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Great post.

I think your diagnosis of the problem -- concern for Truth vs. concern for "flesh and blood" people -- might be wrong. One natural way to understand Johnson's anger in her encounter with Singer is that she thinks there are important _truths_ that he simply refuses to recognize or take seriously. It's true that she has a right to life, or that she has intrinsic worth or dignity as a person -- or something along those lines. And the immorality of Singer's approach to philosophy is that he somehow manages to ignore these crucial truths. And, on the other hand, if Singer's position really just is _true_ as an account of moral status and so on then it doesn't make any sense to suppose that it is morally _wrong_ or objectionable somehow for him to state these important moral truths. At least I can't really see how it would be wrong. (Many people have exactly Johnson's reaction when they hear Singer's arguments for abortion. What is the difference, for progressive types like yourself? Just that you are much less inclined to think that he's saying something _true_ in the infanticide case.)

Same with Swinburne and the problem of evil. When he says he "minds" horrific evil, he indicates some kind of deep Untruth in his position. Or in himself, maybe -- he's being inauthentic, superficial, foolish somehow. But if someone really did care about the Truth of the problem of evil, I can't see how they'd come up with a philosophy that could morally offend a reasonable person (however much that person might have suffered).

Maybe the real problem, then, is that academic philosophy is _not_ oriented toward Truth. Instead, it's oriented to cleverness and originality and other things that can't be proper intellectual ideals. And part of the falsity or inauthenticity of academic philosophy is that it rejects (unphilosophically, without any good argument) a wide range of truths or seeming truths that are known through emotion or morality.


I was once at a film screening at my university where the film presented over and over again people who clearly and unambiguously advocated and justified my murder. Not mine personally, but mine qua member of a group of people who were said to be oppressing members of the filmmaker's group. It was hard to keep silent. After all, how can I sit there and just watch people advocate for my murder? But I did.
The filmmaker spoke afterward. She was quite impassioned and expressed extreme sympathy for the people and the arguments expressed in her film. I actually felt bad for her. I was sympathetic. Not sympathetic enough to think that my own murder would be justified, but sympathetic enough to understand that she might think that a calm argument justifying a version of the status quo might be beyond the pale. She could reason that her suffering demands more respect than a cold answer about justice for me or realpolitik or whatever. But on the other hand, I felt the same way. I think we are both reasonable enough people who thought that any argument not sufficiently sympathetic enough with our side is horrific and simply reflects a prejudice against us. I am quite certain that many people agree with the filmmaker and many with her opponents. Many think the filmmaker is a monster and many think I am. I am not quite comfortable publicly advocating my own position and I am not comfortable with the fact that the university let her advocate hers. But I find it hard to say that we can both hope to find justice if our own humanity is not allowed to be argued for.
To start saying that an argument can't be heard because someone is suffering comes with potential serious risks. I suppose if you are arguing that God is causing your suffering, too bad for God; God should not be allowed to advocate for Himself. But anything short of that risks silencing arguments simply because the right person seems to be suffering right now.


Marcus: the phrase "solving/answering the problem of evil" is ambiguous. Few, if any, serious philosophers would suggest that their philosophical views make various evils less evil or less troubling or less difficult to cope with. So in that sense, they aren't claiming to have solved the problem of evil. Those who claim to have "solved" the problem of evil are simply claiming that they have shown, to their satisfaction at least, that there is no sound argument from evil for the non-existence of God, no set of true premises that jointly entail that God doesn't exist. While these philosophers may be wrong, I don't see anything especially callous in their claims. Nor do I see anything in their position that even vaguely resembles the misguided and deeply offensive moral views discussed by Kevin and Johnson.


Notice how the framing of the question changes its implications dramatically:

(a) Is it wrong to investigate certain possible positions?

This leaves the question of the position's truth or justification open. But here's another way of putting it:

(b) Can our moral revulsion towards certain positions count as strong evidence that they cannot be justified, and are thus not worth pursuing?

This allows our pre-theoretical instincts some evidentiary weight, as any sane moral epistemology must. It is a better way of rendering the question, since it reminds us that those who cheerfully ignore their own moral instincts aren't being "more rational". They are being *less* rational.

At the end of the day, we may decide to permit the investigation of certain positions. But this ought to be in virtue of other moral commitments that we have (to open inquiry, free speech, etc.). It should not be because some quasi-Platonic picture of the philosopher as Pure Reasoner has won the day. Put another way: those who advocate for that picture are no less beholden to 'gut' moral instinct than anyone else.

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: Thanks for your comment. I'm inclined to agree with most of it--but I would offer a somewhat different final diagnosis: namely, that it's not (merely) academic philosophy's focus on cleverness that gives rise to the problem (though I do think that is a problem), but rather the (apparently very common) assumption that philosophical/ethical truth is found through *ignoring* emotions and giving arguments based on principle alone. Psychopaths are brilliant at "making principled arguments" without emotion, and yet that's precisely what makes them monsters! We should not emulate them, but instead recognize that moral argument requires a whole lot more than abstract arguments: namely, emotional maturity and sensitivity.

Marcus Arvan

Karl: Thanks for sharing that story, and for your insightful commentary on it.

You write: "But I find it hard to say that we can both hope to find justice if our own humanity is not allowed to be argued for."

Absolutely! But is this what, say, Singer is doing--defending his own humanity? Your case appears to be one where there are two sides battling to defend their *own* humanity against the other. In that type of case, I agree that it is absolutely vital for both sides to argue in defense of themselves--though I would still argue that there should be limits to where sides in such a debate should be willing to go. However, Singer's case isn't like this. He's not defending his own humanity, but using cold philosophical reasoning to argue that an entire class of people should never be born (which Johnson takes to be an attack on her humanity). In which case I want to say: there is a moral mistake being made here on one side--a lack of morally appropriate moral sensitivity. And I want to say that something similar goes for the Problem of Evil.

You also write: "To start saying that an argument can't be heard because someone is suffering comes with potential serious risks. I suppose if you are arguing that God is causing your suffering, too bad for God; God should not be allowed to advocate for Himself. But anything short of that risks silencing arguments simply because the right person seems to be suffering right now."

To which I also reply: absolutely. But there are also risks to the converse! Philosophical arguments have time and again throughout history been used to justify abominable social policies, actions, etc. I want to say: we need to take care on both sides. We need to balance appropriate moral sensitivity with truth-seeking, and indeed, see that balance as *part* of truth-seeking (see my reply to Ambrose).

Marcus Arvan

Justin: Thanks for your comment, which I have several thoughts about.

You make two main claims:

(1) People who claim the problem of evil is "solved" merely deny the soundness of the argument from evil to the non-existence of God, and

(2) You don't see anything callous or offensive in the kinds of claims that people like this make.

Here is what I want to say to both. Notice that in his post, Justin seems to be referring to something like what L.A. Paul has called "transformative experience"--an experience which fundamentally changes one's epistemic position and personal characteristics. The way he describes it, he never really found anything especially callous or offensive in philosophy of disability...until he had a disabled son.

My experience has been similar with respect to the Problem of Evil. That problem is what first drew me to philosophy as a 17-year-old kid. For most of my life, I saw nothing callous or offensive in answers to it, or in "mere denials" that the argument from evil is sound (i.e. there's no valid argument with true premises to God's non-existence).

Life, however, then transformed my perspective. While I do not feel exactly comfortable sharing the details of how this occurred, let me just say that some of my life experiences have led me to believe--at the deepest level of my soul--that appropriate sensitivity to suffering *should* lead one to think the exact opposite of what you say: namely, that (A) the argument from evil *is* presumptively sound, and that (B) it is a moral mistake to try to deny its soundness (as any such denial will, in itself, amount to inadequate sympathy with the sufferings of others. Of course, I recognize that this will sound unfair to many people's ears (what, we should just take a philosophical problem off the table because any failure to recognize its depth or attempt to solve it is morally mistaken?). That being said, it's still what I want to say. If there is a solution to the Problem of Evil, God must answer for Himself--for the person who suffers every indignity in life is *entitled* to that: to God answering on his own behalf, not us for Him.

Anyway, part of my reaction here is to what (from experience) I take to be a kind of rose-colored glasses optimism that I've felt when talking about the Problem with some philosophers of religion--the feeling that it's easy to deny the soundness of the Argument from Evil as a professor, but much more difficult in the foxhole.

Marcus Arvan

Joe: Hear, hear! I'm in full agreement. :)


I'm inclined to say that while Johnson was well within her rights to be offended and horrified, that doesn't mean Singer shouldn't be exploring his philosophical arguments because they provoke such a reaction. After all, think back to different periods of time. A noble in Ancien Regime France might have been deeply offended, and said you were denying his humanity, by advocating for democracy. A Christian in the middle ages might have argued that an atheist arguing against the existence of god is talking about something unspeakably horrifying that it could traumatizing given the world view of millions at the time, if exposed to it. He could then use similar reasoning as you have to say that the atheist shouldn't even explore such a question because of that. And so on.

Emotions are important and shouldn't be ignored, *but* we cannot close off the possibility that even strong ones might be wrong, even if it is a small possibility.

One of the things I love about philosophy is that very little is off-limits, that I can ask the questions that might make the people I grew up around uncomfortable or even offended. We shouldn't close off whole areas of inquiry on emotions *alone*.


Marcus, you don't say much about what it takes for an argument to be vicious, but given what you do say, I am curious what you think about extending the thought to encompass arguments for the permissibility of meat-eating. Is it wrong, or does it display some deficit of character (some callousness to the suffering of chickens), to investigate what could make it morally permissible to eat meat?

I don't mean to offer this as a reductio. I am inclined to think that there may be many topics that it is vicious to investigate, but that it is very hard to tell what they are a priori. At some times in the past, questioning the morality of slavery was perceived as deeply offensive. It was regarded as subversive to think about.

I suspect that even if we accept that you're right, some moral humility is in order. There may be some topics that we shouldn't investigate, but we often can't tell what those are before we investigate them.


Marcus: Just to be clear, are you saying that anyone who even attempts to respond to any argument for the non-existence of God from evil is ipso facto guilty of a callous act?

William Lauinger

One move for theists is openly to admit that the world's terrible evil and suffering do not seem to fit well with theism (i.e., with an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God). This might help theists avoid the charge of being callous or insufficiently sympathetic. But then theists could go on to argue that the world's terrible evil and suffering also do not seem to fit well with naturalism. The aim of this argument would be to show that, contrary to what is commonly assumed, naturalism does not do a better job of fitting with (i.e., explaining) the world's terrible evil and suffering than theism does.

I've adopted this strategy in a paper ("The Neutralization of Draper-Style Evidential Arguments from Evil"). One limitation (and probably not the only one!) of my argument is that it only compares naturalism and theism. So, for people who incline toward ultimate views of reality that are distinct from both naturalism and theism, this argument might seem irrelevant. (I take it, though, that most people in the 21st century, Western world do incline toward either naturalism or theism.)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Justin: Absolutely not! I think that would evince an appropriate lack of epistemic humility on my part. I don't pretend to have an infallible callous-ometer!

What I am suggesting is that the proposition that attempting to respond to the argument from evil *is* ipso facto callous should not be dismissed, and instead be taken very seriously. I have struggled with the Problem of Evil time and time again--and, while at times I have felt more optimistic about answering it, again and again I come back to the feeling that the arguments I have optimistic about (as others have been) *do* evince a kind of callousness. When I am confronted with the face of evil--with the worst that this life has to offer--the answers I was optimistic about always seem to fall flat. And then I feel ashamed of the idea of even trying to give those "answers" to people who face those evils. And so--while I have long been sympathetic with attempts to answer the Problem of Evil--I continually return to my worry: the worry that, indeed, there is something wrong any attempt to answer it. But again, this is just me--but that it my point: that this is a matter of personal morality, one that each of us should take seriously when thinking about philosophical questions, not just striving for Truth.

Peter Smith

"attempting to respond to the argument from evil *is* ipso facto callous"

No, it is not callous when you are in fact doing what you can to respond to and mitigate suffering. My little Catholic parish church on the southern tip of Africa sees suffering on an industrial scale. We are immersed in suffering and respond to that suffering in many different ways(soup kitchens, medical clinics, hospices, schools, aid centres, homes for the disabled, support for township schools, support for bright but impoverished students at university, etc). Suffering is our companion. We see and it and embrace it. We cry inwardly for their pain.

No, this pain demands hope and it demands explanation. To refuse to consider the problem is the reaction of comfortable northern elites living a life of hedonism. While you are writing papers from the comfort of academia I am feeding beggars in a place with one of the highest homicide rates in the world, the highest HIV infection rate in the world, the highest corruption rate in the world and sky high unemployment.

No, you must truly look in the face of suffering. Any other response is a denial of suffering. That is callous.

Embedded in your argument are the assumptions that there is no God and therefore there is no adequate response to the argument from evil. Given your assumptions your 'callous' conclusion follows. I won't address the existence of God but I will sketch a possible answer to the problem of evil. There are in reality three major questions:
1) Does God exist?
2) What is God's purpose?
3) How does God realise his purpose through us.

What follows is only a partial answer to the third question.

1. A tri-potent God exists.
2. God has a perfect memory.
3. God has complete knowledge of the state of my brain at each instant.
4. When I die the state of my brain is preserved in God's memory(my soul).
5. The state of my brain retains the net moral progress I have made in life(or in computer terms, my brain has self modifying code). You can think of it as a kind of moral DNA.
6. Later, the state of my brain, minus my memories(you can think of this as my program code minus program data)is inserted into the brain of a newborn person.
7. My consciousness thus continues, imperceptibly later, but without the memories of my previous existence(s). But it contains my net moral progress (moral DNA) carried over from previous existences.
8. This cycle continues over hundreds of thousands of generations. During these cycles I randomly experience every kind of circumstance, good or bad. I have every opportunity and I am subjected to every test. Slowly I make net moral progress over the generations. This net moral progress results in an increasingly better world with less and less suffering, more and more love, more and more opportunity.
9. Ultimately God opens the Book of Life(God's memories of all previous existences) and reveals to me my past histories. At this point I will look back and understand that God has treated my fairly. I was given every opportunity, every joy and every good while I also endured transient suffering many times as well. The pain was only one step on a long journey.
10. I call this process the evolution of the soul as we slowly improve our moral DNA. It is a kind of analog of biological evolution. Biological evolution evolves towards a better fit to the environment. Spiritual evolution is a continuation of biological evolution on a cognitive and moral level.
11. The destination is a world of love, fairness, justice, opportunity, plenty and creativity. We might call that Heaven. Most religious narratives assume that Heaven is something separate, somewhere else. Instead I maintain that we are creating Heaven, that Earth is the kingdom of God.
12. Naturally this implies that God has an intelligible purpose. That needs to be addressed separately.

This is only a sketch but I hope it demonstrates that one can construct a reasonable theodicy.

Peter (aka Labnut)

Marcus Arvan

Peter: I don't assume the non-existence of God. Truth be told, I've gone back and forth on that question many times--and my current stance on the answer might surprise you. All I have suggested is that non-callousness might require us *not* answering on God's behalf--that *if* He can justify evil, He should do it Himself (perhaps, as you note, in the afterlife). I am suggesting, in other words, that it may be morally good and *humble* not to try to answer the problem, given our evidence. Your answer, on the other hand, strikes me as exactly the opposite of that. You assume that God does exist, and then tell a fantastic story (based on what evidence, exactly?) that everything is a fair cosmic test. It's a nice story for sure, but I do not think it is good or right to tell stories we don't have good evidence for, particularly as an act of kindness to those who suffer. To me, true compassion isn't telling fantastical stories: it's doing what *you* do--making this world a better place while you're here. And, I would add, I try my best to do the same.

Brad Cokelet

Hi Marcus,

I can see why it might be bad to communicate one's thoughts about a topic or, say, advocate for some positions in some contexts. One obvious thought is that this might cause bad effects or *imply* that you do not care about others and their hardships (or respect them etc). These features are salient when we imagine some potential offended person hearing what we say.

But I am not seeing yet why it might be vicious just to think about these topics.

Imagine everyone in the world disappears and you are stuck on an island with books food and a computer. I can't see it as vicious of you to think through just about any topic. It might be vicious if you enjoy contemplating certain scenarios etc, but that is a different matter.

Do you really disagree?


Hi Marcus. You write:

"Psychopaths are brilliant at "making principled arguments" without emotion, and yet that's precisely what makes them monsters! We should not emulate them, but instead recognize that moral argument requires a whole lot more than abstract arguments: namely, emotional maturity and sensitivity."

This is a good point. And a lot of academic philosophizing (about ethics especially) seems psychopathic. However, I think my initial point applies here too. As far as I can tell, there is no way that any _true_ principles or _sound_ principled arguments are incompatible with whatever can be known or understood on the basis of "emotional maturity and sensitivity". If a psychopath can make a clever principled argument for some morally repellent conclusion -- so repellent that we feel sure it's false -- then the principles of the argument are false. For instance, it might be that Singer's arguments about killing have false conclusions because his principles are false. But if, instead, he has actually come up with true moral principles that (when added to relevant empirical facts) yield his conclusions, those conclusions can't be false.

Of course, it could be that any attempt to base morality on principles is psychopathic. But then presumably that would be simply because there are no true moral principles, or none that can be made to play this role -- maybe the reason would be that the most fundamental moral truths are not susceptible to that kind of generality or abstraction. I guess what worries me is the idea that, in doing moral philosophy, we might have to ignore the truth about morality. That seems wrong. Not just unphilosophical but unreasonable and possibly immoral. The implication would seem to be that, sometimes, we should act on the basis of moral beliefs that are actually false -- just because the truth is too upsetting or offensive to some people. Surely a better way of putting this point is to say that sometimes we are upset or offended or angered by philosophical ideas because we know or reasonably believe that they are false claims about important things?

Peter Smith

"fantastical stories"

Any good theodicy is bound to sound fantastical considering the absence of knowledge about a hidden God.

In any case all I wanted to do is demonstrate that one could create a halfway plausible answer to the problem of evil. I wanted to show the problem is not beyond solution.

"(based on what evidence, exactly?)"

Given a hidden God there won't be a surfeit of evidence! What we know about biological evolution gives us a clue to how God works. Therefore we can postulate spiritual evolution as an analogue for biological evolution.

"To me, true compassion isn't telling fantastical stories: it's doing what *you* do--making this world a better place while you're here"

That is only half true. The other half is to offer narratives, rituals and practices that build resilience. They bind a community in shared beliefs that allows them to offer mutual support. You would be very surprised by the degree of comfort the members of our Catholic community derive from this. It comforts the dying, it comforts the bereaved, it comforts the sick and it comforts the suffering. Religion is an intersubjective experience, not an exercise in analytical philosophy! An analytical philosopher will never get it until he can kneel in a dim church, glorying in the sights, sounds and rituals, feeling an inexpressible truth, feeling deep joy as he sings the Gloria.

"It's a nice story for sure"

Thanks, and I think it is the most likely explanation.

"I do not think it is good or right to tell stories we don't have good evidence for"

Then we should outlaw all poetry and fiction! Oral, metaphorical narratives coevolved with us. They are the vehicles for history, morality, consolation, support, hope, beauty and shared truths. Read the Iliad, testing it for "good evidence" and you will have hopelessly lost the plot(in the pejorative sense).

Brad Cokelet


On the theodicy issue...have you seen the movie "The Quarrel"? I saw it at a UCR conference on the problem of evil many years ago, and it dramatizes the fact that people who have been through hell (the holocaust) can really want to think about, and argue about, theodicy. This movie and its characters certainly do not seem vicious. But it is designed to provoke reflection on theodicy in the kind of case that worries you (and to provoke thought about the issue you raise). It seems to imply that it is better to risk provoking outrage in order to open, and to be drawn into, dialogue than to remain in unexpressed disagreement, ignorance, or isolation.

Any way, the website has a trailer... http://thequarrelmovie.com/

Marcus Arvan

William: Sorry for taking so long to reply--the past several days have been very busy!

In any case, thanks for drawing my attention to your paper, which I very much hope to read. Indeed, I'm curious what your argument would be. Offhand, I would have thought it intuitive that natural selection gives rise to violent creatures, as creatures that can violently defend themselves and their offspring would seemingly have fitness-advantages--in which case evolution/naturalism *would* predictably give rise to evil better than Theism.

If you don't mind me asking, how do you reply to this concern?

Marcus Arvan

Peter, you write: "You would be very surprised by the degree of comfort the members of our Catholic community derive from this."

Given that I'm married to a Catholic woman, attend Catholic mass all the time, and try my best--I really do--to live up to (Catholic) ideals of unconditional love, forgiveness, etc., I'm not surprised at all--and I wish you wouldn't presume what I would be surprised by!

I deeply appreciate the goods that religious narrative, intersubjective experience, etc. involve. Indeed, I know them very deeply. I have knelt many times in dimly-lit church, prayed for forgiveness for my sins, gloried in the sights and sounds, and even at many times felt inexpressible senses of truth.

All that being said, here is where you and I seem to differ. I don't presume to *know* God exists, or believe the truth of the narratives/stories I'm told. I do this because I do not check my analytic reasoning faculties at the door, and because I think presuming I know things that I don't know is epistemically (and morally) wrong. I also do not check my analytic reasoning at the door because I believe that if a good and forgiving God exists, He would not want for me to abuse my reasoning abilities by forsaking them.

What I do instead is HOPE. I sincerely hope there is a forgiving God. I sincerely hope there is a successful theodicy. I hope I might learn it in the afterlife. And--or so I've argued before--I think hope is good enough (http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/blog/2014/04/what-is-religious-practice.html ). Indeed, I think it is epistemically and morally better than outright belief. I believe that hope, like love--and unlike presumption--is humble and kind. In other words, because I believe in love, humility, and kindness, I believe in hope. And I believe that any good God--the kind you believe in--would appreciate that.

But, of course I may be wrong. That is, as Catholic teaching instructs, the "mystery of faith."

Marcus Arvan

Hi Brad: Thanks for your comments!

You write: "But I am not seeing yet why it might be vicious just to think about these topics. Imagine everyone in the world disappears and you are stuck on an island with books food and a computer. I can't see it as vicious of you to think through just about any topic."

Ah, but your thought-experiment changes things. It is precisely because I am *not* the only person in the world that I worry about replying to the problem of evil. Sometimes (as Peter notes) I feel it is easy to think through a theodicy from the comfort of a classroom--or, as you would put it, on a desert island if I'm the only person in the world. But, I'm *not* the only person in the world--and it is precisely when I imagine trying to give a theodicy with a straight face to people who suffer unimaginably (of whom I've known some) that I begin to feel ashamed. I think to myself, "No, this is ridiculous. My theodicy could *never* satisfy this person. It would fail to take seriously their suffering. If there is a sound theodicy, I should--in all epistemic and moral humility--leave it to God to answer for Himself.

Does this clarify my worry? In any case, thanks for the film reference. I do hope to check it out. It sounds great.

Peter Smith

Hi Marcus,
"I'm not surprised at all--and I wish you wouldn't presume what I would be surprised by!"

Oops, sorry. I originally presumed, from your characterisation of theodicy as callous, that you were a Dennett/Dawkins style person. Bad assumption, as your rather insightful post about religious practice makes clear.

"where you and I seem to differ. I don't presume to *know* God exists".

Nor do I. Nor do I think God's existence can be proven/disproven. I liked what you said about hope but I want to amplify on that.

When I travel by air from Port Elizabeth to Johannesburg I hope I will get there safely. This is a reasonable enough hope, based on a balance of probabilities, that I am prepared to take the chance. I cannot know I will get there safely nor can I prove I will get there safely, as the unhappy passengers of the Air Malaysia flights discovered.

In fact most decisions in life are like this, they are based on a balance of probabilities. This is how civil law works. It does not ask that the case be proven, only that, on a balance of probabilities, it is the most likely case.

How strong we require the balance of probabilities to be depends on the nature of the risk. Thus, when flying, I require a strong balance of probabilities. When skydiving I accepted a much smaller balance of probabilities(that is the nature of daredevil activities) and in fact some people from our club died.

Turning now to the existence of God, I applied the same reasoning (some six to seven years ago). I listed all arguments for and against the existence of God(there were about 30 in total). After examining them carefully, I concluded, on a balance of probabilities, that it was more likely than not, that God existed. I also concluded that the balance of probabilities was strong enough to justify real hope and commitment. But what kind of God was this? To find out I decided to consult an expert. I visited the local parish priest and introduced myself as a lapsed atheist who wanted to learn more. I have never looked back. I still enjoy the memory of the priest's consternation when I told him I was a lapsed atheist!

I soon discovered that religion is the cultural clothing given to theistic beliefs. I realised that religion is an extended aetiological and metaphorical narrative that conveys core spiritual truths simply, to a wide audience in a manner that is independent of the milieu. It is narrative theology.

My biggest stumbling block was the evidentiary problem of evil and I have described my answer to that.

Coming from a background of eliminative materialism I found I needed a more concrete conception of God. My unconventional answer. The laws of nature are the properties of God and it is this that gives the laws of nature their prescriptive power. Thus studying science can be seen as a form of theology! God's consciousness permeates the universe as a field, and is thus part of the laws of nature. Where this field intersects brain tissue it induces consciousness in the brain tissue, creating a localised consciousness. God thus shares the consciousness of every conscious being. God thus not only 'knows' all, God 'experiences' it as well through our experiences. We have been created so that God can experience his creation, through us. I am differentiating between 'knowing' and 'experiencing'.

This belief has far reaching consequences. When I look into the eyes of any person, God is looking back at me through that person's eyes. If I strike that person I am also striking God, who feels the pain of my blow. If I perform an act of loving kindness for that person I am also performing an act of loving kindness towards God, who experiences my act through that person.

My 'soul' is the state of my brain(information), preserved in God's memory and thus I am immortal. Information does not die. When I die I will be 'asleep in God' until the state of my brain is instantiated in a new body and I regain consciousness.

Thus I feel God intimately through the laws of nature(he truly is the ground of being, as Tillich said) and I encounter God daily in the people around me. I have the hope of immortality and the hope that ultimately the universe is indeed just. This hope is grounded in a reasonable balance of probabilities, strong enough to justify my hope. This is not something I can know or prove but I can say it is justified hope, which we also call faith.

By the way, congratulations on your innovative posting on Scientia Salon.

William Lauinger

Thanks, Marcus. I'll paste the abstract below, and then I'll email you a copy (no obligation to read it, though). The paper is in Faith and Philosophy 31, pp. 303-324 (2014).

ABSTRACT: This paper aims to neutralize Draper-style evidential arguments from evil by defending five theses: (1) that, when those who advance these arguments use the word “evil,” they are referring, at least in large part, to ill-being; (2) that well-being and ill-being come as a pair (i.e., are essentially related); (3) that well-being and ill-being are best understood in an at least partly objectivist way; (4) that (even partial) objectivism about well-being and ill-being is best understood as implying non-naturalism about well-being and ill-being; and (5) that the truth of non-naturalism about well-being and ill-being does not fit cleanly with naturalism and, in fact, fits at least as well with theism as it does with naturalism.

Marcus Arvan

Peter: Thank you for your thoughtful reply, as well as for the kind comment on my Scientia Salon piece.

I suppose I'll just add that on the whole, our personal paths and cosmological views do not appear to be far apart after all. My views on these matters shifted in a similar direction several years ago as well, and my speculative cosmological views are not all that dissimilar to yours. I just prefer to Hope rather than Believe, for the epistemic and moral reasons I've explained.

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