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The Problem Of Evil And Informed Consent

Albert Haig proposes an interesting answer to the problem of evil*. Evil exists, he says, so that God can get our informed consent to eliminate it:

This paper introduces the ‘informed consent’ theodicy. God desires that all created persons should not only be free, but should also possess essential perfect goodness, and hence by nature be incapable of evil. However, before causing created free agents to take on a nature rendering them essentially perfectly good, God has a moral obligation to obtain their informed consent. This necessitates that every moral agent which God creates must initially be permitted a temporary probationary period, during which their moral character is unfixed and malleable, in order that they may gain knowledge by acquaintance of both good and evil. This knowledge is a necessary precondition to enable them to make a genuinely informed decision regarding their ultimate moral destiny.

Haig's proposal is intriguing, but I think ultimately untenable. The first objection that occurs to me is that his concern for informed consent ignores all beings other than humans and God. There are a lot of other things in the world -- animals, plants, rocks, etc. While some animals may be elevated to moral status alongside people, anyone trying (as Haig is) to remain within the bounds of traditional Christian theology will have to admit that there are a large number of amoral entities with fixed moral character. God didn't get a tree's consent to make it incapable of good, and the fact that it's also incapable of evil doesn't seem to solve the problem. In any event, if it is permissible for God to create permanently amoral entities, why didn't he make humans similarly amoral? On the other hand, if there's some positive good accomplished by the existence of moral entities, why did God make only one species (or a handful) capable of morality?

Furthermore, why does God need to inform us through actual experience, rather than implanting information in our heads? Haig correctly argues that humans must often give other humans actual experience of things in order to obtain informed consent on momentous issues. But that's due to a limitation of humans' abilities -- telling someone about something can't be as vivid as having them live it. But God is not so limited. He could easily implant memories of good and evil in our heads, memories exactly as vivid as those we'd bring with us from our real experience. Thus God would not have to allow any actual evil to exist in order to get our consent.

Another problem is that our world provides either too much or not enough information about good and evil. Taking the naive view (which Haig seems to) that good and evil are each a single quality and immediately apparent in acts, the world provides too much information. There is simply too much suffering in the world. If a cold-hearted robber baron has suffered enough to be adequately acquainted with evil, the additional suffering of the workers in his factory is superfluous. God could easily have created us with more limited powers, such that even someone dedicated to doing evil could not wreak more than a minimum necessary level of harm.

But that view of good and evil is, as I said, naive. There are many competing theories among people about what constitutes good and evil. But God will make us morally perfect in accordance with just one (presumably the correct one) of those theories. So it seems that we ought to have to consent, not just to being made good, but to being made good as described a certain ethical theory (Haig prefers the Kantian one). That more detailed consent requires correspondingly detailed experience -- we have to experience a much wider variety of acts, so that we can consent to God's classification of them as good or evil. But it's hard to maintain that each person does experience this range of acts, especially if that person died in their youth. So (barring reincarnation), we wouldn't be informed enough to give consent upon our deaths.

*My own preferred solution is to deny that God is omnipotent.


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