Wednesday, October 10, 2007

"Must Good Come From Every Evil?"

Bruce Little, of SEBTS, doesn’t like the greater-good theodicy:

“This response, however, fails when applied to horrific evils such as the Holocaust, 9/11, and the tsunami as well as the suffering of child.”

Where’s the argument?

“The fact is, the greater-good explanation tends to raise more questions than it answers. Questions such as: "If the 'good' obtains, where is it, and who is the recipient?"

i) A greater-good defense is a teleological (means>ends) theodicy, and—to some extent—one can only judge the ultimate good by the ultimate outcome. In other words, we can only judge that outcome at the Consummation, with the benefit of eschatological hindsight, and not within church history—for our historical position is too shortsighted.

ii) At another level, the Reformed version of the greater-good defense involves the principle that God is the summum bonum, such that knowing God is the summum bonum, such that sin and redemption enable us to know God in a way that would not otherwise be possible.

One can flesh this out in considerable detail, but elect men and angels are the beneficiaries (the “who”), while the “where” is located in our enhanced knowledge of God as redeemed sinners.

“"How would we know when enough 'good' had obtained morally to justify God's allowing it?"

i) That turns on the burden of proof, and the onus is reversible: How would the atheist know that enough good had *not* obtained morally to justify God’s allowing it?

ii) In addition, if the Bible warrants the greater-good defense, and if we are well-warranted in believing the Bible, then we know from Scripture that enough good will obtain morally to justify God’s allowance of evil. Scripture can be a source of knowledge. So you would mount a two-step argument: (a) for Scripture; (b) for the greater-good defense as a Scriptural theodicy.

"What if no one can see the 'good', how do we know it is there?"

Of course, good and evil are not empirical qualities. His objection cuts both ways since no one can see gratuitous evil.

"If evil/suffering is allowed by God for some 'good', would it not be reasonable to conclude that once some evil/suffering has entered the human experience that one should not stop it, for to do so would be to eliminate the resulting 'good'?"

i) Every possible evil doesn’t have the potential to facilitate a greater good. The greater-good defense does not imply that every evil should go unchecked.

ii) Some natural and moral evils are humanly insoluble precisely because God has not empowered us to prevent them. If we can prevent an evil, then God didn’t decree it. If he decreed it, then we can’t prevent it. You only know by doing what is possible.

“Such probing questions seem reasonable and must not be ignored. In the end, the weakness of the Greater-Good theodicy seems to be located in its promise of the 'good' and the denial of gratuitous evil/suffering (that which serves no greater good purpose-it is just part of a fallen world).”

That only pushes the question back a step. Is the fall a gratuitous evil? Or does it serve some overarching purpose?

“On what grounds could such claims be made? One possibility would lie in an evidential demonstration that the 'good' obtained. The other would be to find a propositional statement in the Bible that affirms this to be the case. Unfortunately, the possibility of either remains highly questionable, if not impossible.”

Why in the world does he think it’s “highly questionable, if not impossible…to find a propositional statement in the Bible that affirms” the greater-good defense? That’s an oddly prejudicial claim. What a priori impediment would hinder God from speaking to this issue?

“Therefore, if this is the only response the Christian has to the problem of evil, one could understand why the world might conclude that it is more probable that the omni-benevolent, omnipotent, loving God does not exist than that He does exist.”

Is God omnibenevolent? Paul Helm, for one, rejects that assumption. Cf. “Can God Love the World”? Kevin Vanhoozer, ed. Nothing Greater, Nothing Better (Eerdmans 2001), 168-85.

“Part of imageness includes man having the power of moral choice. His moral choice was placed within the larger created framework of what might be thought of as a creation order. That is, not only was creation structured with a physical order, but God, in His sovereignty, established a moral order within which man would have a certain freedom within a prescribed range.”

i) Little makes no attempt to actually exegete libertarian freedom from Gen 1:26. And even if libertarianism were true, it’s hardly a logical or exegetical implication of the imago Dei. He will need to use a very different argument.

ii) This also goes to a tension in his version of the FWD. On the one hand, wouldn't the FWD be, in some sense, a greater good defense?

Evil would be justified, and therefore not gratuitous, because libertarian freewill is either an intrinsic good or else a necessary precondition to some other good (e.g. "true loved can't be forced").

On the other hand, the libertarian wants to deny that God planned the outcome to unfold the way it did, since that would be hard to distinguish from predestination.

But if it wasn't planned, then it doesn't serve a purpose—in which case these evils are gratuitous.

“If there is the possibility of gratuitous evil, then the Christian no longer has the burden of justifying evil/suffering on the grounds that God will bring about a greater good.”

This illustrates a problem when men like Bruce Little spend their time debating other believers rather than other unbelievers. It’s clear that he’s never gotten into a debate with a secular philosopher like William Rowe. To imagine that the admission of gratuitous evil is a solution to the argument from evil shows a complete unawareness of how the argument from evil is formulated.

“Has He promised, however, to do so in every instance of general suffering?”

A greater-good defense, especially in Calvinism, does not imply a one-to-one correspondence between a particular evil and a particular good. The relation between ends and means is a one-to-many relation (i.e. many evils to facilitate an ultimate good), not a many-to-many relation (many means and many ends).

“If the possibility of gratuitous evil exists, then the Christian is not responsible for trying to demonstrate some good and he or she is not responsible to defend God on the basis of the 'good' obtaining. In fact, it is not the ‘good’ God wants us to focus on, but on Him who is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.”

But, as libertarian, Little believes that God’s attempt to be merciful is frequently frustrated by man’s freedom. Therefore, a libertarian is in no position to take comfort in the God of all comfort (2 Cor 1:3f.). God may want to be merciful to me, but if Nero wants to be merciless to me, then Nero can thwart God’s merciful intentions. And I, by my own unfettered freedom, can veto God’s merciful intentions.

Divine promises don’t function in a libertarian scheme, for God cannot make good on his promises. Only a Calvinist is logically entitled to trust in the promises of God.

No comments:

Post a Comment