Thursday, July 01, 2010

Notes and Links

* There has been some recent discussion of theodicy and the problem of evil on blogs, largely outside of the professional philosophical blogosphere; much of it has been interesting. Some of the notable posts and discussions:

Theodicy (bill's comments)
Evil, Still a Problem, Apparently
The Logical Problem of Evil? (Gypsy Scholar)
theodicy redux! (BigHominid's Hairy Chasms)
Free Will Defense Insufficient? (Gypsy Scholar)

As Hodges notes, very few philosophers of religion today think that the logical problem of evil is well-grounded, for the simple reason that constant trying has turned up nothing promising. Trying to establish that it is a contradiction for God and evil both to exist is tricky business at the very least; when you go to try to show it, you end up mired in all sorts of complicated problems. Showing the contradiction requires rigorous definitions and clear logical moves; every proposal so far has fairly easily been shown to have problems, the number of possible scenarios that have to be considered in order to eliminate potential counterexamples is extraordinarily vast, and reasons have been given for thinking it likely that any plausible proposal along these lines will fail, even if only due to potential ambiguities in the terms. Most philosophers of religion think that the evidential version of the problem has bite, however. (My own view is that the problem of evil, in any form, by its very nature is a weak ground at best for arguing that God doesn't exist, for much the same reason that apparent design is by its nature a weak ground for arguing that God does exist; and despite its popularity is, in fact, not the most promising line for an atheist to take, both for structural reasons and because it is necessarily an argument on the theist's own territory. And I think there is less of a sharp distinction between logical and evidential arguments than most people seem to assume: every logical version has a corresponding evidential version and vice versa, although, because they are evaluated by different standards -- the logical arguments by whether they actually generate a logical contradiction of the right sort, the evidential arguments by whether they actually disconfirm in the right way -- there are some important asymmetries between the two.)

* John Wilkins had an interesting little philosophical experiment in which he argues that some theistic position is compatible with scientific practice and principle, the point not being to show that every theistic position is so, nor even necessarily that any theistic position that is widely held (or held at all) is so, but instead that there is at least a minimal theism, clearly recognizable as theism, that is compatible with science. That's a pretty weak claim, but it's interesting that some people still refuse to move even that far. (I set aside the people who just can't see why one would be interested in the structure and logical relations of positions that might not even be held by anyone. There are obvious real-world uses, if that's what they mean; it's extremely valuable to know in order to diagnose real-world arguments properly, for instance. But perhaps appreciating the structure of positions on their own, and their structural relations with other positions, is itself the sort of thing only the philosophically minded have a taste for doing.) I think both scientists (whether theistic or not) and theists have more options available to them than Wilkins considers, but it's an interesting exploration, and the sort of thing people should do more of.
Random Thoughts about God and Evolution
The Problem of Foreknowledge
Consequences of Theistic Evolution

* Catholic bishops in Germany are beginning to be mired in financial scandals.

* Discussion of the future of Hinduism.

* North American Dialect Survey

* I once thought of writing a science fiction story -- it would have been called "Spirit" -- about an escaped robot that read the complete works of Thomas Aquinas, concluded on the basis of the arguments in the text that it was a person with an immortal soul and was made in the image of God, and was destroyed by its makers because of it, a sort of AI martyr. I've always suspected that there probably are a lot of stories floating around out there that have variations on this sort of theme (and Asimov's classic tale, "I, Robot," is in the vicinity, although, of course, Asimov has no sympathies, and expects his readers to have no sympathies, with QT-1). So I'm interested in reading Randall Garrett's Unwise Child, which came up in a post at "The Sci Fi Catholic". The writing doesn't seem especially great, but it is, in effect, an Asimov Three Laws story in which theology introduces new complications into the robot's malfunctions.

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