Response to Sobel

A third ‘metaphysical objection’ to (the the claim in the AFE that “evil exists”) could be that evil is nothing real that it is only the absence or privation of the good… the way to deal, without wasting time, with this silly line is not to say that it does not work against the argument from evil, but to say that it is no avail against “the argument from the absence of goodness”… (i.e.) “why is there so much awful and painful deficiency in being not only in forests during firestorms in which innocent fawns are consumed, but everywhere one looks?

J.H. Sobel:  Logic and Theism, p. 438

The privation account of evil does not make problems for the AFE because it denies that evil exists at all, but because it shows (1) there is no parity between causes of goodness and evil, and (2) because goodness requires the coalescing of all the causes of a thing while evil can arise from a lack of any one of them.

1.) In the context of the AFE, asking “why” is a search for a cause, but deficiencies and failures to exist lack the definite and definable causes. We can explain a definite series of causes that need to coalesce in order to make cookies (these ingredients, this cooking temperature, this amount of time, etc.) but there is no definite answer to the question of how cookies fail to be. The recipe is a perfectly definite thing, but there is no “anti-recipe” that specifies exactly how they go bad. Even where goodness can be realized in diverse ways, the evil will still lack the definition of any of the diverse modes of realization. Considered in this way, the AFE fails because it takes evil as some definite reality in need of explanation (if you want to take evil as definite, skip to 2b)

2a.)  The bread only gets made if all the causes are successful, but it can fail to get made if only secondary and derivative causes fail. In other words, “evil” differs from goodness in that it can be entirely the result of secondary causes, and this arises precisely because it is a privation and not a positive reality. Briefly, the privation account raises the possibility that evil can arise entirely from causes other than God.

2b.) There is obviously a sense in which evil exists, but in this sense the creature is capable of being a source of existence in the strict sense. We cannot say that evil exists without making the creature literally a creator, and so a source of existence in no need of further ontological explanation. The syllogism looks like this:

a.) Either “existence” can only be said of positive reality, or not.

b.) If only said of positive reality, then evil does not exist and the AFE fails.

c.) If not, then a creature is capable of being a source of existence independent of God, and so the AFE fails.

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