Jenga and the Meaning of Life

This comic from Existential Comics gave me a good laugh this morning:

As renoun philosopher Al Davis said, the meaning life is to just win, baby.

It also reminded me of how much I like Camus. I believe he’s the most authentic philosopher of his time period. And he asks a fundamental question: Why do I even bother going on living? What in my set of beliefs makes life, with all its suffering and uncertainty, few of days and full of trouble, worth living?

Image result for job suffering
I wouldn’t turn to Job’s friends for advice
Quick caveat, please don’t go out and kill yourself, but it’s a question we must face squarely and answer. And I believe whatever we answer will naturally orient us towards, as Jordan Peterson would put it, the highest possible good we can conceive. It’s kinda fun to see what your first, unscripted answer is. I said to myself, “Because the Lord has commanded I live on this earth and do good with the time I have here.”

Well how do I do good? I would answer that I become the kind of person who knows the right thing to do in any given situation. How I do become that kind of person? I’m not entirely sure, but since excellence is a habit, I’ll take some lines from virtue ethics and Jordan Peterson. I can start by telling the whole truth (which I don’t always do), being diligent in my tasks at home and at work (I’m often a ‘close enough’ kind of person), taking care of my body (which I just injured..oops), etc. And now here we are on the adventure of life, because I answered the rather macabre question of why I don’t wake up and just kill myself. Victory!

Image result for jordan peterson lobster

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

I got about halfway through When Bad Things Happen to Good People by Rabbi Harold Kushner. It’s a good book. I didn’t finish the book primarily because his thesis is not acceptable to me and therefore not helpful in understanding suffering from an Abrahamic perspective. Rabbi Kushner argues that, given the existence of suffering in the world, the best answer is to give up God’s omnipotence. That’s impossible, because if God isn’t omnipotent, then He isn’t what we call God. He’s some lesser deity in competition with various other forces in the world, essentially giving us dualism or polytheism.

However, what caught my attention is that Rabbi Kushner is willing to give up God’s omnipotence because it puts God clearly on our side. He wants to help us. He just doesn’t always have the power. And this notion really clarified for me the importance of Jesus in making monotheism intelligible in a world of suffering. Jesus is God With Us, Immanuel. He is the one who emptied himself, taking the form of servant, being born in the likeness of men. He is the one pierced for our sins, crushed for our iniquity. He is the one who was put to death for our trespasses. Who is more illustrative of God being on our side, with us in our suffering, than Jesus?

Granted, Jesus’ suffering does not answer the logical problem of evil, but I have thought for many years now that the problem of evil isn’t first and foremost a logical problem. It is a values problem. We don’t just feel the world doesn’t make sense when we suffer. We feel it is unjust. God on his high mountain does nothing while we suffer and die. No amount of good can make this bad right. And if this sense of injustice is our problem, the figure of Jesus is incalculably valuable. If our Lord was humbled, pierced, crushed, scourged, and killed, then why is it unfair that the same should happen to us? We have a Lord who can relate to our sufferings in every way.

“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.”


I want to visit this topic briefly because, while the subject never seems to leave the news, the fundamentals of the subject come up rarely. In keeping with the confusion that reigns regarding many subjects, transgenderism ultimately is not a question of science. Rather, the question lies in philosophy.[ref]As a quick disclaimer, I am not a professor of anything. Your mileage may vary on my analyses[/ref] I would sum up the question this way: What is the really real which defines a person’s identity? More specifically, in a mismatch between the body and the mind, is the body or the mind in error?

For this reason, the scientific facts of transgenderism only make sense in the light of choosing an answer to the above philosophical question. The possession of a penis or a vagina only proves definitive if you have answered the above question with “The physical aspects of our body define our identity.” Conversely, the fact that transgender people often possess a brain structure somewhere in between men and women definitively rules in this case only if you have first answered “The mental defines our identity.”

In other observations, the debate over transgenderism has seemingly brought gender essentialism back to circles from which it was long ago banished, because you cannot be something unless that something has fixed traits. One clever professor and journalist caught onto this trend during Caitlyn Jenner’s transition:

jenner comment

Now, what is my opinion? I identify the real with the physical body. The topic of transgenderism is, so far as I can tell, the only subject where we identify the real with the mind. When a person experiences a phantom limb, we all identify the really real with the fact that they lack a limb, not with their mind which believes the body still has that limb. On the flip side, when people profess a desire to amputate a healthy limb based on their mental image of themselves as an amputee, we do not amputate the limb because, once more, we identify the body as real and the mind as in error. We also show an abhorrence to amputating a healthy limb based on desires. I believe, in all cases except transgenderism, we unanimously identify the real with the body for good reason. Namely, a common human experience is the individual (and sometimes even the collective) mind in error compared what is real.[ref]I’m going to elide a massive epistemological discussion there. In short: I subscribe to the correspondence theory of truth.[/ref] Making the individual mind into the sole arbiter of the real cannot help but lead to conclusions both absurd and damaging.

As a final thought, I do not want to leave this subject without acknowledging that an immense amount of human suffering is bound up in this topic. We’re not just discussing abstract theories of the really real. We’re discussing people’s lives. I try to be sensitive to that fact. I doubt my opinion will change on this subject, but I am always open to people sharing their experiences because, even if no one changes their opinion, I find it helpful to know what people are experiencing.

Old Testament God vs. New Testament God

The number one phrase that makes me question whether someone has opened a Bible lately is “The God of the New Testament is loving and forgiving, but the God of the Old Testament is wrathful and demanding.” I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it and read it.

In fact, there’s a lot of love and forgiveness in the Old Testament. “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!”—which for the record doubles as an instance in the Bible where God is compared and described in traditionally feminine rather than masculine terms. God shows forbearance time and time again in the Old Testament despite the Israelites going astray. And after God has punished them for their transgressions, He is quick to forgive. The prophets of the Old Testament, who pronounce judgment upon Israel, always end on the note that God will restore His people. The last words of Amos are:

“…I will restore the fortunes of my people Israel,
    and they shall rebuild the ruined cities and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and drink their wine,
    and they shall make gardens and eat their fruit.
I will plant them upon their land,
    and they shall never again be plucked up
    out of the land which I have given them,”
                says the Lord your God. 

There’s also a good amount of wrath and demands in the New Testament. In Luke and Matthew, respectively, Jesus preaches the following:

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear him!”

“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is easy, that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard, that leads to life, and those who find it are few.”

You’d almost think the OT and NT were written about the same God. On a related note, Jesus talks about hell a decent amount too. Yes, Gehenna is a reference to hell. No, Jesus is not literally talking about your soul going to a burning trash pit outside Jerusalem in the afterlife. Yes, Jesus uses imagery to help his listeners understand the gravity of the situation.

Sheol/Hades (in Hebrew/Greek) is more ambiguous, mostly because our understanding of the word hell, which is an English word, is much narrower than it used to be. Rather than referring exclusively to the realm of the eternally damned, hell was used generally to refer to the abode of the dead, both good and evil. The CCC gives a good summary:

Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God. Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom”: “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.” Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.

The Harrowing of Hell

A Primer for Understanding Conservatives

I think it’s fairly common for people to wonder “Are my conservative friends insane?”, so I’ve set out to provide a short primer on factors that influence modern conservative thought. The following points will obviously be generalizations, both of conservative and liberal thought.

Outcome, not Intention

To a conservative, the intention of a law or government program is generally meaningless. At first, that might seem odd, but think about this way: Who in their right mind intends badly with legislation? Given that almost nobody intends badly when legislating, a conservative is instead focused on the outcome: Does the law or program do what we want it to do? If it doesn’t, the legislation can be the most well-meaning program in the world, and conservatives still won’t support it.

Federal Government is not the Only Tool

Even if a federal government program is effective to one degree or another, a conservative is next going to ask: Is the federal government the most effective tool for accomplishing this goal? Could this goal be better accomplished on a local or state government level? What about with private programs? In general, the burden of proof is on the a federal government program to prove it could not be accomplished effectively on a more local or private level.

No Solutions, Only Trade-Offs

If I could frame a youtube video and put in on my wall, I would frame this youtube video.

Thomas Sowell summarizes a philosophical cornerstone of conservative thought: There are no solutions, only trade-offs. I think Sowell fairly contrasts the different paradigms underpinning modern conservative and liberal thought. For the liberal, if we could only get our institutions right, all would be well. For the conservative, no amount of institutions can ever make man right because man is inherently flawed. We can only hope to mitigate man’s negative impulses, and any attempt to mitigate one negative impulse has the possibility of encouraging another. So we have to ask of any law or program: Are the positives of this legislation going to outweigh any negatives it might introduce? Or, as Sowell puts it, “At what cost?”

How These Principles Turn Out in Practice

With these general principles in hand, one can hopefully start to understand conservative thought. A great example to test this understanding is minimum wage laws. Walker and Nathaniel have written quite a few articles on how minimum wage laws intend well but in reality only hurt the people they are meant to help. Another great example is equal pay laws. We can all agree that women deserve to be paid as much as men, but any legislation addressing the issue is going to cross every one of these principles: Does the proposed equal pay law actually work? Is federal government intervention the only or most effective means of addressing this issue? Will these equal pay laws be worth any trade-off incurred?

These examples also represent topics where conservatives are often impugned for their intentions and conversation breaks down: Do you hate poor people? Do you hate women? Of course not. We’re deeply concerned about the welfare of others. But we want to know that what we’re supporting actually works, is done at the most effective level, and is worth the cost. If legislation cannot jump over those three hurdles, we’re not going to support a program simply for the sake of its good intention.

As a final thought, one can understand conservative thought and still disagree with it. I have no problems with that. My only goal is that people first understand before they disagree. Otherwise, conversations are unproductive at best and nasty at worst. And in keeping with this thought, if you think I’ve misrepresented either conservative or liberal thought anywhere, let me know! I’ll probably still debate the comment, but as my momma came to understand, just cus I’m debating doesn’t mean I’m not listening.

Animal Cognition

The Economist recently ran a great article on the recent studies into animal cognition. The article doesn’t introduce the raging background discussions on the theories of animal cognition, but considering the topic takes up three full Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (SEP) entries, I don’t blame the author. Rather, the article does an excellent job providing empirical information that can help one better pick among the myriad theories of animal minds. More than most subjects, I believe this topic continues to need more empirical information, because we have so little on account of how hard it is to study the inner workings of animals. And where information lacks, theories abound with little way to adjudicate among them.

In reading deeper into the topic on SEP, I found one particular passage enlightening:

One concern is that researchers may have a failure of imagination when it comes to hypothesis generation; they may make an inference to the best explanation argument without considering all the possible explanations. This reflects Kennedy’s worry when he claims that the following argument for attributing mental properties to animals rests on a false dichotomy: either animals are stimulus-response machines, or they are agents with beliefs and desires; since animals are not stimulus-response machines, they must be psychological agents (Kennedy 1992). According to Kennedy, the problem with this argument is that not all machines implement stimulus-response functions; some machines are complex and indeterministic, and if animals were machines, they would be machines of that sort (Barlow 1990; Kennedy 1992).

This observation seems to fit what I have read in studying animal cognition. Authors will gather a jumble of facts, and then either fit them into the box of ‘animals have minds just like human beings’ or ‘animals are completely unconscious.’ But what about a spectrum? I do not see any reason animals cannot possess mental capacity which puts them beyond pure unconscious decision-making but also doesn’t launch them to the same level of mental capability and freedom as human beings. Now, I hardly have the philosophical capability (or credentials) to give any substantive comment on what this spectrum would look like, but I think pointing out the possibility of spectrum might help break the logjam of either/or in animal cognition.

I think animal cognition also has a simmering background fight over naturalism vs. theism in the western world that encourages either/or thinking. For theists, man must remain separate from animals. For naturalists, breaking down the distinction between man and animal is a step forward. Add in sparsity of information, and what information we do have being closely tied to theory for interpretation, and we have a mess where almost anybody can get what they want with enough massaging. But I find this mess exciting! I think we have a golden opportunity to remain open to new information in a rapidly developing field, and one where careful thought on theoretical underpinnings goes a long way.

Abortion: A Legal Right or a Moral Wrong

Recently the Oregon State University Socratic Club hosted a debate on abortion between Dr. Nadine Strossen[ref]Wikipedia: Nadine Strossen was president of the American Civil Liberties Union from February 1991 to October 2008. She was the first woman and the youngest person to ever lead the ACLU. A professor at New York Law School, Strossen sits on the Council on Foreign Relations.[/ref] and Dr. Mike Adams[ref]Wikipedia: Dr. Mike Adams is an American conservative political columnist, writer, author and college professor at UNC Wilmington.[/ref]. If a pro-lifer wants to learn how to effectively discuss this topic, this debate is the one to watch.

Mike made a number of great points. First and foremost, he would not let die the subject of defining what the fetus is. During his opening statement, he emphasizes repeatedly the indisputable fact that the fetus is a living, biological human being, complete with citations from textbooks. Later, when Nadine starts using the term potential life during the discussion section, he states (twice!) that dead things don’t grow. An audience member even chimes in later with a question asking whether these newly conceived, two-celled organisms have the DNA of a plant, a hippopotamus, or a human. The answer, of course, is human.  It’s a seemingly stupid question, but I’ve found asking and answering that stupid question helpful on more than one occasion because it once again centers the discussion of the humanity of the fetus.

Mike also did a great job discussing the future value argument, which I would rate one of the best arguments for the philosophical value of the fetus. I really liked his analogy, which I hadn’t heard before, of taking a photo of the Grand Canyon on an old Polaroid camera. While the picture is developing, does it not have value? If my brother takes that picture and rips it up, have I not lost something of value, even though currently no picture existed on the film? I like the analogy in particular because it’s brief, an all-important attribute for using analogies in debates and discussions.

Future Value!
Future Value!

Mike made another good point on value. Many people will express uncertainty on the moral status of the fetus. If such uncertainty is the case, doesn’t that recommend caution and erring on the side of respecting human life, rather than destroying something (or rather, someone) whose value you do not know?

Lastly, Mike brought up probably my favorite pro-choice philosopher: Peter Singer. Peter Singer is the single most helpful pro-choice philosopher. Singer illustrates that, if one argues for gradualism (i.e. an entity gains worth as it gains functions like cognizance), you have to endorse potential infanticide if you’re going to be consistent because newborns lack many key mental characteristics, such as self-recognition, just like fetuses. The only caveat I would add to Mike’s argument is that Peter Singer does argue that the love parents have for their children means infanticide would almost always be terrible, but that’s not really a comfort because underlying that statement is a very grim sentiment: newborns and infants only have value and therefore the right to live because their parents love them.

Parental kisses: now assuring moral worth

Overall, I have found that pro-lifers in debates have to keep the value of the fetus at the center of the debate. It’s not that the bodily autonomy argument isn’t also important, or that women in general don’t merit a portion of the discussion, but all too often the entire debate will proceed without a single discussion of the fetus’ value. Some pro-choice debaters actively argue that the topic isn’t relevant because bodily autonomy would win out no matter what the moral status of the fetus. My view: Don’t listen. The moral status of the fetus is of utmost importance. If we’re going to make a moral and legal assessment between two entities, we have to know what the moral and legal status of those two entities is!

Speaking of bodily autonomy, one question with which Mike did struggle was the organ donation question. He made a distinction between strangers and children, which isn’t bad, but I think a better distinction (related to the child/stranger distinction) is that you aren’t responsible for a stranger’s state of dependence, whereas the mother and father are responsible for the fetus’ state of dependence. And if a person wants to discuss whether sex entails a responsibility to any resulting children, that sets up a comparison to child support, which almost no one, pro-life or pro-choice, opposes.

Overall, an excellent debate. I apologize in advance for not giving any coverage to Nadine Strossen. I didn’t find any of her arguments particularly compelling, especially when they focused on the fact that abortion is legal or that some religious people are ok with abortion. She’s clearly a very smart women, but I just didn’t find myself moved by any of her arguments. Anyways,  if you have time to watch the full debate, I highly recommend it, and you can form your own opinions on Mike and Nadine’s arguments.

The Limits of the Law

I’m writing this post not as commentary but as one who doesn’t really know what to think about a topic. I’ve been contemplating for weeks now what exactly defines the limits of the law. We have various actions we consider immoral. Within immoral actions, some are illegal, and some are legal. Where do we draw the line? How do we decide which immoral actions to tolerate and which ones to outlaw? I will take for granted that no one here is Lord Devlin[ref]Lord Devlin was British lawyer, judge, and jurist who wrote that “I think, therefore, that it is not possible to set theoretical limits to the power of the State to legislate against immorality. It is not possible to settle in advance exceptions to the general rule or to define inflexibly areas of morality into which the law is in no circumstances to be allowed to enter.”[/ref] (or Judge Dredd) and simply does not believe the law has limits.

As the SEP entry on the limits of the law notes, the harm principle, as articulated by John Stuart Mill, is the best known answer. I know Nathaniel isn’t a big fan of the harm principle, but it does seem like a good place to start a conversation on the limits of the law. The Harm Principle may not end up fully capturing why we make some actions illegal and others not, but it does seem to define the most basic level of law. If absolutely nothing else, we have to keep Jones from murdering Smith.

If we accept the harm principle, the big question then is defining what exactly constitutes harm. Murder once more is a good place to start. Direct, grievous, bodily harm seems easy enough to identify as harm. But what about more diffuse harm like societal harm? If we do recognize diffuse, societal harm, how does one draw a line? We obviously cannot prevent all societal harm. How we do decide what to combat and what to leave alone? Is it simply another utility calculation of greater and lesser harms? And what of self-harm?

A further consideration is when, in attempting to prevent harm, we end up creating more harm instead. The SEP entry addresses this idea as well. Prohibition of alcohol increases alcohol consumption and adds criminal elements to a previously legal enterprise. Complete illegalization of prostitution drives vulnerable women further underground and away from law enforcement. To some extent, these problems can be avoided by more intelligent lawmaking (like the Nordic Model on prostitution, which protects prostitutes by making the purchase of sex illegal while the sale of sex is legal), but intelligent lawmaking can only go so far in the continual struggle with human nature. For example, I don’t think any amount of intelligent lawmaking would have made prohibition work. In effect, there seems to be a certain amount of pragmatism to lawmaking. We only have so many resources. We cannot change human nature. At what point do we surrender and accept a certain tolerable amount of harm?

Stepping away from the harm principle, what role does morally right action and social cohesion play in lawmaking? The idea (apparently called legal moralism) seems to have been totally banished from the modern mind (particularly proponents of the harm principle), but I don’t know if we can simply throw it out without a second thought. We shouldn’t go so far as Plato to suggest that the state should regularly and actively enforce the cultivation of moral virtue, to the point that there simply is no distinction between the moral and the legal, but I think there’s room in between Plato’s Republic on one end and a society whose laws are totally indifferent to virtue and social cohesion on the other end. Here I think Lord Devlin is more on target even if I don’t agree with his overall view:

For society is not something that is kept together physically; it is held by the invisible bonds of common thought. If the bonds were too far relaxed the members would drift apart. A common morality is part of the bondage. The bondage is part of the price of society; and mankind, which needs society, must pay its price.

I also suppose I take the ancient view that virtue and social cohesion are one and the same. Moral virtue produces harmony both in the individual person and society at large. Immorality produces disharmony in both the soul and society. But, as mentioned earlier, I recognize the need for pragmatism in this matter. The attempted enforcement of virtue can and often does produce the opposite effect or simply no effect at all. So we get neither virtue nor social cohesion and we waste state resources to boot.

On the topic of legal moralism, the SEP entry starts hitting on a subject that does conflict me greatly, the topic of marriage. I realize people are a bit tired of this topic, but I think it’s greater fodder for contemplation on the limits of the law. On the one hand, I recognize marriage as having specific characteristics (monogamous, heterosexual, and permanent) and purposes (the good of the spouses and procreation of children). These characteristics and purposes are central to the well-being of both individual persons, especially children, and society in general. But then I jump over to another topic, contraception, where I believe a simultaneously personal and societal harm exists, and I have zero interest in making contraception illegal. So what gives? How do I differentiate any legal objections I might have to gay marriage or divorce or polygamy from my total legal acceptance of contraception?

I can already tell this entry is a bit of a mess. I’m jumping around, mixing and matching moral outlooks (like utilitarianism and more virtue-based outlooks), not defining or exploring presuppositions, etc. It’s pretty bad. But I think this mess is still useful for generating a discussion. Let me know what y’all think.

Unlivable Philosophy

In the course of reading philosophy, I sometimes find myself objecting to philosophical ideas not on the grounds that the ideas are demonstrably false (although they very well may be) but rather that, even if they were true, we simply couldn’t live as if they were true. I have been thinking about this principle, and for a while it has struck me as somewhat ad hoc and itself illogical. Whether or not someone can live a principle is irrelevant to whether or not the principle is actually true. For example, I think Christianity is true, but sooner or later, we reach a point where we simply cannot live exactly as Christ did during his earthly life and commanded us also to live.

I think I finally hit on why this principle would reasonably apply to, say, determinism or radical skepticism and not, for example, religious principles or the categorical imperative. The difference is not only that the principles are, eventually, unlivable but that no one even wants to live them. We praise Jesus’ teachings and the categorical imperative even if we know we can’t follow them completely, but nobody wants to live like rape or murder are the unavoidable consequences of either divine predestination or mechanical interactions. Nobody even wants to try and live their daily life in a radically skeptical way, doubting that any knowledge is attainable. Christians want to be like Christ, and Buddhists want to be like the Buddha, but even Hume doesn’t want to be Hume:

Where am I, or what? From what causes do I derive my existence, and to what condition shall I return? … I am confounded with all these questions, and begin to fancy myself in the most deplorable condition imaginable, environed with the deepest darkness, and utterly deprived of the use of every member and faculty.

Most fortunately it happens, that since Reason is incapable of dispelling these clouds, Nature herself suffices to that purpose, and cures me of this philosophical melancholy and delirium, either by relaxing this bent of mind, or by some avocation, and lively impression of my senses, which obliterate all these chimeras. I dine, I play a game of backgammon, I converse, and am merry with my friends. And when, after three or four hours’ amusement, I would return to these speculations, they appear so cold, and strained, and ridiculous, that I cannot find in my heart to enter into them any farther.

Pretty women and fun games make good diversion

I tie this observation into reason by noting that, if human reason can discover truths that no human can possibly live let alone want to live, reason must be either useless or suspect. Since reason leads us to truths that are antithetical to our continued existence, we must either profess truths that would destroy human existence if lived truly, or we must hide these truths and profess statements that are not true but convenient for continued existence. The former would ensure there are no humans, let alone philosophers, after a few generations, and the latter should be anathema to anyone who considers himself or herself a philosopher.

I by no means present these thoughts as air tight. They came to my mind while driving down the interstate and listening to a CD lecture on ethics. But I think we should walk through why we reject some claims out of hand but not others. Why am I ok, at least upon cursory inspection, with Christian ethics or the categorical imperative, but I instinctively reject determinism and radical skepticism? Is it simple prejudice, or is reason at play? Or both? Are we prejudiced against certain ideas because we subconsciously know the dangers to reason these ideas present?

Exploring The Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is probably the most vexing philosophical question for monotheism. It has affected people I know personally all the way up to famous scholars like Bart Ehrman. What are we to do with this problem? Even though the question has been explored endlessly, I want to think about it a little today.

First, according to contemporary philosophers, the logical problem of evil is more or less solved. The logical problem of evil is a subset of the problem of evil that argues that God’s existence is logically incoherent with the existence of evil. And yet many people remain unsatisfied with the logical resolution of this problem. Why?

Some people argue because the evidential problem of evil remains. The evidential problem of evil involves arguing that the existence of evil makes God’s existence unlikely, rather than illogical. That seems like a decent argument to make, and harder to refute decisively, but I don’t think God’s existence simply being made less likely or unlikely would have the same destructive effect on faith that the problem of evil has.

I want to try a different avenue. I think the problem of evil persists because it so deeply offends our moral sense. To explain, I will turn to a different story.

In Greek philosophy, much thought turns over the Homeric gods. The Homeric gods are the gods we traditionally associate with Greece–Zeus, Athena, Ares, Hermes, Apollo, and the like. The Greek philosophers by and large reject the Homeric gods. But why they reject the Homeric gods is illustrative. They don’t reject the Homeric gods on an empirical basis, such as the fact that you can physically walk over to Mount Olympus and check if the gods are actually there. Nor do they reject them on a logical or probabilistic basis. Rather, they reject the Homeric gods on a moral basis. Surely the gods do not act in ways unworthy even of human beings. Xenohpanes, a pre-Socratic philosopher, writes:

Homer and Hesiod have attributed to the gods all those things which in men are a matter for reproach and censure: stealing, adultery, and mutual deception.

Plato expresses similar thoughts:

Plato’s second objection, however, is more fundamental…Homer and the poets teach falsely about the gods and morals. Gods who fight one another, lie and cheat, and who speak and act falsely, are not suitable for the raising and teaching of children.

The Greek philosophers then puzzle out what or who exists if the Homeric gods do not. Some of their thoughts will sound very familiar to modern monotheists (especially Xenophanes’ writings). What I want to note, though, is the direction of their thought. If something about the gods and the world seem contradictory, the Greeks posit the gods (or more generally and non-theistically the moral foundation of the world) must be better than the popular understanding, not non-existent. I think this distinction is very important.

Why? Because, remember, our objection was originally moral in nature. If our objection is moral, and our conclusion then is that the supernatural does not exist, we face the much bigger problem of accounting for the origin of the moral sense that invalidated the supernatural in the first place.

Here’s where my story ties back to the problem of evil. I believe that the problem of evil persists because it fundamentally offends our moral sense. But if the origin of the problem of evil is our moral sense, we make a deadly error in rejecting the supernatural and embracing naturalism as the solution. C.S. Lewis explains this idea in full in Mere Christianity:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?  A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.

Naturally I’m biased as a Christian, but I find this resolution fitting. The answer to our problems are implicit in the very objections we raise.