God and Gratuitous Evil


Rashomon, 1950 Kurosawa's great classic film reflecting upon the Human condition (see my Review)

Keith Parsons enters the discussion about God and evil on Secular Outpost [1] with a look at gratuitous evil. That means evil that God doesn't allow for any rational reason. In other words the kind of thing about which one says, "there's no excuse for that, God could have no reason to allow that." An example of gratuitous evil might be what happened to the woman gunned down in Chicago while pushing her child in the stroller. She was hit by a stray bullet. One might be tempted to think -- I can see why God would allow the gunman to waste his life or even why he would allow the other member he was shooting at to be shot, but why did God have to allow this woman to be hit by the stray bullet? In this piece I'm not going to deal with the inductive issues but to disagree with the approach to understanding gratuitous evil.

Gratuitous evil is evil that God would not permit. In Alvin Plantinga’s terms, God would not actualize such evils either strongly (i.e. by directly creating them) or weakly (i.e. by allowing free creatures to commit them). A gratuitous evil is one that God would have no morally sufficient reason for actualizing (strongly or weakly). God has a morally sufficient reason for actualizing an evil e in a world W if and only if e is necessary in W for some good g, and W, containing both e and g, is better (by whatever criterion) than any world W*, actualizable by God, where W* contains neither e nor g. Put simply, where W is the real world, God permits evil e because e is necessary for the realization of good g, and g is realized, and the world with both e and g is better than it would be with neither e nor g.[2]

The problem with this concept is that it seems to frame the alternative to gratuitous evil in such very specific terms it seems to imply that the allowance of some forms of evil could serve no purpose. I want to distinguish between two types of evil. The one would be evil acts that directly leads to the good. One example, suppose the shooter of this woman repents and gives his life to God because he is so remorseful for his act and thus changes his life. Thus his sin led to remorse and through that saves several future victims. Then the woman's death would not be in vain, So that evil would not be quite as gratuitous, although, of course, still evil. The other type would be consequential evil. That is to say, the event itself would not lead to good consequences but allowing it would still be necessary to achieve a certain end. An example of this type might be the same event if the gunman never changes. But the skeptic might assert that since God is all powerful he should be able to stop that shooting or make the bullet miss.

If we take a larger view it may well be that God can't eliminate or micro-manage every kind of problem such that he could intervene in all such cases. Of course the skeptic will always bring it down to "isn't God all powerful?" They will try to play off God's goodness against his power. For example saying God is either not good or not all powerful. Yet as I pointed out last time, while God is the most powerful aspect of being and while God has all authority, he does not have the ability to contradict logical necessity. He can't create creatures who really love him if he forces them to love him by creating them such that they could not do otherwise, because love is a choice. That is not love it's a circumvention of the will. This necessity of allowing free will means that God has to risk our making evil choices. If there are certain kinds of evil that will persist in possible worlds, God is stuck with allowing those so long as free moral agents do not internalize the values of the good. This internalizing step comes though the search for truth. Thus God's existence cannot be beyond question as it would be if God intervened every time something bad loomed on the horizon. So God must allow a real world in which random danger can strike at any time. From that point we can work out the special situations in which will intervene if indeed he does,

Parsons seems not to like free will defense; he certainty doesn't like this idea of unfailing moral evil in all possible worlds ("trans-world depravity"--TWD).

The hackneyed example is that moral evil is permitted in the world because moral evil is necessary in our world for freely-chosen moral goodness, and there is no alternate world, actualizable by God, in which the overall balance of moral goodness to moral evil is better than in the real world. Perhaps there are possible worlds in which free creatures always choose to do good, and so, in those worlds, moral evil is not a necessary condition for moral goodness. However, perhaps no such world is actualizable by God. Perhaps, all possible free creatures suffer from what Plantinga calls “trans-world depravity,” that is, the “counterfactuals of freedom” (over which God has no control) are such that every free creature will freely choose to do some evil in any world in which it exists. In this case, not even God can create worlds with free creatures and no moral evil. Therefore, so far as human creatures can know (since we cannot know the counterfactuals of freedom) perhaps even the grossest moral evils are not gratuitous. I would add that, since we cannot know the counterfactuals of freedom, then neither can we know that moral evils are not gratuitous. Perhaps God could have created a better world after all.

"Perhaps there are possible worlds in which free creatures always choose to do good, and so, in those worlds, moral evil is not a necessary condition for moral goodness." But the possibility of evil would have to exist in APW because free will must exist. Does that mean TWD? I don't know if some evils must be performed in APW but I can see that might be the case. After all it might be the case that to be a free moral agent is to give in to temptation, unless the good is internalized. An example would be Reinhold Neibuhr's idea of sin nature that he took from St. Augustine but then liberalized. The anxiety of self-transcendence leads to evil choices as a matter of selfish self preservation unless and until we internalize the values of the good.[3] In this example sin nature is in effect anxiety that comes with self-transcendence, the ability to understand one's temporal plight in relation to the larger scheme; thus all sentient beings who have moral natures would tend toward sin in this model.

Parsons states, "perhaps even the grossest moral evils are not gratuitous. I would add that, since we cannot know the counterfactuals of freedom, then neither can we know that moral evils are not gratuitous. Perhaps God could have created a better world after all." That does not seem to follow. Either way we can still know that there is a justifiable purpose in allowing consequential evil. Such evil is not gratuitous because it has to be allowed to achieve certain ends. But he doesn't stop there. He goes on to takes his position to absurdity. He is speaking of unwanted undeserved suffering; he says, "note that if if even one...instance...of suffering is gratuitous, that is if even one is such that God would have no morally sufficient reason for permitting it, then God does not exist."

It is odd that they are willing to take it down to that level. Would the atheists be willing to say that if one miracle happens there has to be a God? I doubt that they would but one thing I know, they would never admit there was a miracle, But I don't necessarily object to the idea since it would be against God's nature to allow gratuitous evil. But I think I have just demonstrated that there is no such thing. All forms of evil that occur must be allowed whether they lead to direct and specific good or not. They all are the result of necessities. That is not to say that the individual evils must be excused or tolerated and in all those cases where they wrought by humans we could choose to prevent them. There may be instances in which God intervenes but we don't know the parameters. That doesn't mean there aren't any. It means that the causes of evil must be allowed and in those cases where God does act to prevent there are certain reasons we don't understand. We can understand the reasons for allowing evil generally. Overall I've explained that by the use of internalizing work of the search and the idea of keeping the search inviolable.[4]

The variables are too complex by far to tabulate probabilities. We can't know enough any given to say if there is or is not a rational reason for some kind of pain. The consequential pain is what we have in place of gratuitous pain; that is pain that has to be of necessity given the objectives of creation but has no direct positive outcome,or we may not know enough about the outcomes to say.


[1] Keith Parsons, "Gratuitous Evils: What are the Chances?" Secular Outpost, April 26,2016, BLOG url: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularout ... qus_thread (Accessed 8/30/16)

[2] Ibid

[3] Reinold Niebuhr, The Nature and Destiny of Man vol.I Nisbet &co. 1943
Niebuhr doesn't actually speak of internalization values of the good but he does compare the selfish resplne to comprehending justice. There is clearly an internalizing of values innovated,

[4] Joseph Hinman Soteriologocal Drama, The Religious a propri. website URL
igiousapriori.blogspot.com/20 ... drama.html


Jason Pratt said…
Fixed some typos, Joe. (The poor woman in Chicago isn't being "sh!t" on now. {wry g})

It may be worth pointing out that Dr. Parsons, back in 2013 anyway, wasn't all that fond of any idea that God will eventually bring good out of all evils. On the contrary, when Dr. Reppert (a mutual friend of ours, Dr. P being Dr. R's old roommate in college) pointed out that some Christians are universalists, over-against Dr. P's complaints about how either eternal conscious torment in any variety or annihilation means that some evils must never have good brought out of them; Dr. P basically switched gears over to demanding that some evildoers must never be salvageable (Dick Cheney being, I hope humorously, lumped in with Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot, and Hitler for examples). "Can't there be total monsters?" by which he explicitly meant "can't there be people where there is no latent, untapped goodness that is salvageable?" (Slightly paraphrasing his quote for current grammar's sake.)

He kind of allowed that God wouldn't be such a total moral monster he thinks God is (or would be if God really existed), if God brought even the worst people to be good eventually. But then it was like he really needed to hate God as even more of a moral monster (if God exists) than he hates Dick Cheney, and would despise God in any case for allowing any suffering at all.

Since Dr. R called my attention to the thread, being a trinitarian Christian universalist myself, I had some subsequent discussion with him, and archived the discussion here on the Cadre blog. I get the impression that Dr. Parsons' objections are purely emotional such that nothing at all would ever satisfy his feelings regardless of whether it made logical sense.

Anyway, in that exchange he strongly doubted (and effectively denied) that there could possibly be "any principle of ordinary human morality that exculpates the infliction of horrible suffering by the bestowing of later benefits."

Jason Pratt said…
(Apparently, Dr. P either thinks all medical doctors are horrible monsters of immorality, or wasn't thinking clearly. ;)


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