Thursday, August 27, 2009

Some Unoriginal Thoughts on the Problem of Evil

I received an email today from an old Bible college buddy who is wrestling with the Problem of Evil in one of his classes and wanted to know my thoughts on the topic. For those of you who don't know what the "problem of evil" is, it goes something like this:

The God of the Bible is all powerful, all knowing, and all good.

1. If God is all powerful, he could stop evil.
2. If God is all knowing, he would know how to stop evil in the most efficient way.
3. If God is all good, he would stop evil.
4. Evil exists.
5. Therefore, the God of the Bible doesn't exist.

Here's the brief response I sent to my friend:

"1) Admittedly, evil can make belief in God tough. But ultimately, evil can only do so provided that it is in fact truly meaningful to talk about evil and good. And if that is a meaningful dialogue (which i contend is an undeniable dialogue), these categories presuppose something like belief in God. God makes the existence of evil possible. Evil can no more disprove God's existence then shadows disprove the existence of light. Shadows presuppose light. Evil presupposes God.

2) Some shift their argument from deductive to inductive. Instead of attempting to show that God and evil are logically impossible, they offer a less rigorous argument that "the amount of evil makes it likely that God doesn't exist." Here are some problems:

(a) I don't think shifting from a deductive to inductive argument removes challenge of how to make sense out of the amount of real evil in the world unless there is some transcendent standard that aids us in weighing degrees of immorality. Its seems to me that if one shadow doesn't disprove the existence of light (and in fact presupposes light), then a whole bunch of shadows don't either.

(b) It's been awhile since I've read the best possible worlds argument, so I'm writing off of some faded impressions. I'm not comfortable arguing that God must always pick the best possible everything. I'm not sure that 's necessary, and I'm not sure that helps with the argument. It seems that a good God has the prerogative to choose good worlds (that may go bad), without having to pick the very best world. Can I imagine a world where eleven fingers would be better than ten? Probably. Was God constrained to allow some obscure murderer to come into existence and commit his crime because it would contribute to the greatest good? This feels fatalistic. It says "take the sum total of all people, events, actions that have and will happen in the universe, and they could not have been different without making the world less than the best possible world. And God could not have done different." That's more philosophy than Bible. I can think of a number of activities in Scripture (prayer, our co-operation with God in sanctification) that may add more good, less good, or even evil in the world.

(c) Remember God's challenge to Job. Essentially the Lord told Job that the reason why he couldn't make sense of suffering was that Job was terribly limited in his understanding. God marshals evidence of his power, wisdom, and goodness in creation. God essentially says, 'You're powerless to do what i've done and clueless on how it got done. Do you think that the same may be true with the problem of evil." Put differently, "if I've have been wise, powerful, and good in the creation of and sustenance of the world in some many undeniable ways, doesn't it follow that I exercise that control over evil." I would probably go in some direction that "it is likely that God has a good reason....".
3) That raises another issue. You can't divorce the problem of evil from other considerations for God's existence. Its one thing to have only one acceptable argument for God's existence and then the counter-evidence of the evil. Its another thing to have dozens of compelling arguments for God and one counter-example.

4) Here's my last point. In 1981 Rabbi Kushner wrote a book called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” Biblically, are there truly “good” people to whom bad things happen (cf. Romans 3:10; Job 25:4; Jer. 13:23)? The answer is no. Biblically, the question looks like these: “Why do bad things happen to bad people?” Or, “Why don’t worse things happen to bad people.” Or, “Why do good things happen at all to bad people?” Phillosophically, I think one can make an argument that evil seems to be gratuitous on our end because of a broken moral compass in which we view the slightest movement towards good to be the highest virtue, and anything that falls short of murder, rape, genocide.... to be excusable.

I would highly recommend a book by C.S. Lewis called The Problem of Pain. Its one of my all time favorites. With exception to the first argument he makes (the standard free will argument), the rest of the book is life changing.

I hope this helps."