Siris responds to my query below:
So the simple answer as to why so many atheists are attracted to the argument from evil is that they are the sort of people who would be attracted to design arguments if they were theists. The two types of arguments make use of the same basic processes of reasoning and similar views of design as relatively obvious to spot if it’s there; they just reach different conclusions because one says that this or that is obviously good enough that it has to be designed, and the other says that that or this is obviously bad enough that it couldn’t possibly be designed. And both tend to be locked into the view that it is design or nothing.
Those of us, theist or atheist though we may be, who recognize that these positions are contraries rather than contradictories will tend to prefer other arguments and, as John says, regard the underlying presuppositions as dubious. I am certain, for instance, that John generally finds the argument from evil obviously dubious precisely because he would regard most design arguments to be obviously dubious; given doubts about the one, it would take an extraordinarily sophisticated version of the other to impress. But once the basic points were in place historically — a sort of empiricism connected with the rise of science and the spread of a weak view of causation — design arguments on the one side and arguments from evil on the other side became the easiest arguments for people to understand. So I imagine that they will be hard to put back in their place; it would require a sort of revolution in the world of thought, whereby what is now popular becomes unpopular and what is now unpopular becomes popular. We none of us have any inkling of what would accomplish that.
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I sometimes wonder if much of the problem lies with a shift of meaning. Consider the difference in “happiness” between Aristotle in the Nichomachean Ethics and “happiness” with clowns and colored balloons. By this I mean the confusion of happiness with pleasure, and with immediate sense pleasure. Some of the comments here: http://thomism.wordpress.com/2009/03/03/3620/ seem apropos, as it seems you already know.
Yes. I think it’s interesting, too, if I recall correctly from the Stanford Encyclopedia’s online entry on Aquinas, that currently TA is enjoying a lot of renewed consideration by current philosophy depts–especially in the realm of his explication of Virtue (of course derived from and related to Aristotle’s) and its role in happiness.