Gary Gutting reviews Michael Ruse's Atheism
In an article titled "Michael Ruse's Kinder, Gentler Atheism" (Commonweal Magazine, April 18, 2015), Gary Gutting (holder of the Notre Dame Endowed Chair in Philosophy) reviews Ruse's book Atheism: What Everyone Needs to Know, and one passage by Gutting particularly struck me as an interesting twist on the problem of evil:
Consider, for example, the atheistic argument from evil, widely regarded as the main threat to theism . . . . On a purely logical level, . . . it is . . . tractable. Those with lively intellectual imaginations can readily construct non-contradictory scenarios in which even an all-good and all-powerful God has reason to allow virtually any amount of evil. The trick is to cite sufficiently high levels of good that logically require great but lesser levels of evil, . . . human wrongdoing, for example, as a condition for free will . . . . The standard scenarios showing the compatibility of God and evil ultimately appeal to God's knowledge of relevant factors to which we have no access. Given what we know, . . . [the possibility] that God would permit the horrors of warfare for the sake of respecting human freedom or of some other compensating goods [makes no sense]. But what is paltry human knowledge in comparison with divine omniscience? This unbridgeable gap between God and humans is the ultimate trump card against the problem of evil . . . . [However,] a successful defense can lead to a more serious threat. There may be an all-good, all-powerful God; but the promise of Christianity is that . . . God will ensure our salvation, however this is understood. But the solution to the problem of evil shows that God, for reasons unfathomable to us, may be prepared to accept enormous evils in some parts of creation for the sake of the final good of the whole. How, given the gap between our knowledge and God's, can we be assured that God might not need to allow our loss of ultimate happiness for the sake of some higher good . . . [such as] the soul-making of a vastly superior alien race [in contrast to whom, we are expendable]?This is an interesting argument by Gutting, for it takes the logical solution offered for the fact of evil, namely, that God in His omniscience allows evils that cannot be avoided if we are to be free moral agents who must make morally serious choices and learn from these choices in ways that improve our souls, so long as we learn to make the right choices. This argument normally makes the assumption that our own souls are the souls that God is interested in saving, but what if that's not the case? What if - as Gutting suggests - God is actually interested not in us but in some "vastly superior alien race," for whose sake we must suffer evils that have no soteriological significance for us in order to improve the souls of those aliens?
Rather disturbing to contemplate . . .