Monday, June 19, 2017

The Problem of Teleological Evil

In this post, I’d like to sketch a new (or at least under-explored) version of the problem of evil, which I will dub the problem of teleological evil.

To begin, let’s call something an instance of teleological evil just in case it’s an instance of suffering that occurs in virtue of the natural purpose or design plan of a thing, i.e., it’s part of a thing’s design plan or one of its natural purposes to cause other beings to suffer. A given instance of teleological evil might ultimately trace back to one or more personal agents (e.g., a human, a devil, or a god), but unless it does, let us say that it falls under the more general category of natural evil.

It’s important not to confuse the problem of teleological evil with the problem of dysteleology. The latter problem traces back to Darwin’s discussions of the imperfect design found in biological organisms and their parts. Commonly discussed examples include the panda’s thumb, the inverted retina, and the convolution of the sexual organs and the digestive organs in humans. The problem of teleological evil differs from the problem of dysteleology in that while the latter appeals to poor design as evidence against a supremely intelligent designer, the former appeals to good design (in particular, design that’s well-suited for causing suffering) as evidence against a supremely benevolent designer. To put it crudely, the problem of dysteleology is the problem of stupid design; the problem of teleological evil is the problem of malevolent design.

Perhaps the most obvious example of teleological evil is the evil of predation. Such evil occurs when one or more organisms are “built” to cause suffering to one or more other organisms by virtue of acting in accordance with their design plans and/or natural purposes, such that it’s part of their design plan to cause organisms to suffer in some way. And it is well known that the suffering caused by the teleological evil of predation is immense. Very, very many types of organisms are such that they aren’t able to get enough nourishment unless they cause other organisms to suffer immensely (for example, by ripping them to shreds and eating them alive). 

Teleological evil appears to be a much more formidable problem for theism than mere moral evil or non-teleological natural evil. Perhaps the most obvious reason is that unlike teleological evil, moral and (non-teleological) natural evil involve no clear or otherwise natural presumption that such evil was intended by God. For when it comes to moral evil and other categories of natural evil, there is always the possibility, and in some cases the plausibility, that while God intended nature and autonomous agents to be good, such agents misused their free will to cause evil, whether directly (in cases of moral evil) or indirectly, by repurposing nature for evil ends (in cases of natural evil). By contrast, with teleological evil, it is part of the very design plan and natural purpose or function of an entity that it causes evil. In such cases, it is natural to infer that if there is a god, then it is part of the very intention of God to ensure horrific suffering, where this suffering isn’t justified by some outweighing good. For example, on the face of it, it seems that God could’ve created a world containing only herbivores. Furthermore, such evil cannot be accounted for by the misuse of free will (whether human or demonic). For free will defenses assume that nature is good in itself, and that this good is subverted by being used for evil ends by humans or devils. But while a free will defense might have at least a hint of plausibility with respect to moral evil, the same cannot be said with respect to an explanation of teleological evil. For the simplest hypothesis is that such design and purpose was part of the original design plan of predatory organisms.

Objection: Creatures originally lacked evil teleology when God originally made them, but they were later modified for evil ends. 

Reply: Such a hypothesis goes against what we have reason to believe about evolutionary history, and in any case is a less parsimonious explanation than a purely naturalistic hypothesis.

Objection: The argument fails to appreciate the distinction between intending evil and causing evil. For example, one might design a bathtub with the aim of providing an environment in which to wash one’s body, and yet foresee (but not intend) that some will accidentally drown in some of the bathtubs they manufacture. Such a person isn’t clearly culpable for such harms, as they were foreseen but not intended. Similarly, God might have created all the entities at issue with non-malevolent aims, even though he foresaw that they would sometimes result in great harms. God is thus likewise morally off the hook for such harms.

Reply: The argument grants arguendo the truth of the moral relevance of the causing/intending distinction. It just denies that the distinction helps in the case of teleological evil found in nature. It’s extremely implausible to deny that the large, sharp teeth and claws of a tiger are for ripping through the flesh of their prey, and the same goes for the harm-causing features of countless other species.

Thursday, June 08, 2017

Important New Paper on the Problem of Evil



Mooney, Justin. "Is the Problem of Evil a Deontological Problem?", Analysis (2017).
(DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/analys/anx039).

Here's the abstract:
Recently, some authors have argued that experiences of poignant evils provide non-inferential support for crucial premisses in arguments from evil. Careful scrutiny of these experiences suggests that the impermissibility of permitting a horrendous evil might be characterized by a deontological insensitivity to consequences. This has significant implications for the project of theodicy.
Happy reading!

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Another New Grounding-Based Cosmological Argument

We recently noted Pearce's new cosmological argument that applies recent work on the metaphysics of grounding and ontological dependence to the cosmological argument. Another new paper that aims to do the same is Soufiane Hamlie's "On the Ultimate Ground of Being", International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion (2017), 10.1007/s11153-017-9625-2. Here's the abstract:
This paper presents a characterization of the ontological dependence relation between an existent and its sustaining cause, which allows to straightforwardly deduce that the being of any dependent existent is grounded on an independent one. Furthermore, an argument is given to the conclusion that there is a unique independent existent, which is therefore the ultimate ground of being.
And if a copy should find its way to my inbox, I wouldn't mind it in the least.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Pearce's New Cosmological Argument

In "Foundational Grounding and the Argument from Contingency" (Oxford Studies in the Philosophy of Religion, Vol. 8, forthcoming) Kenny Pearce exploits recent work on the metaphysics of grounding to develop an intriguing new version of the cosmological argument. The paper also won the 2016 Sanders Prize in philosophy of religion. Happy reading!

Friday, May 05, 2017

Schellenberg's New Two-Part Series on Recent Work on the Hiddenness Argument ...

...with Philosophy Compass. The first article focuses on objections to Schellenberg's hiddenness argument. The second discusses new work that expands the scope of the discussion, including work on Maitzen's argument (on hiddenness and the demographics of theism), some new hiddenness-related problems, and also work that might provocatively be described as seeking to reclaim the hiddenness topic for theology.   

Also of note in the new issue are the papers on Pascal's Wager and on epistemic externalism in the philosophy of religion.

Happy reading!

Review of Sterba (ed.) Ethics and the Problem of Evil

Michael Ruse reviews the book for NDPR.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Ruloff's Recent Paper on Propositional Platonism and Theistic Conceptualism

Colin Ruloff does excellent work in (among other areas) philosophy of religionSome of his recent work concerns arguments surrounding theistic conceptualism. (See, for example, his "Divine Thoughts and Fregean Propositional Realism", International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 76:1 (2014), pp. 41-51). His most recent paper on the topic is "On Propositional Platonism, Representation, and Divine Conceptualism", European Journal for Philosophy of Religion 8:4 (2016), which addresses arguments from Gould and Davis against propositional platonism and for theistic conceptualism. Here is the abstract:
Gould and Davis (2014) have recently argued for the claim that Propositional Platonism is mistaken since it is not able to explain how a proposition comes to bear its representational properties. But, say Gould and Davis, if Propositional Platonism is mistaken, then Divine Conceptualism must be true and we should therefore identify propositions with the contents of a divine mind, i.e., God. In this paper, I argue that Gould and Davis’ argument against Propositional Platonism fails since it depends upon a number of assumptions that the Propositional Platonist need not accept.

And if a copy should find its way to my inbox...

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Crummett's Intriguing New Paper on Insect Suffering and the Problem of Evil

Recent work on the functional neurobiology of insects seems to suggest that insects may well be conscious, and some philosophers are starting to grapple with the potential ethical implications of this research. Dustin Crummett is one such philosopher. In his new paper, "The Problem of Evil and the Suffering of Creeping Things" (International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion, forthcoming), Crummett explores the implications of insect suffering for the problem of evil. Here's the abstract:


Even philosophers of religion working on the problem of non-human animal suffering have ignored the suffering of creatures like insects. Sensible as this seems, it’s mistaken. I am not sure whether creatures like these can suffer, but it is plausible, on both commonsensical and scientific and philosophical grounds, that many of them can. If they do, their suffering makes the problem of evil much worse: their vast numbers mean the amount of evil in the world will almost certainly be increased by many, many orders of magnitude, the fact that disproportionately many of them live lives which are nasty, brutish, and short means that the proportion of good to evil in the world will be drastically worsened, and their relative lack of cognitive sophistication means that many theodicies, including many specifically designed to address animal suffering, would apply to their suffering only with much greater difficulty, if at all. Philosophers of religion should therefore more seriously investigate whether these beings can suffer and what, if anything, could justify God in allowing as much.
 And if a copy should find it's way to my inbox...

UPDATE: Thanks!
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