File:US Navy 050102-N-9593M-040 A village near the coast of Sumatra lays in ruin after the Tsunami that struck South East Asia.jpgIn this last post of the series on the problem of evil (here are parts one and two), I will skim the surface of the two issues that now take up most of the conversation among contemporary philosophers.

The Evidential Version

The evidential version of the problem of evil (also known as the probabilistic version) differs from the logical problem in that it does not claim there is an explicit contradiction in God and evil both existing; rather, it simply seeks to show that God's existence is improbable, given that evil exists, especially the amount of evil we see.

It certainly seems to have some force.  While it is possible that God has morally sufficient reasons to allow evil, it does seem, in light of the horrors that have taken place as well as their disturbing frequency, rather unlikely.  Many of these evils we see seem utterly pointless.  The evidential version is also easier to prove, since it does not seek a definitive deductive proof.  William Rowe and Paul Draper (from our alma mater!) have put forth their own versions of the evidential argument.  The conversation remains lively today.

They may take our lives, but they'll never take our freedom!
-William Wallace, Braveheart

Who doesn't love these words spoken by the fictional rendition of William Wallace in the movie Braveheart? Hearing such a phrase, we know that something truly meaningful is being communicated. But why is the concept of freedom so important? Perhaps it is because many of us in the Western world have been taught the value of civil liberties since we were young-- civil liberties grounded in the metaphysical belief that we can make real choices.   Or maybe, it's because many of us grew up in religious denominations which emphasized the importance of making theologically significant decisions-- the ability to choose good versus evil, or to follow God. Even more so, the concept of freedom just seems intrinsically good to us. We yearn for the power and opportunity to think for ourselves, make our own decisions and steer our lives in the direction we so choose. Questions of free will have been grappled with since perhaps the dawn of human consciousness. What is free will? Do humans have it? Is it compatible with a deterministic world? The twelfth century Persian poet once remarked that, "There is a disputation that will continue till mankind is raised from the dead, between the necessitarians and the partisans of free will."1 This appears to be true as the discussion still continues nine centuries later, no less vehemently than in 1100AD.

Talk with just about any self-proclaimed atheist sitting next to you on an airplane, at Starbucks, or online; if you try to critique their own position they will almost invariably say, "Ah, atheism isn't a belief that there is no God, it is simply a lack of belief in God or gods."  Or something to that effect, sometimes much less charitably.  This is often done in attempt to pin the burden of proof in the theist.  (Such a position can trace its roots to the work of Antony Flew, especially his brief - but very influential - paper, The Presumption of Atheism, in which he argued that atheism should be presupposed until evidence of God surfaces.)

In simple point of fact, this is not the traditional definition of atheism.  Further, it is rather telling that no atheist philosopher subscribes to such a definition.  All the same, it hints at a useful distinction, despite the definitional blunder.

The distinction is between what is known as positive (or "strong") atheism and negative (or "weak") atheism.  A positive atheist not only lacks belief in God but affirms that there is no God.  Therefore, the positive atheist must have justification for their lack of belief and must demonstrate that their arguments against the existence of God are compelling.  A negative atheist, on the other hand, simply lacks belief in God.  The negative atheist does not provide any arguments against the existence of God; she simply believes the arguments for the existence of God are not compelling.1

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