Doug Geivett’s Turnaround Argument on Evil as a Departure from the Way Things Ought to Be

(Redating this post due to clarification from Geivett regarding his argument)
For those of you who don’t know of him, Doug Geivett is a Christian philosopher at Biola University. I had the opportunity to meet him in 1997 at the I.I.-sponsored debate on the existence of God between him and Paul Draper. During that debate, I remember Geivett presenting a “turnaround argument” in response to Draper’s evidential argument from evil. In debate jargon, a “turnaround argument” is where you try to flip an argument on its head and use some portion of it to support the opposite conclusion.

As documented here, Geivett’s turnaround argument may be summarized as follows:

1. Evil exists.
2. Evil is a departure from the way things ought to be.
3. If there is a departure from the way things ought to be, then there is a way things ought to be.
4. Therefore, there is a way things ought to be.
5. If there is a way things ought to be, then there is a design plan for things.
6. If there is a design plan for things, then there must be a Designer.
7. Therefore, there must be a Designer.

Update (31-Oct-11): Geivett has provided some comments (see below) which clarify his argument.

About Jeffery Jay Lowder

Jeffery Jay Lowder is President Emeritus of Internet Infidels, Inc., which he co-founded in 1995. He is also co-editor of the book, The Empty Tomb: Jesus Beyond the Grave.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Premise (5) looks questionable to me:

    5. If there is a way things ought to be, then there is a design plan for things.

    The 'way things ought to be' presumably is based on some standard or principle of goodness.

    If the universe is the product of chance as opposed to intelligence, then there is no design or purpose built into the universe. But that does not prevent one from comparing the universe, or any particular aspect of the universe, to some standard or principle of goodness.

    So, the assumption underlying (5) would seem to be something like this:

    One can rationally apply a standard of goodness to an object only if that object was designed with the purpose of meeting that standard.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16484911353167245584 ___________________________

    I don't think 6 is necessary. Either the problem is 6, or 5's notion of a "design plan". But something can be ordered without a designer.

    Even further, I don't think that the problem of evil actually requires that the disbeliever accept premise 1. They can accept that premise 1 is true within a reasonable theological system, but they don't actually have to claim evil exists.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    The linked-to blog post gives some reasoning in support of (5):

    "Thus, these cases seem to reveal that things in the universe ought to be a certain way. Deer ought to be eating and prancing and humans ought to live in accord with others. But if all things are accidental, as naturalists claim, how can they have an optimal way to be? We should expect things to act a certain way only if they were designed to do so. Bike parts are designed to make bikes; they are misused otherwise. But if those same parts somehow were formed accidentally, they wouldn't have an objective purpose–they couldn't be misused."

    ==========

    A. "But if all things are accidental, as naturalists claim, how can they have an optimal way to be?"

    Whether my existence is an accident or not, I care about my existence. I prefer to be alive rather than to be dead (at least at this point in time). I see no mystery about my being alive being better than my being dead.

    Whether my body is an accident or not, I care about whether I am in pain. Other things being equal, I prefer being comfortable to being in excruciating pain. I don't see any mystery about the idea that being free from pain is better than suffering great pain.

    B."We should expect things to act a certain way only if they were designed to do so."

    I expect rocks to fall to the ground when released from a few feet to a few thousand feet above the earth. I expect this because this is how rocks have always behaved in the past. It is a clear and obvious fact that rocks have behaved that way, but it is far from clear that rocks were designed to do this. My expectation has to do with observation and experience of how rocks have behaved, whether or not this behavior was programmed into rocks by some person.

    If the phrase 'expect things to act a certain way' means 'believe something ought to act a certain way' this seems to have little (or nothing) to do with how things actually are, and thus little (or nothing) to do with how something was designed. I believe that GM cars should be small and gas efficient, but for years they were designed to be large and inefficient. My belief about how GM cars ought to be is unconnected with the purposes of the designers of those cars.

    C. "Bike parts are designed to make bikes; they are misused otherwise. But if those same parts somehow were formed accidentally, they wouldn't have an objective purpose–they couldn't be misused."

    If I find an object that is shaped exactly like a ten-speed gear sprocket, and made of the same materials, then whether or not this object was produced for the purpose of being a ten-speed gear sprocket, it would obviously serve that purpose much better than, say, the purpose of being a wine glass, or a pillow to sleep on.

    What matters is the physical characteristics of the object: its size, shape, hardness, etc.

    In fact, if someone had intended to make a pillow, but due to stupidity and/or clumsiness had produced an object that was exactly like a ten-speed gear sprocket, the object would still be clearly better suited to be a bicycle part than to be a pillow.

    The actual observable characteristics that an object possesses are what make the object suitable or unsuitable for some given purpose, not the subjective mental ideas or attitudes or intentions of some person who made or designed the object.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    FYI: the link in my post was to a blog run by one of Geivett's supporters. I just discovered a file on Geivett's site (skip to slide 34) with his formulation of the argument which differs slightly from the one I quoted above. Here it is.

    Geivett's Argument from Evil for Theism

    1. Evil exists and is a departure from the way things ought to be.
    2. If evil is a departure from the way things ought to be, then there is a way things ought to be.
    3. If there is a way things ought to be, then there is a design plan for things.
    4. If there is a design plan for things, then there is a designer.
    5. This designer we call “God.”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04031407028220844179 Jason T.

    Unless there is some support for premise 2. (Evil is a departure from the way things ought to be), there is no reason to consider the rest of the argument.
    If we grant this premise this would be an example of granting the arguer almost everything he needs. But there is no good reason to grant it.
    Saying that evil is bad (a necessary truth, I think) does not entail that evil should not be. I don't see any reason to grant that there is a way that the would should be except via some claim that there is a creator of the universe. But that, obviously, gives the game away.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Jason T. said…
    PM, October 18, 2011

    Jason T. said…

    Unless there is some support for premise 2. (Evil is a departure from the way things ought to be), there is no reason to consider the rest of the argument.

    If we grant this premise this would be an example of granting the arguer almost everything he needs. But there is no good reason to grant it.

    Saying that evil is bad (a necessary truth, I think) does not entail that evil should not be.
    ===========

    Comment:

    I don't see any problem with (2).

    'evil' and 'bad' both imply a value judgment. Both terms imply that the something in question ought not to be so. Both terms assume that there is some logically possible alternative which would be better. If there is a logically possible alternative that would be better, then clearly that alternative is preferable to the actual circumstances. That is to say, the application of either of these terms assumes that there is some set of logically possible alternative circumstances such that it ought to have been the case that one of those alternative circumstances was realized, rather than the circumstance that was actually realized.

    An 'ought' judgement does imply an overall evaluation, while one can say that something is 'bad' in a more conditioned sense. The pain of a vaccination shot that causes a baby to cry is 'bad' in some conditional sense, but we would not say that the baby ought not to have been vaccinated. But in that case we are NOT saying that the vaccination of the baby was 'bad' or 'evil' all things considered, just that the particular aspect of the pain resulting from the vaccination was bad. If one were to say that an event was bad all-things-considered, then that implies that some logically possible alternative would have been a better, and thus 'ought to have been the case'.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04031407028220844179 Jason T.

    Bradley,
    I agree that saying that some state of affairs is evil or bad is a value judgment but I do not agree that saying that a state of affairs is bad (or evil) implies that it ought not be.
    'Good' and 'evil' are evaluative terms that are used to evaluate objects, persons, and states of affairs. But they do not typically evaluate actions. 'Ought' typically refers to obligation, and thus 'ought' evaluates acts, not objects, states of affairs, persons. So what I really want to say is that I am not really sure what it means to say of a state of affairs that it ought not be.
    One thing that it might mean is that the state of affairs ought not to have been allowed to come into existence. But this is problematic. If 'ought' implies 'can' then the fact that the destructive effects of a tsunami are bad (or evil) does not imply that that state of affairs ought not to have been allowed to come into existence.
    Not, that is, unless we are talking about the obligations of God (or a similarly powerful god-like person). But then this would imply reading premise 2 as something like 'Evil is a departure from God's obligation to prevent evil.' And that isn't going to work for the argument.

    So here is the upshot: Saying that a state of affairs is a departure from the way things ought to be means something different than saying that the state of affairs is evil. I don't see how you get from 'x is evil' to 'x is a departure from the way things ought to be.'

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04031407028220844179 Jason T.

    Here is another way of approaching this:
    Imagine a film or a book that has a very violent and repugnant scene, or a painting in which some part is horribly ugly, depicting something vile or evil. We're supposing that the artists included these depictions because it was necessary to capture their artistic vision. In these cases it may be correct to say that these parts are bad or ugly or maybe even evil. But it would be absolutely wrong to say these awful images or scenes or descriptions are a departure from the ways things ought to be. On the contrary, they are there exactly as they ought to be.

    So now suppose that the world was created by an evil being who designed it to be a place in which sentient creatures suffer. The evil that exists in this world, then, would be exactly as it ought to be (at least as it relates to the intentions of the designer).

    We can say, of course, that the evil deity ought not to have designed the world in this way. But this is to morally evaluate the actions of the deity. And I would still maintain that the 'ought' would not make sense except as a moral condemnation of his actions. It remains the case that even though the designer ought not to have designed such a wretched world, the evil in this world is precisely the way it ought to be given his intentions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Jason,

    Nice clarification and explanation of your thinking on this.

    I'm persuaded that the question of the truth of (2) is not as simple as I had thought.

    I guess I'll have to work a bit harder to try to justify the claim that (2) is true.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    In medieval philosophy, the standard reply to an objection was to draw a distinction. I think that is a good strategy for me to try here.

    I'm going to try to identify different senses or uses of 'ought' and then argue that one of the alternative meanings fits this context and clarifies (2). Then based on that clarification, I will try to justify the claim that (2) is true.

    Hopefully, I will also be able to point out how (2) might seem to be false or of uncertain status because of another alternative meaning of 'ought' that, on closer inspection, fails to provide a good interpretation of (2).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    2. Evil is a departure from the way things ought to be.

    =========
    What does (2) mean? More specifically, what does the phrase 'the way things ought to be' in (2) mean?

    Lets look at some examples of different uses of 'ought'.

    (A) If you want to get rid of that headache, then you ought to take some aspirin.

    (B) If you want to save money on a car, then you ought to buy a slightly used car with less than 30K miles on it.

    (C) One ought never torture innocent children.

    (D) One ought to keep the promises one makes.

    (E) The new spark plugs ought to fix the problem with your car being hard to start in the morning.

    (F) The wake-up alarm ought to have gone off by now.

    (G) I started out with a twenty-dollar bill, bought ten dollars in gas, then got a cheesburger meal at McDonalds for about five dollars, so I ought to have about five dollars in my wallet now.

    There are probably other uses of 'ought' but this might be enough to get started making my case.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Sentences (A) and (B) are examples of hypothetical imperatives. They provide guidance for actions in terms of some goal or objective: 'To achieve objective X, perform action Y.' The guidance or prescription only applies if one wants to achieve the objective in question.

    Sentences (C) and (D) are examples of categorical imperatives (at least from a Kantian point of view, or a from the view that moral judgments can be objectively true or correct). The idea is that it doesn't matter whether or not you want to achieve some objective. It doesn't matter whether you want to be a good or moral person. Whatever your desires or goals may be, these are still obligations or duties that apply to any and all persons.

    Sentences (E), (F), and (G) represent uses of 'ought' that seem to be neither moral nor practical, but are more causal/empirical in nature.

    Given certain facts about a set of circumstances, and given certain causal or empirical theories that apply to the set of circumstances, we can infer what will happen. Such inferences create expectations, and those expectations are sometimes expressed in terms of 'ought' statements.

    "This water that I'm heating on the stove is almost at 212 degrees, so it ought to boil very soon."

    This is not to say that the water has any sort of moral obligation to boil, nor does this mean that the water would be likely to achieve some goal it has by boiling soon. Water has no desires, goals, purposes, or objectives. So, hypothetical imperatives are just as irrelevant to water as are categorical imperatives (or moral duties).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04031407028220844179 Jason T.

    I like what you are doing here, Bradley. It reminds me of the methods of Austin and Grice (do they still teach the Oxfordians at UCSB?)

    One thing I'll add is that if we understand "Evil is a departure from the way things ought to be" on the model of "The water in the pot ought to boil soon," then the first (which is just premise 2) is false. Bad things, like pain and suffering and death, happen as a natural consequence of the constitution of the universe. So, in this sense of 'ought', evil is, at least sometimes, exactly how things ought to be. We might say, for example, "That little boy put his hand on the hot burner, so he ought to be in a lot of pain right now."

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Jason said..

    One thing I'll add is that if we understand "Evil is a departure from the way things ought to be" on the model of "The water in the pot ought to boil soon," then the first (which is just premise 2) is false. Bad things, like pain and suffering and death, happen as a natural consequence of the constitution of the universe.

    ========
    Response: I agree.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    I'll assign a letter to the water-boiling sentence:

    (H) This water that I'm heating on the stove is almost at 212 degrees, so it ought to boil very soon.

    I dusted off my American Heritage Dictionary (circa 1981, the year I started to study philosophy at Sonoma State Univ.), and found a few more example sentences:

    Obligation or duty:

    (I) You ought to work harder than that.

    Exediency or prudence:

    (J) You ought to wear a raincoat.

    Desires:

    (K) You ought to have been there; it was great fun.

    Probability or likelihood:

    (L) She ought to finish by next week.

    Three of the four senses of 'ought' in the dictionary relate to different kinds of motivations or reasons for action: duties, needs, and desires (or: morality, prudence, and pleasure).

    The fourth sense in the dictionary is similar to my examples of empirical/causal uses of 'ought'.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Before I go further with my attempt to clarify different senses of 'ought', I would like to make a qualification about what I think 'a way things ought to be' means.

    Swinburne argues that there is no such thing as 'the best of all possible worlds' because any conceivable world can be improved upon by adding one more good thing to it. This is similar to Kants idea of imperfect duties: No matter how much one gives to the poor, it is possible to give more.

    So, if Swinburne is correct that there is no such thing as 'the best of all possible worlds' then there is a sense in which there can be no single specific way that things ought to be.

    For now, I'm going to assume that there is no single way that things ought to be, but I still think it possible to talk coherently about 'a way things ought to be'.

    If logically possible alternative circumstances are compared, one can evaluate them as better or worse, and one can also draw a line to distinguish the 'bad' from the 'not bad' ones. There may be an infinite number of logically possible bad circumstances, and an infinite number of logically possible not bad cirucumstances, but we can say, I think, that the actual circumstances 'ought to be' one of the not bad ones, rather than one of the bad ones.

    On this scenario, saying that the actual circumstances 'ought not to have occurred' simply implies that the actual circumstances falls into the category of 'bad' ones rather than into the category of 'not bad' ones.

    Anyway, my main point is that if it is incoherent to speak of 'the best of all possible worlds' and also incoherent to speak of 'the [single specific]way things ought to be' it might nevertheless be coherent to speak of a set of circumstances being 'not the way things ought to be' because there is some logically possible alternative that is better and that meets some standard making it a set of circumstances that is 'not bad'.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Let me make a few claims that seem correct to me, including some 'ought' statements, and then we can analyze the meaning of these ought statements, and see if that sheds any light on the meaning of premise (2).

    About six million children starve to death each year. This is a bad thing. The world would be a better place if only three million children starved to death each year, other things being equal. In fact, it would be a good thing if zero children starved to death each year, other things being equal.

    How might things not be equal? If in order to feed all the hungry children of the world, we took the food supplies that were used to feed adults and elderly people, causing millions of adults and elderly people to die of starvation, then other things would not be equal.

    If we were to kill off every cow, chicken, goat, pig, dog, turkey, horse, and rabbit in the world to feed millions of starving children, thus eliminating the many common sources of protein for all human beings, then things would not be equal.

    The means used to feed millions of starving children could result in equal or greater evil in the world, and thus fail to make the world a better place, all things considered. So, I'm assuming that there is some way of feeding starving children without causing an even greater evil. (For example, God, if he existed, could create hot, delicious, and healthy meals out of nothing every day for millions of starving children).

    Now for my 'ought' statements:

    (M) It ought not be the case that six million children starve to death each year.

    (N) It ought to be the case that zero children starve to death each year.

    Clearly, neither of these statements use the word 'ought' in the sense of probability. Statement (M) does NOT mean that 'It is improbable that six million children will starve to death each year'. Statement (N) does NOT mean that 'It is probable that zero children will die of starvation each year'.

    Just as it is incorrect to interpret (M) and (N) as statements of probability, it is also incorrect to interpret (2) as a statement of probability, even though that is one of the uses of the word 'ought'.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    One way to clarify an 'ought' statement concerning a reason for action is to specify the sort of reason or motivation for action that is intended:

    (A) If you want to get rid of that headache, then you ought to take some aspirin. —> If you want to get rid of that headache, then it would be prudent for you to take some aspirin.

    (B) If you want to save money on a car, then you ought to buy a slightly used car with less than 30K miles on it.—> If you want to save money on a car, then it would be prudent for you to buy a slightly used car with less than 30 K miles on it.

    (C) One ought never torture innocent children.—> One has a moral duty to never torture innocent children.

    (D) One ought to keep the promises one makes.—> One has a moral duty to keep the promises one makes.

    (J) You ought to wear a raincoat.
    –> It would be prudent for you to wear a raincoat.

    (K) You ought to have been there; it was great fun.—> You would have enjoyed being there; it was great fun.

    ========

    As I stated in a previous comment, I don't think the 'probability' meaning of 'ought' works as an interpretation of (M), (N), or premise (2) of the turnaround argument.

    What about one of the 'reason for action' senses of 'ought'?

    (N) It ought to be the case that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N1)You have a moral duty to bring it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N2) We have a moral duty to bring it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N3) God has a moral duty to bring it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N4)It would be prudent for you to bring it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N5) It would be prudent for us to bring it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N6) It would be prudent for God to bring it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N7)You would get enjoyment from bringing it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N8)We would get enjoyment from bringing it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N9)God would get enjoyment from bringing it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    ========

    I don't think any of these are correct interpretations of (N), but I will need to support my rejection of these possible interpretations.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Bradley — I think you may be making this too complicated. In Geivett's premise (2), why not just interpret "ought" as an obligation or duty?

    Jeff

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09915579495149582531 exapologist

    Geivett's argument appears to be a variation on Plantinga's argument from proper function to God, which in turn relies on the claim that proper function requires intelligent design (or at least that the prospects for getting proper function without intelligent design are unpromising). But the latter claim has been undercut by recent papers from Adrian Bardon, Tyler Wunder, and Peter J. Graham.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04031407028220844179 Jason T.

    Jeff,
    We can't interpret (2) as referencing an obligation for to whom would the obligation apply? It cannot apply to humans since 'ought' implies 'can' and we can't prevent all evil. If it is supposed to apply to God, then it turns out the premise (2) is smuggling in the conclusion. Since the conclusion is supposed to be that God exists, if we grant that God is under the obligation to prevent evil, then we've already granted the conclusion.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Jeffery Jay Lowder said…

    Bradley — I think you may be making this too complicated. In Geivett's premise (2), why not just interpret "ought" as an obligation or duty?
    ===============
    Response:

    Perhaps I am, but I'm thinking out loud here, and trying to be systematic by considering a wide range of interpretations. I will get around to the moral duty interpretation soon.

    But first, the desire or pleasure interpretation…

    (N) It ought to be the case that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N7)You would get enjoyment from bringing it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    This is true of most people. A normal person would get great enjoyment from bringing it about that 'zero children starve to death each year'.

    But in asserting (N) I don't have in mind the potential pleasure of one do-gooder. I have in mind eliminating the suffering and deaths of millions of starving children.

    Furthermore, the pleasure that a normal person would get from acheiving this goal would be (mostly) from the perceived difference between the evil of millions of children suffering and dying of starvation and the goodness of the acheived alternative circumstance where all children are free from suffering and death by starvation.

    The pleasure, in other words, is dependent on an underlying evaluative judgment, which is what (N) is pointing towards. The pleasure arises on the basis of the prior 'ought' judgement.

    So, (N7)may be true, but it is not a correct interpretation of (N).

    —>(N8)We would get enjoyment from bringing it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    My comments about (N7) apply to
    (N8) as well. (N8) may be true, but it fails to capture the meaning of (N).

    —>(N9)God would get enjoyment from bringing it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    God, presumably, does not have desires, and does not experience pleasure. On Swinburne's view of God, God has 'unlimited freedom' which means that God, unlike humans, makes every decision on the basis of purely rational considerations (i.e. What is best?). God does not have desires that might create a temptation to do something that is wrong or evil.

    So, on such a view of God, (N9) would be false.

    In any case, to the extent that God would be 'pleased' with bringing it about that zero children die of starvation each year, any action God took for this purpose would be for the sake of the children, not for the sake of pleasing himself, based on the assumption that God is a perfectly good person.

    Once again, God's motivation, like the motivation of a decent human being, would rest upon an evaluative judgement about it being a BAD thing for millions of children to suffer and die. God's being 'pleased' with bringing about the end of starvation for millions of children requires a prior acceptance of an 'ought' claim, such as (N).

    So, (N9) does NOT provide a correct interpretation of (N).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    (N) It ought to be the case that zero children starve to death each year.

    Consider some 'prudence' interpretations of this 'ought' statement:

    —>(N4)It would be prudent for you to bring it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N5) It would be prudent for us to bring it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N6) It would be prudent for God to bring it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    These interpretations suffer from the same sort of problem I noted with the 'pleasure' interpretations.

    Prudence concerns self interest. There is nothing wrong with self-interest per se, but a person who is overly concerned with self-interest is selfish, and a person who is exclusively concerned with self-interest is a sociopath.

    In asserting (N) I'm not thinking about my self-interest, nor about the self-interest of some particular person who might be able to bring about an end to the massive evil of child starvation. I'm thinking about the suffering and deaths of those millions of starving children.

    Since this is a very large and difficult problem to solve, it would probably require a fanatical level of desire and commitment for a single person to bring about an end to this evil. That is not likely to be in the self-interest of the individual who makes such an effort.

    Furthermore, even if the emotional/psychological boost that a person got from making progress on solving this problem was huge and long lasting, the motivation of such an individual would not be "Gee, I can get a good high off of saving children from starvation", but rather the motivation would presumably be the elimination of the massive suffering and death that results from starvation of children around the world.

    Prudence and self-interest is not what (N) is about. Rather, (N) expresses a concern about the well-being of others, which is a concern that would be the primary motivation for attempting to solve the problem, even if there is also some positive psychological (or social) payoff for people who manage to make good progress towards eliminating this evil.

    God, of course, has no need to worry about his own self-interest. Nobody can kill God, or make God feel pain, or injure God, or heal God, or make God feel pleasure, or make God more powerful, etc. God has no needs and no desires; God is perfect just as he/she is, and will never be reduced to a less than perfect person. So, prudence has no relevance for God. (N6) is obviously false.

    I conclude that the 'prudence' interpretations of (N) are all incorrect.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    OK, now for the 'moral duty' interpretations, which I agree are the most plausible of the possible interpretations that I have considered so far…

    (N) It ought to be the case that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N1)You have a moral duty to bring it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N2) We have a moral duty to bring it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N3) God has a moral duty to bring it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    (N1) seems obviously false. How can it be the moral duty of one person to end the massive problem of child starvation?

    First, this is a huge problem and would no doubt require the efforts of many people over many years to resolve, at the least. It is a problem too big for just one person to handle. 'Ought' implies 'can', but it is very doubtful that a single individual can solve this problem.

    Second, there are many great evils in this world, and child starvation is just one of them. Even if each of us had a moral duty to attack one big problem in the world, we cannot just arbitrarily pick one of the big problems and determine that some particular person has the duty to solve (or even help to solve) that one problem.

    Given the large number and diversity of significnat evils in this world, and even assuming we each had an obligation to try to eliminate one significant evil, it makes more sense to allow people to choose which evil they would prefer to devote their time and energy to eliminating.

    Of course, many people have plenty of evil and practical necessities to deal with in their own lives, and may not have the bandwidth to take on solving some significant evil in the world. If there is a duty to take on a big problem like world hunger, this is a duty that applies only to humans who have acheived at least a modest level of necessities (food, shelter, clothing) and who have time and resources available to work on something other than their own survival and the survival and well-being of their family members.

    (N1) is very dubious and not at all what I have in mind when asserting (N).

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    (N) It ought to be the case that zero children starve to death each year.

    —>(N2) We have a moral duty to bring it about that zero children starve to death each year.

    (N2) seems plausible on its face. I don't think we can reject (N2) as an interpretation of (N) on the basis of the claim that '(N2) is obviously false'.

    In order for me to buy into (N2), however, the 'moral duty' mentioned here would need to be understood as an imperfect duty (using Kant's distinction). No mere mortal is obligated to completely solve the problem of child starvation.

    But we might all have a duty to make some positive contribution towards reducing this problem, to help a little bit in the fight against world hunger, at least for those of us who have some time, energy, and/or money available beyond what we need to survive, and to care for our own family members.

    I would be more inclined to accept such a moral duty if the scope was qualified and the target was a bit more general:

    (N2A) We humans who have available bandwidth to help others have a moral duty to provide some degree of help towards bringing it about that there is less suffering and fewer needless deaths of human beings per year.

    (N2) may be a bit strong as it stands, but it is close to saying something that seems true to me, e.g.: (N2A).

    I'm not convinced, however, that (N2) provides a correct interpretation of (N). It seems to me that (N) asserts an evaluative judgment that is the basis for the normative judgment made by (N2).

    The reason why the normative judgment asserted by (N2) is at least somewhat plausible, is because we accept the evaluative judgement asserted by (N). It is because we view the suffering and deaths of millions of children each year as a bad thing, as a great evil, that we are inclined to assert the existence of some sort of duty regarding this circumstance.

    In very general terms, we (who have the bandwidth to help) may have a moral obligation to provide some degree of help towards reducing some of the great evils in this world, but that obligation means nothing unless and until some circumstances in the world are identified as being bad or evil. I think it is the function of statements like (N) to make such an identification.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Jason T wrote:

    We can't interpret (2) as referencing an obligation for to whom would the obligation apply? It cannot apply to humans since 'ought' implies 'can' and we can't prevent all evil.

    Since we haven't yet defined the obligation(s) puresupposed by this interpretation of (2), it's a non sequitur to say that such obligation(s) could not apply to anyone. It seems intuitively obvious that there is a sense in which a person can be obligated to contribute towards some goal or purpose, despite the fact that that person cannot unilaterally achieve that goal or purpose.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10289884295542007401 Jeffery Jay Lowder

    Exapologist — That's an interesting interpretation of Geivett's argument. I'm familiar with Plantinga's line of thought, but I confess I hadn't considered the idea that that is what Geivett may have in mind in (2).

    I think i will just email Geivett and ask him. Who knows, maybe I could even get him to post a comment here?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10604580111287204261 Doug Geivett

    Jeff Lowder has recently made me aware of the discussion that has been going on here, and invited me to offer some clarification of the argument from evil that I have sketched.

    I can do little more than make some brief comments and encourage continued discussion.

    First, I invite naturalists to say what they think makes an instance of evil the evil that it is.

    Second, I suggest that whatever conception or general characterization of evil one accepts, it is desirable that it should more or less match common-sense intuitions about what evil is.

    Third, "exapologist" rightly recognizes an analogy between my argument and the Plantingian argument against naturalism from proper function. It remains, however, to show that the analogy is close enough to render this argument from evil subject to the same potential defeaters that have been made against Plantinga's thesis.

    Fourth, while naturalists and theists (and others, for that matter) may agree about some significant part of the extension of the term "evil," it is likely that they disagree about the intension of the "term."

    Fifth, this argument is not a version of the moral argument for the existence of God. It begins with an interest in the metaphysics or ontology of evil.

    Thank you all for your interest in the argument. And thank you, Jeff, for bringing the discussion to my attention.

    -Doug Geivett

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    1. Running the ball on 4th and 25, backed up on your own goal lines,exists.
    2. Running the ball on 4th and 25, when backed up on your own goal line, is a departure from the way things ought to be.
    3. If there is a departure from the way things ought to be, then there is a way things ought to be.
    4. Therefore, there is a way things ought to be.
    5. If there is a way things ought to be, then there is a design plan for things.
    6. If there is a design plan for things, then there must be a Designer.
    7. Therefore, there must be a Designer.

    But who designed these objectively best football plays? Vince Lombardi?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11983601793874190779 Steven Carr

    I suppose one way of avoiding claiming there is a Designer of football plays is to declare that it is invalid to ask the question 'What should you do when backed up on your own goal line on 4th and 25?'

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01387665301048762546 Don McIntosh

    This argument seems to use evil to support teleology. I’m assuming it was devised as an alternative to the more traditional moral argument. But I think it could still be used to provide the framework for yet another variation of the moral argument:

    1. Evil exists and is a departure from a transcendent** moral law
    2. If evil is a departure from a transcendent moral law, then there is a transcendent moral law
    3. If there is a transcendent moral law, there is a transcendent moral legislator
    4. This transcendent moral legislator we call “God.”

    — and against naturalism —

    5. If there is a transcendent moral legislator, it is both transcendent and moral
    6. Nature is neither transcendent nor moral
    7. Nature is not this moral legislator

    ** “Transcendent” here means roughly “outside of the observable natural order”

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09925591703967774000 Dianelos Georgoudis

    Doug writes:

    First, I invite naturalists to say what they think makes an instance of evil the evil that it is.

    A naturalist might answer that what makes an instance of evil the evil that it is, is a evaluative function of the human brain, a function that was produced by natural evolution. The idea is that the human brain evolved in such a way as to perceive some things as evil and some others as good. In other words it’s the structure of the human brain which makes some things evil and some things good. Good and evil are real properties of things, but are not properties of a thing alone, but of the conjunction of the thing and the structure of the human brain.

    Finally, the naturalist might say, since there is no design plan for the evolutionary process which produced the human brain, neither need there be a design plan for how things ought to be – even though given the structure of the human brain there is indeed a way how things ought to be. Thus it is perhaps possible for the naturalist to derive an “ought” from an “is” after all, albeit unfortunately not in the folk sense of “ought”.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07559081710058635050 Pulse

    Dianelos Georgoudis wrote:

    "A naturalist might answer that what makes an instance of evil the evil that it is, is a evaluative function of the human brain, a function that was produced by natural evolution. The idea is that the human brain evolved in such a way as to perceive some things as evil and some others as good. In other words it’s the structure of the human brain which makes some things evil and some things good. Good and evil are real properties of things, but are not properties of a thing alone, but of the conjunction of the thing and the structure of the human brain."

    I'd like to take this idea that evil is a function of human perception and see how this changes the argument.

    1. Evil exists and is a departure from the way humans perceive/believe/feel things ought to be.
    2. If evil is a departure from the way humans perceive/believe/feel things ought to be, then there is a way humans perceive/believe/feel things ought to be.
    3. If there is a way humans perceive/believe/feel things ought to be, then humans perceive/believe/feel there is a design plan for things.
    4. If humans perceive/believe/feel there is a design plan for things, then humans perceive/believe/feel there is a designer.
    5. This designer we call “God.”

    If human perception is not carried all the way through the argument, then some of the premises will become incoherent or non sequitur. On the other hand, if the argument is allowed to stand as is, then this seems to be an argument for the existence of religion, not God.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Geivett's Argument from Evil for Theism

    1. Evil exists and is a departure from the way things ought to be.
    2. If evil is a departure from the way things ought to be, then there is a way things ought to be.
    3. If there is a way things ought to be, then there is a design plan for things.
    4. If there is a design plan for things, then there is a designer.
    5. This designer we call “God.”
    ============
    Comment:

    Premise (1) links the concept of 'evil' to the concept of 'a departure from the way things ought to be'.

    It seems to me that 'evil' is an evaluative concept, while 'ought' is (typically) a normative concept.
    In other words, the word 'evil' relates to evaluating something in terms of its goodness or badness, but 'ought' claims (typically) concern actions, especially obligations or duties to perform an action or to refrain from performing an action.

    Because 'ought' implies 'can', at least when 'ought' is used normatively, to recommend or to condemn an action, evaluative claims do not entail normative claims.

    The fact that it is a bad thing that six million children die of starvation each year does NOT entail that I have an obligation to make it the case that zero children will die of starvation next year. It is not in my power to do such a thing, so I don't have any such obligation.

    Since God is all-powerful, evaluative claims, such as that it is a bad thing that six million childrent die of starvation each year, may be more relevant to God's duties and obligations than to my duties and obligations.

    But even in the case of God, some things are not possible, because some 'things' may involve a logical contradiction. God cannot change the past. God cannot do evil. God cannot make a married bachelor. God cannot (according to Richard Swinburne) give a person free will and know all of the future choices of that person prior to the time those choices are made.

    So, an evaluation by itself does not entail a duty or obligation. Additional information is required: we must know whether elimination of the bad thing is within the power of the person who supposedly has the duty to eliminate the bad thing.

    Furthermore, the cure can sometimes be worse than the disease. God could certainly end world hunger instantly by simply causing every hungry human being to cease to exist. But it is obviously not God's duty or obligation to do this. So, besides knowing that hunger and starvation are a bad thing, we must also know that there is some possible way of resolving this problem that does not involve creating an equally bad or worse problem.

    Again, an evaluation does not entail a duty or obligation. More information is required than just an evaluation.

    So, if the concept 'a departure from the way things ought to be' entails a normative claim, a claim about an obligation or duty, then claims about the existence of 'evil' DO NOT entail that idea, and premise (1) would be false.

    However, it seems doubtful to me that the concept of 'a departure from the way things ought to be' entails a normative claim, a claim about a duty or obligation. Rather, I take it that the 'ought' here is strictly evaluative; the phrase here evaluates the goodness or badness of something, but such an evaluation does not, by itself entail a normative claim.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    I checked a couple of Dictionaries of Philosophy to make sure that my use of the term 'normative' was correct. The Dictionaries confirmed my understanding of this term, but I also found an apparent counterexample to my claim that evaluative judgements don't entail normative judgments:
    =====
    "Normative. A term or sentence, etc. is normative if its basic uses involve prescribing norms or standeards, explicitly or implicitly, e.g. 'ought' is normative, and so is 'good' for anyone holding that, for example, 'Piety is good' either means or entails 'One ought to be pious'." (A.R. Lacey, A Dictionary of Philosphy, 2nd ed., p.161)
    ============
    My point about 'ought' implies 'can' holds here as well.

    It may be good to be pious, but if I cannot be pious, then I have no duty or obligation to be pious.

    So, the goodness of piety is not sufficient by itself to impose a duty on me (or anyone else). Before a duty can be imposed, one must determine that it is POSSIBLE for the people upon whom the duty is to be imposed are able to perform the duty. That is an additional bit of information beyond the evaluative judgement that piety is a good thing.

    Here is how one dictionary defines 'piety':
    1. Devotion to God.

    My objection is particularly sharp in this case, for if there is no God, then, strictly speaking, one cannot be devoted to God (for example one cannot actually worship God if there is no God to worship, and one cannot actually communicate with God if there is no God with whom one can communicate).

    In other words, if atheism is true, then piety is impossible, and there can be no duty to be pious.

    However, if there is no God, it might also follow that 'piety' cannot be a good thing, in that piety is impossible, and it seems rather odd to say that something that is impossible is a good thing.

    On the other hand, piety might be possible for some but not for others. If I don't believe in God, then I can hardly be expected to be devoted to God, even if there is a God. So, it seems to me that piety can only be a duty for believers, not for those who reject belief in God.

    If piety is possible for some but not for others, then we need more information than just that piety is a good thing to determine whether some particular person has a duty to be pious. We need to know whether the particular person in question can be pious.

    In any case, X has a duty to do Y, only if it is possible for X to do Y, and it is the claim that 'Y is good' does not entail that it is possible for X to do Y.

    Furthermore, 'piety' is a disposition to act in certain ways. So it has a fairly direct connection to action. So, I might be able to get around Lacey's counterexample to my claim, by narrowing the claim a bit.

    An evaluative claim about a thing, or a state of affairs other than an action or a disposition towards certain ways of acting does not entail a moral duty or obligation on the part of some particular person.

    The claim that it is a bad thing that 6 million children die of starvation each year does not, by itself imply that I have the power or ability to reduce the number of children who die of starvation to 0 per year. So, it does not imply that I have an obligation to reduce the number of children who die of starvation to 0 each year.

    The claim that a certain state of affairs or set of circumstances (other than an action or disposition to act in certain ways) is good or bad does not entail a claim about one's moral duties.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05211466026535549638 Bradley Bowen

    Another problem with moving from 'Piety is good' to 'One ought to be pious' is that there are multiple potentially competing goods that we seek.

    Thus, if being pious requires the sacrifice of some other good, then although piety may be good in itself, the choice to be pious might not be so good.

    If being pious means that I must sacrifice being a critical thinker or being a good parent, then perhaps it is my duty to NOT be pious, even if piety is, in itself, a good thing. As limited finite beings we cannot achieve all possible goods, and so we must often choose to sacrifice one good thing for the sake of other good things. We must prioritize.

    The claim that 'X is good' does not entail that 'I ought to bring about or realize X' because it might well also be the case that 'Y is good' and 'Z is good' and that 'If X is brought about then Y and Z cannot be brought about' and that 'The combination of Y and Z is much more valuable than just X by itself'.

    So, it is not just the possibility of my bringing about X that needs to be established, but also the relative merits of doing so compared with competing alternatives (such as bringing about Y and Z). This is a second gap between 'good' and 'ought', between evaluative and normative claims.

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