Saturday, September 29, 2007

Another Summit

My sons Nathan and Jasper made it to the summit of Middle Sister today. They endured the first snow of the season overnight--and temperatures near 15 degrees at timberline--before ascending the northeast face. They were led by Brandon Groza and accompanied by Mark and Landon Miller. I was unable to join them (and spent much of today doing fall yardwork).

There's a lot to be said for living in Central Oregon.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Gratuitous Evil

We're discussing the evidential argument from evil against God's existence. It says (you'll recall) that while the existence of evil doesn't prove that God doesn't exist, the sheer amount, variety, and degree of evil and suffering makes God's existence highly improbable. While acknowledging that a god might have a purpose for some suffering, advocates of this argument call some evil 'gratuitous.' They are claiming, in effect, that "I can't think of any (future or resulting) good that would justify this degree of suffering (or amount of evil)."

A number of responses could be given to this claim. I'll let Ronald Nash have the first reply*...
One final point is worth noting: what properties must a being possess in order to know that some evils really are gratuitous? It certainly appears as though one such property must be omniscience. It would seem then that the only kind of being who could know whether some gratuitous evils exist would be God. But if the only being who could know whether such evils exist is God, there surely are problems in arguing that the existence of gratuitous evils is a defeater for the existence of God.

*I found this Nash quote cited in the excellent Guide to Christian Apologetics, written by my friend Doug Powell. I highly recommend you pick up a copy of Doug's book.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Late-Flying Merlin

The girls and I were treated yesterday to a rare close-up of a male Merlin (Falco columbarius). These small but formidable falcons winter in Oregon, but though they breed at this latitude in states to the east of us, they have never been documented nesting here. They are not common even in winter, and when you see one, it is usually heading for the horizon at high speed.

Unlike other migrant raptors (Red-tailed Hawks and, especially, Cooper's Hawks and Sharp-shinned Hawks), Merlins tend to come past our migration count site (at Bonney Butte) singly, one or two a week. And frequently, that single Merlin will be the last raptor seen in a given day. Such was the case yesterday, and we were fortunate enough to lure it in and capture it. Females and young are mostly brown, but the blue of the wings and back of adult males is distinctive and elegant. A beautiful bird, and certainly one of my favorites.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

The Evidential Argument

Okay, so we've established that the logical argument fails, that the simultaneous existence of the God of the Bible and of evil does not constitute a logical contradiction. So most atheists, having abandoned the logical argument, now offer the evidential argument. It goes like this...
Okay, so there's no logical incompatability. But doesn't the amount and depth of evil and suffering argue against an all-loving, all-powerful God? I'm willing to admit that this doesn't represent a logical proof against God's existence. But it seems to me that the evidence for evil in the world is much greater and more obvious than any evidence for the existence of God.
I'll give my readers a day or so to think about their response to this form of the argument from evil.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

First Day of Fall

This morning was the first sunrise of autumn. This is personally noteworthy because 18 years ago on this date, Dawn and I exchanged vows at a sunrise service outdoors at Bald Peak State Park (on the eastern edge of the Coast Range south of Hillsboro, Oregon). It was a small service (immediate family only), and my older brother flew out from his home in South Carolina--the rest of his family ended up spending the weekend huddled in their bathroom while their house was pummelled by Hurricane Hugo. Being a couple of poor graduate students at the time, we had (I kid you not) a pot-luck reception later that day at Champoeg Park. (The weather was gorgeous all day, as was my bride.)

This morning, as I stepped outside early to get the newspaper, I heard the first Townsend's Solitaires (Myadestes townsendi) calling in the yard. These members of the thrush family (think Robins and Bluebirds) nest in higher country, where they feed their young mostly insects. Many of them return to the high desert of Central Oregon, where they spend the winter feeding on juniper berries. They are one of the few passerines (perching birds) that establish and defend winter territories, and they do this to ensure access to a sufficient supply of these berries. Their clear, single, piping call notes (what I heard this morning) is their primary way of establishing and maintaining territorial boundaries.

These birds don't, of course, have access to our calendars or know that it's the first day of autumn. But neither do they migrate arbitrarily--we can be sure that there'll be cool days and cold nights in the weeks ahead. As much as I like summer, I look forward to the changing of the seasons, and am leaning into this fall.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Bird Evolution

A couple of days ago, I received the September issue of the monthly newsletter of the Seattle chapter of Reasons To Believe. The feature article in it is by your blog host (that is, yours truly, er, actually, me) and is titled "Bird Evolution: The Evidence." In it, I examine the evidence available to us today from a wide array of disciplines (including ones that didn't exist in Darwin's day) to see which view--Darwin's theory of evolution or the typological view held by most of his contemporaries--is better supported. (Typology held that the generally groupings into which living--and extinct--organisms fall are unbridgeable, and that Darwin's hypothetical transitional forms are incoherent and non-functional.)

Here are the concluding paragraphs of my article...
If Darwin made any positive contribution to our understanding of life on Earth, it was in helping move us away from a view of complete stasis and immutability, a belief that each species was exactly as created and that populations of living things were invariable across time. But the alternative noncontroversial view–what we now call “microevolution”–was already well on its way to acceptance even among the typologists among Darwin’s contemporaries, largely because of the evidence from the fossil record. What Darwin’s theory sought to do was to extrapolate microevolutionary variation to account for the existence and diversity of all life. As this paper has shown, such extrapolation has garnered little or no evidentiary support in the decades since Darwin. Instead, a typological view–albeit one that sees the limits to variation at the generic or familial (rather than the specific) level–remains the one that corresponds to the evidence. We have examined evidence from cosmology, comparative anatomy, cell biology and biochemistry, genomics, ecology, paleogeology, and paleontology, and have at every step encountered problems for the macroevolutionary paradigm.

Darwin asked, “...why, if species have descended from other species by insensibly fine gradations, do we not everywhere see innumerable transitional forms? Why is not all nature in confusion instead of the species being, as we see them, well defined?” His own answer, that the fossil record is incomplete, is no longer satisfactory. Indeed, once a variety of scientific evidence is brought to bear on this question, the answer that emerges is very similar to that of Darwin’s contemporary skeptics. The distinctions between groups of dissimilar organisms are based in necessity, and intermediate and transitional forms are undiscovered because they are nonexistent and incoherent. If scientific understanding is based on evidence rather than speculation, then Darwin’s theory is rightly understood as far inferior to the typological view it was formulated to supplant.
If you'd like a .pdf copy of this article, just email me ( and ask for one.

(Don't worry... I'll get back to the "problem" of evil shortly.)

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Presuppositions for Science

(This was originally posted on 6 February 2007 as "Foundations for Science." I repost it here in response to a comment on yesterday's post.)

A few days ago (in a post called "The Antikythera Device") I made the statement that all of the founders of modern science were devout Christians or at least operated within a Judeo-Christian view of reality. This assertion enjoys virtually unanimous support today among historians of science. But I received a fair question in an anonymous comment. I had further asserted that, "The very philosophical presuppositions that allowed the scientific revolution come from a biblical understanding of the world." With regard to this statement, the commentor asked whether it committed the fallacy of association, and specifically the fallacy known as "honor by association." He asked,
Did they actually come from it or is it possible that most of these great minds of the scientific revolution culturally happened to be Christians?
This thoughtful question warrants a response. My point was that the relationship between the Christian worldview and the scientific revolution was clearly not one of mere happenstance, coincidence, or even correlation. Rather, the biblical portrayal of reality uniquely provided (and provides) the philosophical justification for scientific endeavor. Here's how historian Rodney Stark has it,
The rise of science was not an extension of classical learning. It was a natural outgrowth of Christian doctrine: Nature exists because it was created by God. To love and honor God, one must fully appreciate the wonders of his handiwork. Moreover, because God is perfect, his handiwork functions in accord with immutable principles.
We could discuss a number of philosophical presuppositions upon which modern science is founded (and I likely will at a later date in these peregrinations). But for now let's just take two, mentioned in the Stark quote above but also picked up by a number of other historians and philosophers of science. These are 1) that the universe reflects the rational nature of its Creator, and is orderly and uniform, and 2) that humans are uniquely created in God's image, and are thus capable of reasoning and discovering the order in creation.
The (modern) modern scientist operating within the artificial constraints of naturalism can only consider the presence of order and of physical laws in the universe as a fortuitous happenstance. His paradigm offers no way of explaining it. Likewise, if human senses and ability to reason are themselves the product of purposeless, undirected evolutionary processes, there is no defensible foundation for trusting them to provide us with truth about distant galaxies or biochemistry. According to physicist Paul Davies,
People take it for granted that the physical world is both ordered and intelligible. The underlying order in nature--the laws of physics--are simply accepted as given, as brute facts. Nobody asks where they came from; at least not in polite company. However, even the most atheistic scientist accepts as an act of faith that the universe is not absurd, that there is a rational basis to physical existence manifested as law-like order in nature that is at least partly comprehensible to us. So science can proceed only if the scientist adopts an essentially theological worldview.
In a similar vein, philosopher Alvin Plantinga writes,
Modern science was conceived, and born, and flourished in the matrix of Christian theism. Only liberal doses of self-deception and double-think, I believe, will permit it to flourish in the context of Darwinian naturalism.
I trust I've clarified just what it is that I'm asserting. For further support of that assertion, I recommend,

(on the history of science) Reality and Scientific Theology by Thomas S. Torrance, and For the Glory of God by Rodney Stark.
(on philosophy of science) Christianity and the Nature of Science by J.P. Moreland, and Reason in the Balance by Phillip Johnson.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Science and Naturalism

I opened this year's (Bend, OR) Apologetics Guild luncheon series today with a talk on "Science and Naturalism." We discovered that there is no historical, philosophical, or scientific justification for bringing a naturalistic worldview or approach to science. Indeed, we saw that, as Alvin Plantinga asserts,
Modern science was conceived, and born, and flourished in the matrix of Christian theism. Only liberal doses of self-deception and double-think, I believe, will permit it to flourish in the context of Darwinian naturalism.
I hope to make both the PowerPoint and the audio portion of my talk available for download and listening, and will let my readers know when those are available.

There is one thing, which bears upon this question, that I didn't have time to share. I'll do that now (for those of you who heard my talk, consider this bonus coverage).

I cannot think of a single scientific discipline--except for evolution itself--in which understanding biological evolutionary theory (macroevolution) has any practical value for conducting research. One can be a top-notch chemist, physicist, geologist, astronomer, ecologist, conservation biologist, biochemist, medical researcher, or what have you, and never let biological evolutionary theory cross one's mind. Likewise, the research carried out in any and all of these disciplines contributes nothing to understanding or advancing evolutionary theory.

Richard Dawkins is so enamored with evolution that he believes that if superintelligent beings from elsewhere in the universe ever make contact with us, the first question they will ask is "Have you discovered evolution yet?"

But if biological evolution is of such central importance to science--if, indeed, it is the imagined success of evolutionary theory that has caused us to unwisely accept a naturalistic approach to science generally--then why can research in all of the other scientific disciplines be conducted without any reference to it?

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

A Word about Animal Suffering

The issue of God's having a purpose for suffering in this creation has a critical bearing on a divisive intramural debate within Christendom today. And while I don't want to take this blog down that rabbit trail at this time, I think it would be worthwhile to mention this here.

Christians who accept the evidence from general revelation (the creation itself) for an old Earth and universe and others who insist that the Bible clearly describes a 6-day creation process only thousands of years ago have spent a great deal of energy and rhetoric defending their views (and, often, attacking their brothers and sisters who take the opposite view). Specific areas of disagreement include the relative place of general revelation and special revelation (Scripture), the flexilibility (or lack thereof) of the Hebrew word yom (translated 'day' in the creation account), and the reliability of our fallen senses and reasoning when it comes to interpreting the evidence (especially from the creation, though there is, of course, interpretation required when it comes to Scripture as well).

But when all of these issues have been discussed and all responses given (when for example, it has been shown that sound exegesis indicates that Romans 5:12--"by one man death came into the world"--is speaking not of animal death but only human death), the trenched-in objection of most young-earth creationists is this...
God would not create a world with suffering in it and call it 'very good'!
In other words, "My view of what God should do does not include a place for billions of years of animal suffering and death prior to the Fall of Adam." Now, we could discuss at length some of the obvious and not-so-obvious benefits that have resulted from billions of years of plant and animal death. But what I am driving at is that (as we saw yesterday) our claiming to know how God is or should be is idolatrous and blasphemous.

In this instance, the claim "my view of God doesn't include His allowing for animal death" is eerily similar to the claim for which our Lord roundly rebuked Peter. If you'll recall, Peter had just confessed that Jesus was the Messiah, for which the Lord praised him. But then, when Jesus went on to tell Peter that the Messiah would suffer and die, Peter's response was, "Not so, Lord!" In other words,
My view of God does not include His having a purpose for your suffering and death!
At this point, Jesus is recorded as responding, "Get behind me, Satan!" I believe that the reason Christ was passionate about this is that suffering--His own suffering--was not tangential but central to His purposes for creating this universe in the first place.

Again, the take-home message is this... Suffering is not incompatible with the existence of the omnibenevolent God of the Bible. Indeed, according to the Bible, all suffering is within His sovereign control and He has very good reasons for creating this universe as we find it--with suffering and evil as undeniable aspects of it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

A Place for Suffering

As we originally laid out the logical problem of evil, it included the three 'omnis' of God (His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence) along with the undeniable existence of evil and suffering in the world.

Although we have already seen that--according to even the atheist philosophers of our day--there is no logical incompatability in the simultaneous existence of God and evil, let's look today more specifically at one of the premises. Critical to the argument is that this premise be true...
If God were all-loving, He would want to eliminate all evil and suffering.
But is this premise true?

It is not necessarily the case that God would want to eliminate all suffering and evil. And we can arrive at that conclusion through reflecting on the behavior of good parents. The best parents do not shield their children from all suffering and disappointment, but--within the context of a loving family--help them to mature and grow through such experiences. There seems to be a common-sense recognition that we become better people--stronger, wiser, more independent and courageous--through trials. This, of course, is also specifically a part of the Christian message. James begins his letter to the earliest Christians by declaring that suffering and testing will produce in them endurance and patience, growth and maturity--they will grow toward becoming "perfect and complete" (James 1:2-4). It has, in fact, been argued that all of the great men and women of history have overcome greater-than-average suffering or hardship that was instrumental in their developing the character traits that made them great.

To say that God would desire to eliminate all suffering is to put ourselves in the place of God. What we're really saying is "I have no place or purpose for suffering. If I were God, there'd be no suffering in the world." This, of course, turns the argument into a "straw-man" argument. This is because we are not God, and to view God as no more wise than ourselves is silly and blasphemous. According to Isaiah 55:8-9, God's thoughts and ways (including His wisdom and purposes) are much higher than ours. To argue against the existence of the God of Christianity (on the basis of the existence of evil) requires acknowledging the biblical portrayal of Him rather than seeing Him merely as a wise but finite human. Indeed, the God of the Bible is infinitely wise (whereas our wisdom is, at best, finite).

Another biblical understanding that bears on this question is that God indeed intends to eliminate all evil and suffering. According to Scripture, God is preparing a better place, one in which there will be no sorrow or tears, and one inhabited by His perfected children, free-moral agents who will never choose to do wrong. On this--the biblical view--this particular creation in which we now live is as it is (with evil and suffering) because it is the way through to that better creation that God has planned for His children for all eternity. This is perhaps best expressed by God through the Apostle Paul (in Romans 8:18)...
For I know that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.
This seems to be a continuation of his thoughts (in Romans 5:3-5)...
we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

Not only is it not logically incoherent that both God and evil exist, but the Scriptures clearly confirm that God has purposes for allowing evil and suffering in the present world and at this time.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Augustine on Evil

We've already seen that philosophers of all metaphysical stripes have agreed that there is no logical incompatibility involved in the simultaneous existence of evil and the God of Christianity. This is in large measure because Alvin Plantinga, in his free-will defense, demonstrated a plausible reason for God's allowing for evil.

As satisfactory as is this recent Christian response (to the logical argument from evil against the existence of God), it is worthwhile to at least mention some other, more historical Christian responses.

Augustine of Hippo (who lived between AD 354 and 430) is considered one of Christianity's great thinkers. He advanced the notion that evil is not a 'thing' of itself, but rather a privation or lack of something good. Evil is real--it has existence--but not as a substance or stuff. Evil, according to Augustine, is the absence of the goodness that should be, much as blindness (while real) is not a thing but the absence of the sight that was intended (for that eye).

Not all philosophers accept Augustine's explanations (primarily because of their own various views of the nature of reality in general), and most see his treatment of the problem as somewhat incomplete. Nonetheless, his now-ancient thoughts bear considering.

It does seem correct that evil is better understood in negative rather than positive terms--as an absence and not as a created entity. And this, of course, has apologetic importance. Though God knew that by creating free moral creatures He was allowing for (or even ensuring) the actualization of evil (because those free moral creatures would choose less than the perfect good), evil is not a 'thing' that He created.

Secondly, if evil is best understood as a privation (or a parasitism) of good, then the existence of evil argues not against God's existence but for it. That is, the problem of evil presupposes--is dependent upon--the existence of a thing called 'good.' And while this thing called 'good' fits in perfectly with the Christian understanding of the world, there is no logical grounding for it on an atheist or naturalistic view of reality.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Falcons Flying

I'm way overdue in writing a first post about Bonney Butte, the hawk migration trapping and banding station that I help set up and run each fall. We sit in a blind perched atop a north-south ridge (just southeast of Mt. Hood) from which we lure in and attempt to capture migrating hawks, falcons, and eagles. (About 500 captures has been our average the past few years.) We take measurements and give each bird a uniquely-numbered leg band before releasing it, the point being to learn more about the movements of these fascinating creatures. Bonney Butte is one of about 13 such sites operated by HawkWatch International, a non-profit conservation organization.

Anyway, we've been open for business since August 27th, and yesterday tallied the 100th capture of the year. The main flights don't begin until just about now, so the days ahead are eagerly anticipated. Yesterday, we had a Prairie Falcon (like the one pictured above) show some interest, but we were unable to close the deal. This species is one of those "gourmet birds"--ones we capture much less frequently than the Sharp-shinned, Cooper's, and Red-tailed Hawks that account for most of the migrating raptors.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Moral Evil and Atheism

In the last post, I attempted to show that it is logically inconsistent for the atheist to appeal to the presence of evil as an argument against God's existence. For if atheism were true, there would be no standard (at least none with any logical grounding) to which to appeal in calling one thing good and another evil.

But the problem is even worse (for the atheist) when the evil appealed to is moral evil (as opposed to 'natural' evil). (That is, I can generate some empathy with the atheist who asks how God could allow thousands of people to die in an earthquake, tsunami, or flooding. To me, this presents the more difficult problem for the Christian apologist, and I look forward to offering some responses in future posts.)

Moral evil is that pain and suffering that is caused by moral beings (human beings) when they commit crimes against others--other humans, other creatures, the Earth itself, and (on the Christian view) the Creator Himself. When the atheist appeals to the existence of moral evil, he compounds his inconsistency. That's because moral evil is readily explained within the biblical worldview and unexplained by naturalistic evolution. (Remember that it was Darwin--with his theory of evolution--that, in the words of atheist Richard Dawkins, "made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.")

Neo-Darwinian evolution does not account for the atrocities of Hitler, Pol Pot, or Saddam Hussein. If all of the behaviors and traits we exhibit are selected for on the basis of the resulting survival and reproductive fitness, what these tyrants did is far outside the bounds of such selection. In other words, natural selection (and random gene mutation) is a grossly insufficient explanation with regard to the moral evil produced in the twentieth century.

Compounding the atheist's problem is the indisputable fact that the most murderous regimes--far surpassing the loss of life associated with any theistically-motivated rulers, governments, wars, or crusades--have been those that have set out to make atheism the state religion. Between them, Mao, Lenin, and Stalin murdered over 100 million of their own people, putting the lie to the currently popular atheist charge that [God-affirming] religion is the worst thing imaginable.

Central to Judeo-Christianity is--and always has been--a ready explanation for the existence of moral evil. Mankind, though made in the image of God and thus capable of great good, is fallen. We are born with a propensity to evil; we are in need of redeeming. This message permeates our Scriptures.

Far from weakening our confidence in the truth of the Bible, any appeal to the existence of moral evil in the world is a confirmation of this understanding of reality that is unique to Judeo-Christianity.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Evil and Atheism

In a previous post, I shared the "free-will defense" of Alvin Plantinga, which has caused even atheist philosophers to abandon the logical argument from evil. There are, however, some other Christian responses to share, some recent, some more historical. But before I mention some of these, I think there is another point that needs to be made.

And that is that it seems logically inconsistent for an atheist to make the charge that evil presents a problem for Christianity. If there is no God, then there is no absolute morality, no standard of good against which to compare something. On the atheist view, both good and evil are meaningless concepts, incoherent. Things, events, happenings just are--to assess them as evil requires a standard of some sort, and no such standard can be logically grounded in a universe that is the random result of chance, one with no divine Lawgiver.

Atheists do--like most all people--recognize some things as bad or even evil. This recognition comes from the fact that all humans (even atheists) are created in the image of God. But in order to rail against those aspects of the universe that they find bad (or evil or unjust), atheists are required to borrow moral language that is logically grounded only in theism.

Thus, the existence of evil in the world--and the fact that its existence is universally recognized--provides evidence not against but for the existence of God.

Friday, September 7, 2007

First Fish

My youngest daughter, Willow, finally caught her first fish today. But the one pictured here is not it. The one in the picture is, if I remember right, her 38th. Yes, we got into a mess of Yellow Perch, Willow, her sister Aurora, and I, at North Klamath Lake off of Rocky Point. We canoed, and also saw a number of interesting birds and mammals. All in all, a great day, and one the three of us will remember for a long time.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Free-Will Defense

In the last post. I laid out the logical argument against the existence of God on the basis of the existence of evil and suffering. One form or another of this argument has survived throughout the centuries. Today, however, one would be hard-pressed to name a single philosopher who still uses the logical argument from evil to deny the existence of God. That is, in recent times, Christian thinkers have convincingly demonstrated--to the satisfaction of even atheist philosophers--that there is no logical contradiction in the existence of evil and suffering and the existence of the omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God of Christianity. Most will point to the "free-will defense" of Alvin Plantinga (from his 1974 book God, Freedom, and Evil) as the definitive rebuttal to this argument.

(I will in coming posts share other worthwhile responses. While philosophers no longer employ the logical argument from evil, you will still hear it used by friends, neighbors, family, or teachers. Remember, too, that though the logical argument is no longer deemed valid, atheist philosophers now turn to the evidential argument from evil, mentioned briefly in a previous post, and which still requires our later attention.)

In essence, Plantinga argued that it was a good thing that God created creatures capable of moral good (humans). He further suggests that to create creatures capable of moral good means creating creatures capable of moral evil. (That God is not able to do the first without entailing the second does not represent a deficiency in God, any more than faulting Him for not being able to make a square circle. His inability in both regards is a function of logical necessity, not of power or lack thereof.)

In other words, free will, which is recognized by virtually all philosophers as a good thing, logically entails the possibility of evil choices and deeds. Plantinga affirms that God is omnibenevolent and omnipotent and that God created a world in which evil exists (and that He had good reasons--consistent with His omnibenevolence--for doing so). Therefore, evil exists in the world, but the existence of evil is perfectly consistent with the Christian view (the biblical portrayal) of God.

Not all philosophers accept that this is the true explanation (some, after all, remain atheists). But all who consider this recognize it as a legitimate, credible possible explanation. This alone is sufficient to defeat the argument that the existence of evil is logically incompatible with the existence of the God of Christianity. And that's why philosophers no longer use that argument against the Christian position.

Monday, September 3, 2007

The Logical Problem

So today I want to simply define the logical problem, the argument that says that God's existence is disproved by the existence of evil. Over the centuries, this philosophical argument has been made in a variety of ways. In recent centuries--and because of the success and spread of Christianity--it has generally been leveled against the God of the Bible. As recently as the 1960's, some atheists--notably British philosopher J. L. Mackey--believed that God's existence could be disproved logically; that is (to put it another way), that Christianity could be demonstrated to be illogical.

The God of traditional theism, of Judeo-Christianity, is omnipotent (all-powerful), omniscient (all-knowing), and omnibenevolent (all good). Yet there is evil and suffering in this world that He alledgedly created. Atheists (like Mackey) used to claim that...
If God is indeed omnipotent, he would be able to eliminate evil.

If God is indeed omniscient, He would know how to eliminate evil.

If God is indeed omnibenevolent, He would want to eliminate evil.

Since, however, evil exists, the God of traditional theism (of Christianity) cannot exist.
There have been theists, of course, who have responded to this challenge by giving up part of the "God set"--one or more of the 'omnis.' But the fact is that the Bible does indeed ascribe omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence to God.

This, then, is the logical problem of evil, to which I'll provide a response in the next post.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The Problem of Evil

Since I began blogging, I've had a few requests to spend some time on the "problem of evil," and I have promised to do so. I'll try to get started here. I anticipate that it will take quite a few posts, since the issue is so complex. (I'll intersperse other, less difficult posts throughout the series, as usual.) In fact, it is with some trepidation that I begin, so let me do so with a disclaimer of sorts.

The issue can be separated into at least three facets.

One is the logical problem. To many, the existence of God (and particularly of the God of the Bible, an all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing God) is disproved by the existence of such evil and suffering in the world. Atheists will use the existence of evil to attempt to prove through logic that God doesn't exist. I'll be happy to respond to this.

A second facet might be called the evidential argument. That is, assuming we cannot prove that God doesn't exist, doesn't the sheer volume and intensity of evil and suffering make God's nonexistence more likely than His existence? This will also be interesting and valuable to address.

With regard to each of the two facets just mentioned, it will also be helpful to discuss two different kinds of evil, what are traditionally referred to as moral evil and 'natural' evil. The former includes the sorts of things perpetrated by humans upon others (other humans, other animals, and perhaps even plants and the Earth itself). The latter generally refers to what we call natural disasters (tsunamis, hurricanes, earthquakes, and such) as well as to predation, parasitism, birth defects, diseases, and accidents. A moment's reflection should suffice to suggest that these two different kinds of evil require slightly different sets of responses from the theist.

The third facet of the problem is what could be called the existential problem. That is, there are individuals--specific persons--who are at this moment reeling from the effects of unimaginably deep personal bereavement, pain, or suffering. And here's where my trepidation (and disclaimer) comes in. Whatever responses I may make to the logical and evidential aspects of the problem of evil will likely do nothing to ease the pain of such folks. Indeed, to hear me giving logical arguments and piling on evidences may very well offend and repel the person currently experiencing a suffering like none I've ever known.

I believe that Christians--and especially Christ Himself--can provide the best apologetic available to those overwhelmed by suffering. And we'll discuss that, too, eventually. But as you might imagine, that's a completely different issue than addressing the logical and evidential arguments against God's existence based on the presence of evil and suffering in the world.

One more disclaimer... In this medium, I'll only be able to scratch the surface of these issues, issues that have occupied the lifetimes of philosophers, theologians, and apologists over the centuries. So I'll also try to refer you, where appropriate, to resources through which you could go into greater depth yourself if you wish. Fair enough?