the problem of evil

This tag is associated with 14 posts

Really Recommended Posts 9/20/13- Apologetics, Textual Variants, Evil, and more!

One Year Ago, Apologetics Saved My Life- A simply wonderful, raw, existential post on the necessity of apologetics for the life of faith.

The Number of Textual Variants: An Evangelical Miscalculation- Humans are fallible, and as such we often get things wrong. Daniel Wallace has written an excellent article to correct a common miscalculation made in apologetics works regarding the number of textual variants. Thankfully, the response from many authors has been to request changes in their works and strive to correct the error. Even better, it is worth noting Wallace’s conclusion: “All this is to say: a variant is simply the difference in wording found in a single manuscript or a group of manuscripts (either way, it’s still only one variant) that disagrees with a base text.”

Why does God allow so much natural evil from phenomena like earthquakes?- Wintery Knight has gathered together a number of resources to present a sound response to the challenge of “natural” evil like earthquakes, tsunamis, and the like.

Natural Selection is Empty- A short but fairly technical write-up on a work by two atheists which argues that natural selection is incapable of being the lynchpin of the argument for the origin of species.

Book Plunge: There was no Jesus, There is no God- A lengthy critique (with great discussion afterwards) of a recent self-published work arguing that there was no Jesus and is no God.

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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.

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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: “Truth in the Flesh” by John Hartung

Truth in the Flesh by John Hartung is an introductory work on apologetics that covers a surprisingly wide breadth of topics. The work is divided into two parts: meeting objections to the faith and making a case for the Christian faith.

Hartung begins with an analysis of plausibility structures and “blank stares” (7ff). Throughout the work, Hartung works to make high level ideas accessible at the level where a lay person can come to an understanding, and the notion of a “blank stare” is just one example of how he does this. He notes that Christian claims are often met with a “blank stare.” Such incredulity is often based on one’s own presumption of “prestige” and “social gate-keeping.” To break through this kind of barrier, Hartung suggests pressing on by questioning the listener on why they seem incredulous, which will open the path to discussing plausibility. He notes that one must keep in mind the notion that worldviews are at odds here, not just opposing views on individual topics.

Hartung’s discussion of the problem of evil is multi-leveled and interesting. He addresses the notion of evil as  a privation, something that is a lack of something rather than a thing-in-itself. Hartung then analyzes how evil could possibly be viewed as a challenge to the existence of God. He offers Christ as a solution to suffering. God who suffers with us cures our suffering.

Hartung then turns to two purported challenges to Christianity: science and faith and religious pluralism. Regarding the former, Hartung addresses a number of issues, including supposed incompatibility of faith and science, the “god of the gaps” objection, the possibility of making an inference to God, and more. Regarding the latter, he considers the possibility of testing truth claims of religion, relativism, religious experience, and a few other topics. Ultimately, he concludes that neither of these supposed challenges undermines Christian faith.

Hartung’s case for the Christian faith is built upon a cumulative case version of argument. He builds bottom up from God to Christ to Christian theism. One of the several highlights from the second part of Truth in the Flesh is the discussion of philosophical modernity. He traces modern thought from Plato on down through Locke and Hume and touches the important points of the development of their ideas. He continues to interact with these and other thinkers throughout the work.

Hartung’s arguments for the existence of God are concise and will give lay readers an introduction to a number of prominent philosophical arguments. He also offers a chapter in which he breaks apart the naturalistic worldview, arguing that it cannot account for meaning. Finally, the arguments for Christian theism specifically are added to the mix and the possibility of miracles, reliability of the New Testament, and the Incarnation are all defended.

Truth in the Flesh is an extraodinary work in a number of ways. Its breadth is impressive. Hartung manages to discuss extremely complex issues in such a way that those looking to learn about apologetics can understand, while those who have read thoroughly on the topic will get new insight and a great review. In particular, Hartung’s focus on some of the thinkers of modernity helps to make the work stand apart from the pack. I recommend Truth in the Flesh primarily as an introductory text for apologetics, but also as a great reference for those who are experienced in the field.

Source

John Hartung, Truth in the Flesh (Chipley, FL: Theocentric Publishing Group, 2012).

Disclosure: I received a copy of the book for review from the publisher. I was not asked to endorse it, nor was I in any way influenced in my opinion by the publisher. My thanks to the publisher for the book.

SDG.

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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: “Always Ready” by Greg Bahnsen – Presuppositional Apologetics

Greg Bahnsen is well-known within the community of presuppositional apologetics (with good reason–see his debate with prominent atheist Gordon Stein). But what is presuppositional apologetics? How is it distinctive from other approaches to defending the faith? Bahnsen seeks to answer those questions (and more) in his work, Always Ready, which offers an introduction to the realm of presuppositional apologetics.

In section one, Bahnsen introduces one of the most important aspects of the presuppositional approach: the focus upon the impossibility of epistemic neutral ground. Often, in debates over the verifiability of the faith, the believer is encouraged to set aside their neutrality. Bahnsen argues forcefully that to do so is not just to give up a great weapon in the defense of the faith; it actually damages one’s defense irreparably (3ff). Because of the impossibility of neutral ground, Bahnsen urges apologists to begin not with any supposed neutral ground, but rather with “fear of the Lord” (5). What does he mean by this? Simply put, “the Christian presupposes the truthful word o f God as his standard of truth and direction” (19, emphasis his). The Bible, in other words, is the epistemological starting point for the presuppositional apologist. Rather than starting with a defense of the Bible, the apologist is to start with the Bible as given.

Bahnsen realizes that this point is the one which will likely be most contentious for those who oppose the presuppositionalist approach and thus he turns to a defense of the use of the Bible as an epistemological foundation. He argues that “God’s word has… absolute epistemic authority and it is the necessary presupposition of all knowledge which man possesses” (29). One argument against this presupposition is that it is dogmatic. The argument is made that one cannot simply presuppose their own position to take on all comers. Against this, Bahnsen argues that the presuppositional approach is in fact dogmatic because any approach is dogmatic. On a Christian perspective, knowledge without God’s Word is impossible. Therefore, a Christian cannot set that aside as though one could become “neutral”; in doing so, one has in fact rejected the Christian worldview (31, 7-9, 34, 36). Others may object that this seems to make any knowledge of non-Christians impossible. Again, Bahnsen corrects such a view, arguing that unbelievers “cannot but have them [knowledge of God as a presupposition for knowledge] as a creature made as God’s image and living in God’s created world” (38). In other words, he holds that the unbeliever unwittingly holds to Christian presuppositions in order to have any kind of knowledge. In principle, the unbeliever can have no knowledge; in practice, by borrowing from the Christian worldview, unbelievers have knowledge (ibid). Bahnsen does present several more arguments in favor of the presuppostional perspective, including an examination of the Christian perspective of the knowledge of unbelievers and the rebellion of those without God.

Part of the distinctiveness of the presuppositional approach is that rather than approaching the defense of the faith as a cumulative case, it presents Christianity as a worldview to line up against other worldviews in conflict. The importance of this is emphasized by Bahnsen.”The Christian,” he argues, “can never be satisfied to defend [the faith]… by merely stringing together isolated evidences…. [which] will be evaluated… by the unbeliver’s tacit assumptions; his general world-and-life view will provide the context in which the evidential claim is understood and weighted. What one presupposes as to possibility will even determine how he rates ‘probability’” (67). Thus, if one offers an argument for the existence of God, that argument will be evaluated by the unbeliever within their own assumptions. According to Bahnsen, only by destroying those assumptions–only by pitting whole worldviews side-by-side and showing how they rate on coherence with reality–can one adequately do apologetics. Bahnsen then turns to an evaluation of the conditions necessary for successful apologetics (81-106). Largely, this includes God’s soverein control over all things and fleeing from sin.

Perhaps the most illuminating portion of Always Ready is its presentation of various apologetic issues and the way that presuppositional apologetics provides answers to these arguments. For example, regarding the problem of evil, the presuppositionalist approach rests upon its usefulness as a paradigm of “worldviews in conflict.” Rather than trying to provide varied theodicies, the presuppositionalist argues, as does Bahnsen, “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” (171, emphasis his). Thus, on a presuppositional approach, the premise that “God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists” is a given (172). For every evil, on the Christian worldview, God has a morally sufficient reason. Only by assuming that Christianity is false can one argue that the problem of evil is truly a problem. Thus, Bahnsen reevaluates the  problem of evil as a psychological problem rather than a logical problem. It is a problem of trusting in God that God has good reasons for allowing evil (173).

Challenges to miracles are also assessed in light of presuppositionalism. At the core of the presuppositianalist response is again the centralization of the conflict of worldviews. Only by assuming that miracles do not occur can one exclude them a priori from investigation. Thus, the unbeliever has begged the question and their argument is undermined (225). Bahnsen answers a number of other arguments from a presuppositional perspective, including challenges from the possibility of metaphysics, religious language, faith, and the like.

The work ends with an extended investigation of Paul’s apologetic approach in Acts 17. Bahnsen argues that Paul’s approach was thoroughly presuppositional and that it acts as a model for the presuppositional approach to apologetics.

The strengths of Always Ready are immediately apparent. Bahnsen provides a thorough look at presuppositional apologetics which presents not just the outline of the approach but also several case studies in order to help people put it into practice. The distinctiveness of presuppositional apologetics shines throughout the book

There are a few flaws in the work, however. First, as is often the case, the presuppositionalism presented in this work is thoroughly Calvinistic. Simply being Calvinistic is not a flaw, but the way that Calvinism is presented by many defenders of presuppositionalism (Bahnsen, Van Til, Frame, and the like) is  essentially as the one true faith. It is Calvinism or it isn’t Christianity. Frankly, that’s a huge problem. Setting that aside, the weakest point of the work is also its most important one: namely, the presupposition of the Bible as necessary for apologetics. There are a great many who are extremely skeptical of this approach. First, there is the charge of circularity, which presuppositionalists actually accept. Their response is that all worldviews are ultimately circular.The debate remains largely unsettled, but as for this reviewer, it is hard to accept that the entire Bible is a necessary presupposition for the defense of the faith. Finally, the dim view of individual evidences as useful for defense of the faith remains a problem within the presuppositional approach.

That said,  even if one rejects the possibility of presupposing the Christian worldview wholesale, one can still utilize the presuppositional approach in their apologetic. By focusing squarely upon defense of the faith as a clash of worldviews, Bahnsen has highlighted the extreme usefulness of pointing out how presuppositions can color one’s outlook on the interpretation of evidences and the investigation of other positions. Although readers may not be ready to embrace the whole of presuppositionalism, after reading Always Ready, they may be ready to integrate a number of presuppositional approaches into their apologetic.

Source

Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 1996).

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.

Mormonism and God: A Philosophical Challenge to Mormonism

Central to discussions about God is the very concept of God itself. What does one mean when they refer to “God”? Suppose one is debating about the existence of God and in the course of that debate, one finds out that the other, when using the term “God” is thinking of a contingent, powerful but limited, and embodied deity; yet the other person has been trying to argue for the God of classical theism–infinite in power, wisdom, love, etc., omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent, transcendent, and the like. Clearly, there is a difference over who “God” is. Now talk about God can be meaningful between these two because they can choose to use “God” as a title, similar to that of “King” (this is suggested by Paul Moser in The Evidence for God, 22ff).

That said, for this post I will not assume that “God” refers exclusively to the God of classical theism. Rather, I’m going to turn to the Mormon concept of God and examine its coherence. If Mormonism’s concept of God is incoherent, then Mormonism faces a serious philosophical challenge. (As has been argued elsewhere, coherence is a central test of a religion’s truth claims.)

It is important to note that there is no single “Mormon concept of God.” As with Christianity, there is an array of beliefs about specific attributes of God. Thus, for this post, I’ll focus on just two concepts of deity within Mormonism.


Monarchotheism (Also Known as Henotheism)

Explication

Stephen Parrish and Carl Mosser take Mormon teaching to expound the concept of God known as Monarchotheism, “the theory that there is more than one God, but one God is clearly preeminent among the gods; in effect, he is the monarch or ruler of all the gods” (Parrish and Mosser, 195, cited below). This concept of God is embodied (see Teachings of the Prophet Joseph Smith cited in P+M, 201). Furthermore, this God is contingent, the organizer of a world that was originally chaos, and one of many gods (Ibid, 201). Furthermore, Joseph Smith himself taught that this “God himself was once as we are now, and is an exalted man…” (TPJS 345, cited in P+M, 202).

Critique

There are many difficulties with this Mormon concept of God. Perhaps most crucial is the inclusion of contingency in the concept of God. If God is contingent, then it does indeed beg the question “Who Made God?” Consider this against classical theism, which holds that God exists necessarily. Classical theists can respond to this question by simply saying, “No one made God, because God, as necessarily existent, never came into being.” Yet Mormons who hold God is contingent must answer this question.

That’s not the only difficulty with God as contingent either, for holding that God is contingent removes several of the reasons to believe that such a deity exists. Consider one of the classical arguments for the existence of God: that contingent things have all come into being, so there must be something which has always existed in order to terminate the infinite regress. Of course, if this deity which terminates the regress is, itself, contingent, then one must continue the regress to the next step. Thus, this Mormon concept of God provides no grounding for the universe itself.

Further, this Mormon concept of deity has no way to ground objective morals. While Mormons tend to hold that God is all good/omnibenevolent, they have no way to ground this goodness in God Himself. Rather, because God is contingent, there must exist some measure by which God is judged, and so one is left with all the difficulties of grounding morality without God. If, instead, morality is still to be based upon God, then it could only really be some form of extreme occamism/voluntarism–whereby things are moral just because God says so. The difficulties with such a view are extreme.

Of course, once more classical theism can explicate objective morality by grounding them in the nature of God. Because God is necessarily the greatest possible being, God is necessarily the source of all goodness, and therefore the grounds of morality are found in God.

Finally, there is the question of the problem of evil. Classical theism has a number of answers to this problem, but none of them are effective upon a monarchotheistic view of God. First, because there can be no grounding for objective morality on Mormonism, there remains the difficulty of explaining how actions could truly be evil to begin with (Parrish and Mosser, 215, see similar difficulties with naturalism here). Second, because evil is part of the universe and God himself is part of the eternal universe, evil can be seen as a natural part of the order of the cosmos (ibid, 215). Third, and most poignantly, because God is contingent and part of the universe, it seems that there is great difficulty with the notion that God would one day overcome evil. Because evil is part of the universe, and has therefore existed eternally rather than as a corruption of the goodness of nature, it seems that there is no way to finally overcome evil. Thus, the problem of evil is exacerbated exponentially on Mormonism (ibid, 216).

So, to sum up, monarchotheism appears to be one plausible interpretation of the Mormon concept of God. This concept is expounded by Joseph Smith in his Teachings and is also found in various theological works of Mormons (cf. McMurrin, Theological Foundations; Ostler, “Mormon Concept of God”; Paulsen, “Comparative Coherency”–these are noted in P+M, 457). However, this concept has been shown to be riddled with difficulties. It cannot explain many of the central features of our world, such as the existence of objective morality. Furthermore, it undermines reasons to believe in the existence of a God. Finally, this Mormon concept of God fails to even explain the existence of the universe itself. Thus, it seems to me this concept of deity is incoherence.

Polytheism

So much for Monarchotheism. But what about other Mormon concepts of God? There is one other concept which is attested in Brigham Young’s writings along with other Mormon writers. This view can fairly be referred to as polytheism.

Explication

Once more we find that the eternal existence of the universe is central to this view of Mormonism. Matter is eternal. God the Father organized the universe, but at least some laws of nature are outside of god’s control (see the discussion in  Francis Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, See the Gods Fall, 99ff, cited fully below).

Furthermore, the notion that there are innumerable contingent “primal intelligences” is central to this Mormon concept of god (P+M, 201; Beckwith and Parrish, 101). That there is more than one god is attested in the Pearl of Great Price, particularly Abraham 4-5. This Mormon concept has the gods positioned to move “primal intelligences along the path to godhood” (Beckwith and Parrish, 114). Among these gods are other gods which were once humans, including God the Father. Brigham Young wrote, “our Father in Heaven was begotten on a previous heavenly world by His Father, and again, He was begotten by a still more ancient Father, and so on…” (Brigham Young, The Seer, 132, quoted in Beckwith and Parrish, 106).

The rest of this concept is similar to the Monarchotheistic view, although rather than God the Father being a “monarch” over the others, he is more like one of many. As already stated, he is just one of a string of “Fathers.”

Critique

The logic of the Mormon polytheistic concept of God entails that there is an infinite number of gods. To see this, it must be noted that each god him/herself was helped on the path to godhood by another god. There is, therefore, an infinite regress of gods, each aided on his/her path to godhood by a previous god. There is no termination in this series. Now because this entails an actually infinite collection of gods, the Mormon polytheistic concept of deity must deal with all the paradoxes which come with actually existing infinities (for some problems with the actual infinite search “infinite” and check out the problems Craig points out in his Q+A’s section).

Now, polytheistic Mormonism would also seem to have to deal with all the difficulties of Monarchotheism, for this concept also carries with it the contingency of deity and eternity of the world.

Finally, it seems polytheistic Mormonism has a difficulty at its heart–namely the infinite regress of deity. While on Monarchotheism, the infinite regress was merely hinted at (and still extremely problematic), polytheistic Mormonism has infinite regress at its heart and soul. Each god relies upon a former god, which itself relies upon a former god, forever. Certainly, this is an incoherence at the core of this concept of deity, for it provides no explanation for the existence of the gods, nor does it explain the existence of the universe. Polytheistic Mormonism, it seems, fares even worse than its Monarchotheistic counterpart.

Addendum: The “Standard Works” and Classical Theism

It is worth noting that those who wish to adhere to a strict “Standard Works only” approach to Mormonism may object to the critiques I’ve given above. The reason being that in the Standard Works, it seems like a view much closer to classical theism is expounded. For example, God is referred to as “Lord God Omnipotent” (Mosiah 3:5 [and "Lord Omnipotent" in 3:17-18]; Mosiah 5:2). Further, God’s infinite goodness and mercy are affirmed (Mosiah 28:4, Moroni 8:3, 2 Nephi 1:10).

It is indeed the case that were one to only operate from this explication, one might come to believe in a God very similar to classical theism. There are three responses I would offer: first, I’d be very happy to welcome any others who do affirm mere classical theism. In that case, I’d like to discuss the finer points of differences between Christianity and Mormonism.

However, I think it is the case that many who object by showing a Standard Works reading of Mormonism do not themselves hold to a “Standard Works only” belief. Any who holds that, for example, humans can be exalted to godhood must accept the implication that God the Father would therefore be contingent, and would then most likely fall into one of the categories listed above. Second, I already noted how in Abraham 4 and 5 it seems quite apparent there are many “Gods” (any who disagree, feel free to simply read the Pearl of Great Price, Abraham 4… literally any verse between 5-31; it explicitly states “the ‘Gods’”). Because classical theism holds that there is only one who can occupy the title “God,” this places even the Standard Works alone reading outside the realm of orthodoxy regarding classical theism.

Finally, I’ve already quoted Brigham Young and Joseph Smith in other writings outside the “Standard Works” both affirming that God the Father is an exalted man and that God the Father was preceded by another Father. If Mormonism is to be conceived in a form akin to classical theism, Mormons must reject these writings, and with it discredit their prophets.

Conclusions

Central to the Mormon faith is God, just as God is central to any theistic religion. Yet, as has been seen, two of the major explications of the Mormon concept of deity fall victim to insurmountable philosophical problems.   The third, closer to classical theism, must contend with the fact that other Mormon writings (and indeed, even the Pearl of Great Price) are contrary to their position. The fact that Momonism’s concept of God is incoherent strikes a major blow to the truth claims of the Mormon faith. Without coherence in that which is central to the religion: God, the entire theological system falls apart.

Links/Sources

Check out other posts in my series on Mormonism:

The Book of Mormon: Introduction and Importance- This post is pretty self descriptive.

Genetic Evidence and the Book of Mormon: Did any Native Americans come from the Middle East?- Argues that the Native Americans are not Middle Eastern in ancestry. Because the Book of Mormon claims they are, the Book of Mormon is false.

Sources

Stephen Parrish with Carl Mosser, “A Tale of Two Theisms” in The New Mormon Challenge: Responding to the Latest Defenses of a Fast-Growing Movement ed. Beckwith et. al, 193-218 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2002).

Francis Beckwith and Stephen Parrish, See the Gods Fall: Four Rivals to Christianity (Joplin, MO: College Press, 1997).

[I have edited this post to put back in several references to Mormon scriptures that I initially omitted for length. Further, I modified it to make more clear the difference between "finite" in mathematical terms and "contingent" in philosophical meaning.]

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.

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.

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.

Book Review: Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God

The problem of evil is often seen as the greatest threat to theistic belief. Analytic Philosophers have struggled with the issue on both sides of theism–from Plantinga’s innovative “Free Will Defense” to the claim of the positive irrationality of theism issued by the late J.L. Mackie. This issue doesn’t show signs of slowing down, either. It has dominated philosophy of religion for millenia.

In Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God, Marilyn McCord Adams offers a different kind of defense for theism. She argues that, thus far, the debate has been “…carried on at too high a level of abstraction” (3). She argues that the problem of evil has been directed at theism in general, which has caused philosophers on both sides of the debate to miss the vitally important uniqueness of Christianity and the problem of “horrendous evils” on this view. Christianity, she argues, has several unique tools that can meet the problem of evil more effectively when not abstracted into simply classical theism (3).

Adams’ account has the kind of honest, penetrating discussion of real evil in our world about which philosophy would do well to take notice. The little child kidnapped and murdered; the innocent family killed by the drunk driver; the millions murdered by Hitler; these examples all demand answers for the individual occurrences of evil, according to Adams (see her discussion on pages 17ff). Specifically, she writes that “At a minimum, God’s goodness to human individuals would require that God guarantee each a life that was a great good to him/her on the whole… God would have to… [give each person's life value]… by giving it positive meaning through… great enough good within the context of his/her life” (31, emphasis hers). This stunning claim will likely make the theistic philosopher rock back on his/her heels for a moment. Surely, we cannot be called to account for every individual evil!

Adams believes that the Christian theist can indeed do so, not by taking the unconvincing (in my opinion) route of arguing that such persons are having their character built by suffering, but by appealing to God’s goodness to each individual person (55). Specifically, this goodness of God is demonstrated within Christianity by Jesus Christ. After a penetrating discussion of purity and defilement on Christianity and Judaism (see 86ff), Adams argues that in Christ, God “takes the… approach of joining us in our defilement [that is, our suffering of horrendous, individual evils]” (98). This act of Christ means that our defilement from sin, evils, and even horrendous evils has the possibility of becoming holiness (99). Thus, through Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit’s redefining rebirth of baptism, God offers the greatest good to every individual (102).

Through this self-defilement which leads to holiness, God invests meaning by “…being good to all created persons–that is, in seeing to it that each gets a life that is a great good to him/her on the whole, one in which any participation in horrors is not merely balanced off but defeated” (126, emphasis hers). Adams’ thesis, then, is that in Christ, God provides the defeater for horrendous evils by ensuring that each person’s life is a great good. Here Adams rides a fine line of universalism (it seems as though she may be saying every person is indeed saved through Christ, eventually), but her account can be easily modified by those who reject universalism–for one can argue that God provides the defeater simply by offering the possibility of such goods to each person. And God is good to each person by providing such an opportunity.

Adams uses the rest of her work to argue further how God’s participation in suffering demonstrates that God has been immeasurably good to each individual.

I find Adams’ argument particularly enlightening. Her emphasis on the individual evils of the world is a breath of fresh air as well as a new challenge to Christian philosophers. We do need to address individual atrocities. This doesn’t mean we need to go through, case-by-case, and provide theodicies for each event. Rather, as Adams urges, we can address this by arguing that God is good to every individual through his redemptive act by Jesus Christ.

My main critique of Adams in this work is that while I find her issues with abstracting the problem of evil to hit the mark some of the time, I think she underestimates the value of some of the analytic responses to the problem of evil. Certainly, taking evil as a sum total and arguing that God could have some reason for permitting this much evil to occur downplays the importance pf the evil actions towards individuals , but there is a place for such defenses within philosophy. Rather than jettisoning these types of answers, then, I think we would be best suited adding Adams’ defense to the many-faceted response to the problem of evil from Christian philosophers of religion.

Source:

Adams, Marilyn McCord. Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God. Cornell University Press. 2000.

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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.

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