Wednesday, March 09, 2016

theodicy: well, I guess that's that

Some of us find theodicy a perennially fascinating question (see Bill here). Others of us, maybe, not so much.



SJHoneywell said...

I don't think the problem of evil is that productive one way or the other. It's potentially productive for anyone who wants to put forth the idea of an entirely benevolent deity if you want to go there, but even there, it's not really a line I'd typically want to go down. Schellenberg's argument regarding divine hiddenness is, I think, a much better one.

Kevin Kim said...

I'm not quite sure what you mean by "productive." If you mean it in the sense of "conducive to humanity's collective moral progress," then I'd concede that the benefits of thinking about theodicy are ambiguous at best. We now live in an age when, in certain post-industrial societies, it's OK to openly doubt, or even reject, the existence of the God of classical theism. For such people, theodicy is an irrelevancy. I don't believe in a literal anthropomorphic God myself, so theodicy isn't a personally urgent question for me. It does, however, hold an academic interest, and I suppose there is a certain level of fascination, given that I have no clear answer on whether an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent deity exists.

But I think the question does have real, practical consequences once we think about the link between thought/belief and behavior. If your theodicy leads you to conclude that we're all being justly punished for our sins, that disasters (like the 2004 tsunami or my mother's brain cancer) are part of a larger divine plan, etc., then those beliefs will have real-world effects on you and on those around you.

So perhaps, by that reckoning, it might be productive for theists to revisit the theodicy question and come up with more constructive, less merciless worldviews that take actual facts into account while also respecting the still-mysterious nature of ultimate reality. Schellenberg's deus absconditus might indeed be one of those healthier paths. Who knows?

SJHoneywell said...

I meant "productive" in the sense that I don't thing the standard theodicy arguments go anywhere substantial or can go anywhere substantial. Evil, even natural "evil" like tsunamis, are too easily explained away as being present because of sin, caused by original sin, or because they are necessary for some to-us inexplicable reason. In fact, when I've heard theodicy mentioned, the conclusion has been in my experience one of those three (take your pick; they're all equally unsatisfying).

I'm not a theist in any respect. I consider myself an agnostic atheist. Were I to find myself in conversation with a theist of any stripe and asked to justify that position, there are a lot of places I'd go (like divine hiddenness) before I'd ever consider theodicy to be a worthwhile argument.

Kevin Kim said...

" there are a lot of places I'd go (like divine hiddenness) before I'd ever consider theodicy to be a worthwhile argument."

To be clear, "theodicy" is a neutral term that merely refers to the answer to the question of the problem of evil. Deus absconditus is one answer among others, so a theodicy can be based on that notion.

SJHoneywell said...

Well...yeah. It's probably better stated as "there are a lot of places I'd go before I'd ever consider the problem of evil to be a worthwhile argument against theism."

There are far too many easy ways to slough it off.