Thursday, February 12, 2015
God and Evil
Before I offer what I believe to be the only defensible solution to the problem of evil, I think it is a good idea to survey the more popular solutions offered by some Christian apologists, and then to provide some thoughtful criticisms of those solutions, for your consideration. The aim is not to be critical for the sake of being critical but rather to help you avoid philosophically, logically, and especially theologically embarrassing moments because of a hasty adoption of what looked like a plausible solution to the issue at hand. Rarely is anything as simple as it appears. And this is especially true for the problem of evil where the Christian is concerned.
The only official Christian position on these two subjects is that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good God and there exists objective moral evil in the world that God created. The following solutions represent some of the more popular attempts to resolve the seeming contradiction within the Christian system.
(1) Free will alone provides a justification for moral evil.
This solution states that human beings have free will. A universe where free will exists is subject to the possibility of moral evil. A universe where beings have free will is better than a universe than contains beings that are mere automata. Therefore, a universe that contains the possibility of evil is actually better than a universe where the possibility of evil does not exist. Hence, the existence of evil is actually the product of a superior universe and is to be preferred over a universe in which evil did not exist. In pop-Christianity, there is a seeming irresistible inclination toward anything that advocates the idea of human autonomy. Hence, it should come as no surprise that the most popular Christian solution to the problem of evil is an appeal to libertarian freedom.
The Christian response to the argument from evil against God, must always locate its ground in revealed truth. It is only by appealing to the revealed standard of Scripture that a response to the argument from evil can answer that argument adequately. We are, after all, as Christians, only interested in what God has to say about the existence of evil in the world. There are a variety of problems with the free will response, and this should serve to cause great pause for anyone thinking about employing it when discussing the problem of evil in the world.
The first problem that free will presents is that one has to admit that free will equals the logical possibility that all men everywhere only exercise their free will to do evil. Hence, a universe where only evil occurs then must be considered superior to one in which no free will and only good exists. But immediately we recognize that such a state of affairs would be repugnant.
The second problem with the argument is that it unnecessarily presupposes moral evil as a necessary choice of free will. However, all that is needed for free will is that some choice exists between two things. Why could God not have created a world in which choice exists, but that evil was not among the candidates? Why not create a world in which all the choices were good to one degree or another? Why not have five trees with one being the most preferred and another being the least preferred but all of them being permissible? That would secure free will and preserve a universe in which only good choices exist and only moral options are available. I see no logical reason why free will requires that the human will be set over against the divine will in order to free will to be free.
The third problem with the argument from free will is its lack of biblical support. When seeking to understand the current state of affairs that has obtained, we must turn our attention to the Author of that state and examine what He has said about it. We answer in the affirmative to the question, ‘has God revealed anything to us concerning the existence of evil in the world, and how that evil relates to His nature.’ The actions of God can no more be separated from the decrees of God, than the actions of a man can be from his decisions [Shedd: Dogmatic Theology]. God’s actions cannot be separated from God’s plan. And God’s plan is indelibly linked to God’s nature. Shedd goes on to inform us that the divine decrees, in reference to God, are one single act only. This is not an easy concept to grasp. God is omniscient, possessing the whole of his plans and purpose simultaneously [Shedd]. God knows all His works from eternity past (Acts 15:18). Every decision, even the casting of lots, belongs to the Lord. God owns every action that has ever, or will ever come to pass. Even the wicked acts of men are the result of the predetermined plan of God (Acts 2:23). Things do not come to pass in a state of isolation; neither were they predetermined so to come to pass. In other words, God’s purpose embraces the means along with the end, the cause along with the effect, the condition along with the result of issue suspended upon it (Shedd). Space prohibits further elaboration of the point here, which is simply this: the free will solution is not only not a logical solution; it is not a biblical one either.
God’s purpose for creating the world is located within His own nature. Trusting God entirely means trusting that God has a good reason for the state of affairs that has obtained. The attempts to solve the problem of evil cannot appeal to human logic over against divine revelation, human standards over against divine standards, and secular, non-Christian logic over against a distinctly Christian logic. The appeal is only proper and appropriate if it is made to Scripture alone as our final source of authority and our only standard for understanding and knowledge.
(2) The goods made possible by free will provide a basis for accounting for moral evil.
The initial difficulty in this proposed solution is that it seems to imply that good necessarily requires the existence of evil. Yet, we know that evil is not an eternal thing. There was a state when evil did not exist. But there has never been a state when good did not exist. Hence, to make good dependent upon the presence of evil seems to me to be a perverse and preposterous idea for any Christian to embrace.
Additionally, it does not seem logically necessary that evil must be possible in order for actual good to occur. I have said enough about that above. To claim that love cannot be experienced without hate seems to me to be absurd. God has never yet hated Himself and yet He has loved Himself from eternity pass, world without beginning or end.
The truth is that the non-Christian must demonstrate that objective evil exists and that its existence is defensible upon non-Christian grounds. As the history of philosophy has shown, this is no small obstacle. Thus far, I have never seen a plausible argument for the existence of objective evil apart from God. I will deal more fully with how a Christian should respond to this argument in a future post.