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Gary Gutting Michael Ruse Essay

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Talking God: Philosophers on Belief

Gary Gutting. Norton, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-0-393-35281-8
In this collection of 12 interviews that first appeared in 2014 in The Stone, the philosophy blog of the New York Times, Notre Dame philosophy professor Gutting (What Philosophy Can Do) poses a series of questions to contemporary philosophers about age-old questions: Does God exist? How can an all-powerful and all-good god exist in a world filled with evil and suffering? What’s the relationship between science and religion? Gutting prefaces each interview with a brief introduction and follows it with a brief set of “further thoughts” about the issues raised in the interview. Calvin College professor Alvin Plantinga argues against atheism because “assuming a lack of evidence either for or against God’s existence, agnosticism is a more rational position than atheism.” Louise Anthony is certain that God doesn’t exist both because she denies that supernatural beings exist outside of natural law and because she finds the argument from evil overwhelmingly persuasive. Gutting also discusses religion and deconstruction with John Caputo, soft atheism with Philip Kitcher, religion and evolution with Michael Ruse, and Hinduism with Jonardon Ganeri, among others. Gutting doesn’t cover new ground here, and adds little to the material already available online, but this book nevertheless provides a helpful introduction to anyone interested in the intersection of philosophy and religion. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 09/12/2016
Release date: 11/22/2016
Open Ebook - 256 pages - 978-0-393-35282-5

eric,

Since these are still mostly point-by-point replies, forgive me for not directly quoting:

1) The evolutionary argument relies on extra suffering over time, not comparisons of suffering. Also, you seem to imply that the suffering is supposed to be for a purpose, but theologically that would indeed only apply to humans and not animals (if that isn’t what you rely on with your comments about “enough”, then I’d appreciate you expanding on that). Finally, it is quite difficult to compare suffering of animals and humans. So you definitely, in all of these ways, seem to be abandoning the argument from evolutionary evil.

2) The “For example …” part of that theodicy should have given you a big hint that I wasn’t reducing it all to the free will argument, but using that as an example of one theological argument that talks about there having to be suffering to others in order for US to properly develop. The argument I’ve given before about there needing to be suffering to motivate people to go out and do science to end the suffering of others is another example.

Additionally, the argument was not talking about the free will to believe in God argument, but the, as I said, free will to cause suffering to others argument. So since you took the example as the whole and then STILL got the argument wrong, you didn’t answer this at all.

3) That would be fine, if you were totalling up the suffering of individuals to get a total amount of evil, which would be an argument about the total amount of suffering in the world. But you aren’t. You are comparing specific individuals to specific individuals, and saying that since one specific individual suffers less than another then that other specific individual then all there is no reason for any individual to suffer more than the individual that suffers the least. That is, indeed, a different argument, and one that the total amount of suffering over generations over different individuals has no impact on … and that total amount is the heart of the evolutionary argument.

4) And Steve Jobs died of cancer.

Putting aside that since you don’t actually provide a criteria for deciding what should be considered a normal part of human existence and what shouldn’t, it would be quite reasonable for someone to deny that, say, the pains from aging would indeed be acceptable, you seem to be getting at a different argument here. I’m not sure that this is your argument, but it seems to me to be a better one than the alternatives if it isn’t: The natural suffering we have in this world is not just. It should be distributed justly and fairly if there really is a JUST God. So we can’t have a just God.

The first thing we have to do is eliminate all differences in natural suffering that result from people’s actions. If someone, say, goes to the doctor frequently and eats properly, it’s only just that they, in general, are healthier and avoid more diseases than those who don’t. When you start comparing individuals based on ACCESS to those means, then things get a little trickier, because it isn’t as easy to determine what is really of their own actions and what is not.

But fortunately we don’t need to look at that, because we have lots of examples of people with the same access to the means of avoiding natural suffering who, nevertheless, experience more suffering than those with the same access. This, then, on the face of it, looks unfair.

The first reply to this is that if we were tying suffering to justice, then we’d want people who were less deserving — ie people who are more immoral, for example — to suffer more than those are more moral, and to die earlier than they do, and so on and so forth. But this would turn suffering into a punishment, and remove all motivation for us to, in general, seek to alleviate suffering. As Marcus Cole asked, what if life really was fair, and we experience the suffering we do because we really deserved it? Then we would have no reason to alleviate the suffering of others; after all, it’s what they deserve. So that wouldn’t produce a particularly good world.

But it can be replied that we don’t need to demand THAT kind of just suffering. Instead. we can simply ask that everyone experience the same suffering. Which would indeed work. But in order to do that, we would actually want to INCREASE the overall amount of suffering, so that the suffering doesn’t fall into the “everyday aches and pains that everyone gets and we just have to put up with”. Also, it eliminates any reason I might have to try to prevent someone ELSE’S suffering, as I am suffering precisely as much as they are and while I would be motivated to end that suffering globally, I have no reason to try to ease one person’s pain from the thing that everyone gets. Plus that would leave one person suffering less than another, which would be unjust.

So putting aside any potential reasons why random suffering itself might be good at motivating us to alleviate suffering, everyone suffering globally to the same amount seems to require more overall suffering and makes us less motivated to alleviate suffering, and so is not a particularly good argument.

Now, again, this may not be what you meant. But if it isn’t, then if you could expand on what precisely your argument is and what criteria you are using to differentiate between human suffering and not, that would be great.

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