email page print page All Topic Reviews "Are You There Alone?" 10 Good Questions about Life and Death A Casebook of Ethical Challenges in Neuropsychology A Companion to Bioethics A Companion to Bioethics A Companion to Genethics A Companion to Genethics A Companion to Muslim Ethics A Delicate Balance A Life for a Life A Life-Centered Approach to Bioethics A Matter of Security A Philosophical Disease A Practical Guide to Clinical Ethics Consulting A Question of Trust A Short Stay in Switzerland A Very Bad Wizard A World Without Values Action and Responsibility Action Theory, Rationality and Compulsion Acts of Conscience Addiction and Responsibility Advance Directives in Mental Health After Harm Aftermath Against Autonomy Against Bioethics Against Health Against Moral Responsibility Agency and Answerability Agency and Responsibility Aging, Biotechnology, and the Future Albert Schweitzer's Reverence for Life Alphaville Altruism American Eugenics An Anthology of Psychiatric Ethics An Introduction to Ethics An Introduction to Evolutionary Ethics An Introduction to Kant's Moral Philosophy And a Time to Die Animal Lessons Animal Rights Animals Like Us Are Women Human? Assisted Suicide and the Right to Die Autonomy and the Challenges to Liberalism Autonomy, Consent and the Law Babies by Design Backsliding Bad Pharma Bad Souls Beauty Junkies Before Forgiving Being Yourself Bending Over Backwards Bending Science Bernard Williams Better Than Well Beyond Choice Beyond Genetics Beyond Hatred Beyond Humanity? Beyond Moral Judgment Beyond the DSM Story Bias in Psychiatric Diagnosis Bioethics Bioethics Bioethics and the Brain Bioethics at the Movies Bioethics Beyond the Headlines Bioethics Critically Reconsidered Bioethics in a Liberal Society Bioethics in the Clinic Biomedical Ethics Biomedical Ethics Biomedical Ethics Biomedical Ethics Biomedical Research and Beyond Bios Bioscience Ethics Bipolar Children Bluebird Bodies out of Bounds Bodies, Commodities, and Biotechnologies Body Bazaar Boundaries and Boundary Violations in Psychoanalysis Braintrust Branded Breaking the Silence Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy Case Studies in Biomedical Research Ethics Challenging the Stigma of Mental Illness Child Well-Being Children Choosing Children Clinical Dilemmas in Psychotherapy Clinical Ethics Cloning Close toYou Coercion as Cure Coercive Treatment in Psychiatry Cognition of Value in Aristotle's Ethics Cognitive Disability and Its Challenge to Moral Philosophy Comfortably Numb Commonsense Rebellion Communicative Action and Rational Choice Competence, Condemnation, and Commitment Comprehending Care Conducting Insanity Evaluations Confidential Relationships Confidentiality and Mental Health Conflict of Interest in the Professions Consuming Kids Contemporary Debates In Applied Ethics Contemporary Debates in Moral Theory Contemporary Debates in Social Philosophy Contentious Issues Contesting Psychiatry Crazy in America Creating Capabilities Creatures Like Us? 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Freedom and Value Freedom vs. Intervention Friendship From Darwin to Hitler From Disgust to Humanity From Morality to Mental Health From Silence to Voice Frontiers of Justice Gender in the Mirror Genetic Politics Genetic Prospects Genetic Prospects Genetics of Original Sin Genetics of Original Sin Genocide's Aftermath Getting Real Gluttony Good Work Goodness & Advice Greed Groups in Conflict Growing Up Girl Habilitation, Health, and Agency Handbook for Health Care Ethics Committees Handbook of Bioethics Handbook of Psychopathy Happiness Happiness and the Good Life Happiness Is Overrated Hard Feelings Hardwired Behavior Harmful Thoughts Heal & Forgive Healing Psychiatry Health Care Ethics for Psychologists Heterosyncracies Historical and Philosophical Perspectives on Biomedical Ethics Holy War Hooked Hooked How Can I Be Trusted? How to Make Opportunity Equal Human Enhancement Human Goodness Human Identity and Bioethics Human Trials Humanism, What's That? 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Shunned Sick to Death and Not Going to Take It Anymore Sicko Side Effects Sidewalk Stories Sister Citizen Skeptical Feminism Social Inclusion of People with Mental Illness Social Justice Sociological Perspectives on the New Genetics Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat Sovereign Virtue Spiral of Entrapment Split Decisions Sticks and Stones Stories Matter Subjectivity and Being Somebody Suffering, Death, and Identity Suicide Prohibition Surgery Junkies Surgically Shaping Children Taking Morality Seriously Taming the Troublesome Child Technology and the Good Life? 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Why Some Things Should Not Be for Sale Wisdom, Intuition and Ethics Without Conscience Women and Borderline Personality Disorder Women and Madness Wondergenes Wrestling with Behavioral Genetics Writing About Patients You Must Be Dreaming Your Genetic Destiny Your Inner Fish Youth Offending and Youth Justice Yuck!
Chad Meister, co-author of God Is Great, God Is Good: Why Believing in God Is Reasonable and Responsible, is a religious believer, and this comes across strongly in his recent book Evil: A Guide for the Perplexed. He sets out the religious problem of evil, which is broadly the perplexing question of why a very powerful being such as God would allow terrible harm to occur when he or she could prevent it. This is generally posed as an objection to belief in a traditional God. Meister recognizes the power of the problem, but also argues that there are answers to it. He sets out a detailed justification of why God would not interfere in human life to stop suffering. and why God would hide from humans. Meister also examines the argument that atheism is implausible because it can give no objective ground to judgments of evil. He also has a chapter on how Hinduism and Buddhism account for the existence of evil in the world. The book ends with a chapter on how we can respond to evil and suffering in both a theoretical and practical ways.
The strengths of the book are that Meister is a very clear writer and he explains his subjects well. He covers some of the main writers in Christian philosophy and theology, both historically and in the present day. Those who are unfamiliar with this part of philosophy will find the book extremely helpful. Of course, he gives the usual arguments about free will and God not wanting to take away our autonomy. But he also gives a richer set of reasons for why God would allow people to suffer, based on the concept of "soul making." He does allow that for those who start with atheist assumptions, these religious explanations will seem preposterous, and he is right: they do. But he insists that if one starts with a different set of assumptions, they will appear reasonable. It is not so clear how many supernatural assumptions one has to accept before these religious arguments start to make sense, but this approach does leave the worry that it might be entirely question-begging.
The weakest part of the book is Meister's criticism of atheism. One of his central discussions is the idea that atheisms provides no objective basis for morality. He goes through some of the main moral theories, and he points out the problems with relativism and it's approach to understanding evil. He makes a plausible argument that it is hard to fully understand the wrongness of evil according to various forms of subjectivism and relativism. He seems to assume that this is a very strong argument against these views -- i.e., that we can take the wrongness of evil actions as basic. However, there are relativists and subjectivists who are willing to accept the consequences of their views, and while many people may find them unpalatable, that's hardly an argument against them.
Meister also attacks some of the popular anti-religion writers, such as Richard Dawkins. It may well be that his criticisms of Dawkins work, but hardly any serious philosophers find Dawkins to be a sophisticated advocate of atheism. So this is an easy target, and criticizing Dawkins is not a serous engagement with the philosophical literature.
Equally problematic is Meister's discussion of the "problem of the good," which is another version of the worry that atheists cannot provide an account of moral objective judgments. He makes the bold claim that we cannot understand morality without God. But this is just lazy. Not only are there plenty of attempts to ground morality objectively independent of God, going back at least to Kant, but as Plato long ago showed in his Euphythro dialog, there is no good reason to think that positing some supernatural being helps advance any argument for the existence of morally objective values. The problem with Meister's approach here is not that he disagrees with these arguments, but that he does not give them any real attention.
If Meister's aim is to rehearse the basic arguments available to Christians for dealing with the problem of evil, he has done a fine job. However, if his aim to really provide a guide for the perplexed, his approach is deficient, because it is too heavily biased in favor of religious approaches.
The most glaring omission from the book is the work of Claudia Card in providing a secular approach to evil. This is important work in the new years of the 21st century, yet Meister completely omits it. Card has attempted to delineate a secular understanding of evil in a variety of articles in her two most recent books. Her work may be of lasting importance, although it is too early to tell. It deserves consideration in any up to date account of what we would now see as the problem of understanding for, and accounting for the existence of, evil, without appeal to problematic religious ideas.
© 2012 Christian Perring
Christian Perring , Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York
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