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Andrea Weisberger Pollution

The Pollution Solution: A Critique of Dore’s Response to the Argument from Evil (1997)

Andrea Weisberger

This article was originally published in Sophia, Vol. 36, No. 1 (March-April 1997), pp. 53-74.

There is yet one more proposed solution to the argument from evil which merits attention. Though it does have elements in common with other proposed solutions in that it postulates a justifying end to account for the existence of all evil, it is different in that evil is viewed as nothing more than a polluting by-product of the proper functioning of the laws of nature in their industrious manufacture of the summum bonum. The unimpeded functioning of the laws of nature is seen as necessary for the production and creation of a justifying (indiscernible) end and evil or suffering is merely a foreseen but unfortunate by-product of this natural machinery. The place and function of evil in this solution is what is novel: it is not a greatness-making property, nor is it a punishment or warning from on high, nor is its usefulness an aesthetic or contrasting one, nor is it the result of free will. Evil is admitted as just plain evil; it itself plays no role to serve the valuable end, which is precipitated by the unimpeded operation of natural laws upon the universe. Evil here is seen to play the same role that pollution might: it is a foreseen and unfortunate consequence of the means used to produce the coveted final product.

Professor Clement Dore, in his book entitled Theism,[1] introduces this solution in which evil itself plays no role to serve an enormously valuable end, yet is necessitated by this end. However, in order for the theist to be in a position to defend Dore’s claim, a viable interpretation of the justifying, indiscernible end, must be proposed. To assess the validity of Dore’s schema, four apparently exhaustive interpretations of the justifying end will be presented. It will be argued here that each of these possible interpretations is, in one respect or another, inadequate. The result is that the concept of the justifying, indiscernible end and its relation to Dore’s overall schema lacks lucidity. In addition, other problems with this solution will be discussed in order to show that severe flaws exist in the solution as a whole.


To understand the exact nature of the specific criticisms advanced here it will be necessary to sketch the essential elements of Dore’s proposed solution. It should be emphasized that Dore is not claiming suffering to be logically necessary for some valuable end; in fact, Dore sees this claim as preposterous as the claim that ‘heating water to the boiling point causes tornadoes.'[2] However, Dore does believe that the ‘for the most part unimpeded operation of scientific laws on the matter which the universe contains’ (S) is logically necessary and causally sufficient for an enormously valuable and unobservable end (E).[3] Suffering or evil is merely a waste product or a polluting by-product of S. As Dore claims: ‘…suffering does not serve E, it is an effect of something (namely, S), which does serve E.'[4] And E, we should note, is so enormously valuable that it outweighs all the negative effects produced by the results of S. But since E could not come about without S, both S and its pollutant are necessary, though only S is causally sufficient for E. Hence, an obvious moniker for this proposed solution to the argument from evil (though Dore does not use this term) is the ‘pollution solution.’

It is also important to note that Dore does not believe this scheme diminishes our moral obligation to relieve suffering, since it is only the falsification of causal laws that would endanger E. The elimination ‘of instances of suffering is therefore still required when possible, since suffering itself is not necessary for E. However, Dore foresees that one might raise a related objection, namely the issue of God’s moral obligation to intervene and relieve suffering. Dore responds by arguing that divine intervention interferes with the scientific laws of nature. For if God, a disembodied being, were to intervene then something like telekinesis would occur, and this appears to be disallowed by scientific laws. But miraculous intervention to relieve suffering is not entirely ruled out, on Dore’s scheme, since it is the ‘for the most part’ unimpeded operation of scientific laws that the pollution solution specifies. However, frequent falsifiers of S (or extraordinary falsifiers as Dore calls instances of God’s miraculous intervention) are not feasible since natural laws would lose their efficacy as predictive tools. The occurrence of too many miracles would so ravage S as to eliminate the chances of E arising. Therefore, God’s moral obligation to intervene is limited to exceptional cases and suffering becomes, for the most part at least, unavoidable.

One might wonder whether E can be ‘…specified as our having serviceable scientific laws, which are necessary for our knowing anything about the future, and, hence, necessary for our survival?'[5] The answer, Dore claims, is most likely negative for two reasons. First, it seems possible that God could. intervene much more than is now apparent without adversely affecting our knowledge of the future. Second, it is possible that humans could be clairvoyant and therefore know at least as much about the future as we do presently by basing predictions on observed conditions. Dore has no problem with leaving E specified only to the extent of an enormously valuable, unobservable end. E, then, must be referred to as a trans-empirical entity.

Dore remarks that the objector may point out that it is irrational to affirm the existence of trans-empirical entities and thus, it is irrational to believe E exists.[6] This principle (that it is irrational to believe in the existence of trans-empirical things) Dore labels ‘P’. In response to the objection, Dore claims that the argument from evil establishes the following disjunction (D): ‘that either God does not exist or that E exists.'[7] By virtue of P the existence of E is ruled out and the theist is left with the first disjunct, that God does not exist. As a result, since P directly entails the first disjunct, the entire disjunction, as well as the argument from evil, is rendered superfluous.[8]

Yet, as Dore observes, the objector can still argue that the proponent of his ‘pollution solution’ is committed to the second disjunct, that E exists, and thereby committed to affirming the existence of two trans-empirical things, God and E. And, the objector may continue, ‘the more trans-empirical things which one affirms, the more irrational he becomes. Hence the argument from suffering is not superfluous.'[9]

In answer, Dore asserts that ‘it is dubious that one’s degree of irrationality is a function of the number of such beliefs which he holds.'[10] For example, Dore argues, one is not more irrational for believing in four angels, one red, one green, one blue and one orange than if one were to believe in three angels, one red, one green and one blue. Further, Dore claims, the theist’s belief in E is entailed by belief in God, and it is not surprising that the claim to belief in God means that the claimant is committed to everything that belief entails.

It does seem, however, (contra Dore), that we do determine irrationality in degrees and do so by looking at not only the kinds but the quantity of beliefs that are held. For example, if one were to claim that a particular green gremlin powered the presidential limousine once a year on a particular date, though this is an irrational claim, we would not view this person as irrational as another who claimed gremlins of all colours continually populated all heavy machinery on the planet. Both subjects do seem to be making irrational claims but the first (barring other irrational views) certainly seems to have a better grip on reality (at least for most days of the year) than the second. Moreover, it is not at all clear, as Dore claims, that belief in God plus suffering necessarily entails belief in E.

Yet it is difficult to fully gauge the plausibility of the pollution Solution without at least some indication of the nature of E.[11] Not only is a clarification of what E could mean necessary here, but also a coherent account of the nature of the relation between S and E. While the non-theist may well be incapable of showing that such an E is impossible, she need only show that we have no reason to believe that such an E is likely. If the theist is driven to say ‘I believe some such E is likely on pure faith’, then this is tantamount to saying ‘I believe the non-theistic argument can be proved unsound as a matter of faith’: and this, of course, is no counterargument. Even though Dore maintains that ‘since the atheist has taken on the onus of proving that God does not exist, it is up to him to provide evidence…not up to the theist to demonstrate its truth,'[12] it does seem that with regard to the claim about the existence of E, the onus falls on the theist.[13]

Even if the complexity of the sum of the interactions of all natural events, plus an infinitude of possibly unimaginable conditions that may be jointly necessary to bring about E, may make it unreasonable for the non-theist to claim either: that we would know that such an E is in the making if it were; or that we ought to be able to specify such an E if it is a possible state of affairs, the theist, on the other hand, is forced to rely, simply on the argument from ignorance, if E is left unspecified. And, this does not seem persuasive enough grounds on which to make the claim that the non-theistic argument from evil is weakened. Though the specification of E does not make E more likely, it does allow the theist a standpoint from which to defend E via more specific arguments. In an attempt to specify, to some extent, what E could mean, some possible interpretations will be examined.


It seems that there are different ways of interpreting E which are compatible with the pollution solution, though in each interpretation the solution as a whole takes a different turn. The following are four possible interpretations of E which seem logically exhaustive. Keeping in mind that E is an enormously valuable (though indiscernible) end, the first alternative to be investigated is that of E as occurring at the end of time, in time. Here, E is viewed as occurring at the culmination of the, for the most part, unimpeded activity of natural laws (S) in time, thus at time’s end. We might imagine here that at the point when normal time is ending there will be the revelation of E; a ‘judgement day’ type scenario wherein the kingdom of E is established.

One question that comes to mind at this point is whether it is possible that there is another chain (S’) of natural laws which produces less evil than the chain S and yet serves E.[14] If chain S is the only chain that can bring about E, then suffering may be accounted for but, if not, then some suffering is unnecessary. There seems to be no way to determine whether the scenario of chain S’ bringing about E is logically impossible, but, obviously, if God could have chosen a chain S’ and did not, then the creator’s omnibenevolence is dubious. The theist, in response, may want to maintain either a) that a chain S’ serving E is a logical impossibility: or, b) there may be other chains that serve E, but chain S is the best possible chain, which involves the least amount of suffering. The second alternative entails that this is the best possible world since God, being maximally great and wholly good, would have chosen the best possible chain. Yet, if this be the best possible chain then God’s omnipotence seems dubious. For as Hume has indicated, it is possible that there is a world with different causal (and moral) laws in which a good deal less or no suffering is engendered.[15] And, if there could be a world with causal regularity, though it be more complex than the present, which does not entail suffering, it then seems that E is rendered superfluous as a justifier. The first alternative, on the other hand, seems to place the burden of proof on the theist since the claim that it is logically impossible that a chain S’ could serve E is, on its face, not obviously evident. And, it is not at all clear how the theist could defend such a claim.

The theist might advance another alternative: that for every good end, E’, there is still a better one but, nonetheless, at least the amount of suffering which we find in this world is logically necessary for E’. To the question of why God does not bring some better end about, the theist might reply that there is no non-arbitrary answer to the question ‘how valuable an E’ should God have brought about?’ Yet here it seems the objector could reply that there is a non-arbitrary answer, namely the best end possible. The theist here is not quibbling about S and whether it is necessary for E, but how good an end is needed to justify the suffering that S entails. It may be the case that the price of suffering is simply too high to be repayable at all. At the very least it would seem that only the greatest reward could compensate all those creatures who have suffered throughout the billions of years of life on earth.

There is a further and more serious problem with the ‘end of time, in time’ interpretation. Keeping in mind that all we essentially know about E is that S, the unfolding of natural events, is necessary and sufficient for E, the question arises: ‘Why can God create natural laws at one point and not another?’ In other words, if God is capable of setting up the universe in such a way that the natural laws unfold, it would seem that God is also capable of creating the universe at the last moment before E and creating it as if all natural laws up to that point had unfolded.[16] Thus, God could have created the universe as it will be in the future, or as we will experience it immediately before E occurs.

It seems implausible to claim that God has the power to create the universe at one stage and not at another, later stage. Moreover, it would severely limit God’s omnipotence to suppose it impossible for God to create the universe at such a later stage. In light of God’s alleged omnipotence, it would seem that the claim that, ‘God is able to create the universe at any stage’ is preferable to the claim that, ‘God can only create the universe at one stage.’ Further, if it be granted that God has the power to create the universe ex nihilo, then there seems to be no specific order necessitated; God could have created the universe at any stage or in any order so desired. If this be the case, then it seems plausible to suppose that God could have created the universe just before E, or at least much later than it was created, thereby avoiding much or all of the suffering that exists. Even if it be granted that somehow E justifies suffering, it is still better that there be no evil at all and just an enormously valuable end.[17]

If, on the other hand, the theist wants to maintain that all stages of the universe up to E are necessary for E, then another type of interpretation is suggested (3 and 4) in which E is brought about through all time. Interpretation 1, that is ‘E as at the end of time, in time’ seems implausible when considering God as an omnipotent being able to create ex nihilo.

The second interpretation is that of E as at the end of time, outside of time. Here E comes about at the end of time but outside of rime (instead of as the last moment of time.) It might be asked: ‘What, then, is the causal connection between the natural laws and E if E is outside of time? How, in other words, do causal connections in time (the only causal connections we are aware of) necessitate any causal process outside of time?’ It seems strange, to say the least, to maintain that natural conditions are necessary to bring about trans-empirical states of affairs. Moreover, it would seem that an omnipotent being could bring about this trans-empirical condition directly. There are two trans-empirical claims embedded in this interpretation, namely, not only the claim about E, but the claim that material conditions are necessary and sufficient for non-material conditions.

It does seem that the proponent of this second interpretation has the burden of showing why S is a necessary condition for E. Interpretation 2 seems prima facie implausible in light of the claim about the causal connection between material and trans-empirical states of affairs. The theist here is in the same boat as the interactionist dualist regarding the determination of how interaction (even one way) is possible between material and spiritual substance. Though it may be logically possible that S is necessary for E in the aforementioned way, just as it may be possible that evil is necessary for E or even that sneezes are necessary for E, this seems to be a bizarre and ad hoc view.

The argument used against the first interpretation, however, seems to be a strong one against this interpretation as well: if it is simply the last stage of the temporal universe that brings about E outside of time, then it seems God could have created the last stage of the universe only and have avoided all previous suffering. And, if there is a logical gap between the last moment of time and the occurrence of E (out of the bounds of temporality) then it seems God could intervene and bring about E. In other words, it might be God which provides the link between the last moment in time and E occurring out of time. If this be the case, however, the chain of S in time seems superfluous, since all that is really needed to precipitate E is God’s intervention. In fact, if it is the case that God’s intervention is all that is necessary to bring about E, then it seems there need not even be a universe created in time. Considering the inexplicability of the causal connection between material conditions and trans-empirical states of affairs and the above objection, the second interpretation of E seems at least as implausible as the first.

Thus, both interpretations which view E as occurring at the end of time are open to the same objection; namely that the chain S seems superfluous since it seems God could precipitate E directly if omnipotent, and would desire to’ do so, circumventing all suffering in the process, if omnibenevolent. The second ‘end of time’ interpretation of E suffers from an additional problem since E is viewed as occurring outside of time: the connection between temporal material conditions and an atemporal, trans-empirical event is left inexplicable.

This leads to the consideration of a different type of interpretation than the ‘end of time’ ones. The third interpretation, which views E as all of time, in time is just such a candidate. On this view, E runs parallel to the history of the material universe such that each moment in time is a necessary condition for the causation of E, in time. E becomes contemporaneous with the natural laws (S). The particular focus here is on the natural laws unfolding as they do, such that the moment by moment operations of the natural laws on the matter of the universe are conjointly necessary for bringing about E. And E, on this interpretation, does occur within the bounds of temporality. Here, it is not clear that God could intervene and bring about E directly, since it is not the culmination of time which is necessary for E but ail moments of time. Another way of viewing this interpretation (that all stages of S are necessary for E) is to view this world as the best possible one. If this third interpretation of E be accepted, then S is the best possible chain, making this the best possible world. If E is causally dependent on all stages of S, is part of the material universe and each moment of time is necessary for the enormously valuable, indiscernible end, which occurs in time, then this world must be one which is unequalled in value. As a result, those objections brought against the ‘best possible of all worlds solution,’ i.e., the threat to the notion of omnipotence, that we can conceive of a world better than this one, and the incoherence of the notion that there is a ‘best possible’ with regard to such a complex state of affairs as that which ‘world’ refers to, are relevant here as well.

Nevertheless, E can be interpreted further on this view as either: a) E occurs as part of, or b) E is the sum total of the natural universe (the universe is identical to E). If (b) is adopted, then E or the enormously valuable end should be continuously justifying evil. Yet it does not seem to be the case that salvation from evil is occurring now. Not only do we have evidence that innocent sentient creatures are being vivisected in painful experiments, at this very moment, with no hope of relief, but it is indeed difficult to understand how the million and a half children turned into smoke by the crematoria of Auschwitz have received any reward or restitution for their suffering, before their earthly demise. And if these individuals have not received restitution, then the ‘good’ which is to justify their suffering has not been appropriately distributed. Even if the sum total of good in the world were enough to justify all prior suffering, my good fortune in not being gassed with Zyklon B (so far) will not serve to directly justify the suffering of a two year old child who has had the bad fortune to die so, no matter how many times (and if) that good fortune outweighs it. It suffices to point out that alternative (b) requires E’s distribution continuously in time, and that there seems to be a lack of evidence for this phenomenon. As to alternative (a) wherein E occurs as a part of the natural universe, this alternative offers little improvement over (b), and the same defects are evident here as well. In short, the implausibility of the third interpretation of E lies in the inadequacies of the world at hand and in our abilities to conceive of better possible worlds.

The final and fourth interpretation of E, E as all of time, outside of time, is the same as interpretation 3, except for the temporal component. Here, E is conceived of as occurring parallel to the natural universe and as necessitating all moments in time. E, however, is neither seen as synonymous with the natural laws (S), nor as part of the material universe. Rather, E is somehow produced outside the bounds of temporality. Yet, this interpretation of E suffers from the same difficulty noted in the second interpretation: regardless of whether viewed as stretched out over the history of the universe, or viewed as occurring at the end of time, the causal connection between the material chain S and E remains inexplicable. Even so, there are two ways the theist may salvage the initial claim, both of which are equally unsatisfying: a) either God could create E without a causal chain (thereby rendering S superfluous); or b) this causal connection is a mystery. The world, on interpretation 4, is not necessarily the best possible one since E, the enormously valuable end, occurs outside the bounds of temporality and thus outside the bounds of this world. Whatever state of affairs exists where E occurs is the best possible state of affairs but, since we cannot know what it is (since it is atemporal) this claim is difficult to understand.

In addition to the inexplicability of the causal connection between the material chain S and a trans-empirical, atemporal E that both interpretation 2 and interpretation 4 suffer from, there is a further problem with interpretation 4. In all the previous interpretations, E is somehow a justifier for suffering, since the great value of E outweighs suffering, either at the end of time in time, at the end of time outside of time; or throughout all time in time. Even though interpretation 2 is problematic in that it is difficult to see how God’s creatures, who are temporal entities, benefit from an atemporal reward, interpretation 4 is more problematic in that the atemporal reward occurs parallel to all of time. Thus, there is no point where time ends and creatures can be compensated. This interpretation of E is so obscure as to border on the incoherent. Not only must there be some explanation forthcoming as to the nature of the causal connection between material and trans-empirical events, but also an explanation of how E functions as an ‘outweigher’ of suffering in a parallel, atemporal realm, before this interpretation can be endowed with any plausibility.

Yet there is a further problem with interpretation 4, one which is similar to but more severe than an analogous problem with interpretation 2. On interpretation 4, E occurs outside of time and requires each progressive moment of the unfolding of the universe. The connection between E and the unfolding of the universe is so strong that God could only tamper with causal laws in specified ways, or at specified times, or else risk diminishing or destroying E. Thus, if one small child was relieved of suffering at a particular point, it might have drastic ramifications for E (given that God had already intervened to the point where further intervention would dissipate E). Thus, God would not be able to stop a tiny occurrence, such as. a child tasting rat poison for example, without damaging E since this small event, rendering the rat poison ineffective in the child’s mouth, might nullify E. In other words, every instance in time is necessary. If not, then God could step in and abolish suffering on a case by case basis so that the laws of nature, as a whole, were not affected but rather their momentary operation would be overridden. Hence, everything that happens must happen. E seems to be a very complex state of affairs since it is intimately tied to each minute event in the history of the material universe. Yet E must also be a very unified and interwoven extra-temporal entity.

The atemporal nature of E in both interpretation 2 and interpretation 4 seems to point to embedded theological notions; namely, that since E occurs outside of time, those who have suffered must have some kind of soul which would enable compensation in another realm (including animals). In addition, interpretation 4 entails another theological idea, one which it holds in common with interpretation 3. As seen in interpretation 2, God could intervene and bring about those conditions which necessitate E (i.e., the last moment of time). This, however, would not be possible according to interpretations 3 and 4 (since all of time is necessary for E). Hence both interpretations 3 and 4 seem to require predestination. Interpretation 4 then includes theological concepts which are peculiar to interpretations 2 and 3, respectively.

More specifically, if every bit of dust, every minute occurrence in this world, goes into the shaping of E, and every occurrence of the world conforms to the natural laws sufficient for E (else God could step in and intervene) then it seems that this extra-temporal end being brought about, this deeper and different reality which is dependent for its existence on temporal reality, requires 1) pre-destination, and 2) that God’s non-intervention has some effect in producing E. Not only does the notion of pre-destination figure in this fourth interpretation of E, but also the idea that some kind of atemporal substance, such as a soul, exists which allows for the justificatory power of E regarding creatures and, hence, that there is some kind of causal interaction between material and trans-empirical entities/states of affairs (and possibly a heavenly realm). Here it seems that the multiplication, without justification, of trans-empirical elements makes this interpretation increasingly irrational. Thus, not only is there the general problem of how the empirical can be causally sufficient for the extra-empirical, but there is the following specific problem, namely of how merely physicalistic persons can be benefited by E. And, if we want to claim that we are not merely physicalistic, then we have still more extra-empirical entities to explain.

Even if we admit to being merely physical creatures, another problem arises when considering how it is that E justifies or overbalances the suffering in the world. Namely, it seems that a deontological conception of restitution, one in which the rights of individuals are respected, is called into question by the concept of E as a general justifier for the total amount of suffering. According to a deontological view, E cannot merely outweigh suffering overall but must justify the suffering undergone by innocent individual creatures. If this is neglected, then individual suffering remains unjustified. In ordinary day to day existence we do not think it just to heap reward on one individual and have that reward suffice to justify another’s suffering. Similarly, we do not find it just to punish one group of wrongdoers severely and have that punishment suffice to serve as a punishment for all wrongdoers. Appropriate distribution of reward and punishment on a case by case basis is normally deemed just. Accordingly, E must be tied to individual rewards and punishments, i.e., a traditional conception of heaven and hell. If E is not intended as such, it may be possible that (after E is brought about) God could redress those appropriate individuals independently of E, without thereby affecting E. But this, of course, assumes not only a soul and a heaven to justify suffering, but renders E superfluous as a justifier.


It may be objected that a deontological notion is inappropriate and a utilitarian one is more apt. ‘Suppose,’ the objector might ask, ‘that the entire world will be destroyed unless you torture an innocent person for five hours. Is not the innocent person’s right not to be tortured overridable here? Or is it that none of us has a right not to be tortured in this case? And, maybe E is much more valuable than the preservation of humanity.’

There are responses to this line of argument, the least of which is that, at bottom, there is a divergence of moral intuitions. To some it may seem that any individual’s unjustified suffering is too high a price to pay, and that the appeal to an indiscernible end being more valuable than the preservation of humanity in no way constitutes a justification. To claim something is immensely valuable, but not for humanity and at the expense of humanity, makes it seem that we are indeed the butt of some cruel joke (and does little to reassure us of the goodness of God.) For to whom is E valuable if not to suffering creatures? To imply that innocents have no right not to suffer or no right to compensation for suffering, so opposes a reasonable conception of justice that the appeal to an indiscernible end as more valuable than the preservation of creatures fails to constitute an excuse.[18] It is, therefore, perplexing how a sufficiently coherent understanding of the relation of E to S or, further, the justificatory function of E, could be contrived.

There are indeed other lines of argument that can be brought against the pollution solution. One point, noted by H. J. McCloskey, is that simply being endowed with greater knowledge of the laws of nature would serve to eliminate huge amounts of suffering, such as incited by disease.[19] If a cure for AIDS, for example, were to be discovered tomorrow rather than years from now, or never, great doses of suffering could be avoided, not only in regard to human lives but also in those animals utilized for such experimental research. Alternatively, if God had instilled in the average person the intellect of a Newton or an Einstein, then a variety of horrible suffering could be avoided. Not only is it difficult to see why this is incompatible with the pollution solution, but it is also unclear as to how such augmented knowledge could possibly dissipate E. And, it is difficult to see why an omnipotent God could not have accomplished this feat.

Another objection has to do with God’s intervention. As seen, Dore argues that too frequent intervention would diminish the predictability of causal laws such that we could not function efficiently in the world. But certainly it seems that God could intervene and yet make it seem as if things are functioning according to S. It is also possible that an omnipotent being could intervene to stop heinous evils, even if it meant the obvious suspension of causal laws, yet erase all memory of such events from the collective memory of humanity. If God could eliminate such suffering in this way and preserve S, it would seem God should. Some evil then, at the very least, seems gratuitous.

In light of the aforementioned presentation of the pollution solution, it seems that one of the following must obtain. Either: (1) the physical world (outside of the range of free-willed agents) is absolutely determined. If this is the case, then either (a) quantum physics is incorrect or (b) no combination of ‘indeterminate quantum effects’ can possibly make any difference at the level where non-statistical natural laws apply, in which case physics in general is incorrect. Or, (2) the ‘natural laws’ expressed by quantum and classical physics are essentially correct and these must be allowed to proceed ‘uninterrupted.’ If this be the case, then either (a) the precise effects brought about by each instance of ‘indeterminate’ or ‘probabilistic’ physical conditions are necessary for E and, thus, God relies on an infinite number of purely chance occurrences for bringing about E, or (b) it is the operation of chance itself which necessitates E, and this is an extremely bizarre claim. Or, (3) quantum and classical theories are correct and chance is not a necessary condition for E. If this be the case, then either (a) God could intervene at the quantum/indeterminate level to bring about effects at the macro level without interrupting the progression of causal laws but, due to lack of knowledge, God does not, or (b) God is logically able to do so, knows how to do so but, due to lack of goodness, does not. Though each option has undesirable results for the theist, it is the last option which seems to be the most reasonable, even though it results in the unfortunate circumstance of rendering either God’s omniscience or goodness dubious. If the above is correct and either general or quantum physics is incorrect, or chance is somehow necessary for E, or God is not what the theist claims, this final solution to the argument from evil, then, seems to engender more pollution than solution.

Finally, there is one last vantage point from which the pollution solution can be seen to be deficient. The proposed solution under investigation does not address the type of evil which results from free will. Moral choice, and therefore moral evil, is clearly not due to natural causal laws and the theist, in affirming the existence of a moral God, angels and/or other disembodied creatures, acknowledges this to be the case. Dore admits, in his book Moral Scepticism, that ‘common sense commits us to the conclusion that it is false that all suffering is entailed by S.'[20] Undaunted, however, Dore argues that the pollution solution can be saved by recognizing that it is the conjunction of S and ‘the free choices of human moral agents’ which is logically necessary for E. E can then only occur by virtue of the progression of causal laws on the matter of the universe and the free choices (and the result of free choices) of moral human agents. Thus, E is not relevant to any possible world without humans or, more precisely, free humans. In such a possible world, the suffering of nonhumans would remain unjustified. It seems, then, that it is also the existence of free moral human agents which necessitates E, in the end, and not merely S. In a world of dinosaurs, for example, suffering is not compensated or necessary. Yet, it seems ad hoc to tack on this last addendum at this point. And it is unclear how such a solution, which claims that everything included in the existent state of affairs we call the world is necessary and sufficient for E, could be falsified.

There is a further problem that arises from this addition. The theist is put into the position of substantiating such a claim. For why is it the case that S plus the free choices of human agents is logically necessary and sufficient for E? It is not at all clear that free will is logically connected to a justifying good, just as it is not clear that causal laws are logically connected to E. To say that an individual’s freely choosing to commit an armed robbery is necessary for E is just as preposterous as saying that boiling water causes tornadoes. If Dore finds it unacceptable to allow the claim that suffering is necessary for some indiscernible, enormously valuable end, then it seems he should also find it unacceptable to say that free will is necessary for the same end. And, given the foregoing criticisms of the pollution solution, it doesn’t seem to make his case any stronger to claim that it is S plus free will which necessitates E. In the case of free will necessitating E, just as in claims such as ‘suffering necessitates E’ or ‘boiling water causes tornadoes,’ the causal relationship between the antecedent and the consequent is unobservable. And in the case of E, the consequent itself is, by definition, unobservable. It seems that without substantiation and a clearer understanding of E, the claims made on behalf of the pollution solution are implausible. And, here too, common sense is invaluable. Even if moral evil could be justified on some other account, there are a sufficient number of other defects to lead to the abandonment of this solution.


[1] Clement Dore, Theism (Dordrecht: D. Reidel Publishing Co., 1984) Chapter 1.

[2] Ibid. Dore pp. 2-3.

[3] Ibid. Dore p. 7.

[4] Ibid. Dore p. 5.

[5] Ibid. Dore p. 8.

[6] Ibid. Dore p. 9.

[7] Ibid. Dore p. 10.

[8] One might wonder why it is irrational to believe in trans-empirical entities since many people believe in large numbers, which are trans-empirical. We surely don’t want to say that discussion of mathematical entities (or even the attitudes of fictional characters found in novels, for example) is irrational behaviour. However, mathematical entities can be recognized as conceptual constructs which populate our rational universe, just as logical and moral laws may. In short, these things have a type of subsistence. God and E, on the other hand, are posited as entities with an independent ontological status much like natural objects such as Mt. Everest might possess. It would defeat the theist’s claim to admit that E is merely a conceptual construct. Thus, it is only the belief in trans-empirical entities in this latter sense which raises the issue of one’s rationality.

[9] Ibid. Dore p. 10.

[10] Ibid. Dore p. 10.

[11] For clarificatory purposes, Dore’s pollution solution requires that:

  1. It is plausible (more than merely possible but not necessarily probable) that some good (E) is brought about by
    1. the existence of natural laws (S) and
    2. the absence of frequent interventions by supernatural means; and
  2. suffering is an unexceptional by-product of those natural laws in operation, that
    1. could not be prevented by God in any of the cases where it occurs without contravening A1 and A2, and
    2. does not outweigh the value of E; and
  3. it is plausible that no greater balance of good over evil than E/suffering could have been engineered by God.

[12] Ibid. Dore p. 6.

[13] I also disagree with Dore on where the onus of proof lies in general. The non-theistic argument from suffering is a response to the theistic claim about the existence and nature of God. Since the theist is presenting the initial claim, it seems the onus likewise resides with the theist. One important distinction for this issue arises between ordinary and extraordinary types of evidence. Ordinary claims require ordinary evidence for their support, i.e., the type of evidence one has access to within the context of earthly existence. Extraordinary claims, claims which appeal to evidence beyond the pale of earthly existence, should therefore require extraordinary evidence as support. The burden of providing evidence for a claim, be it ordinary or extraordinary, can reasonably be said to fall on the claimant. Any claimant wanting to show the reasonableness of an extraordinary, e.g., supernatural, entity, must then present correlative evidence for the claim to succeed, since the only evidence against such a claim can be of the ordinary variety. Now the ambition of proposed solutions to the argument from evil is to show how ordinary evidence does not count against extraordinary claims. At the very least, the challenge thrown out to the ordinary evidence presenter is to show how ordinary evidence can possibly count against the extraordinary claim. But this challenge does not really shift the burden of proof, since the production of ordinary evidence is a response to an initial claim. If one asserts an extraordinary claim, for example, which is challenged by ordinary evidence, then something else is needed to buttress the extraordinary claim (perhaps extraordinary evidence?) If none is forthcoming, or the claimant cannot provide more in the way of support for the initial claim, then the challenge must count against the warranted believability of the initial claim. Not allowing this is tantamount to admitting the initial (extraordinary) claim is unfalsifiable, i.e., there are no conditions under which it can be shown unreasonable to believe (simply because there is some explanation not yet thought of which is not subject to refutation.) By contending that it is up to the non-theist to prove the theist wrong, or shifting the burden of proof in this manner, the theist is obscuring the fact that the initial thesis about the existence and nature of God is held to be unfalsifiable. For if this were not the case, the theist would realize that it is the extraordinary claim which is in need of justification, especially in light of the challenge presented by the argument from evil, and not up to the non-theist to present a rebuttal which satisfies every aspect of the theist’s conception of the divine possible world.

[14] By ‘chain of natural laws’ what is implied is the temporal sequence of physical events which resulted in the state of affairs currently enjoyed by creatures.

[15] David Hume remarks:

A Being, therefore, who knows the secret springs of the universe, might easily, by particular volition, turn all these accidents to the good of mankind, and render the whole world happy, without discovering himself in any operation. A fleet, whose purposes were salutary to society, might always meet with a fair wind: Good princes enjoy sound health and long life: Persons born to power and authority, be framed with good tempers and virtuous dispositions. A few such events as these, regularly and wisely conducted, would change the face of the world; and yet would no more seem to disturb the course of nature or confound human conduct, than the present economy of things, where the causes are secret, variable, and compounded. (Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Ed. Norman Kemp Smith (N.Y.: Bobbs-Merrill Co., Inc., 1947, pp. 206-7.)

[16] Jimmy Swaggart, tele-evangelist par excellence, has a similar explanation for creationism. Namely, God has created the world so it seems as if there were at one time dinosaurs and it may seem as if there was evolution. But, all of these fossil records have simply been implanted by God, who created the world according to the biblical interpretation, just to test human faith.

[17] The theist might argue that the value of E is dependent upon a prior state of affairs such that if E was bestowed by an act of God it would not be as valuable as if it were achieved through effort. Thus, the value of E would be related to character-building on the part of humans. The theist proposing this view would need to answer and defend a number of points in order for this view to fly, not the least of which are: 1) Of what use is character-building in the end-time? 2) How does human character-building justify, the suffering of non-humans, or are they rewarded too? 3) Is it in fact the case that we value goods achieved through effort more than gifts bestowed upon us? 4) Why must effort necessarily involve suffering, which is the issue at stake here?

[18] It might be again objected that God could compensate sufferers independently of E. But if this be the case it seems E is, again, unnecessary as a justifier and its ‘enormous value’ is dubious. For then God could simply create a world with different causal laws (ones which do not have suffering as a by-product, or at least such an abundance of suffering) and bestow rewards on individuals on a case by case basis for their good deeds.

[19] H. J. McCloskey, God and Evil (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974), p. 93.

[20] Clement Dore, Moral Scepticism (N.Y.: St. Martin’s Press, 1991), p. 68.

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