Copyright © by SORITES and Enrique Romerales
Three Prospects for Theodicy:
Some Anti-Leibnizian ApproachesFoot note 1
It could seem that as we are left just with the problem of natural evil, it will be rational to be confident that, in the same manner as we have eventually managed to overcome the former aspects of the problem -- not without effort --, we will finally be able to settle this point as well. But it seems to me that it is just now that the real issue begins. So I will restrict my attention to the problem of natural evil as an evidence which tends to disconfirm theism. For speaking in Swinburne's terms, there is -- to my mind -- a very good C-inductiveFoot note 3 atheistic argument from evil, since the amount and quality of evil we find in the world fits very well with the atheistic hypothesis, while the theistic hypothesis seems to entail -- prima facie at least -- a far smaller quantity and rather different quality of evil.Foot note 4
In the first place, although not being inconsistent with the God of classical theism, the existence of natural evil poses a serious handicap to the believer. As it has frequently been asserted, it is not just the mere existence of evil, but the enormous amount and horrendous quality of evils what demands an answer from the theist. For that reason there is a strong need for a theodicy (or for more than one). Given that certain evils are necessary means for a greater good, the theodicist has to spell out why the other evils exist. And in doing so he neither possibly can nor is obliged to find out the true answer. He has only to state a coherent answer, that is to say, an explanation of these evils that sets forth a coherently describable state of affairs. But, as some have pointed out, if the answer is very implausible, then the theodicy in question is prone to getting bogged down. So what we need is not just a coherent theodicy, but a more or less plausible one, which fits with the theist doctrine and not be totally ad hoc. Possibly we will never be able to discover the true answer to the problem of (natural) evil, but to find some credible solution to this problem would make theistic belief something much more rational to accept and much easier to entertain.
Now in facing the problem of the huge quantity and terribly bad quality of natural evil, you can choose between two distinct approaches: the holistic and the particular. Let us take the former first.
There are several well known theodicies of natural evil: the higher goods defense, the necessity of knowledge defense etc. If you have a look to all the evils in the world, you can think as follows: well, perhaps the idea of a best of all possible worlds is not coherent,Foot note 5 or God might not have any obligation to create his best after all,Foot note 6 but surely certain little changes would have made this world slightly better (notice, not simply more pleasant). Why then didn't God do that? But suppose there is a line representing the worlds God could have created. At the one end are the worst, at the other end the best worlds. If none is the best or God has no moral compulsion to create the best (note that it is very plausible that at least one member of this pair be true), the He can choose any among the possible worlds to actualize, nevertheless, we feel strongly inclined to think that He ought not choose one of the lower zone of the scale, at least not one which rate good/bad were overwheighted to the bad. He should likely choose one in which there were a large amount of good. Now, whatever the world God finally decided to create, we could always ask «why not a slightly better one?», «why not a slightly better good/bad ratio?» That is, if you look at all the goods and evils in the world, while granting the need of certain evils in order to promote or allow higher goods, acquire knowledge, have deep responsibility and a choice of destiny etc., then it is almost impossible to show that there is too much evil, because for any slightly or much better world God might have crated, you could always raise the question: «why not a slightly better one?»Foot note 7
Let us take the other way. This way consists in pointing to certain evils that according to all appearances can not be accounted for in terms of the theodicies currently offered, i.e. gratuitous evils. A remarkable example of this pattern is the alleged case of fawn severely injured in a fire until it finally dies trough enormous suffering this being unnoticed to anyone (person or animal).Foot note 8 If it is just unnoticed, further discovering of it could promote animal or human compassion, and this is a higher order good, and likewise epistemic distance could always be broken at any future time. So, for the sake of argument, let us suppose we are dealing with unnoticeable suffering.Foot note 9 I myself would claim that the problem of animal suffering, specially when it is unnoticed to everyone, is the most untractable part of the problem of natural evil.Foot note 10 It can serve no higher goods in terms of moral compassion, solidarity and the like, because they are not persons, and consequently not moral agents. Further, in the example just referred to, it can not promote good feelings and deeds from people towards the animal, because it is unnoticed (what about animal suffering long before the rise of man?). Hardly can there be in such a case a gain of knowledge, because the fawn eventually dies. On the other hand, animals will not rejoice in God's heaven, they will not be rewarded for their hardships. Nor can they be blamed for original or any other sins. Is not, then, this specific sort of suffering quite pointless?.Foot note 11 Note that something similar, albeit not so strong, could be said concerning other natural evils such as disease, earthquakes and the rest. Are there not enough evils of this kind to offer to humans all possibilities of higher goods, that is, the practice of virtues such as courage, solidarity, altruism etc. that we need yet more and more natural evils to bring about more opportunities of good actions? Have we not reached yet enough knowledge about the possibilities open to us, in order to have a clear moral responsibility and a genuine choice of destiny, that we need yet more and more natural evils to learn from them? By the way, it seems to me that the possibility of knowledge defense has, in certain circumstances, something a bit odd about it, for in many cases this knowledge would be quite unnecessary, were the evil that prompted it not to exist. For example, Aids or cancer are two means that prompt the acquisition of knowledge of how these viruses work and how the human body reacts, in order to avoid these diseases and, may be, in turn other diseases as well. But were these blemishes not to exist (and neither any viral diseases of similar kind) we would have no need of that knowledge, and we could turn our efforts to other, perhaps more creative, goals. True, these evils increase the range of choice of good and evil, for we can allow new evils to occur through neglecting to avoid them or by not helping people who are in these evil situations. But is not the margin of choice large enough yet? To sum up, the huge quantity of evil in the world, a part of which appears to be pointless, requires us to offer theodicies far more reaching than the greater goods theodicy, the usefulness of pain theodicy, soul-making theodicy, or the necessity of knowledge theodicy. These can bear a good weight, but not all.Foot note 12
Let us call the first kind of theodicy the many worlds theodicy. The classical complaint to the theistic hypothesis run as follows: «why did God not make a world at least a little better than this one?» And the reply might well be «How do you know He didn't do such a thing?» So, let us suppose, as it indeed seems reasonable, that in fact there are possible worlds better than this one (whether or not one of them is the best is quite irrelevant). But if God is a perfectly good agent, besides being omniscient, omnipotent and infinite, and a person such that always acts because of reasons, then He has likely created or is creating those other worlds as well, for if there are some plausible reasons to create a world like this one, there presumably are yet stronger reasons to create better worlds than this. So Leibniz's insistence on the claim that God, not only must have created the best of all possible worlds, but that this world must be our world is entirely gratuitous.Foot note 13
But what does exactly mean to say that God has created, or is at present creating («in another dimension» so to speak) other worlds better than this? Suppose it means
1] If there is a possible world better than this one (as a whole), then God must have created or be creating that world (provided it is logically possible for him to do so)
Now, there are infinitely many possible worlds better than this one. If you commit yourself to the dubious claim that all of them are actual, you will have to face a lot of difficulties. To begin with, there is a possible world that is just like ours except that in that world the fawn referred to does not suffer any pain; and there is yet another world in which I don't have a headache today and so on. But if these worlds are also actual at present, then I (and the fawn) exist in more than one world, which seems totally counterintuitive, for how could one and the same individual exist in two distinct and actual worlds at the same time? In that case we could raise idle questions such as «should I worry too much about what is going on with me and my relatives in this world if there are lots of other worlds where things concerning us are going on very differently?» To prevent this we should accept the theory of world-bound individuals as proposed originally by Leibniz.Foot note 14 That is, each individual exists only in one possible world. Nevertheless, this theory has many difficulties which have led David Lewis to postulate counterpart theory as a substitute for trans-world identity: each individual has counterparts in other worlds which are very similar to but not identical with it. Counterpart theory as an analysis of transworld identity is a long discussed and difficult topic.Foot note 15 I think neither it nor its correlative realism about possible worlds (the view that all possible worlds are equally actual, only that for us is actual just the one we inhabit) are very plausible. On the contrary, they have many difficulties to meet. For that reason I prefer not to deal with this issue but instead reformulate 1 so as to avoid this realism.Foot note 16 If we grant that among the many possible worlds that contain one and the same individual only one can be actual, then the actual world sets a limit to which other worlds God could actualize. For if you and me exist in this world, then all other possible worlds in which you or me or both exist are such that they can not be simultaneously actualized, even by God. And this means that every one of the individuals existing in this world puts a limit to the worlds possibly actualized or created by God: only those worlds in which none of us is present can be actualized, so:
2] if there is a possible world better than this one, then God must have created, or be creating, that world so long as that world does not contain any individuals which already exist in this world (provided... etc.)
But yet, it could be the case that an individual x non-existent in our world, came into existence by being created another world W' of which it is a member. This, in turn, would prevent the possibility of a third possible world W' being created if W' contained that same individual x. So each new world that is actualized restricts the range of possible worlds that can become actual. We should then append to 2] the clause «or in any other actual world».
With this proviso, the worlds that God should have created in addition to our world are far less. May be they remain to be infinite in number, but nevertheless they are not all the possible worlds better than ours. Now I go on to meet some possible objections.Foot note 17
The first runs this way: given 2, the other worlds that are actual are populated by beings that do not exist in the actual world, and to some philosophers (as Plantinga) there is no sense in supposing that there are possible entities which do not exist in our actual world. We should deploy Ockham's razor against these unwelcome multiplicity of possible but non-existent beings. For that Kantian conception of possible worlds, which worlds are possible it depends on which is the actual world and its inhabitants. Possible worlds are just «ways things could have been», that probably meaning ways in which the very things that actually exist could have been.Foot note 18
But firstly, there is no compulsion to entertain a Kantian conception of possible worlds instead of a Leibnizian one, according to which, which worlds are possible is quite independent of which one is the actual world. On the contrary, one can think all possible worlds are previously before God for He to decide which ones to actualize. But secondly and more importantly, the objection that Plantinga raises against possible but non-actual entitiesFoot note 19 has no point here, since the worlds and entities we are referring to are indeed actual («in another dimension», let us repeat). I mean by `another dimension' that these other worlds if existing at present either are no material worlds, or if material they bear no spatio-temporal relation to our world, and consequently are not causally connected to our world (perhaps it is rather misleading to call them `possible worlds' and we should instead refer to them just as `worlds'.)
Second difficulty: are we not in fact with this move turning the theistic hypothesis into something much more complex, and consequently more improbable a priori (all other things being equal)? For according to Swinburne only a very simple theistic hypothesis can be more probable than its rival naturalistic one.Foot note 20 I will concede for the sake of argument that simplicity is a desirable property of any theory, not only scientific but metaphysical one, and that its probability increases with simplicity (I have some doubts about this latter). But I don't think that this move make things more complex. Rather the other way round, because it has always been a puzzle for theologians and theodicists to account for why God chose to create just a world like this. If God acts, as Swinburne puts it (rightly to my mind) always for reasons, it is very difficult indeed to envisage what could conceivably have been the reason to create this world instead of others.Foot note 21 And the point is not just that in many cases, when an agent confronted with different courses of action has reasons to do either A or B or C, but not any particular action rather than the other, it is reasonable for him to do any of them, and the particular choice admits of no further explanation (provided the three are incompatible and equally good), because in the case of God it seems to be not only other equally good alternative worlds to create, but other substantially better ones also.
But if you assume that God must have created also all the worlds better than this which are compatible with the actuality of this one, and also compatible with each other, then the reason is fairly clear: God decided (is deciding/will decide) to create all the worlds which ratio good/bad is overweighed towards the good, simply because it is a good thing, that things good as a whole, should exist (I think this is the point of the Genesis story when the Lord's reason to create is simply and recurrently put as He saw it was good). The good/bad ratio is then crucial, because it decides whether a thing or event is as a whole «metaphysically good», that is, better for the world that it exists. So, to the question «why God created this and those other worlds?» the simplest reply could be «it was worth creating all of them». `All of them' means a lot indeed, but not all possible worlds. How many exactly, it depends on certain views about matters of philosophical logic.Foot note 22
If you continue to think, notwithstanding, that with this added hypothesis theism become more complex and so more improbable a priori, other things being equal, I could just remark that things are no longer equal, because with this hypothesis theism can cope with (at least a larger part of) the existence of evil, and so has more explanatory power and is better confirmed than normal theism.
An additional but important point is whether God should or would be morally entitled to create worlds even worse than our world. If you say `no', then you are on the razor's edge between theism and atheism, because what you are in fact saying is: this is the worst world God was entitled to create. And you may well be right. But I don't think so. I myself think that surely it is worth creating worlds even (not too much) worse than this one. So possibly -- although I am less confident about this -- God has created or is creating worlds rather worse than this one.
But does this hypothesis fit well with classical theism, or is it just an implausible ad hoc hypothesis? Kuhn, Lakatos and Feyerabend have shown that «adhocness» is not always a vice but sometimes a virtue. It is a virtue when the new hypothesis to be attached to the old is coherent, likely and on normal epistemic standards reasonable to believe in. I think this is our case. Moreover, there is a long tradition within Christianity that asserts the existence of many other beings and kinds of beings in addition to the ones of this world or universe. The idea that God's creative activity has operated long before the creation of this world through a large variety of beings is typically christian.Foot note 23 In former times within the christian frame of mind there was no doubt of this being so. Hence, in fact this many worlds hypothesis is nothing alien to christian religion, and so not ad hoc at all. On the contrary, it was very reasonable to expect such a thing, given the infinity and eternity of God as well as his infinite power.
There unfortunately remains a fourth objection that I regard much more telling. Before going into it, I would like to point out how much we would achieve were this theodicy to hold, for then the question the atheist could raise against theism would no longer be «why this world is not better than it is?» but «whether this world as it stands is worth creating as a whole». And while the first question seems very difficult to answer, the second deserves an almost unequivocal `yes' (I imagine most atheist would be willing to grant this, specially if there is a infinitely better possibility awaiting for us, as theism claims).
When one looks at this attempted theodicy trough the glass of what I have called «holistic approach» it seems fairly well suitable to meet its challenge. But if one chooses the particular approach instead, then it seems that we have gone not too far. For, granted, God may have created or be creating other better worlds with different individuals and different kinds of individuals. But the question yet remains, couldn't God have created these kinds of individuals (i.e. humans and animals) and even these same individuals (the ones that in fact exist) in a better arranged world, so that the amount of pain and suffering was, if not banished, at least kept at a reasonable level without thus loosing any greater goods? Surely we can not prove the answer to be `yes', but if `yes' is a probable answer to this question, as it prima facie seems, we should carry on trying to find more insights in other sorts of theodicies. So this theodicy does not explain why you and me are not in a slightly better world, not in the sense of why haven't we had more luck with the world we have been put into, but in the sense of why the world you and me in fact inhabit is not rather better.
Nevertheless we have got one important point that should not be overlooked: we no longer need pursue nor defend the claim that our world should or must be the best of all possible worlds, which is the most recurrent dogma in Leibniz's theodicy and has subsequently usually been taken for granted, just because there is no reason to suppose that God has created solely one world. At most, we would need to assert that this is the best world (or rather one of the best worlds) of its kind, that is, one of the best worlds for human beings to inhabit, and this is a much less strong claim, and far more easy for the other theodicies on the field to hold.Foot note 24 Whether or not this world is also a very good one for animals to inhabit depends on certain features of this world which this theodicy is not prepared to account for. So we must turn now to other kinds of theodicy which can account for this issue just by aiming at how our world is.
This second kind of theodicy I am putting forward is not original at all. It relies upon a pervading insight of some people that the many evils and goods of this world must be a sort of punishment or reward for previous deeds. It is also part of the doctrine of some religions, among them two major religious traditions such as hinduism and buddhism. I would like to point out that I have no intention of defending Christianity in particular but theism in general. But I think that this kind of theodicy -- let us call it purgatorial theodicy -- albeit not compatible with Christianity, it seems to me entirely compatible with the God of christian theism, that is, with the omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good and eternal person who exists of non-logical necessity and is the creator of the world. So purgatorial theodicy claims that this world is a sort of purgatory for what all of us have done in previous lives (we don't need pursue the question of how many lives).
Christianity has supposed that this life is the only one, and that as a result, within it each of us has a absolutely decisive choice of destiny. Once you have died there will be no second opportunity. So our only life is of momentous importance. This, of course, could well be so. But if the purpose of God in creating humankind is, partially at least, the one of create free beings who develop themselves until eventually acquiring full knowledge, full responsibility, and a perfect will, this huge task could well take more than one life until some of us, or perhaps at the end all of us, have reached such a high standard. This has been the intuition of other major religions, and in this point I agree with John Hick in that there are no compelling reason to opt for one doctrine rather than the other.Foot note 25 Reincarnation is just a possible explanation of the apparently pointless evils of this world. Reincarnation can, naturally, mean very different things. I can not exhaust here all the possible interpretations of this doctrine, but I will bring out some of them: 1] all men have lived previous lives, whether on this earth or possibly in other places. The fortunes and misfortunes of this life are causally related in a moral way to the previous lives. We will not reach salvation and get out of the chain of reincarnations until we will be completely purified. Possibly some of us will need lots of lives to achieve this end. May be others will be able to obtain salvation in a few lives or even just in one life (saints). We need not pursue the question whether at the end all men will be saved or if, on the contrary, some of them will lose irretrievably their opportunity to be saved (Plato himself vacillated about this), although I am more sympathetic with the first option.Foot note 26
2] The same as 1, but including animals in the economy of salvation. I mean by `animals' here only higher animals. I do not intend to apply this argument to insects and so on. This has the enormous advantage of solving a problem unsolvable within christian theism, the one of animal suffering. It is unnecessary to remind ourselves once more of the huge quantity of animal suffering that must have been deployed throughout the history of the planet. Nobody will wipe their eyes? I strongly feel that a good God should do so to all his sentient creatures. As we have seen, the solutions that have been put forward within the christian tradition look quite unsatisfactory. For instance, it is incredible Descartes' claim that animals, not having any soul, have no sensations nor feelings either, that they are just machines.Foot note 27
This claim of animals being included in the economy of salvation can also be differently understood: 2.1] souls can be embodied in humans or in animals, animals being humans who because of their bad behaviour have been degraded; 2.2.] everybody has to go through various levels of life until the reaching of a human status (perhaps there will be further more developed levels). So animals would be prehuman souls. 2.3] Animals and humans are different kinds of being, so neither animals can become humans in subsequent lives nor conversely, but there will be a heaven for animals as there will be one for humans. If heaven is more a state than a place, may be animals and humans alike can reach this state. It should be noted that if we rule out the doctrine of reincarnation but retain the doctrine of animal heaven, this would be much more acceptable for Christianity, although it would no longer a purgatorial theodicy.
I am not claiming that any of this hypothesis is true. I am not even assessing its probability. The only thing I want to bring out is that these are coherent hypothesis to answer the problem of evil, and specifically the problem of animal suffering -- not just animal pain-.
Are they plausible or likely? Plausibility is a matter of fitting well with one's other beliefs, that is, with complete systems of beliefs. Within our christian tradition these appear to be not very plausible beliefs, but this could be mainly due to historical and socio-cultural reasons. A century and half ago it seemed totally incredible the story of the evolution of species, largely on theological grounds. Now that we are well aware that there is no historic-natural barrier between animals and men -- in the sense that they are subsequent steps in within the same process we know that our origin was common, the time could be ripe to take seriously into account the possibility that our destiny, for the good or the bad, will also be common. I do not see anything logically wrong with this hypothesis. Of course, there are plenty of difficulties with these beliefs, and careful and arduous work should be done before all of them could be met. But is christian theism free from difficulties? Let us face just two.
As far as I can see, the main difficulty from the philosophical viewpoint is that of animal identity. If animals are to be resurrected, or transmigrated, or reincarnated, or at any rate sent to heaven, each animal must be a self, have a soul if you like. But if the problem of human selfhood is a very difficult topic, the one of animal selfhood is yet harder, because we know much less about animals, partly on scientific grounds (i.e. we have less information about any animal species than about human kind), partly on metaphysical grounds (i.e. we are men and can not have the experiences and feelings of animals), and partly on pragmatic-philosophical grounds (i.e. we lack a philosophical theory of animal hood because we are much less interested in and concerned with it). We know very little about their psyches. So the answers to questions such as «have animals a self?» and «which animals have a self and which not?» must be highly speculative ones. Surely we would need to bring together in a coherent picture detailed knowledge from animal psychology, ethology and zoology, and long work in the philosophy of mind before draw any stable conclusion. But I guess that higher animals like dogs or dolphins have enough memory, enough individuality of character, intelligence and consciousness as to have an individual self or mind. I hope most people who have had any experiences with higher animals will agree with me on this point.
Another difficulty, this one concerning reincarnation, is that there seem to be no point in punishing someone if he does not know that he is being punished and why is he being punished, for in that case the punishment would not have neither a regenerative effect nor a retributive one. And this is the case with reincarnation since nobody (or a very few people) has memories of past lives nor is aware of being punished for former bad actions. But it could be the case that the apparent pointlessness of the suffering is part of the punishment.
In short, if you place yourself into the hindu/buddhist tradition, these hypothesis are currency, at least in certain trends there is nothing odd with them. Frankly, I don't know how plausible or likely they are from a logical or philosophical point of view irrespective of religious and cultural traditions. It seems to me that they are no more unlikely than the christian alternatives. My point here would be an appeal to ignorance: there are many possibilities that we have not taken seriously into account, which could account for some or all the apparently gratuitous evils of this world, included those of animals. We should regard this possibility before rejecting theism as incompatible or very unlikely with the amount and quality of natural evil. And anyway, it seems to me very difficult that any theodicy may fulfil fully its task without animals being engaged in the economy of salvation in some way or other.
We turn now to the third kind of theodicy, let us call it non-deterministic theodicy (henceforward NDT). The first fact to recall is that there are strong reasons why God should never or seldom interfere in the human history, for to do so often would mean to interfere with natural laws, to suspend them, and this would have deep influence on the kind of world the world is and on the ways humans behave in it. But further, it would break the epistemic distance which, as insisted upon by John Hick, is a necessary condition for humankind to develop into real human beings, and to carry out the process of soul-making. It is true that according to Hick God could interfere so long as we didn't know it was He who was interfering. But God undoubtedly knew that as the time passed humans would become very keen people and even be able to detect interfering that happened long ago, and this would, if not break, significantly weaken epistemic distance. Given this supposition, the question this theodicy addresses is: why has God not arranged all things rather differently from the beginning in order to prevent, or to keep at a minimum, or at a fairer level, present natural evils? Given that God is supposed to know all beforehand (at least every state of affairs involving no free agents' actions), why has He not acted in a different manner in creating the world to maintain pain and suffering at a reasonable level? Here is where our theodicy must start. For a theist one chief purpose, albeit not necessarily the only one, of God in creating the world was to allow the development of humanly free agents who could acquire knowledge, will, responsibility and freedom, and so respond freely to Him. Now, a theist obviously admits that the project of creating human agents is a worthwhile one (if you disagree with this, I'm afraid there will be little place for further dialogue). But, quite obviously, human beings are corporeal, i.e. material beings, and their souls or minds are closely connected to their brains, and through them to their whole bodies. The brain is unequivocally a material thing -- a member of the world 1 in Popper's terms-. May be it has «emergent» properties, i.e. properties that were in the dull matter just as a possibility. Yet, the brain is material, and has a well overt influence over the mind. I will call `fully deterministic matter' (FDM) a set of space-time-matter arranged in such a way that each state of it is causally brought about by the precedent one because of general laws entailing deductively the succession of states, so that each future state is necessitated and predictable in all its details. Now the hypothesis that this theodicy requires is the following: if matter were FDM then no material being or spiritual entity closely connected to a material being could be free in any significant way. On the other hand, a not FDM would allow either the rise of sentient and conscious material beings which could bring about spontaneous, that is free, responses to their environment, or a free intercourse between some material being and the corresponding spiritual mind attached to it. Whether this free responses would be produced by a spiritual soul that acted upon his non-deterministic brain, or directly from the brain itself that would have spontaneousness, I leave it open. I will only assume that humans have free will. So the only thing NDT claims is that possibly a non FDM is a necessary condition for free material agents to evolve. We could set this just as possible and leave to the atheist the task of showing it impossible -- in that case we would have a non-deterministic defense-. But it is much better if we could argue for the truth of this hypothesis, and to some extent I think we can.
This hypothesis seems plausible because without it we are compelled to the Kantian schizophrenia of two unconnected worlds: the noumenal world of freedom of the will, and the phenomenal world of fully deterministic causal laws of nature. And in that case the mind-body problem becomes yet more difficult than it already is, because in that case for the soul to act upon the body it should break the laws of physics, since the body is physical.
It requires, no doubt, a lot of work in the philosophy of mind to work out this hypothesis at length and to determine its truth value. May be we will never achieve this last, but I think there is an initial chance of this hypothesis being true, and perhaps we will be able to assess its probability.
If this hypothesis is true, then natural laws will be non-deterministic. For 2,000 years or more it was taken for granted by almost all scientists (Aristotle was a major exception) that natural laws are deterministic. I imagine the reason for this being both that common sense experiences confirm the view that things behave always in a regular way, and that scientific experiments and predictions fit pretty well -- until this century -- with the view of deterministic causal laws ruling nature. Moreover, the very notion of randomness is hardly intelligible. So it seemed that the prior probability of natural laws being deterministic is very high. In reality, it was quite a shock when in the first decades of this century Niels Bohr suggested that this was not so. To many -- for instance A. Einstein -- it was just incredible that «God was playing dice». But the evidence now available seems to point overwhelmingly to the other direction. Most scientists now agree that natural laws are non-deterministic. Why this is so is not a scientific question. But it is a question that NDT answers: were it not so, there wouldn't have been any free agents at all. But then we have a fairly good reason why there is so much natural evil: it is the natural by-product of an indeterministic world.Foot note 28 God could act to hinder this or that natural evil, but this would violate his epistemic distance. On the other hand, He couldn't have created a world with free agents were He created a fully deterministic world; but a non-deterministic universe entails of logical necessity that its future states are not fully predictable. They could be predictable between a larger or smaller margin, but not in full detail, and so are not covered by divine omniscience.Foot note 29 Consequently God does not know and (because He has so disposed) can not know which things will go astray, which concrete events will turn out wrong, and as a consequence, can not prevent them in advance. Natural evil, including animal suffering, is then the price of free agents to exist. If this hypothesis is true, then natural evil, all natural evils, are means to a higher good, i.e. moral goodness and free will. And then the proper question to ask, as in the first kind of theodicy, is whether this world is anyway worth creating, provided its creation demands such a high risk (note, things could possibly have turned out yet worse!). I think it is, in spite of all pain and suffering.
The main obstacle for this hypothesis is that it presupposes a claim about the mind and its relation to the brain very difficult to prove indeed. But, it is not more easy for the atheist to prove the contrary. In the meanwhile we might warily embrace this as a reasonable response to the problem of natural evil which makes room for faith to exist.
I can envisage, notwithstanding, two major objections against this argument. The first would run as follows. If matter is FDM that implies that there is a full causal explanation for every material event. If mind is matter, then there should be a causal material explanation for every mental event, given that in fact it is a material event. In such a case no material event can be free in the libertarian sense. So, free will is truly incompatible with deterministic materialism. This, of course, does not show that it is compatible with non-deterministic materialism, but let us suppose it is. But if mind is distinct from, and independent of, and not causally determined by matter (or by the brain, if you like), then it does not matter whether matter is deterministic or not, because the mind, or the soul, in being independent is free, not in the sense that it acts at random, but in that it causes itself to act. Hence, only a materialist would be committed to such hypothesis in order to save theism, but materialists are quite often, and on very good grounds, atheists. Theists, on their part, are very often, and also for good reasons, dualists. But dualism in the sense of asserting a soul autonomous and independent from matter, has no need of this hypothesis.
This rejoinder would be compelling if souls lived alone and detached from bodies. If souls lived on their own and never, or only from time to time, entered in connection with bodies, then surely they could be free, and deterministic matter would impose none or very few restrictions on them. But the fact is that souls or minds have such a strong liaison with the brain that even dualist interactionism accounts have to recognize that mind is causally affected by the brain, and vice versa. So, given the mind-brain interaction (and we know of no mind without a brain), if brain was made up of FDM, each causal intervention from the mind would be an awkward interference with the laws of nature. We can reasonably think that such matter would be opaque to causal interference, that the world 1 would be entirely closed. Contrary to this, this margin of indeterminacy would make room for a causal interaction from the mind to occur. Randomness would be the gap of physical laws in which mind could intervene. So, although this hypothesis is only inescapable to the theist that is also a materialist, and effectively they do not abound, it is very suitable to the dualist theist as well. In any event, I don't want to get into the touchy subject of the nature of mind. All that this hypothesis claims is that, be mind as it may, since it is either dull matter, or emergent matter, or spirit closely connected to matter, it could not be spontaneous and free -- i.e. not necessitated by previous states -- were matter fully deterministic.
The second objection, partly related to the former, is this. May be there is a necessary liaison between mind and brain, or body and soul, or even matter and spirit in the human case. But if mind is matter this liaison is physically necessary, and if mind is spirit this liaison is metaphysically necessary. In neither case would it be a logically necessary connection, because any state of the brain is compatible in the broadly logical sense with any state of the mind. We can coherently conceive that any particular causal relation between mind and brain holds. But it is a logically necessary connection which is needed for this theodicy to work, because being God the creator of nature and natural laws, and being omnipotent, He was able to arrange things in any particular way, so He could have set up things in so different a manner that deterministic matter could have brought about free will. He could not have broken or changed a logical connection, because He himself is subjected to the laws of logic. But, since the liaison is not a logical one, there is no reason why God should have created a non-deterministic matter in order to bring about free creatures. The point is that being omnipotent God was not compelled to set any particular causal connection or disconnection between any two substances He decided to create.
Now the principle underlying this objection: that God could have devised any causal relation He wished between any beings for He is their creator, seems to be false. For suppose God had decided that matter would be ruled by the inverse of Newton's law of gravitational attraction, so that every particle would repel each other with a force proportional to the product of their masses etc. Now, it seems impossible even for God that in such a world could appear any conscious material beings, not even any living beings, because living and conscious beings are of (logical?) necessity very complex beings which demand a complex structure made up of lots of particles. But this gathering of particles would be precluded for that natural law of universal repulsion. So, generally speaking, God can not match (causally relate) just any natural laws with any natural beings, with any natural outcome.
Let us take now the particular objection. If mind is matter, and matter is fully determined by causal laws, then mind is fully determined too, and there is no place for free will whatsoever. Naturally, in that case the mind-matter relation is a physical one, because everything is physical. But then, the physically necessary connection is also a logically necessary one, for it is logically necessary that if mind is matter and matter is entirely determined, then mind is entirely determined. Suppose, now, that mind is spirit closely related to matter. Could God have created a world in which spiritual minds closely related to material bodies composed of FDM were nonetheless free (in the sense of not being necessitated by precedent causes)? Is there any possible world in which this obtains? I really don't know. I think that all of it depends on how close the relation is. If the relation is very close, I think this could not be possible. Now how close is the mind-body relation? All evidence points to a strong liaison indeed, although a very complex and often surprising one.Foot note 30 My conjecture is that for a liaison so close as the one of human case, this is not logically possible, for the reason that human souls never act independently of the body and of the brain (if parapsychological phenomena could be confirmed, they would have to be seriously taken into account), not in this life at least. And in doing so they are bound to all the limits of their material bodies. Should their bodies be fully determined, they would also be. But I am well aware that this is a claim that remains yet to be proved or argued for within a complete philosophy of mind that I can not offer here. So I introduce this NDT much more as a searching programm than as a well developed doctrine.
Professor Swinburne has pointed out to me yet another crucial objection: is it not logically possible that matter should be basically deterministic but that once reached a certain high level of complexity (typically with the human brain) it started to operate in a non deterministic way? Surely this is logically possible, but the question is whether it is a possible state of affairs that God can actualize (for we now know very well that there are certain states of affairs that although logically possible, are such that it is not possible for God to bring them about). Either basic laws of matterFoot note 31 are deterministic or not. If they are, then ex hypothesi all material components of the world, simple or complex, will be deterministically governed. But suppose basic laws of matter are non deterministic. In that case surely non deterministic effects would be spread all over matter, because basic laws of matter rule over all the matter independently of how it is arranged, built up or made up. Maybe what this proposal amounts to is to the view that in that case non deterministic effects would be irrelevant in very simple components of matter, and would become noticeable and relevant just in more complex material entities. But this is quite in accordance both with NDT and with general known facts (for instance that random mutations play a crucial role in genetic transmission and the subsequent evolution of organisms). But even granting that it would be possible to have determinism up to a point, and from that point onwards nondeterministic effects to occur, why should it start with the human brain? If the turning point is a very complex arrangement of matter, surely living organisms are already very complex entities. And if non deterministic effects should occur at that point (say in the living cell), most animal and human suffering caused by natural means -- diseases, plagues, innate shortcomings and so on -- would be covered by this theodicy.
What do we gain with this hypothesis? 1] This theodicy accounts not only for the general amount of natural evil in the world, but for particular evils also. Why should my brother suffer from such and such a disease: because in order to eventually bring about free agents the world is arranged in such a way that diseases and other upsets are unpredictable and unpreventable. Why God does not intervene to stop it? Because in so doing He would break his epistemic distance.Foot note 32 The answer for global evil is quite obvious.
What about animal suffering? Within this hypothesis animal suffering is the price nature has to pay for conscious creatures to be brought about. So animals are means towards humans. It might be so. But when one dwells upon the enormously long history of natural life, compared with the quite short period of humans on earth, one can have some doubts about the waste of energy, time and pain necessary to reach such an end without violating epistemic distance. It has correctly been pointed out by John Hick that only in the middle of an evolutionary process could man feel himself alien to God. If there were no animals man's presence would be wholly inexplicable, and quite properly attributed to miraculous intervention.Foot note 33 So, possibly this is a good answer after all to the question «why should animals exist anyway?». And, moreover, may be animal life as a whole is worth living, because animals also enjoy it very much. But there yet remains the concrete suffering of particular animals unnoticed to anybody, because in this case God's assistance would hardly break any epistemic distance, since the animal has no need of epistemic distance because it lacks any soul to bring up (nor has it any notion of God), and no men would realize God's action. To some extent, I have doubts whether this kind of theodicy can cope even with these most pointless cases of suffering as well.
There is finally an additional advantage of this theodicy over the traditional ones. If nature is deterministic and God omniscient (as Descartes and Leibniz, among others, emphatically supposed), then He foresees everything that is going to happen, at least until the advent of conscious free beings. Now, if the aim of creation is to bring about free beings, why such a long and tortuous journey until this eventually happens? It seems there is no point in so long and slow a history of the universe before the appearance of man, furthermore if this history is totally foreseen in all its details. But if matter is not FDM, then the evolution of the universe is something really new even for God, something He can be well interested in. Something that can cause him to wonder and surprise. So, it seems that a creation not fully predictable in all details, although its outcome in the long term was predictable, would be something much more interesting to create and which would deserve much more care and attention on the part of God. And all this would spell out why the history of the universe until present, and the evolution of life in particular, has been a far from straightforward process.
These are the three prospect of theodicies I wanted to put forward to open new ways out. Each drops some or other dogma from the classical philosophical theism. Each has its merits and its shortcomings. Each has its power to account for these or those evils.
But we could combine the three theodicies exposed in different ways because the are nor mutually exclusive. We could even gather the three together, and assert that possibly God has created many worlds better than this one (with conscious beings very different from humans), that every conscious being capable of suffering will have an afterlife (or a before-life, or both), and that natural evils are the unforeseeable and so unpreventable by-products of a fully autonomous non-deterministic universe in which free agents, not immediately aware of God's presence, could evolve. Given these premises, which bear some plausibility, the argument from evil, which I continue, anyway, to regard as a good C-inductive argument, could be weakened perhaps sufficiently so as to be counterbalanced by the theistic arguments, including the massive amount of religious experience.
Universidad Autonoma de Madrid
Departament of Philosophy
28071 Madrid, Spain
Issue #02. July 1995. Pp. 26-45.