After a rather inauspicious beginning — and middle, and end — William L. Rowe comes up with a real gem in the last paragraph: “There are,” he says, “four different things a theodicy might aim at doing, each more difficult than its predecessor.
“First, a theodicy might seek to explain why [God] would permit any evil at all.
“Second, a theodicy might endeavor to explain why there are instances of the various kinds of evil we find in our world — animal pain, human suffering, wickedness, etc.
“Third, a theodicy might endeavor to explain why there is the amount of evil (of these kinds) that we find in our world.
“And, finally, a theodicy might endeavor to explain certain particular evils that obtain.” (273)
He considers the theodicy of soul-making through natural law and argues that it is “successful on the first level, and perhaps the second.” (273) But not further than that.
Very well, let’s consider his levels. Clearly, from level 2 it follows that there will be some evils which serve the purpose of ordered soul-making. So, some — in fact, most (because soul-making must work as a rule not as some rarely happening near-miraculous event) — particular evils are justified or absorbed by various higher-order goods.
The questions are, (a) are all evils ultimately absorbed (Rowe’s level 3)?
And (b) how, precisely, are they absorbed for any given evil E (level 4)?
As an example of what at first glance appear gratuitous unjustified evils Rowe considers two cases. The first one concerns the ordeal of a fawn trapped in a forest fire, who is “horribly burned and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering.” The second is a real story of a little girl Sue who was “severely beaten, raped, and then strangled early on New Year’s Day of 1986.” (263)
We’ll get to more specific theodicies later. Here I wish to discuss two most general ways of getting God off the hook. The force of the argument from evil is apparent in the following formulation:
1) Suppose God exists as some absolute goodness.
2) But the state of our world is very sorry, indeed.
3) Even if God does nothing bad to anyone, He at least permits much suffering to occur.
4) I accuse God of criminal negligence, depraved indifference, and therefore of committing moral evil.
5) With that, I rest my case; the theist is now invited to defend God.
The first defense will use deontological approach to ethics. God may speak as follows:
(i) I am the Author of life and death. I created both your soul and every atom in your body. I give life, and I can take it away. As a result, I have a moral-legal (in the case of God, there is no distinction) right to kill anyone at my pleasure, including, a fortiori, by refusing to prevent any death through a miraculous intervention. As a result, my exercise of this right cannot be criminal or depraved; hence in permitting suffering, I commit no wicked deeds. I have no duty to babysit or coddle any of my creatures.
Alternatively, God can argue this way:
(ii) I am the Author of nature. But I do not directly as First Cause give or take life or happiness; nature does. The fawn died because of a natural accident; I had no hand in it at all, other than foreseeing before creating that this event would occur and choosing to create the world either despite or because of it. This fawn died, because it was weak; but many others that were more fit escaped; when they reproduce and pass their genes to their offspring, the deer species will become stronger. Therefore, you can only accuse me of creating an evil natural law, according to which animals die painfully from time to time. Your, Rowe’s, levels 3 and 4 are not in the picture at all.
Note that challenging the propriety of the natural law that “animals must savagely kill and devour each other in order to survive” is exactly what Quentin Smith attempts to do in the previous paper. Smith does not bother with the fate of any individual fawn.
The second defense will be utilitarian.
God is infinite and omniscient. Hence it seems fitting that God would seek to achieve for His creatures some form of the greatest good for the greatest number. For example, God may want to maximize total human happiness over the whole span of time humanity endures in the universe, and even into the entirety of human everlasting lives within the communion of saints in heaven and paradise. Such a feat may require numerous local sacrifices which we perceive as evil and incompatible with the goodness of God. But if we were fully informed of the best way to impart into the creation the greatest possible good, then we would agree with God that some suffering ought to take place for its sake. Unfortunately, we are not privy to the near-infinite cunning of divine providence. Hence levels 3 and 4 establish nothing, not even a reason to doubt theism.
We might object by invoking a scene from Seinfeld:
Jerry: You know, I used to think that the universe is a random, chaotic sequence of meaningless events, but I see now that there is reason and purpose to all things.
George: What happened to you?
Jerry: Religion, my friend, that’s what happened to me. Because, I have just been informed that it’s going to cost Elaine the sum of five thousand dollars to get the apartment upstairs.
George: Five thousand dollars? She doesn’t have five thousand dollars!
Jerry: Of course she doesn’t have five thousand dollars!
George: So, she can’t get the apartment.
Jerry: Can’t get it.
George: So, she doesn’t move in.
Jerry: No move. So, you see, it’s all part of a divine plan.
George: And how does the baldness fit into that plan?
Well, I don’t know 100%, but you, George, will probably eventually find out, just as Jerry “did.”
Again, it is only possible to sustain an attack on theism on the level of natural law, i.e., that it is wrong for God to insist that some men become bald as they grow older. But as Rowe concedes, the apparent evil of some natural laws is fully absorbed by their utility for soul-making.