Sunday, April 1, 2012

Why the Problem of Evil is a Problem

The so-called problem of evil is one of the most common objections raised against the Christian faith. Perhaps no one has more succinctly stated the apparent contradiction between an all-loving, all-powerful God and the existence of evil as the eighteenth-century Scottish skeptic David Hume:

"Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"[1]

More modern skeptics have sometimes posed the logical problem this way:

1.      If God is all-good (omnibenevolent), He would prevent evil.
2.      If God is all-powerful (omnipotent), He could prevent evil.
3.      If God is all-knowing (omniscient), He knows how to prevent evil.
4.      But evil exists.
5.      Therefore, either God is not all-good, all-powerful, or all-knowing (or maybe He doesn’t exist!)

But why is the problem of evil a problem? In answering this question it is important to earnestly think through the following points, points which often are not reflected upon or not contemplated deeply enough. These considerations must be taken into account when addressing the problem of evil, especially from within the Christian worldview. When they are, I believe the problem of evil (POE) largely resolves itself.

#1 The POE is a problem because we fail to differentiate between the problems of evil and their respective solutions.

John Feinberg begins his book The Many Faces of Evil by laying out two very helpful and essential ground rules that must be understood by anyone attempting to discuss God and the problem of evil. These two ground rules are as follows: (1) there is no such thing as the problem of evil and (2) the problem of evil in its logical form is about the internal consistency of any given theological position.[2]

First, we need to realize that there are several problems of evil, not just one. The phrase “problem of evil” can be used to refer to a host of different dilemmas arising over the issue of God and evil. For example, someone who raises the problem of evil may be referring to the religious/emotional problem of evil, the logical problem of evil, the evidential problem of evil, moral evil, or natural evil, just to name a few. That there is not just one problem of evil necessitates that any discussion about God and evil must first begin by clarifying what problem is under discussion.[3] Each problem is separate and therefore has its own solution. In addition, the skeptic cannot reject a defense for a particular problem of evil by arguing that it does not solve every problem of evil. No one defense addresses every problem of evil, nor was it intended to do so. As Feinberg notes, “It is wrongheaded at a very fundamental level to think that because a given defense or theodicy doesn’t solve every problem of evil, it doesn’t solve any problem of evil.”[4]

Second, the problem of evil in its logical form is about the internal consistency of any given theological position. In other words, the critic is claiming there is a contradiction in the theist’s system and is therefore obligated to show a specific problem within the system they are attacking. Many of these supposed contradictions simply assume that God does not have a morally sufficient reason for allowing the evil He does. But this would be something the critic needs to justify. As long as the theist offers a possible explanation as to why God allows evil, the charge of contradiction becomes groundless. A critic may not like a particular defense or theodicy and may object to the system on external grounds, but this has nothing to do with whether the theist’s system suffers from an internal contradiction.

In fact, there are already many systems that are able to solve their own problem of evil. These theological systems include theonomy, Leibnizian Rationalism, as well as systems incorporating a free will defense.[5]

#2 The POE is a problem because we fail to examine it from a worldview perspective.

The problem of evil is not just a problem for Christians; it is a problem for everyone. I do not mean by this that every worldview needs to reconcile the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful God and evil. Rather, I mean that everyone, regardless of their worldview, must give an account for the existence of pain and suffering. This is not an attempt to dodge the objection. It is simply a point of fact that each person should be able to give some explanation of pain and suffering from within their respective worldview.

Therefore, looking at the problem of evil from a worldview perspective we can frame the discussion by means of two questions:

1.      Which worldview best accounts for the existence of evil?
2.      Which worldview offers the best solution to evil?

It is when we begin to compare and contrast Christianity with other belief systems in light of these questions that the superiority of the Christian worldview becomes evident.

For example, what can atheistic materialism say in response to the existence of pain and suffering? More specifically, can atheistic materialism offer a better account for the existence of evil, as well as a solution, when compared with Christian theism? These questions seem to be relevant given that atheists and skeptics are those most often complaining about the POE.

Regarding the origin of evil, it seems all the atheist can say is “Evil just is.” Nature is red in tooth and claw. Evil is nothing but matter in motion, the same as goodness. How do objective moral values arise from matter, chance, and time? While Christians need to reconcile God and evil, the atheist must not only deal with their own problem of evil but also the problem of goodness, i.e., reconciling the existence of objective moral values with a materialistic universe. Richard Dawkins has stated,

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. 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.[6]

So if atheistic materialism is true, it seems that all the atheist can say is that life is filled with gratuitous and unredeemable suffering…and then you die. There is no ultimate justice, let alone ultimate meaning, purpose, or value in life. But this can hardly be considered a solution of any sort. In terms of worldview thinking, it is difficult to see how atheistic materialism can offer any consolation in the face of pain and suffering.

As another example, how do Eastern religions deal with pain and suffering? For Hindus evil is maya, an illusion. Evil is not real. People suffer because of injustices performed in past lives (karmic debt). Therefore, suffering should not be alleviated since this would interfere with the karmic cycle and bring bad karma on the one attempting to aid the sufferer. This position prevents compassion and morally obligatory action in the face of horrendous evil.

What about Christianity? Christianity does not conclude that “evil just is” nor that evil is an illusion. As Augustine argued, evil can be explained in part as the deprivation (or privation) of good.[7] Evil is what ought not to be. Christian theism can account for both the origin and existence of evil since it teaches there is a part of reality which is non-physical. Furthermore, since evil is not some “thing” but rather the privation of good, God is not the creator of evil. Rather, evil came as a result of free beings using their free will badly.

Christian philosophers and theologians throughout the centuries have offered numerous defenses in light of the problem of evil, arguing that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing the pain and suffering that He does. Some of these defenses include the free will defense and the soul-building theodicy.

In short, an all-loving, all-powerful God can allow as much evil as He wants so long as He has a morally sufficient reason for doing so. While Christians may not be able to answer why God allows each and every particular instance of pain and suffering, there is no logical contradiction between the existence of evil and an all-loving, all-powerful God. Furthermore, the Christian message of God incarnate suffering for us so we may have the hope of eternity makes these slight and momentary afflictions of no comparison to the eternal weight of glory that awaits us (2 Cor. 4:17).

Randy Alcorn summarizes the Christian position this way:

The Bible never sugarcoats evil…The Christian worldview concerning this central problem is utterly unique. When compared to other belief systems, it is singularly profound, satisfying, and comforting….I’m convinced that Christianity’s explanation of why evil and suffering exist beats that of any worldview. Its explanation of why we can expect God to forever deliver His redeemed people from evil and suffering is better still. The answers revealed in Scripture not only account for how the world is, they offer the greatest hope for where the world is headed.[8]

#3 The POE is a problem because we forget that evil is evidence for the existence of God.

Neither the atheist nor the relativist can raise the problem of evil since when you admit the existence of evil you are admitting the existence of objective moral values. The atheist cannot adequately ground objective morality and the relativist assumes that morality is relative.

In other words, the problem of evil cannot even be raised without assuming an objective standard of moral goodness. By “objective” I mean independent of what people think or perceive.[9] Complaining about evil assumes that evil is a real thing that it is objectively wrong, otherwise we could simply dismiss the atheist or relativist by saying “that’s just evil for you.”

So where does this objective standard of morality come from? The only suitable grounding for objective morality is an objective moral law-giver: God. Ironically then, the existence of evil can be turned into an argument for the existence of God:

1.      If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2.      Evil exists.
3.      Therefore, objective moral values exist.
4.      Therefore, God exists.[10]

This argument is logically valid. The skeptic concedes premise two by raising the problem of evil in the first place. Therefore, the argument hinges on premise one. However, in reflecting on premise one it seems clear that if there is no God then there is no objective grounding for moral principles which apply to all people, in all places, at all times. Morality would be relegated to cultural conventions or individual ethical subjectivism. William Lane Craig sums it up this way:

Although at a superficial level suffering calls into question God’s existence, at a deeper level suffering actually proves God’s existence. For apart from God, suffering is not really bad. If the atheist believes that suffering is bad or ought not to be, then he’s making moral judgments that are possible only if God exists.[11]

When the atheist or relativist objects to the problem of evil he implicitly admits to an objective standard of morality which his own worldview cannot account for, but which makes perfect sense given that Christianity is true. In order to complain about evil, atheists, skeptics, and relativists must borrow from Christian moral capital and the Christian worldview.

#4 The POE is a problem because we fail to take into account the full scope of evidence.

If evil, pain, and suffering were all there is, belief in the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful God might become rather absurd. Unfortunately this is how the skeptic often paints the picture, emphasizing what seem to be gratuitous examples of suffering while at the same time either denying or ignoring the counterevidence against his position and in favor of God. Only examples of pain and suffering are offered as evidence against God, while any arguments or evidence for God is unfortunately left out.

Arguments which may be offered in favor of the existence of God include the cosmological, teleological, moral, transcendental, ontological, and, as mentioned above, even the argument from evil for the existence of God. Evidence which needs to be considered includes evidence for the beginning of the universe, the fine-tuning of the cosmos, the existence of objective moral values (again, including evil), the resurrection of Jesus Christ, so forth and so on. As William Lane Craig states,

The interesting question is whether God’s existence is probable relative to the full scope of evidence. I’m convinced that whatever improbability suffering may cast upon God’s existence, it’s outweighed by the arguments for the existence of God.[12]

In other words, if we have independent lines of evidence which point to the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving God, then we may be justified in believing in God even in the face of unexplained evil. We need to look at all the evidence, not evil in isolation.

#5 The POE is a problem because we fail to understand our relationship to Adam.

If we want to know why there is so much pain and suffering in the world we need to go back to the beginning and look at the first choice.[13] Most of the pain and suffering in the world can be attributed to free agents using their free will badly. This is exactly what Adam and Eve did and what we as their offspring continue to do. In short, our first parents willingly rebelled against God bringing corruption into the world and plunging all of mankind into a lifelong education of the knowledge of good and evil.

What were the consequences of this first sin? Not only was the marriage relationship damaged but the ground was cursed.[14] This raises the issue of natural evil. Much of the evil we see in the world including cancer, disease, sickness, pestilence, and death are explained as the result of sin entering the world. Natural evil then is the result of Adam and Eve exercising their free choice badly. Furthermore, sin also affected every aspect of their persons (mind, will, emotion, body), a concept known as total depravity. Mankind is now in bondage to sin and without hope apart from the grace of God.

But why do we suffer for the sin of Adam and Eve committed so long ago? This question fails to take into account that Adam and Eve are not some disconnected couple who lived long ago and have nothing to do with us. They were our first parents, they sinned, and they reproduced! The apostle Paul says in Romans 5:12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.”

One of the reasons we struggle with the doctrine of original sin is due to our strong sense of Western individuality. In reality we are less individual than we think. Millard Erickson states,

...the entirety of our human nature, both physical and spiritual, material and immaterial, has been received from our parents and more distant ancestors by way of descent from the first pair of humans. On that basis, we were actually present within Adam, so that we all sinned in his act. There is no injustice, then, to our condemnation and death as a result of original sin.[15]

If this is true, everything that we are we received from Adam and Eve, including our soul and consciousness.[16] Once Adam and Eve became corrupt, all they could produce was corruption; they could not produce anything better than themselves. To say it again, they were our first parents, they sinned, and they reproduced. Each one of us is a little Adam or Eve. When we understand our relationship to Adam we learn several lessons:

First, evil is the result of free beings using their free will badly.

Second, Adam and Eve plunged all of mankind into a lifelong education of the knowledge of good and evil. God is using evil and suffering to teach free creatures the horror of sin and the horror of rebellion against God. The lesson is this: if you hate evil, hate sin! William Dembski states,

We are the arsonists. We started the fire. God wants to rescue us…But to be rescued from a life of arson requires that we know how destructive arson is…If God always instantly put out the fires we start, we would never appreciate the damage fires can do. We started a fire in consenting to evil. God permits this fire to rage…so that we can rightly understand the human condition and thus come to our senses.[17]

Third, Adam’s seed always deserves to die unless it repents (Rom. 6:23).

Finally, no matter how many examples are presented to us of human suffering and evil, the major recourse is to point to human sinfulness:

Suffering and evil are the result of sin…To those who complain about evil and suffering, our reply should be: “Hate sin!” Our problem in understanding why humans suffer is that we diminish the significance and extent of human sinfulness.[18]

#6 The POE is a problem because we fail to grasp the depth of human depravity.

A discussion of human depravity in relation to the problem of evil is absolutely necessary because the most frequently asked question concerning the POE is this: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” This is sometimes referred to as the emotional problem of evil.

A full treatment of human depravity simply isn’t possible here. Dr. Clay Jones of Biola University is well-read in this area and has done excellent work, especially relating human depravity to the problem of evil. His work is highly recommended and so I refer the reader to these articles:


To put it succinctly, the question “Why do bad things happen to good people?” is based on the false assumption that people are “good.” Given the reality of human depravity the problem with this question should become immediately apparent. Man is not innately good:

The terrible human evils in the world are testimony to man’s depravity in his state of spiritual alienation from God. The Christian isn’t surprised at the moral evil in the world; on the contrary, he expects it. The Scriptures indicate that God has given mankind up to the sin it has freely chosen; He doesn’t interfere to stop it but lets human depravity run its course (Rom. 1:24, 26, 28). This only serves to heighten mankind’s moral responsibility before God, as well as our wickedness and our need of forgiveness and moral cleansing.[19]

So the question is not “Why do bad things happen to good people?” but rather “Why do bad things happen to bad people?” But nobody ever asks that question. We could even push this question one step further. The real question could be posed this way: “Why do good things happen to bad people?” Why isn’t this the question we are asking? Why has God out of His mercy chosen to dispense any goodness at all on rebellious sinners?

Skeptics, however, are often inconsistent when it comes to the nature of man and the problem of evil. They want to hold to the basic goodness of man and at the same time complain about the evil, pain, and suffering which man perpetuates, and which God allows:

On the one hand, skeptics argue that bad things shouldn’t happen to good people and that the human race consists mainly of good people. On the other hand, their very objections concern the bad things people do to one another: murder, war, rape, child abuse, brutality, kidnapping, bullying, ridiculing, shaming, corporate greed, unwillingness to share wealth or to care for the environment…Since the same human race that commits these evils also suffers from them—since we are not only victims, but perpetrators, of sin—what would God’s critics have Him do?[20]

In short, we have gotten the problem of evil exactly backward:

There is a problem of evil alright. But it isn’t God’s problem—He is only good and doesn’t do any evil. It’s humankind’s problem because we are the ones who do evil. As C. S. Lewis put it, “The Christian answer—that we have used our free will to become very bad—is so well known that it hardly needs to be stated. But to bring this doctrine into real life in the minds of modern men, and even modern Christians, is very hard.” Indeed. And a Christian won’t understand why God allows evil unless he or she thinks these things through.[21]

#7 The POE is a problem because we forget that a life of suffering, persecution, hardship, and self-denial is what Jesus offers us.

“Try Jesus, He’ll make your life better!” Not necessarily. A Muslim girl who accepts Christ as Savior in a country controlled by Sharia law stands the chance of being raped and tortured to death if she is discovered. Jesus did not promise his followers a field of flowers to frolic through or a life of health, wealth, and prosperity. Rather, Jesus said,

Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves. But beware of men, for they will hand you over to the courts and scourge you in their synagogues (Matt. 10:16-18).

Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death. You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved (Matt. 10: 21-22).

Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I came to SET A MAN AGAINST HIS FATHER, AND A DAUGHTER AGAINST HER MOTHER, AND A DAUGHTER-IN-LAW AGAINST HER MOTHER-IN-LAW; AND A MAN’S ENEMIES WILL BE THE MEMBERS OF HIS HOUSEHOLD” (Matt. 10:34-36).

If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it (Matt. 16:24-25).

If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you (John 15:18-19).

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world (John 16:33).

The Apostle Paul experienced this first hand and taught the same thing:

Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22).

And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope (Rom. 5:3).

For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me (Phil. 1:29-30).

Indeed, all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12).

Jesus will, of course, always make your life better in the ultimate sense. However it may well be the case that your life here on earth as a Christian is nasty, brutish, and short. But because knowledge of God is an incommensurable good this problem of evil should not be a problem at all:

One reason that the problem of suffering seems so puzzling is that people naturally tend to assume that if God exists, then His purpose for human life is happiness in this life. God’s role is to provide a comfortable environment for His human pets. But on the Christian view, this is false. We are not God’s pets, and the goal of human life is not happiness per se, but the knowledge of God—which in the end will bring true and everlasting human fulfillment. Much of the suffering in life may be utterly pointless with respect to the goal of producing human happiness; but it may not be pointless with respect to producing a deeper knowledge of God.[22]

#8 The POE is a problem because we fail to have an eternal perspective and appreciate the glory that awaits us in heaven.

The doctrine of heaven is probably one of the most underemphasized and underappreciated doctrines of the Christian faith.[23] For many believers heaven is simply the “P.S.” to the Christian life. But we ignore the topic of heaven to our own peril. Like the topic of human depravity, a full treatment of heaven is not possible here. I again point you toward an article by Clay Jones as well as his forthcoming book Why God Allows Evil:


In short, our failure to understand the problem of evil is due in large part to our failure to adopt an eternal perspective and to fully appreciate the glory that awaits us. Heaven is the ultimate solution to the problem of evil, both intellectually and emotionally. C.S. Lewis was right when he said that a successful answer to the problem of evil cannot exclude the reality of heaven:

Scripture and tradition habitually put the joys of heaven into the scale against the sufferings of earth, and no solution of the problem of pain that does not do so can be called a Christian one.[24]

This means that not only is heaven a completely relevant answer to the problem of evil but it is also a necessary one. The knowledge and promise of heaven allows Christians to endure suffering and hardship the same way a child endures an unpleasant dinner for the promise of dessert. In fact, Scripture commands this should be our focus:

Set your minds on the things above, not on earthly things. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Col. 3:1-4).

Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Pet. 1:13).

In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed (1 Peter 1:3-7).

Furthermore, the so-called problem of evil will one day be resolved because God intends to one day destroy all evil. The argument could be stated as follows:

1.      If God is all-good, He wants to defeat evil.
2.      If God is all-powerful God, He can defeat evil.
3.      But evil is not yet defeated.
4.      Therefore, evil will one day be defeated.[25]

In other words, the existence of an all-good, all-powerful God and the existence of evil, rather than being an argument against God or His character, turns out to be an argument which demonstrates that God will one day put an end to evil, as He Himself promises:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth…and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer by any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away (Rev. 21:1, 4).

An illustration may help us grasp how heaven will make our pain and affliction experienced here on earth completely trivial and insignificant.[26] Often a complaint is raised regarding the quantity and intensity of evil a person may experience in this world. But let’s think about this. Suppose you live a very painful existence in which you suffer immensely for most of your life, yet despite this you come to know Christ. What is a finite lifetime of suffering compared to an eternity in heaven? There is simply no comparison. If we were to draw an eternal timeline and mark your life of suffering on it, it would be infinitesimal. In fact, a parent who gives their child a measles shot causing her to cry for ten minutes of her life is causing more suffering by comparison than God allows you to experience in an entire lifetime in light of eternity in heaven. I don’t think this point can be overemphasized. Heaven dwarfs evil into insignificance.

This is something the Apostle Paul understood very well. William Lane Craig does an excellent job addressing this point so I quote him here at length:

When God asks His children to bear horrible suffering in this life, it is only with the prospect of a heavenly joy and recompense that is beyond all comprehension. The apostle Paul underwent a life of incredible suffering. His life as an apostle was punctuated by “afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, tumults, labors, watching, hunger” (2 Cor. 6:4-5). Yet he wrote,

“We do not lose heart…For this slight momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are temporal, but the things that are not seen are eternal.” (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

Paul lived this life in the perspective of eternity. He understood that the length of this life, being finite, is literally infinitesimal in comparison with the eternal life we’ll spend with God. The longer we spend in eternity, the more the sufferings of this life will shrink by comparison toward an infinitesimal moment. That’s why Paul called the sufferings of this life  a “slight momentary affliction”: He wasn’t being insensitive to the plight of those who suffer horribly in this life—on the contrary, he was one of those people—but he saw that those sufferings were simply overwhelmed by the ocean of everlasting joy and glory that God will give to those who trust Him.[27]

To summarize, heaven will be eternal and full of pleasure; our suffering on earth is not. Therefore, heaven solves the problem of evil with regard to the quantity and intensity of suffering experienced here in this life. The reason we fail to understand this problem of evil is because we fail to have an eternal perspective. Paul sums up this point best:

For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us (Rom. 8:18).

Ironically, those who reject God because of evil are rejecting the only One who can redeem evil and suffering for good:

Paradoxically, then, even though the problem of suffering is the greatest objection to the existence of God, at the end of the day God is the only solution to the problem of suffering. If God does not exist, then we are locked without hope in a world filled with pointless and unredeemed suffering. God is the final answer to the problem of suffering, for He redeems us from evil and takes us into the everlasting joy of an incommensurable good: fellowship with Himself.[28]

Conclusion

If we want to understand the problem of evil we need to take seriously the first three chapters of the book of Genesis and the last three chapters of the book of Revelation. Everything in between is about good and evil, ruling and reigning. Adam has plunged all of mankind into a lifelong education of the knowledge of good and evil. As his descendants we are born corrupt and deserving of death. God is using the evil and suffering of this world to teach free beings the horror of sin, persuading them that He is right, and drawing them into a relationship with Himself. Those who endure and choose to honor God in spite of sorrow and affliction will be glorified in heaven where they will rule and reign forever. The ultimate lesson to be learned from all of this is that if you hate evil, hate sin. At last, God will make all things right and put an end to all heartache, anguish, and suffering for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Rom. 8:28-39; Rev. 21:1, 4).



[1] David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, part X, in The Empiricists (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1974), 490, as quoted in John S. Feinberg, Many Faces of Evil: Theological Systems and the Problems of Evil, 3rd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2004), 18.
[2] Feinberg, Many Faces of Evil, 21-29.
[3] I often use “problem of evil” rather generally to mean “why God allows evil, pain, and suffering.” When a specific problem or different definition is under discussion it will either be mentioned explicitly or hopefully will be obvious to the reader.
[4] Feinberg, Many Faces of Evil, 27. “A theodicy purports to offer the actual reason God has for allowing evil in our world. A defense…claims to offer only a possible reason God might have for not removing evil.” (29)
[5] See ibid., 33-122.
[6] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden (New York: HarperCollins, 1996), 133 (my italics).
[7] Kenneth Richard Samples, Without a Doubt: Answering the 20 Toughest Faith Questions (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2004), 246.
[8] Randy Alcorn, If God is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2009), 21, 35.
[9] William Lane Craig, Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics, 3rd ed. (Wheaton: Crossway, 2008), 173.
[10] William Lane Craig, Hard Questions, Real Answers (Wheaton: Crossway, 2003), 107.
[11] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Persuasion (Colorado Springs: David Cook, 2010), 162.
[12] Ibid., 161.
[13] I am indebted to Clay Jones for most of the material in this section.
[14] Gen. 3:16-17.
[15] Millard Erickson, Christian Theology, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1988), 654.
[16] This view of the origin of the soul is known as traducianism, contra special creation.
[17] William Dembski, The End of Christianity: Finding a Good God in an Evil World (Nashville: B&H, 2009), 25-26.
[18] Clay Jones, Prepared Defense 2.0, “Free Will and Heaven”, 2011.
[19] Craig, On Guard, 166.
[20] Alcorn, If God is Good, 72-73.
[21] Clay Jones, Human Evil and Suffering, 14, available at www.clayjones.net.
[22] Craig, On Guard, 163-164.
[23] I am indebted to Clay Jones for most of the material in this section.
[24] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 148.
[25] Argument adapted from Norman Geisler, If God, Why Evil? (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2011), 42.
[26] I am indebted to Dr. Clay Jones for this illustration.
[27] Craig, On Guard, 166-167.
[28] Ibid., 173.

7 comments:

Confident Christian said...

There are some excellent points here, and the post is very well-written!

All blessings in Jesus Christ to you! :)

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

I must agree with you that atheists have their own problem regarding evil. However, I don't think that atheists (at least not in a broad fashion) admit morality or evil is objective. I've always thought that in general, atheists were of the opposite opinion. Perhaps you could show me that I'm wrong on that.

You presented the following logical construct to explain that evil demonstrates evidence for the existence of God:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

2. Evil exists.

3. Therefore, objective moral values exist.

4. Therefore, God exists.[10]

Isn’t this a tautology? You are the one arguing that moral values are objective. “The only suitable grounding for objective morality is an objective moral law-giver: God.” This assumes objective evil exists which is to presuppose that there is a God from whence the evil is objectively declared or defined as evil. In other words, your conclusion that “God exists” is part of your premise.

Thanks,
Zack Tacorin

Aaron said...

Zack,

First, many of the so-called "new" atheists, such as Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, etc., do accept morality as objective, though they would perhaps try to ground objective morality in evolution as opposed to God. Also, many atheistic philosophers accept objective morality. Of course, if the atheist does not believe morality is objective, then one wonders what they are complaining about when they call something "evil." This would also seem to relegate them to a position of relativism, which in my view is very problematic. See the talk on "Refuting Moral Relativism."

Second, the appearance of tautology is probably my own fault, as I did not go into great length to defend premise one (which is the premise the argument hinges on) due to lack of space. I do hold to objective morality, but remember also that the skeptic in raising the POE also seems to be conceding objective morality in raising the question, otherwise as I said in the article, I could simply respond, "that's just evil for you." So it seems that I and the skeptic are on common ground in assuming objective morality when the POE is raised and therefore I do not go into great detail in defending the existence of objective morality. What this argument does is take the skeptic's complaint at face value and show that objective evil means objective morality which must have an appropriate objective grounding: God.

What do you think? What do you think could function as an objective grounding for morality if God does not exist?

Anonymous said...

I'm not a Hitchens or Harris expert. In fact, Hitchens' turns me off (I find his approach arrogant--don't know enough about Harris to have an opinion). Assuming you are right, that they claim objective grounding for morality, I think it would be from an evolutionary/genetic perspective. If so, the idea that an objective basis for morality either depends on God or is non-existent could be seen as a false dilemma. That is, there is at least one other possibility--that the moral objectivity is based on evolution/genetics. But more to the point, whether these atheists believe in your second premise (that objective evil exists) or not, the premise is part of your logical construct. I think you have argued that the second premise depends on the existence of God, yet it is one of the premises on which you base your conclusion that God exists.

You asked what could function as the objective grounding for morality if God does not exist. I agree with you, that there would be no objective ground for morality without a god. Even if you turn to evolution, what is it that would make evolution the objective source for determining morals? It is an outside source, but it would be mankind choosing this as the basis for morality. It would not be determining or mandating a standard for morality on its own. I think we're on the same page with that.

You stated that one wonders what the skeptics are complaining about when they call something "evil" if they are relativists. I'm not sure I follow you on that one. Are you referring to a skeptical perspective that an all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful god should not allow horrific suffering? Or, are you talking about the complaint against any evil in general--in other words are you asking why a relativist would object to any act the relativist assesses as evil based on his subjective morality?

Thanks,
Zack Tacorin

Aaron said...

Zack,

First, if there is another grounding for objective morality beside God, then I would agree that saying either objective morality is non-existent or it is grounded in God would be a false dilemma. However, I simply do not think that a compelling case can be made as to how evolution can ground objective morality, which you also seem to agree to.

Second, there may be some confusion in your comment between epistemology and ontology, which is why you are accusing me of a tautology (or maybe you mean begging the question?). The premise "evil exists" can be known by theists, atheist, and skeptics alike. For example, it is objectively wrong to torture babies for fun or to brutally rape and murder women. The premise "evil exits" is defended independently of premise one, and I am not relying on the existence of God in claiming we all know that evil is a real thing. Again, the skeptic admits this by complaining about the POE. The fact of evil can be known by intuition and simple reflection (some things are really wrong!).

This is where premise one comes in. In premise one I am claiming that God serves as the only ontological grounding (not epistemological) for objective moral values. Again, this premise is defended independently of premise 2. So, if we all know that evil exists, and God serves as the only objective grounding for objective moral values, then it follows that God exists.

This argument is in the form of modus tollens (If P, then Q. Not Q. Therefore, not P.) If you want, you can completely remove premise 2 and the argument would look like this:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

So, I do not think I am begging the question (or engaging in a tautology).

Third, regarding the skeptic and evil, I mean that if morality is relative, a skeptic cannot complain to others about evil, since evil would be subjectively determined. They could only complain to themselves or their culture, or say things like "I don't like evil," but they cannot complain about evil being objectively wrong.

Aaron <><

Anonymous said...

Aaron,

I will give you the point that from your perspective, the idea that objective morality either does not exist, or it is grounded in God. There are at least a couple of types of non-believers who would not accept your argument. The examples I can think of are Deists and Naturalists (who might see evolution as the objective standard of morality).

Regarding the term tautology, I accept your correction. I was using this in the rhetoric sense, “using different words to say the same thing, or a series of self-reinforcing statements that cannot be disproved because they depend on the assumption that they are already correct.” (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tautology) Since I was referring to a logical construct, it could have been misunderstood that I was referring to the tautology fallacy, which was not what I meant. Begging the question is exactly what I was referring to. Thanks for the clarification.

Now back to your logical construct. As I understand your construct, it is structured like this.

Premise 1
Premise 2
Therefore (based on premise 2), conclusion 1
Therefore (based on conclusion 1), conclusion 2

According to your construct, conclusion 2 (that God exists) depends on conclusion 1 (that there are objective moral values), which depends on premise 2 (that evil exists). This comes full circle because you argued that premise 2 depends on the existence of God.

I think there is an epistemic problem with your assertion that at least some things are objectively morally wrong. Yes, we seem to accept almost universally the examples you give as being intuitively wrong. However, that could very easily be explained by evolution. We are social beings. The need to maintain the strength of our groups/tribes/society, would certainly work as a selective force for genetic tendencies toward empathy, including the abhorrence of things like murder, rape, torture. This is why I think there is an epistemic issue. You have determined the ability of intuitively knowing what is evil is due to the existence of God. How do you know it is not due to evolution?

As to your new construct:
1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
2. Objective moral values exist.
3. Therefore, God exists.

Again, just because we all agree (well, almost all—there are the psychopaths) that murder, rape, and torture are wrong, it does not prove the existence of objective moral values. Our agreement could be the result of evolution. Or, it could be the result of a deistic god/force that perhaps no longer exists. I believe your premise 2 (correct or not) is based on faith, not on solid established proof, evidence, or even universally accepted fact. As such, many will dismiss the premise quickly.

Lastly, regarding a relativist complaining of evil, I tend to agree with you if by relativism we use your definition of good and evil being relative to “what do I want” or relative to “what society decides.” However I think the evolutionists have an argument that’s compelling. If the standard is “what’s good for me as well as for others”, I believe this is very analogous to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (By “good for me as well as for others” I am not referring to hedonistic pleasures; I’m referring to that which empowers, enlightens, and supports the wellbeing.) I don’t think this is an absolute standard, because there is no absolute authority determining it is a standard or enforcing it as a standard. However, if adopted as a moral compass, with or without God, could I not complain of evil done to my brother based on this?

Again, thank you for indulging me. You’ve been more than patient and kind.

Thanks,

Zack

Grundy said...

It seems like you are saying that atheists can't cite the problem of evil within their worldview. I don't think we do that. It isn't a problem within our worldview, but it is a problem for the theist worldview. That's all.