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Christian Apologetics, IV The Problem of Evil & Suffering

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1 Christian Apologetics, IV The Problem of Evil & Suffering
Rob Koons “Unpublished”

2 Schedule Sept. 26: Scientific evidence for God
Oct. 3: Philosophical proofs of God; absolute truth & possibility of knowledge Oct. 10: Historical evidences for the truth of the Gospel; other religions Oct. 17: Why does God allow unnecessary suffering and evil? Oct. 24: Roman Catholicism, plus Jennifer Fulwiler,

3 Outline for Tonight Some Distinctions: logical vs. existential problems, defense vs. theodicy Two Logical Problems: Deductive and Inductive The Free Will Defense Some Bad Theodicies Good Theodicies: Faith & Reason Finding Meaning and Value in Suffering

4 1. Logical vs. Existential Problems
Logically: is it rational to believe in a loving and all-powerful God, given the moral evil and horrible suffering in the world? Existentially: how can I trust God when He allows me to suffer? How can I find meaning or value in my suffering?

5 The Definition of “Evil”
Philosophers use the word “evil” in this context to mean anything bad: sin, death, suffering, pain, ignorance, poverty, folly, etc.

6 Defense vs. Theodicy A defense of Christian theism is an attempt to show that it is rational to believe in God, even in the absence of a known explanation of why God allows the evil He does. A theodicy is an attempt to provide the explanation (either fully or in part) of why God allows the evil He does. (“Theodicy” comes from the Greek for “justifying God”.) A defense may take the form of offering a possible theodicy (one that might be true, for all we know).

7 2. Two Logical Problems The Deductive Argument from Evil: it is logically inconsistent to believe that there exists both an all-loving and all-powerful God and real evil. The Inductive Argument from Evil: the existence of evil (especially, in its actual quantity and quality) make it very unlikely that a good and almighty God exists. Atheism fits the evidence better.

8 The Lucretian Deductive Argument
Evil exists. An all-loving God would want (above all else) to eliminate all evil. An almighty God would be able to eliminate all evil. If God wanted (above all else) to eliminate all evil and was able to do so, there would be no evil. Therefore, there is no all-loving and almighty God.

9 A Modern Version (J. L. Mackie)
Evil exists. The best possible world would be free of all evil. A good God would want to actualize the best possible world. An almighty God would be able to actualize the best possible world. Therefore, there is no good and almighty God.

10 The Most Critical Problem
Premise 2 is just not plausible: why think that the best world is free of all evil? Some goods are impossible without co-existing evils. For example, one can’t exercise compassion unless suffering exists, heroism unless danger exists, mercy unless sin exists. God would not eliminate an evil if eliminating it also eliminates an even greater good.

11 Other Problems with the Argument
I won’t challenge premise 1: evil is real. Is there such a thing as “the best possible world”? Maybe any world could be improved upon. Does God really care about how good the world is as a whole? He loves people, not worlds. Can an almighty God actualize any possibility? The Free Will Defense says No.

12 3. Alvin Plantinga’s Free Will Defense
There is a possible world (call it W*) in which Adam and Eve and all other creatures freely avoid all sin. Let’s grant (at least for the sake of argument) that W* would have been better than the actual world. Could God have used His power to actualize W*? Maybe not. (Remember, this is only a “defense”.)

13 Conditionals of Freedom
Plantinga revived a theory of freedom developed by the Spanish Jesuit philosopher Luis De Molina ( ), called “Molinism”. It remains a permissible opinion for Catholics. (C1) If Adam were in a Genesis 3:6 situation, he would freely choose to eat the fruit. C1 is contingently true, and something known by God, but its truth was under the control of Adam, not God. Given (C1), world W* was not a world God could actualize (without Adam’s cooperation).

14 Transworld Depravity? But, even if God knew that Adam would sin in a Genesis 3:6 situation, couldn’t God have created a sin-free world by putting Adam in different situations involving free choices, or by creating other possible humans in Adam’s place? Maybe not. It might be the case (contingently) that Adam suffers from “transworld depravity”, and so might every possible free creature.

15 Universal Transworld Depravity
Adam suffers from TD if, in every possible world containing one or more free choices for Adam to make, Adam would have freely made the wrong choice at least once. For all we know, Adam and all possible free creatures might suffer from TD. If so, God would have known that He could not actualize a sin-free world.

16 A Defense, not a Theodicy
Plantinga offers this argument as a defense against the Deductive Argument from evil, not as a theodicy. Plantinga’s Universal Transworld Depravity hypothesis, if possibly true, demonstrates that there is no logical inconsistency in believing in a good and all-powerful God and the existence of evil. See Plantinga’s God, Freedom and Evil, or Warranted Christian Belief, chapter 14.

17 A Thomistic Account of Free Will
Dominican theologians, following St. Thomas Aquinas, hold that God can ensure, in any single case, that a human being freely refrain from sinning. However, given that human beings are real creatures with a rational and fallible nature (and not merely puppets or robots), it would be deeply incongruous if they never sinned. God wishes, in each case, that the creature choose rightly, but He cannot will that they always do so – if He is to respect their created natures.

18 Free Will and Foreknowledge?
How can we have genuinely free will, if God already knows, long in advance, what we will choose? The Christian Roman philosopher Boethius ( AD) solved this problem: God is beyond or ‘outside of’ time. He doesn’t fore-know what we will do: He timelessly sees us doing it as we do it. He sees all of time all at ‘once’, in a single act of knowledge.

19 But why Suffering? If the Free Will defense works, we can explain why sin exists. But why suffering and death? Suffering is a natural consequence of sin, both commission and omission. If free choice is to be morally significant, it must have consequences. Sin requires death, and death necessarily involves suffering.

20 So, why Death? Given the reality of sin, physical death was a relative blessing (a necessary evil). Without death, there would be no limit to the evils of tyranny, both grand and petty: Death puts a term limit to the power of any tyrant. Death provides an escape for the victim, and a limit to the harm and suffering that can be inflicted.

21 From the Deductive to the lnductive
In the last 40 years, professional philosophers have generally accepted Plantinga’s free will defense as a definitive answer to the deductive argument. Attention has turned to the inductive argument.

22 The Inductive Argument
Evil exists, in large quantities and severe quality. If a good and almighty God existed, then it would be very unlikely that so much and so severe evil would exist. If there were no God at all, it would be quite likely that so much evil would exist. So, the probability of God’s existence, relative to the evidence of evil, is low.

23 Partial vs. Total Evidence
As Plantinga has pointed out, it is quite possible for something to be very improbable, relative to one kind of evidence, and yet certain, relative to our total evidence. For example, given the data about the frequency of last names in the world, it is very unlikely that I would have a mother-in-law named “Moulthrop” and a friend named “Bonevac”. The odds against this are about 7 billion to 1. Yet, I know it to be true, with probability nearly 100%.

24 Total Evidence for God In the same way, given our total evidence about God, including our knowledge through faith of God’s love (revealed in Christ), we know with certainty that God is good and all-powerful, even if that were unlikely given just the evidence concerning evil and suffering. However, I would argue that the existence of evil and suffering are not especially unlikely, given God’s goodness. Let’s turn now to theodicies.

25 4. Bad Theodicies Karma and reincarnation: present suffering is punishment for sins in past lives. Evil (sin, pain, death) are unreal. Apparent evils are only blessings in disguise. Camus’s The Plague, quietism. God is not perfectly good: He’s a mixture of good & evil, or beyond moral categories. A finite “god”, who tries but fails to prevent evils.

26 5. Good Theodicies: Faith & Reason
We can approach the problem of theodicy from the perspective of faith (taking into account the revelation of God in Christ, the Scriptures and the Church) and from that of natural reason (philosophy). Both have something to contribute.

27 Lessons of Faith The Fall (Genesis 1-3). Sin, pain and death were not parts of God’s original plan. The New Jerusalem (Revelation 21). Sin, pain and death will not be part of God’s new creation. Not Plan A or Plan Z. “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself will be among them, 4 and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”

28 Pain, Illness and Death are Truly Bad
Jesus wept before the grave of his friend Lazarus. (John 11:35) Most of Jesus’ miracles were acts of healing. He never failed to heal those who asked Him in faith. This reveals God’s unconstrained or absolute attitude toward suffering: He is always compassionate, always desiring to relieve pain. The Church is charged with a mission of healing (Mathew 10:8, CCC ).

29 The Book of Job Job does not suffer the loss of his family and his health because of his sin: he was singled out (by Satan) because of his righteousness. Job’s trials are not God’s idea, but God does permit them. Job is held up as a model of faith (Ezekiel 14, James 5), despite the fact that he complains bitterly and questions God’s justice. We should be honest with God about our doubts.

30 Jesus: John 9, Luke 13 As He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. 2 And His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” 3 Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” “Do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were  worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

31 Contributions of Philosophy
Privation theory of evil – from the Neo-Platonists, adopted by Augustine, Aquinas.

32 Privation Theory of Evil
Every evil (sin, illness, ignorance, death) is simply the absence of the corresponding good (righteousness, health, knowledge, life). God didn’t create evil: everything God creates and sustains in being is good. Evil is the result of creatures falling away (on their own accord) from God’s intended fullness of life.

33 Why didn’t God create a better World?
Maybe He did! Who knows how many worlds and kinds of creatures there are? We know He created many unfallen creatures of much higher wisdom than ours: seraphim, cherubim. The question is: why shouldn’t God also create, in addition, creatures like us, who are weaker and fallible? Isn’t it better that we exist, rather than not exist at all?

34 What are God’s Ethics? Clearly, God is not a ‘negative utilitarian’: His goal is not to minimize the total quantity of pain. Nor is He an average-utility maximizer. He could have maximized the average happiness of the world by creating absolutely nothing, since the Three Persons of the Trinity are perfectly happy (beyond the possible happiness of any creature). God’s nature is Love (Agape). He gives what is good (including Himself) to other persons.

35 An Agapeistic Problem of Evil
God loves all human beings perfectly. Whom God loves, He desires to give every good. An omnipotent God could give every good to every human person. If God desires something and is able to do it, then He does do it. Evil is the absence of some good. So, no human being can experience any evil.

36 What went Wrong? It is premise 4 that is faulty:
4. If God desires something and is able to do it, then He does do it. This is true only if God has no conflicting desires or moral (“deontic”) constraints. A deontic constraint is an ethical prohibition that forbids doing something, even if its consequences would be very desirable. For example, there are deontic constraints that forbid breaking a promise or telling a lie, even when doing so would produce the greatest happiness for those affected.

37 Why Deontic Constraints?
Since God is absolute goodness, He cannot be bound by any deontic constraints except for those that follow from His essence (like truthfulness) or those He has voluntarily taken on (in the form of something like vows or promises). But, if God truly loves us, why would He take on any vows or promises that would prevent Him from giving us any good? He wouldn’t: unless the constraint is a condition of our very existence.

38 God and the Creation of a Real World
In order to create a real world, including creatures will real natures and meaningful choices, God must undertake some deontic constraints that prevent Him from making every choice made by every creature conform to God’s own preferences. God must adopt a limited interference policy. Such a policy need not forbid all miracles, but it must make them the exception rather than the rule. (See C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain.)

39 Ivan Karamazov’s Argument

40 Ivan Karamazov’s Argument
If God exists, He loves little children. If God loves little children, He would have the paramount desire (above all other considerations) to prevent them from suffering horribly. God is able to prevent any child from suffering horribly. If God is able to satisfy one of His paramount desires, He does so. Yet, little children do suffer horribly. So, God doesn’t exist.

41 Love Presupposes Existence
If God loves someone, that love presupposes the person’s actual existence. You cannot truly love someone who never has existed and never will exist. Our existence presupposes the causal structure of the world at our conception, including God’s deontic self-constraints (and including the sins of previous generations). (So argues my teacher Robert M. Adams.)

42 God’s Self-Restraint does not Impugn His Love
Consequently, God’s self-restraint (in fidelity to His adopted deontic constraints) cannot count against His love toward us, whose very existence entails the existence of those very constraints. One last worry: a loving parent would violate any moral constraint to prevent a child’s horrible suffering. Perhaps, but we cannot sensibly ask this of God. God’s fidelity to His own vows must be absolute, if He is to be God.

43 How can a good God send anyone to hell?
Those who are in hell are there at their own insistence, not God’s. “Hell is God’s great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human choice.” G. K. Chesterton “The doors of hell are locked from the inside.” C. S. Lewis (The Problem of Pain) We don’t know how many will end up in hell. We may hope that no one will.

44 Does God arbitrarily and pointlessly punish the damned?
The evil of hell is primarily separation from God, which is the very thing that the damned insist upon. Milton’s Satan: “I would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven.” To the extent that God does punish the damned, St. Thomas Aquinas teaches that the punishment is a loving discipline from God to prevent the person from falling deeper into spiritual darkness.

45 The Atheist’s Problem of Evil
The atheist also has an intellectual problem generated by the existence of evil. From an atheistic or naturalistic point of view, human suffering, illness and death are a fully natural and normal part of the world. Moreover, what we call “evil” would be a natural and normal part of human motivation, generated (by natural selection) in the same way as what we call “good”. Stephen Pinker: rape is “natural”.

46 The Existential Problem of Evil
How can we trust God in the midst of suffering? We must remember that God cares and that He wants to relieve our suffering. In fact, He certainly will: in the next life, if not in this one. The use of prayers, sacraments, and sacramentals all expand God’s opportunities to act (God can’t answer a prayer if we don’t pray). But there can be no guarantee that any prayer will be answered within any fixed time frame.

47 Why Doesn’t God Answer all Prayers Immediately?
This wouldn’t have been a reasonable constraint for God to adopt. It’s vitally important that we learn to trust God, walking by faith and not by sight. If we could see prayers always answered immediately, there would be no room for faith, and without faith it would be impossible to please God (to grow in our love for God).

48 The Need for a Cognitive Distance
In order for us to have a free and mutually loving relationship with God, God has to maintain a cognitive distance – enough evidence to make faith reasonable, but not so much to make it impossible. Even in the garden of Eden, God appeared in human form, intermittently. No beatific vision. “You cannot see My face, for no man can see Me and live!” (Exodus 33:20) We need to sanctified before we can enjoy the vision of God. This is why we need the probationary period of walking by faith (even purgatory) before we’ll be able to see God in His essence.

49 What Good can We find in Suffering?
Romans 8:28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Note: He causes things to work together for good, not necessarily for the best. Suffering remains bad – so we should always try to relieve it, but when we can’t, God can always bring from it a countervailing good.

50 Four Goods We can learn to trust in God’s power, despite our weakness. (Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” 2 Corinthians 12:7-9) We glorify God by our patient faith, and we partake of that glory in eternity: For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison. (2 Corinthians 4:17)

51 Unity with Christ 3. We are united with Christ in His passion.
Suffering can “unite us with his redemptive passion”; it becomes “a participation in the saving work of Jesus.” CCC 1505, 1521 4. In that unity with Christ’s passions, we can make reparations for our sins and for the sins of others: Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions. (Colossians 1:24)

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