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A Christian Conservative Goes to College, part 9 (The Problem of Evil – in a Nutshell?)

Most of us who believe in God believe the following three things:

1. God is all good.
2. God is all powerful.
3. Evil exists.

Some critics and skeptics, however, argue against the above by saying it creates a contradiction of sorts. They respond with an argument that, more or less, is as follows:

Premise 1: If God is all good and God is all powerful, evil should not exist.
Premise 2: Evil exists.
Conclusion: Therefore God is either not all good or not all powerful.

Most of us who believe in God believe the following three things:

1. God is all good.
2. God is all powerful.
3. Evil exists.

Some critics and skeptics, however, argue against the above by saying it creates a contradiction of sorts. They respond with an argument that, more or less, is as follows:

Premise 1: If God is all good and God is all powerful, evil should not exist.
Premise 2: Evil exists.
Conclusion: Therefore God is either not all good or not all powerful.

NOW TO THE BEGINNING:

Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunities” (Colossians 4:5).

Critical Thinking Class (Philosophy 111). Final assignment. It was required that each student present an argument or dismantle an argument, in front of the class. They were to do so, to the best of their ability, using some of the methods learned during the semester. “Well,” I thought, “Here’s my chance to do or say something… To crack open a door, by the grace of God.”

The student presentations that night varied. Some were decent. Some really bad. The topics were also wide-ranging: death penalty, evolution, free downloading of music, government wiretaps, bans on smoking in public places, etc.  And me? My topic? The Problem of Evil. Although I don’t believe it was required, I handed out copies of my presentation to each student. I prayed that, by the grace of God, not only would they hear my amateur philosophic argument, but that they might take it home and read it, and in doing so they might also read the verses of Scripture which I dropped in at the end. After all, as the LORD God said through the prophet Isaiah, “So will My word be which goes forth from My mouth; It will not return to Me empty, without accomplishing what I desire, And without succeeding in the matter for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11, NASB).

The following is my presentation in it’s entirety, with a few editorial tweaks:

Most of us who believe in God believe the following three things:

1. God is all good.
2. God is all powerful.
3. Evil exists.

Some critics and skeptics, however, argue against the above by saying it creates a contradiction of sorts. They respond with an argument that, more or less, is as follows:

Premise 1: If God is all good and God is all powerful, evil should not exist.
Premise 2: Evil exists.
Conclusion: Therefore God is either not all good or not all powerful.

Some carry the argument even further by saying, “Since evil exists, God cannot exist.” An argument to counter that argument is: If God does not exist, we live in a random natural materialistic world. If we live in a random natural materialistic world, there is no such thing as good or evil. Thus using evil to disprove God, essentially, destroys its own first premise. It is self-refuting. But this is not the focus of our time here.

Let us look at the Premise 1, Premise 2, Conclusion argument above. Does it follow necessarily?

Premise 2: Evil exists. Can we attack this premise and prove it false? There are some who might think evil does not exist, Buddhists or adherents to so-called “Christian Science”[1] perhaps. The Buddhist believes that evil is the result of having unfulfilled desires and one must do away with desires to reach nirvana. (I believe it was Ravi Zacharias who pointed out that the Buddhist desire to do away with all desires, is contradictory and self-refuting.) The “Christian Scientist” believes that evil is simply an illusion… But I digress. Both belief systems, for most Westerners, are unrealistic. Most of us accept the second premise as true: Evil exists. This is not even to argue that Satan or a personality of evil exists in the world, but simply that, at the very least, subjective bad things happen: deterioration of beauty, deterioration of newness, loss, sadness, physical pain, death, etc. Things we would all wish to keep and hold onto (subjective goods) are wrenched away by time or crime[2] or circumstance. We know evil from experience. We might even argue that there are “universal evils” (things which almost all humans generally agree are bad): cancer, rape, murder, death (again), genocide, deadly tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, etc. Most agree that evil exists. Proof is all around us.

So we attack Premise 1: If God is all good and God is all powerful, evil should not exist. Can this premise be proven true? Well, the first hitch we run across is the word “good.” “Good” by what standard and what definition? If there is a good God, would He not be the benchmark of good? And if there is a God, He would certainly be different or other than us. Could we box Him in to a human definition of Good? Certainly it would be absurd to define God’s good as our evil; then terms would have no meanings at all. So we define “good” as best we can as a generally acceptable “morally excellent, righteous, always doing right” definition. So, we ask, can evil exist side by side with a perfectly moral God?

We examine this by bringing it down to a human level: Let us think as to whether we can think of examples where an evil (a subjective evil) might co-exist with an objective good. What if a man on the street stuck a pen into my neck and punctured my trachea? Would that be evil? Not if it was in order to help me breathe because something was lodged in the back of my throat. What appeared at first to be an evil act turned out to be an act of goodness or a morally righteous act. Consider the good actions of doctors who amputated limbs before the discovery of chloroform, of dentists who perform root canals to protect us from poisoning. Can we agree that an objective good performed by someone who knows the good or “who knows what is best for us” could be perceived as a subjective evil? Most can. So we see an example of evil under the umbrella of a greater good, a stratification of good and evil if you will.

But premise one does not stop at “God is good,” but presupposes that Supreme Good combined with Supreme Power would have willed evil to have never existed in the first place, that such a God would rule out evil completely. Thus there would exist no need for a tracheotomy, an amputation, or a root canal (none-the-less disease, calamity, and death). Does this follow? If this all good and all powerful Being is the one who created the universe and human beings, or at least was the First Cause/Prime Mover, and if He is non-matter or spirit, then this very “invention” of His, this created or existing material universe is something “other” than what He is. Could not this all good, all powerful Being keep evil from ever existing? Absolutely, but does it follow of necessity?

Let me paint a picture of how this all good, all powerful God could co-exist with evil. It again involves the stratification of good and evil: Let us say this all powerful, good God created a world and the intelligent spiritual-material creatures (humans) existed in perfection, love, goodness, happiness, bliss, ecstasy, etc. But these creatures, knowing only the good had no idea of (or reference to) its goodness or value and no idea of other good things such as perseverance, courage, sacrifice, etc. (because they wouldn’t have existed). All those words, including the word “good,” may have meant absolutely nothing to them since they had no point of reference. (Light has a meaning and a frame of reference since there is such a thing as darkness or absence of light.) So God, in His vast wisdom (and goodness and power) made or allowed something else, something other than Himself once again:[3] He allowed or created an “opposite,” (whether it was a being like Satan, or a condition like free-will, etc.) not a perfect opposite mind you,[4] but something that was other-than-God, lesser than or subservient to God, and to a degree had a bit of God-vacuum. This opposite would soon give humanity a point of reference on Him and all the good. Thus God taught humans what perfection, love, goodness, happiness, bliss, ecstasy, etc. were because there were now places where lack or absence of those things could be found (within us, for example). He also opened the door for things such as perseverance, courage, and sacrifice, etc. In doing this God was “magnified” or “glorified” or displayed to be what He was, all Good and all Powerful.

This theory manifests itself in Christianity and Judaism where we find the Garden of Eden, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, and one rule: “Don’t eat from that tree.” God created the one rule. Without the one rule Adam would still have had free will to swim, eat, make love to Eve, sleep, or work in the garden.[5] But the one rule created the possibility of other, the vacuum, and the frame of reference, and the magnification of good/God. Think of it, when Adam heard the word “evil” what did it mean to someone who had never experienced it? It would be like me saying, “Do not eat of this tree because then you will know the difference between pelafagarans and sarifogita.” What would that mean? “Well, you already have pelafagarans,” I could say. But it means nothing without a point of reference! So when they ate of the tree, they pursued subjective good (something new) in an evil way.[6] They chose their subjective good (defined by God as evil), over the command of God (objective good), and by doing so opened the door to, embraced, swallowed and ingested evil, making it a very part of their selves (a larger, yet prospectively subjective evil); yet still it fell under the umbrella of the overarching-complex-objective good of God, not only because of this we now know and truly experience love, goodness, happiness, bliss, ecstasy while recognizing the good in such things as perseverance, courage, and sacrifice,[7] but because God would now send His “own Son, in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering” (Romans 8:3, NIV).

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how fathomless his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor? Or who has first given to God, that God needs to repay him? For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever! Amen” (Romans 11:33-36).

 

To whom will you compare me? Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One (Isaiah 40:25-28, NIV).

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD (Isaiah 55:8, NIV).

As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:9, NIV).

For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength” (1 Corinthians 1:25, NIV).

 

Books for further study on Philosophy and God: The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, Making Sense Out of Suffering by Peter Kreeft, and Philosophy for Dummies by Tom Morris

 

______________________




[1]
When someone mentions “Christian Science” around my Dad, he always says something like, “That’s a ridiculous name. It’s neither Christian nor science!”

[2] I must note that there are those who do these evils: rapists, murderers, and dictators for instance, who do not consider them evil—they actually consider them good for some ends of their own. This shows that people, in pursuit of subjective good, can perform objective evil. Another tangent!

 

[3] By the way, I will not entertain the idea of God being Yin and Yang (Chinese Philosophy), both good and evil, because that would be a contradiction, as in saying that “A is also non A”.

[4] It is an impossibility that God could create another “God/god” so to speak, something equal to Himself, it is like asking if God can create a square circle; it cannot be done.

[5] I reject the idea that there is no free will without the opportunity to sin or turn from God. I reject the “automaton” or “robot” argument as a straw man argument.

[6] This takes us back to the crimes and sins people commit, wanting to bring some kind of good, pleasure, happiness, escape to themselves, they choose or pursue sin or evil.

[7] My term paper did not include Romans 8:3 and Romans 11:33-3, though it did include the verses that followed, as well as the suggested book readings. How I wish I had included those two verses from Romans!

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J Drain

"Rescued, ransomed, and saved because of the love of God the Father, through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit, thanks to faithful preachers and teachers of the Word, attained by the perfect life and merit of Jesus the Messiah, His substitutionary death and physical resurrection from the dead. Completely undeserved and gifted to me." Steve would label himself an apprentice Christ follower, an Evangelical Christian with strong Reformed beliefs, a "Five Point Calvinist" (if you must). Steve loves discussing and debating the two "taboo" subjects: Politics and Religion. He tries to read and listen to a minimum of forty books a year and realizes that no matter what topic or genre, whether Bible, theology, Christianity, history, biography, philosophy, political, social commentary, pop-culture, or even fiction, they all tie together in the spider's web of worldview. His favorite authors are C.S. Lewis, James R. White, Gregory Koukl, R.C. Sproul, J. Gresham Machen, G.K. Chesterton, J. Budziszewski, and Peter Kreeft. He loves Charles Haddon Spurgeon, Voddie Baucham, and Dwight L. Moody. Steve's hobbies are generally reading and writing, music, hiking, and laughing. He has been writing songs/lyrics since the age of eight and has played in a few Christian Rock bands. He has written poetry, several biblical studies over the past decades, and has one finished book manuscript entitled, “Shaken Faith: When God Has Let You Down” (written with friend and co-author Al Rossi). He has also written for the now defunct Examiner website as the Philadelphia Christian Perspectives Examiner. He wishes he could write some fiction.

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