Here are three topic choices, choose ONE of the following: 1. Aquinas on the Uniqueness of God Aquinas’s arguments are designed to establish the existence of a being that differs radically from ordinary objects in various important respects. The First Way starts from the fact that ordinary objects are moved and seeks to show that there is at least one thing that is not caused, and so on. In each case, Aquinas writes as if his argument shows something stronger, namely, that exactly one being possesses the remarkable quality in question. He does not give an argument for this claim. Exercise: Explain Aquinas’s argument in two parts. First, produce an argument for the conclusion that there is at least one being with the remarkable property (an uncaused thing) in question. Second, try to complete the argument by showing that there can be at most one such being. 2. The Problem of Animal Suffering Most discussions of the problem of evil focus on the suffering of human beings, Antony follows William Rowe in emphasizing the suffering of animals as well. Rowe’s example: Suppose in some distant forest lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire a fawn [baby deer] is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relives its suffering. So far as we can see, the fawn’s suffering is pointless. (Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” American Philosophical Quarterly 16 : 338) Rowe’s example has the advantage of blocking most of the usual responses to the problem. Animal suffering cannot be justified on the ground that it is a consequence of the exercise of free will or because it serves to bring animals closer to God, since according to most theological traditions, animals do not possess free will and are incapable of union with God. Exercise: Construct a response to the argument from animal suffering on the behalf of the theist. Any such response must point to a believable, morally sufficient reason for God to allow animals to suffer. 3. The Free Will Defense According to the free will defense, God allows suffering because 9a) it’s good for human beings to possess free will, and 9b) if we are going to have free will, God cannot prevent us from making bad choices and harming others. As Louise Antony notes, this does not explain why God allows suffering due to natural causes. But we might ask whether the free will defense succeeds even in the limited task of explaining why God allows suffering due to human choices. Suppose Jones is about to attack Smith, and you pull Smith to safety at the last minute. You have frustrated Jones’s plan. But have you interfered with his free will? No. Jones made his choice freely, and you did not prevent him from doing that. You simply protected Smith from the harm that Jones’s free choice would have caused. Why doesn’t God do likewise? Without limiting anyone’s capacity for free choice, he could still protect the innocent from the evil choices of others (for example, by putting an invisible shield around us that would prevent others from harming us without good reason). A good parent would certainly protect her child in this way if she could. But God doesn’t do this. Isn’t that compelling evidence that a good God does not exist? Exercise: Imagine what it would be like to live in a world in which we were protected from human evil in this way. Would such a world be worse in any way? If not, does this show that the free will defense fails on its own terms?
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