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God and Inscrutable Evil Hardcover – December, 1997
[A] careful . . . analysis of the challenge that the existence of evil presents to 'orthodox theism' . . . a remarkable amount of material in compressed format, something that will well serve readers. (T. Michael McNulty, S.J., Marquette University, Milwaukee Theological Studies)
This book will appeal to anyone who has ever asked why there seems to be so much unnecessary evil and suffering in the world. (Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith)
This book includes an impressive discussion of the nature of evil.
The book is full of creative thought experiments, detailed and incisive argument, and exposition and analysis that reveal an impressive command of much contemporary literature on this topic. (R.D. Geivett, Biola University CHOICE, Fe. 99 Vol. 36 No.6)
The most important book-length treatment of its kind in the past twenty years . . . O'Connor's book will most certainly be the locus of debate for years to come. (Daniel HowardSnyder, Seattle Pacific University)
. . . excellent work . . . chock-full of original, creative analyses and arguments. (Del Kiernan-Lewis, Morehouse College The Journal Of Religion)
A number of O'Connor's arguments are persuasive.O'Coonor's central argument against Schlesinger's 'No-Best-Possible-World-Defence' seems well-taken. (Katherin A. Rogers, University of Delaware Religious Studies, Vol. 35, 1999)
This book is an substantial contribution to contemporary discussion of the evidential force of the fact of evil and the rationality of beleiving in God. (Mind: A Quarterly Review of Philosophy)
O'Connor should be praised for forcefully bringing to our attention the centrality of the standard assumption in the debate over God and evil. (Philosophical Review)
About the Author
David O'Connor is professor of philosophy at Seton Hall University and the author of The Metaphysics of G. E. Moore.
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O'Connor develops what he calls a "reformed logical argument from evil", based on the widespread existence of natural evil resulting from natural processes (NERNP). In developing the argument, O'Connor compares the actual world with a world he calls "Wp" -- a world which contains much less natural evil than the actual world. He concludes that God (that is, the God of traditional or "orthodox" theism) would have created Wp rather than the actual world; hence the actual world is not God-made; hence God does not exist (since God is defined as, among other things, the creator of the world). In other words, either all or some of the great abundance of NERNP in the actual world is inconsistent with the existence of God; hence God does not exist.
In deploying the reformed argument against orthodox theism, O'Connor considers the most important objections that might be raised against it (and which have been raised against other arguments from evil). He considers Swinburne's greater-good defence, Schlesinger's no best possible world defence, and Plantinga's free will defence, and shows how all these arguments fail to defeat the reformed argument from evil. (Interestingly, O'Connor endorses Richard M. Gale's argument which states that Plantinga's free will defence fails because God's actualisation of possible persons in that defence gives God a freedom-cancelling control over those persons. This is a very interesting argument, and I think it deserves far more attention than it seems to have been given.)
O'Connor then considers the "skeptical theism" advocated by the likes of Stephen Wykstra. Essentially, Wykstra claims that for all we know, all the evil in our world may result in greater goods that are beyond our ken; hence the fact that many evils in our world _appear_ pointless does not give us good reason to think that they _are_ pointless. O'Connor concedes (though some would disagree) that this sort of theism is largely successful against the reformed argument from evil.
However, as O'Connor points out, skeptical theism's success is not absolute. Skeptical theism gives us no reason to suppose that evils in this world _do_ have a God-justifying purpose. And since apparently pointless evil is precisely what atheism predicts, the facts of evil in the world are "sustaining evidence" for atheism. The result of this is that certain atheists are rational in their nonbelief. (Although O'Connor does not mention it, this seems to create further problems for some forms of theism: if atheists are indeed rational, how could they be eternally punished for their nonbelief?) Also, since skeptical theism appeals to "evidence" to which nobody in this world could ever in principle have access, it follows that theism cannot be classified as an empirical hypothesis. In this way, skeptical theism pays a price that is possibly too high -- for if theism is not an empircal hypothesis, then natural theology is doomed. This is an important point; and while O'Connor mentions it, I think he should have pointed out that it follows that the whole project of apologists such as William Lane Craig and Richard Swinburne is doomed to failure. For such writers do contend that theism is a well-supported empirical hypothesis.
"God and Inscrutable Evil", while clearly written, is slightly technical at points, and so would make tough going for those with no training or background in philosophy. O'Connor's frequent use of acronyms (GGNE, OGNE, NEM, NERNP, NENPi, etc.) will also be a turn-off for some readers. (It may be a good idea to write these acronyms down for quick reference.) However, for those who have already developed an interest in the subject matter (and are familiar with some of the issues involved), "God and Inscrutable Evil" should not be missed. It is an important contribution to the debate on the problem of evil, and it will set the stage for many interesting future debates.
The book is highly technical and while self-contained assumes some familiarity with philosophical argumentation of the analytical variety. More introductory works are Kaufmann's Critique of Religion and Philosophy (Princeton University Press), also Davis's Philosophy of Religion (Oxford University Press), both available from amazon.com.
The book contains an excellent bibilography and notes for further reading.
This book is indispensible to those who want to be on the forefront of Philosophy Of Religion.