A New Approach to the Problem of Evil?

In this very brief paper, I want to share, almost informally, something I have been thinking about for some time. I have thought of a new approach to the problem of evil that I think important, and, naturally, the way in which I have always proposed to think of it. While I say ‘new’, this is definitely tentative as, for instance WLC holds the same thesis (see, especially, his Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (2003)). I am going to briefly state the problem, answer it, consider two ways out of my solution and show how both these options do not work.

Here is how it will work:

Problem: The co-existence of evil and God.

Answer: On the supposition that

(i) it is very likely that God exists i.e., natural theological arguments

one can infer that

(ii) God exists; that is, a being Who is omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good exists

and therefore one can ask the question

What is the probability that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil given independent justification for the existence of a God with aforementioned perfect moral properties? I would like to think very, very high–this is enough to solve the “Problem”, in my view. 

If it seems paradoxical that God exists simultaneously with evil, nothing follows asides bewilderment. But that is a psychological property of persons–logically there is nothing the matter here, or at least so it seems to me.

I suppose there are two ways out: Either (1) deny (i) or suggest that (2) any instance of evil devalues any natural theological arguments.

The problem with (1) is as follows:

i. (i) is very probable. (See, for instance, the (brief) list of natural theological arguments in Footnote 2 of my essay “Theistic Explanations of the Ontology of Consciousness” here: https://rashadrehmanca.wordpress.com/2016/01/22/theistic-explanations-of-the-ontology-of-consciousness/).

ii. Denying (i) here would be ad hoc.

The problem with (2) is as follows:

i. It is simply highly improbable that an instance of evil makes improbable natural theological arguments. Here is an example (both from WLC):

Kalam Cosmological Argument

  1. Whatever begins to exist has a cause
  2. The universe began to exist
  3. Therefore, the universe has a cause


“There is at least one instance of evil”

and therefore

In the Kalam argument (1)-(3) is false. But surely this is mistaken?

Perhaps this is uncharitable and favoring an argument which does not establish God’s moral properties. Maybe it is the axiological argument that is problematic:

Moral Argument

  1. If God exists, objective moral values and duties exist
  2. Objective moral values and duties exist
  3. Therefore, God exists

But surely “There is at least one instance of evil” does not falsify (1)-(3)? Maybe (1) is problematic, but then (2) becomes highly improbable (as WLC argues). The objector cannot deny (2) since there, then, would not be a problem of evil at all. So clearly (i) and (ii) do not work.

So, given God as an omnipotent, omniscient and wholly good being, the probability of Him having a morally sufficient reason is very, very high.

Here is the conclusion: Evil is a puzzle, not a problem, psychologically for human persons. (Even if it is a puzzle that causes a problem, it is still psychological). (This is no foreign thought to theists, either. Many theists (including myself) find it difficult to see and experience evil. But surely this does not make God’s existence or moral properties any different). WLC reminds us to reflect on the cross of Jesus, the One who suffered and died for our sake, when we suffer. Maybe Christian theism is the only way out of the puzzle of evil.


The Emotional Problem of Suffering (Evil): Anecdotal Reflections


There are many versions of the problem of evil. The basic idea is that the existence (ontology) of evil somehow disconfirms, makes unlikely or makes difficult establishing a being who is omniscient, omnipotent and all-good and loving (a being typically called God). Since the logical version of the problem of evil collapsed with publications demonstrating with high probability the consistency of evil and the existence of God [1], the probabilistic and emotional version stand today. Not to say that this ‘standing’ has much force; rather, the ‘standing’ has to do with the amount of evil and/or the raw feel of evil. Both of these arguments, in my view, do not have much going for them. However, since the probabilistic version involves much review of contemporary literature, I want to focus on—for temporal considerations—the emotional problem. Usually an argument of the form “I do not like x and therefore y” does not carry much weight; that being said, this would mean that the argument “I do not see how God and evil can exist together at all—regardless of any argument” does not have much merit. While the emotional version can be cast in terms of a phenomenological argument or existential argument, the basic idea is that evil has a quality about it which, emotionally, brings about a distain for a God who would allow evil. Now, since this is not an argument—and I am here interested in arguments, not emotional assertions—I want to, instead of “refuting” the assertion, give an anecdote about my experience of the problem of suffering. The problem of evil is, in my view, reducible to the problem of suffering—to some degree; at some point experiences of evil are often seen as experiences of suffering. While not all suffering is inherently evil, I should like to mention an experience of mine this summer which, I think, demonstrates that God is not distant from suffering nor human experience of suffering and sheds light on the emotional version of the problem of evil (suffering).

Late April 2016 came around and I was home from Western University for a couple days before my final exam. I decided that one night, indeed the first night I was back (I think), that I would go to the skate park (I am a BMX rider) [2]. So, not atypically, I went to the skate park and did my usual routine runs at the course. I did some tricks here and there and decided that I was ready to go home. But, before leaving, I thought to myself “Maybe just one more trick?”. And so I did, I went at the quarter pipe performing a trick called a “tuck no hander” and, to my distress, missed the right grip necessary for a proper landing and my back tire, on the way down from approximately 4-5 feet over the 6-foot quarter pipe, my back tire hit the quarter and shot the bars into my chest and from there I fell onto the ground from 6-feet. Startled and disoriented, I got up—full of adrenaline—and tried to “walk it off”, as many bikers suggest doing. I knew something was wrong. But, since I had so much adrenaline in me, I decided to try to bike home anyway. Making it about ¼ of the way home, I was unable to continue. I had to call my mother to tell her I was in a lot of pain.

The story continues with me in the hospital. The prayer was that the X-Ray would show broken ribs or just broken bones (I was very aware of the dangers of internal bleeding). However, a very interesting result came up: nothing was found on the x-ray. So, off to the ultrasound I went for a second time. The second time, however, showed that my spleen was in rough shape; this is put too mildly, I essentially wrecked the bottom of my spleen. I had to options, says the doctor: Either I have the spleen removed or I wait to see if it will heal. So, in being young and nervous for a serious operation, I opted for waiting. The important thing, though, was that the white blood cells did not drop—otherwise I would need a blood transfusion and thereafter, probably, surgery. As the night progressed, my family was at my bedside. I was hooked to strong medication and IV’s which were beside me helping the pain go away. All I could see was a beautiful family around me, saddened by my condition and praying for my well-being. The love I experienced was immense and was a manifest blessing. I did not suffer alone. Continuing, though, as the night progressed, the residence student at the hospital came in and basically gave me the worst news I could get: the white blood cell level dropped. This meant, indeed, surgery. Long story short, I had a splenectomy (removal of the spleen) resulting in thirty staples up my chest with, as the doctor put it, “infinitely many stitches”. I was in the hospital for a full week and in six weeks I was walking and functioning relatively normally—but not like before one bit. During recovery after the surgery, I had to learn to walk well again. I remember, with a freshly woven stomach and immensely weak body, as I walked for the first (or second time), I vomited very hard and loudly. My nurse, who was a blessing to have around, always encouraged me to get stronger no matter what. Indeed, while sitting with my girlfriend at my bed, he said “Rashad, you should really begin walking.” I merely shook my head in distress. He turned to me, and without reserve, said “its up to you, you can sit here and waste away or you can get better.” Wow did that hit me like a ton of bricks! So I always was encouraged to get better amidst a tough recovery. During my stay at the hospital, I met an Italian man who had it, I believe, much worse than I. I will call him “G” for short. Knowing some Italian, I introduced myself and we spoke sometimes. While we did not talk too much, I remember telling him “G, buona fortuna” (goodluck). As I suffered, I was never ignorant that people had it much worse than I.

As time went on, I slowly healed and got back to normal. Now, as it has been almost three months since the incident, I have been working, biking and, obviously, writing. I remember sleeping terribly because I was afraid of the staples moving on my chest—now I am working out and building strength again. I learned many things from my injury, I think, related to the problem of evil (suffering) that I will now explain further. A very easy and emotional response to this suffering is as follows: God allowed this and I did not deserve this. If God loved me He would use His power to protect me given that He knows everything. This statement, while emotionally charged, displays, I think, a grotesque ignorance of who God is and what details I would have missed—had I responded in this fashion.

As I suffered—out of my own free will—I was put beside a loving family who prayed and hoped for my well-being. I was in my bed hooked up to medication which calmed my pain, and I was in the hands of well-trained and loving nurses and doctors (who, employed in Canada, worked for a universal health care system). I had my beautiful rosary beside me through everything knowing Mary, Mother of God was praying for me and, most of all, I know that Jesus was with me. The emotional response misses two crucial missing points that are most appropriately stated here: (i) Jesus died on the cross for our sins and for eternal life and (ii) Jesus lives in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. So while I suffered, and indeed it was not always easy, Jesus never left my side. When I was hurt, when I was in surgery, when I cried in pain, when I recovered Jesus never failed to be beside me. I could respond “why didn’t He stop it?”, but, having called me to baptism this past Easter, I learned something very important: No matter what comes my way, Jesus has given me the most incommensurable good of human existence—knowing Him.[3]

So, in conclusion, as I contemplate the problem of suffering (evil), I wonder if the old idiom (or proverb?) “count your blessings” might be the most important thing to remember in understanding suffering and God’s immense love for all humanity.

[1] See, for instance, Alvin Plantinga’s God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974. Print. See also William Lane Craig and J.P Moreland’s “The Problem of Evil” in their Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview. Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 2003. Print.

[2] Here is a video, for fun: http://www.pinkbike.com/video/379843/

[3] William Lane Craig, having dealt with the problem of evil both logically and probabalistically, has done work on the emotional version which ought to be reprinted here. This is from a Question of the Week (#352) on dealing with the emotional problem of evil (essentially); having explained how he (WLC) himself suffers from Charcot-Marie-Tooth Syndrome and keratoconus, he shares thoughts on what seems to him important things to remember about physical ailments which God does not remove immediately or miraculously (and, fun fact, while I was recovering from my splenectomy, I read WLC’s work on this and found it incredibly helpful in understanding my own situation):

“1. Realize that God owes you absolutely nothing. God never promised us a happy and healthy life. Anything we have is a gift from Him. God is just under no obligation whatsoever to give us a carefree life. As sinners meriting only the justice and wrath of God, we have been saved solely by His good grace. If He chooses to give us a pleasant life on this planet, that is His discretion; but if instead He metes out to us a life filled with misery and suffering, that is also His prerogative. God is sovereign, the Lord of all, and we have no claim whatsoever on a life free from illness or pain.

2. Think of what is yours in Christ. In Christ we have eternal life, redemption from our sins, and a relation to God, an incommensurable good. How can we be bitter? Infinite good has already been bestowed on us in Christ. Thus, no matter what we suffer, no matter how awful the pain, we can truly say, “God has been good to me!”, simply because of all that we have in Christ.

3. Be grateful for what earthly goods you do have. At least you’re not blind! Think of all those who are! The next time you’re tempted to feel sorry for yourself, think of all those worse off than you. Think of the people in North Korea, or Syria, or Southern Sudan. How dare we feel self-pity in the face of such suffering? Cultivate a grateful spirit and frequently pause to count your blessings.

4. Understand that God’s strength may be exhibited through your weakness. Yes, soon after becoming a Christian, I prayed several times for healing from Charcot-Marie-Tooth, to no avail. I then came to appreciate the apostle Paul’s words, when he wrote of his “thorn in the flesh” that plagued him: “Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me; but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (II Corinthians 12:8-10). Wow! Paul boasts in his physical weakness, for then Christ’s power working through him is all the more evident! May God grant us this same spirit when we struggle with life’s ailments! Those Christians who have condemned your lack of faith only show that they are without understanding. Full physical healing comes only with the resurrection, and at that time you will be healed of every infirmity. Until then we must, like Paul, struggle though by faith.

5. Seek the best medical attention. I sought out the finest corneal transplant surgeon in the U.S. to deal with my eye problems, and now I see the world through the corneas of two anonymous persons who selflessly thought to donate their tissue to medical science upon their death. You don’t mention anything that you have done other than pray to remedy your eyesight, Nathaniel. Don’t listen to those who say that God answers your prayers only through miracles. It’s been rightly said that when we pray about a plumbing problem, then God sends us a plumber. Similarly, God sends us doctors, who have explored the mysteries of His created order to uncover the secrets of health and healing. Take full advantage of what medical science has discovered about the marvelous creation which is the human eye to rectify your problem. If, as with my Charcot-Marie-Tooth syndrome, the problem proves to be incurable at present, then practice the points above. May God’s strength be evident in you!”

Retrieved from http://www.reasonablefaith.org/dealing-with-physical-ailment#ixzz4FU4qYglB July 26th, 2016.

An Anecdote from My Experience in Christian Apologetics


Given Canadian socio-phenomenological apathy regarding God’s existence, I was puzzled at a recent conversation I had with an interesting fellow. I was inside of a Value Villiage, and had the experience of doing Christian apologetics with a fellow in the “Literature” section. I will do my absolute best to re-print the conversation here, if for no other reason than the fact that I will eventually forget it, and many important lessons can be drawn from it. Obviously this is not a word for word transcript and I hope that the reader does not think I spoke this articulate in person (though, to be fair, I am not embellishing any point I reprint here—hopefully!). As a last warning, I hope anything I reprint from P (let P be person with whom I am conversing with), is as accurate as possible (I sincerely do not wish to mis-represent his opinions or make his claims less formal, vague and ill-constructed). So, here is the conversation:

[I see a fellow in the literature section browsing through a book]

“So, what sort of books are you interested in?” [beginning of the conversation]

P: “Mainly science fiction.”

“Interesting, you know, I know a writer who wrote some works in science fiction; his name is C.S Lewis.”

P: “Oh yeah? I see.”

“But I mainly read his Christian classics; they’re some of his finest works.” [1]

P: “Oh, he is a [Bible] thumper eh?”

“What do you mean?”

P: “He adheres to that religion [swear word]? You know its all [swear word].”

“Interesting you would say that, he is, actually, one of the most brilliant minds of the past.”

P: “That religion [swear word] is just ridiculous.”

“Why do you think that?”

P: “There is just no evidence for that.”

“Okay, you do realize, though, that in calling “religion” a particular name, you have not falsified it?”

P: “Does not matter, its all [swear word].”

“In saying this, you realize that you are calling some of the finest academics people who adhere to a religion you think is worthless? For instance, Christopher Isham, a theist and quantum cosmologist, Francisco Ayala, a biologist and philosopher, John Lennox, mathematician; all these people you are saying are somehow irrational.”

P: “Do you think you are superior in telling me this? That you know it all?”

“No, I am sorry you had that impression. I do not think I am superior, I just think that since I know the truth I have an obligation of telling others about it. I was simply showing you that if you claim religion is without ground, you must engage with the finest minds of that religion [this was a rough memory of what I said here].”

P: “It does not matter, there is no evidence and it does not matter who you have read and who you know, it is all [swear word].”

“There is evidence [and here I use WLC’s model of apologetics, roughly]: God is the best explanation of the existence of the universe, consciousness, fine-tuning, moral values and duties [I listed a couple more, I think].” [2]

P: “Do you think you know everything?”

“No, not at all. I never said nor claimed it.”

P: “You act like you know everything and that you have seen everything.”

“I do not, I am sorry you think that.”

P: “How old are you?”

“I am 18.”

P: “Huh, interesting. You have a lot to learn.”

“I agree, I never said I knew everything. But regardless, I can have propositional knowledge without experiential knowledge.”

P: “Whatever, you list all these names and terms I can’t understand and then expect me to believe you.”

“If you need clarification, I am more than happy to clarify something.”

P: “You know what, you Bible believing people support ISIS because you believe stoning (it says it in the Bible), and you think that God made humans from primordial stuff.”

“Hmm. Where does it say that in the Bible? Could you show me if I brought you a Bible? There is a Bible in the “Religion and Spirituality” section I can get you?”

P: “No, I don’t study the Bible like you.”

“Well, then, as a matter of fact, you have been misinformed. Indeed, I am not sure at all where you heard both those claims. The story in Genesis is unlike the one you are thinking of, and the stoning part is probably not even existent [I think he might have been talking about the (almost) stoning of Mary Magdalene (but he interestingly missed the point of that narrative anyway)].” [3]

P: “You know what, I am doubting Thomas, really.”

“St. Thomas Aquinas? You realize that he wrote a 4000 page work called the Summa Theologica proving, in part, the existence of God, right?” [4] (I here mixed Doubting Thomas (from the New Testament) with St. Aquinas–an error on my part).

P: “You think you know everything, don’t you.”

“No, I did not say that. I am pointing something out to you.”

P: “It doesn’t matter.”

“Well, I cannot see why you reject theism then.”

P: “How could God allow ISIS, for instance, to kill and torture innocent people?”

“You are talking about the problem of evil and this is a separate topic but here is an answer: God loves our freedom. Free will is a great good and necessarily contains the possibility of evil for finite creatures like ourselves.” [5]

P: “So why doesn’t he stop it?”

“God probably has a morally sufficient reason for allowing the suffering in the world to exist, but why think you and I would be the first to know about it?” [6]

P: “See, you Christians don’t even answer the question.”

“How so? I told you that God probably has a morally sufficient reason and you reject this. And I have not heard a reason why you reject it—you need to give an explanation as to why my answer is insufficient.”

P: “You just say that He doesn’t even though he could.”

“Right, but you see if creatures have free will, a great good to have, then, while this permits evil, He will not stop what happens. Thus, if God is to genuinely respect our freedom He will not intervene. [If he didn’t change the topic, I would have said much more here]”

P: “Well, you know what, this [swear word] is just ridiculous and I don’t know why anyone believes it. You know what I think? I think that Alien’s came down and they explain the origin of life.”

“Interesting, you call religion without grounds, and then you make an assertion with no evidence.”

P: “It has more evidence than your religion.”

“I gave you arguments which you did not respond to.”

P: “I don’t care, I think you and your religion—which just makes you feel better—is [swear word].”

“I am not sure if you realize, but you committed the genetic fallacy by trying to invalidate my belief by showing how I (falsely) came to hold it. Even if that were true my belief isn’t falsified in that account.”

P: “Even your body language suggests that you are backing down now; do you study human nature? Physiology? You should!”

“I am not sure what that has to do with truth-claims. No I have not studied physiology, but you also need to realize that I am backing away from the conversation because you are not engaging with what I am saying, you are calling my arguments and viewpoints names and not really doing anything to assess what I am saying.”

P: “Its just a religion of thumpers, I don’t see why it matters. My wife is a Christian, I don’t know why. [Turns towards his wife] He is a thumper too!”

“Okay, clearly this is conversation is finished. I hope you have a nice day.”


Unfortunately, this was the conversation I engaged in. I say unfortunately very tentatively—perhaps I may have “shot an arrow of sunlight”, as I believe C.S Lewis put it—but at any rate the conversation made many things manifest to me and I have a lot to learn from this conversation (especially regarding methods of talking to people, evangelizing and so on). If there is something I have learned, though, from these conversations, is that the socio-phenomenological problem of apathy towards God’s existence should reflect on a deeper point of Christian apologetics, namely, that prayer cannot be separated from doing Christian apologetics. If, as Patrick Sullivan says, people are “His [God’s] little ones” and “not projects or experiments” [7], then prayer is a necessary part of good Christian apologetics–if the fight is over souls and not mere arguments.

[1] For readers interested in the works of C.S Lewis’ here, see especially his Signature Classics. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. 2002. Print.

[2] For William Lane Craig’s apologetics model (and more), visit reasonablefaith.org.

[3] For the story of creation (of the world and human beings) see (Genesis 1) and for the story of Mary Magdalene (John 8 1-11).

[4] For those interested in the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas, here is a basic introductory text: Ralph McInerny, Thomas Aquinas: Selected Writings. England: Penguin Books. 1998. Print.

[5] For a full picture of the free will defense, see Alvin Plantinga’s seminal God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Company. 1974. Print.

[6] Plantinga has made this (somewhat ironical) point formally and informally. Here is a link to him saying it—relatively—informally in his segment on “Closer to Truth”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VOMrozCISA Accessed July 25th 2016.

[7] Patrick Sullivan says this in his Dare to be an Evangelist available here: https://www.evangoinstitute.org/shop/dare-evangelist-book/.

A Unifying Explanation of the Facts of Experience

When assessing the rationality of naturalism and theism, one must take the relevant facts of human experience, assess which ‘facts’ one accepts and denies, and ask which worldview is more explanatory. While ‘explanatory power’ is not the only adjudicating criteria, it is a powerful source of justification for holding the worldview at all. Often, when I reflect on the rationality of theism and naturalism, I bring to mind what I take to be facts of human experience and thereafter assess my belief. While I do not always do this (unless some alleged defeater comes my way), theism seems, to me, much more intuitive. Take the following diagram:

Facts to be Explained Naturalism Theism
The Beginning of the Universe
Fine-Tuning of the Universe
Free Will
Intentional States of Consciousness
Reliable Cognitive Faculties
Intrinsic Moral Worth of Persons
The Origin of Life
Moral Values and Duties

Even on a Bayesian model

P(h/e.k)= _______ x P(h/k)           (Bayes’ Probability Theorem)

I think theism is much more likely. Just given the plethora of natural theological arguments—or even that of reformed epistemology—I just find myself convinced. Perhaps one can think this irrational or somehow misguided; I do not see how this is so. When one is in a court of law, some evidence E is sometimes sufficient in and of itself because it is explanatory. Once the evidence ranges from E1…E40 , once just gets the impression that, generally, the evidence might point one way—maybe the right way? In the case of theism, I think prima facie and upon sustained philosophical argumentation theism seems to be the correct model, picture, worldview of human existence. Even if one wanted to deny many facts of experience, the ‘facts of experience’ left sit–in my view-very uncomfortably on naturalism.

Two Introductions for Two Possible Essays

I am thinking of writing two essays, but do not know where to begin. My intuitions suggest that they are both worth writing, but in all humility I feel unable to do so with as much rigor and precision as I would like. I think, then, that after reading much more literature for both essays, I will write them. Maybe sooner, maybe later. Here are both introductions:

(1) Why I Read (and Not Write) Continental Philosophy

In this short paper, I want to share reasons why I regard continental philosophy as important, but not the most truth-apt method (style or tradition) of doing philosophy. By ‘truth-apt’, I mean a way of doing philosophy which is aimed (more successfully than not) at truth. Since I do myself accept the analytic/continental split in philosophy—even if my only justification is aesthetic and not historical, philosophical or geographical—I regard, for instance, Jean-Paul Sartre’s phenomenological ontology, distinct and different from Peter van Inwagen’s (hyper?) analytic philosophy of religion and metaphysics—not merely in virtue of content, but of method and style as well. While I do not dismiss the importance and utility of continental philosophy (it is, indeed, a pleasure to read), I regard it as inferior, philosophically speaking, to analytic philosophy. In this essay, then, I want to give three reasons why I believe analytic philosophy is superior, philosophically, to continental philosophy. If my conception of continental philosophy is faulty and I am not engaging with it seriously, I still believe my critique—aimed at continental philosophy summarized as “obscure, imprecise and emotive”[1]—applies to any conception of philosophy which does not aim itself at truth, clarity and epistemic virtues. First, I will argue that analytic philosophy enjoys the virtue of clarity; while this is in concreto not always true, the ideal aim is clarity. The continental tradition, however, reads like literature—as Richard Swinburne and William Lane Craig argue [2]. Secondly, I will argue that since analytic philosophy uses the resources of science, whereas continental philosophy does not (it is mainly dominated by, instead, phenomenology and existentialism), science is depreciated in helping to understand human existence; to display this, I shall give a natural theological example. Thirdly, analytic philosophy emphasizes the importance of piecemeal philosophy, that is, philosophy which emphasizes the importance of working with individual concepts and problems and grasping them prior to analyzing them clearly; contrastively, continental philosophy aims, generally, at, as Alvin Plantinga says, novelty in ideas rather than truth [3]. To be perfectly clear: I do not depreciate continental philosophy (and philosophers in that tradition)—indeed, I always enjoy reading Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Camus—but, if possible, I avoid writing in that style.


Axioms in Logic, Metaphysics and Meta-Ethics: A Rough Critique at Contemporary Meta-Ethical Discourse

In this paper, I want to explain the importance of axioms in logic, metaphysics and ethics to foundation my critique of some contemporary meta-ethical viewpoints and their axiomatic foundations. The term ‘axiom’ is used to denote, in ordinary language, a first-principle with which one begins, and which begets implications (whether they be contingent or necessary). [1] Often, many perspectives in philosophy—especially philosophy of mind, religion and metaphysics—revolve around implicit and presupposed axioms. To give a logical example, self-reference (x=x) implies that there is an ‘x’—where here questions of the existential quantifier being ontologically committing/non-ontologically committing is unimportant. In other words, by asserting that x is the same as x, it must be the case that x (if only logically, not concretely). But, suppose that self-reference was denied—different entailments follow. This essay explores the function of axioms, predominantly in logic and metaphysics, and their extension, similarity and relevance to axioms in ethics. It seems that many ethical views i.e., abortion is morally wrong, terrorism is morally good, are reliant upon axioms, that is, conditions such that, when realized the view in question obtains the property ‘true.’ Indeed, while I do not endorse the epistemological view foundationalism, I am committed to the view that many beliefs—specifically meta-ethics—rely on axioms which are often presupposed without warrant/justification. So, in this essay I want to do three things. First, I want to give concrete examples of axioms in logic and metaphysics to show how axioms often work. Secondly, I want to show why the axioms matter and how they can be problematic for philosophical systems of thought. Thirdly, I want to show that ethical views are—ontologically—fraught with axioms and why making them explicit is truth-conducive and helpful in reconsidering beliefs based on the foundations upon which they’re built. [2] Ultimately, I want to make clear the truth-aptness of true axioms and why they matter for philosophical viewpoints—especially in meta-ethics. [3]

[1] The word ‘axiom’ as I am using it is synonymous with ‘presupposition’. The reason I prefer ‘axiom’ is because of its mathematical application and connotation. Mathematically, if a certain axiom holds (say, the Peano axioms), then what follows holds i.e., 2+2=4. But, with presuppositions, it is often the case that the presupposition and the view at hand are inconsistent (where with axioms this cannot occur because “everything follows from inconsistent axioms” (Alex Pruss)). Perhaps I am wrong on this point, but I still think the mathematical formalism of the term ‘axiom’ makes it clear(er) what I am talking about.

[2] As I wrote this sentence, I thought of Rene Descartes who tried to, instead of being skeptical about some beliefs, was skeptical about all beliefs. I do not endorse global skepticism nor any heavy-weight form of skepticism generally—otherwise I’d be skeptical of skepticism and thus not be a skeptic! Rather, my perspective here is that (often) the foundation F of some view V is such that if F is false V is also false. Or, rather, if V is false, then if F asserts V, F is false. (This example only works for logically necessary entailments; often many beliefs are held without a prior presupposition i.e., properly basic beliefs). The point here is that many views are true/false iff the axioms are true/false.

[3] This essay might be summarized simply as follows: if a view is based upon something else, and that ‘something else’ is wrong, then the view is wrong. So, one must evaluate the ‘something else’ if the view is to be put through. (This does not work the other way around (p->q, q, p) since it would commit the fallacy—in propositional logic—of affirming the consequence).

Objectors to WLC on Animal Pain

Here’s an argument (or something like one) [1]:

(1) (Some) animals have a pre-frontal cortex.

(2) The prefrontal cortex implies self-awareness.

(3) Animals which have self-awareness are objects of moral worth.

(4) Therefore, from (1)-(3) Animals possessing self-awareness (a prefrontal cortex) are objects of moral worth.

This argument is flawed in many respects. Objectors to William Lane Craig [2] argue that (1) is true on the basis of neurological evidence and that WLC is not correct on this point. Whether or not WLC has revised his view is not important here; what is important here is–giving his objectors the benefit of the doubt–that even if WLC is wrong, (2)-(4) doesn’t follow. My claim, then, is that this argument is unsound.

Here are some reasons why I think it is unsound (granting (1)). (2) is not a logical entailment, it’s an inductive generalization. Even if it is a logical entailment, its hard to see how the phenomenal qualities of conscious experience result from neurological going-ons. (This is a complex debate in the philosophy of mind). Indeed, even if (2) is true–which I am still skeptical of–self-awareness, resulting from the prefrontal cortex, is vague. Self-awareness involves something like a ‘self’; if the proponent of (2) suggests that animals have a self, there needs to be some argument for it (like J.P Moreland gives). Since, at least on naturalism, this is missing, I am not sure how (2) is true. On theism, though, this can be side-stepped; God might remove qualia from the experience of animals (as WLC and Pruss note) (and so even if there is self-awareness, there is no qualia–the basic problem underlying the problem of animal pain).

(3) to my mind is the crucial premise and I regard it as false. Now, I do think that animals are–in a restricted sense–subject to being moral objects (torturing a chicken for fun is wrong); but, the problem is accounting for the moral worth of these animals. Since on naturalism human beings are animals, the problem of pain for animals extends to human beings as well. But, this is not so on theism: Human beings are made in the image and likeness of God and so enjoy intrinsic moral worth. Let me back up, though. On naturalism, there is no reason to accord self-awareness as constitutive of moral worth. If objects are reducible to their constituents on naturalism, I am not sure where value comes in. Supposing that on naturalism anti-reductionism is possible, I still don’t see how moral worth is possible. Any account of moral worth for human beings or conscious creatures would be arbitrary on naturalism–as WLC points out.

It seems to be objectors to WLC either do not give him the benefit of the doubt, or do not engage seriously with these broader discussions taking place in the philosophy of mind and metaphysics.

[1] This post reminds me of a time when I saw a poster at Western University with a picture of the skeletal structure of an elephant and human being to show the purported “similar (near identical) nature” of humans to animals. This is immensely weak, though; under Leibniz’s law this is false and also from the fact that “similar structure” doesn’t imply “similar nature”.

[2] Some objectors found here: http://www.uncommondescent.com/intelligent-design/william-lane-craig-and-the-problem-of-animal-suffering-why-its-a-poor-argument-against-atheism-but-an-excellent-argument-against-scientism/ Accessed July 20th, 2016.