The Problem of Evil: Questions to Ponder (Jan. 30th)

Greetings philosophers, 

William L. Rowe, a former theist, published ‘The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism’ in 1979. There he presented an atheological argument from evil that has proved influential – his example of the badly burned fawn suffering for days before finally dying (what good reason does God have to allow that?) struck a cord in the literature. 

In ‘On Rowe’s Argument from Particular Horrors’ (2001), Daniel Howard-Snyder carefully exposits Rowe and offers a response on behalf of the theist. It’s accessible here:

We’ll be looking at Howard-Snyder’s paper. 

As you read, watch for these terms and phrases (nail these and you’ve understood the paper): ‘Our List of Pointless Evils’, ‘Our Noseeum List’, ‘Rowe-Style Noseeum Inference’, ‘Rowe’s Noseeum Assumption’, ‘Alston’s Analogies’, ‘the Progress Argument’, and ‘the Argument from Complexity’.

Following are some questions to have in mind. Feel free to think up your own as well.

Howard-Snyder offers the following questions for his readers:

1. What sort of initial plausibility would you apply to Rowe’s No-Seeum inferences?

2. Consider Howard-Snyder’s counter-examples to Rowe’s No-Seeum inferences. Are they sufficiently powerful to overcome the initial plausibility of Rowe’s no-seeum inferences?

3. If Howard-Snyder’s arguments are sound, what rational options are open with respect to belief in God? Are any closed off?

4. Can you come up with a defense of premise 1 that avoids Howard-Snyder’s worries?

My own questions I throw into the bunch:

5. Some philosophers think theistic belief can be properly basic (e.g., Plantinga). Might atheistic belief be properly basic? (I.e., something you don’t have to argue for given the experiences you’ve had, e.g. (in this case) an experience of the Godless evil of the world – or something like that).

6. Would God be morally right in creating persons who can’t see the reasons for particular horrors…even if there are such reasons?

This is controversial stuff. Rowe and Howard-Snyder represent something close to the cutting edge of the debate about evil and God in the current literature. Though we’ll be looking exclusively at Howard-Snyder in discussion, if you feel like some extra reading you can look at Rowe’s original classic here:

Jon Hernandez and I will be tag-teaming in guiding the discussion.

Looking forward to philosophizing,

Michael Hatcher


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