I'm going to quote a portion of a post from Uncommon Descent, along with one of the comments. There are striking parallels between this debate and the Calvinist/Molinist/Arminian debate over theodicy, where Ayala is using the same type of buffer that Arminians and Molinists invoke, while Barry raises the obvious objections to that insulating strategy, and a subsequent commenter raises obvious objections to Barry's libertarian alternative:
11 May 2010
Bad Theology in Support of Bad Science
Fransciso Ayala says intelligent design is an “atrocity” and “disastrous for religion” because it makes God directly responsible for all of the evil in the world. Ayala apparently believes he can get God “off the hook” for all of the evil in the world by setting him up as a remote deity – along the lines of the wind-up-the-clock deity believed in by, say, a seventeenth century deist – who, while He may have set the initial conditions in the universe, has not tended to it since and therefore cannot be blamed if the evolutionary train has gone off the rails in his absence. Rubbish. Ayala is pushing bad theology to support his bad science.
Let us examine Ayala’s claim that evolution gets God off the hook. His logic apparently runs something like this: As a Christian he concedes that God is the primary cause of the universe. Nevertheless, he says, God established numerous secondary causes, including Darwinian evolution, which is responsible for the vast complexity and diversity of life. But evolution is a creative force that is far from perfect, and such things as genetic defects, the cruelty in nature, and the defective human birth canal result from this imperfect process.
Now here is where Ayala’s argument gets interesting. Ayala seems to believe that by laying the imperfections in living things and the obvious cruelty in the world at the feet of a secondary cause (i.e., evolution), the primary cause (i.e., God) is relieved from “responsibility” for the aberrations resulting from the imperfect secondary cause.
Ayala’s argument runs squarely counter to elementary logic. Christians believe that God is omnipotent (all powerful), omniscient (all knowing) and omnibenevolent (unlimited in goodness). The universe is contingent. God did not have to create it. He chose to create it. Not only that; He chose to create a universe in which evil is possible. And not only that; in His omniscience God knew perfectly (not probabilistically) exactly what the consequences would be of His decision to create a universe where evil is possible. God knew evil would exist in the universe He created at the moment He created it. Therefore, in a certain sense (call it an “ontological sense”) God is responsible for the existence of evil. Please do not get me wrong. I am not for a moment suggesting that God is morally responsible for the evil in the universe. But it seems inescapable that He is responsible in the sense of establishing the conditions in which it is possible for evil to exist.
Even if this were not the case, one would still have to contend with the combination of God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence. Suppose I am standing on a sidewalk. I see a car is about to come up on the sidewalk and strike the person in front of me, and all I have to do to save her is reach out and give her a gentle tug backwards. If I allow that person to be struck and killed by the car when it was well within my power to save her, two things are true. My conduct has not conformed to the good, and in a very real sense I am responsible for her death. In his omnipotence God is well able to stop all evil if He chooses to do so. If God does not stop the evil He is well able to stop, is He not responsible for it?
Where does this leave Ayala’s argument? His logic does not bear up under the slightest scrutiny. Exiling God to the “primary cause” hinterlands does not get God “off the hook” for the existence of evil in the world. Intelligent design does not “make God responsible for evil.” In the ontological sense we have discussed, God is responsible for existence of evil before intelligent design theory speaks. Therefore, Ayala’s argument fails utterly.
Here’s the problem with trying to use free will to excuse the existence of evil in the world:
1. Assume that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent.
2. Assume that humans have free will.
3. God’s omniscience means that God knows, before conception, what each person will freely choose to do with her life. This includes the evil that she will commit.
4. God chooses to allow some humans to be born, but not others. Free will nevertheless exists (by our assumption #2).
5. God could choose to prevent the birth of those who would freely choose to do evil, and allow the birth of those who would freely choose to do good. This would not prevent them in any way from exercising their free will.
6. God does not do this.
7. Therefore, God is responsible for the evil that people commit.