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Come Reason's Apologetics Notes blog will highlight various news stories or current events and seek to explore them from a thoughtful Christian perspective. Less formal and shorter than the www.comereason.org Web site articles, we hope to give readers points to reflect on concerning topics of the day.

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Showing posts with label problem of evil. Show all posts
Showing posts with label problem of evil. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Jesus Redeems Us from the Monsters

As we approach Easter Sunday, I think it's important for Christians to reflect on various aspects of our salvation. It's too easy to think of being saved as a promise for a happy life in heaven. There's so much more to the redemption than our happiness and I think we can appreciate Easter more fully if we thought a little harder on some of the less comfortable implications of salvation.

What It Means to Be Human

ISIS has been capturing headlines consistently in the news media and across social channels for nearly two years now. There's hardly a soul alive who doesn't know about the Islamic State's terror campaign across areas of the Middle East, with gruesome YouTube posts showing the savage beheadings of those they consider enemies, those of different faiths, or those with whom they simply disagree. The pillage of towns like Mosul where ISIS warriors brought back a version of the Nazi yellow badge to mark Christians and drove them from the place they called home for nearly 2,000 years. I think all sane people agree that those in ISIS demonstrate the worst in humanity.



But, the ISIS terrorists are not the exception when one asks what it means to be human. Their actions are neither new nor novel when we survey the annals of history. In fact, as Dr. Clay Jones put it, labeling ISIS as "monsters" or "inhuman" is our attempt to separate them from ourselves and perhaps provide a bit of comfort to our consciences. Yet, as Jones states, "these horrors are precisely human. They indict all of humankind in a particular way."1 Every single one of us has the capacity to become ISIS-enabled, holocaust-enabled, or 9/11 enabled. Being human means being broken to the point of the monstrous.

This isn't just my view. Just survey the wars of history. Whether it's the burning or beheading of children as a sacrifice like the ancients did or the brutal rape and machete-hacking dismemberment of the victims in Sierra Leone's civil war, history is replete with the carnage that humans continually accomplish. In his article written for the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, Jones compiles statements from historians and psychologists as well as holocaust survivors like Elie Wesel who all say that evil is standard fare for humans. Even Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, who was imprisoned and tortured in a Soviet Gulag confirmed this when he wrote:
Where did this wolf-tribe appear from among our people? Does it really stem from our own roots? Our own blood?

It is our own.

And just so we don't go around flaunting too proudly the white mantle of the just, let everyone ask himself: "If my life had turned out differently, might I myself not have become just such an executioner?"

It is a dreadful question if one answers it honestly.
The capacity for unspeakable evil lies within every beating heart.

We Need Redemption from Our Own Nature

In Christian theology, this idea is nothing new. When Paul was writing to Titus, he said the natural man was "detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work" (Titus 1:16, ESV). Paul didn't even exclude himself from such a judgment, claiming "I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh" (Rom 7:18, ESV). As natural human beings, we are completely saturated with sin and rebellion, and there is no way for us to escape our own corruption.

But Jesus.

While it is impossible for us to escape the corruption of sin that would make us monsters, it is possible for God himself to provide a way of escape. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross makes it possible for us to move from the evil darkness of our lost state to one where we can actually be something different. Just after he states that there is nothing good residing within his flesh, Paul writes:
God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Rom. 8:3-4, ESV)
This is why believers are told that they are "a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come" (2 Cor. 5:17, ESV). We are remade in the Spirit and we await the day when we will be remade in our bodies. We are not saved merely from hell. Monsters deserve hell and given that all human beings are monster-enabled. But Jesus does to redeem us from our evil nature. He provides for us a new nature and he provides a way of escape. That's something to be thankful for this Easter.

References

1. Jones, Clay. "9/11: Are We All Moral Monsters?" Biola News. Biola University, 2 Sept. 2001. Web. 31 Mar. 2015. http://now.biola.edu/news/article/2011/sep/02/911-enabled-moral-monsters-fear-mortality-unsung-l/.

Monday, March 09, 2015

Geometry, Morality, and Suffering in the World

What's the definition of a straight line? Anyone who's taken high school geometry should be able to answer that question with ease. A straight line is simply the shortest distance between two points. The definition is descriptive and concise.


Now, what's the definition of a crooked line? That's a little more difficult. If I tell you that a line I've drawn is crooked, you could imagine many possibilities. The line could be comprised of several angles or it could have a soft radius. It could zigzag or simply fall away from the second point, never actually reaching it. We would say the Tower of Pisa is crooked even though the building's sides are perpendicular to each other. It's simply crooked in relation to the state of being vertical.



Because there are many ways lines may be considered crooked, it would be hard for you to tell just what kind of shape my crooked line actually is simply be me describing it to you as crooked. But there is one thing you would know: it is not the shortest distance between the two points I had in mind. A crooked line is not straight.

Morality is Like Geometry

When people talk about things like good and evil, they tend to assume such ideas are understood. Yet, just like the problem with straight lines and crooked lines above, it's important to stop and think about what the concepts of good and evil entail. Evil is, as I've written elsewhere, a privation of good. It is where good is somehow damaged. Just like darkness isn't a think unto itself, but the absence of light and cold isn't a thing unto itself but the absence of heat, evil isn't a thing unto itself, but the absence of good.

In other words, evil is to good as crooked is to straight. The only way someone can identify evil is to first understand what it means to be good and to know that the evil action (or inaction) falls short of that. There are many ways to be evil, but being good is a much narrower path, just as crooked is a broader category than straight.

Of course, this idea is not at all new with me. C.S. Lewis made it famous in his book Mere Christianity. He wrote:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, why did I who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in violent reaction against it?1
Lewis makes some clear points here. Any objection to the "immoral acts" of the Christian God must appeal to some standard, and that standard cannot originate within the world-system the objector is trying to condemn. Any time a person holds up act A and judges it on the basis of good or bad, he or she is implicitly appealing to a standard outside of the system. There must be what we would call a transcendent reference for all actions. Lewis continued in his explanation:
A man feels wet when he falls into the water because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed, too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies.2
Here lies the problem with atheists who claim to offer the existence of cruelty or suffering as evidence that God doesn't exist. By appealing to such evils, they assume that an objective standard exists. But that standard must be above the creation that causes the cruelty and suffering being objected to. There must be "a law above the law" to compare the natural processes that lead to disease or death from things like earthquakes and floods.

Seeking to Straighten Crooked Lines

In geometry, it is impossible to draw a completely straight line. Even with a ruler, there are microscopic imperfections that alter your pencil's path. But that doesn't mean we cannot ever grasp the concept of a straight line or continue to try and get our lines as straight as possible. If a child draws a crooked line, we correct her and tell her to try again. The same should be true for good and evil.

Perhaps the world has gone crooked. Recognizing that doesn't mean there is no God, it only means that the world has somehow distanced itself from God's destination. The solution is therefore to find the shortest distance to the endpoint and get there right away. That's how you make the crooked straight again.


References

1. Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. New York: MacMillan Pub., 1952. Print. 45.
2. Lewis, 1954. 45

Sunday, February 08, 2015

Questions to Ask Skeptics: What About the Problem of Evil? (video)


One of the more difficult questions many Christians face from skeptics is the question "How can a God exist when I see so much evil in the world?" While this is a challenge to many people, one should realize that the evil we face is more of a problem for the atheist worldview.

In this short video clip, Lenny highlights how rather than disproving God, Christianity provides the most satisfying response to the human struggle with evil and suffering.


Wednesday, February 04, 2015

How Would Stephen Fry Answer His Own Challenge to God?

The British actor and comedian Stephen Fry has lit the Internet ablaze. During a taping for the show The Meaning of Life, interviewer Gay Byrne asked the atheist Fry the question that was previously posed to Bertrand Russell: "Suppose it's all true, and you walk up to the pearly gates and you are confronted by God. What will Stephen Fry say to him, her, or it?" (You may watch the full clip below.) Fry fired off a very emotional response, beginning with:
I'd say, "Bone cancer in children? What's that about? How dare you! How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault! It's not right; it's utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world which is so full of injustice and pain." That's what I'd say.1

He goes on to object to God creating the parasites that cause river blindness, detailing the symptoms of some of the more horrific cases. When asked by Byrne "And you think you are going to get in, like that?" Fry responded "No, but I wouldn't want to. I wouldn't want to get in on his terms. They are wrong."

Fry's response is not unfamiliar. It is standard New Atheist fare, a recapitulation of Dawkins and others. He has such arrogance in his answer, though, it seems to take even the interviewer's breath away. Fry is confident that God cannot exist because of the horrible natural evil he sees in the world. Or if God does exist, he has a lot of explaining to do to Stephen Fry as well as to those poor bone cancer victims.

The Problem of Evil is Everyone's Problem

While Fry is railing against God, I wonder how he would answer the same charge using his own worldview. How would Fry offer comfort to the mother of a child with bone cancer within his understanding of atheism? Would he tell her, "Well, I'm sorry. Evolution is driven by natural selection of advantageous genetic mutation. Your child has a mutation, but it wasn't an advantageous one for her. She has to die, but that's OK. The more fit will leave more offspring." Given Fry's view, how can he say contracting bone cancer is unjust? It is the process of mutation in practice.2

Is Fry's answer better? If bone cancer is part of the evolutionary process, how can he label its existence wrong? Where does he get this definition of right and wrong from? If he wants no mutations of DNA at all, then he wants humans to evolve no further. Otherwise, things like pain, suffering, and parasites eating out the eyes of African children is just how the world works; right and wrong don't enter into it at all.

Devils and Angels

Interestingly, before this portion of the interview, Fry was commenting on his bipolar disorder. Byrne asks, "You say for all the pain that depression causes you, you wouldn't want rid of it because of the places it takes you, in terms of creative highs." Fry agrees and quotes W.O. Jordan who said, "Don't take away my devils because you'll take away my angels, too." He then tells Byrne how he can lead a high functioning, successful life that is fulfilling even with a mental illness.

So why is it that Fry can see good come from debilitation within his own life and he would resist the removal of the defect of bipolarism and yet he cannot open his mind at all to the possibility that God allows the evil we see in the world for greater purposes? Surely, Fry doesn't know so much that he can say with certainty how a world of free, fallen creatures would behave in a world where they never need to rely upon God for their safety, to ease their pain, or to appeal to a hope for the future.

The Luxury of Atheism for the Affluent

Andy Walton makes the same point concerning Fry and folks like the British Humanist Association. You may remember that Richard Dawkins and the BHA created an advertising campaign declaring "There's probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life."3 Walton comments such thinking is "aimed at a small, privileged elite of Western people in the 21st century." He continues:
Stop worrying, says Fry. Forget about God and life after death and finally you'll be free to enjoy life. Well, sorry Stephen, but if you take away God and the hope of a life to come, then the majority of believers you'll be ‘setting free' aren't privileged, Western people who'll be released into a life of self-gratifying loveliness. In fact, they are mostly poor, the majority are women and they are clinging onto their hope and faith for all that they're worth. Think of Christians in Syria, DR Congo or North Korea. Think of the hell on earth some them are experiencing. How dare Stephen Fry tell them that life would be so much better if they gave up on their silly faith.4
I think that's right. It's far too easy to assume the moral high ground and judge God when it suits you, but to provide answers from one's own beliefs, that's tough. If Fry wants to really make a convincing argument against God, he needs to come up with his own answer to the problem of evil, one that's better than the hope offered to those wounded children trough Christ.


References

1. "Stephen Fry." The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne. RTE One. Dublin, Ireland, 01 Feb. 2015. The Meaning of Life with Gay Byrne. Web. 4 Feb. 2015. http://www.rte.ie/player/us/show/10370987/.
2. Mayo Clinic Staff. "Bone Cancer - Causes." Mayo Clinic. Mayo Clinic, 12 Sept. 2013. Web. 04 Feb. 2015. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/bone-cancer/basics/causes/con-20028192.
3. "Atheist Bus Campaign." British Humanist Association. British Humanist Association, n.d. Web. 04 Feb. 2015. https://humanism.org.uk/about/atheist-bus-campaign/.
4. Walton, Andy. "Thou Shalt Not Question Stephen Fry." Threads. Andy Walton, 3 Feb. 2015. Web. 4 Feb. 2015. http://www.threadsuk.com/thou-shalt-not-question-stephen-fry/

Monday, August 25, 2014

Why Isn't the Skeptic Skeptical About His Morality?


Many times when I'm in a conversation with an atheist or a skeptic, they will bring up some disaster or evil act as a way to prove that God doesn't exist. A couple of years ago, I received a letter from one that proves fairly typical:
I have been trying to figure out why God created the hurricanes that devastated the gulf coast, the tsunami in Asia & allowed the devastation that occurred in N.Y. in his name on 9/11. Why did god murder all those innocent people? What could have gotten him so pissed off to commit genocide? Has he been talking to Hitler or Idi Amin again?

I do not believe in God, but I do believe man has the potential to be God-like in his kindness & generosity. After all, god was created in man's image. Perhaps that is why god is evil!!
The letter writer does touch on issues of the problem of evil that Christian thinkers have taken very seriously over the history of the faith. I've written on it many times as well, and I won't rehash those thoughts here. However, there are some presuppositions that this questions rests upon that should also be examined.

From where do you get your understanding of right and wrong?

While the last paragraph on my correspondent comes off snarky, the basic question of "How could a loving God allow X" seems to presuppose that the questioner can see right and wrong clearly, and is therefore able to judge the "X" action as good or bad. So, my first question would be "How do you know that the morality by which you are calling God out because He created a world in which hurricanes or earthquakes exist is the right morality? By what standard are you judging God?"

In order for good and evil to make sense, there must be an objective moral standard to which all people are obligated. Where did the skeptic's understanding of morality come from? Because he or she is questioning the existence of God, and God is the standard of right and wrong, that one must ask, "then where does your standard of morality come from?"

How do you know your morality is superior?

The second question I would have to an atheist or a skeptic is simply, "How do you know your moral judgment more correct than God's when judging God's motives?" You see, when ascribing evil to God, one claims a morally superior position. But that's a pretty tough position for humans to take. Especially since no human being has ever been consistent in his or her own moral understanding. We change our minds on morality all the time! Think about this: have you ever previously thought that something was permissible that you now believe is wrong? Have you ever decided that something you thought was wrong is now Ok?

I'm not even talking about being inconsistent within one's view, although that happens a lot. An inconsistency is when you believe lying or stealing is wrong, but you fudge your taxes or maybe take some pens from the office and justify your actions in some way. What I mean is real shifts in the way we understand moral duties. Perhaps someone previously felt that any medical testing on animals was wrong, but as they've aged they changed their position on that issue. The morality of allowing homosexual unions has seen great shifts in thinking just in the last five years. Perhaps in another decade it will change again, who knows? Regardless of what position one takes, the fact is that our moral framework is not something to rest on. It shifts too frequently.

Therefore, when someone tells me that he or she cannot believe in God because of the evil in the world today, I have to ask, "You're a skeptic. You seem to be pretty convinced, based on your mortality, of God's non-existence. But how come you aren't more skeptical of your own morality?" It seems to me that the morality by which one concludes God doesn't exist is much more tenuous. Perhaps the skeptic's skepticism should start there.

References

Image courtesy Brian Costin via Flickr. Licensed via the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Three Tips for Surviving the Job Cascade

How do you survive when you feel like you're drowning? Right now, my family as well as a family dear to us has been going through what I term "the Job Cascade." For those unfamiliar with the story, the first two chapters of the book of Job relates how righteous Job is attacked by Satan, first by an incredible series of events that target Job's livelihood, his property, and his family. However, Job proves his righteousness by pouring himself out before God, praying with the words "naked I came from my mother's womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord."


In my human mind I would think that is enough. Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with wrongdoing. But life doesn't always go the way one expects and Job gets hit a second time, this time by being afflicted with sores over his entire body. That's the Job cascade. It's when you have been drowning in one bad situation after another, and just when you think you might be able to catch a breath, another wave slams down on you.

Why would God allow so much tragedy in the life of a Christian who only seeks to rest in Him? I truly don't know. In Job's case, we get a peek behind the curtain and see two different factors happening simultaneously: God is demonstrating to Satan that holiness is not self-seeking and we learn that Job had some misunderstandings about God's nature that needed to be corrected. But, that really doesn't help you, if you are the one going through the Job Cascade, so I wanted to provide three specific tips to help you if you are in a free-fall now or when you may find yourself there in the future:

1. God Exists and Jesus Rose from the Dead

The first point may seem a bit quizzical, but it is the most important one. Many faithful Christians when facing a crisis will turn to prayer. When another crisis comes on top of the first, they pray harder. But when that next wave comes and knocks them back under water, that's when people begin to doubt. They may ask themselves "Is God real or are my prayers only reaching as high as the ceiling?" "Do I really believe that Jesus saved me just so I can go through this?"

These kinds of questions happen frequently in difficult times, but those are the exact wrong times to be asking such important questions. You never ask the most difficult questions in an emotionally charged state, because you simply cannot think as clearly as when you are calm. That's why I have held that a discipline like apologetics is so important. If you've wrestled with questions like does God exist or did Jesus really rise from the dead—taking the most strenuous objections and working through them—then you can at least clear those doubts from your mind.

I almost lost my wife when our third son was born to us, and that was my exact experience. As soon as I began doubting in my prayer time, I was able to say, "Look, I've worked through those questions strenuously, and I'm convinced that the evidence shows there is a God and Jesus did rise from the grave." That confidence enabled me to quickly vanquish my doubts and change my question to, "I don't know what you're doing Lord, but I know that my hope is in you. Can you help me get through this?"

2. Other Good Christians Have Tread Your Path

A frequent question in times of turmoil is "how can I survive any more of this?" Your particular group of circumstances may be unique, but rest assured that other Christians have gone through each of them and survived. Of course it's hard. I understand it's REALLY HARD! But know that people have come through some of the most difficult trials and they still take joy in their relationship with Christ.

Find someone who you can talk with and cry with. Find a Christian brother or sister whose walked with the Lord a long time and ask them to tell you about their heartaches and how the Lord sustained them. We can receive comfort knowing that God has worked in the past and He will continue to work.

3. No Purpose of God's Can Be Thwarted

In Job's case, it was when Job confessed his hubris in assuming to know the Lord's mind that brought an end to his trials. Job 42:2-63 records his prayer: "I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. 'Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?' Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know." That's an important idea for anyone hurting today as well. God's purposes cannot be thwarted, and God's purposes are clearly spelled out in the Bible. He is the unchanging Father of Lights, who give s us every good and perfect gift (James 1:17). He is the God who loves us so much that He gave His only begotten Son for our benefit (John 3:16).

The verse that I cling to most in difficult times is Romans 8:31-32, "What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?" Meditate on that for a moment. God knows what sacrifice and pain mean. He had to give up His Son for sinners who were in rebellion against Him. If God would love you enough to sacrifice His only Son, then His purposes towards you are nothing but good. Do you hurt? Absolutely, sometimes with a pain that keeps you from breathing. But, God will ultimately bring glory to the events, either here or in heaven.

The Christian life is based on hope. It isn't the hope that comes from abolishing pain in this world, it is the hope that once we see His face in Heaven, that we would then realize our present sufferings are unworthy to be compared to the glories to be revealed there.

I know you feel like you're drowning and you may never surface. I pray deeply for you in your pain. But please hang on. There really is a God, and that means we have a hope that transcends this world. Hold on to that one thing, just that one thing, and know that all is not lost.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Problem of Evil - The Free Will Defense Explained (video)




Why would God allow evil and sin to plague humanity? In this short clip, Lenny explains how God's desire to create creatures that truly love Him means that God must allow those creatures the freedom to choose. That means they could also choose to rebel. This clip is taken from a longer teaching entitled "How Could a Loving God Allow Evil in the World?"

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Why I Am a Christian: Because of the Problem of Evil

Yesterday, I began to explain why I hold to Christianity. Of course, as I've said before, there is only one good reason to believe anything and that is if it's true. I believe Christianity is true and I've been laying out my reasons why Christianity is true. One reason I want to talk about today seems rather backwards. In fact, many will tell you that this particular issue is the toughest challenge to Christianity and a lot of atheists became such because of the problem of evil in the world. But I believe that Christianity is true because of its approach to the problem of evil.


The problem of evil is usually presented like this, "How can an all-powerful, all-loving God exists when there is so much evil in the world?" That seems to be a hard question, and even though the argument fails logically, it intuitively strikes people as an objection needing an answer, and Christianity does offer one. Christianity teaches that God simply isn't done with us yet. God allows evil for certain period of time in order to accomplish the purposes He set out for man and His creation. Once those purposes are complete, He will vanquish all evil. The cross of Christ has guaranteed that Jesus has triumphed over death and sin and the Christian rests assured that evil will not exist for all eternity. In a relatively brief period, God will vanquish all evil yet preserve our freedom to exercise our love towards Him forever.

What other worldview provides a better answer?

The interesting thing in this question, though, is that it isn't incumbent on only the Christian to answer it. Evil is recognizable in any religious system or non-religious system. Every worldview needs to account for the problem of evil; not just Christianity. How do the other belief systems measure up?

When someone offers an objection to God on the basis of the amount of evil in the world, they are conceding at least two things:
  1. There is an objective "good" whereby we can measure actions and label them as good or evil.
  2. The fact that evil actions exist means there are problems in the world that need to be solved.
Given that those two facts can be established, they open up questions of their own. For the first, one must ask "Where are you getting this idea of good and evil from? Is evil real? If so, what is that objective standard whereby we can measure actions as good or evil?" The next question can then be, "and what is the solution to evil according to your worldview?"

These questions pose significant problems for other worldviews. Atheists, for example, cannot ground their understanding of evil in anything objective. Evil becomes relative to the individual or the community, and therefore true, objective evil cannot really exist. An atheist who claims that the natural world is all there is would say that's just the way the world works. People are born and they die and eventually our sun will be extinguished with no thought at all toward humanity. The result of an atheist worldview is that suffering will never be able to be overcome. Cruelty is woven into the fabric of life and there is no hope of vanquishing it.

Eastern faiths such as Hinduism and Buddhism would provide a different understanding. They hold that the evil we experience is as illusory as our earthy existence. We have forgotten that we are one with the divine and we need to become one again. Only by being liberated from the cycle of life, death, and rebirth through enlightenment can one escape the karma that is responsible for our discomfort. Once this happens, evil will vanish like the illusion it is. The result of this view is that they ignore the reality of evil and ignore the reality of suffering people experience.

Finally, there are faiths that hold that God exists, but evil is something that sits outside His complete control. Rabbi Harold S. Kushner voiced this view in his book When Bad Things Happen to Good People. God is limited in His power so he cannot control all the evil that we see. He can work within the natural order of things, but the conquering of evil is beyond His reach. Such a view robs God of His position as God and is internally incoherent. The result becomes that evil is stronger than God and there is no hope for vanquishing evil.

I've made the claim that Christianity is both internally consistent and externally coherent. It does not contradict itself in its own claims, even though it makes claims about huge concepts like the nature of God, the nature of man, how people work, and the nature of morality. It also helps us make sense of the world and how we experience it. Looking at how other worldviews answer the problem of evil shows that the difficulties their positions create are far greater than the challenge to the Christian. Christianity offers both a compelling understanding of the fact that real evil does exist and it offers the believer the hope that one day that evil will be vanquished.



Saturday, March 08, 2014

Our Culture Was Predicted Over 80 Years Ago

Many people liken today's society to George Orwell's dystopian futurist book 1984. I can see the attraction, with Big Brother controlling people's actions by force and official departments of doublespeak editing history. It makes for an interesting picture.

However, I don't think 1984 is the closest parallel we have to what's happening to Western society today. In 1932, some 16 years prior to Orwell's work, Aldous Huxley published Brave New World, an earlier dystopian caution about where modernity was headed. But instead of the government crushing dissent wherever it may be found, it is the populous that is really driving the push for conformity in Huxley's vision. By labeling those with traditional values as strange and "savages," by promoting the newest ideas and newest technologies as obvious advantages, and by allowing the population to always feel good about themselves (primarily through the drug Soma), it is the culture that drives conformity and discomfort avoidance at all costs.

Below is one telling passage from the book. Here, the natural-born "Savage" who has escaped his Reservation and is discussing the importance of pain with Mustapha Mond, one of the ten World Controllers. It eerily predicts many today's pushes for equality and moral "openness." While our soma isn't found in the form of drugs, I see us self-medicating more and more thought the acquisition of our toys. IPhone and entertainment channels are the rights we demand, with almost all government housing projects are littered with satellite dishes. "Choice" is seen as the highest ideal, with everyone exercising their right to delve into any practice they so desire "as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else." Chastity is considered nothing more than a punchline, with only the backward and old-fashioned holding it up as a virtue.
"You'd have a reason for chastity!" said the Savage, blushing a little as he spoke the words.

(Controller Mustapha Mond:) "But chastity means passion, chastity means neurasthenia. And passion and neurasthenia mean instability. And instability means the end of civilization. You can't have a lasting civilization without plenty of pleasant vices."

"But God's the reason for everything noble and fine and heroic. If you had a God …"

"My dear young friend," said Mustapha Mond, "civilization has absolutely no need of nobility or heroism. These things are symptoms of political inefficiency. In a properly organized society like ours, nobody has any opportunities for being noble or heroic. Conditions have got to be thoroughly unstable before the occasion can arise. Where there are wars, where there are divided allegiances, where there are temptations to be resisted, objects of love to be fought for or defended—there, obviously, nobility and heroism have some sense. But there aren't any wars nowadays. The greatest care is taken to prevent you from loving any one too much. There's no such thing as a divided allegiance; you're so conditioned that you can't help doing what you ought to do. And what you ought to do is on the whole so pleasant, so many of the natural impulses are allowed free play, that there really aren't any temptations to resist. And if ever, by some unlucky chance, anything unpleasant should somehow happen, why, there's always soma to give you a holiday from the facts. And there's always soma to calm your anger, to reconcile you to your enemies, to make you patient and long-suffering. In the past you could only accomplish these things by making a great effort and after years of hard moral training. Now, you swallow two or three half-gramme tablets, and there you are. Anybody can be virtuous now. You can carry at least half your mortality about in a bottle. Christianity without tears—that's what soma is."

"But the tears are necessary. Don't you remember what Othello said? ‘If after every tempest came such calms, may the winds blow till they have wakened death.' There's a story one of the old Indians used to tell us, about the Girl of M├ítaski. The young men who wanted to marry her had to do a morning's hoeing in her garden. It seemed easy; but there were flies and mosquitoes, magic ones. Most of the young men simply couldn't stand the biting and stinging. But the one that could—he got the girl."

"Charming! But in civilized countries," said the Controller, "you can have girls without hoeing for them; and there aren't any flies or mosquitoes to sting you. We got rid of them all centuries ago."

The Savage nodded, frowning. "You got rid of them. Yes, that's just like you. Getting rid of everything unpleasant instead of learning to put up with it. Whether 'tis better in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing end them … But you don't do either. Neither suffer nor oppose. You just abolish the slings and arrows. It's too easy."
Huxley, Aldous (2010-07-01). Brave New World (Kindle Locations 3047-3062). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Would Torture be Good if God is Evil?

Recently on my Facebook page, I was presented with this video from philosophy professor Stephen Darwall of Yale University who argues that one cannot hold to a view that morality comes from God.Because Darwall is a professor of philosophy, his arguments are more cogent than most, but I believe he gets the basis for good and bad wrong. In the following discussion with an atheist friend, I show how God's goodness is grounded in His nature, and also answer the question "Could there be such a thing as an evil God?" To see the complete thread, click here.


Lenny: This is an interesting video, Bernie. I appreciate that it is a thoughtful look at morality. However, the Divine Command Theory espoused here is not the same as the beliefs that I or historic Christendom has held. I don't believe that a value is good simply because God says so. That runs smack dab into the Euthyphro dilemma.

I believe that goodness is intrinsic to God - that is it is part of His nature. God tells us what is good because God is good. As a parallel, human beings are by nature communicative. We don;t choose to think using words and language, we do so because it is part of our nature to do so. So, there is a difference between the explanation above,which relies on God making proclamations that could be made another way and God making proclamations because they correspond to His nature.

For a counter-argument, this video by an atheist does a great job in describing the problems with rooting morality in a human framework. Check it out:
Moral Nihilist: The Intellectually Honest Atheist

Bernie: RE: "God tells us what is good because God is good. "

So that means that "good" is defined by "God" or more specifically defined by God's nature, correct? If so, makes me wonder where God got his nature from; and could it have been any different, and if so, then that different would have been the new "good?"

Lenny: I would word it more like good is that which corresponds to God's nature.

Bernie: So IF it were God's nature to be mean, then that would be considered "good?"

Lenny: That's Stephen Law's argument, but it begins to become confused. First, if we understand what evil is (a privation of the good), then we must realize that good can exist wholly apart from evil, but evil cannot exist apart from the good. That is, a wholly malevolent being who is also self-existent (as the term God is understood) cannot exist. Evil can only exist as a measure against the good, just like a dent cannot exist by itself but must be considered a defect in the original shape of another object. You can have a fender with no dents, but you cannot have a dent with no fender!

Secondly, William Lane Craig makes the point that If God is God, then he would be a being worthy of our worship. however, an evil anti-god is no such being.

Lastly, if an evil anti-god created the universe and his goal was to perpetuate evil, how would we then know what we're doing is evil? if we are following our telos, our purpose, then is such a thing even considered evil at all? You can see that positing a malevolent god starts to have some serious issues associated with it. I can't make any sense out of it based on objection #1 alone.

Bernie: RE: "That is, a wholly malevolent being who is also self-existent (as the term God is understood) cannot exist."

But you said the nature of God, whatever it is, is good. So if a god had an attribute of what we consider to be bad now, it would then be considered good, because it was the god's nature.

Lenny: Right. So the phrase "mean god" is akin to "square circle" since the word mean holds a moral value already.

Bernie: So if it would have turned-out that god thought torture was fun, we would all call that good, correct? Because, that is his nature, which defines good. Is that what you are claiming?

Lenny: No, for two reasons. First you are using a word like torture that carries moral weight. For example, would you say that a person is torturing a tree by picking off its apples? Of course not! The tree has a purpose - it provides food. To consume the fruit of the tree is neither torture nor cannibalism, but recognizing the value the fruit of the tree provides.

Moral values and duties are not arbitrary nor independent of the design of the one acting or of the thing being acted upon. Capricious morality (where God simply determines what's right and wrong by fiat) is more closely associated with Islamic concept of God than the Christian one.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Divine Providence and Evil

Photo by  kaitew
One of the biggest tension points in Christendom is the question of divine providence and how that relates to the evil we see practiced in the world today. If God is in control of all the events of the world, and He is all-powerful, the why do we see so much evil and suffering?

Most Christians in the past clearly understood the concept of divine providence.  Even Thomas Jefferson, a deist, invokes divine providence in the Declaration of Independence. Certainly, the idea that God can order events in certain ways follows naturally from His attributes of omniscience and omnipotence.

But what does it mean that God orders things? Is there a difference between the laws of nature and the providential care of God?  And if God orders all things, then what about all the evil that we see in the world today?  Couldn't God fix that? James Montgomery Boice encapsulates the discussion well:
"There is probably no point at which the Christian doctrine of God comes more into conflict with contemporary worldviews than in the matter of God's providence. Providence means that God has not abandoned the world that he created, but rather works within that creation to manage all things according to the 'immutable counsel of His own will' (Westminster Confession of Faith, V, i). By contrast, the world at large, even if it will on occasion acknowledge God to have been the world's Creator, is at least certain that he does not now intervene in human affairs. Many think that miracles do not happen, that prayer isn't answered and that most things 'fall out' according to the functioning of impersonal and unchangeable laws.

"The world argues that evil abounds. How can evil be compatible with the concept of a good God who is actively ruling this world? There are natural disasters: fires, earthquakes, and floods. In the past, these have been called 'acts of God.' Should we blame God for them? Isn't it better to imagine that he simply has left the world to pursue its own course?"1
As I've written before2, God, in Hebrew thought, is considered the final authority over everything. If wars or famine happen, then God has allowed that to occur, and therefore controls evil. He does not initiate any type of evil. When a man seeks to sin and commit adultery that is his choice. He should not expect God to protect him, then, from any disease or negative ramification of his choice. God's judgments and the loss of His protection are how he creates afflictions in the lives of men. Judgment is not morally wrong, though. Quite the opposite, judgment is what we expect of a righteous God.

What Evil Isn't

Evil and sins are not "things" in and of themselves.3 They do not exist autonomously. Rather, they are the absence of the perfect which God did make. As an example, we have the ability to create a vacuum of space. Now I do this not by making something out of materials, but by removing all the air and particles out of that space. The void that remains is what we choose to label a vacuum. It isn't a thing in itself, but it is a term we use to state that everything else is gone. Likewise we use the term cold to describe a lower temperature. Any air conditioner man can tell you that to cool something down you don't put cold in, but you have to take heat out. Cold is the absence of energy that causes heat.

Sin and evil are regarded the same. These things cannot exist as "things" that are independent of circumstances, but are the labels given to actions or characteristics that do not meet the goal of perfection.

This distinction was first noted by Augustine of Hippo. In his City of God he writes:
For when God said, 'Let there be light, and there was light,' if we are justified in understanding in this light the creation of the angels, then certainly they were created partakers of the eternal light which is the unchangeable Wisdom of God, by which all things were made, and whom we call the only-begotten Son of God; so that they, being illumined by the Light that created them, might themselves become light and be called 'Day,' in participation of that unchangeable Light and Day which is the Word of God, by whom both themselves and all else were made. 'The true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world,' — this Light lighteth also every pure angel, that he may be light not in himself, but in God; from whom if an angel turn away, he becomes impure, as are all those who are called unclean spirits, and are no longer light in the Lord, but darkness in themselves, being deprived of the participation of Light eternal. For evil has no positive nature; but the loss of good has received the name 'evil.'4

References

1. Boice, James Montgomery. "God's Providence". The Highway. http://www.the-highway.com/providence_Boice.html. Accessed 7-22-2011
2. Taken from "Doesn't Isaiah Say that God Made Evil?" http://www.comereason.org/phil_qstn/phi025.asp
3. Taken from "Didn't God Create Evil, Too?" http://www.comereason.org/phil_qstn/phi020.asp 4.Augustine of Hippo. City of God. Book IX, Chapter 9.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Why Appeal to the Existence of Evil?

A fairly constant objection to God's existence is also one of the oldest objections.  It centers on the existence of evil and how any all-good, all-knowing God would allow any evil to exist in His creation. It was first widely voiced by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus who asked:

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing. Then Whence Cometh Evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?"

Skeptic David Hume repackaged the riddle and it's been highly popular with skeptics and atheist ever since.

The problem with this objection is that it assumes there are only two factors to consider. But if we add a third proposition, say that God may allow evil to exist temporarily for a higher purpose, then the argument simply crumbles.

For fun, I've thought about reformulating the argument and turning it on its head. It would go something like this:

Atheists have a true desire to use Epicurus' Riddle in toppling the belief in God for rational people.
Atheists claim that Epicurus' Riddle is powerful enough to topple belief in God for rational people.
Yet rational people still believe in God.

 So, why appeal to Epicurus' Riddle?

In both instances, it strikes me that the logic is the same.  If my argument above doesn't logically follow, then I would think that the argument from evil also doesn't logically follow. Even given that the second argument is not discussing a perfect being, the premises are not as bold and rational people will seek to make rational decisions. One may say "perhaps the rational person is biased by his emotions, or perhaps he doesn't  understand the implications of the argument."  Those points are very possible and make the argument invalid, but prove my point--when other factors can be considered, the either/or structure of both arguments fail.
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