… And Then Again, He Might Not Be

Alexander Bird
2009 Australasian Journal of Philosophy  
In reply to Michael Bertrand, I clarify my view that the problem of physical evil is not an a priori problem but an a posteriori one. I agree with the claim in Michael Bertrand's title [Bertrand 2009] , that God might be responsible for physical evil. But I also think He might not be. These are epistemic 'mights'. I'll make the dialectical position of the brief comments in my [Bird 2005: 546-7] clear. As my target, I had in mind those people for whom it is clear, a priori, that God could have
more » ... eated a world with innocent beings who do not suffer from unmerited physical harm. I, however, don't think that this is clear and I don't think it is a priori. But equally I don't think it is a priori that God could not have created a world with innocents who do not suffer. It is just not a question that can be settled that easily either way. Indeed I don't think that the a posteriori knowledge we have at our disposal settles the matter either. But if it is to be settled, it will be the a posteriori deliverances of science that will be required. The role that the epistemic possibility of a ubiquitous down-and-up structure plays is principally that it rules out most miraculous interventions. According to the downand-up structure argument, it is metaphysically necessary that salt dissolves in water. So God could not prevent some calamity by ensuring that on some particular occasion a sample of salt fails to dissolve. That 'could not' is in the context of an epistemically open question, whether the down-and-up structure does exist. For all we know, the structure of the world is such that God could not have intervened. So it isn't a priori and certainly isn't clear that God could have intervened in this way. A ubiquitous down-and-up structure rules out analogous interventions that would contravene nonfundamental laws. On the (epistemically possible) assumption of a ubiquitous down-and-up structure, in order to prevent suffering to innocents, God would have had to create a world with different initial conditions or with different fundamental laws. The worry with the first option is that changing initial conditions always has ramifications, so long as we keep the laws fixed. Here is an example. I am observing ripple on a pond caused by the dropping of a stone into it. If I wish to re-run history so that the peak of a ripple reaches a particular point at a slightly different time, then the stone will have to be dropped at a different place or a different time. But that will mean that the ripples' peaks will reach other points on the pond at different times. There is no possibility of the initial conditions differing so as to change the outcome in one part of the pond yet keeping it the same elsewhere. The same point can be made using a variation on John Conway's famous game of life. One set of rules allows for simple initial conditions, in this example a set of seven live cells in an initial 3x3 array of cells as in Fig. 1 , to develop into the complex pattern in Fig. 2 after 50 generations. The complexity of the latter might suggest that a different outcome is possible at this generation, one which differs from that shown in respect of just one or two cells. Call some local pattern P
doi:10.1080/00048400902941356 fatcat:3p4p77a5ovfjtgbtizrdx23afi