You may think I’m all giggles and gumdrops. But you’d be wrong. Catch me at the wrong time and you’d think you had run into Grumpy Dwarf times ten! And I am I’m in a very black mood at the moment. You see, I typed an entire post responding to Stephen Maitzen’s argument, a task which took the better part of an hour (and yes, I saved it along the way) and at the very end, when I was ready for the final read-through, it up and disappeared.
At moments like this I remind myself of Baptist missionary to India William Carey who lost literally years of translation work in a fire. By comparison I suppose an hour isn’t too bad.
So here’s the second edition. In this post I offer a response to the following two papers:
Stephen Maitzen, “Ordinary Morality Implies Atheism,” European Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 2 (2009), 107-26.
__________, “Does God Destroy Our Duty of Compassion?” Free Inquiry, (Oct/Nov 2010), 52-53.
Quick summary of Maitzen’s Argument
Atheism undermines moral duty, dontcha know? But not according to Steve Maitzen. In fact, he argues that theism is the underminer of moral duty. And how, you ask, does he pull that rabbit out of the hat?
He begins with the following:
(T1) Necessarily, God permits undeserved, involuntary human suffering only if such suffering ultimately produces a net benefit for the sufferer. (“Ordinary,” 108)
From there Maitzen argues
(1) If God exists and T1 is true, then, necessarily, all undeserved, involuntary human suffering ultimately produces a net benefit for the sufferer. (“Ordinary,” 111)
Next, Maitzen argues that the claim that every instance of suffering produces a compensating increase in goodness for the individual that suffers it undermines our duty to stop that suffering. After all, by doing so we are depriving the individual from the greater good they would otherwise attain. Indeed, this implies that the worse an individual’s suffering, the worse it would be for us to prevent that individual’s suffering: “on theism and T1, the more extreme an innocent person’s involuntary suffering, the more reason we have to believe that such suffering is for the sufferer’s own net good, and thus the less reason we have to prevent it.” (“Ordinary,” 119) Thus, to sum up, theism eviscerates moral duty.
Setting Up a Delightfully Clever Response
Many theologians reject (T1). I however am sympathetic with it, and will be assuming the truth of (T1) in my response. So why think, based on (T1) and the nuts and bolts of the argument outlined in “Ordinary”, that the theist still has a moral obligation to prevent suffering?
I think the seed of a response is provided in some comments provided by Eleonore Stump and quoted by Maitzen:
“God can see into the minds and hearts of human beings and determine what sort and amount of suffering is likely to produce the best results; we cannot… Therefore, since all human suffering is prima facie evil, and since we do not know with any high degree of probability how much (if any) of it is likely to result in good for any particular sufferer on any particular occasion, it is reasonable for us to eliminate the suffering as much as we can.” (Cited in “Ordinary,” 118)
All this seed needs is some soil and sunshine and TLC, and we’ll have a good defeater to the argument. And I think I have all three in the following story.
The Delightfully Clever Response AKA “Moe the Pusher”
Moe lost his job as a Walmart greeter in the economic downturn. Now he has answered an ad for “pushers” at the RIOUT. And what is the “RIOUT” you ask? Moe was about to ask the same thing. But as he drives up to the complex he reads “Rauser Institute for Overworked and Underpaid Theologians.”
“Hmm,” Moe thinks. “Toto, this isn’t Kansas anymore.”
Moe is shown in to see the supervisor, a quirky fellow named “Randal.”
Randal begins: “Here at the RIOUT we offer a place for theologians to recover from years of hearing students ask ‘Is this going to be on the final?’ and ‘How can I use this in ministry?’ and ‘Who cares if it makes no sense? God’s ways are higher than our ways.’ The way we do it is through electroshock therapy.”
“Come again?” Moe asks.
Randal points through a window. “See that room? The floor is electrified. As the barefoot theologians walk around, they receive just the right degree of electric jolts to overcome the years of neglect.”
“So what’s my job?” Moe asks.
“You’re a pusher Moe. Your job is to push the theologians onto the red velvet pillows before they receive too many shocks. If they receive too many shocks they lose brain cells rather than bad memories, and that’s not a good thing.”
“Okay, but how do I know when to push a theologian?”
“We’ll take care of that. You’ll be standing on that hovering disk over there. We’ll do the rest by guiding you around the room on the disk. Whenever we guide you across the path of a theologian you automatically push him or her onto the cushions. In other words, the minute you’re able to push the theologian it is your duty to do so. It’s that simple.”
James Earl Jones voiceover: “And in that way Moe learned how the proposition that ‘all suffering a person experiences is for their ultimate good’ is consistent with the proposition that ‘you have an obligation to stop a suffering person’s suffering whenever you are able to do so.'”