Gratuitous Evil and Moral Discernment

Dear Dr. Craig,

I should admit upfront that I am an atheist, as well as a Nietzschean and a deep moral sceptic. I find Hume's Is-Ought Gap convincing and, while I do not deny that I have moral feelings, I think it is more sensible to explain them as human psychological experience, not as "perceptions" of objective moral norms.

My question is about your response to the problem of gratuitous natural evil. In your debate with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong you responded to his hypotheticals about babies dying of painful diseases by saying that we lack the full scope of understanding to evaluate the moral rightness of God's non-intervention. Your argument makes perfect sense. We lack God's omniscience so we cannot judge whether allowing a baby to die of a horrible disease will somehow prevent a terrible evil or enable a great good. In fact, there are probably many constraints on our moral judgment in comparison to a perfectly good being!

But your response to the problem of gratuitous natural evil seems to create a problem for people who want to be moral. I perceive a baby dying of a painful disease as a moral evil and I judge God to be an immoral monster for allowing that to happen. But your response suggests that my judgment is in error: how do I know God does not have some greater reason for allowing that suffering? But doesn't that mean that all of my moral judgments are possibly in error? If I lack the knowledge and scope of cognition to judge God as immoral for allowing a baby to die of a horrible disease, am I not similarly unqualified to judge a human who can cure a dying baby, but chooses not to? Going even further, if I see someone about to die in a tsunami, should I try to save them? What if God is trying to accomplish some greater good by allowing that person to die?

In short, if we are in no position to judge the morality of God's actions or inactions, how are we in a position to judge each other's moral actions or to even make moral decisions in the first place? As the disease-stricken baby shows, my moral judgment can err. How can I know, then, when my moral judgment is in error? If I assume your response to the problem of evil is correct, then my moral sense errs quite frequently, usually in response to all the horrible natural evil surrounding us. Does this not render attempting to behave morally absurd?



United States

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