27 March 2007

Thomism and the Problem of Evil

I was reading something just yesterday about how Thomistic philosopher/theologians address the problem of evil.

How is there so much evil in the world given the infinite goodness of the God who designed it?

As I understand it, they answer the question by saying that God's goodness isn't what we understand by goodness, given our limited human minds. For example, God can't be moved. God is an "unmoved mover." So God doesn't react to events as they happen, feel pangs of sympathy, or develop a character over time. Yet reactions, sympathetic pangs, and character development are integral to our notions of what is good. Insofar as those form our notions, we don't know what we mean by saying that God is good, and the puzzle is ill formed.

The evil in the world, then, is perfectly compatible with the goodness of God, and our inability to see this (though we know, at least well enough, what evil means) comes about because we don't know well enough what good means.

This sounds like an inadequate answer to me. After all, what is the real pragmatic difference between the following two propositions?

1) God is good in a way we can't understand and which is compatible with evil,
2) God isn't good.

The tendency of the Thomistic argument is toward the second proposition, but it is covered by being clothed in the somewhat nicer-sounding words of the first proposition.

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Knowledge is warranted belief -- it is the body of belief that we build up because, while living in this world, we've developed good reasons for believing it. What we know, then, is what works -- and it is, necessarily, what has worked for us, each of us individually, as a first approximation. For my other blog, on the struggles for control in the corporate suites, see www.proxypartisans.blogspot.com.