Sunday, June 28, 2009

Evil: A Solution for Christians, A Problem for Atheists

The bulk and coup de grace` of McCloskey’s argument seems to be the problem of evil, therefore my response will spend most of the time addressing this issue. I have always found this to be a most peculiar objection coming from the atheist. McCloskey seems to think that the actions of Hitler, actions like rape, murder are all actually wrong. How does this typically work though, to say someone has done a wrong? The most immediate and similar example that comes to mind is our basic legal concept. Wrong-doing is exemplified when one breaks established law. My question is, to what law does McCloskey point to say Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin were wrong in their actions? By what authoritative law does McCloskey appeal to to condemn rape and murder beyond merely his personal opinion? Perhaps a common scenario will tease this point out a bit more.

Suppose you are driving down a country road, quite distracted by the beautiful scenery. Your daze is abruptly interrupted by blue and red police car lights. You pull over and the cop approaches your car and asks if you are aware of the posted speed limit and how fast you were going. “Seventy in a fifty-five” he tells you, pointing to a near-by speed limit sign. The violation is obvious; you take your ticket and with a forced smile continue on your way. While kicking yourself down the road you again see the blue and red of dread. You pull over, the cop approaches and hands you a ticket for ten thousand dollars. “What!” you reply ecstatically. The cop replies “Not only do I absolutely hate PT Cruisers, but you got it with a spoiler in mint green, both of which are completely ridiculous. I’m fining you ten thousand dollars for a stupid car with a stupid color”. You like all people respond with complete bewilderment. “Now hold on, that’s not a law. No law says I can be fined for driving a PT Cruiser nor is there one regulating color. You can’t fine me based on just your arbitrary whim”.

Before one can even raise the problem of evil, we have to establish what evil is and that it is a real thing. It can’t just be a by-product of emoting over ones likes or dislikes; under this guise God’s existence can be disproven by children given the existence of bath-time or vegetables. No, evil must be something a lot more substantive if it is to ever be considered as a serious objection against theism. Indeed, something like the first situation between the cop and driver must be in place before this can become meaningful. The question then is does something like this exists and if so, how does it exist? Does there exist something like objective morality, objective moral good from which one can actually deviate to bring about something that can be called a legitimate moral wrong or evil? If no, then the objection dies an abrupt death. However if the atheist says that something like that does exist, is she out of the woods yet? I would argue that in affirming objective evil and thus a necessary objective moral presence in the world from which one can violate, the atheist shoots herself with the gun she wields; and fatally I propose.
But why fatally, this is surely strong claim? In the theists’ worldview, the Judeo-Christian view in particular, there exists a sufficient condition to give reason for something like objective morality, this being, in one view at least, God and specifically His nature. Goodness is grounded in the nature of God and emanates from Him as do rays inextricably from the sun to us. Now of course there are various responses and objections given to this as with virtually every view, but here we at least have a reasonable explanation given to make sense of the morality that we intuitively recognize as a fixture of our existence. If something like objective morality exists “out there” it definitely is not the by-product of physical matter. Incumbent moral ideas can only exist in minds, and if morality is transcendent over and above the opinions of man, like logic, if it is more than that, then it stands to reason that a transcendent mind exists. This we call God. But does atheism have a better explanation for the existence of objective good from which one can rebel so that it can be properly called real evil? I’ve never heard any and McCloskey offers none. What shall we say then? That while the problem of evil at least as an emotional and existential concern still exists for the theist and Christians in particular, it is an even bigger problem for the atheists if it is a real fixture of the universe. The detour meant to veer us off the course in God belief inadvertently loops right back around to Him.

Does this mean the problem of evil is solved? As to not avoid McCloskey’s arguments as exactly stated, I will now focus on the logical problem of evil. McCloskey says “it is because evil exists that we believe God does not exists”. Now I think the aforementioned argument really puts this thinking in peril, but might we entertain McCloskey’s premises to see where else he goes wrong. He asserts that “no perfect being could have created a world in which there was avoidable suffering or in which his creations would (and who could have been created so as not to) engage in morally evil acts, acts which result in the harm of innocent people”. Now no support is given for this assertion and the burden of proof is definitely on McCloskey. However I think a few challenges can be offered.

First, does it necessarily follow in a demonstrable way that a perfect being could not have created a world like McCloskey describes? I’m trying to imagine what his definition of perfect is exactly; I’ll assume his stance is that God is all-powerful and all-good for the sake of speculation. If by omnipotent does he mean God can do anything, even that which is logically contradictory? It seems as though this is his view, for he seems to think God can make people freely choose to only do good which is a contradiction. But if he does think God can do literally anything, then he can’t think God can’t create the world he described, for God is after omnipotent. However if he acknowledges that being all-powerful doesn’t mean God can create any world he wants, like one with square circles, people who kill themselves with their own corpses and other logical absurdities, then he can acknowledge that if God were to grant moral freedom to agents then they necessarily are free to make their own choices either good or evil so that the idea of evil acts by humans and the existence of God are not logically incompatible.

Now suffering is indeed a slippery word and subject; certainly things considered suffering by your average American should hardly be considered such. However people obviously do suffer but does this mean that God logically does not exist? Again McCloskey bears the burden. Suffering is typically caused by the deprivation of a certain need or by the act committed one to another. Man’s free will was already noted, but the bible gives its own defense concerning other kinds of suffering. It states that because of the very evil McCloskey speaks of, the creation is a spoiled one, and interestingly enough the atheist typically agrees or they wouldn’t raise the objection that things are not as they ought to be.

Things are not as they should be because this world is a result of what it means to depart from God. Just as one grows colder and colder as they move away from a heat source, so all creation groans as we separate ourselves from God. Only by embracing and being reconciled to the God McCloskey would like us to reject will our existence be one which he wishes to have. A frequent component in this debate is one of bad things happening to good or innocent people. If the Christian narrative is true, this premise is false. There aren’t any innocent victims so that there are people who somehow deserve a good life who but are deprived by a goof-up on God’s part. Rather, there are only sinful people who, if they experience anything other than the wrath of God, are to be grateful. I realize this conclusion isn’t emotionally satisfying nor flattering to the ego, however if God is real, this deflating of our self-esteem would be an irrelevant factor here.

Finally, God may have morally sufficient reasons for allowing the evil that is seemingly unexplainable from our human perspective. As long as it’s even possible God may have good reasons for permitting evil, then there is no necessary contradiction between the existence of God and the presence of evil even if we don’t know what they are. God would be the only one capable of making that call and because God is all-good, as the atheist is usually willing to concede, it follows then seemingly necessarily (I argue) that he indeed would have such reasons. Consider the following syllogism:

If God is all-good then what He wills and permits would have good ends
Evil is something God permits
Therefore evil has good ends

If this is a sound argument, it follows then that both the logical and probabilistic or evidential arguments against God’s existence and evil need some additional work. It also follows that if this (and it certainly seem to be the case) is one of the integral legs which uphold the table of McCloskey’s arguments it is now a bit wobbly.

1 comment:

Sam said...

Good post, Chris. What do you think about how some people define evil as "that which ought not to be" or "a deviation from what ought to be"? The reason I ask is because if we suppose that God created or allowed evil for a good reason, then it seems to follow that evil is included among things that ought to be. But it's a contradiction to suppose that evil both ought to be and ought not to be. So either there's a problem with the definition of evil as "that which ought not to be" or else it can't be the case that there's a good reason for evil.

I guess you could define evil simply as "a departure or deviation from good," but then what is good? You couldn't define good as "that which ought to be," because then, if evil is a departure or deviation from it, then evil would be "that which ought not to be."

What are your thoughts?