Friday, July 22, 2011

A Quickie on the Problem of Evil

My brother in Christ and Internet bud Rhology has asked me to give my perspective to someone who has brought up the problem of evil. He's given his response, here is mine.

Note: I tried to post it as a comment over there, but Blogger seems to still be having issues with it's commenting system. It's only been what, like three years?

Bible says free will isn't possible due to prophesy:

It would be nice to see a citation here, because the Bible never comes out and says "free will isn't possible" obviously. You say there are a lot of prophecies that present a problem for the free will position. How does foreknowing what will happen mean that it must happen by necessity, or that God predetermined it? It doesn't. God can know what will happen simply in light of knowing only and all true propositions (omniscience) and propositions regarding the future would be included in that. So, God can know what we will freely choose, but don't have to choose, in the future. In other words, when you say, "If the future can be predicted, everything is predetermined," you are stating a non-sequitur.

Your conundrum is, in fact, an example of a modal fallacy. Just because someone knows something WILL happen doesn't mean it MUST or CAN'T NOT (pardon the double negative) happen. It seems quite odd to think it does. I mean we know things will happen all the time. It doesn't therefore mean that they must happen by necessity, or that we predetermined they will happen.

If you want to delve even further into what God knows, there's this concept called middle knowledge in which God knows counterfactuals of creaturely freedom. So He knows what anyone WOULD freely do if placed in any situation. For instance, He knows what I would, in fact, freely choose to do if given the choice to steal a horse in 1895. He also knew logically prior to creating this world that I would respond to your post if placed in the position of seeing it. Given that, it's not hard to see how God can providentially order the world to achieve His ends and not interfere with people's freedom.

Also I agree that free will and determinism are incompatible, but I don't think free will faces any huge philosophical objections at all.

Is free will a good thing:

Well if God granted it to us then, since all He created was good, yes. There are several other possibilities regarding why God allows evil free acts. It may be that there couldn't be a world with this much good without this kind of evil in it (Christ would never have been crucified for instance, which is an immeasurable good). It may be that He has morally sufficient reasons to allow it.The fact is, we don't have that middle knowledge I was talking about, and so therefore don't have sufficient knowledge to judge whether the evil we see is gratuitous. It's awful presumptuous of us to question whether there can't be a sufficiently good reason to allow what God allows.

A sinless heaven is a violation of free will:

How is that? Who says God "alters" our programming? Our programming was "altered" when Adam imputed to us all a sin nature. Perhaps that is removed. Perhaps being in the very presence of THE GOOD we will no longer have any desire, reason, or influences to do evil any longer. None of that entails that free will no longer exists. You've simply asserted that to be the case.

Also, no Christian says God removing free will would make Him evil. It's His prerogative to do that if He wants. But there's no indication He would want a bunch of mindless puppets to control.

So, to answer your three questions:

1. God has middle knowledge and providentially ordered creation in such a way that we freely choose what we want.

2. Free will is from God, and all gifts from God are good. There's no indication that free will is not present in the eschatos. It's not bad, and God allows it because we'd be mindless otherwise (or at least very one dimensional ;-)).

3. They've been solved for centuries, but especially since Alvin Plantinga tore it apart in the 70's.

20 comments:

Patrick said...

As for the Problem of Evil in general my comments that I made under the name “Patrick (Christian)” in the following link may be of interest to you:

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=15584

My first comment there deals with the problem whether or not there is free will in Heaven. In more detail I went into this question in the following link, again under the same name:

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=15624

Comments of mine to the same issue as well as one comment to the question whether or not God’s foreknowledge violates man’s free will can be found in the following link:

http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=15689

Ron Krumpos said...

“Free will” is really quite limited, despite belief that we control ourselves and our lives. We think we have endless choices...until we try to make them. Each decision must not only be based on what we “want to do,” but also on our own capabilities and what is expected of us. Nature and society imprison us, whether we like it or not. The key to release is mystical realization. All in One and One in All, the divine unity, opens the gate between heaven and Earth...between a universal consciousness and most people’s constrained awareness.

bossmanham said...

Ron, I think your thoughts of free will need some nuancing. Beyond that you've got some great assertion there, and I appreciate you stopping by, but the New Age stuff really doesn't get me going at all. If all is one, and one is all (which is commutative; why say both?) then why are there many? Did this perfect "divine consciousness" cough too hard one day and split up? How are there people if we're all part of this divine consciousness?

There's no good evidence for any of this, and it's explicitly unbiblical.

Ron Krumpos said...

All "is" One might be New Age. All "in" One refers to the spiritual essence (soul) which we all share with the divine.

For responses to the one and the many - in spirit, matter and consciousness - see suprarational.org on comparative mysticism.

Seth said...

Have you been reading Schopenhauer Ron? :)

The will, to Schopenhauer, is a metaphysical existence which controls not only human actions ("choices") but all observable phenomena. Sounds similar to how you explained free will.

So there is a "universal consciousness" so to speak, I guess similar to Hegel's collective consciousness. No disrespect to either philosopher because both men were influential in other areas, but their philosophies on the will fail.

Some questions.

1. What do you mean by "nature and society imprison us" ?

2. Why must each decision be based on capabilities and what is expected of us?

The questions might be elementary, but I'm trying to understand your statements.

Patrick said...

My theodicy, which I suggest to be called “Theodicy from divine justice”, can be formulated as follows:

- God’s perfect justice prevents Him from helping sinners (Isaiah 59,1-2).
- Unlike God Christians are not perfectly just. Therefore, unlike God, they are in a position to help sinners. By doing this they may make the respective persons receptive of God’s salvation (Matthew 5,16, 1 Peter 2,11-12, and 3,1-2), which in turn frees these persons from suffering in the afterlife.
- The greater God’s beneficial power due to His love, the greater God’s destructive power due to His justice (see Matthew 13,27-29). Striving to prevent as much suffering as possible God can only interfere to such a degree that the beneficial effect of the interference is not neutralized by the destructive effect of it.
- Someone who dies before he or she reaches the age of accountability, i.e. before he or she can distinguish between good and evil (see Genesis 2,16, Deuteronomy 1,39, and Isaiah 7,16) faces no punishment in the afterlife, as he or she would not have been able to commit sins. So, God may not be inclined to prevent such a person’s death.
- A person’s suffering in this life may have a redeeming effect (Luke 16,25) and consequently contribute to a decrease of the respective person’s suffering in the afterlife; the amount of suffering in this life is so to speak subtracted from the amount of suffering in the afterlife. So, God may not be inclined to relieve this person’s suffering.
- A person’s suffering in this life may make the person receptive of God’s salvation (Luke 15,11-21), which in turn frees this person from suffering in the afterlife.
- Those people who suffer more in this life than they deserve due to their way of life are compensated for it by receiving rewards in Heaven.

Patrick said...

In a paper entitled “Evil, Freedom and the Heaven Dilemma” (2008) (http://www.flint.umich.edu/~simoncu/heaven.pdf) Simon Cushing deals very thoroughly with the question whether or not there is free will in Heaven and what the consequences of the answer to this question is with respect to the Problem of Evil. In the following I’m presenting objections to some of his arguments.

From Simon Cushing’s paper “Evil, Freedom and the Heaven Dilemma”: “Saintly freedom (so named because it is presumably the freedom exercised by moral saints) is genuine freedom that in fact never results in evil. But if there can be a state of existence with truly free beings but no evil, then an omnipotent God could have given us all that saintly freedom here on Earth, thereby both giving us freedom and preventing evil, and a God who was both omnipotent and omnibenevolent would have done so.”

According to Ezekiel 11,19-20, John 8,34-36, Romans 8,29, 2 Corinthians 5,17, and Galatians 5,16-18 God indeed provided us with the possibility to attain that saintly freedom here on Earth, at least to some degree (1 John 1,8). It the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to be in such a state. But one must be willing to strive after this freedom (Romans 6,11-14, 12,2, 13,13-14, Galatians 5,16-18, Ephesians 4,17-24). God will give the Holy Spirit to anyone asking Him (Luke 11,13). We may even expect that one day the vast majority of humankind will be in such a state here on Earth (Isaiah 2,1-5, 11,1-10).

From Simon Cushing’s paper “Evil, Freedom and the Heaven Dilemma”: “God is eternal in the sense that he is outside of time, able to see the beginning and end (should it have them) of the universe (or universes, if there are several) and all events in between simultaneously (or rather, atemporally). His omniscience includes knowing all that anyone who will ever live will ever do because in effect all time is to him as the past would be to the perfect historian with all events laid out.

This view of God’s relationship to the world faces the problem of the apparent inconsistency of God’s omniscience and human free will, if free will requires that, for any free being considering action A at a certain moment, that person genuinely could either do A or not do A. If God already knows that that being will do A, then not-A is not a genuine option.”

I’m not sure if I understand the argument correctly, but it seems to me that unless God explicitely tells a person what he or she will do in the future, God’s omniscience isn’t incompatible with human free will. One can imagine that from God’s perspective all our future acts have already happened. So, He is in the same situation as we are with respect to acts that have already happened. But clearly, the fact that I know how a certain person acted in the past doesn’t mean that this person’s free will is in any way violated.

Patrick said...

Here are two more objections to arguments from Cushing’s paper:

From Simon Cushing’s paper “Evil, Freedom and the Heaven Dilemma”: “According to metaphysical libertarianism, my truly free action is genuinely undetermined by the sum of facts about me (and indeed the entire universe). That is, you could imagine two parallel universes with completely identical histories up to a particular point where I, a free being, am making a choice; the metaphysical libertarian insists that the nature of freedom allows that it is perfectly possible for me to make one choice in one universe and my counterpart another in the other, and that both would be rightly endorsed by the “me” in that world as the choice that he fully intended to make. But if this is so, then it does not matter which action I perform—whichever act I perform will be equally a free action. This point in itself could be enough to subvert the supposed relationship between freedom and desert that T12 seems to require. Surely I only deserve punishment if something about me determined my choice of evil. But if for every evil choice I make there is a good choice that I, with exactly the same history, beliefs, desires and current mental state could have made, then in what sense would I deserve condemnation for the evil choice or praise for the good? Neither is a product of me or a reflection of my character.”

I don’t think that we can always at any time choose any act we want. In my view it’s more that by choosing to act in a specific way we create circumstances which gradually make it more likely that we act in a specific way. The following analogy can illustrate my point: Someone walking on a crest is deviating from the path. The further he goes away the steeper the ground becomes and the more difficult it becomes to walk upright, until there is some point of no return and consequently he is falling down the mountain.

From Simon Cushing’s paper “Evil, Freedom and the Heaven Dilemma”: “However, even if the libertarian can block this apparent implication of his view, there are further problems for the theist who wishes to use this libertarianism to respond to the Heaven Dilemma. For it would appear that it implies that God could prevent all evil without disrupting freedom. Let us suppose, for example, that I am contemplating a heinous murder. I raise the knife. At this point I could genuinely go either way – stab or not. The future where I go ahead and kill is as possible as the future where I put the knife aside, and both are equally consistent with everything about me up until this moment (so that, on Swinburne’s view, not even God can predict which would happen). Suppose, at this point, God intervenes and ensures that I do not kill, and that therefore evil is averted. Has he subverted my freedom? I do not see that he could be said to have. This action is just as in keeping with all of my character and intentions as the evil action. I can endorse it as my choice just as willingly as the action of committing murder, and with just as much justification. It is possible that I would have done it anyway, but if I had, it would feel no different to me from the case where God intervenes. Nobody can claim that God has altered my character or intentions or made me do anything against my will. But if all that is true, then it is surely within the power of an omnipotent God to have a world of free beings without evil, provided he is prepared to intervene (which, as an omnibenevolent being, he certainly should be).”

In the thread “Accounting for Natural Evil (part 3)” of the blog “Common Sense Atheism” (http://commonsenseatheism.com/?p=15584) I gave a reason, based on Matthew 13,27-29, why God may not be inclined to interfere in this world more conspicuously.

Patrick said...

From 1 Corinthians 13,12, 1 John 3,2, and Revelation 22,3-4 one can draw the conclusion that the residents of Heaven have perfect knowledge of God. In this life people change their mind about persons or matters when being faced with new insights that make them revise their views. In a situation however, in which one has perfect knowledge of God any decision concerning Him may be definitive; one cannot change one’s mind due to new insights. So, it may indeed be the case that for the residents of Heaven it is impossible to turn away from God. But this doesn’t mean that they have no free will. They made use of it when they freely chose to turn towards God and love Him. Moreover, from John 14,15 one can draw the conclusion that those in Heaven are willing not to sin, from Galatians 5,16-18 that they are able not to sin.

Ron Krumpos said...

Seth,

Another paragraph from the same chapter might partially answer your questions:

Outer walls are the boxes of Nature and of society. Inclement weather, lack of sunlight, gravity, and/or other natural phenomena may restrain our movements. Our own natural aptitudes, practiced talents and learned skills are always lacking in some areas. Human nature is controlled mostly by society. What we believe that other people expect of us greatly influences how we feel, think and act. Considering the reactions of our family, friends, business associates, community, and/or nation determines much of what we do. Those “laws” of Nature and society govern our lives, usually more so than we wish. Mystical awareness can allow us to obey divine law here and now.

bossmanham said...

Patrick,

I don't see how your first couple of points could work.

Isaiah 59: 1-2 doesn't say that God CAN'T help people, but seems to say that they're rotten sinners who need redemption. That seems to be about 18 verses later it speaks of the reddemer who God will send to save Zion from these sins.

Humans, as sinners, could never be in the position to assuage God's wrath unless they were innocent in some way.

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding.

bossmanham said...

Ron,

Forgive me if I leave the discussion to you and Seth, as I'm not familiar enough with the New Age to properly address it. I do know from what I have seen, however, that it seems to be based on a lot of useless assertion with no evidential or logical backing at all. The rhetorical fluff sounds very "spiritual" but ends up in a lot of gibberish. Perhaps some arguments, like us Christians have, would help?

bossmanham said...

Patrick,

I do want to thank you for providing such good material to follow up with.

Patrick said...

bossmanham

If you think Isaiah 59,1-2 does not express what I suggested, Psalm 66,18, Isaiah 1,15-17, John 9,31, or James 4,3 may be seen as conveying this idea. Is it from a Biblical perspective really far fetched to assume that God’s perfect justice could prevent Him from helping sinners? Moreover, why should God help a sinner in this life and punish him in the afterlife?

bossmanham said...

Patrick, I think those verses say what orthodox Christianity has always said. Certainly the Lord literally isn't deaf all of a sudden because we sin. He knows all things, and He hears our cries for mercy, as the Isaiah passage says. The verses, whether explicitly or metaphorically, speak of God's perfect justice and His inability to forget or snub His nose, so to speak, at sin.

Perhaps you're using "can't help" in to mean just that? If you think He literally can't help, then I wonder what you think Christ coming from God to do His Father's will exactly was. He is the One that God hears, as He is our mediator (1 Timothy 2:5).

Furthermore, there are plenty of passages in the OT that you have to ignore to take this strange interpretation of the verses you cited where God hears people's cries. He heard the cries of the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 3:7), hears His people when they humble themselves though they have still sinned (2 Chronicles 7:14), and ultimately heard the need of man for a savior.

In summary, I think it's pretty clear that the passages that speak of God not hearing people is that He doesn't forget their sin without payment. Christ was that payment, that help, sent from the Father. As God Himself, Christ was directly helping us by taking our sins on Himself. That's Christianity.

As to why God help us here and not in the afterlife, that's because when we die is when the judgment occurs (Hebrews 9:27).

Patrick said...

bossmanham

You seem to misunderstand my argument. My point is that God does not react to the prayers of UNREPENTANT sinners. After all, the passage you refer to from 2 Chronicles is addressed towards people who “humble themselves”. Moreover, I’m not suggesting that God is not aware of people’s prayers, but that being perfectly just people’s sins make it impossible for God to do what they ask Him to do. My conviction is that God cannot help a sinner before the respective sins are dealt with legally.

You wrote: “If you think He literally can't help, then I wonder what you think Christ coming from God to do His Father's will exactly was.”

But even in this case Christ’s work of redemption is only of use for people who repent and are willing to turn towards God. For all the others does apply what the 17th century German poet Angelus Silesius wrote:

“Und wäre Christus tausend Mal zu Bethlehem geboren
Und nicht in Dir,
Du wärst doch ewiglich verloren.”

(“Had Christ been born a thousand times in Bethlehem
And not in you,
You would be lost forever nonetheless.”)

You wrote: “As to why God help us here and not in the afterlife, that's because when we die is when the judgment occurs (Hebrews 9:27).”

The ultimate judgement will occur in the afterlife, but according to John 3,18, 3,36, or Ephesians 2,1-3 a provisory judgement already sets in in this life.

You wrote: “In summary, I think it's pretty clear that the passages that speak of God not hearing people is that He doesn't forget their sin without payment.”

That’s exactly my point.

bossmanham said...

I apologize for misunderstanding Patrick.

Patrick said...

bossmanham

Never mind. I should have expressed myself more accurately. One should replace “sinners” by “people with unforgiven sins”.

John said...

Bossmanhan,

This may be a ridiculous question, but it's something that I've been wondering about nevertheless, and I can't seem to find anything written on the matter. Anyway, do you have any idea how Adam imputed sin to this universe? If evolution were true, then how could an "Adam" actually have existed?

BenFromCanada said...

I finally reply: http://benfromcanada.blogspot.com/2011/07/replying-to-criticism.html