Thoughts on the Problem of Evil

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There seems to be a general consensus in contemporary academia that there is no bigger problem for the Christian apologist than the problem of evil.

It is a problem often presented, unlike most questions in which an objective answer is important, in extremely emotional terms.  This is indeed unusual.  Contemporary psychology indicates that negative emotions in particular cloud our judgment, activating primal circuits in our brains rather than those necessary for higher order thinking.  For this reason, emotions are often purposefully left out of objective discussion.

I will not go so far as to say that an answer to the problem of evil can be satisfying even without providing some degree of emotional comfort, so long as it is logically consistent.  But in light of this psychological principle, I will encourage the questioner to consider, and seek to diminish, any inhibiting effect his emotions might have on his ability to reason as we go forward.

The common version of the problem of evil (or suffering) goes like this:

“If God were real, He would not allow this kind of evil and suffering to exist in the world.  Therefore, there is no God.”

This argument may be emotionally moving, but it is objectively speaking, an unsophisticated argument.

The cynic here is clearly appealing to a universally accessible standard of morality by which to judge good and evil.  If allowing innocent people to suffer is not objectively wrong, then the entire argument is a mere opinion.  If allowing innocent people to suffer is objectively wrong, then the questioner must explain where he gets his objective standard from, a task that is impossible without an appeal to the existence of the supernatural, the very thing he was trying to disprove.

The fact of the matter is that our unshakeable internal sense of morality betrays God’s existence to us.  Without even realizing this, the cynic appeals to that internal belief in an objective morality even in his very arguments against the God who gave it to him.

There is however, a more sophisticated way of stating the question:

“A belief system which states that God is all knowing, all powerful, and all loving, and which also acknowledges that innocent people do suffer according to an objective moral standard, is logically inconsistent and therefore erroneous.”

In the previous argument, the cynic betrays himself by revealing his own hidden belief in the objective supernatural.  In this argument, however, the cynic merely points out an understood inconsistency in the believer’s worldview without making any contradictions of his own.

After all, believer’s are the ones who insist on a universal morality.  If they want to keep both their morality and their God, they need to explain this apparent contradiction.

The obvious hidden assumption in this latter argument is that God’s failure to intervene in situations of the earthly suffering of innocent people violates the morality that He himself establishes.  It is obvious that God is indeed remaining inactive in the prevention of the suffering of innocent people.  But is it possible that this does not violate the morality that He has established?

Remember that in order to refute this argument, we need only to demonstrate that there are no contradictions in our faith.

And there certainly are not.  Christianity clearly ensures that in the end, all will be made right.  Justice will be served, and the wicked will suffer for their heinous crimes against the innocent (Romans 12:19).  And indeed, the righteous will be rewarded to such a degree that the suffering we experienced on earth will not even compare with the glory that is then revealed to those who deserve it (Romans 8:18, 1 Peter 5:10).

Only if we look at death as the end, as atheists are accustomed to doing, is there an apparent contradiction in the believer’s worldview.  But since death is not the end for the believer, and ultimate justice is guaranteed in his belief system, there is no contradiction present in the argument that we are addressing.  The cynic may dismiss such a belief system as silly, but he cannot rightfully claim that it is logically inconsistent and therefore erroneous.  His argument is in shambles.

Christianity actually offers a response to what we see around us.  It has an answer for the rage and despair that we feel in the face of evil.

Atheism does not.  The only answer we have is that all of this suffering is meaningless, happening for no reason, never to be avenged or made right unless some human manages to take his own personal vengeance, or somehow erase the past before he lays down and dies forever.

It is an inescapable conclusion that if our existence is the product of mere chance, then senseless crimes are as reasonable as any other outcome.  English journalist Steve Turner put it so powerfully:

If chance be the Father of all flesh, disaster is his rainbow in the sky, and when you hear “State of Emergency! Sniper Kills Ten! Troops on Rampage! Whites go Looting! Bomb Blasts School!” it is but the sound of man worshipping his maker.

We can choose to believe God when He tells us that all will be made right in the end, or we can choose to believe “science” that our suffering is senseless, never to be made right.  But we cannot appeal to an objective moral law in our insistence that the moral lawgiver does not exist, nor can someone who properly understands the Christian worldview claim that it is inconsistent.

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The Cosmological Argument: An Intelligible, Contemporary Version

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Statement of Intention:

The cosmological argument for the existence of God is nothing new.  In fact, atheists indicate that they are getting tired of refuting it over and over again.  But because of recent advances in science and philosophy, the cosmological argument is actually stronger than ever.

My intention here is not to simply restate the same argument that has always been made in the same way that it has always been presented, but to present it in a clear and concise, up-to-date, relevant way that internally addresses the claims that atheists make in their responses to it.

Presentation of Argument:

1) Anything that exists either a) has a cause outside of itself (and is a “contingent being,”) or b) is causeless or self-causing (and is a “necessary being.”)

*Note that the cause that resulted in a contingent being is itself a thing that exists, and thus it also must be either a contingent or a necessary being.

2) Since a contingent being exists, it must be a) the result of an infinite string of other contingent beings, or b) the direct result of a necessary being, or of a string of one or more contingent beings that ends in a necessary being.

It should be obvious once these concepts are understood that the vast majority of entities that we can identify in our world (physical objects of all sorts, people, etc.) are in fact the result of a very long line of contingent beings.

So is this very long string of contingent beings infinite, or does it end in the existence of a necessary being?  This brings us to our third premise.

3) An infinite series of causes never reaches a final product, so nothing that exists in the present can have resulted from an infinite string of contingent beings.

*Mentally note the difference between “eternal” and “infinite.”  Eternity merely indicates that something is outside of time, while infinity indicates a quantity with no bounds.  Infinity may be a useful concept in abstract mathematics, but in reality it is by definition an impossibility for us to have arrived here from an infinite string of previous causes, since one more cause would always have to be added before we could arrive at the present, and one more, and one more, etc.  In any case, it is unsatisfactory to answer the question “where do contingent beings come from” with the response “other contingent beings make them.”

4) In light of these three previous premises, since either an infinite string of contingent beings or the existence of at least one necessary being must have brought us to the present, and since an infinite string of causes can not have done so, a necessary being must exist.

Very well then.  A being which either caused itself or has no cause must exist or at least have existed in the past.

Addressing The Most Common Objection:

The common follow-up question: “then where did the first cause come from?” displays a failure to properly understand the argument.  If the argument is properly understood, it logically demonstrates that an uncaused or self-caused being must exist, it is an unavoidable conclusion that can only be escaped if one of the premises can be shown false.

Let me illustrate this concept this way: whether you are a believer, an agnostic, or an atheist, you absolutely must acknowledge that something is self-causing or uncaused.  It could be the universe.  It could be a god.  It could be a god that made a god.  But you absolutely must stop somewhere and call it the beginning.  Without a beginning for your story you can never get to the middle.

Taking the Argument Further:

To suggest that at this point I have proven that God exists would be shortsighted and naive.  I have simply proven that something is uncaused or self-caused.  So why not the universe?  After all, if the laws in the universe can explain its own behavior, why make up a God to go one step beyond the evidence when He is unnecessary to explain the nature of material reality?

The common response to those questions from a thinking believer is that the evidence for the big bang has proven that the universe had a beginning, and if it had a beginning then it had a cause and it thus must be a contingent being.  This is reasonable because in reality we observe that a thing can be a certain way in the simple case that it already was a certain way and nothing has changed it, but nothing begins or happens without something causing it to be so.

But let us humor the hypothetical atheistic standpoints that the universe caused itself suddenly at the big bang, or that an uncaused set of laws called it into existence.  The laws and constants that govern our reality, and the math behind it all, are said to be sufficient to have called the universe into existence, creating matter, time, etc. in the process.

The laws that govern the universe might possibly be capable of this act… if they were actually capable of doing any act!  But laws don’t actually govern, they simply describe.  The laws of nature do not have authority, ordering around the universe, commanding it to behave a certain way.  They simply describe for us the patterns that we have found in the universe’s behavior.

In fact, that atheists would suggest that natural laws “govern” our universe,  essentially commanding it to act a certain way and “calling” the universe into existence betrays the intuitiveness of the idea that a mind really is at work here!  Something with agency, something with the power and authority to establish such organized behavior is indeed at work, and natural laws describe this agent.

The bottom line is that acts of governing, commanding, and calling are only doable by a being with agency.  Natural laws are merely descriptive principles of observed patterns in our universe, and descriptions of recognized patterns cannot do anything, they are mere information.

Whatever the necessary being behind everything is, it has caused our universe to behave in the way that our natural laws describe.  Logic has brought us to God’s doorstep.

See a problem with my argumentation?  Point it out in the comments, I’m always looking for new clarity.

Love: the Cosmic Glue of the Universe

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The Bible teaches in the first chapter of Paul’s letter to the Colossians that in Christ “all things hold together.”  Christ is the cosmic glue that creates order out of chaos.  

He does this, as many apologists have pointed out, in defiance of the Second Law of Thermodynamics.  He reaches into a reality that by its own natural laws ought to move from order to disorder – from having pockets of heat and activity to being calm and cool throughout, from being organized to being chaotic – and He orchestrates its ongoing organization and meaning.

Thus we find ourselves, in a world bursting with meaningful information and beautiful, elegant complexity.  We find ourselves conscious, a fact that stuns and stumps atheistic scientists to this day.  We find ourselves in a world with bananas and oranges conveniently waiting to be picked, peeled, and eaten.  With chickens producing eggs like factories for us to crack and fry.  With tides and winds that have moved our watercraft for centuries.  With a moon and starts that taught us about the times to plant and harvest our crops.  It is a world with language, emotions, morals, and ideas.  A world phenomenally balanced between any extreme condition that might make it immeasurable more mundane.

So how does He do it?

Jesus glues the universe together (Colossians 1:17,) Jesus is God (John 1:1,) and God is love (1 John 4:8.)  Therefore I suggest that love is that glue that orchestrates and solidifies this universe.

But I want to define love far more broadly than the emotional feeling that we typically associate with the word.  Love is an affinity of one entity for another, even despite resistance or opposition.

By this definition, the planet earth loves the sun.  Despite the inertia constantly pulling it out into the darkness, away from all warmth or order, it gravitates towards the sun with all of its mass so that it may stay nearby.

Yes, by my definition there are four physical loves that accompany the other emotional or spiritual ones: gravity, electromagnetic force, and the strong and weak nuclear forces.  

And so atoms bond when their affinity for each other overcomes their resistance.  They form molecules which may build up into beautiful and orderly crystals or, by the intelligent hand of our designer, our very DNA.  These molecules also work together to build our tissues, which build our organs, which work together in various organ systems to build our bodies.  Our bodies in turn build societies and organizations.

Order.  Dictated by the laws of attraction.

Many scientists today acknowledge these physical loves but deny the spiritual ones, writing them off as illusions.  Even their love for their own families and friends they boil down to a meaningless electrical and chemical event.  They acknowledge the exchanging of electrons in the formation of ionic bonds, but they refuse the forgiveness of a God who would welcome them into a familial bond with Him through His Son’s sacrifice.

In then end, all things devoid of adequate physical love will not hold together physically.  It follows that all things devoid of sufficient spiritual love will not hold together spiritually.  The Bible’s description of hell as a place of fire turns out to be a very insightful description.  The breakdown of order.  The stripping away, piece by infinitesimal piece, in a beautiful but horrible display, of all that once constituted a meaningful whole.

Even as they learn to preserve and improve their own buildings and bridges, physical environments, and even their own bodies, they neglect their own souls, and unchain themselves from the Son.

http://imagine.gsfc.nasa.gov/docs/ask_astro/answers/970108b.html