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02/06/2015

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Brad Cokelet

Hi Marcus, Have you read "Evil in Modern Thought: An Alternative History of Philosophy" by chance? If not you would probably really like it. The blub on Amazon gives a good sense of the overall narrative of the book.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Brad: No, but thanks for bringing it to my attention. It looks really interesting! How did you come across it?

Thomas Carroll

That paper is also included as a chapter in Trakakis's book, The End of Philosophy of Religion. In general, I like his approach to this issue. In the context of the book, the paper also gestures towards a kind of poetic/ethical reimagining of the discipline of philosophy of religion. While I don't agree with some elements of Trakakis's approach (e.g. the broad characterizations of “analytic” and “continental” approaches to philosophy of religion), the ethical aspects of his reimagining of the field — or approaches to topics, like evil — I find insightful.

Robert Gressis

I take it that there is nothing morally illicit in pointing to the horrific instances of suffering found in the world as evidence that God doesn't exist, right? (Or is there something morally illicit about it? Is there just as much of an instrumentalization of people's suffering by arguers from evil as there is by theodicists?) If I'm right, I take it as well, from this post along with the articles cited in it, that people who believe in God's existence aren't morally permitted to try to defend their belief in God other than through personal faith, religious experience, or natural theology?

In other words, is this saying: atheists are permitted to argue against the existence of God, but theists aren't permitted to defend against their reasons?

Thomas Carroll

These are very good questions.

I don’t see the passages above from Trakakis as putting a "full-stop" on the constructing of theodicies; instead, he seems to call out “the distancing strategies promoted by those who approach theodicy as a purely theoretical undertaking” (as qtd above, pp. 183-4). Yet elsewhere in the article, Trakakis writes, "Those presently undergoing suffering, in their time of despair and desperation, are hardly going to be persuaded, let alone comforted, by the reassurances of the theodicist.” (p. 189)

While I would tend to agree with Trakakis on this point in general, I can imagine contexts where the giving of a theodicy might be morally good, where it might reduce suffering. Think of someone whose suffering leads to a waning sense of faith or identity, a waning that leaves the person un- or ill-equipped to deal with the suffering, and then consider a theistic argument being given, possibly by someone who cares for the suffering person, in such a way that it edifies that faith or identity, equipping the sufferer to better face their circumstances. (In this way, the giving of the argument might be an expression of care.) I can also imagine contexts where it might be morally good for one person to give an atheistic argument to another person who is suffering so as to disabuse that person of certain theistic beliefs that might be adding to her suffering. (This instance of argument-giving might also be an expression of care.) Very good discernment would be needed to differentiate what is suitable in a given context, which is why I imagine relationships of care being relevant.

Despite this (perhaps slight) difference with Trakakis, I am in broad agreement with him in that horrendous instances of suffering tend to call for a forgoing of the distancing strategies of theodical argument (and here I would add atheistic argument from suffering) and some different response would be suitable, morally speaking (including, at times, remaining silent).

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