On gratuitous evil

All contemporary accounts of the argument from evil I have read require gratuitous evil. Gratuitous is usually taken as synonymous with pointless or “having no purpose”. Now gratuitous and pointless can’t be defined as “evils that count as evidence against God”, since this would be clear question begging. Presumably, it means that these evils of themselves or essentially have no purpose, and have some amount of gravity. But I don’t see the combination of pointlessness and gravity as making a different sort of evil, and so I don’t see how it changes anything to call an evil gratuitous or pointless.

I never have been able to see why, as a religious person, that I can’t believe in just plain bad luck. I don’t look for any purpose that unites me putting my money on black and the roulette ball landing on red, or any purpose that unites me stepping in the tub when an earthquake happens.  When we consider other sorts of bad luck, like a cancer or tragic accident, I can see wanting to find some cause for it, but this does not make them a different kind of evil or bad luck –  that is, the difference between them does not mark off a difference between a gratuitous and non – gratuitous evil.  Losing at roulette doesn’t seem less pointless than being born with a gene for alcoholism or cancer. They’re both just bad luck, even if the second kind of bad luck is one that I wish I could see a purpose for. Therefore, the difference making a gratuitous evil is simply that I seek a reason for it- in which case I can destroy the existence of gratuitous evils  by becoming a Buddhist or falling asleep. Presumably, since an atheist won’t seek a purpose in various sorts of evil, he too would destroy the existence of gratuitous evils, even while he takes them as a justification for what he believes.

In the comfort of philosophical leisure, I can consider that any confluence or coincidence of things has a sort of shadowy being (though per accidens) and since the per accidens is some sort of being even while privation is not, I could reduce this shadowy being to a cause of being as such (even if I couldn’t do this for privation). But though it is possible to find some cause and purpose for being per accidens, such a cause and purpose can explain things only on the level of their being per accidens. Any reason we could give for why someone just happened to be standing in the wrong place when the tower fell would be exactly the same reason we would give for why someone just happened to not be in the wrong place when it fell. Some guys have luck that goes one way, others have luck going the other way. But the cause of luck- so far as we are taking it as accidental being and not as privation- is the same for both. This does not mean that the cause of being per accidens (call it God) is indifferent to whether one is crushed by a tower or not, but it does mean that, barring some revelation, I can only penetrate into the cause of these things in such a way that does not allow me to see a difference between different kinds of luck-as-accidental. Just as my notion of color alone does not allow me to see a difference between white and black, my penetration into the cause of the per accidens does not allow me to see a difference between different kinds of accidental being as accidental, and as soon as I want to explain something as a privation, I can’t reduce it to a cause of being.

Here’s my point:  if we are going to sort any of this out we would need to go back to the old disputes about what is accidental and what is not, and how the accidental differed from pure privation, etc. Simply calling an evil gratuitous or pointless isn’t going to do the work we need it to do.

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