Monday, May 17, 2004


Swinburne on the problem of evil

There are 4 points:
  1. Only by allowing evil can a good be achieved. But why can't God create a world where there is only good? The classical answer is the FWD. And the obvious objection to the FWD is, is the good worth the pain? The answer to this seems to be that if God is to give us significant control, then there has to be the possibility of really significant bad. Note that we can only accept the FWD in a world of genuinely free agents (liberty of indifference as opposed to liberty of spontaneity). If instead we accept that we act based on liberty of spontaneity, then the position of Antony Flew is justified, maintaining that there is no incompatibility between freedom and determinism (people are free and still causally determined to do only what is good). But this seems to escape the point just by redefining free will.
    This position of Swinburne's resembles Hick's, when he speaks of the two-stages conception of the creation of humankind -- first creation with the potential for knowledge, then a gradual process of further growth and development (through human freedom).
  2. God does everything he can to bring about that good. So he would give us the maximum opportunity to achieve the good -- in the case where he allowed us to suffer pain, this would mean he is giving us the option of deciding how to deal with that pain: for example, in a courageous way (which is a good thing, hence we would achieve that good), or not in a courageous way (so we would not achieve that good). The key point is that there would be no point in the pain unless we also have free will to choose how to deal with it. Then this can be extended to parents, children, friends and society: how would they react to this pain? This would be an opportunity for them as well to exercise free will and choose or not choose good.
  3. God has the right to allow evil. Swinburne justifies this saying that you have to be in a kind of parental situation with regard to somebody else if you are to cause suffering or allow them to suffer. The reason for that is that you are overall their benefactor. You've given them life, nourishment, education and so on and therefore you have the right to demand certain things in return. And God, it is maintained, is in that position.
  4. The outcome has to be sufficiently good. I don't see how we can measure this for ourselves. Perhaps here it is appropriate to mention the position of Davies, arguing that we should not expect to be able to (fully) understand the reason for suffering.
A couple more points:
  • I think I agree with Swinburne's definition of a toy world: humanity and its relationship with God is a developing, progressive enterprise, requiring humankind to make mistakes and to experience life's joys and pains in order to develop as a human being and, as a result, get closer to God. It looks that this makes sense only when seen as part of a more complete package, including life after death (whatever that means).
  • Are we prepared to accept a "better world"? Davies points out that many find evil (to different degrees) more attractive. Milton's Satan is far more charismatic than the squeaky clean God, and many of us believe that the best world is one where there is no evil or suffering, yet are afraid of existing in some kind of Brave New World, devoid of passion.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours? Logo