Theodicy

This category contains 16 posts

Sunday Quote! – Do Trilobites Yield a Greater Good?

nrtc-murrayEvery Sunday, I will share a quote from something I’ve been reading. The hope is for you, dear reader, to share your thoughts on the quote and related issues and perhaps pick up some reading material along the way!

Trilobites Yield a Greater Good

Recently, I finished reading Nature Red in Tooth and Claw by Michael Murray. It is, essentially, a look into animal suffering and how it plays into the problem of evil. It was a phenomenal read and I have to say I learned quite a bit from it. One quote I particularly enjoyed was actually from a quote Murray provided from George Frederick Wright, a 19th century theologian and geologist.

The purpose of that low organism [the trilobite] is by no means exhaustively explained when we have taken a measure of the sensational happiness he derived from his monotonous existence…  But a far higher purpose is served in the adaptation of his complicated organism and of the position of his tomb in a sedimentary deposit to arrest the attention and direct the reasoning of a scientific observer. The pleasure of one lofty thought is worth more… than a whole heard of sensational pleasures. (142, cited below)

There is much to unpack in this quote, but for simplicity’s sake we’ll just examine one facet. Wright asserted that the final cause–the ultimate purpose–of a trilobite is not merely found in its own existence, but also in its existing to “arrest the attention and direct the reasoning” of a more highly developed organism. Indeed, Wright argued that the learning the life (and death) of the trilobite brought to the scientific observer was a far greater good than the life the trilobite lived of sensational pleasures.

A number of issues would need to be addressed before a fuller theodicy could be developed from this point. First, not every trilobite was able to convey its life to the good of a scientific observer. Second, is the good of scientific observation really better than sensational life of the trilobite?

Of course, I personally think the point by Wright is interesting and compelling to a point–but to develop that argument would take as much space as Murray dedicates to it. My final observation would be that Wright’s argument was not intended as the final word on the subject. It is but one among many facets of a greater good theodicy or a conjoined theodicy with other varieties of approaches to the problem of evil. Nature Red in Tooth and Claw develops a number of these in very interesting and compelling ways. I recommend it.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Animal Pain Re-Visited- Over at Reasonable Faith, Michael Murray defends some theses of his book that I discussed above.

Source

Michael J. Murray, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering (New York: Oxford, 2008).

About these ads

Does good always eliminate evil?

michael-binds-satan-william-blakeOne of the key components of the composition of the problem of evil (at least its logical variety)* is the notion that good will eliminate evil. The late J.L. Mackie put it this way:

A wholly good omnipotent being would eliminate evil completely; if there really are evils, then there cannot be any such being. (Mackie, 150, cited below)

Simply put, this statement and any like it seem fairly obviously false if made without any rather major qualifications. After all, it seems clear that the total elimination of evil is not actually a logically necessary end for a good being, even an all-good, all-powerful being.

C. Stephen Evans presented a case to show that Mackie’s statement (and those like it) are simply mistaken. He noted that the principle that good must eliminate evil seems to be blatantly false without a number of qualifications. He argued that there are some evils which good beings will allow in order to bring about a greater good. The analogy he used was that of parents not allowing their children to ride in automobiles. After all, this would ensure that they would never be involved in the evil of a car crash, but surely it would also prevent greater goods of interaction with friends, learning to drive and the responsibility that comes with, and more (127). However, Evans was quick to note that a deity is by no means directly analogous to a human parent. The resources God would have to prevent evil are infinitely greater than that of a human parent.

In the case of God, however, God cannot bring about the logically impossible. Rather than going for a full-on theodicy (an account of why evils exist), Evans argued that certain goods are impossible to achieve without some evil. Thus, courage necessitates some kind of suffering (128). He did not argue that this notion alone provides a comprehensive theodicy; but for our purposes it is enough. It seems clear that the notion that good must eliminate evil is not only unsupported by argument (it is an a priori assumption), but also patently false. That is, we have evidence that at least some evil must be allowed in order for some good to be brought about.

I want to be clear about my thesis in this post: I am not claiming to have a comprehensive explanation for all evil everywhere. My claim is rather that good does not, by necessity, eliminate evil. That’s all. I believe that I have established this thesis. If so, then Mackie’s argument (and those like it) fail.

*The logical problem of evil is basically an argument that there is a contradiction in theistic belief related to God’s power and goodness and the existence of evil.

Links

Be sure to check out the page for this site on Facebook and Twitter for discussion of posts, links to other pages of interest, random talk about theology/philosophy/apologetics/movies and more!

Sources

C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Reason & Religion) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).

J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (New York: Oxford, 1982).

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

If a Good God Exists: Presuppositional Apologetics and the problem of evil

It is clear that all things are ordered according to the perfect will of the Lord. If the Lord’s reasons for some state of affairs are inscrutable, does that mean that they are unjust? (Augustine, City of God Book V, Chapter 2).

The problem of evil is the most pervasive argument used against Christianity. It also causes the most doubts among Christians. I know I can attest to crying out to God over the untold atrocities which continue to happen. Yet very often, I think, we are asking the wrong question. Here, I’ll explore the ways the problem of evil is presented. Then, I’ll offer what I think is a unique answer: the presuppositional response to the problem of evil. Finally, we’ll evaluate this response.

Two Ways to Present the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is posed in a number of ways, but here I’ll outline two varieties.

The Classical/Logical Problem of Evil

God is said to be all powerful and all good, yet evil exists. Thus, it seems that either God does not want to prevent evil (in which case God is not all good) or God is incapable of preventing evil (and is thus not all powerful).

The Evidential Problem of Evil

Evil on its own may not prove that God does not exist (the logical/classical problem of evil), but it seems that surely the amount of evil should be less than what we observe. Surely, God is capable of reducing the amount of suffering by just one less child being beaten, or by one less tsunami killing hundreds. The very pervasiveness of evil makes it clear that no good God exists.

The Presuppositional Response to the Problem of Evil

One of the insights that we can gain from presuppositional apologetics is that it forces us to look at our preconceived notions about reality and how the impact our answers to questions and even the questions we choose to ask. The way that the problems of evil are outlined provides a prime example for how presuppositional approach to apologetics provides unique answers.

The presuppositional answer to these problems of evil is simple: If a good God exists, then these are not problems at all.

Of course, this seems overly simplified, and it is. But what the presuppositionalist is emphasizing is that the only way to make the two problems above make sense is to come from a kind of neutral or negative starting presupposition. The only way to say to construct the dilemma in the classical/logical problem of evil is to assume that there is not an all-powerful and all-good God to begin with. For, if an omnibenevolent, omnipotent being exists, then to say that God does not want to prevent evil seems false; while to say that God is incapable of preventing evil is also false. Thus, there would have to be a third option: perhaps God reasons for allowing evil are inscrutable; perhaps the free will defense succeeds; etc. Only if one assumes that there is no God can one make sense of the logical problem of evil to begin with.

The evidential problem of evil suffers an even worse conundrum given its presuppositions. For it once more assumes that God should do more to prevent evil, and so because God does not do more, God must not exist or must not care about evil. But who is to say that God should do more to prevent evil? Who is in a position to judge the overall evil in the world and say that there should be less? Furthermore, even assuming it were possible for there to be less evil, who knows the whole breadth of possible purposes God might have to allow for suffering and evil? The presuppositionalist agrees with the words of God in Job:

Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me. Job 41:11

The answer must come with humility: no one has such a claim. There is none who can claim that God owes them one thing. Yet this is not all an appeal to God’s sovereignty. Instead, it is an appeal to God’s goodness.

The late Greg Bahnsen, a defender of presuppositional apologetics, presents the presuppositional approach to the problem of evil in his work, Always Ready:

If the Christian presupposes that God is perfectly and completely good… then he is committed to evaluating everything within his experience in light of that presupposition. Accordingly, when the Christian observes evil events or things in the world, he can and should retain consistency with his presupposition about God’s goodness by now inferring that God has a morally good reason for the evil that exists. (171-172)

Thus, the strength that one assigns to the problem of evil ultimately depends quite a bit upon one’s presuppositions. If you believe you have good reason for thinking that God exists, then the problem of evil seems much less powerful than if you believe there is no good reason for thinking God exists.

Yeah… and?

Okay, so what’s the point? It may be that what we bring to the table does indeed alter our view of the problem of evil. Does that mean we are at a complete impasse? I think that this is where evidences come in, even on the presuppositional view. If all we have are presuppositions, then we are indeed stuck. But we must look at evidences to see whose presuppositions match reality. And, what we have done by centering the discussion of the problem of evil around presuppositions is to set it to the side. Surely the atheist would not suggest the Christian must abandon their presuppositions? It seems like a more rational perspective to look at the evidences. The presuppositionalist holds that when it comes to evil, it is really just a matter of presuppositions. If a Good God exists, we can trust God.

Links

The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til- I explore the presuppositional method of apologetics through a case study of the man who may fairly be called its founder, Cornelius Van Til.

Debate Review: Greg Bahnsen vs. Gordon Stein- I review a debate between a prominent presuppositional apologist, the late Greg Bahnsen, and a leading atheist, Gordon Stein. It is worth reading/listening to because the debate really brings out the distinctiveness of the presuppositional apologetic.

I have explored this type of argument about the problem of evil before. See my post, What if? The “Job Answer” to the problem of evil.

I review Greg Bahnsen’s Always Ready.

Image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Las_Conchas_Fire.jpg

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

Book Review: “Providence and the Problem of Evil” by Richard Swinburne

“In order rationally to believe that there is a God, despite [evil], we need either strong positive evidence for the existence of God, or a record of discovering with respect to many apparent bad states that a theodicy works with respect to them, or a theodicy for each kind of bad state which seems to count against the existence of God.”[1]

The problem of evil is considered by many to be the greatest challenge to theism.[2] Richard Swinburne offers a defense against this problem in his work Providence and the Problem of Evil.[3]

Swinburne first develops an account of goods within creation. His account includes beauty, actions, thoughts and feelings as various goods. Given the existence of God, he also argues that worship is a great good.[4] Human freedom is necessary for many goods. With freedom, humans can bring about all types of great goods.[5] The freedom of persons also allows for great evils. These goods are not just goods for people, but they are states which God would be expected to desire to bring about.[6] By developing this account, he is able to turn towards various types of evils.

First, there are moral evils. Moral evils are essentially those bad states of affairs which persons bring about. Swinburne argues that some moral evil is going to be necessary, because it is simply a fact that there are good states of affairs which are logically incompatible.[7] Second, there is natural evil—evils which occur without direct causation by persons.

These sections of the book are largely made up of background, yet Swinburne interweaves his theodicy into the chapters on evil. Central to Swinburne’s account is the idea that for every evil, there is some reason that it occurred. There is, in other words, no evil which is superfluous, no evil which is gratuitous. For every evil mentioned, Swinburne provides a possible reason for God’s allowing it to occur. What reasons could God have for allowing evils like the holocaust, or animal pain? Swinburne sums up his view concisely as follows:

“Every moral evil in the world is such that God allowing it to occur makes possible… the great good of a particular choice between good and bad… Every pain makes possible a courageous response… and normally the goods of compassion and sympathetic action… And all animal pain gives knowledge and opportunity for compassion to animals and humans if they know of it.”[8]

Swinburne’s view is that for every evil, there is a reason. The reason can be knowledge: when people (or animals) observe animals dying in forest fires, they learn to flee from the fires, and thus save themselves and others.[9] Choice is a great good, but in having choices, people can choose to bring about great evils. Horrendous evils like the Holocaust are not just the result of choices in the present, but are the consequences of a long series of evil choices.[10]

Importantly, Swinburne also argues that God is under no obligation to make everyone’s life equally good. “[I]f [God] gives to some ten good things, and to others twenty good things, no one is wronged; nor has he failed to be perfectly good. He has been generous, and, more so, he has made it possible for us to be generous.”[11] God’s providence is good to everyone. There is a level of inequality in the gifts received—but to any and all, gifts are given. The way people choose to use their gifts is what leads to extreme inequities.

Finally, Swinburne argues that God has the right to allow evil, largely due to the extreme dependence people have upon him.[12] Not only that, but God has brought about a world in which every person has the possibility of the nearly infinite good of being with God forever. Thus, Swinburne concludes that God has provided people with a choice between the good and rejection of the good. The responsibility for that action is upon the person, not God.[13]

Throughout Swinburne’s account are several theses many readers may find implausible. He rejects original guilt [he does not deny that there was an original sin and instead holds to an Eastern Orthodox view--thanks to a reader of the original review (linked below) for this point][14] and denies that God knows the future free actions of creatures.[15] These theological points do not undermine his main theses, however. It is undeniable that Swinburne has provided a lucid account of a “greater good theodicy.” He does provide possible reasons for allowing any type of evil to occur.

The key point of divergence with readers will be whether they are willing to accept these reasons in conjunction with his later conclusions. God has reasons for allowing every evil, and he provides for people to have extraordinarily good lives with the afterlife, but there remain those who will reject these goods. Swinburne’s account is cumulative: the reasons provided for allowing evils do not stand on their own. Rather, they stand together and in unison with God’s providence and direct goodness to all persons through maintaining the world, creating them, and providing them with choices.

Those interested in the problem of evil would do well to read Providence and the Problem of Evil.  Usage of the “greater good theodicy” is on the wane. Many theists today only provide versions of the “free will defense” in relation to the problem of evil. In doing so, they cast aside a powerful philosophical tool for theism. While the “greater good theodicy” will not convince everyone, it can at least provide a strong cumulative case when joined with other defenses against the problem of evil.


[1] Richard Swinburne, Providence and the Problem of Evil (New York, NY: Oxford, 1998), 29.

[2] See Swinburne’s thoughts on this on pages 4ff.

[3] He also believes that we have strong positive evidence for the existence of God, but he focuses upon theodicy in this work. See his The Existence of God for a case for the existence of God based on positive evidence.

[4] 111ff.

[5] 105-107.

[6] 45.

[7] 125.

[8] 217.

[9] 176ff.

[10] 151-152.

[11] 149.

[12] 223ff.

[13] 251.

[14] 36-41.

[15] 127ff.

This review was originally posted at Apologetics315 here: http://www.apologetics315.com/2011/11/book-review-providence-and-problem-of.html

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

The Multiverse and Theism: Theistic reflections on many worlds

There has been much philosophical and scientific discussion on the topic of the multiverse. Recently, a lot of this discussion has been happening within philosophy of religion. Some attempt to use the multiverse to overcome classical theistic arguments like the Kalam Cosmological Argument, while others try to utilize it to avoid the teleological argument. Atheists and skeptics are not the only ones who are interested in the multiverse, however. Recently, a few prominent theistic philosophers have utilized the multiverse in inventive ways.

The Multiverse and the Problem of Evil

Some theistic philosophers have argued that the multiverse can provide a new type of theodicy. As eminent a philosopher as Alvin Plantinga writes:

…a theist might agree that it is unlikely, given just what we know about our world, that there is such a person as God. But perhaps God has created countless worlds, in fact, all the… universes… in which there is a substantial overall balance of good or evil… [A]s it happens, we find ourselves in one of the worlds in which there is a good deal [of evil]. But the probability of theism, given the whole ensemble of worlds, isn’t particularly low (Plantinga, 463).

Does such a theodicy help theists with the problem of evil? It seems to me that it may, but that it is not particularly strong. It could be included in a cumulative-case type of theodicy, however.

First, Michael Almeida offers a critique of this position. Suppose that God did, in fact, create such a multiverse. It seems plausible that such a universe would be infinite in the number of worlds (after all, for every “good” world, there seems one can always imagine a “better” world). Here Almeida ingeniously applies William Lane Craig’s arguments about the infinite, not to show that the set of universes cannot be infinite, but to show that in an infinite multiverse one could subtract specific worlds from this set without decreasing the good of the multiverse (Almeida, 305-306). Suppose God did in fact actualize an infinite multiverse–all the worlds which are, on the whole, good. If that’s the case, then God could easily not actualize any one (or infinite!) world(s) without decreasing the total good of creation. After all, it would remain infinitely good!

Timothy O’Connor offered a possible response to this argument, noting that “It may well be that [God] would have a distinct motivation to realize every fundamental kind of good-making feature, some of which are incommensurable. If so, this would put a further constraint on universe types… within a candidate infinite hierarchy” (O’Connor 2, 315). God could have chosen to actualize each individual type of good–some of which may exist in our own world to a maximal extent. This doesn’t seem implausible given the tremendous goodness of an event like the Redemption.

Some may be concerned that an appeal to the multiverse may undermine more traditional theodicies such as the “greater good theodicy” or the “free-will defense.” One might envision the multiverse as a kind of “throwing in the towel” on the traditional theistic defenses. I don’t see why this should follow, because any of these traditional theodicies would be just as applicable to our own universe whether it were one or one of many. There are, however, a few problems I see with this defense, which I’ll put off until the section “On the Possibility of a Multiverse” below.

Which world would God Create?

Some have argued theism is irrational because they hold God is a perfect being, which would entail that God would create the best possible universe–itself an incoherent concept. It is possible that God need not create the best possible world. Robert Merrihew Adams, for example, doesn’t agree that God is obligated to create the “best possible world.” Rather, God could choose to create worlds which manifest His grace (Adams, 62). O’Connor cites William Rowe as providing an effective counter to this by arguing that there would then be a possible being better than the perfect being (O’Connor 1, 114). I’m unconvinced by this counter. If there is no best possible world, God cannot be obligated to create it (because it doesn’t exist).

O’Connor anticipates this response and seems to grant that it may be plausible (115). However, he among other theists, seems to believe that God would actualize a multiverse. He writes, “God’s choice isn’t between… single universes, but between the super universes ['super universe' being a 'collection of one or more totalities that are mutually disconnected save for their common origin within God's creative choice']” (O’Connor 1, 116). God, on this view, actualizes many “good” worlds. He writes, “the creative motivation would be not to settle for a finite limit on the individual organic goodness of any of His products” (O’Connor 2, 315). God’s creation of many universes shows his “artisanship” (Ibid).

Such arguments are both interesting and compelling. Those who attack theism based upon the “best possible world” objection may be thwarted by the hypothesis of God’s creative multiverse.

On the Possibility of a Multiverse

Theistic proposals of a multiverse are clearly sometimes motivated for entirely different reasons than naturalists.  What difficulties are there with such a proposal?

First, some theists object to the multiverse by arguing that it undermines several theistic arguments. It does not seem that the multiverse would do so, however. The cosmological argument would stand strong in spite of a multiverse, because any inflationary multiverse would still have a beginning in time. Design arguments would similarly be unchallenged because one would have to explain the fine-tuning of the multiverse. These objections to the multiverse, therefore, do not do much damage.

Other objections to the multiverse require more discussion of the meaning of the term “multiverse.” Jeffrey Zweerink notes several levels of multiverse. Some of these are uncontroversial. For example, the “Level I” multiverse is simply a description of other regions beyond the observable universe (Zweerink, 28). Of course, this is hardly what many mean when they refer to a “multiverse.” What is meant by multiverse here is a Level II or higher multiverse, such as inflationary bubble universes or other generative scenarios (Zweerink, 28-29). The difficulty with these is that there doesn’t seem to be any reason to hold that these universes exist. Zweerink notes that the Level II multiverse is predicted by some models of string theory, but to believe there are literally other unobservable universes on the basis of theoretical predictions alone hardly seems convincing.

Given these observations, it seems initially that while theism is unthreatened by the multiverse (and perhaps even bolstered by its possible existence), there is no better reason to think it exists on theism as on other worldviews. But perhaps that’s not the case. One can reflect once more on O’Connor’s belief that the multiverse shows God’s creative artistry (O’Connor 2, 315). Not only that, but one may even predict that God would actualize many worlds in order to bring about His desire to actualize various goods (O’Connor 1, 112ff). Perhaps one could argue that theism may even predict many universes. In that case, the multiverse is more likely than not.

My thoughts

Clearly, I think there may be some merit in the use of the multiverse in theistic arguments. I think it would amazing if, somehow, we made a discovery which confirmed the existence of other universes, and I do believe people could hold that theism might even predict such a discovery, but color me skeptical. I think it would generate an enormous amount of metaphysical baggage to hold to the existence of a multiverse. While the previous arguments may have shown that theism increases the likelihood of a multiverse, I don’t think it increases it enough to justify belief in a world ensemble. I remain open to the possibility, and indeed some compelling arguments have been offered in its favor, but for now I remain unconvinced. That said, I think theists could still utilize the multiverse in response to the problems illustrated above, because even a hypothetical multiverse could be used to bolster these defenses. Those opposed to theism might here object, saying that I condemn their own uses of the multiverse to try to get around theistic arguments. They would be incorrect. I condemn the use of the multiverse on competing views because I don’t think the other views can justify belief in the multiverse, nor do I think their usage actually defeats the difficulties with their own positions.

Is there a theistic multiverse? Maybe. Can theists utilize a hypothetical multiverse in their philosophical speculations? Absolutely.

Sources

Alvin Plantinga, Warranted Christian Belief (New York, NY: Oxford, 2000).

Timothy O’Connor 1, Theism and Ultimate Explanation (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008).

Timothy O’Connor 2, “Is God’s Necessity Necessary? Replies to Senor, Oppy, McCann, and Almeida,” Philosophia Christi 12 (2010), 309-316.

Michael J. Almeida, “O’Connor’s Permissive Multiverse” Philosophia Christi 12 (2010), 297-307.

Robert Merrihew Adams, “Must God Create the Best?” in The Virtue of Faith and Other Essays in Philosophical Theology 51-64 (New York: Oxford, 1987).

Jeffrey Zweerink, Who’s Afraid of the Multiverse? (Reasons to Believe, 2008).

Links

I discuss and rebut multiverse objections to the Kalam Cosmological Argument here and here.

The Theological Attraction of the Multiverse- An interesting post on the theology of the multiverse.

Christological Implications of the Multiverse- Another post worth reading on theology and the multiverse.

Living in the Multiverse- Is It Science?- Discussion of scientific evidence for the multiverse.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

On September 11th, 2001, harmless things became fearful

There is a day that is burned into the memory of a generation–a day in which so many things we thought were harmless were turned against us.  On September 11th, 2001, the United States was attacked by terrorists who flew planes into our buildings. The World Trade Center collapsed as we watched. We listened with pride about the men and women on United Airlines Flight 93 who died in order to prevent another attack.

We found out later box cutters were used to take over the airplanes. It was airplanes–a mere form of transportation–which were used to cause so much destruction. Harmless things became weapons.

But what does it all mean? How are we to come away from such an event unscathed? Something as simple as a box cutter was used against us. Can we trust anything? Is the person who invented the box cutter to blame? What about the manufacturer? What of the airplanes? Should we never fly again?

I can’t help but think about the ultimate when I am faced with the immediate. And the ultimate leads me to think of God. God created our universe, and as He created, He called each new creation “good” (see Genesis 1:4ff). But bad things started happening fairly quickly. Sin entered the world, and it wasn’t long before we had genocides, racism, hatred, terrorism, hunger, and you name it. The evils perpetuated by man would take too long to enumerate, and we can easily think of more.

Ultimately, God created the world as “good.” It was we who turned these good things against each other, it is we who actively seek to hurt, harm, and destroy each other. It is our free will that has turned things which are good into things used for evil.

On this 10th anniversary of 9/11… I sit back and ponder such things. It’s easy to throw blame around when we think about evil. It would be easiest to blame God. “Why don’t you prevent these evils, God?” But then we forget about the kinds of things God made, and how He only made them good.

The question is not: “Why did God create these things [free will, among others]?” The question is “Why have we used these things for evil?”

Links

“Are We All Moral Monsters?” Clay Jones looks at how 9/11 has awakened us to mortality in new ways.

Simply Incoherent- Christopher Hitchens argues that 9/11 is evil. But on his ontology, evil makes no sense.

9/11 ‘Full cognitive meltdown’ and its fallout

From Ground Zero to 10 Years Later–September 11, 2011- a reflection on 9/11

Did God Allow the Attacks on 9/11 for a “Greater Good”?- A post writing against ‘greater good’ theodicies. Not sure I agree entirely, but I think there are some great difficulties with the ‘greater good’ theodicy which Erik Manning draw out.

Where was God on 9/11?- A reflection on 9/11 along with a point-by-point critique of Rabbi Kushner’s response to 9/11.

Do all roads (and flights) lead to God?- A critique of religious pluralism.

Two Ground Zeros- From the horrors of 9/11 to the hope of Christ.

Suffering and the Cross of Christ- Christ helps us explain suffering.

America After 9/11, Is Religion Evil?- Is it?

Where was God on 9/11?

Atheism, Evil, and Ultimate Justice- God will provide ultimate justice.

Ground Zero: Why truth matters more than preventing another 9/11 style attack

Divine Commands Post 9/11

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

What if? The “Job Answer” to the Problem of Evil

“Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me.” Job 41:11

There are many different kinds of theodicy or defenses to rebut the problem of evil. As I read the Bible I see a few different answers, but one extremely important theodicy in the Scriptures is what I shall deem the “Job Answer,” which is found in the book of Job, although a similar idea is touched upon by Paul in Romans.

Job was known as the most righteous of all the people on earth. Yet God allowed terrible things to happen to him, as part of a test to show Satan that Job was indeed as faithful and righteous as was thought.

But why? Why do bad things happen to good people? Why is it that Job, who God Himself called blameless and upright (1:8) has so many bad things happen to him?

Job’s friends gathered around him and offered various explanations. Job must have done something to deserve it, he must have erred in some way, etc, etc. Yet all of these, Job says, are wrong. He is indeed without blame, and he remains faithful. Yet despite this faith, he cannot help but complain to God. And in this defense of himself and appeal to God, he again points out that he is righteous (see Job 31).

God’s answer to this complaint is where I draw the “Job Answer.” God responds, basically, by saying “Job, you don’t know how I operate, but don’t you think it’s reasonable to conclude that I know what I’m doing?”

Is this a satisfactory answer? Can Job demand another answer? Should he?

That is often the route taken by atheists and even Christians when they investigate the problem of evil. They demand that God provide an answer they themselves find suitable. They act as though God owes them the answer, as if God cannot possibly be good unless the answer is found acceptable in their own eyes. But what does God say to that? In Job chapter 41, He says “Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.”

Is that easy? Is that the answer we Christians like to see? Not really. It would be so much easier if God just said “You know, I gave you guys freedom of will, so given your sinful nature (which you chose, by the way), wouldn’t you expect to see some pretty awful things happening?” That’s the kind of answer I find more appealing. That’s easy.

But that isn’t the answer God gave. He said “Everything belongs to me. Who must I repay?” Does that mean God is not good?

Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle’s recent book Erasing Hell has had me reflecting on these very questions. Hell is a tough issue, and it has some serious implications for the problem of evil. In a particularly intriguing part of this book, the authors quote Scripture and follow it with a few questions. Specifically, they are reflecting on the idea that God knows who is going to hell before they themselves choose to do so. Check it out:

“What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?” (Rom. 9:22-23)

…What if God, as the sovereign Creator of the universe, decided to create ‘vessels of wrath prepared for destruction”? …And what if it’s His way of showing those He saves just how great His glory and mercy is? What would you do if He chose to do this? Refuse to believe in Him? Refuse to be a ‘vessel of mercy’? Does that make any sense? Would you refuse to follow him? Really? Is that wise? (p. 130, cited below)

The passage quoted is from Paul, writing to the Romans. Note how he phrases it: he starts it with what if. He’s not saying this is what God does, or that God does operate in this way, but he’s offering it as a possibility. Chan and Sprinkle continue this line of reasoning: What would we do if this is how God works? Would it make sense to rebel… to become a vessel of wrath just because we know they exist? Does it mean that God is doing wrong if this is how He operates?

Again, we turn back to Job to find the answer. God’s ways our not our own. God answers Job by listing things Job cannot do, and cannot even comprehend. ‘These things,’ God implies, ‘are outside of your comprehension… yet you expect to understand something even more incomprhensible?’ But that is not where God leaves it. He also tells us that ultimately, He will bring justice to all. Those who are now downtrodden will be lifted up, and justice will reign. How can Job respond? By repenting “in dust and ashes” (42:6).

So the “Job Answer” fits in a unique place among various defenses and theodicies for the problem of evil. Instead of using human nature and free will or a greater good to justify evil, the answer given to and by Job is that God, being good, has a reason, even if that reason is inscrutable for us. It is a response of faith.

But this does not mean the “Job Answer” is the only answer given in all of Scripture. Jesus is the ultimate answer to the problem of evil. He came and took our pain and suffering upon Himself, which in turn defeats evil ultimately and for all time. There are other Biblical answers to the problem of evil, but the answer Job gives is simple: Have faith. It does not promote an unphilosophical or unreflective faith, but points out the obvious: If we have good reasons to believe in God, and reasons which point to God as good, then we can simply trust that the apparent problem of evil is solved, ultimately, by God.

Thus, the “Job Answer” implies a second version of theodicy. Namely, that the evidence for the existence of God provides a rebutting defeater for the problem of evil. If we know that God exists and is good, then the problem of evil simply cannot be coherent.

In either case, the “Job Answer” provides a powerful, Biblical, answer to the problem of evil.

Source cited: Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle Erasing Hell (Colorado Springs, CO: 2011, David C. Cook).

Response to an attack on this post found here (Search for “On Job.”)

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

What Evil? (The Problem of Evil on Empiricism)

The problem of evil is often seen to be the greatest philosophical challenge to theistic belief. The problem of evil is also most frequently raised by people who are ardent empiricists (which undergirds their atheism).  There are many versions of empiricism, but the one we will investigate at the moment is naturalistic, atheistic empiricism, which holds both that there is nothing but the natural world in the sense of the world which can be directly accessed via the senses and only sensory, empirical evidence is sufficient evidence for holding a proposition to be true.

On this view, it seems extremely difficult to figure out what exactly evil is. Sam Harris is well known for trying to show that science is capable of dealing with moral issues (discussed here). The method basically involves finding out what makes people happy (which is “good”) and what makes them unhappy (which makes it “bad”) (see here). It remains totally unclear to me, however, how Harris makes the jump from “happy” to “objective good.” Measuring people’s happiness doesn’t mean measuring goodness. There are serial killers who are very happy to go about secretly killing as many people as possible. That doesn’t make their action “good”, unless you boil “good” down to a purely subjective basis, on which nothing can be decried as “evil” unless 100% of people agree it is indeed evil.

Returning to the problem of evil, then, it seems like theists can simply ask the atheists a question: “What evil?” Judging something as “evil” is necessarily a valuation of an action. How does one make an experiment which can make a value judgment? Certainly, one can try to argue, as does Harris, that values are just [scientific] facts (note that the theist agrees that moral values are facts… but facts centered on the nature of God, not on empirical grounds). But simply asserting something doesn’t make it so. I often say “God exists.” People don’t tend to take this as profound evidence that the statement is true. (Though, perhaps if I said “God exists is a fact.” I might win some over… at least those who take Harris seriously when he makes a similar claim about values in the video linked above.)

So the question remains: What evil? On an atheistic empirical standpoint, there doesn’t seem to be any way to judge actions or events as “evil” other than by saying “I don’t like that.” But perhaps I do like that same event/action. Who’s to judge between us? Bringing numbers into the mix won’t help either. Imagine a scenario in which 1,000,000 people thought some action (rape) was evil. On the other side there were 10,000 who thought the same action was perfectly reasonable, because, after all, that’s how our ancestors behaved. Who is right? Well, on empiricism, perhaps one could argue that the 1,000,000 are right, but then we’re making a judgment on values simply because of a majority vote. Science doesn’t work that way. We don’t just vote on what is empirically correct.

The only way to solve this problem would be to argue that in moral questions, the majority is correct. Yet I don’t see any way to argue in this matter other than metaphysically, which is exactly what the empiricist is trying to avoid. Therefore, on empiricism, there is no such thing as evil. Just good and bad feelings. And that’s not enough.

And so we get to my main argument.

1) One cannot rationally hold both to a proposition’s truth and falsehood.

2) On atheistic empiricism, there is no evil.

3) Atheistic empiricists argue that evil disproves (or challenges) the existence of God [implicit premise: evil exists].

4) Therefore, atheistic empiricists hold that both evil does not exist, and that it does exist (2, 3).

5) Therefore, atheistic empiricism is irrational (1, 4).

In order to avoid the argument, the atheistic empiricist can simply deny 3). However, this would disarm the strongest anti-theistic argument. I see no reason to feel threatened by the problem of evil when it is leveled by an empirical/naturalistic anti-theist. In fact, some have argued that:

1) If evil has meaning, then God exists.

2) Evil has meaning.

3) God exists (1, 2, modus ponens).

This argument is a kind of reverse moral argument, and I think it works, though I doubt one will find many anti-theists who will accept premise 1). As is the case with the moral argument [1) If objective morals exist, then God exists; 2) Objective morals exist; 3) therefore God exists], I believe atheists will vary between denying 1) and 2) as they find convenient.

I leave it to the naturalistic/empirical atheist to show that science can, in fact, test for objective morality, rather than just measuring feelings.

SDG.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation and provide a link to the original URL. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.

God and Moral Obligation, or Euthyphro, rethought

Euthyphro’s dilemma is so frequently discussed in philosophy that I don’t see a need to thoroughly present it. The horns, however, are going to be the topic of this post, so I’ll outline them below:

It seems that if God makes commands which create moral duties for humans (and others), then there may only be two options for the theist:

1) We ought to do what God commands because God commands it (and thus he could have commanded any random thing to be dutiful–i.e. torturing cute rabbits)

or

2) God commands us to do things because they are what we ought to do (and therefore there is some standard to which even God answers–see Richard Swinburne’s Revelation for an interesting description of a potential way around this problem)

If these are the only two options, it seems as though theists are in an uncomfortable position indeed! Normally, most theists would attack one of the horns of the dilemma or hit between the horns and find a way out. The late William Alston, however, ingeniously argues in Divine Nature and Human Language that the theist can accept both horns of the dilemma, albeit with some interpretation (DNHL 255).

The most important part of Alston’s solution is to assume that God is perfectly good essentially, that is, necessarily, God is perfectly good (257). In other words, God cannot perform a morally imperfect action. Alston makes no argument for this position, though I think that Stephen Parrish argues this rather well in God and Necessity. Regardless, I’m going to follow Alston’s assumption for the presentation of his argument, for now ignoring the potential problems with removing libertarian free will from God.

If it is the case that God is essentially perfectly good, then moral “oughtness” words such as “required”, “forbidden”, “duty”, etc. do not apply to God. This is because these terms “apply to a being only if that being has a choice between doing or failing to do what it ought to do” (257). But if God cannot fail to do good, then  His own nature “prevents him from acting freely in a way that is required for moral obligation… it is metaphysically impossible that God should do anything that is less than supremely good” (257). But then this means that horn 1 of the dilemma serves as no problem–God can not order things which would be arbitrarily evil, but it also means horn 2 is no problem either–God is not restricted by any “ought” statements.

Further, implicit in the dilemma is the idea that some form of Platonism is correct, that is, there are some objective morals as ideas somewhere. But again the theist can adapt this to theism and say that instead of some morals that just exist of necessity on their own (though again see Swinburne, Revelation for a defense of this very idea of theistic morality), God Himself is the “supreme standard of goodness. God plays the role in evaluation that is… assigned… to Platonic Ideas or principles” (268). Moral obligations are what we ought to do (horn 2 of the dilemma) because they are features of God (269).

Therefore, by accepting that God is essentially perfectly good, and further supposing that God Himself is the standard for goodness, the theist can accept the horns of the dilemma while arguing that they don’t really serve as objections to theism as classically supposed. God, having no “ought” statements apply to him, cannot be the subject of 2), while his very existence as essentially perfectly good means that 1) cannot apply to him either.

Sources:

Alston, William P. Divine Nature and Human Language. Cornell University Press. 1989.

Parrish, Stephen. God and Necessity. University Press of America. 2001.

Swinburne, Richard. Revelation. Oxford University Press. 2007.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Evil and God: Analytic Counters to the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is one of the most commonly pushed objections to the existence of God.There have been, historically, two major ways this problem is presented. The first way is to suggest that evil and God are logically incompatible. The second way argues that evil reduces the probability of God’s existence.

The suggestion that evil and God are logically incompatible has been largely abandoned in recent scholarship due to the writings of theistic philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga. Atheistic philosophers who had pressed such a problem have largely abandoned such argumentation in favor of the second method–the probabilistic problem of evil (see Rowe, Draper, Mackie, etc. to see atheistic turnabout on this subject). It is widely acknowledged that there is no logical incompatibility (in the sense that it is a logical contradiction) for there to exist an omni-benevolent God and evil (Plantinga, 461).

Thus, the argument has turned to probabilistic arguments against the existence of God. These arguments often are something like, “Given the great amount of evil in the world, it seems unlikely that God [here meaning the God of Classical Theism] exists.” Given some amount of evil, E, it seems as though the probability that God exists is lower than .5 (50%). There are many problems with such arguments. I have argued this elsewhere (see here) , but there are further arguments I’d like to expand upon.

First, one major problem with such arguments is to figure out some way to measure evil (hereafter E). How do we objectively measure the amount of E in the world? But then this leads us to a second problem: if we can measure the amount of E in the world, what amount of E is such that the existence of God (call it “T” for theism) is unlikely? Where is the mark at which T is more likely than not, given E?

But apart from even these problems, there is the fact that some rather simple explanations or defenses can be used by theists. For example, the theist could assert that as long as there is any amount of good in the world, T is more likely than not. This doesn’t seem quite fair, so the theist could rather assert that given any E, there is the possibility that God utilizes E for good. But this may be unconvincing as well. There are still other “outs” for the theist.

Perhaps the most interesting and insightful defenses from this kind of problem of evil was made by Alvin Plantinga in the essential work, Warranted Christian Belief. He argues, utilizing a “multiverse” type of scenario:

“…a theist might agree that it is unlikely, given just what we know about our world that there is such a person as God. But perhaps God has created countless worlds, in fact, all the worlds… in which there is a substantial overall balance of good over evil. In some worlds there is no suffering and evil; in some a great deal; as it happens, we find ourselves in one of the worlds where there is a good deal. But the probability of theism, given the whole ensemble of worlds, isn’t particularly low” (Plantinga, 473).

This defense is almost joyfully simple, yet it reveals a looming problem for the anti-theist wielding the problem of evil. There are indeed countless scenarios just like this, or at least similar to it, in which theism has a “way out.” Plantinga mentions these throughout the same work (see pages 458-499).

There are other ways to defend against such arguments, however. The assertion is that the existence of some amount of E lowers T, given E. But of course the theist can easily grant this and simply argue that on the basis of their own background knowledge (hereafter “k”), the probability of T given E and k is quite high. Plantinga argues for the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, an assertion with which I stand in agreement (Plantinga, 290 and following). But we need not even appeal to a notion that will be as highly disputed as this.

For perhaps the theist has the belief that the cosmological argument seems plausible, or the ontological argument is quite convincing (as here), or perhaps they believe that the other alternatives (the other theistic religions, pantheism, naturalism, paganism, spiritualism, etc.) are even less likely than T. But then the theist has a high probability of T given k, even if the theist acknowledges that T’s probability given E is lower than before.

It then follows that the theist is justified in maintaining such theistic belief even in light of the problem of evil, for on k and E, they still believe there is a high probability that T is true.

Source:

Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. Oxford. 2000.

——

The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,458 other followers

Archives

Like me on Facebook: Always Have a Reason
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,458 other followers