Thursday, March 08, 2018

Mysterious evil

In his recent interview with Reformed philosopher Guillaume Bignon, apostate Dale Tuggy sensed a "mystery appeal" in Bignon's theodicy. For Dale, that's a bad thing. A few quick points:

i) Bignon doesn't resort to mystery in defending Reformed determinism. He responds to objections head-on.

ii) Dale's aversion to mystery is bound up with his antipathy towards orthodox Christian theology. Because Christian theologians appeal to mystery or paradox when defending the Trinity and Incarnation, Dale bristles whenever the mystery card is played. 

I'd note that there's a difference between mystery and paradox. While a paradox is mysterious, a mystery isn't necessarily paradoxical. 

iii) There's nothing uniquely Calvinistic about appealing to mystery regarding the problem of evil. Consider what two leading freewill theists have to say about that in a recent book on the problem of evil. Molinist W. L. Craig says:

A person who lacks middle knowledge will be unable to assess the long-term consequences of the events that he permits to happen and so cannot have reasons for permitting them that are indiscernible from the standpoint of the present…Evils that appear pointless or unnecessary to us within our limited framework might be seen to have been justly permitted within God's wider framework. The brutal murder of an innocent man or a child's dying of leukemia could send a ripple effect through history such that God's morally sufficient reason for permitting it might not emerge until centuries later or perhaps in another country. Being limited in space and time, in intelligence and insight, we are simply in no epistemic position to make probability judgments to the effect that "God probably does not have a morally sufficient reason for permitting this event to occur" with any sort of confidence…What James Clerk Maxwell called "singular points" makes it impossible to predict the outcome of present, visible causes…Similarly, in the developing filed of chaos theory…One only has to think of innumerable, incalculable contingencies involved in arriving at a single historical event, say, the Allied victory at D-day. C. Meister & J. Dew, eds., God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views (IVP 2017), 45-45.  

And Dale's fellow open theist, William Hasker, says:

In view of the many and severe evils with which the world is afflicted, shouldn't God be doing better? We are inclined to think there must be something more that a powerful and loving God would and should be doing to make the world a better place. As regards the possibility of a better overall plan of creation, it is important to realize that this possibility, if it exists at all, is one of which we have no cognitive grasp whatsoever. Our failure to grasp such a thing is not a matter of mere ignorance, comparable to our lack of information about some as-yet-undiscovered species of insect. This is a fundamental ignorance, and one of the reasons it is so can be found in the phenomenon known as "fine-tuning"…But couldn't God do more in preventing particular instances of evil? Perhaps he could, though we have little insight into what the consequences of more frequent divine intervention might be. The fact is that very often we just do not know why certain sorts of evils are permitted by God; that this is so can be a test of faith–sometimes a severe test of faith–for a believer. Ibid., 74-76. 

1 comment:

  1. "I'd note that there's a difference between mystery and paradox. While a paradox is mysterious, a mystery isn't necessarily paradoxical."

    Depends what one means by "mystery," of course. Your fellow Reformed believer Dr. James Anderson uses "mystery" precisely to mean an apparent (but not real) contradiction - what most mean by "paradox."

    But I think the main patristic use is to mean some claim that is largely unintelligible.

    It is true that I am suspicious of such moves in general, and this is in part because I see no such moves made in the NT. Also, they are often made in laziness - temporary stop-gaps that are just allowed to stay there indefinitely. Often a sort of Christian special pleading here too. However, see my "On Positive Mysterianism" where I grant that in principle, it can be rational to hold to apparently contradictory beliefs. I explain there why this is not, in my view, much comfort to mysterians in theology.

    I have no problem whatever with accepting truths/facts we can't explain, with knowing that without knowing how, or with admitting the limits of our knowledge.

    I'm not as positive about the "skeptical theist" way of defending against evidential arguments from evil. It seems to me, as with Hasker, that it is important to admit that there are some "gratuitious" evils in God's world.