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Book Review: Dialogue on Good, Evil, and the Existence of God (2000)

Mark I. Vuletic

Book Review: John Perry. 1999. Dialogue on Good, Evil, and theExistence of God. Indianapolis: Hackett. ix+71 pp.

In 1978, philosopher John Perry published a well-received little book in which three fictional friends engaged in a series of stimulating but easy-to-understand discussions about personal identity and immortality.[1] In his new 1999 book, Perry looks back to an earlier discussion among the trio about the logical problem of evil. Gretchen Weirob represents the atheistic position, and Sam Miller the theistic position, while the neutral Dave Cohen simply helps the discussion along whenever the main discussants get stuck. The three talk about basic issues related to the logical problem of evil, such as whether any theodicy renders it possible (although not necessarily plausible) that God and evil coexist, whether divine omniscience and human freedom are compatible, and how atheists can make sense of good and evil.

The dialogue is lively and entertaining. It is framed in terms of a friendly bet -- if Miller can convince Weirob that the evil in the world does not logically contradict the existence of God, then Miller will get to pray for Weirob's recovery from the cold which currently afflicts her. "What's more," explains Miller to Cohen, "I'll say the prayer in the first person plural, that we pray for the salvation of her eternal soul."[2] The participants are evenly matched intellectually, and generally respectful towards one another, although they also poke a little bit of fun at one another as friends are inclined to do when they disagree. On occasion, Weirob and Miller each also gets emotional or goes off on a tangent, but each is quickly pulled back into the give-and-take of rational argument. Such digressions serve not only add a familiar feel to the discussions, but to point out certain pitfalls that should be avoided in such debates.

I would have liked Perry's book better had he actively pursued such questions as whether free will is in fact coherent, or whether any theodicy is in fact plausible. However, it is difficult to fault an introductory-level book for not doing something it feels would take it too far afield -- it is sufficient that Perry acknowledges that those questions are in fact legitimate ones (although he has Weirob realize too late that she should not have taken them for granted). Perry has succeeded in providing a clear and engaging introductory-level discussion of the logical problem of evil, which will appeal to both new philosophy students and the average Joe or Mary on the street who has only a few hours per year to read philosophy.

References

[1] John Perry. 1978. A Dialogue on Personal Identity and Immortality. Indianapolis: Hackett.

[2] Perry, 1999. pp. 18-19.


Copyright © 2002, Mark I. Vuletic. All rights reserved.

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