Friday, 2 October 2015

False Argument 2 : the Problem of Evil

This overlaps the previous argument, so for different perspective I am posting an article one of my sons wrote back in '05.

David Alexander Greentree - October 2005

"Yes, but what about the problem of evil?" asks the wizened old atheist to the pink faced young Christian, clutching a bible under his arm. 
"What's the problem of evil?" the young man asks in a quavering voice, sweating under the piercing gaze. 
"Ah..." says the old man and so he beings his demonstration of why no serious intellectual could believe in the existence of God……….

I don't mind people not believing in God. I really feel it is up to each one of us to make our own way through life as best we can, perhaps sharing some little discovery with our friends as we go. I don't even really mind proselytisers of other religions, and believe you me, atheism is a religion. 

What I object to is people getting on their high-horse and making other people feel stupid for believing something which is not actually stupid. Just because one is cleverer than another does not make one correct. Cleverer people merely find cleverer lies to believe.

But so as to demonstrate my good faith, I will here outline the best version of the "Problem of Evil" argument that I know of, and do my best to demonstrate why a bible believing Christian should not feel particularly threatened by it.

As a precursor, I feel it only fair to say that it is infinitely more difficult to prove something does not exist than to prove it does. For example, to prove there is a needle in a haystack, one has only to find the needle. To prove it does not exist, one has to go over the entire haystack and prove that every single strand of hay there is not, in fact, a needle in disguise. 
That is why there are quite a number of really quite good arguments for the existence of God (although they may not be as water-tight as philosophers like). But there are very few arguments against the existence of God. Some people appear to be under the misapprehension that Science disproves the existence of God, or Christianity in general. This is most certainly not the case. 
The Problem Of Evil argument does not try to actually disprove any god exists, but rather it attempts to find a flaw with the nature of God as believed by Christians. 

The argument goes something like this:

1. God is all good, so he must hate evil.
2. God is all powerful, so he can do whatever he likes.
C1. Therefore God will stop evil.
3. There is much evil in the world.
C2. Therefore God has not stopped evil.
C3. Therefore an all good, all powerful God does not exist.

Well, I am perfectly willing to concede that there is a lot of evil in the world. One only has to read a newspaper to know that! And I do thoroughly believe God hates evil. But I think there is an inescapable flaw in premises 2, that God is all-powerful in the sense that he can do anything.

For example: A triangle has three sides, and a square has four sides. God can make a triangle, and God can make a square. However God cannot make a triangle with four sides, because it's not a triangle, it's a square. God can do the difficult. God can do the complex. God can do things requiring an infinite amount of energy and calculation, such as create a universe. God can do the seemingly impossible like make sentient moral beings. But he cannot do the logically contradictory!

But that does not mean that destroying evil is inherently self-contradictory. The Bible speaks of a day, Judgement Day in fact, when God will destroy evil. So a bionically based Christian will maintain that it is not a matter of if God will destroy evil, but a matter of when. 
Nevertheless, the perceptive atheist will argue that a good God should hate evil absolutely and not tolerate evil even for a moment.
I agree: God does hate evil absolutely, but let us examine for a moment the consequences if God did eliminate evil, entirely, right now. 
One cannot simply "eliminate evil". "Evil" after all is merely a concept. To eliminate evil, one would need to eliminate all the agents that perpetrate evil. It is acts of evil perpetrated by agents that must be the object of God's hatred. 
Now if one believes in the Devil, then one gives a little cheer and thinks to one's self "Won't the world be a better place now the Devil is gone!" And I certainly agree that it would be a better place, but not yet a perfect place, not entirely free of evil. Because although I agree that non-human forces may well be the major agents of evil in the world, I see in most of humanity, including myself, a certain complicity. 
Now for some humans, the complicity is very clear. Satanic cults that make human sacrifices or Adolf Hitler perhaps, seem quite active and willing servants of evil. And no doubt God is definitely going to have to destroy people like that. But when one considers, that if God is all good, anyone not 100% on his team is going to be proportionally on the devils team. Good and evil really are bi-polar. Many of us live in the comfortable fantasy that we are somehow "in the middle" or "on our own team". But really, if one is only 50% for God, then one is in fact about 50% for the devil. If one was even 99% for God, one would still be 1% for the devil. And if God needs to destroy ALL perpetrators of evil to eliminate evil, I'm afraid this is going to have some rather disastrous effects on the human race, as I think none of us can really claim to be 100% on God's side. 
So if God is happy not to eliminate evil just yet, let's not be too hasty in urging him on.

But again my perceptive atheist friend notes, “why did God create evil in the first place?” 
Well obviously, God did not create evil. A wholly good God would do nothing of the kind. 
"Aha!" Cries my atheist friend," So God is either not wholly good, or not all-powerful". Well, hold on a minute.

God did not create evil. But he may have created something with the potential to become evil. But why would God do such a thing?

I agree that God must hate evil absolutely, but imagine for a moment there is something God loves absolutely. Hold that thought for a moment.

I said earlier that God could not create a 4 sided triangle, because it is logically contradictory. Being a triangle implies that you have 3 sides, not 4.
Well, imagine this for a moment:

1. God wanted a creature with the property A,
2. but in order to create A, God had to give the creature the property B,
3. and that property B was capable of creating either property A or evil
Property A would have to be something God loved absolutely to balance his hatred of evil. And it would have to be something that could not be obtained any other way. 

This would then explain why God would tolerate evil for a time; He would not eliminate evil until he had succeeded in cultivating A.

Now that alone gives us grounds to dismiss the Problem of Evil argument. God could have reasons to allow evil to exist
But while logically adequate, I realize this explanation is not emotionally sufficient to allow us to deal with the evil we see in this world. So I will move into a slightly more speculative area and try and demonstrate what I think these properties that are so highly prized by God might be.

Now our intermediate property B is something that is able to create evil, or property A which is something intrinsically desired by God. 
Yet property is B itself is not evil, because God cannot create evil. 
I can only think that B must be free will, or choice. 
God creates creatures with choice. These creatures can chose to become evil, or develop this other property A, and A is so valuable to God that he will tolerate evil to achieve it. Well, some might say no property in humans could be so valuable that God would allow evil to flourish. But imagine for a moment that Love is only possible through choice. 
I don't think I can demonstrate this deductively, but it seems very intuitive to me. Love must be based on a choice. Love springs from a free will. And for someone who disagrees that Love requires choice, I can only ask what you think the difference is between loving sex and rape? 
I think essentially God cannot create a creature that loves without giving them choice any more than he can create a four sided triangle. I think choice is a necessary pre-requisite of Love. 
However, choice implies that there are different objects to choose between. If Love is one of them, then Evil would surely be the other option. So the only way God can create creatures who love, is to give them choice, and allow that some of them will choose evil and have to be terminated eventually, as defective. But those that make the correct choice would then become unified with God in a most wonderful relationship. 
But what does that say about this world? Is this world nothing more than a testing ground, where some of us will choose Love and some of us will choose Evil? And is God so callous that he would just delete form the subject group those specimens who failed his test? 
I think first of all we have to work on the assumption that this all good God does not wish to "delete" any of the objects of his creation. However, think for a moment of that supposed being, the Devil. One must allow that some creatures may have become irredeemably evil. 
While some people may not think it scientific to believe in the Devil in this day and age, I must say, I find his existence to be a marvellous comfort. When I see some of the absolutely horrendous things that humans are capable of, such I would not like even to describe, I can only hope that it was not us humans who invented evil. Sometimes when one reads news from dark anarchic countries, one wonders if humanity is worth saving. 
But there is an old fable about a man and woman in a garden, and they did not do evil things. They lived at peace, until one day a serpent, an age old symbol of the Devil, tempted them to eat an apple…and we discovered then what Good and Evil were, because up till then we had only known Good. And thinking we had become wise, we had only in fact become corrupted, less than we had been in our naivety. But we did not begin it. Our first act of "evil" was more foolishness than anything else. No, it comforts me a great deal to think that although humans do evil, we did not invent it. It gives me hope that we may be redeemable.

Such a being as that, a Devil who could create evil and corrupt the innocent, surely such a being should surely be deleted. But humans, all of us some good and some bad; I hold out hope for us. But let us return to our all-good, all-powerful God who will soon delete all agents of evil.
Now if God were only able to save those humans who had passed his test with 100%, few, if any of us, would pass. In our own petty ways, I am sure all of us have at one time or another contributed to the sum total of pain, misery and/or evil in the world. But I can not imagine an all-good, all-powerful God to be so thoroughly defeated in his aim to produce loving creatures.

Well, how would he go about turning mixed results, like most of us have, some good, some bad, into pass results? 
I think it quite possible for God to correct our human nature so that we do not feel the compulsion to do evil. But that would require him to override our ability to choose. That is to say, in order to make us "pass-worthy", God has to ensure that we will never again become agents of Evil. But that requires the removal of choice. If we have not yet chosen Love, then removal of that choice would not make us pass-material. So God is still held by his original problem of our choice. 
I sincerely believe all God needs to make us pass-worthy is one sincere choice of Love from us, coupled with a willingness to be transformed. Then, after we have chosen love, he can remove our ability to chose evil without invalidating his "experiment" and we can become wholly good.

Now love for another human is terribly complicated. It all gets very hormonal, and I don't know if that would be sufficient for God to work with, but perhaps one sincere act of love, such as dying to save another, would give God enough to consider the experiment successful. But I think in the general case, to really be able to close the book and say "this humans passes", I think we need to demonstrate love towards God in a pure, un-hormonal and simple form. But how does one go about that? Hold that thought, too.

As I said, this one choice on our behalf is all we need to do, but I do see some complications on God's side. One of the oldest names of the Devil in fairytales is "the Accuser". Let us assume for a moment that such a being of age old malevolence and famed cunning exists, at every moment trying to thwart the plans of God. Now this being is altogether Evil and totally irredeemable. This being is without doubt going to be deleted from the sample, and perhaps even knows this. 
Now when God takes a human, some good, some bad, and awards them a pass mark on the basis of a single decision, I can only imagine this Devil would wish to call this into question. This Devil would remind God, as if God could forget, that this human had been an agent of Evil. Although now this person might be committed now to never again being an agent of evil, at some time in the past they were an agent of evil, and God ought to have destroyed him or her at that point. In fact the old atheist was correct; an all-good god ought to destroy evil on its first appearance. Deletion can be delayed, but can God undo a judgement that has already been made?

Now I am most pleased to report that I believe God has found an answer to the Devil's accusations.
It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible for our finite minds to comprehend the workings of an all-good, all-powerful God's mind, so I shall not try. But an image comes to me that I shall share, because perhaps it gives us the smallest peek into invisible realms. 
Imagine the Devil standing in front of God, already shackled with the chains of the condemned. And behind him stand all of humanity. And the Devil says to God,

"You wish to condemn me for being an agent of evil. But you cannot. You must release me. All these humans also were co-conspirators with me. If you destroy me, you will have to destroy all of them. Release me, and I will let them live."

But God shakes his head and replies in a voice booming like thunder
"I will not release you." For God knows that if the Devil were released, Evil would never cease. The Devil trembles at the sound of that voice, but looks up defiant and says,

"If you destroy me, all these whom you love you have to destroy as well. They were also agents of evil. You know this is true. You cannot judge me for being an agent of evil. Release me."
But at that moment the vast crowds of humanity part, and a young man walks forward. He has dark hair and a close cropped beard. His eyes are a lively brown and he laughs. The whole crowds shivers with expectation to hear him speak. Blood still stains his wrists and head. As he walks forward towards God, he grows in stature, the mangled purple flesh of his wounds transforming into golden scars in healthy flesh. He bows to God, and God bows back, and God says,
"Behold, my son. He was never an agent of evil, but yet you killed him. I pronounce amnesty for all agents of evil, save those who killed my son. They will die for that."

The Devil screams with rage and cries,
"You cannot forgive them! You must be fair. You must release me to!"

And God looks at him with a gaze that makes the Devil wither. But God does not reply in deafening tones. Instead he smiles and says,
"I forget, Devil. Did you kill my son?"

And the Devil falls down flat on his face and grates out,
"But so did they. They killed your son, too."

And God turns to his Son, the man Jesus, and says,
"Do you want justice against your killers?"
And Jesus shakes his head and says,
"Not all of them. Only this one, the Devil."

And the Devil is lead away to the place of his execution. But of the humans who remain, what of them? 

Well, all I can say is this: are you the sort of person who would have cheered when Jesus was killed? Many people there did. They were the proud, the arrogant, the powerful and the rich. They could not even make one choice to Love God when they saw him, they could not submit to be changed into something good. They chose the freedom to do evil, because not all freedom is good. I do not know what fate they will receive. 

But do not you be one of them. Make your choice now that you would have wept to see God killed. Make the choice now to surrender your freedom to do evil. 
For I know that whoever calls on the name of Jesus will be saved.

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