Problem of Evil

Sorry for the long post, but the shorter ones seem to be passed over.

The problem of evil has been asked for as long as people have been around. In modern times it is often asked in some form of ‘If there is a God who is good, why is there evil?’ The problem is portrayed by skeptics and atheists as something akin concluding that God is either a monster for allowing evil or impotent to stop it. Skeptics then conclude that whatever the case, the existence of evil makes God unworthy of worship, or worse, in need of elimination from society.

All of the questions have been adequately answered by theists, which you can find here and here. (In a related issue, atheists almost always do not think through the logical implications of their positions, as Richard Dawkins recently demonstrated, discussed here.) Somewhat ironically to the atheists who have not thought the problem through, the existence of evil demonstrates the existence of a transcendant good and evil, which undermines their core worldview, naturalism. To wit:

Logic forces us to know that if evil exists, it is either the result of pure natural forces, or not. If it is, then the result is natural and inevitable like all other natural forces and cannot properly be called good or evil. Chemical reactions do not have a moral outcome, they merely exist. If evil is not the result of pure natural forces, then something other than natural forces exists and naturalism is incorrect. Therefore recognizing the existence of evil and good is the basis for a logical demonstration of God’s existence and disproof of naturalism. Most atheists, of course, deny this, trying to say evil exists but not a transcendant good and evil, which is incoherent.

All of that is setup for today’s post, which deals with one nuance of the problem of evil that inevitably comes up. Today’s questions are: If God is all powerful and all wise, could He not create a world where evil does not exist? If God is able to prevent evil and does not, how can He be considered good or worthy of worship?

The answers are actually quite straightforward, but rarely accepted by those who are determined to not bow the knee to God, no matter how reasonable it is to do so.

The first answer is that all of us humans have a flawed sense of good and evil, as expressed by our actions. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that we have all done evil acts and said evil things at some point in our lives. Yet we do not wish God to stop us from doing so or punish us for our past deeds. We all seem to want God to stop and punish the other guy that we find to be a pain, but do not wish God to stop and punish ourselves.  God is pure good and we are sinful, having lost our moral compass. So we must depend on Him to tell us what is good and what is evil.

But no doubt this will not suffice for the committed skeptic, who merely continues to ask the same question, ‘how can God allow evil?’ The following explanation will lean heavily on the writings of Norman Geisler from his Systematic Theology, volume 2, chapter 6. Please attribute the explanations that succeed to him, and the ones that fail to me.

Foundational Principle: Greatest Possible Good

As foundation to the answer, the following point applies: If God is all wise, all powerful, and all good, as Christians claim, then it is either:
a) necessary for him to achieve the greatest possible good, or
b) not necessary for him to achieve the greatest possible good.
Within the current context, these options exhaust the possibilities.

If it is not necessary for Him to achieve the greatest possible good, the current world is sufficient, and we have no complaints. For if we allow that God is not obligated to create the best possible world, then the current world has some good, and we are reduced to arguing about whether God allowed the amount of good or evil that I find preferable. One person might think that no broken bones should be allowed, whil I might think it OK for God to allow a broken toe, but not a broken foot, while you think a broken foot is not so bad, and someone else would have a different opinion entirely, and God’s opinion would be just as valid as ours. Option b) says God would not have to eliminate all evil, and since the world has some good and not all evil, it is sufficient.

But the complaint from our original question is that God is not preventing evil, so this option is rejected by our skeptic friends. (It also should be rejected by theists, but that is for another day)

We therefore are forced to accept option a), which says that it is necessary for God to achieve the greatest possible good. This underlies all of our answers, and if a) is rejected, the criticism of God allowing evil becomes baseless and the question irrelevant.

All Possible Options

The following list includes every possible combination of what could be allowed by God. This list exhausts all possibilities of what God could have done…there is no other alternatives outside of what is on this list (at least, none I could think of…..).

1. Not created a world.
2. Created a non-free world where people could not commit evil.
3. Created a free world where no one ever chooses evil.
4. Created a free world where no one is allowed to commit evil.
5. Created a free world where people commit evil but all are ultimately forgiven and go to heaven.
6. Created the current world where people are free to commit evil and good, and in the end evil is judged and good rewarded.

The following is an evaluation of each of these. Options 3 and 4 are the main objections most commonly given to 6.

1. Not created a world. This is a logical option for God, for He willingly created. However, with the need for a), the greatest possible good, no world at all does not qualify as the greatest possible good.

2. Created a non-free world where people could not commit evil. This also fails our test of a), for non-free people are less good than free people. A non-free world is a world of pre-programmed robots which only perform what the creator designed. I can create a computer which will say to me when I open my front door, “Welcome home, dear. Glad to see you. I love you.” I could even hire a servant to stand at the door and say that to me when I arrive. But the computer is not free, and the servant would only be doing it for the pay. Neither would truly be glad to see me, nor would they truly love me. This would be a world with no love at all, which is less good than having a free world where people love out of choice.

3. Created a free world where no one ever chooses evil. This is the one perhaps most commonly given by atheists. The criticism is sometimes phrased as ‘why could not God only create the people who would only commit good?’ This is impossible for the following reasons. First, love, compassion, and bravery are part of the greatest good, for having a world with these is better than a world without them. If people could only choose good in every situation, they would always be loving, compassionate and brave. But these things are meaningful only if people have the possibility of not doing them — of not loving, not having compassion, or not being brave. We do not call peope brave if they do things that every other human does naturally, and we do not call parrots phenomenal because they squalk or even talk, for it is natural for all parrots to willingly squalk and talk. If people by nature walked in front of machine gun nests without thinking of it, and this was a normal activity for all humans, we would never call any soldier brave for doing so, for they would be doing what is natural for all humans. Such a world would eliminate the possibility of the greatest good.

Second, it does not seem possible for this option to exist. By definition, freedom includes the possibility of doing otherwise, and if people were truly free to choose, some would inevitably choose evil. A world where everyone could choose evil but no one ever does seems impossible. In theory, the atheists would claim that all humans have this possibility now, yet we know that all of us inevitably choose evil at some point. If it were possible to have a world where people are free to choose evil but no one ever does, it would have happened by now, for many billions of people have had this opportunity, and no one has ever only chosen good over their entire lives. We cannot point to one single human who never chose any evil whatsoever, let alone an entire world that did so.  If we qualify this by saying that ‘well, couldn’t God only make people who would not choose the worst of evils, but only choose mild evils?’ then we have again said b), that God does not have to create a world with the greatest possble good, which we rejected above. So while this option might be logically possible, it is not actually achieveable (here “logically possible”means not logically contradictory).

4. Created a free world where no one is allowed to commit evil. This is the option that is proposed when people suggest that God could have stopped a person from doing evil – as the criticism goes, if God were all powerful He could stop evil, if He were all good He would stop evil.  Upon consideration, this is an impossible option, for if people are free, they are allowed to choose and act. If God were to stop the atheists every time they cursed God, God would be accused of being an evil tyrant who would not allow free speech. So a freedom where people are not free to commit evil is a contradiction. Further, as many others have pointed out, atheists ask for God to go away, then blame Him for going away and not stopping people from choosing evil. In the end, a free world where people are not free to choose is a contradiction.

5. Created a free world where people commit evil but all are ultimately forgiven and go to heaven. In the context of our current question, this creates more evil by God committing still another evil by not judging evil acts. This would not be the greatest possible good.

6. Created the current world where people are free to commit evil and good, and in the end evil is judged and good rewarded. This is the only option that achieves the greatest possible good. Allowing people freedom to choose good or evil results in brave people overcoming adversity, people voluntarily loving one another, and people being able to exercise freedom. While a world where evil is allowed is not the best logically conceivable world, it is the only way to get to the best possible world, a one where bravery, compassion, and love exists, good is rewarded, and evil judged. The unavoidable consequences are that evil is allowed for a season, but a good and righteous judge, God, will reward goood and punish evil in the end.

Further Problems for Atheism

It has been my experience that in the context of evil and an all good, all powerful God, the most common responses from atheists are something like, ‘what greater good could possibly come from X evil?’ or ‘couldn’t God have found another way that is less evil?’ or ‘I think it is possible to have good without evil’ or ‘why would a god that allows evil things be worthy of my worship?’ or similar.

The answer to most all of these is that our skeptic friends are, ironically, jumping to emotional decisions not based in logic or reason. They are quick to point to religionists in general, and Christians in particular, accusing us of basing our decisions in emotion or psychological need rather than reason and logic. Well, if reason and logic are our criteria, then none of these questions pose any sort of logical proposition whatsoever. The only logic that is commonly attempted is that attributed to Epicurus, which is logically flawed and easily refuted, as has been done in this current post and here. The rest of our skeptical and atheist friends merely resort to emotion-based question asking, as the list of questions above demonstrate, without proving a thing. Merely asking why or ‘couldn’t God have done better?’ does not prove that better is even possible, let alone build a logical case that defines what better would look like or how it would be compatable with freedom and good. Love without the ability to choose not to love is empty and probably not possible, and merely throwing out an opinion does not prove it reasonable. As the discussion above demonstrates, merely because we can conceive of a world without evil, it does not mean it is logically possible or actually acheiveable.

In the end, it is the theists who have thought through things logically and reasonably, and the atheists who commonly sit on the sidelines and throw out critical, non-logical, emotion-based questions that do not make a case for proof of anything.

They certainly do not demonstrate how, if God does not exist, the universe could then be exclusively made of matter and energy, but evil still exist. The illogical nature of this atheist position was recently expressed by the current atheist hero, Richard Dawkins, when he stated “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference” then a few minutes later in the same speech, said “There is a logical path from religious faith to evil deeds.” If it is the case that there is no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pittiless indifference, then there are no evil deeds, religious or otherwise. If we admit there are evil deeds, then there is indeed a standard of evil and good by which we can measure the evil against, and this standard is separate and apart from the natural forces of the universe. This we call God.

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About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
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20 Responses to Problem of Evil

  1. M. Rodriguez says:

    interesting post, yeah it is a little longer than your usual ones. I might have to come back and read it again to get a full grasp of it.

  2. Panama says:

    We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them.

  3. Nate says:

    Interesting post. Which of your possible scenarios above describes Heaven?

    • Nate says:

      My point probably isn’t coming through. How would you describe Heaven, since it’s supposed to be a place where there is no sorrow, pain, or sin? Does it fit within your possible scenarios anywhere?

      • humblesmith says:

        Heaven is in option 6, where freedom is allowed, then in the end evil is judged and good rewarded. Heaven is for those who accept God’s plan of judgement upon evil, which is Jesus’s payment for our evil deeds. For those who commit the great evil of saying God is irrelevant or wrong, they are separated into darkness, called hell. In heaven there is no sorrow, pain, or sin, for the people who freely and willingly loved God and accepted God’s love, and allowed God to change them from the inside out are brought into heaven. Not everyone wants to be around God, and those who dislike God are allowed to be separate from Him.
        In the end, regarding the question “why couldn’t God stop us from doing evil?” how do we know that He hasn’t? We can all imagine worse evil, and the bible tells us that the Holy Spirit draws all men. So it could be that in God’s divine wisdom, He knows when to stop evil and when to allow it. But if He restricted all evil, as the post describes, all the consequences listed would be the case.
        As a father, you will want your children to learn to overcome difficult situations, because you know that will make them better compared to you fixing everything for them. You restrain them at times based on your superiour wisdom, but will eventually pass judgment and treat them fairly according to what they desserve. Why would we expect God to be any different?

        As to your question about your children, the distinction is that we are sinful and flawed, and do not know how to administer perfect justice. But your analogy is in the right direction…in the long run, we would not be doing our children a favor if we never allowed them to fail. Parents who ignore a child’s misbehavior and reward them without regard to their behavior are not teaching them to behave. If we shower a teenager with cars no matter how many they tear up, they will never learn frugality. If you protect your 3 year old and never allow her to experience occasional pain, she’ll never be as strong as she would have by learning to overcome adversity.

        • Nate says:

          In Heaven, wouldn’t we still be able to sin? If not, why weren’t we made that way to begin with?

          Yes, with children we exercise discipline so they can learn how to live and behave better. We don’t withhold that discipline until the very end of their lives, because then there’s no purpose for it. They would never have an opportunity to put the lessons they learned into practice. That’s why the concept of Hell is so illogical. It never affords anyone another chance to do better. It’s simply punishment for the sake of punishment.

          • humblesmith says:

            The answer to your question is in either 2 or 3 above, presumably 3, since I assume you enjoy freedom.

            As for Hell, that is a different topic. God has given people an entire life to have another chance, and they repeatedly reject God’s offer. They don’t want to go to heaven, or they would have chosen it now. Look at it this way: many people today hate the idea of spending an hour a week in church…they cannot stand it. It would be cruel of God to force them to go against their will for all eternity. Further, it would be immoral of God to not judge their sin and not allow them to do what they want to do. See the quotes here: http://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/a-few-quotes-about-hell/

            For comments about hell, please move them to a topic about that subject.

          • Nate says:

            But you said that option 3 probably wasn’t possible, since freedom indicates you have a choice to choose the wrong option. Which does seem to match the Bible’s description, since it indicates that Lucifer chose poorly and was cast out. So what’s to prevent that from happening to us? And if it can, then we can’t really say salvation is secure or eternal…

            In some ways, Hell is another topic, but in other ways it fits in quite well. After all, it’s supposed to be the penalty for exercising free will in a way that goes against God’s directives. But if you think it through, there’s no comparison between Hell and the discipline that a parent subjects their child to. Unless that parent is abusive. In that case, I guess it fits pretty well.

  4. gold price says:

    The mechanisms that God used to create humans — like the misspelling of a gene during cell replication — can also produce pain and suffering — if that misspelling leads to cancer. Likewise, the same forces that produced a life-sustaining planet including the laws of physics, chemistry, weather and tectonics, can also produce natural disasters. As with the free will of humans, God cannot constantly intervene in these areas without disrupting the inherent freedom of his creation and disrupting his consistent sustaining of all the matter and energy in the universe. Without this consistency, science would be impossible, and moral choices would be subverted. If God blocked the consequences of human moral choices, like committing murder, and natural events, like tsunamis, every time they led to evil results, then moral responsibility would disappear and the natural world would become incoherent.

    • Nate says:

      When my 6 year old begins to hit my 3 year old, should I intervene, or allow free will to play out? And when I do intervene, did my 6 year old still have control of her decision-making process? At most, she might learn to make better decisions down the road… but as a father, isn’t that what I want? She would still be exercising her free will in that they are her decisions, but my training her has resulted in helping her develop a greater decision-making process. If God loves us as children, why wouldn’t he want to operate in just such a manner?

      • Caleb says:

        I think it’s helpful, in coversations about free will and evil and such, to recognize there there are some “things” that even God couldn’t do. I say “things” because they involve incoherent concepts, and are actually impossible. for instance, God couldn’t make a square circle, or create a married bachelor. That God couldn’t do these things does nothing to affect his omnipotence. His omnipotence means he can do all things that are logically possible. So no problem if we can’t make a square circle.

        Some contingent created state of affairs (e.g. that we have free will), can affect what is logically possible for God. So if we have genuine free will then it follows that it’s logically impossible for God to make me freely choose to, say, eat an apple. He could cause me to eat an apple, maybe, but it wouldn’t be free with respect to my will. if we have free will, then we can freely do whatever it is possible for us to do (hence, i couldn’t draw a square circle either), including evil. That God doesn’t stop us may only be because he can’t.

        But God must also think that this world is also the best world for accomplishing his purposes. And this is more troubling i think: how is this world better than a world with just slightly less evil, say, one in which Richard Dawkins doesn’t exist… hahaha! JK……… how about a world in which the only difference is that one less person were murdered last year. Why didn’t God actualize this world or others like it?

        People seem to pose questions like this, throw there hands in the air, wag their finger and say “bad theism! bad! bad theism!” as if by way of some irreparable critique, they’ve just discovered how monstrous theism really is.

        Well though it’s troubling that God has allowed this world over ones with slightly less evil, it is not devestating. For it also seems reasonable to believe that should God exist, being an all knowing being, he’d have access to justifying reasons, should any exist, which are beyond our kin (beyond the capabilities of our minds), and being an all good being, that he’d be sure to only do what he’s justified in doing. Thus, it’s reasonable to believe that God, should he exist, actualized this world as opposed to others for good reason, reason of which I am not aware.

        At least this seems a better conclusion than it’s alternative- the claim that since I am not aware of any good reason God would have for allowing this world as opposed to that, there must not be any. This is incredibly presumptive on the nature of these reasons, should they exist, and worse, on the nature of God, should he exist.

        By way of analogy, consider the no-see-um (a tiny bug about the size of an ant). Suppose you are standing at the top of a three story building and I, from the ground, yell to you, “there’s a no-see-um down here by my foot!” You, after straining your eyes and failing to see any such creature, yell back “I can’t see a no-see-um down there. There isn’t any!” That would be an absurd conclusion given your evidence, and, given the types of things you know no-see-ums to be, namely, that you can’t see um (from great distance anyway). So not seeing them from a great distance, doesn’t count against their presence. Now imagine me yelling, “there’s an elephant down here right next to me!” Given that you don’t see any elephant, and given that, you know elephants are such that you’d expect to see um from a great distance, it’s now reasonable to conclude that there is no elephant. Perhaps God’s reasons are like no-see-ums, rather than like elephants, in that they can’t be perceived by just any mind.

        More absurdly put, you’d have to support that claim that, if God exists, it’d be unlikely that he’d have access to any reasons for what he does to which you don’t also have access. But this is worse than an ant presuming to know einstein’s reasoning!

        Thus, for me, far from showing the improbability of theism, instances of evil and such imply that God most probably has reasons of which we are not aware. Then the answer to the question, “why would God allow evil?”, in short, is “for good reason (of which you are not aware).” This may seem disappointingly bland and unsatisfying, but to reiterate, it far beats the alternative of trying to argue that God wouldn’t have access to any reasons of which you are not aware.

        This is certainly not satisfactory to the suffering and angry heart, to someone in the midst of an expiriential collision with evil and pain…. but it’s not supposed to be. It merely responds to the probabalistic problem of evil- the claim that an all knowing, all good, all powerful God is improbable given evil.

        • Nate says:

          Hi Caleb,

          I appreciate your thoughts. In many ways, I kind of agree with you. If we knew that God existed, then I think the point of view you’re advocating would be the appropriate one. Who are we to judge God?

          But personally, I’m at a point just before this in that I’m not convinced God exists. Or if he does, I’m very skeptical that it’s the Judeo-Christian god. Since that’s the position I find myself in, the problem of evil becomes a reasonable issue to consider in deciding whether or not Christianity’s god exists. To me, it doesn’t fit with the Christian notion that God is love, that he is perfect, that he views us as children, that he wants all of us to have salvation. I think the problem of evil and the problem of Hell are in direct conflict with such a definition.

          • Caleb says:

            The issue of God’s existence can be an extremely difficult and honestly opaque one. Perhaps, then, it’d be wise not to take on the question of just which god exists (e.g. the Judeo-Christian god) and questions that follow (e.g. hell) in tandem with the question of, if in fact god exists at all. I think the latter can be difficult and interesting enough to fascinate one for a lifetime. My advice is to leave the other aside for now. And if you like, throw out the word ‘god’. The term may actually be unhelpful, as it seems so often sadly linked to notions like that of an old man with a white beard standing over you in the sky arms crossed, tapping his foot, watching everything you do with a furrowed brow, entitled and eager to call you into account (or otherwise with negative experiences of religion). So toss out the term god. You’re after whatever had the power to bring into existence the initial singularity; you’re after something that could bring about matter and energy for the first time; you’re after the best explanation for why the universe is life permitting, given the vastly more probable state in which it isn’t; but you’re also after the best explanation for the irreducibly complex features of physical organisms, given the vastly more probable state in which natural selection passes them over; you’re also after the best explanation for consciousness, given it’s seeming physical irreducibility and subjective features, and in particular, why our mental faculties are generally reliable at all; but you’re also after an explanation for the qualities of the universe that conceivably could’ve had no beginning (e.g. numerical, moral and logical principles). You’re after, at root, the god of the philosophers, a philosophical foundation for all being, contingent, necessary, and subjective, “the being than which none greater can be conceived.” With respect to these questions, I’d say to ask only if theism is a more probable alternative than it’s negation, if it’s a better way to answer these questions than not. If you think so, then you’d be a theist by my book.

            I hope you’ll see that share your concern that evil doesn’t fit with the notion that God is love, etc… This is at least, initially, very troubling. Ultimately though, I really think the reasoning first laid out successfully rebuts the rational problems of evil. For notice you said “[evil] doesn’t fit with the Christian notion that God is love, that he is perfect, that he views us as children, that he wants all of us to have salvation.” I agree that evil seems in conflict with THESE notions, but so long as the equally christian notion of human free will is left out of the mix, not only has Christianity been misconstrued, but you’ve also left out one of the most important logical pieces to the puzzle of evil. In other words, we know that there’d be some logical conflict between human freedom and God’s power, should they exist; and, we know that it’s very likely that God would indeed have good reasons for whatever it is he allows, even if we don’t know what they are. In other words, for all we know, God cannot prevent certain moral instances of evil (which result from human freedom), and, for all we know, God has good reason for allowing whatever it is he does allow (including natural evils, e.g. tsunamis and such). (Not to mention the Christian notion of sin, from which one can practically predict any example of moral evil.)

            This explanation may seem disappointing, but that’s not an argument against it’s soundness. It may be the best we can do for now. Besides, is it really worse than it’s alternative? Is it really sensible to think that if God existed, he wouldn’t have reasons of which you are not aware, or that there’d be no logical conflict between his power and genuine human freedom? Is atheism really a better explanation for evil? What place is there for our sense of genuine evil on naturalism and atheism, without it degenerating into cultural relativism? Outside of Platonism, it’s hard to see any.

            You suggest that this point of view is appropriate only for those who already think God exists. But notice this argument only depends on the antecedent “if God exists.” So it depends not on God’s existence, but only on what you think would be true were it the case that God existed. Notice, the critique from evil does the same, essentially by saying “if God existed, evil would create absurd problems. therefore, probably God doesn’t exist.”

          • Nate says:

            Thanks for the reply.

            I don’t feel that free will is a sufficient explanation for evil. As you alluded to, free will can’t account for natural disasters and freak accidents — “acts of god,” so to speak. It also calls the doctrine of Heaven into question, unless we are supposed to lose our free will once we’re there. But if that’s the case, why ever bother with free will in the first place?

            The reason I have such a problem with the Christian notion of God is that it seems more like an allegory than anything real. A perfect creator that views us as children; he’s so perfect that we can only be in his presence if we appear to be sinless; he loves us so much he sacrificed his own son (also himself) to appease his own wrath; he will punish the wicked, but only once their existence has ended, etc. In real life, we can approach our human fathers, and they communicate their wishes to us directly. If we need punishment, they are able to administer it immediately, rather than waiting years down the road. The obvious benefit of that is that we actually learn from our mistakes. And no human father (at least no decent one) would torture their child. So I think there are many reasons to discount the Christian god. The actions attributed to him in the Bible seem to run very counter to the qualities the Bible says he possesses.

            As far as the god of the philosophers goes, yes, I’d say I’m in search of that god. That doesn’t mean I’m convinced he exists. I have no idea what the first cause was, but no one else does either. Perhaps it was a supernatural being, but I’m not too sure about that. And I don’t have much trouble imagining that our existence is purely the result of natural processes, though I’m open to other possibilities. Personally, I find the most logical position to be atheism in regard to the “revealed religions” of the world and agnosticism beyond that. As you say, that makes it harder for us to define what’s evil, but I think that’s just a reality that we have to deal with. I don’t think that means that we can’t know anything about evil though. I think we can come to broad agreement on what constitutes moral behavior and what doesn’t. But there are definitely some gray areas that can probably never be nailed down. But I think this is how secular society already operates. Some groups, for instance, think it’s wrong for a woman to wear pants, but we don’t expect our government to regulate that. Murder or theft, however, are things that we can all agree are wrong.

            Sorry, I feel like my response has been all over the place, but I hope it made some sense. I really appreciate your point of view, and especially the considerate and thoughtful tone that you take. :)

          • Caleb says:

            I distinguish the problem of evil into two categories: moral (that resulting from human freedom) and natural (not resulting from human freedom, natural disasters and plane crashes and such). Sounds like you agree that the free will response is sufficient to perry the moral evil concern, but not the natural evil concern. Is this right?
            If so, then I agree. But the free will response is not meant to address the problem of natural evil. The ideas that God would indeed have reasons for whatever it is he allows even if you don’t have those reasons, is meant to address the problem of natural evil. Do you really think that it’s like that IF God existed, he wouldn’t have any reasons you don’t know about? In other words, do you really think it likely that IF God existed, you’re not knowing about any such reasons would justify you to conclude that God has none? These are the propositions you’d need to defend if you want to undermine the response I’ve given to the problem of natural evil.
            Granting that this response succeeds is by no means an concession to theism, anymore than the true counterfactual that “if unicorns existed, then there’d be mythical horned horses somewhere” is a concession to the existence of unicorns. Perhaps God doesn’t exist. It would still be true that “IF he existed, such and such.”
            And again, perhaps Christianity is false. This doesn’t affect theism. There are still many Christianity-independent questions worth asking that may imply theism.
            I agree that atheists can still know that evil exists. My argument isn’t that one must be a theist in order to perceive evil. Clearly, evil exists. My concern though is that atheism lacks the explanatory resources to do justice to our sense of genuine evil in a way that doesn’t degenerate into moral/cultural relativism. When we say something is evil, we mean it’s wrong no matter what anyone believes, or what any culture says. And, upon further reflection, I think we’d admit that the counterfactual, “were rape to occur, it would be wrong,” was true even when the universe was only a few seconds old. If so, then clearly these moral intuitions far escape the scope of cultural relativism, and thus of any atheism which utilizes it.
            You said, “I have no idea what the first cause was, but no one else does either.” Wait a minute! This is quite the claim. Just asserting someone doesn’t know something isn’t equivalent to an argument. You’d need to demonstrate that theists don’t have knowledge because their belief is either false or unjustified; you’d need to take on particular arguments and show that, due to false premise or unsound conclusion, they are invalid. Have you considered arguments for the claim that matter and energy (nature) were brought about for the first time by something other than matter and energy (supernature)? (This is at least what theists mean when they say God is the first cause).
            Then you say, “Perhaps it was a supernatural being, but I’m not too sure about that.” The alternative is that matter and energy brought about matter and energy for the first time. I don’t see why this response could even be considered. Do you?

            Below are some links to some articles which give a pretty good run down, premise by premise, of some theistic arguments, as well as respond to some popular atheists and atheistic critiques of theism. Long and time consuming maybe, but worthwhile I think.

            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/theistic-critiques-of-atheism

            http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-new-atheism-and-five-arguments-for-god

  5. portal001 says:

    Hi Humblesmith,

    I just wanted to apologise for the thread in the last post regarding your blog on Islam. I re-read your responses and have to admit that I did not consider things reasonably. I now agree with you about the distinction between The OT account and Qur’anic teachings. The OT is accounting a specific judgement to a specific group of people, whereas the Qur’an (as far as I understand) is very general in it’s instruction on how to treat infidels and unbelievers. For the record I do not believe that The Bible is bad or immoral. The Qur’an does state in its text to hurt people and to kill people for the sake of the Islamic god. You are right in proposing that this instruction is not limited to a specific group of people.

    I just got carried away in my own attitude. I didn’t stop at the time to consider the Qur’an properly. I agree with you that it’s truly horrible what is done in the name of Islam when people are murdered for not believing or not expressing something that is not accepted in the Qur’an or Hadith. It is truly injust that people in certain countries are murdered for expressing their own convictions and not conforming to Islam. However, like I have mentioned, I have friends who come from an Muslim background who are very caring people, and treat people with kindness and respect.

    Regarding the posts I was making earlier in the last thread. I was coming from an emotional position. There are people who evidently take the violence stated in the Qur’an and put that violence into action. The Qur’an (if actually taken literally in some of its passages) is not a religion of peace. And when it is taken literally, Islam can and does cause a lot of suffering, violence and (in my view) injustice. It says what it says, and we should take it as it reads and not as we want it to read. So apologies.

  6. Pingback: Is it Just to Allow People to Go to Hell? (Part 3) | Thomistic Bent

  7. Pingback: Is It Just to Allow People to Go to Hell? (Part 5) | Thomistic Bent

  8. Pingback: Can We Be Free in Heaven and Yet Not Sin? | Thomistic Bent

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