Monday, January 10, 2005

Is Evil Counterevidence for the Existence of God?

In an interesting post entitled "The Pointlessness of Theodicy," Ted over at Diachronic Agency writes:

I do not deny that undeserved harms test belief in God. I claim merely that they do not test it in the usual way, by providing counterevidence. What the harms test is not the proposition that God exists but one's belief in that proposition. The harms are not counterevidence to the proposition -- that is, evidence that the proposition is false. The harms pose a different sort of obstacle to one's belief: a moral obstacle. The question is not whether the proposition is true but whether one can live up to the responsibilities of believing it.

BV: I am not sure I follow this. If I have evidence for the existence of God (say, evidence based on a cumulative case drawing on religious and mystical experiences, testimony, and philosophical arguments) then that evidence is also evidence that the existence of God is logically consistent with the fact of moral and natural evil. For if God exists and Evil exists are both true, then of course they are logically consistent. But by the same token, the amounts and kinds of evil in the world (not just the mere fact that there is evil) are evidence against the existence of God unless one can explain how such evil is consistent with the existence of the 'tri-omni' God, the God of classical theism.

It is important to realize that the provision of such an explanation is not the same as giving a theodicy. Alvin Plantinga (God, Freedom, and Evil, p. 28 et passim) makes an important distinction between a theodicy and a defense. A theodicy attempts to specify what God's actual reasons are for permitting evil; a defense does something more modest, namely, indicate what God's reasons might possibly be. If God could have some reasons or other for allowing evil, then it will be impossible to infer the nonexistence of God from the fact of evil.

Theodicy may be pointless because impossible for us to achieve -- we are not privy to God's mental states or in a position to infer anything definite about them -- but why should giving a defense such as the Free Will Defense be pointless? If belief that God exists rests on evidence, then counterevidence cannot be ignored and some sort of defense would seem to be very much to the point.

Another important distinction that Ted may be conflating in the second sentence of the passage quoted is that between belief in God and belief that God exists. The second is propositional, and questions of evidence and counterevidence would seem to be more than appropriate. The first, belief-in, is nonpropositional, suggesting a personal relationship, one of trust., between one person and another. One can believe that God exists without believing in God, i.e., without entering into, or attempting to enter into, a personal relation with the person, God. But one cannot believe in God without believing that God exists. For this reason, questions of evidence and counterevidence are relevant to one's belief in God.

In sum, and contra Ted, "what the harms test" (in different ways) is both the proposition that God exists AND the believer's belief in God (not "belief in that proposition": God is not a proposition).