Silverbullet presents two scenarios:
Scenario 1: God allows Fred to kill Suzie because of some greater good but the killing of Suzie is nonetheless evil.
Scenario 2: God commands Fred to kill Suzie as a devotional act of commitment to God which leads to some greater good, but the killing of Suzie is nonetheless evil.
Having set up the comparison, Silver Bullet then observes: “I think that one must either accept or reject them both. You already accept the first, so why not accept the second? On the terms of the second statement, it seems to me that there is plenty of room for devotional killing in your world view.”
So the argument is intended to force me into a dilemma. Either I deny God’s providential activity over evil events (as in (1)) or I accept the possibility of devotional child killing for a greater good.
Some theologians have responded to this kind of dilemma by denying God’s meticulous providence of specific events. Maurice Wiles is a notable example. But I find no reason to accept such a radical solution. Instead I offer the following observations:
First, there is an obvious difference between the scenarios. Consider:
Scenario 3: Dad allows Billy to take away Tony’s toy and then punishes Billy for his selfishness.
Scenario 4: Dad commands Billy to take away Tony’s toy and then punishes Billy for his selfishness.
There are multiple differences between these two scenarios as there are between the two that SB has presented. If the differences are not readily apparent, I will be happy to expound them.
Second, even a rule utilitarian denies that there are limits on which actions can possibly produce greater goods. One could certainly argue that one of the action types that could not possibly produce a greater good is devotional child killing. Thus one could reject the possibility that scenario 2 could be actualized. This seems to me a very plausible rebuttal.
Third, even if one conceded the possibility of scenario 2 (which I don’t), there would be an epistemological problem: how could one ever have sufficient grounds to believe that God was, in this instance, actually demanding the killing of a child for a greater good? To put it bluntly, what if you’re wrong? Thus, even if a person conceded the possiblity of scenario 2 (again, which I don’t) it wouldn’t follow that a person could ever have adequate justification to believe God was in fact demanding the killing of children.