• CS Stewart
    In this post, I am going to attempt to challenge Daniel Kodaj's argument of religious evil as a problem for theism. In Kodaj’s paper, The Problem of Religious Evil…, he purports the special quality of evil as committed in the name of religion, or God, and argues its conclusion as a contradiction for theistic belief. Kodaj’s argument is as follows:

    (1) Belief in God causes evil.
    (2) God condemns evil.
    (3) Whatever God condemns is objectively wrong.
    (4) Therefore, by (1)–(3), belief in God causes something objectively wrong.
    (5) Theists should refrain from doing anything that causes something objectively wrong.
    (6) Therefore, by (4) and (5), theists should refrain from believing in God.

    In this argument, theism is assumed to entail an objective, good-defining and good-natured God, that aligns with a common sense of objective morality (e.g. altruism as good; inhumanity as bad). Historical references are made to notorious examples of religious evils, such as the First Crusade of Pope Urban II, and the mass-execution of the The Würzburg witch trials. Kodaj cites these as exceptionally evil, because they are, whether fallaciously or not, inspired by religious convictions. By the nature of his argument, this particular sort of evil entails a contradiction to theism.

    My attempt will be to successfully rebut (1) by demonstrating that (a), Belief in God causes altruism; (b), the cause of evil is intrinsic to humanity; and (c), the problem of evil actually entails theism. Before I delve into my argument, however, I will take a look at a few of Kodaj’s anticipated defenses for (1).

    Kodaj cites two likely counters for (1); what he calls the “Epiphenomenalist Defense”, and the “False Believers Defense.”

    Epiphenomenalism (a secondary or additional phenomenon; byproduct) is employed to relate the literal cause of the religious evil to “psychological, social, and political factors” rather than theistic belief - or more specifically, Christian faith. In this defense, there is only a superficial connection of evils associated with religion.

    According to the False Believers Defense, the culprits of the religious evil were acting on erroneous interpretations of the associated religion, thus, not acting in true accordance with religion, or proper theistic belief.

    Kodaj formulates counters to these likely challenges:

    For the Epiphenomenalist Defense:
    (7) Agents of religious evil believe in God.
    (8) Belief in God is not among the causes of religious evil.

    (9) Even though agents of religious evil believe in God, their faith does not stop them from perpetrating horrible evils.

    Given that the religious beliefs did not technically cause the atrocities, it follows that religion did not apparently stop the evil actions either. According to Kodaj, “one would expect an omnipotent, morally perfect creator who wants to guide his children out of sin to make it sure that belief in Him produces morally positive results.”

    Regarding the False Believers Defense, Kodaj offers this premise:
    (10) Agents of religious evil do not believe in God.

    Or, at least, they are not genuinely religious.
    Kodaj challenges the False Believers Defense by arguing that evil actions done in the name of religion, whether founded on false belief or not, are still directly associated with religious ideas. This confusion of religious interpretation, and apparently - flagrant misuse of religion, indict the False Believers Defense in a similar fashion as the Epiphenomenalist Defense. Kodaj retorts, “It is unclear why a morally perfect creator who wants to promote salvation through religion would permit such practices. It seems unreasonable to allow such a confusion about religion to develop if religion is indeed the gateway to God and heaven.”

    In both of Kodaj's responses, he appeals to morality; a morally perfect God would insure altruism as a byproduct of belief; and a morally perfect God would prevent evil practices and disallow religious confusion. If God exists, and he is the type of moral God depicted in Christianity, then it is assumed he would act in a certain way.

    It is based on these two objections that I will challenge (1).

    Firstly, Kodaj’s arguments hinge on an assumption about objective morality. Kodaj assumes that a perfectly moral God would act in a certain manner, and that any possibilities outside of this manner are incompatible with objective morality. Secondly, the very concept of objective morality begs transcendence, or at the very least, presents unresolved problems for atheism. If Kodaj’s conclusion (6) is true, and Christian-like theistic belief is essentially a contradiction, then the question arises: how do you explain the objective morality intrinsic to theism that was employed to undermine it? By appealing to an objective moral standard, Kodaj is at least affirming a metaphysical objective, hardly confirmed in a naturalistic framework. It is as if Kodaj is attempting to disprove theism by affirming the possibility of theism. However, this is mostly beside the point. I will leave this potential self-defeat aside and return to explorations of my first statement regarding assumed incompatibility.

    Let’s take a look at Kodaj’s assumption of God’s intervention as a moral imperative. To start, we will use the example from above regarding the misinterpretation of Scripture. If, at every junction of possible misinterpretation of Scripture (potentially leading to false beliefs and, thereby, the perpetration of religious evil), God were to intervene and set things right, then how would this standard apply to other sorts of non-religious evil? How do we qualify evil? Is there a point where God does not step in because the potential evil is less egregious? On what standard? For, the misinterpretation of many forms can lead to evil. You may misinterpret my facial expression and assume that I have an unjustified personal dislike of you. This may lead to bitterness and outward expressions of passive aggression, ultimately leading to more severe modes of malice and harm. At what point should God intervene in this scenario?
    If we apply this moral imperative to God, it would seem he would need to be intervening in the moment-to-moment minutiae, and this seems to raise other important questions (e.g. the nature of evil and free will). Regarding evil, it seems reasonable, at least as far as ubiquitous intuition, that there is some sort of defect within the human condition. Certainly, this idea of a defect assumes a right order - a metaphysical objective standard; but, we are already engaging in this sort of assumption within Kodaj’s presentation, so this is no problem. This sense of aberration within humanity relates to morality, and ranges in severity. We say things like, “well, nobody’s perfect”, or “I’m only human.” Indeed, these phrases refer to trivial matters that are not necessarily related to morality, such as forgetfulness, or natural limitations. Nevertheless, this paradigm extends and encompasses the obvious reality of evil endemic to humanity. Therefore, it seems reasonable to consider the human heart as defective, and furthermore, the root of evil’s causality. If this is true, then religion, and other mediums for that matter, are not the causes of evil, only manifestations. And thus, the mediums, particularly religion, are evaluated in almost an inverted paradigm as that which Kodaj has proposed. In this sense, evil is an expectation, and if something causes any significant reversal of evil disposition, then cause for merit arises.
    I am not seeking to pursue these arguments further at this point, only to raise awareness of their plausibility. From here, I will move into a look at Kodaj’s second moral assumption - that belief in God should produce morally positive results.

    This assumption, so far as it applies to the Christian concept of God referenced by Kodaj, must be tweaked to the following: “Belief in the true God and adherence to the entailed morality should produce morally positive results.” For, in this context, theistic belief in general would not be obliged to produce positive morality since a generic theistic belief would only lead to virtue if it indeed culminated in adherence to the right God. And when the premise is stated in these terms, it seems reasonable to cite examples of religious altruism that are just as potent as Kodaj’s pejorative references. Names like Mother Teresa, William Wilberforce, and Martin Luther King Jr. come to mind - all significantly inspired to action by their religious belief and commitment to Jesus. For all of the atrocities committed in the name of religion, there are at least as many examples of self-sacrifice and love. Indeed, Jesus himself serves as the exemplar par excellence. Certainly, it is important to acknowledge the tantamount moral imperatives of myriad religious orders and the reality of moral non-theists. But, in this context, causality is the point of discussion, and according to the Christian God in reference, commitment to the source of morality itself causes a transformation of disposition.

    And this leads me into my final thought; I will pull these ideas together and briefly attempt to construct a parallel challenge to Kodaj’s argument based on objections to (1), and my discussion of evil qualification, objective morality, and religious altruism. My proposition is as follows:

    (11) Evil is caused by immoral dispositions in the human condition.
    (12) Belief in and adherence to (for all intents and purposes) the Christian God causes altruism.
    (13) God defines and condemns objective morality.
    (14) Therefore, by (11)-(13), belief and adherence to God causes something objectively good.
    (15) Theists should refrain from doing anything that causes something objectively wrong.
    (16) Therefore, by (14) and (15), theists should commit to believing in and adhering to God.
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