Wednesday, October 15, 2008

The Bigger Picture (Problem of Evil #3)

(This is part 3 of series on the Problem of Evil)

The next Theodicy is The Bigger Picture Theodicy. If an individual had the means, the motive, and the opportunity to prevent some horrible crime (say murder or a rape), we normally think that person is open to moral criticism for failing to intervene. Similarly, the claim is that God is open to moral criticism as well for failing to intervene. This Theodicy claims that God’s greater knowledge allows him to know that he shouldn’t interfere in cases that we would normally think a person should interfere. Given our limited, finite knowledge, we don't see the bigger picture and think God should have interfered. God, however, sees the bigger picture and recognizes that he should not interfere because his interference would do more harm than good. In this way, God is doing the right thing in letting the evil occur.

For example, in the movie Spiderman, Peter Parker could have interfered to prevent an armed robber from getting away. He didn't act as a kind of revenge on the wrestling match organizer. The robber then ends up killing Parker's uncle. Had Parker known the bigger picture, he would have stopped the armed robber when he had the chance. Similarly, when we criticize God for not acting to prevent an evil, we are like Parker. We don't have the wider context of knowledge that justifies God's non-interference.

This Theodicy suffers from some similar problems to the previous two(Greater Good and Higher Morality).

First, it fails the Holocaust test. What greater context of knowledge justifies non-interference in such a case? For example, if we are Parker and see the armed robber running down the hall, it is not too hard for us to imagine a scenario that calls for our interference. But what scenario justifies non-interference in the murder of 6 million? One scenario that is sometimes offered is that possibly if God had interfered that would have eventually lead to the deaths of millions more in some other context. But this calls into question God's omnipotence. With infinite power, he should be able to prevent both catastrophes. It also raises the problem of whether lives are interchangeable. That is, is it morally justified to let 1 die to prevent the death of 2(or 2 million)? Most Utilitarians would answer yes, but it's not clear that doing so is justifiable outside of utilitarianism.

Second, we are left in the same obscure position as with Divine Purpose: we don't have access to the Divine Purpose or to the Bigger Picture. Thus, we have no way to evaluate whether the non-interference is justified on the basis of these. For example, to badly paraphrase Hume, maybe the bigger picture available to God is that to have interfered in the Holocaust would have scratched his finger. Surely, if that is the case, God is not all-good. Thus, to be able to justify this Theodicy we need to know the bigger picture as well. But since we don't have access, the Theodicy is ultimately incomprehensible, thus failing to provide a resolution to the paradox.


Patrick Stephens said...

From Ilya Somin at

Lawsuit Against God Dismissed For Lack of Service of Process:

Former Nebraska state senator Ernie Chambers' lawsuit against the Almighty has been thrown out of court because the defendant couldn't be served papers informing him of Chambers' suit:

You can't sue God if you can't serve the papers on him, a Douglas County District Court judge has ruled in Omaha.

I'm not entirely convinced that the ruling is correct. After all, if God exists, he must be omnipresent and omnipotent. Therefore, it logically follows that he can be served with court papers anywhere; after all he is present everywhere in the universe at all times. Indeed, service of process is a pointless formality when it comes to God. ...

A better technical legal ground for dismissing lawsuits against God might be lack of redressability, which is a requirement of standing under federal law and (I presume) Nebraska law as well. If the plaintiff's injury can't be redressed by a judicial ruling, he doesn't have standing to file a suit. Since God is omnipotent, the judicial injunction Chambers seeks can't possibly force him to do anything he doesn't want to do anyway. Thus, no redessability and no standing.

Anonymous said...

I believe theodicy you have mentioned is more convincing than others.we can justify this theodicy by taking a practical example i.e.
we see that in forest where one animal kills other animal for their food,we dont stop them from doing so as we know that it is necessary for their survival.but from the point view of prey that act is the biggest crime(as it can be guessed from their behaviour of running and fighting predator),as we humans do most often.they(prey)would think or they should be thinking that their predators might eat grass or other material which they themselve consume,why killing others.but we think differently we dont want to stop that cycle as we know the consequences.still,we interfare in their life sometimes.

God in same way as we human does play a role of guiding power in our lives.
One more thing is that human is not only unique in their better intelligence or hand skills ,but also in that we human unlike any animal or bird species dont share common behaviour and many other we should consider every human as different species and its obvious that every species have different perception of good and bad.and also like different species are diffferently abled ,they according to their power try to exercise their natural propensity resulting in unstability(includes all evil) sometimes on large scale or sometimes on small scale.another problem is that we humans are much more powerful than any animal thats why an animal kills only one animal at one time but a human species can annihilate many human species.

So everything is same but god doesnt holds the key for creating all species more specially humans with common attributes or he is doing it purposefully(because i m a human i dont know the truth).therefore if we posit our first assumption true then we can conclude that god is much powerfull than us but not omnipotent.

Will said...

"First, it fails the holocaust test..." while I think most people would agree with the fact that the holocaust was too evil to justify most ends, and I do, I also presume that there is some amount of evil that if you were convinced the holocaust would prevent it, you would say that the holocaust seems the lesser of the two to you. Could it have prevented the death of billions? Probably not, but if it could have then I would have to say it is the better alternative. We have no way of knowing what the holocaust prevented and if we did, your judgment on whether or not it was "worth it" would be purely subjective. Well subjectivity is part of philosophy it doesn't show the Theodicy to be false.

blaise said...

I am in agreeance with your assertion that God cannot be omnipotent if he does not physically intervene in events such as the holocaust. Although it might be for some future greater good, an omnipotent God should be able to control all aspects. But, I think it is very important to consider not just the physical implications of his non-interference, but also the non-physical, or psychological, factors involved. I know this might sound a little cold, but hypothetically, the holocaust could have been a necessity for the future evolution of human consciousness. Maybe humans, as a whole, had to experience such a catastrophe in order to progress to the next level of consciousness or spirituality. I know that if God were omnipotent he should have control off all things, physical and non-physical, but I believe it extremely important to weigh the implications of his non-interference on a non-physical level.

fadil said...

Word for the Day: Perseverance

1. steady persistence in a course of action, a purpose, a state, etc., esp. in spite of difficulties, obstacles, or discouragement.
2. Theology. continuance in a state of grace to the end, leading to eternal salvation.

Sofia said...

One may argue that the Holocaust had many big-picture purposes.

For example, individually, this experience shocked many people from their regular, normal lifestyle. The big-picture lesson was self-understanding, self-awareness, etc. One could say that God had intended this lesson specifically for those which suffered through the Holocaust, leaving those who did not need this PARTICULAR lesson unaffected.

One could also argue that the Holocaust served a great purpose in general culture. The awareness that such atrocities are possible through propaganda. The effect of irrationality and disobedience of the Holy Law. Teaching that just because we have apparently evolved in Society, mindless atrocities are not vanquished; and many others, according to interpretation.
Maybe it's a simple lesson of testing one's faith.

And besides, we are immortal, aren't we? Pain and suffering can only affect, and better our mental understanding of things.
Death doesn't really affect anything but our mental perception.
So all pain and suffering, death and destruction, are simply tools for sharpening our soul.

'Evil' therefore is a perception. It exists in the sense that people feel discomfort or pain towards a certain situation or idea. That is 'evil' to them. The same situation could leave another person unaffected.
Thus, evil is relative, and ever-changing according to the types of lessons which God originally intended for us to learn.

By stating, in your premises, that 'Evil exists' you didn't specify what Evil is, nor the conditions of its existence, nor the states it presents itself in.

J. W. Gray said...

Why didn't god give us an ability to fully understand morality in the first place?

God's non-interference will also be an issue for free will's value. If God interferes it might make free will pointless.

Shawn said...

Will: Would I think the Holocaust was a lesser evil than some calamity (ex hypothesis prevented by the Holocaust) killing billions? In some ways, yes. But this seems like a rather silly distinction. We are talking levels of evil so deep, "lesser of" degrees just don't make much sense.

Nor does this solve the problem. If it were the case that the Holocaust had to occur to prevent some greater tragedy then God has created quite an evil universe.

Shawn said...

Blaise: "Maybe humans, as a whole, had to experience such a catastrophe in order to progress to the next level of consciousness or spirituality."

Can we really absolve God's moral responsibility on such a tenuous 'maybe'? Also, if such an evil as the Holocaust is necessary for the next level of spirituality shouldn't we question the morality of that spirituality?

Shawn said...

Sofia: Self-understanding and self-awareness are excellent things. Do we need 6 million murdered to gain these? Has it even worked? Shouldn't we question God's goodness for setting things up so that the holocaust is necessary for greater self-understanding? Wouldn't an all powerful and all good being find a better way to teach this lesson?

As I've said in many responses, I do not accept the idea that evil is mere perception or subjectivity. But notice this doesn't solve anything. If there is no objective morality, what sense do we make of God's Omni-benevolence?

Shawn said...

J.W: Free Will Theodicy coming later.

Why didn't God give us the ability to fully understanding morality? Well, as a nontheist, I don't think that ability comes from God. Morality is understandable through reason.