Thursday, January 09, 2014

The real problem of evil

The stereotypical problem of evil is framed in terms of why, if there is a God, he permits certain kinds of evil. The quality or quantity of evil is deemed to be excessive or gratuitous. Thus stated, the problem of evil brackets the existence of God, and asks whether God's existence is consistent with the range of evil we find in the world.
But from a Christian standpoint, that's off-kilter. There's abundant evidence, both in Scripture and Christian experience, that God often prevents evil. So the real question isn't why God permits evil, but why God permits some evils while preventing other evils. Why does God allow so much evil given the fact that he prevents so much evil? That's rather mysterious from our vantage-point.  The seemingly fortuitous occurrence or nonoccurrence of evil is puzzling. 

It can't be resolved by forfeiting one of two beliefs we affirm, for both beliefs are well-grounded (i.e. God exists, yet there is evil which God is able, but unwilling to prevent). 
Of course, atheists don't find that reformulation useful, for it takes God's existence for granted. But from a theological standpoint, that's the real quandary. 
Freewill theism tries to explain the prevalence of moral evil as a necessary evil given libertarian freedom. Yet there are certainly cases in which God prevents moral evils. So how does freewill theism account for the lack of uniformity? 
Likewise, appealing to libertarian freedom doesn't relieve the prevalence of natural evil. Here, libertarians appeal to the need for a stable, predictable environment. Yet there are certainly cases in which God prevents natural evils. So, once again, how does freewill theism account for the lack of uniformity? Their principle fails to solve the problem it posed for itself.


  1. God's eternal ontology can be expressed by the law of identity. He is univalent. Creating that which is not God establishes a bivalent system. We who are of the created world require bivalent logic, the law of non-contradiction, for understanding. God's purpose in allowing evil, therefore, seems likely to be a function of his revelation to us. We need the contrast of that which is not God in order to understand God.

    The issue with libertarian freedom is what we attribute to God's will. For those things perceived as good, we should attribute them to God's will. For those things that are perceived as evil (whether they are evil or not), we should assume the blame. Therefore, to do either of these otherwise creates an epistemological problem whereby we fail to reveal God in our intents and desires as those charged with bearing his image faithfully.

  2. Of course, atheists don't find that reformulation useful, for it takes God's existence for granted

    It's interesting to me that when atheists bring up the Problem of Evil argument (whether the logical or evidential/inductive version) they don't seriously take into consideration the possibility that God may exist and yet may not be omnibenevolent but just very good or plain good. No, they often would rather argue that it's just as likely or possible that God may be omnimalevolent (e.g. Stephen Law). That seems to reveal their hostility toward God more than their willingness to be rational and logical about the topic. Their thinking seems to be, "Either God is going to be, and MUST BE, as good as I conceive and wish or I'm not going to allow the possibility of any gods' existence in my ontology or worldview." That's clearly emotional rather than a rational attitude. It's childish. On merely prudential and pragmatic reasons some atheists should be willing to make a serious attempt to get along with a finite god or gods purely out of "enlightened self-interest" (similar to how many of them will comply with governmental laws for the same reason). But no, many of them are positively hostile to God or any conception of a god and don't want any one over them telling them what to do.

    On the one hand, a finite god or gods aren't worthy enough for them to submit to. On the other hand, a truly sovereign God (like that found in Christianity, and especially in Calvinism) is too transcendent for them to respect (cf. Matt. 11:16-19). Many of them will reject "God/god" no matter what.

    Also the term "omnibenevolence" is itself problematic for various reasons. 1. If I recall correctly, Steve once quoted a Catholic theologian who stated that the concept and/or term omnibenevolence with respect to God is a relatively recent theological innovation. 2. Even if it isn't a theological novum, the concept in ordinary non-technical atheistic argumentation is often used in a way that doesn't acknowledge or take into account the other attributes of God like God's holiness, justice, wisdom and sovereignty. This might be a reason why the concept (or at least term) may be a recent one since it can tend to lead people into a wrong and limited impression of what God is like.

    If atheists were really concerned with the problem of evil and were truly concerned with being rational/logical, they would take seriously the fact that their atheism seriously calls into question the existence of objective good and evil. But instead of that, they want to retain their subjective sense of good and evil on apparently emotional or intuitive basis. Well, if they can appeal to their emotional desire or their intuition for the existence of objective and/or genuine good and evil, then why do they complain that many theists persist in their belief in their gods on the same basis (i.e. emotion and intuition)? Especially since it's plausibly more intuitional (if I can coin that term) to believe A. 1. that objective morality depends on the existence of a transcendent God even though such a God apparently would have to have some mysterious but sufficiently moral and rational reason for allowing the evils that He does than B. (the arguably less intuitional view that) 1. objective good and evils actually exist even though no God exists on which such goodness could be grounded and 2. permanent death without an afterlife makes all allegedly moral decisions functionally equivalent since there are no lasting consequences of benefit or loss. Nor any transcendent or eternal observer to remember temporary goodness, wickedness/injustice, benefit and loss. That is to say, even if God never granted eternal life to any of His sentient beings, a least HE would still remember which of His deceased creatures were just and good and which were the opposite. But in atheism, no one will remember. Not even the indifferent impersonal universe.