PHILOSOPHICAL AND BILBICAL RESPONSES TO CLASSIC ARGUMENTS FROM EVIL

CLASSICAL ARUGMENTS FROM EVIL

Although the story recounted in the book of Job is not the oldest story portrayed in the Bible, the book Job itself, it is argued,[1] is the oldest of the divinely inspired canonical texts[2].  Fittingly, the protagonist of that book, Job the Uzzite, and his friends grapple with one of mankind’s oldest problems, the problem of evil. Through no fault of his own, Job suffers the loss of vast amounts of wealth, failing health, and the death of all his children.[3] A major theme of the book is how he and his friends cope with and try to understand the tragic events that have befallen him.  God’s role in and possible culpability for the horrible events in Job’s life, among other issues, are called into question.  Tragic situations like that of Job are hardly unique to him.  Mankind as a whole is beset by evil and ever-beleaguered by the negative experiences that accompany its manifestation.  Experiences like those of Job raise a classical philosophical quandary: “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent.  Is he able, but not willing?  Then he is malevolent.  Is he both able and willing?  Whence then is evil?”[4]

Enlightenment Philosopher, David Hume, credited the phrasing of this question to the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus.[5]  This question, as formulated by Epicurus,[6] is one of the oldest recorded statements about evil as it relates to God in Western thought. A more recent statement on this classical philosophical quandary, which has become formally known as “The Problem from Evil,” was formulated by philosopher of religion J.L. Mackie.  According to Mackie, the problem from Evil[7] in its simplest form is this: “God is omnipotent, God is wholly good; and yet evil exists.”[8] This is a sobering statement; one that shakes the faith of many.  The Problem from Evil makes it seem as if theistic belief (in a wholly good, omnipotent God) contradicts itself.  Throughout the years, the simple problem from evil identified by Mackie and Epicurus has been challenged, rethought, and, perhaps as a result challenges, evolved into various, more nuanced arguments from evil.  Three such classical arguments from evil that every Christian apologist should understand and be prepared to refute are:[9] (1) The Logical Argument from Evil, (2) The Probabilistic Argument from Evil, (3) and the Argument from Gratuitous Evil.  These arguments can be refuted philosophically (using general revelation) as well as biblically (using special revelation); the Christian apologist should be prepared to use both general and special revelation to make a defense for the hope that is within him.[10]  Before engaging these arguments from evil, the apologist must also be acquainted with two understandings (or categories) of evil: (1) natural evil and (2) moral evil.  Furthermore, he must be wary of the temptation to engage in refutations of these arguments that are less than biblical for the sake of defeating them.  Scripture and general revelation provide avenues by which these arguments can be refuted in ways that are faithful to the biblical text and respectful of God’s perfect nature.

MORAL EVIL AND NATURAL EVIL

 “Evil comes in a plethora of types and instances, but the field divides into two categories: natural evil and human evil.  Natural evil is the natural world turned savage: tornadoes, earthquakes, tidal waves, hurricanes, floods. Diseases and deformity fill out this category, since they are not usually instigated by humans…Then there is evil from human hands (moral evil). It comes from the gun, the knife, the bomb, the pen and the tongue.”[11] Arguments from evil and the theodicies by which they are refuted interact with one or both of these categories of evil.  For example, in the minds of some, a soul-building theodicy may be a more plausible defense against an argument from natural evil than a free will theodicy. Thus, being able to identify the categories of evil to which various arguments from evil refer is very important to understanding them.  Unless, that is, one denies the existence of evil altogether. The idea that evil does not exist was popularized by Augustine. According to Augustine, evil is the result of the improper function of God’s creations, the result of the improper use of the free will which God has granted to his created beings.  These created beings all have their place in God’s ordered creation and sometimes evil is caused by their actions, whether it be natural evil (like a lion eating a baby) or moral evil (Satan rebelling against God).  In that sense, evil does not truly exist but is merely a privation of good.  For those who insist that evil does exist, it is generally understood in the two categories mentioned above.

GOD OR EVIL: THE LOGICAL ARGUMENT FROM EVIL

The logical argument from Evil is designed to show that the existence of an omnipotent, wholly good God is incompatible with the existence of evil.  It asks the question, if God is wholly good and created everything, how could evil exist?  It seems illogical that a good God would have (or even could have) created a world in which evil exists.  If one proposes that an all-powerful, all-knowing, entirely good God exists, he makes a logical contradiction if he proposes that evil exists as well.  Since evil clearly exists, according to the logical argument from evil, there cannot be such a God.  There are several different flavors of the logical argument from evil, each denies the theistic position.  J.L. Mackie’s simple statement, mentioned in the “Introduction” section above, is the most straightforward:

  • An omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good God exists
  • Evil exists

Theists don’t necessarily see these positions as contradictory. Therefore, it us up to the atheistic critic to point out that they are.  No matter how well an atheist may argue, he is not able to do so.  Theists agree with atheists that it is illogical for one to hold contradictory beliefs[12] but deny that the logical argument from evil presents contrary positions.

A Free Will Defense and a Soul-Building Theodicy

Theists believe that one can believe in an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good God and believe that He created a world in which there is evil without engaging in a logical contradiction.  This belief is supported by The Free Will Defense, which proposes that God created a world in which beings have the capacity to choose to perform morally good actions or morally evil actions.  If God did not create such a world, there would be no moral value.  In other words, there cannot be a capacity for good unless there is a capacity for evil.  Beings have the free will to choose to do good or evil; sometimes beings will freely choose to do evil.  Any other state of affairs would render the world valueless.  Furthermore, God cannot be held morally responsible for this state of affairs, nor can His nonexistence be logically deduced from it given that “God cannot both create free beings and determine what they freely do.”[13]  J.L. Mackie himself, in the face of a Free Will defense admitted that the Problem from Evil does not demonstrate that theism is contradictory by stating “we can concede that the problem (from) evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another.”[14] Mackie is not the only person who has rejected his thesis.  “It is almost universally agreed that evil is logically compatible with the existence of God.”[15]

The Free Will defense, while sufficient, is not the only formidable refutation of the logical argument from evil. The soul-building theodicy of John Hick also counters this argument.  Hick’s soul-building argument posits that God has a plan and purpose for the world; God’s plan involves a growth and development for humans in which they should overcome evil.  Hick argued that the evil in the world that causes it to appear that God does not exist imparts value on the faith of those who believe He does.  The evil in the world helps those who overcome it build their souls. God’s purpose in allowing evil is soul-building; evil is the fire through which the metal of the soul is heated so that it may be hammered into its proper form.

A Biblical Response from Free Will

Evil exists, to summarize the free will discussion above, because God allows people freedom of choice; if people did not have the ability to choose to do right or wrong, life would essentially be meaningless.  Evil exists because God allows people the choice to be evil or do evil.  Thus, evil doesn’t come from a wholly good God but from humanity, whom God endowed with free will.  This is an adequate explanation for the existence of “moral” evil (i.e., murder, theft, rape) levied by humans against other humans; however, it does not provide an adequate explanation for the existence of “natural” evil (i.e. earthquakes, tsunamis, and tornadoes) levied by nature.  Humans can’t cause earthquakes and storms[16]; natural evils are not seemingly caused by free decisions.  However, the existence of natural evil in a world created by a wholly good God can still be justified.  One such justification is that that natural evils are indeed caused by free choice; not the free choice of humans but the free choice of lower supernatural beings (i.e. the devil and demons).  Another justification is that the potential for natural evil is the result of original sin which was brought about by the free will of Adam.  There are biblical passages to support these assertions.

In the book of Job, God allows Satan to test the faithfulness of the righteous and wealthy Job by giving Satan permission to take away everything the wealthy man has but his life.  Satan takes away Job’s wealth by various methods, which include natural evil.  While Job is being informed by the third of three messengers that all his livestock has been lost in a series of raids by hostile tribes, a fourth messenger arrives to inform him that his children have been killed: “While he was still speaking, another also came and said, ‘Your sons and your daughters were eating and drinking wine in their oldest brother’s house, and behold, a great wind came from across the wilderness and struck the four corners of the house, and it fell on the young people and they died, and I alone have escaped to tell you’”[17]  Job’s children are slain by a natural evil, a “mighty wind.”  The destructive wind was not caused by random weather patterns; it was intentionally caused by Satan for the sole purpose of heaping misfortune upon Job.  Satan can cause natural evil.  The book of Job doesn’t go as far to report that Satan causes every single instance of natural evil, but it does show that he does have the power to cause such evil.  This in itself grants validity to the free will defense that natural evil is perhaps caused by the choice of supernatural beings other than God, such as Satan or demons.[18]

In his epistle to the Romans, Paul provides a foundation for the doctrine of original sin and its role in the existence of death.  Paul states, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned— for until the Law sin was in the world, but sin is not imputed when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not sinned in the likeness of the offense of Adam, who is a type of Him who was to come.”[19]  According to Paul, death came to everyone because of Adam’s original sin.  Because of original sin, mankind can die.  Being so cursed, man is subject to the calamities of natural evil.  Obviously, all natural evils do not cause death.  Every tornado or hurricane doesn’t kill a human, it may just destroy property.  However, just because a natural evil doesn’t cause immediate death does not mean that its occurrence is not a repercussion of original sin.  The curse upon man caused by original sin facilitates more than death alone.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam came by his sustenance in a leisurely manner.  Because of the curse, mankind is relegated to eking out a living by “the sweat of his brow.”[20]   In the Garden of Evil, Adam didn’t need a sustainable shelter, farm, or even clothing.  After the fall, because of the curse, such things are needed by man.  Thus, natural evils can destroy property without creating incongruence between God’s goodness and his omnipotence.

A Biblical Response from Soul-Building

Evil in whatever form it exists is a necessary evil.  In simpler words, if everything was all sunshine and rainbows, no one would appreciate sunshine and rainbows.  In effect, a world replete with evil serves as a crucible in which the human soul can spiritually mature. The following biblical passages support the notion that the endurance of evil gives value to the Christian life:  Romans 5:1-5 and 1 Peter 4:12-19.

According to Paul, Christians rejoice in their sufferings because suffering (which is surely considered “an evil”) indirectly produces hope.  Paul states, “…we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation bring about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”[21]  Paul was writing to Christians in Rome who were indeed suffering.  They were subject to persecution from Romans of both Gentile and Jewish heritage for their dedication to Christ.  In any age and under any circumstance (no matter how dire); the Christian who perseveres builds spiritual character.  Through this character he can understand that his ultimate hope is deliverance through the Holy Spirit.  This deliverance does not necessarily have to manifest itself in the present age, but is more accurately considered to be a hope for deliverance in the age to come.  The sufferings of the world and its evils pale in comparison to the sufferings of the eternal damnation of hell.  The evil in the world helps Christians come to this understanding by indirectly building their character.  Without the presence of that evil, Christians would not truly understand the great gift they have received in the Holy Spirit.

Paul’s associate, Peter, echoes his sentiments in 1 Peter.  Peter specifically orders his Christian audience not to be perplexed by the evil that surrounds them.  He tells them “do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you.”[22]  This statement endorses a viewpoint that starkly contrasts that of one who subscribes to a Problem-from-Evil-atheistic philosophy.  This kind of atheist doubts the existence of God based upon his perception of evil in the world.  Peter, on the other hand, sees the suffering of evil as by-product of a dedication to God.  Christ suffered and Christians are to rejoice in their opportunity to share in that suffering.  Peter sees suffering as a badge of honor to be pinned upon one’s chest by God himself.  Peter states, “…those also who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.”[23]

Both Paul and Peter observe that suffering is a part of the Christian life.  Suffering, of course, is not limited to Christians alone.  The unrighteous suffer as well, but to a different end and in a different way.  Peter delineates how the Christian should endure suffering, “Make sure that none of you suffers as a murderer, or thief, or evildoer, or a troublesome meddler; but if anyone suffers as a Christian, he is not to be ashamed, but is to glorify God in this name.”[24] This is the same type of character-building suffering, to which Paul refers.  It is the kind of suffering that builds hope.  The atheist has no hope in his heart.  When he suffers or sees suffering, he can only endure it the ways of the unrighteous.  The unrighteous will be judged by God just as the righteous will, but the outcome of the judgment will be very different.  The suffering Christian can hold out hope for eternal salvation, suffering to the conclusion that he is an heir to the Kingdom of God. The suffering atheist, who will not recognize God’s existence, endures suffering to the false conclusion that there is no God.  The Christian’s soul is “built” through suffering; the atheist or even the lost theist cannot relate to this.

GOD COULD DO BETTER: THE PROBABILISTIC ARGMENT FROM EVIL

Whereas the logical argument from evil operates by logically inferring something like, “One cannot say that there is no fire while he yet says there is smoke,” the probabilistic argument from evil infers something like, “One can say that since there is smoke, there is probably fire.”  The probabilistic argument from evil posits that the existence of evil in the world may not disprove God’s existence but it certainly makes it less probable.  Like the logical argument from evil, the probabilistic argument from evil exists in several different versions.  These different versions are based upon the following premises:

  • If God is all-powerful, all-knowing and wholly good, He could have created any possible world.
  • Therefore, if God is as such, He would have created the best of all possible worlds.
  • Because evil exists, it’s unlikely that the actual world is the best world that could have been created.
  • Therefore, it’s not likely that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and wholly good God exists.

This soundness of this argument depends on knowing what God would do and thus it fails; presuming knowledge of God’s hypothetical actions is an exercise in hubris.

A Theodicy from Subjectivity

The theistic counter-argument to this argument from evil notes that the data set from which to probabilistically deny God is incomplete or unidentifiable.  What exactly is the “best” of all possible worlds and who is qualified to make that assessment? A theist could just as easily make an argument that God probably does exist if he picked his own prejudiced data set.  Different people have different opinions on what the best of all worlds is, would, or could be.  Furthermore, different people have different opinions on what evil itself is.  It turns out that, because of the nature of subjectivity, the probabilistic argument from evil is its own defeater. Without God, in Whom humanity can ground objective moral values duties, all judgments as to what evil is are purely subjective. “If atheism is true, it becomes impossible to condemn war, oppression, or crime as evil. Nor can one praise brotherhood, equality, or love as good. It doesn’t matter what you do—for there is no right and wrong; all things are permitted.”[25]  “Whence then is evil?” becomes a vexing question for the atheist; for it is he who engages in affirming a contradiction.

A Biblical Response from Divine Objectivity

“Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!  Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight!”[26] These words God spoke through the prophet Isaiah.  In His statements through Isaiah, God clearly asserts that there are those who reject God’s definition of what is evil while perceiving falsely perceiving themselves as clever.  The Apostle Paul paints a similar picture of such sinful people in the first chapter of his epistle to the Romans, writing, “…just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper…although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them.”[27]  Those who reject God have such a depraved mind that they are led to approve wicked deeds.  Such men would assert that the world is a better place for the presence of these deeds, while God clearly and rightfully decries wicked deeds for what they are. When the atheist claims that God probably doesn’t exist because the world is not as good as he thinks it should be, he’s essentially saying, “God doesn’t exist because if He did, He would agree with me and do differently.” This argument is painfully subjective.

Without God, who is clearly identified by Jesus as the “only One who is good”,[28] there is absolutely no person in which an objective idea of what is best can be sufficiently grounded.  There can only be various men, who not only disagree with one another about what is best but are inherently flawed themselves,[29] in whom goodness can be subjectively grounded.  “The heart is more deceitful than all else and is desperately sick,”[30] declared the Lord through the prophet Jeremiah as he cursed those who “trust in mankind, make flesh their strength, and turn their hearts away from the Lord.”[31]  No man can provide proper grounding for objective good.  There simply exists no man who can rightly say, “God would have or should have done better,” for no man[32] can honestly declare that he was there when the world was created and that he knows best how it should have been made.[33]

BURNING BAMBI: THE GRATUTIOUS ARGUMENT FROM EVIL

The gratuitous argument from evil is based, not upon probabilities regarding the existence of evil, but upon the heinous nature of evil itself.  It states that some evil is so intense that its gratuitous nature casts the shadow of doubt upon God’s existence.  Philosopher William Rowe presented the argument from gratuitous evil as follows:

  • There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse. (In short, this kind of suffering as is gratuitous evil)
  • An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good god or permitting some evil equally bad or worse
  • There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

To demonstrate premise 1, Rowe imagines a fawn perishing alone in a horrendous forest fire.  Rowe can’t imagine that      some greater good could come out of en event such as that; it is an instance of gratuitous evil.[34]  Despite the dramatic and powerful imagining of a helpless burning fawn, Rowe’s premise is faulty because it involves a non-omniscient being stating what an omniscient being would do in a given situation.  His argument is not only hindered because of subjectivity (similar to the way the probabilistic argument is hindered) but because of constraints.  Rowe and others who would declare an evil “gratuitous” can only do so from limited knowledge; from limited knowledge such persons cannot rightly reject the existence of a being, God, Who possesses unlimited knowledge.

A Theodicy from Constraints

Recognizing constraints, the theist can invalidate Rowe’s entire argument by countering this proposition by asking, “How can it be known that gratuitous evil exists?”  Maybe there is not such suffering which could have been prevented without allowing some equally heinous evil or preventing some equally effable good?   Maybe it just appears that way.  Here, the theist can fall back on the soul-building theodicy of John Hick.  However, “the most potent atheistic rebuttals to theistic specifications of greater goods revolve around the claim that at least some evils…do not seem necessary to any greater good.”[35] Thus, a soul-building theodicy may be unconvincing.

A rebuttal that avoids claims to “greater goods” is the best possible world theodicy of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz.  This argument concludes that God is simply not blame for the existence of evil in the world.  Leibniz made the case that this world is the best possible world that could have been created because God in his omnipotence and omniscience just wouldn’t have created a sub-par world.  Therefore, the evil that exists in world exists in the appropriate amounts and kinds; thus, it cannot be gratuitous. Like the baby’s bear’s porridge to Goldilocks, the evil in the world is “just right.”  This theodicy, however, is open to the retort that a good God just wouldn’t have created the actual world.  “If this is what ‘just right’ looks like, there is no God,” the atheist might argue.

To answer this objection, Alvin Plantinga tweaked Leibniz’s argument to consider, not what God wouldn’t have done, but what God couldn’t have done.  Plantinga argues, in a type of free will defense, for a concept he calls “transworld depravity.”[36]  According to this concept, possible worlds in which all free creatures always freely choose not to do evil are not feasible creations even for omnipotent being.  This situation does not impinge upon God’s omnipotence because it is logically impossible to create any world in which free creatures exist and evil does not.  Creating such a world would equate to creating a square circle or married bachelor.

The atheist who makes the argument from gratuitous evil fails to recognize the existence of constraints and tradeoffs: his own and God’s.  To conclude that one knows all possible reasons for which a “gratuitous” evil could be allowed is to presume something on the level of omniscience. Only God is omniscient. “As finite persons, we are limited in time, space, intelligence, and insight. But the transcendent and sovereign God sees the end from the beginning and providentially orders history so that His purposes are ultimately achieved through human free decisions. In order to achieve His ends, God may have to put up with certain evils along the way. Evils which appear pointless to us within our limited framework may be seen to have been justly permitted within God’s wider framework.”[37] Furthermore, the atheist who makes the argument from gratuitous evil (really any argument from evil) fails to recognize the existence of the contradiction of a world with evil and without God.  In effect, he wants to have his cake and eat it, too.  He denies the existence of God but affirms the existence of evil, which cannot objectively exist if God does not.

Whatever reason one concludes that evil is “gratuitous,” is ultimately subjective.  This subjectivity of opinion is best illustrated by what economist Thomas Sowell calls a conflict of visions. “Visions are foundations on which theories are built.  The final structure depends not only on the foundation, but also on how carefully and consistently the framework of theory is constructed and how well buttressed it is with hard facts.  Visions are clearly subjective, but well constructed theories have clear implications, and facts can test and measure their objective validity.”[38]  Sowell identifies two visions: the unconstrained vision and the constrained vision. Those who hold to the constrained vision see the world as a place that is full of tradeoffs, constraints, and unknownables. Those who hold to the unconstrained vision see the world as a place in which the best possible state of affairs can be identified and actualized by those with the intelligence and intellectual capacity to do so.   It is such people (to whom Sowell refers at the intelligentsia) who believe they can definitively determine what the best possible world would be and what any justifications for evil would be.  One must adhere to the unconstrained vision to stake his atheism in the foundation of gratuitous evil because in doing so believes that he, a finite man, can understand every exhaustive possibility. An atheist who wishes to rely on the Gratuitous Argument (or the Probabilistic Argument for that matter) must set his own, arbitrary definition of what the best possible world or gratuitous evil would look like and hold his definition of above that of anyone else who disagrees with him, despite the condition that there is no objective test by which to prove his view.

A Biblical Response from Constraints

Both the arguments that God does not exist because this world is probably not the best possible world and the argument that God does not exist because of the existence of gratuitous evil fall flat.  It is demonstrated from scripture that God did create the best (logically) possible world; however, it has been marred by human sin.  Scripture also makes it clear that humans have no place, in their limited human capacity, to judge God’s reasons for allowing evil.

God created the world perfectly and will one day restore it to perfection. The current world has been constrained by the fall. After God created the Earth and everything in it, he deemed it “very good.”[39]  God placed Adam and his wife Eve in the Garden of Eden; they had everything they needed.  Still, Adam and Eve made the choice to disobey God by eating the forbidden fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, thus causing the fall.  Because of Adam and Eve’s choice to disobey God, they and their descendents were assured death[40].  Even the very ground of the earth itself was cursed because of their misdeed[41].  In assessing the fall, theologian Millard Erickson solemnly remarks, “We live in a world that God created, but it is not quite as it was when God finished it; it is now a fallen and broken world.”[42]  Man traverses a world that is literally cursed, whereas before the fall man abided in a state of peaceful existence.

As illustrated by the book of Job, whatever God’s reasons for allowing evil are, man is completely inept at identifying them.  Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar all offered Job theories as to why calamity had befallen him; each theory was incorrect.  God himself chided the men for arriving at the conclusions that they reached.  In Chapters 38 through 42, God exposes the depth of the ignorance of man, asking “Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?”[43] God presents and exhaustive series of questions that Job’s friends cannot possibly answer.  Man’s knowledge is limited.  Furthermore, his very ability to comprehend pales in comparison to that of God, who declares through the prophet Isaiah: “…My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways…For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”[44]

A CAVEAT AND A CONCLUSION

It is readily apparent when assessing the preceding review of classical arguments from evil that their refutations (both philosophical and biblical) can substantially overlap.  The consideration of subjectivity weakens both the probabilistic and gratuitous arguments from evil.  A free-will defense and a soul-building theodicy subvert both the logical and gratuitous arguments.  The fallen nature of man and creation, as described in the Bible, address all three arguments from evil in some way.  The biblical text provides the Christian apologist his strongest defenses available to arguments from evil.  However, the biblical text itself can present its own problems from evil, such as the Problem of Hell, which asserts that a good and loving God wouldn’t punish people with eternal torment.  Seeking to avoid such arguments, the apologist may be tempted to present the unbiblical notions of Christian universalism or annihilationism (even if he rejects them himself) to the unbeliever simply to refute the Problem of Hell.  He may be tempted to present other unbiblical positions to refute other objections to the biblical text as well.  The Apologist, when engaging with a person who is completely unwilling to consider the biblical text, is left only with philosophical arguments.  He can be similarly tempted to use biblically incompatible philosophical arguments to refute a problem from evil.  If a Christian takes an unbiblical position to avoid the implications of a given problem from evil, he wins the battle only to lose the war.

It is one thing to insist that there are logically impossible things that God can’t do, such as force a person to freely do something.  It is another thing altogether to assert that God cannot do something that is logically possible, such as preventing a person from freely doing something or knowing the outcome of all future events. There are those who, when making a free will defense will make claims such as, “once a decision is made, human experience takes one road to the exclusion of others. Until that choice is final, God cannot know the course of an individual’s life.  Free will requires and open future that would be a sham if God were prescient.  It follows that the deity lacks complete knowledge.”[45] Such a position is not required when making a free will defense. When a defense impinges upon the biblically sound concept of God as “a Spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth,”[46] then it ceases to be a biblically valuable Christian Apologetic.  The Christian apologist must choose his theodicies and defenses biblically.

He should also choose them wisely.  Christian Philosopher Jeremy Evans has rightly stated, “In times of suffering we usually need the comfort of friends and not the counsel of scholars.”[47]  The apologist should be careful to assess the appropriateness of pointing out the philosophical shortcomings of arguments from evil to one who is questioning God as the result of some personal calamity.  Not everyone will react to misfortune as righteously and exemplary as Job. “Intellectual arguments are not well received when the other person is involved in emotional arguments.”[48]  Biblical arguments about God’s unfailing love may be better received and are always in order.[49]

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.

BIBLIOGRAHPY

 Bowman, Rob. “How Not to Debate a Christian Apologist.” Credo House Ministries. February 28, 2014. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2014/02/how-not-to-debate-a-christian-apologist/ (accessed March 10, 2014).

Craig, William Lane. Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Crossway Books, 2008.

—. “The Problem of Evil.” Reasonable Fath. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-problem-of-evil (accessed March 8, 2014).

Crenshaw, James L. Defending God: Biblical Repsonses to the Problem of Evil. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Davies, Brian. Philosophy of Religion: a Guide and Antholgy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Dunn, G. Seth. “Insuperable Good News: Overcoming the Problem of the Problem From Evil.” Submitted to Dr. Robert Stewart of the New Orleans Baptist Thelogical Seminary, January 31, 2010.

Dunn, G. Seth. Jeremy Evans’ the Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Beleifs. Submitted to Dr. Rhyne Putman of the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, February 15, 2015.

Dunn, G. Seth. Michael L. Peterson’s God and Evil: An Introduction to the Issues. Submitted to Dr. Robert Stewart of the New Orleans Baptist Thelogical Seminary, January 31, 2010.

Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998.

Evans, Jeremy A. The Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Belief. B & H Academic, 2013.

Gale, Richard M. “Evil and Alvin Plantinga.” In Alvin Plantiga, by Deane-Peter Baker, 49. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith . Downers Groove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011.

Larrimore, Mark. The Book of Job: A Biography. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013.

Lowth, Robert. Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Ancient Hebrews. Translated by G. Gregory. 2 vols. London: J. Johnson, 1835.

Mackie, J.L. “Evil and Omnipotence.” In Philosophy of Religion: a Guide and Anthology, by Brian Davies, 581. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Menzies, Peter. Mackie, John Leslie (1917–1981). 2012. http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/mackie-john-leslie-14214 (accessed March 5, 2014).

Peterson, Michael L. God and Evil: An Introduction to the Issues. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1998.

Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978.

Sowell, Thomas. A Conflict of Visions: Idealogical Origins of Political Struggles. Basic Books, 2007.

The Presbyterian Church in America. “The Shorter Catechism.” http://www.pcaac.org . http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/ShorterCatechismwithScriptureProofs.pdf.

Wikiquote contributors. “Epicurus.” Wikiquote. February 18, 2014. http://en.wikiquote.org/w/index.php?title=Epicurus&oldid=1684115 (accessed March 6, 2014).

[1]Larrimore, Mark. The Book of Job: A Biography. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013, 11

[2] Lowth, Robert. Lectures on the Sacred Poetry of the Ancient Hebrews. Translated by G. Gregory. 2 vols. London: J. Johnson, 1835, 352

[3] Job 1:13-19, 2:7-8.  (He loses his wife, too, but it’s debatable whether or not he was worse off for losing that woman.)

[4] Larrimore, Mark. The Book of Job: A Biography. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2013, 78

[5] Wikiquote contributors. Epicurus. February 18 , 2014. http://en.wikiquote.org/w/index.php?title=Epicurus&oldid=1684115

[6] There is some argument that the question should properly be attributed to Lactantius.

[7] Mackie’s exact quote is as follows: “In its simplest form, the problem of evil is this:  God is omnipotent, God is wholly good; and yet evil exists.”  The terms “Problem of Evil” and “Problem from Evil” are often used interchangeably.  To avoid confusion and because I believe it to be a better descriptor, the term “Problem from Evil” will be used in the paper.

[8] Mackie, J. “Evil and Omnipotence.” In Philosophy of Religion: a Guide and Anthology, by B. Davies, 581.

[9] The forms of these arguments, as presented in this paper, were adapted from Michael L. Peterson’s book, God and Evil

[10] 1 Pet. 3:15

[11] Groothuis, Douglas. Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith . Downers Groove, IL: IVP Academic, 2011, Kindle Locations 6649-6651

[12] At least in Western thought, they do.

[13] Gale, Richard M. “Evil and Alvin Plantinga.” In Alvin Plantiga, by Deane-Peter Baker, 49. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

[14] Bowman, Rob. “How Not to Debate a Christian Apologist.” Credo House Ministries. February 28, 2014. http://www.reclaimingthemind.org/blog/2014/02/how-not-to-debate-a-christian-apologist/

[15] Evans, Jeremy A. The Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Belief. B & H Academic, 2013, 23

[16] Here we ignore such activities as cloud-seeding.

[17] Job 1:18-19

[18] This also raises the question, “Is natural evil always really evil?”  The flood of Noah’s day may have seemed like natural evil to those it killed.  However, it was a righteous act directly brought about by God.

[19] Rom. 5:12-14

[20] Gen. 3:19

[21] Rom. 5:3-5

[22] 1 Pet. 4:12

[23] 1 Pet. 4:19

[24] 1 Pet. 4:15-16

[25] Craig,  Willaim Lane . Reasonable Faith: Christian Truth and Apologetics. Crossway Books, 2008, 175

[26] Isa. 5:20-21

[27] Rom. 1:28-32

[28] Luke 18:19

[29] This notion is explored further in the section of this paper titled “A Biblical Response from Constraints”

[30] Jer. 5:8

[31] Jer. 5:5

[32] With the exception of God incarnate, Jesus Christ

[33] Job 38:4-5

[34] Personally, I think that the very concept of gratuitous evil could exist because God wanted to give theology students and Christian apologists a challenging thought exercise.

[35] Peterson, Michael L. God and Evil: An Introduction to the Issues. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1998, 104

[36] Plantinga, Alvin. God, Freedom, and Evil. William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978, 48

[37] Craig, William Lane. “The Problem of Evil.” Reasonable Fath. http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-problem-of-evil (accessed March 8, 2014).

[38] Sowell, Thomas. A Conflict of Visions: Idealogical Origins of Political Struggles. Basic Books, 2007, 4

[39] Gen. 1:31

[40] Gen. 2:17

[41] Gen. 3:17

[42] Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology: Second Edition. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998, 452

[43] Job 1:38

[44] Isa. 55:8-9

[45] Crenshaw, James L. Defending God: Biblical Repsonses to the Problem of Evil. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2005, 76

[46] The Presbyterian Church in America. “The Shorter Catechism.” http://www.pcaac.org . http://www.pcaac.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/ShorterCatechismwithScriptureProofs.pdf.

[47] Evans, Jeremy A. The Problem of Evil: The Challenge to Essential Christian Belief. B & H Academic, 2013, 219

[48] McRaney Jr., Willaim. The Art of Personal Evangelism: Sharing Jesus in a Changing Culture. B&H Academic, 2003, 208

[49] 1 Cor. 13:8

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s