: Why are there so many starving people in our world?
6: Why do bad things happen to good people?
: Why does God demand the death of so many innocent people in the Bible?
5: Why is God such a huge proponent of slavery in the Bible?
In his Consolation of Philosophy, Boethius states the following paradox: “If God exists, whence evil? But whence good, if God does not exist?”
The problem of good does not receive nearly as much attention as the problem evil, but it is the more basic problem. That’s because evil always presupposes a good that has been subverted. All our words for evil make this plain: the New Testament word for sin (Greek hamartia) presupposes a target that’s been missed; deviation presupposes a way (Latin via) from which we’ve departed; injustice presupposes justice; etc. So let’s ask, who’s got the worse problem, the theist or the atheist? Start with the theist. God is the source of all being and purpose. Given God’s existence, what sense does it make to deny God’s goodness? None . . . . The problem of evil still confronts theists, though not as a logical or philosophical problem, but instead as a psychological and existential one [as is preliminarily spoken to here on] . . . .
The problem of good as it faces the atheist is this: nature, which is nuts-and-bolts reality for the atheist, has no values and thus can offer no grounding for good and evil. As nineteenth century freethinker Robert Green Ingersoll used to say, “In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments. There are consequences.” More recently, Richard Dawkins made the same point: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.” ["Prepared Remarks for the Dembski-Hitchens Debate," Uncommon Descent Blog, Nov 22, 2010]
Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This lesson is one of the hardest for humans to learn. We cannot accept that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous: indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose . . . . In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but pitiless indifference . . . . DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music. [“God’s Utility Function,” Sci. Am. Aug 1995, pp. 80 - 85.]
Assume (per impossibile) that atheistic naturalism [[= evolutionary materialism] is true. Assume, furthermore, that one can't infer an 'ought' from an 'is' [[the 'is' being in this context physicalist: matter-energy, space- time, chance and mechanical forces]. (Richard Dawkins and many other atheists should grant both of these assumptions.)
Given our second assumption, there is no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer an 'ought'. And given our first assumption, there is nothing that exists over and above the natural world; the natural world is all that there is. It follows logically that, for any action you care to pick, there's no description of anything in the natural world from which we can infer that one ought to refrain from performing that action.
Add a further uncontroversial assumption: an action is permissible if and only if it's not the case that one ought to refrain from performing that action . . . [[We see] therefore, for any action you care to pick, it's permissible to perform that action. If you'd like, you can take this as the meat behind the slogan 'if atheism is true, all things are permitted' . . .
. . . it is claimed that the following set of theistic beliefs embed an unresolvable contradiction:
1. God exists
2. God is omnipotent – all powerful
3. God is omniscient – all-knowing
4. God is omni-benevolent – all-good
5. God created the world
6. The world contains evilTo do so, there is an implicit claim that, (2a) if he exists, God is omnipotent and so capable of -- but obviously does not eliminate -- evil. So, at least one of 2 – 5 should be surrendered. But all of these claims are central to the notion of God, so it is held that the problem is actually 1.
Therefore, NOT-1: God does not exist.However, it has been pointed out by Plantinga and others that:
- 2a is not consistent with what theists actually believe: if the elimination of some evil would lead to a worse evil, or prevent the emergence of a greater good, then God might have a good reason to permit some evil in the cosmos.
- Specifically, what if “many evils result from human free will or from the fact that our universe operates under natural laws or from the fact that humans exist in a setting that fosters soul-making . . . [and that such a world] contains more good than a world that does not” ?
- In this case, Theists propose that 2a should be revised: 2b: “A good, omnipotent God will eliminate evil as far as he can without either losing a greater good or bringing about a greater evil.” But, once this is done, the alleged contradiction collapses.
- Further, Alvin Plantinga – through his free will defense -- was able to show that the theistic set is actually consistent. He did this by augmenting the set with a further proposition that is logically possible (as opposed to seeming plausible to one who may be committed to another worldview) and which makes the consistency clear. That proposition, skeletally, is 5a: “God created a world (potentially) containing evil; and has a good reason for doing so.” Propositions 1, 2b, 3, 4, and 5a are plainly consistent, and entail 6.
- The essence of that defense is:
“A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures . . . God can create free creatures, but he can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For . . . then they aren’t significantly free after all . . . He could only have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.” [NB: This assumes that moral good reflects the power of choice: if we are merely robots carrying out programs, then we cannot actually love, be truthful, etc.] [From: Clark, Kelley James. Return to Reason. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1994), pp. 69 – 70, citing Plantinga, God, Freedom and Evil, (Eerdmans, 1974), p. 30.]
- Nor is the possible world known as heaven a good counter-example. For, heaven would exist as a world in which the results of choices made to live by the truth in love across a lifetime have culminated in their eternal reward. This we may see from an argument made by the apostle Paul:
- Anticipating the onward response that in at least some possible worlds, there are free creatures, all of whom freely do what is right, Plantinga asserts a further possibility: trans-world depravity. That is, in all worlds God could create in which a certain person, say Gordon, exists; then that person would have freely gone wrong at least once. And, what if it is further possible that this holds for every class of created, morally capable being? (Then, there would be no possible worlds in which moral good is possible but in which moral evil would not in fact occur. So the benefit of moral good would entail that the world would contain transworld depraved creatures.)
- Moreover, Plantinga proposes that there is a possible state of affairs in which God and natural evil can exist. For instance, if all natural evils are the result of the actions of significantly free creatures such as Satan and his minions, then since it is logically possible that God could not have created a world with a greater balance of good over evil if it did not contain such creatures, God and natural evil are compatible.
- At this point, albeit grudgingly, leading atheologians (Such as Mackie and Williams) concede that the deductive form of the problem of evil stands overturned. Thus, a new question is put on the table.
- It is: But what if the world seems to contain too much evil, and evil that is apparently pointless, i.e. gratuitous? First, the greater good “absorbs” at least some of the evils. To this, the Christian Theist further responds that there are goods in the world that are left out of the account so far; especially, that the fall of mankind led to the greatest good of all: that God loved the world and gave his Son, setting in motion the programme of redemption as a supreme good that absorbs all evils. That is, it is rational for a Christian to believe there are no unabsorbed evils, even though the atheologian may beg to differ with the Christian’s beliefs.
- However, it should be noted that there is an existential or pastoral form of the problem of evil (as we saw above): where the overwhelming force of evil and pain brings us to doubt God. To that, no mere rational argument will suffice; for it is a life-challenge we face, as did Job. And, as a perusal of Job 23:1 – 7, 38:1 – 7, 40:1 – 8, 42:1 – 6, God may be more interested in exposing our underlying motives and calling for willingness to trust him even where we cannot trace him, than in satisfying our queries and rebutting our pained accusations. That is, it is at least possible that God is primarily in the business of soul-making.
Where then does the problem of evil stand today?
On balance, it is rational to believe that God exists, but obviously there are many deep, even painful questions to which we have no answers. And, those who choose to believe in God will have a radically different evaluation of evil than those who reject him.
a --> The very force of the question of good and evil tells us that we live in a world where OUGHT is real and binding, and thus a world in which we are morally governed people. Such a world is a world in which love, the foundation of the virtues is possible. But to have power to love is to have power to hate or be calloused or manipulative. However, in his own good time the infinitely wise God will sort out such injustices with perfect justice. In the meanwhile, we are called to be agents of justice, mercy and love insofar as we have the wisdom and capacity to help. A call that for centuries, godly people have heeded; and have made a difference for good. (Which is something that the loaded agenda of questions refuses to acknowledge.)
b --> It is also a world in which we now have resources, communication and capability to see to it that no-one starves to death. But, too often aid is not properly mobilised, or if mobilised, corrupt officials and those who wage war prevent the aid from reaching those who truly need it.
c --> The mess in the officially atheistical state of North Korea, where US$ 500 millions were just wasted on a rocket that failed, while people starve, is emblematic, raising again the antislavery society's motto taken from Philemon vv 15 - 16: "am I not a man and a brother'?
d --> Next, I am not so sure that we can justly claim to be "good people." A fairer estimate is that we are finite, fallible, morally fallen and struggling, far too often ill-willed and misbehaving. As a direct and indirect consequence of that, a lot of bad things happen to ourselves and to others on which our behaviour has impacts.
e --> Maybe, then, we need to shift focus from finger pointing, to first dealing with our own contribution to the mess, by repenting and turning to God based on the truth of the gospel. Then, we can set about understanding the challenges faced by others, and doing good insofar as we can. Also, we can be confident based on the proof offered in the prophesied and fulfilled resurrection of Jesus with 500+ witnesses, that God will bring a consummation that will more than restore the situation.
f --> In an already quite long post, it is not best to take up specific Bible exegesis matters just now [hold on till next time, DV . . . ], but since, from infancy we are a tad less than innocent, I am not so sure that it is wise to blame God for the deaths of "innocents."
g --> More broadly, death serves to limit the growth of evil, putting a terminus to the career of the truly wicked; in some cases breaking the havoc wreaked by states that have become plagues on the earth (think about what it took to stop Hitler). And, where the deaths involve those who are not competent to be responsible, and especially those below an age of moral accountability, we can be assured that God welcomes such with open arms.
h --> When it comes to slavery, by the time we come to Moses, we are dealing with a long established practice. The tenor of the Mosaic law is to limit and to ameliorate, restraining the hardness of men's hearts. Indeed, much of what is called slavery in the OT is in effect indentured service; a means of recovering from poverty and an alternative to, frankly, starvation. (That is the context in which many sold themselves into slavery in the ANE; indeed, we can see this playing out in the story of the seven years famine in Egypt in Genesis.) And someone who takes on a student loan or scholarship with a bond to work to repay by service is not far different to that sort of service.
i --> What is strictly forbidden on pain of a death penalty is kidnapping and selling into slavery; precisely what was the foundation of the infamous triangle trade across the Atlantic. And it is no coincidence that this was exactly the first target of the antislavery movement.
j --> Going further, as we read the pivotal letter to Philemon, we see the heart issue: slavery, in this light was one of the many oppressive or abuse-prone institutions that are first regulated and ameliorated in light of the hardness of men's hearts, then as the gospel and the indwelling Spirit transform hearts and lives, can be reformed or abolished. In short the loaded word GII uses, "proponent" -- unsurprisingly, given what has been going on all along -- is arguably unfounded and emotively manipulative in a context of failing to read and understand the whole context.
k --> This is similar in many respects to the way the Bible treats divorce: Moses recognised the reality, and ameliorated it, but then we learn from the later prophets: "I hate divorce," says the Lord, and Jesus warns us that what God has joined we ought not to put asunder. (The story of prohibition of alcohol and the ongoing attempt to prohibit some of the milder drugs such as marijuana shows the problem of trying to impose a morally good but unenforceable law.)