Jesus’ Answer to the Problem of Evil & the Unfairness of God

In our day, it seems one of the most-repeated criticisms of God is that He is unfair and cruel. In what theologians and philosophers call the problem of evil, skeptics tell us that God is not worthy of worship because He does not spread good everywhere nor not stop all pain. God, so we are told, is horrible since He demands the destruction of some societies. Jonah was sent to Nineveh with a message that the entire population would be destroyed because of their wickedness. We are told by atheists that God is either asleep, powerless, or evil.

Somehow modern skeptics seem to think that no one has ever thought of this criticism. They imply that ancient people must have been rather uneducated, stupid, and superstitious, accepting the idea of a God that is offensive to the modern ear.

Nothing could be further from the truth, for the ancient man had all the same criticisms as we do today. The questions repeated by modern man were asked of God even in Bible days. David, in Psalm 35, cries out to God asking how long will He merely observe the injustice of David’s enemies without doing something about it (Ps. 35:15-17). In Psalm 79, the writer laments that God allowed the enemies of Israel to come in and kill the people of Israel, leaving the bodies as food for birds. The Psalmist lays some of the cause for this at the feet of God, saying that God was angry at Israel when He should instead be angry at Israel’s godless enemies (Ps. 79:1-6). Several places in the Old Testament have a similar criticism of God. Several times the Bible writers cry out “How long, O Lord?” as if God was silent in the face of evil.

The same question can be found in the New Testament also, and Jesus gives a very interesting answer to the question. In Luke 13:1-9, some people came to Jesus asking about the fate of some Galileans who were murdered by the Roman leader Pilate. It seems that the Pilate who was squirming to wash his hands of Jesus in Matthew 27:24 was the same man who had no hesitation to be a brutal killer of Galileans, destroying some at the same time as a sacrifice. The people in Luke 13:1 apparently had the same criticism as our modern secular intellectuals, presumably suggesting that God ought not have allowed such a thing.

Most interesting is Jesus response. He does not shy away from the problem, and in fact brings up another instance, one where a tower fell and killed eighteen people. Jesus not only does not wince or dodge the issue, but He twice gives a harsh answer: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3, 5) Jesus then tells a parable of a vineyard owner who is ready to cut down a fig tree that does not bear fruit.

Jesus’ response is plain, but harsh to the modern ear. He is saying that not only does God not have to apologize for allowing death and destruction in the world, but that God is justified in allowing, or even causing, the death of all people. How can this be?

The answer lies in God’s holiness and human sinfulness. Modern man, and it seems ancient man also, compares God to our sense of fairness. If we lower God’s standard of goodness, and raise ourselves by not thinking of how evil humans really are, then we can level the playing field enough to think that God is not fair. We think the problem of evil is a problem because we do not understand how truly holy God is, and we do not admit how truly evil we are. Jesus’ answer in Luke 13 tell us that God is fully justified in destroying all mankind due to the evil we have all done. The greatest evil is in laughing in the face of the greatest good, God Himself.

Destroying a kindergartner’s crayon art is a small crime. Destroying the Mona Lisa would be a much greater crime. Sinning against your fellow man is a small sin, while sinning against an infinitely pure and holy God is an infinitely greater crime. Jesus answer is that God is fully justified in destroying us all, and only by His mercy do we get a chance to enjoy heaven for all eternity.

Now I am sure many will disagree with Jesus’ answer. Left to my own sense of value, I would frankly disagree with it myself. Keep in mind that I am not expressing my views here, but merely repeating what Jesus told us when given the same criticism as the modern skeptics and atheists. If it were up to me I would open heaven’s gates to all the people I thought deserved it, then opened the trapdoor to hell to all those who I thought deserved to go there.

So the problem of evil, as presented by all the modern and ancient critics, is not really much of a problem. To really have a true theological conundrum, the skeptic must answer the question of how to reconcile their criticism of God and all those Bible stories they dislike with the existence of a truly holy God. Until you can explain God’s actions in reference to His perfect pure holiness, you do not have much of a criticism.

But the problem gets worse for the skeptic. Recall that their criticism is that the stories in the Bible are unfair and cruel, telling of a God not worthy of worship. They dismiss the Bible with a wave of the skeptical wand, telling us that it is so many made-up human stories. But there’s the rub: if humans were to make up a God, they would not have included in their account the same criticism that the modern skeptic has. Any made-up God would have been a God who was fair, or if not, at least they would not have included the same criticism as modern skeptics, then presented no answer to the problem. It seems absurd of me to invent a God that no one likes, then point out the greatest weakness in my God, and without an answer.  As R.C. Sproul has said, if we were to invent a God, we would not invent a holy one.

Such a problem is a mortal wound to the modern skeptic’s criticism of the Bible. It is much more reasonable to conclude that a holy God does indeed exist, He has revealed Himself to us, and we do not like such an idea. As the atheist T-shirt says, better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven…..or so it seems to the natural man. But God, in His infinite mercy, extends a hand of love and forgiveness to us. Remember Jesus words: If we repent, we can enjoy God’s love and forgiveness.

Remember the parable of the fig tree in Luke 13:6-9? Jesus’ point was that God gives us another chance, even when we do not deserve it.

 

 

Posted in Atheism, Bible | Leave a comment

What is the Difference Between Realist vs. Analytic Philosophy?

Realist philosophy starts with what we observe in the world, while analytic philosophy starts with a thought problem and reasons to what is true in the world. Most modern thinking is analytic, which is one reason philosophy is not taken more seriously in our day. Analytic methods are so prevalent that many know no other way of thinking and do not realize what they are doing.

Aristotle said this:

“The fact of the being of a man carries with it the truth of the proposition that he is, and the implication is reciprocal: for if a man is, the proposition wherein we allege that he is true, and conversely, if the proposition wherein we allege that he is true, then he is. The true proposition, however, is in no way the cause of the being of the man, but the fact of the man’s being does seem somehow to be the cause of the truth of the proposition, for the truth or falsity of the proposition depends on the fact of the man’s being or not being”. (The Categories, 12.14b15)

Thus it is only reasonable to take what is real and base our knowledge there, rather than to start with our reason and conclude about what is real. We therefore, like Aquinas, take the Bible and our knowledge of the world and base it on the reality that is external to our minds. We ought not start with pure reason and make conclusions about the world. Like Plato and Descartes, if we start in the mind, we are forever locked in our mind, never being able to reach the real world.

What all this means is that we do not start with thought problems based upon what might be in all possible worlds or in what might occur in counterfactuals. Instead, with the Bible we start with special revelation, and with the world we start with observations of the universe, knowing that the world exists but is contingent, and effects have causes, etc.

Posted in Philosophy | Leave a comment

How Far Do We Go In Accepting People’s Feelings When They Contradict Reality?

Do we define people according to their feelings or according to external reality?

I previously wrote about the consequences of accepting people’s self-described sexual identity and what it might cost society (see here).  That article upset some people who are in my sphere of personal interaction. Some thought the view was callous and no doubt others thought it to be offensive.

Since that post we have had a few interesting cases in the news. First we had the case of Rachel Dolezal, a black woman who was a head of a local chapter of the NAACP. The only slight problem is that she was actually white. She self-identified as black because in her mind she says she is black. (see here)

More recently we have learned of a Norwegian woman who thinks she is a cat who accidentally landed in a human body (see here).  That she claims to have been born this way should make Lady GaGa proud. This woman says she realized from an early age that she was actually a cat and that at birth there was some sort of genetic situation that left her in the wrong body.

We then turn to Miley Cyrus, who has claimed to be gender fluid, finding a single gender to be too confining. She has supported such cases, promoting at least one teenager who claimed the same gender fluidity. One day they feel more male, the next leaning more toward female. One wonders what box they check on the application forms.

In still another case, a friend who worked at a local psychiatric hospital tells me they once had a male patient who thought he was pregnant. Even though this one claimed to be human, he was obviously not actually pregnant, but was convinced he was, and no amount of logic would convince him otherwise. The doctor jokingly quipped that the patient was not going to be released until he had his baby.

So what is the fundamental difference between these cases? In all of these situations we have people who are convinced in their minds that they are in fact different than the external reality. In one case we lock the poor man up and give him professional help to try to cure him, in another we find a little humor and quickly move on, in another we get slightly indignant that this person has headed a civil rights agency without actually experiencing a violation of civil rights. In three of the cases we hold them to actually be what the external reality says they are. But in the case of those who claim to be transgender, we ignore reality and hold them to be what they feel to be, accepting them going to medical doctors to become more like what their internal state believes they are.

What is the fundamental difference? If we accept the transgendered human as the opposite sex merely because they claim to have been wired this way, then what grounds do we have in firing the white person who wants to head a black civil rights agency? Indeed, what grounds do we have in hospitalizing the man who thinks he is pregnant? If we are to accept transgenderism based upon a person’s claims about their mental state in clear opposition to their external reality, what grounds do we have in hospitalizing any person we claim to be delusional? Except for those who are a physical danger to someone, what grounds do we have for trying to correct any mental state whatsoever? On second thought, even in the case of us stopping a mentally ill person from hurting someone, are we not imposing an external reality onto their internal state, claiming them to be wrong? What grounds do we have of denying their mental state as false? And please do not come back to me by saying this is all just much foolishness, for was it not but a few years ago that accepting such sexual confusion would be considered equally silly?

The Bible tells us that if we plumb the human heart, we will not find bottom. Human experience proves this out, for we have yet to search the depths of the human situation. Until we re-align ourselves with the compass of God’s clear thinking, we will be forever mired in confusion brought about by following our own hearts. Jesus tells us that If the blind lead the blind, they will both fall into a ditch.

Posted in Culture, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

A Little Apologetic Humor

We have had a bit of heavy stuff lately, so here is a bit of apologetic humor.

 

Posted in Apologetics, Atheism | 3 Comments

An Atheist Questions the Logic of Darwinism, Part 3

In the previous post, we learned that Thomas Nagel’s book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False maintains that if indeed the world really exists in a mind-independent way (such as sugar or water) and if some things exist in a mind-dependent way (such as the taste of sweetness or the experience of pain as being bad), then consciousness exists and our observations of the world are not an illusion. Such a consciousness presents several complications for Neo-Darwinism due to 1) the need for a physical body to evolve a mental brain before the capabilities of the brain are considered, 2) the failure of a way to break down consciousness into components that could evolve, and 3) the failure to have an evolutionary schema that would allow for mental and physical evolution to happen in single events in organism.

Nagel’s next tact is to point out that our ability to think developed far beyond any ability necessary for survival. Rationality per se presents problems separate from consciousness. Rationality “cannot be conceived of, even speculatively, as composed of countless atoms of miniature rationality.”(p.87) Reason has to appear in conscious animals fully formed and functioning, and not merely by chance, but by probability so high as to be assured.

Nagel expands the problem of reason further. One could maintain that some human ability to develop abstract knowledge would be beneficial for natural selection to work, but when we consider all of our capabilities, no reasonable explanation for our mental capabilities arise. As Nagel explains:

It requires that mutations and whatever else may be the sources of genotypic variation should generate not only physical structures but phenomenology, desire and aversion, awareness of other minds, symbolic representations, and logical consistency, all having essential roles in the production of behavior. . . The rest of the story suggests that knowledge of objective scientific and moral truth, should there be such things, could result from the exercise of capacities that, in more mundane applications, are at least not inimical to survival. (p.78)

Here he holds that things like understanding symbols, abstract nature of phenomenon, and logic itself, are not needed for pure survival, but yet presumably each of these mental constructs, and the myriad of others like them, presumably developed gradually from simple to complex, bit by bit, giving one person the advantage in survival over another.

The idea is that our reason gives us the ability to evaluate our animal desires and go beyond them, yet presumably the reason was somehow a result of the animal desires. But the problem is not merely one of evaluating base desires, but going further into questioning the phenomenon we observe in our reason itself. Nagel describes it as “the freedom reflective consciousness gives us from the rule of innate perceptual and motivational dispositions.”

What this means is that if we hope to include the human mind in the natural order, we have to explain not only consciousness as it enters into perception, emotion, desire, and aversion but also the conscious control of belief and conduct in response to the awareness of reasons–the avoidance of inconsistency, the subsumption of particular cases under general principles, the confirmation or disconfirmation of general principles by particular observations, and so forth. This is what it means to allow oneself to be guided by the objective truth, rather than just by one’s impressions.(p.84)

One is reminded of Alvin Plantinga’s Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism, which holds that if evolution is true, then our abilities to understand are produced by a natural ability to survive, and nothing more.  Our perceptions then merely promote survival in the sense that they are functional, not necessarily objectively true. If every rabbit runs from every lion because he thinks the lion is playing a fun game of tag, then the same effect results as if they were running for survival. So if we conclude that evolution is true and all that exist are natural forces, then that very conclusion undermines our ability to make objective conclusions about whether evolution is true. Nagel summarizes similarly, “It is not merely the subjectivity of thought but its capacity to transcend subjectivity and to discover what is objectively the case that presents are problem.”(p.72)

Nagel goes on to conclude that because of the interrelatedness of physical with the mental –their dependence on each other–the properties of the universe would have to have made Neo-Darwinism not just possible, but probable.

Nagel presents some ideas worth pursuing. At the very least, it is refreshing to see someone raising the questions. In the end, at least some of those who hold to Neo-Darwinism will do so out of a tenacious desire to avoid the conclusion that God exists, for to do so forces us to realize that someday we will answer for how we lived our lives.

 

Posted in Evolution | 2 Comments

An Atheist Questions the Logic of Darwinism, Part 2

Thomas Nagel, in his important book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False, systematically challenges several important areas of study, claiming that neo-Darwinism cannot adequately explain the development of the biological world around us. The three big areas that he presents as issues are consciousness, cognition, and value.

Nagel argues that consciousness presents a significant problem for Darwinism. Since consciousness exists as a part of life, it must be considered in the explanation of how life came to be. As evolutionary biology is a physical theory, it has a choice of either reducing the mental to the physical or claiming the mental has some active part in life. If the evolutionist chooses the first option, it cannot account for mental things that are not physically reducible. If the second option is chosen, then evolutionary biology is no longer a purely physical theory, and must explain how consciousness evolves into more advanced mental states, bringing in an entirely different area of natural selection than the physical. (p.14-15)

Nagel points out that evolutionary biology typically assumes that the world around us is reasonable and intelligible. If this natural intelligible order exists, then it either exists without an explanation, which destroys the materialist’s demand for a natural explanation for everything, or exists with an explanation, but does so before the mind perceives it. Yet the physical brain is what is supposed to be the root of  the emergent property of conscious reason.

As a further explanation, Nagel points out that water = H2O, and H2O = water. “Water is nothing but H2O. . . It’s water even if there’s no one around to see, feel, or taste it. . . Our perceptual experiences aren’t part of the water; they are just effects it has on our senses. The intrinsic properties of water . . . are all fully explained by H2O and its properties.” (p.40-41). However, things like the sweet taste of sugar, the feeling of pain, do not seem to be identical to the physical properties they are associated with. Rather, “experience of taste seems to be something extra, contingently related to the brain state–something produced rather than constituted by the brain state. So it cannot be identical with the brain state in the way that water is identical to H2O.”(p.41) Unless we drive ourselves to the absurd conclusion that things like sweetness and hurting are illusions that do not really exist, we are left with an evolutionary biology that is inadequate.

If evolutionary biology is a purely physical theory, then it might explain complex physical conditions, but is entirely inadequate to explain consciousness, even if the physical structure of the organism is a sufficient explanation for the existence of consciousness. (p.44-45). Nagel gives what seems to be a gaping hole in evolution:  “That process would have to be not only the physical history of the appearance and development of physical organisms but also a mental history of the appearance and development of conscious beings. And somehow it would have to be one process, making both aspects of the result intelligible.”(p. 52) Physical science may have things to say about the origin of life, but leaves us necessarily in the dark about consciousness, which shows that natural evolution cannot be an explanation for the basic intelligibility of the world.(p.53)

It gets worse. “To explain consciousness, a physical evolutionary history would have to show why it was likely that organisms of the kind that have consciousness would arise.”(p.60) In other words, the physical capability that produces consciousness would have to develop prior to the natural selection of mental processes. Then the natural selection of mental processes would somehow occur in one process with the physical. Yet, “we have no comparably clear idea of a part-whole relation for mental reality–no idea how mental states at the level of organisms could be composed out of properties of microelements . . .”(p.62)

Nagel goes on to expand on the interwoven issues between physical evolution and the corresponding mental evolution that would have to somehow produce one effect. The primary take away for me is not that these questions exist, but that the naturalist scientists of our day brush these questions aside with a wave of a dogmatic hand, being as stringently tied to their system of physicalism as any young earth creationist would their view.

For the Christian, we can can rest in knowing that we are fearfully and wonderfully made, and His works are wonderful. (Psalm 139:14)

 

 

 

 

Posted in Evolution | 6 Comments

An Atheist Questions the Logic of Darwinism (Part 1)

Evolution, as understood in the popular circles as purely random physical mutations filtered by natural selection, is increasingly under attack. It’s defenders must continue to climb further onto a limb and make explanations that taste more and more like just-so stories.

One recent attack on evolution comes from atheist philosopher Thomas Nagel who wrote the book Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature is Almost Certainly False. Nagel’s explanations are reasonable, but written as a philosopher who sometimes paints in broad strokes. His conclusions, however, are strong enough to deserve attention from the Darwinists.

Nagel is no religious zealot, for he clearly states what he would conclude if left to his own personal desires: “My preference for an immanent, natural explanation is congruent with my atheism.”(p.95) He denies any arguments that require a Designer (p.12), yet calls for intelligent design proponents to be treated more fairly and given serious evaluation (p.10). Nagel is an atheist who follows his reason to a logical conclusion.

He describes the direction from which he starts:

With regard to evolution, the process of natural selection cannot account for the actual history without an adequate supply of viable mutations, and I believe it remains an open question whether this could have been provided in geological time merely as a result of chemical accident, without the operation of some other factors determining and restricting the forms of genetic variation. It is no longer legitimate simply to imagine a sequence of gradually evolving phenotypes, as if their appearance through mutations in the DNA were unproblematic — as Richard Dawkins does for the evolution of the eye. With regard to the origin of life, the problem is much harder . . . The coming into existence of the genetic code — an arbitrary mapping of nucleotide sequences into amino acids, together with mechanisms that can read the code and carry out its instructions — seems particularly resistant to being revealed as probable given physical law alone. (p.9-10)

Indeed, it would seem that much of modern Neo-Darwinism is based on assuming the process is valid, then seeking to sequence the data to fit the model, often convincing us that the process is valid by imagining how a sequence might work. We are reminded of the statements by Dr. James Tour, who has stated “when it comes to the often gross extrapolations between observations and conclusions on macroevolution, scientists, it seems to me, permit unhealthy leeway.” (see the full article here)

Nagel is honest enough to point out a fact that is quite obvious but not given much attention by most modern biologists:

I find it puzzling that this view of things should be taken as more or less self-evident, as I believe it commonly is. Everyone acknowledges that there are vast amounts we do not know, and that enormous opportunities for progress in understanding lie before us. But scientific naturalists claim to know what the form that progress will be . . . (p.20)

Indeed, such an idea is more amazing when we consider the many changes in theories that have occurred in the annals of science. The college science textbooks that we studied a generation ago are so outdated as to be good for not much more than a doorstop, yet the current batch of scientists are just as convinced of their current accuracy as the previous ones were.

Nagel goes on to elaborate on the significant problem Neo-Darwinism has in explaining the areas of consciousness, cognition, and value. The next posts will examine some of Nagel’s claims in these areas.

Posted in Evolution, Philosophy, Uncategorized | 6 Comments