In a few days time I’ll be joining the Panpsycast again to interview Professor Yujin Nagasawa.
The topic of the interview will be Prof. Nagasawa’s ‘The Problem of Evil for Atheists’, available to read here. In short the problem is a conflict between the following two ideas:
(a) evolution by natural selection is responsible for a vast amount of pain and suffering, pain and suffering that it nomologically necessary for our existence.
(b) the world is a great place and I am grateful to be alive.
The first proposition is what Nagasawa calls ‘systemic evil’, a type of evil that is more fundamental than any of the individual events that are part of the process of evolution by natural selection. The second proposition is what Nagasawa calls ‘existential optimism’, a view that all theists and nearly all atheists hold.
It seems that (a) and (b) are incompatible: if the world really is so evil, then it is hard to think that it is a great place, and if the mechanism which produced you also produced so much suffering, then it is hard to be grateful for being alive.
Nagasawa’s claim is that this incompatibility doesn’t arise for the theist, only for the atheist. This is because for the atheist ‘the world’ only means the natural, material cosmos. Whereas, for the theist ‘the world’ means the natural, material cosmos and heaven. The inclusion of an afterlife in heaven means that the theist can still hold that the world is a great place: whatever amount of nomologically necessary evil exists on earth, there will be an infinite amount of pleasure in heaven (if the theist doesn’t think that heaven involves infinite pleasure, they will typically think that it involves an amount sufficient to still claim that the world is great).
Obviously the atheist can give up on existential optimism and admit that the world is a cruel place, and even that they are not grateful to be alive. However, Nagasawa claims that most atheists are optimists, and are often reluctant to give up on it.
I look forward to discussing this problem with Prof. Nagasawa this Saturday, and once the episode is published I will include a link to it on this site.