Sunday, November 06, 2016

Newtonian fatalism

I'd like to employ another example to illustrate a theodicy I often use. I don't think there's one silver bullet theodicy. But by combining several, we cover most-every situation. 

Before getting to that, I often talk about the problem of evil in fairly clinical terms. That's because I'm discussing the intellectual problem of evil rather than the emotional problem of evil. There's really not much you can say about the emotional problem of evil. That's not generally something that can be handled at a distance. It requires face-to-face contact. Grieving with those who grieve (Rom 12:15).

It's like a doctor who has to break terrible news to a patient. Tell the patient that he has terminal cancer or a degenerative illness. Suppose the patient asks why that happened to him? Well, in some cases, the doctor has an answer. He can say that due to your family history, you have a genetic predisposition to develop gastric cancer or Huntington's disease (or whatever). That's the right answer to the question. But, of course, it doesn't make the diagnosis less any less bleak. 

Mind you, even that can sometimes be helpful. The patient knows there's nothing he could have done to prevent it. Early diagnosis wouldn't help. Change of diet wouldn't help. 

In the nature of the case, an answer to the intellectual problem of evil will be somewhat dry. That's because we're addressing the philosophical aspect of the problem. I myself have seen the problem of evil up close and personal. Although I often write about it with critical detachment, that doesn't mean I'm a brain-in-a-vat. It just means I don't discuss family tragedies in public. 

Now for the illustration. To my knowledge, there are two tropes about fatalism in the horror genre:

I. Delayed fatalism

According to this trope, you can never cheat fate. At best, you can postpone the inevitable. But sooner or later, fate will find you. It will sneak back around and get you when you least expect it. You may temporarily outwit your fate, but eventually it will catch you off-guard.

II. Newtonian fatalism

According to this trope, you can cheat fate…but there's a catch! You can cheat fate, but someone else will have to take your place. Fate demands a substitute. In this version, if someone could elude fate, and there's nothing to compensate his evasion, that throws the natural order out of whack. In order to maintain cosmic equilibrium, it's life for life and death for death. You can only escape your fate if that's offset by a fall guy.

This has great dramatic potential in cheesy horror films where you volunteer your best friend. For some inexplicable reason, he suddenly finds himself in near-miss freak accidents. One close call after another. Little does he know you gave him up to save your own skin. And when he finds out…

Although this is fiction, it has a real-world counterpart. In a world that's overwhelmingly governed by cause and effect, every action has a reaction. So Newton's third law has implications for the problem of evil.  

If you think about it, it's a sobering fact that saving one life may come at the expense of another life. Someone may die in an accident because of something someone else did a 100 years earlier. A perfectly innocent action in the past may result in future calamity. Thankfully, most of us don't know the future. Even we did, it would be petrifying to see some of the long-term consequences of our benign actions. 

Likewise, if your father had married a different woman, or your mother had married a different man, you wouldn't be here. Someone else would be here instead. And so on and so forth.

So when we ask, why didn't God do this instead of that, we need to consider how one thing leads to another. It isn't cost-free. Someone's ill-fortune may pay the price for your good fortune, or vice versa. 

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