OK, I apologize for not contributing to that amazingly long thread on evil. Lots of good discussion. It always seemed that when I caught up in reading there were a dozen new posts and I didn't want to write too much. So here are a few thoughts (primarily in reverse chronological order)
On Omnipotence. I tend to agree with Blake on omnipotence. Of course this is ultimately about definitions and I think that overall Mormons adopt limits of various kinds on his power. To what degree one can characterize these as logical rather than "physical" seems to depend a lot upon how you define things. After all someone could always just say that even if God could create ex nihilo it doesn't necessarily follow that he did. After all the traditional discourse about God in philosophy is that he always does the best and it may well be that it is better to deal with self-existent beings rather than ontologically created ones.
But ultimately whether the word omnipotence is applicable seems an uninteresting discussion. What's more interesting are the limits we place on God - whether due to logic, the nature of the good, or the nature of self-existent beings.
On God Having a Good Reason for Evil. Where push comes to shove (and what started this whole post) is the question of whether it is reasonable to believe God had a good reason. Now for many this is an act of faith. They simply believe he does and that's good enough. Clearly though many don't share this act of faith. They need a bit of reason to believe that God has reasons. Now as I said, way back at the top of that prior thread that I think Mormonism has better answers here than most I read in theological discussions. But I'd be the first to admit that it doesn't have good persuasive justifications for everything. (Natural evils in particular)
On Self-Existent Beings. It seems to me that this is the kicker. I think having self-existent beings changes a lot of the calculus for God. The issue (and I think Blake brings this up well in his first volume) is ultimately about the Good and values. Put an other way, why should we assume that creating a world with no suffering is better than taking self-existent beings and improving them? Even if God could create ex nihlo (and I'll admit that I personally don't think he has that power) it seems one could make a pretty compelling argument that it's better to improve what exists independently. Once you buy that then there are all sorts of implications from that that lead to the kind of relational power of persuasion that God uses to freely let us grow as individuals. Once again I agree with most Blake's written in this regard.
On Freedom, Benevolence and the Problem of Evil. While I don't ultimately find Plantinga's writings on the problem of evil I do think he is right to focus on the issue of freedom. (I'll leave the ontological questions on the nature of freedom alone for now) The question is whether for an omnipotent being it is better to "wish" existent beings to live in a world with no suffering (make them all good) can be reconciled with freedom. I don't see how it can be. So then the issue becomes a conflict between suffering and freedom. I think it a perfectly acceptable position to say God might have the ability to make people all good but that it would be wrong to do so, because freedom is more valuable than easing suffering.
Where I think this fails, except for a particularly broad approach to the logical problem of evil, is that it doesn't explain natural evils unrelated to free will. Some attempt to bring in the "freedom" of the universe but I don't find such approaches persuasive.
In any case, I think that ultimately to satisfy the problem of evil one has to throw away omnipotence as typically discussed. (i.e. not the way Blake discusses it) Despite what Rich says, I think Mormon theology entails strong limits on God, although he may have maximal power, as Blake says. But it seems to me that most Mormons accept pretty significant limits as opposed to what one finds, for example, in most Protestant theology.
In any case I see the Mormon position much more in keeping with old Judaism in this. (Jon Levinson's Creation and the Persistence of Evil is a great resource on this - the old image of God in a constant conflict of holding back the waters of chaos is one ancient Jewish image) My personal feeling is that the absolutism in terms of how Greek philosophers came to consider (or transform) the question of God radically changed Judaism and Christianity. I think the earlier view more correct - and of course it resolves much (although not all) about the problem of evil.
Clark: I think Mormon theology entails strong limits on God
I'll (re-)ask the obvious question: why is a god so limited worth concerning ourselves with?
I'll answer if you can give me a criteria for determining what we ought concern ourselves with. It seems to me that you see a frankly minute difference as making something irrelevant. To draw an analogy it's akin to saying the set of odd integers is not worth ones attention as compared to the set of integers since the former is just too limited. (Edit: Or perhaps a better analogy is the set of integers and the set of reals)
Clark: Just for the record, I agree with you that God is not omnipotent in the classical sense of being able to do anything logically impossible. However, that definition is sorely wanting. I also agree with you that the best way to address the problem of evil is to pay attention to the implications of the limits that any loving being in an eternal social setting would confront. However, I wanted to grant both Michael and Jonathan the greatest latitude possible to see if they could construct an argument from evil even without the benefit of a Mormon world-view. However, as I stated on the other post, the logical problem of evil is going nowhere fast for the very reasons that I gave: God may have good reasons for allowing natural evils that are beyond our ken to fathom. If that is logically possible, then no logical argument can be constructed.
I agree the definition is wanting. And since the word simply means all-power, it seems ambiguous on its face. Plus even historically there were debates about whether God was even limited by logic.
The problem with the logical problem of evil is that simply saying God might have good reasons seems a dodge. That is it isn't persuasive unless you already have implicit faith in God. But for such a person any problem wouldn't matter since they are denying the very potential for a problem.
I think though that to be fair the burden of proof is always on those claiming God has a purpose. Especially if God is only limited logically. Now Plantinga provides a somewhat reasonable approach by talking about free will. I think it ultimately fails though primarily due to the nature of natural evils.
Clark: "a frankly minute difference"? I'd call being unable (or unwilling) to do anything about suffering and/or evil to be a pretty significant difference.
If God fashioned the universe out of pre-existing materials, why not worship the creator of those pre-existing materials instead? That's the gnostic approach, and it makes more sense to me (given the context.)
If, on the other hand, we suppose a God who could do something about natural evils, but chooses not to because "He has reasons", I'd find him insufficiently benevolent to be worthy of worship. I'm not about to take the existence of a good-enough reason for all of the existing suffering on faith.
Note though we're not saying he couldn't do anything about these problems. We're saying he couldn't do anything about these problems without creating larger evils. That is that God is maximizing the amount of goodness.
If there is no creator of pre-existing materials, how could one worship them? But ignoring that issue (the distinction roughly between a Platonic God and a personal God) what determines our criteria? That is, if you are going down this road, what is the criteria for worship? Personally I can't see why one would worship an impersonal "entity."
To add, whether one considers that approach valid depends once again upon how one views both omnipotence and free will. One really can't answer the problem of evil without considering what constitutes a logical limit - the value of various logical conflicts and then the value of various states.
This is Plantinga's point. If free beings are more valuable than determined beings then to simple "exhalt" beings without their free choice would be increasing, not decreasing evil. So some of the superficial responses to evil tend to have an implicit view of values that are never brought out into the light. Now the values the theist attributes to God might well be wrong. But one can't simply discount them out of hand.
Put an other way, if one allows omnipotence to merely deny logical contradictions (such that God can't create a rock he can't lift) one then has to ask questions about these conflicts in terms of value. After all God might be able to create a rock he ethically can't lift. The lifting might be a weakness on God's part due to ethics and not the logical construal of power. (I'm obviously using this as only a rough example since there's no obvious way to rank these ethically)
Clark:That is that God is maximizing the amount of goodness.
If this is the best he can do, I'm not impressed. Forget the worship, we should be starting impeachment proceedings.
Clark:If there is no creator of pre-existing materials, how could one worship them?
Similarly, if there is no creator of this world, how could we worship him? However, if we hypothesize the creator of the pre-existing materials (which seems to me to be as good a hypothesis as that of presuming a creator of the world), why not worship him?
I view the whole "omnipotence and free will" discussion to be a sidestep, as there is plenty of suffering that is not dependent upon free will.
Clark: The dialectic of the problem of evil depends on what it is supposed to accomplish. It is usually an argument that God cannot exist given the existence of evil in the world. So the believer says: show me the argument. When the logical argument is trotted out it is found to be logically invalid. That's not a good reason to give up belief. It is then argued: OK, I don't have a logical argument that shows that God's existence is logically impossible if evil exists, rather it is the kinds and amounts of evil that challenge God's existence. The believer then says: OK, show me the argument. When the inductive or evidential argument is trotted out, we find that it makes several inferences that we don't know are more or less probable and we are not in an epistemic position to assess the probabilities. So the believer's stance is once again not challenged. You are mistaken about who has the burden of proof with respect to this argument. You place it on the theist who you believe must show that God's existence is plausible in light of evils in the world. It assumes a kind of evidentialist presupposition which I believe is simply in error.
So I simply disagree with you. However, if one starts from a skeptical or disbelieving stance and asks: given the evils in the world, why should I believe that a good being is in control? I suggest that we run into the same epistemic challenges. We cannot logically good arguments proving God's existence (so much for natural theology). The probablistic arguments for God's existence mounted by Swinburne, Dembski and others run into the same epistemic limitations about probability assessments of all conditions in the universe that the anti-theistic arguments do.
If however the issue is for the believer: how can I maintain my faith that a good God is in control in the face of the evils in the world? Then we can talk about the kind of control God may have, what limitations any loving being in an eternal society may have, the kinds of space and freedom that must be granted for loving relationships to flourish and people to grow and progress. Now we must talk about theodicy.
Michael, I don't think it makes sense to necessarily worship anything or anyone hypothesized as some "creator." Rather (and I'm fairly sure Blake would agree) worship arises out of an engagement with someone through experience. The whole more philosophical approach to God where God is inferred from some philosophical need (first creator, first cause, "Goodness," etc.) never made much sense to me.
Like you I view free will as a bit of a side issue since it only deals with a limited set of the kinds of evils we experience.
Blake, to me the logical problem of evil isn't that interesting precisely because it doesn't deal with the kinds of evils most of us engage with. (IMO) The real question and, in my mind, the real problem of evil is why there are natural evils. To merely say it isn't a logical necessity that God couldn't exist with natural evils seems to miss the import of the argument. The argument is much more about how a benevolent God could allow such evils. If the only response is, "there must be a good reason," then the argument has already done its job. That's a pretty weak response to our painful encounters with the evils in the world.
Clark: I grant that "there must be a reason" is a poor response if the question is: why should I believe in God?" However, for the person who already believes, the question has to be: is there a good argument that challenges my belief? You already admit that moral evils don't work because God is not accountable for them. Well, natural law theodicies combined with the Mormon world view provide a pretty good answer as to why God could not accomplish his purposes without a stable natural environment having laws pretty much like the ones we have without constant intervention that undermines his purposes. Further, it is asking way too much of th theist to say what God's actual reasons are (heck, I often don't know what my own reasons are, and I wouldn't dare guess about yours). At most we can give possible reasons that would justify the kinds of evils that we encounter given the limitations inherent in interpersonal relationships and what is necessary for human growth in light of a vastly more eternal perspective. I don't expect an atheist to take that perspective for granted, but it vastly changes the assessment.
The issue, Blake, then becomes based upon why they believe in God. I suspect the majority of people who believe in God don't believe in him because of some evidence. Rather it's either an uncritically adopted social belief or else just some best explanation. ("Well someone had to make it.") In those cases then that argument provides a very strong reason to start disbelieving in God.
Clark: Where is the logically valid and persuasive argument that you talk about that provides a strong reason to stop believing in God? Let me see it.
Umm. Reread what I said. I said there wasn't "a logical necessity" to stop believing in God. But of course many arguments while short of being a necessary inference lead to some justification. For instance I might not be able to simply prove in a deductive form the four color theorem but I can provide good inductive reasons for why it's probably true. (Of course the four color theorem has been proven - but it's so complex no one can understand the full deductive proof - they can only understand in a vague way)
It seems to me that this is why folks are talking past you in the past few threads. You are looking for a deductive argument whereas I don't think anyone else is really thinking along those lines. (Well, Jonathan put up one, but it ended up being somewhat irrelevant due to the premises you pointed out)
To add, the issue is ultimately "persuasive to whom?" One has to consider the person in question to address the issue of persuasion. Persuasion in the abstract (i.e. de-contextualized) is almost meaningless. Just because something isn't persuasive to you doesn't mean it isn't very persuasive to others for good reasons.
No Clark, I'm looking for a persuasive inductive argument that actually has premises about probability judgments that we can make. So I repeat, show me the argument -- that inductive argument that you believe is persuasive.
What do you mean by "probability judgments"? Are you talking Bayesian calculations? If so I can but say I'm not a Bayesian and don't think induction works that way.
Just to clarify Clark, you took my reference to a "logically valid" argument to mean that I was looking for a deductive argument. Of course, inductive arguments must also be logically valid. However, I can see in context why you might have misunderstood me.
Clark, no you can use whatever theory of inductive probability you think works in a valid inductive scheme. There are in fact Bayesian arguments (like William Rowes'), but certainly probability theory is not exhausted by Bayesian types of calculating probabilities.
Well lets just do the common sense one then. It's an informal argument but very persuasive to many.
To be good entails helping people when you have the power and explaining why you can't if they ask. This concept of good can be seen in terms of our inductive generalizations based upon our encounters of the good. The burden of proof is therefore on those who assert an exception to our inductively arrived at concept of good. (Which this statement obviously doesn't exhaust)
God has the power to help and doesn't and doesn't explain why. (i.e. the existence of diseases and earthquakes)
Therefore God is not good. But if God isn't good he isn't God. Therefore we are justified in believing there is no God.
To note, the religious believer who believes because of relational experiences with God can of course answer this argument. They can provide the burden of proof, at least to themselves, by saying something like this:
"Despite this apparent appearance of a lack of goodness I can say God is good because of these experiences with him."
Note that without such experiences though one simply can't respond in this fashion.
thats great ok wutever