Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Undoing a Seemingly Gratuitous Evil

A simple question.

Let's say I hear about a seemingly gratuitous evil. Say, a woman senselessly stabbed to death in New York.

I say, "That woman's death has inspired me to devote my life to charity." Assume I follow through on that pledge.

Since there was an apparent causal link between the woman's death and my devoting my life to charity, does that mean her death was no longer seemingly gratuitous?


Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

No, but the world is that much more "gratuitous" ('engraced') by your virtue. Analogy pervades all, even the parallel between the communion of saints and the unity of the human family's actions. Or?

Ilíon said...

"Since there was an apparent causal link between the woman's death and my devoting my life to charity, does that mean her death was no longer seemingly gratuitous?"

Develop this thought a bit ...

If the causal link between her death (I presume murder) and your subsequent life of charity (I presume effectively and actually helping the targets of your solicitude) lessens or obviates the seeming gratuitous nature of the evil of her death, then this holds even if no one else but you (and God) ever knows the reasons or prompting of your life of charity.

And, in that case, what this means is that *no* finite mind is ever in the position to accurately -- rationally and in honestly -- judge that any evil is 'gratuitous'. That is, the strongest statement we can honestly make is that some particular evil seems gratuitous to us, because we do not possess the information or understanding to see that it is not.

As I sometimes ask --

If you are traipsing through a forest and you encounter two men holding down a little boy and one of them cutting the boy's throat, (on the presumption that you are physically capable) do you attack the men?

Idiot! That's the lost boy for whom everyone has been searching for the past three days. The man holding him down is his father, and the man cutting his throat is a trained paramedic. They had just discovered the boy ... monents after he found and ate some poison ivy berries, which have caused his throat to constrict to the point of suffocating him. The men were trying to save his life ... and now, thanks to you, he's dead.

Crude said...

Well, I'm just trying to suss out one possible example of a seemingly gratuitous evil becoming non-gratuitous by human action. I agree that gives us great reason to not try and second-guess God, but more than that, if I just supplied an example (Cog says no, though I'm not sure why) of a 'gratuitous' evil being made non-gratuitous, that seems like a pretty ferocious response to any seemingly gratuitous evil.

I'm sure one reply could be 'Well, it's seemingly gratuitous in that the result (my committing my life to charity) could have been second without the sacrifice.' But I'm not so sure of that.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

I guess I was confused about the last few words in the post, namely, how you meant "gratuitous" (heinous? pointless?) and "seemingly" (by all possible accounts? emotionally?). My reflex is probably based on the same idea Ilíon expressed: we humans have no way of stipulating the "gratuity" of evil. It could be granted that the woman's death was gratuitous until you activated your life of virtue, but from a divine perspective, that could be just the kind of effect God deigned to bring about by her death––and thus it was never gratuitous. Synergism strikes again!

Crude said...


Alright, I understand now. I meant 'seemingly' merely as 'apparently' in some qualified sense, and gratuitous meaning pointless.

What I'm actually wondering with my example is if my hypothetical actions alone are sufficient to remove the seeming gratuity from a particular evil act. To begin with, I think it would more starkly bring into believe the fragility of a Problem of Evil objection - highlighting that it's not just a claim about an act, but a claim about an act and everything which results from it.

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...

"…a claim about an act and everything which results from it."

Exactly, which is why POE arguments end in an inverted divine command theory of morality, wherein the proponent of the POE argument makes a universal and binding moral declaration about the world. If we can do that, why can't God? And if God can do that, what of the POE? Your worry here is related to the moral argument against physicalism: clumps of matter in proximity with other clumps of matter have no moral meaning, so that, physically speaking, rape is equivalent to the conjugal act. Alluding to psychological factors is irrelevant, since granting causal powers to "thought alone" would explode physicalism. So, only if we tack on "intention" and "meaning" and "analogical context" to physicalism, can we make moral assessments. Physicalism denies those tacked-on elements, but they are intrinsic to human existence, therefore physicalism is false.

Ilíon said...

"I guess I was confused about the last few words in the post, namely, how you meant "gratuitous" (heinous? pointless?) and "seemingly" (by all possible accounts? emotionally?)."

Well, truth be told and admitted, the so-called "argument from evil" *is* emotional, rather than rational: it is grounded in emotional response and its wide-spread and enduring appeal is grounded in emotion (*); and the wide-spread dismissal of reason-based answers to it is emotionally driven ... those who find it compelling are not looking for a "cold, hard" rational explanation for "evil", they're looking for a "warm and fuzzy" for some sort.

(*) and often, hypocrisy: for those who offer it as a "rebuttal" to God, and those who think "that's a good point", frequently are not willing to give up their own moral weakness and/or wickedness.

Ilíon said...

... and, frequently, those who think the "argument from evil" compelling are insisting that the only adequate answer God can give to their prosecution of him is to have created the world to operate irrationally, such that effect does not rationally follow cause (so that, for instance, one could drive drunk and yet never, ever cause another's death thereby).

Codgitator (Cadgertator) said...



Crude said...

On possiblianism? I've heard of this before.

Eagleman's description of the 'traditional religious story' is idiotic. A man with a beard on a cloud? Right.

That aside, I think it's the rumbling of something I've said before: that one of the major effects of the Cult of Gnu has been to make agnostics and the generally irreligious distance themselves from atheism, and to show that a person can be an atheist and still have all the faults of the worst religious caricature.

Obviously I'd part ways with Eagleman in that I think we know quite enough to commit to, say, Christianity reasonably. On the other hand, in theism generally and Christianity specifically, there's an emphasis on mystery and possibility - and I really think there's no question that if Possiblianism were to turn into some greater movement, it would be to the further detriment of the Cult of Gnu, and the benefit of broadly theistic positions. It promotes a key perspective that fits far better with theism than atheism, and as Vox Day has said, agnostics are far easier to get along with (personally as well as intellectually.) A possiblian, at least in principle, sounds like the sort of person who could investigate Thomism, or Christianity, or anything else out of legitimate interest and curiosity.

Harris gives the game away by insisting Possiblianism is atheism while attacking it passionately. It's antithetical to the Cult of Gnu and he knows it.