William P. Alston critiques Rowe brilliantly by biting the bullet and considering if not all than at least most known theodicies. Rowe himself calls Alston’s job “masterful” (292). In this post, we’ll deal with 2 theodicies that do not depend on suffering being directly for the good of the sufferer: free will and the need for nature to function according to natural laws.

1. The free will theodicy, Alston says, has been subjected to “radical criticisms,” one of which is that free will is not “of such value as to be worth all the sin and suffering it has brought into the world.” With all due respect, that is just nuts.

Free will is the capacity of choice, of ranking goals on a scale from most to least urgent and pleasant. Its absence means that you do not examine alternatives of acting for their utility. Hence, also because the will and the free will are one and the same power, you have no feelings, you do not love. And if you have no love of concupiscence, you can’t have love of friendship, because what goods (none of which you yourself value) are you willing to your friends? But without feelings, there can be no thoughts of how to achieve your goals. Nor is pure contemplation possible without enjoyment of it.

There is moreover no such thing as an unfree will, unless you want to hold that a billiard ball “enjoys” doing whatever it is determined to do. But if you’d rather be a billiard ball, then you probably have no business philosophizing.

Having a will, i.e., intellectual appetite, is the essence of man. It’s his 2nd level of being marked by teleology rather than mere 1st-level physical causation. To reject it is to destroy oneself utterly. There are no humanoid will-less counterparts to us in any possible world.

Objection 1:

… the fact that libertarian free will is valuable does not entail that one should never intervene in the exercise of libertarian free will.

Indeed, very few people think that one should not intervene to prevent someone from committing rape or murder.

On the contrary, almost everyone would hold that a failure to prevent heinously evil actions when one can do so would be seriously wrong.

Reply: It is beside the point that stopping Sue’s murderer would justifiably diminish his free will; indeed, I could’ve stopped him by shooting him dead, and that would be the end of all free will in the guy. But this would be my job or job for human beings not for God. He won’t fight our battles for us, even if some of these battles are lost miserably.

This objection postulates that it is God’s duty to be an all-seeing cop. On this theory, as soon as one conceives of a crime or executes it, God ought to smite that person with a lightning bolt. Why doesn’t God do this? First, because we humans can do that, too, and God wants us to defeat evil. It’s the job of local governments to enforce laws against criminals. Second, God does do it, but more subtly, through grace and His “voice” of conscience.

Here are some last words that the girl could say to her torturer.

Objection 2:

Secondly, the proposition that libertarian free will is valuable does not entail that it is a good thing for people to have the power to inflict great harm upon others.

So individuals could, for example, have libertarian free will, but not have the power to torture and murder others.

Reply: This objection argues that it would be a better world in which a person might want to commit rape or murder, know how to do so, but somehow fail to have the power to go through with his evil scheme. His gun may malfunction, he may freeze according to some new God-directed natural law as soon as he tries to pull the trigger, etc.

Now first, this entails that no one will ever want to commit a crime, because what’s the point if you can’t possibly carry it out? So the choice in question will be immediately stricken from one’s values scale, and the will will effectively no longer be free.

Second, what is a crime or a sin can at times be very difficult to figure out. Doing so is the task of moral deliberation. If God were to stop crimes (or even sins) in progress, then the virtue of prudence would cease to be useful. There would be no genuine moral dilemmas, whether theoretical or practical, either, to be pondered.

And why stop with crimes? Should I eat that apple or shouldn’t I? There is only one correct answer. Is God now supposed to inform me of it? In other words, if God were always to decide for us what the right course of action is, we would never learn to reason for ourselves.

The same goes for enforcement and adjudication of disputes: both are our job, not God’s. Soul-making neutralizes this objection adequately.

The Scripture appears to agree with me: “Someone in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, tell my brother to share the inheritance with me.’ He replied to him, ‘Friend, who appointed me as your judge and arbitrator?'” (Lk 12:13-14) Neither should we expect God to rule over our torts or property disputes or decide what the social etiquette ought to be.

Supporting Argument 3:

Swinburne’s idea is that if the possible actions that are open to one vary enormously in moral worth, then libertarian free will is very valuable indeed,

whereas if the variation in the moral status of what one can do is very limited, then libertarian free will adds much less to the world:

one has what has been characterized as a “toy world,” where one has very little responsibility for the well-being of others.

Comment: The temptation to a human being to commit heinous moral evils is the price paid for the possibility of doing a tremendous amount of good.

If I am right in the foregoing argument, some moral evil is justified: humans can be allowed to exist despite it. The question we are asking now is why great evils should be permissible. And the answer is that the possibility of magnificent deeds and the possibility of very evil deeds are two sides of the same coin; you can’t have one without the other.

Hartshorne in Reality As Social Process provides a nice illustration of this line of thought:

That chances of evil remain is not because evil is good or useful after all, but because chances of evil overlap with chances of good. A dead man has no chance of suffering, also none of enjoyment. The principle is universal and a priori.

Tone down sensitiveness and spontaneity, and one reduces the risk of suffering but also the opportunities for depths of enjoyment. All the utopias are tame, just because vitality has been sacrificed to reduce risk. Opportunity, willy-nilly, drops too. Tragedy is thus inherent in value. (107)

Again, a mystical book by the chief of the Rosicrucian Order, Spencer Lewis, A Thousand Years of Yesterday, includes the following prayer:

God, good God, what a world and what a time! Have all men forgotten their greatest gift, the chivalry of manhood, the protecting power of their might over the weaker?

Can men come from chanting of Thy goodness and enter into the destruction of the littlest beings?

Then make me weak, God, make me weak, that I may not hurt, or see hurt — or permit the destruction of the smallest flower of the fields or the most minute animal of Thy world. Make me humble, make me simple, make me — kind — good — loving, all — and never too strong to destroy that which Thou hast made! (Ch. VII)

It was necessary for God to optimize human power, so as to allow men to create great good without allowing them to harm the world too much if they choose to do great evil instead.

2. God cannot interfere into nature for fear of setting a dangerous precedent. God does not even stop suicides, the ultimate (though not necessarily the worst) sin. There cannot be found out any general pattern of God’s activities, lest humans will use it for their own ends (or evade God’s purposes) and in so doing nullify God’s interventionist rule. There cannot be anything mechanical, any clockwork-like predictability in God.

We should discuss miracles at this point. Miracles are problematic for several reasons. Frequent unpredictable miracles would destroy the orderliness of the world. A natural scientist is normally able to isolate causes and effects in his lab experiments. Though humans are unpredictable, too, the scientist can minimize the interference of human action with his research. For example, he can lock the doors to the lab and not let anyone in while he works. But he cannot keep God out in this manner.

Frequent predictable miracles, including those that would occur with a definite probability, would end up being yet another natural law, and humans would adapt to them. If God always responded to any utterance “Abracadabra, homework be done!” by completing the student’s homework, then we can be sure that people would exploit this regularity. This new law would be especially strange, because it could be revoked at any time at God’s will rather than being rooted in the measure of permanence and stability of things’ natures, thus enslaving man to God’s caprices once again.

Some atheists wonder whether it would be a better world, if God prevented murders by vaporizing bullets as they traveled from the gun to the victim. They do not envision the nightmare this would create, as people adapted to this rule, tried to circumvent it by finding loopholes (of which there would be a vast number), argued with God whether any particular shot should be stopped by Him, or switched to knives. Natural laws would turn out to be orders of magnitude more horribly convoluted than the US tax law.

Either people can purposely kill each other or not. If they can, then individual miraculous interventions are out of the question. If this is to be a law-bound world, then there cannot be many miraculous exceptions to it, lest our predicament would be likened to Wile E. Coyote’s tumultuous relationship with laws of physics.

If they cannot, then the law forbidding this should be placed deep into the human nature, such as by causing malice in one’s heart to be impossible. But the latter solution is not practicable either, because often human interests conflict or seem to. Learning to love other people despite obstacles is part of the human mission to the world.

Objection 1:

Many evils depend upon precisely what laws the world contains.

An omnipotent being could, for example, easily create a world with the same laws of physics as our world, but with slightly different laws linking neurophysiological states with qualities of experiences, so that extremely intense pains either did not arise, or could be turned off when they served no purpose.

Or additional physical laws of a rather specialized sort could be introduced that would cause very harmful viruses to self-destruct.

Reply: First, extreme pain does often result in unconsciousness or death. Second, the ability to turn off pain might at first glance appear to be useful, but it would introduce its own dangers. Pain is a symptom of an illness and in general a signal that something is wrong. Being able to turn it off might cause people to neglect their health. And why stop with physical pain? Should people be able to turn off sorrow, too? Further, this would inhibit human attempts to control pain through pain-killers and anesthesia, and things like depression, through treatment. Again, soul-making does not seem to permit such obviously contrived devices as a mind switch which eliminates pain.

Further, viruses are creatures just as we humans are. It is true that it is unclear to what extent they can be considered living beings. Still, they, too, apparently want to succeed in the struggle for life. The interests of a human being and a virus that infects him are indeed antagonistic. God never intended for all things to flourish. But God the Father would not privilege humans over viruses in the biological sense, because all things are equally His creatures. The desire to continue living and therefore the impulse to fight for life naturally belong to everything that lives, even viruses. It’s a fundamental property of this world, and to change it arbitrarily would be far too ad hoc.

Objection 2:

Suppose that there was an omnipotent and omniscient being, and he informed us that he had created other universes that contained no living things, and in which he constantly intervened, so that those worlds were massively irregular.

Would such actions be morally problematic?

[If not], then the property of creating a world with massive irregularities cannot be a wrongmaking property of actions.

Creating a world with massive irregularities would be a wrongmaking property if it had humans in it who had to master the natural laws of that world in order both to heal their nature and to prosper. The combination of soul-making + the need for natural laws + Original Sin precludes such a monstrously chaotic world.

The suffering of the fawn can also be justified as an unfortunate byproduct of a lawlike world. Alston goes into some detail contemplating alternative worlds without predation, animal suffering, natural disasters, etc. It’s an impressively conducted exercise. In the end he confesses his own powerlessness as an architect of creation. I agree; our capacity for this sort of ultimate wisdom is tiny. Quentin Smith should take note.


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