An Evidential Argument from Evil: Natural Inequality

I want to quickly sketch an evidential (aka “explanatory” aka “abductive” aka “F-Inductive“) argument from evil, one which focuses exclusively on natural inequality.  The argument is not mine; it belongs to Moti Mizrahi.

The key point of Mizrahi’s argument, which he credits to an insight of John Rawls, is this:

natural endowments are undeserved.Now, if natural endowments are undeserved, then the fact that one person is more innately endowed than another is arbitrary from a moral point of view. In that case, if one person has more natural talents or is more talented than another person, then that is an unequal distribution of natural talents. From a moral point of view, it is not fair that one person is taller, healthier, faster, thinner, more intelligent, more beautiful, more agile, and otherwise more naturally endowed than another person. Both did not deserve their shares of natural talents (or lack of natural talents, for that matter). The talented do not deserve to be talented just as the untalented do not deserve to be untalented. More generally, the haves do not deserve to have just the have-nots do not deserve not to have. (p. 6)

Using this insight enables to Mizrahi to frame the natural inequality version of the problem of evil as follows:

Now, since moral arbitrariness in the distribution of natural endowments gives rise to unequal distributions, which are unfair because they are undeserved, as when some (e.g., Albert Einstein) get all the cognitive goods, whereas others (e.g., microcephalics) get nothing, the problem is to say how could God—who is supposed to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent—allow for this sort of natural inequality. In other words, if God is morally perfect, why is the distribution of natural endowments so unequal? How could an all-good God be so unfair in distributing natural endowments? This is the problem of natural inequality, which is a new evidential (not logical or incompatibility) problem of evil, or so I argue. (pp. 6-7)

I find Mizrahi’s paper very convincing, but I think it is also incomplete, since it never actually states the logical form of his evidential argument. But this problem is easily solved. Using the generic structure for F-inductive arguments, this passage (and the paper as a whole) inspire the following F-inductive version of the problem of natural inequality.

Let E = a statement about known facts about natural inequality: the unequal distribution of natural endowments (such as height, health, speed, weight, intelligence, beauty, agility, and so forth).

(1) E is known to be true.

(2) Theism is not much more probable intrinsically than naturalism, i.e., Pr(|T|) is not >! Pr(|N|).

(3) E is much more likely on the assumption that naturalism is true than on the assumption that theism is true, i.e., Pr(E | N) >! Pr(E | T).

So, (4) Other evidence held equal, theism is probably false, i.e., Pr(T | E) < 0.5.


Premise (1) is beyond reasonable doubt.

Premise (2) is eminently plausible, for reasons which I have discussed on this blog many times before. (See the recent guest post by Paul Draper for a primer.)

This leaves premise (3). The justification for (3) may be summed up as follows:

On naturalism, E is just what we would expect. If naturalism is true, all animals are the byproducts of unguided evolution by natural selection, which is both indifferent to the distribution of natural endowments and incapable of distributing them fairly. Everything else held equal, on naturalism, we would expect natural endowments to be distributed randomly (such as in the shape of a bell curve).

But if theism is true, God is neither indifferent nor incapable of distributing natural endowments evenly. God is capable of distributing natural endowments evenly because God is by definition all-powerful. God is interested in the distribution of natural endowments because God is both loving and morally perfect. God’s love for his creatures, as well as his moral perfection, entails that God allows a state of affairs to obtain only if he has a good moral justification for doing so. But, as noted by both Rawls and Mizrahi, natural endowments are not morally justified. For example, there is nothing Michael Phelps did to deserve to be born with the kind of physiology which made his athletic achievements possible, just as there is nothing Nick Vujicic did to deserve to be born with no limbs.

Furthermore, as Mizrahi notes, the lack or minimal presence of natural endowments relating to intellectual ability, such as microcephaly, can prevent people from responding to God appropriately. So the distribution of natural endowments, in some cases, also causes important restrictions on people’s ability to have a relationship with God. Again, blind nature is both indifferent to (and incapable of) taking such factors into account while conducting what Rawls calls the “natural lottery,” but God has no such limitations.

This leaves (4), which is the inference drawn from (1)-(3). 4 follows deductively from (1)-(3) as a natural consequence of Bayes’ Theorem.

I conclude that the problem of natural inequality, especially as manifested in individuals with microcephaly or other severe intellectual disabilities which prevent a relationship with God, is strong, prima facie evidence against God’s existence.