response above, I don't think he would object to premise 2.

Premise 4 is actually what Craig would seem to object to, and his first option out of god being responsible for natural evil is an appeal to quantum indeterminacy. He writes:

...if quantum indeterminacy is ontic, God could not cause an earthquake to occur at a specific time and place just by setting up the natural laws and initial conditions of the universe. If an earthquake does occur, it is only because God did not intervene to stop it. That is to say, He permitted it. Problem solved.

But god would have designed the physical universe, including the laws that govern it and would have chosen to make the universe inherently random at a fundamental level. Furthermore, god's foreknowledge would allow him to know exactly when every natural disaster would occur, even with quantum indeterminacy. I'm simply not buying the case that god creates a universe and then is shocked at how much natural suffering it causes. And Craig doesn't seem to be making that case either. He seems to be trying to argue that if quantum indeterminacy is real, then god does not directly cause every natural disaster. The beauty of the above argument I'm defending is that is god would still ultimately be responsible for natural disasters, at least indirectly, because he is still the one calling the shots on how the universe will operate and he has foreknowledge. So the problem is not solved.

Now what if quantum mechanics is deterministic? Craig actually leans away from the Copenhagen Interpretation of QM which is inherently indeterministic and sides with the deterministic versions (although he's a critic of the Many Worlds Interpretation). Here Craig makes the point I first quoted above that natural evil is only "evil" given theism and that atheism precludes any attempt to argue that natural disasters are indeed evil. I agree. Given atheism, natural disasters are not at all "evil" because there is no agency behind them. Only with theism is natural evil a problem. Why Craig thinks this fact "is a powerful theistic argument" I don't fully understand. But he tries his best:

For the naturalist has no basis for saying that a tsunami that sweeps over a Pacific island is a bad thing. It may be bad for the islanders, but it’s a great boon for the marine life surrounding the island!

I think what Craig is trying to say is that naturalism provides the atheist no basis for saying that anything that happens to people is any worse than what happens to animals. It's an apologetic tactic he often employs over and over again. Naturalistic ethical theories give us a basis for arguing that it is bad for humans to die in a natural disaster, even if it benefits other forms of life, because humans are more evolved and can experience higher levels of pain awareness consciously than any other species. Besides, the tsunami hurt many species of wildlife by the man-made pollution that mixed in with the waters. 

But back to the main point. Craig argues that:

...if what is bad is that human beings get caught up and hurt in such natural events, then it is clear, given human freedom, that God is not the sole cause of natural evil.

OK Dr. Craig, so who else is the co-creator of the natural evil? Is it the laws of physics that you designed and fine tuned? Who else is to blame? Craig doesn't seem to think Adam and Eve's sin had anything to do with it. In that case the Bible is totally wrong and Craig changed his views since his debate in 1999 with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, (which is fine, I mean we all change our minds.) But getting back to Craig's answer above, suppose that I were to set up an elaborate accident on some kind of convoluted Rube Goldberg type of device that will produces a natural disaster a billion years from now. I'm still the sole cause of it! Likewise, if god is the creator and designer of the physical universe, including the laws that govern it, as all theists like Craig believe, then he is the sole cause of everything that happens in it, especially given divine foreknowledge. 

Craig's ultimate excuse for natural evil comes down to this (emphasis mine):

Beyond that, the theist will argue, as you note, that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the natural evils that occur, so that He cannot be held to have acted wrongly in permitting such disasters to happen.

There you have it folks. God has morally sufficient reasons for causing the natural evils that occur, we are unfortunately just stuck not knowing what those reasons are, but rest assured, they exist, says the theist. In other words, I should just abandoned all of my reasons for thinking why natural evil puts a fatal blow to the existence of an all-loving god, and just rest assured on the faith that god has morally sufficient reasons. Hmmm. Not gonna happen. As Sean Carroll has mentioned about his debates with theists, the theist can always say when faced with undesirable evidence that that was just the way god decided to do it. So the meteor that wiped out the dinosaurs and about 80 percent of all the other species, well, that was just the way god wanted to do it. He had his reasons. Trust us.

Craig finishes up saying:

God can be justified in permitting bad states of affairs. For example, I think it is very plausible that only in a world which is suffused with natural evil would great numbers of people freely come to know God and find eternal life. In a world utterly devoid of natural evil we should likely be spoiled and pampered children, oblivious to God, not mature moral agents--an emphasis that meshes nicely with your own soul-making theodicy. Therefore, it is not wrong of God to permit natural disasters, any more than it is wrong of me to allow my child to go to the dentist.

In other words, it seems that Craig leans towards the soul making theodicy as his preferred way of explaining natural evil. I just recently wrote a post addressing all the common theodicies so I'm familiar with most of their flaws. I have a few objections to his response.
  • First, this soul making theodicy does not at all address the problem of natural evil that faced non-humans for millions of years. None of that would benefit human soul making at all. 
  • Second, as I wrote in my post, evolution requires death and suffering. There can be no evolutionary process without it. So this soul making theodicy fails to make that logically necessary since any all-powerful god wouldn't be constrained by evolution. Any "morally sufficient reasons" god may have had, that we will apparently only ever find out when we die, must not have been necessary but contingent. 
  • Third, the effect that natural disasters have on people's religious beliefs seems to be in solidifying the faith that they already had. In other words, Muslims who experience natural disasters become more Muslim, and Hindus become more Hindu. There is no evidence that I am aware of that shows only, or mostly Christianity grows as a result of natural disasters. Sure when Christians experience a natural disaster, it can help strengthen their existing faith, but what we do also see are large numbers of theists leaving theism and their religion altogether, as the result of natural evil, especially in the West (which is largely Christian) because (in part) of the advance of science's explanatory power.
  • Fourth, Craig's response that "we should likely be spoiled and pampered children, oblivious to God, not mature moral agents" could be refuted if god actually gave us evidence he existed, as he supposedly will do in heaven, where apparently things will be perfect and we won't be "spoiled and pampered children".
  • Fifth, Craig's last line is a false analogy. We are all constrained by the laws of physics and as people, god isn't. If my points above are correct, there is no necessary reason why god had to design a world with natural evil, especially when it did not benefit the vast majority of conscious beings affected by it, and it seems to serve as a way to move people away from theism. 

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...