Tag: problem of evil


Atheism in the Face of Pain

One of the many attacks against Christianity is the problem of evil, which can be simply stated: If an infinitely loving and infinitely powerful God really exists, then why does evil exist?” If God is all loving, then he would not allow evil. If God were all powerful, then he would be able to create a world without evil. Evil exist; therefore God is either not all loving, or he is not all powerful.

Rather than go into a defense of Christianity against this line of argument, it’s time to turn the argument around. There are, in fact, two lines of argument that turn on the same line of thinking that turn against atheism, rather than against Christianity. The first is this: If God doesn’t exist, then evil doesn’t exist. If evil doesn’t exist, then why should we be concerned about the pain and suffering we see around us?

But the strength of this argument lies in it’s destruction of the question asked by the atheist. What if we could attack the end of this line of thinking by putting the atheist in precisely the same spot as he intends to put the Christian? Does such a line of argument exist? As a matter of fact…

To understand this line of thinking, we must draw the argument against Christianity out a little, make it a little more explicit: If God is all loving, and God is all powerful, then he could have created a world in which any existing pain would be justified by some present or future good. Some pain is never apparently tied to any present or future good –or the cost of pain is never worth the good it might happen to produce. Hence God does not exist.

To use an atheist’s own words:

…a life filled with good and containing only the most minute quantity of bad—a life of utter bliss adulterated only by the pain of a single pin-prick—is worse than no life at all… –quoted by the New Yorker

So here is a question we can throw back to our atheist friends: If pain is always evil, and there is no real justification for the existence of pain, then why should we exist at all? In other words, why is survival with pain better than death without pain? It appears the problem of evil cuts both directions.


Review: Evil and the God of Love

Evil and the God of Love
John Hick

Written in 1966, this is a classic treatise on the various theodicies proposed by Christian thinkers through the last two thousand years. (A theodicy defends God against existence of evil). The author divides his work into four parts; an introduction, Austinian theodicies, Irenaean theodicies, and finally a new proposal.

Dr. Hick begins by explaining the problem –the explanation of the problem of evil here rivals that of Plantinga’s. He doesn’t break the problem down in quite the same way, but the explanation offered is easier to grasp on an intuitive level. From the definition, the author moves into two general classes of response, a monistic response and a dualistic response. Essentially, monistic responses posit that there is one all powerful god, while dualistic responses argue there are two gods, or two divine beings, at war, one of which is good, the other of which is evil. These two classifications underlie Dr. Hick’s evaluation of the two answers to evil within Christian thought.

In the second part, Dr. Hick lays out and analyzes the theodicy of Augustine. According to Dr. Hick, Augustine argues from the perspective that evil is deprived good, or that which falls short of the best possible fulfillment, and evil exists because of the free will choices of men who do not fulfill God’s original intent for their lives (and race). From here, the author shows that the Augustinian method ultimately rests on the theory that this is the best possible world –that no better world could have been created by God.

Essentially, Augustine posited that man was created in a state of perfection, then fell because of the original sin of willfully disobeying God, and God has repaired the breach through Christ. In the Augustinian mold, God did not create evil, per se, but evil is a byproduct of the Fall, and therefore all evil can be traced back to sin in general (if not a specific sin). God could not have created a world with less evil than he actually created; this is the best possible world, either in terms of producing the most good, or in terms of most fully showing God’s creative powers.

He then analyzes the problems with this view, first showing that the origins of the best possible world defense are neo-Platonic, rather than Scriptural. The best possible world defense suffers from various problems in limiting the power of God, and in trying to have God as the sole power in the universe without imposing on God the origin of evil itself. He also lays out the connection between the best possible world defense and the idea of strict predestination, or election, and the problems resulting from this connection.

Perhaps the most fundamental criticism to be made of the Augustinian type of theodicy concerns a pervasive presupposition within it. This is the impersonal or subpersonal way in which God’s relationship to His creation is prevailingly conceived.” -page 199

In the third section, Dr. Hick presents what he terms an Irenaean form of theodicy, which is based on the idea that man was created “like a child,” and God is working, through history, to bring man to a full relationship with himself, or rather to maturity (as a parent raises a child). Within this theodicy, man wasn’t created perfect, in the sense of being morally perfect, but rather perfect in the sense of being best fit for the goal God had in mind. Just as a parent refuses to shield his child from all the possible evil in the world, in order to teach bravery, or compassion, or some other character trait, God actually created evil in the world to teach these very same lessons to humans.

To use the distinction that Irenaeus and others of the Greek Fathers used, man has been created in the ‘image’ of God but has yet to be brought into the divine ‘likeness’ revealed in Christ.1 Now if man has been so created that his perfection lies before him in the future rather than behind him in the past, his present imperfection belongs to his God-given nature. His imperfection (which issues directly in sin) and his redemption both have their place in the divine plan, and belong together, so that the latter does indeed, as Schleiermacher contended, presuppose the former. -page 238

Dr. Hick then examines various problems in this theodicy –though he doesn’t entirely undermine this one, as he does the Augustinian theodicy (the reader will understand why momentarily).

In the final section, the author outlines what he considers to be a new defense against the problem of evil. He bases this defense largely on what he terms to be the Irenaean theodicy, the idea that God created this world with the final goal of creating completed, or mature, souls that could love and trust him without resorting to coercion. He has a brilliant section comparing predestination to hypnosis here.

This new theodicy breaks on the rocks of the Scriptures, however –the only way Dr. Hick can maintain his defense against the problem of evil is to abandon Paul entirely, abandon most of Genesis (and the rest of the Pentateuch), and focus only on John among the Gospels. These moves are classic higher criticism, pitting science against the Scriptures and simply declaring science the winner. No true Scotsman fallacies run rampant through his thinking starting in his examination of what he calls an Irenaean theodicy and intensifying as he explains his own defense against the problem of evil. The author’s view is closely tied to Postmillennial thought from before the World Wars; he is, in many ways, trying to rescue Postmillennialism from the wanton slaughter of the wars and the atrocities committed during those wars.

This classic work is must reading if you want to understand the underlying problems with the Augustinian view of evil and predestination. It is rare to see the defense against evil, the best possible world theory, and predestination so clearly tied into one larger system. The section on the Irenaean defense against the problem of evil is interesting, if not as well developed. The reader could skip, however, the entire final section, and not miss anything of real value.


Review: The Many Faces of Evil

The Many Faces of Evil
John S. Feinberg

The existence of evil is, perhaps, one of the hardest problems for Christianity to untangle. Why should a God who is all loving, all good, and all powerful, allow evil to exist? While the first reaction to Christianity in modern times is “science has proven God doesn’t exist,” a logical fallacy of the first order, and the second is, “the Bible is just a bunch of made up writings of folks who lived a long time ago,” the final fallback position in almost every discussion over the existence of God is the problem of evil.

Dr. Feinberg has, in this book, penned one of the most thorough examinations of the problem of evil you will find. The tone is a bit philosophical, and the writing and references might be a bit difficult for the average layman to read and understand, but there are few other authors who put so much effort into breaking the problem of evil down into its component parts, and then examining each part in great detail. The author breaks the topic up into four major sections covering the logical, evidential, and religious problems of evil, and the problem of hell (or rather, the problem of eternal punishment for sin). It is critical to the author’s argument that the reader absorb and understand this logical breakdown in the problem of evil in order to grasp the underlying arguments Dr. Feinberg makes.

The first chapter considers the problem of evil itself. Here the author explains and justifies the way he has broken the problem apart. Here he also explains the difference between defending God from the charge of being evil, or having evil intent, because evil exists (a theonomy), and simply providing a set of plausible reasons for the existence of evil. Dr. Feinberg argues we cannot know the mind of God, so it is folly to try and justify the existence of evil. The best Christians can hope for is to provide reasonable explanations; going beyond this invites unhealthy theological speculation.

From here, he moves into the logical problem of evil deals with the relationship of evil to theology; can theology explain the existence of evil in the abstract? Is it possible to explain why God would allow such a thing as evil in the world, and yet have a theological system that is consistent, or rather has a consistent view of God? Three different theological views are presented, and a defense for the existence of evil is presented and evaluated for each one. In each case, Dr. Feinberg finds the theological system does, in fact, provide a valid explanation of evil. In chapters six and seven, he considers the different between the moral and natural problems of evil within the logical realm.

The second section deals with the evidential problem of evil, which posits that while God is possible (in that he could logically exist), the existence of God isn’t probable. One reason they point to in order to claim God’s existence isn’t probable is the improbability of an all good, all powerful, all loving God who would, in fact, allow (or create) evil. This is the most technical of the sections, replete with formulas and constants in various forms. Is it reasonable to believe this is the best of all possible worlds? Should we, in fact, expect God to create the best of all possible worlds?

In the third section, which consists of a single chapter, Dr. Feinberg addresses the problem of hell. Once again he breaks the problem down into pieces, and addresses each piece. There are, on the whole, better defenses for the existence and justness of hell available, but given the length and positioning of this short chapter within the framework of the book, the author provides a solid and usable defense.

The final section is what most Christians living “in the trenches” will be interested in. Here, Dr. Feinberg addresses the question of individual evil. “If God is good, then why did that particular evil happen to me,” or “to that really well known Christian over there?” The discussion on what to, and not to say, to someone who is dealing with what appears to be a massive evil in their own person life, given through the lens of someone who has suffered great pain, is helpful and useful in a very practical sense.

Overall, this is an excellent and practical book for the Christian trying to understand the nature and place of evil within the Christian belief system. The philosophical parts might be a bit deep for the average person, and the practical parts might leave the average theologian or philosopher a bit perplexed (or even bored), but the overall effect is a well rounded defense of God, and the Christian faith, in the face of the problem of evil.

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