Saturday, February 21, 2015

God and Evil: The Final Countdown

By now it should be obvious that the problem of evil poses a legitimate logical challenge to the Christian. The modal claims about the kind of God that necessarily exists along with the existence of evil in the world is indeed a more complex intellectual challenge than many considered it to be at first glance. In this post, I will close out with a summary of how I approach this subject with the unbeliever when the opportunity presents itself. Remember, when we are interacting with an unbeliever, we are in fact interacting with someone that hates God and that is a naturally born sworn enemy of God. Rick Warren’s seeker idea is a myth that should be viewed with disdain and as sheer poppycock. In order to appreciate the interaction you are in, you must appreciate the situation for what it actually is. And it is exactly what the Bible says it is. Romans 1, 3, 8, and 1 Cor. 1-2 all provide more than enough revelation to help us assess the actual state of affairs that has obtained.

Existential Claims Fail
Non-Christian views of evil encounter a plethora of philosophical problems. The denial of objective evil in the world by some philosophers is indeed difficult to take seriously. But if the non-Christian is going to indict the Christian belief that a very particular kind of God exists on the ground of the existence of objective evil in the world, he is going to have to defend his claim first. Once the non-Christian establishes his claim that objective evil exists, then and only then is he in a position to offer his refutation of the Christian God.
My approach is to place the unbeliever in this position first, putting him on the defensive. I prefer to keep the unbeliever on the defensive in these kinds of conversations until I am ready to give them the gospel. I challenge the unbeliever to provide rational ground for why I should accept both, his claim that we evolved from slime millions of years ago and how objective evil could exist under such circumstances.
What is required for morality or ethics of any kind is intrinsic value. The whole point of morality is to value human life. A being with intrinsic value will seek to live by the highest standards, to reach the summum bonum. But how can a highest good be established within an evolutionary framework? Based solely on naturalistic principles, how is it that moral behavior applies only to humans? After all, we are the equivalent of evolved upright walking roaches. When was the last time you thought of a roach as engaging in immoral behavior. Where do we derive moral principles from in a system that claims human existence is an accident of nature, the product of natural selection, without purpose, without meaning, and surely lacking any intrinsic value? Why should Hitler be a villain and Martin Luther King Jr. a hero? Within a naturalistic framework, the claim of objective evil simply cannot hold it’s ground when placed under the light of critical evaluation. To locate ethics in the brain is to remove its objective nature. My brain causes me to do things your brain finds immoral. Which brain is right? This example can be extrapolated to every other attempt to defend objective morality. The analogies all fail.
Based on the unbeliever’s presupposition that humans evolved and that God does not exist, objective morality becomes impossible in any meaningful way. Morality is reduced to arbitrary laws designed for the preservation of the species. But this is a species without intrinsic value. And a species without intrinsic value can survive or not survive without any moral consequence whatever. When was the last time you were genuinely emotionally moved because the bear snagged the salmon or the lion took down the gazelle? But you surely react differently when ISIS burns a man alive inside a cage or when an abusive father kills his own son or when a mother drowns her own children, don’t you. The unbeliever has no intelligible way of accounting for the existence of objective evil in the world and confrontations like this provide exactly the kind of bite he deserves for being the rebellious God-hater he is.

The Modal Critique Fails
The second argument involves the strictly logical problem of evil. This is the notion that the Christian claims of God and evil are outright contradictory. The believer's modal claim is that God is necessarily good and that God has created a world in which evil now exists. However, the objection to the modal claim imposes precisely the wrong presupposition and interprets good and evil by a non-Christian standard. This then is essentially a non-Christian view of evil and as such does not represent a plausible argument against Christian belief.
In this case, the unbeliever is appealing to some moral standard existing outside of the nature of God. This view is really employing a model we call the duty model for divine goodness. This model focuses on God’s actions and measures them against a standard. Used positively, theologians appeal to this model to argue that God’s actions are always right in accord with morality. The problem is that the standard for morality is implicitly held outside the nature and being of God. Since God is the source of all goodness according to Christian belief, this model would not be a good model to use against the Christian. This is obviously the case because the model is using a non-Christian belief in order to show that Christian belief is incoherent. Such an argument is simply not plausible. A model of divine goodness that is much more reflective of Christian belief is what we call the plentitude of being model. This model locates goodness within the divine nature and character of God. Ontologically speaking, God is the very perfection of perfection itself. He is the very perfection of goodness itself and is the source of all goodness. Hence, the Christian has strong epistemic justification for his belief in an absolute moral standard and hence, the existence of absolute evil. Moreover, since all things that exist must be interpreted through the existence of the ontological Triune God of Scripture, so too must the existence of objective evil.

The Christian then is biblically and rationally justified in claiming that an omnipotent, omniscient, morally perfect God created all that is and is the source of all that is and that objective evil exists in the world. The answer as to why is simply this: we know that God is what He is because Scripture declares it to be so. We also know that evil truly exists because Scripture declares it to be so. We know that God has a good reason for the existence of evil in the world because Scripture declares it to be so. These things we know with certainty because God’s word is true and trustworthy in all that it claims. These claims are clearly made by Scripture. But it does not follow that we have to know all the reasons why God did it this way in order for Christians to be rationally justified in their belief that evil truly exists along with the Christian God revealed in Scripture. This is both true biblically and logically. There is nothing in the argument form that is contradictory in any way. The argument is simply:
(1) A Perfect God exists
(2) God is the primary source of all that exists
(3) Evil exists
/ God has a good reason for the existence of evil

Rather than relying on human presuppositions about evil and possibilities and interpreting God from that ground, the Christian begins with God and Scripture and interprets the presence of evil in the world from that ground. Remember, we demonstrated above the groundlessness of objective evil within an evolutionary framework. The only thing that remains for the unbeliever is simply this:

Repent and believe the gospel of Christ.

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