What Problem of Evil?

The problem of evil is only a problem if God exists.  More specifically, it is only a problem if the God of Classical Theism exists.  The moment we deny the existence of God we dissolve the problem of evil entirely.  Why?  Because without God there are no moral absolutes, no objective values, and hence, no evil to “cause a problem.”  Ironically, by removing God from the equation, we also remove any grounds we might have had for holding real moral indignation (by “real” I mean something more than our personal dislike for a given set of circumstances but, rather,  a true moral outrage in the face of true evil).

This is what I find so fascinating about the current arguments against Theism.  Those who hold that “God is dead” claim to be the most horrified and the most incensed by the existence of  evil in the world, yet, oddly enough, they adhere to a worldview which teaches that evil is merely a feeling, an evolutionary accident, or a social convention and not an objective reality.  For example, I recently entered into a dialogue about creaturely pain and suffering with the popular Atheist blogger John W. Loftus.  He seems truly dismayed by the overwhelming number of people who have suffered excruciating deaths at the hand of various pandemics throughout history.  In his eyes the amount of pain that, for example, the millions of people who contracted the bubonic plague endured was a tremendous evil.  The implicit assumptions standing underneath his moral outrage are clear: (1) that human beings are inherently valuable and deserve to live a good life, free from horrendous amounts of pain, suffering and loss and (2) that death is a bad thing.

Now this is a very curious state of affairs.  From a worldview perspective, Atheism doesn’t allow for the existence of objective evil or objective goodness.  According to Atheisms grand metaphysical story, human beings are meaningless, temporary, bits of matter with absolutely no intrinsic value or purpose.  If this is true, however, then the pain and suffering regularly experienced by humans is normal and valueless. The subjective meaning that individual human beings ascribe to life is merely an automatic, predestined, physical event (because all mental phenomena are ultimately explainable in terms of the laws of physics). Furthermore, there is no hope of ever escaping death–for there is no afterlife and no escaping the reality that we shall forever be finite, limited, dissoluble beings.  Death, therefore, is a normal physical process—in fact, death, is a crucial aspect of evolution.

Thus, in a strange turn of events, Mr. Loftus, and those like him, find themselves emotionally at odds with their own metaphysics.  They feel sorrow and even outrage at the idea of human suffering, while simultaneously advocating a worldview which denies the implicit assumptions underlying their indignation.  Namely, they feel upset about evil but maintain, philosophically, that human beings are not inherently valuable (and do not deserve to live a good life) and that death is fundamentally not a bad thing.

This, however, brings us right back to the original problem.  For, it is only when we posit the existence of the God of Classical Theism that we have grounds for believing human life is intrinsically valuable and that death is a horrendous evil.  It is only then that a “problem of evil” arises because it is only then that evil is said to actually exist.

This, of course, forces us to make a choice (that is, if we do not wish to live in a state of internal conflict or inconsistency):  we can embrace Atheism, deny the existence of evil or any objective value—thus eradicating the so called problem of evil—or we can embrace Classical Theism.  If we embrace the former, we must be prepared to accept the fact that life is utterly futile and that pain and suffering are ultimately vain physical happenings.  In the words of Pavel  Florensky, “all of reality becomes an absolutely meaningless and insane nightmare.”

If we embrace the latter, however, our distain for pain, suffering, and death, is valid.  For our distain becomes more than a predestined feeling or mindless automatic physical response to stimuli but becomes a proper reaction to real evil.  Beyond this, if we accept Christianity, we also have hope for a future free from pain, suffering and death and filled with Divine love and meaning.


The Nature of Physical Law: A Dialogue Between St. Athanasius, Jaegwon Kim, and Jeffery Poland

Let us suspend reality for just a moment and imagine that St. Athanasius has returned from the grave . . . and is desperately craving a cup of hot coffee.  After locating the nearest local coffee shop, he walks in with a huge smile on his face–having at last found a place to satisfy his craving.  To his great surprise, he discovers the imminent physicalists Jagewon Kim and Jeffery Poland sitting in the back of the shop enjoying their morning brew.  A dialog quickly ensues . . .

Athanasius: “Good morning gentlemen! Grace to you and peace from our heavenly Father who spoke all things into existence through His own eternal Logos, through which all things hold together harmoniously and in good order!”

Jeffery Poland: “Good god man, you can’t be serious! If you please, I’m attempting to enjoy a cup of coffee before my next lecture.

Athanasius: “My apologies my friend, but surely one can not help but extol the wonders of the Logos who holds all things together!”

Jaegwon Kim: “You’re somewhat of an odd fellow. Are you not aware that what holds all things together are the fundamental laws of physics? My dear friend, there is no God. For, all things that exist in this world are bits of matter and structures aggregated out of bits of matter, all behaving in accordance with laws of physics . . . any phenomenon of the world can be physically explained if it can be explained at all. (1) So, enough of this nonsense about a divine logos.”

Athanasius: “I see. But, if you will, please explain to me the nature of these laws. Are the laws of physics themselves physical?

Jaegwon Kim: “Do we not experience them in the physical world? For all the things we experience are physical. Is this not obvious?

Athanasius: “Obvious indeed. So what you are saying is that the fundamental laws of physics . . . are the fundamental laws of physics?

Jaegwon Kim: “No, that would be circular reasoning.”

Athanasius: “My dear friend, if your ontology is correct then the only possible answer to the question of the nature of the laws of physics is that they are ultimately bits of matter and structures aggregated out of bits of matter all behaving in accordance with the laws of physics. For, as you say, “any phenomenon of the world can be physically explained if it can be explained at all.”

Jaegwon Kim: “Yes, I did say that.  But  . . . “

Jeffery Poland: “I didn’t want to get involved in this discussion, but I can hardly sit quietly any longer!  The relevant point here is that physicalists are (or should be) concerned with what exists in nature: i.e. with what can be spatially and temporally related to us, with that with which we can interact and by which we can be influenced, and with that of which we and the things around us are made . . . sets, propositions, universals, and so on, when abstractly conceived, are not considered to be in nature at all. Nor are they within the scope of the physicalists domain of study. (2)  Hence, your argument is superfluous.”

Athanasius: “But Mr. Poland, do you not state in your writings that ‘everything that exists is either an element of the physical basis or is constituted by elements in that basis?” and do you not further assert that, ‘everything that exists is, in this sense, ‘ontologically grounded’ in the physical domain?” (3)

Jeffery Poland: “Well yes . . .”

Athanasius: “So, physicalism is committed to the belief that everything which exists is ultimately grounded in the physical domain?

Jeffery Poland: ” . . . yes.”

Athanasius: “Tell me, Mr. Poland, do the laws of physics exist?

Jeffery Poland: “Well, of course . . .”

Athanasius: “Clearly, then, the laws of physics fall within the explanatory scope of physicalism!”

Jeffery Poland: “But that would lead to a tautology.”

Athanasius:  “Exactly!  And you’ve only two ways in which to avoid this tautology:  (1) you can accept that the laws of physics are nonphysical universal truths, or (2) you can reformulate physicalism as being a methodological doctrine rather than an ontological one.  Perhaps the notion of a divine logos is not so foolish after-all?”

(1) Kim, Jaegwon. Physicalism or Something Near Enough. New York: Princeton University Press, 2001. 149-150.

(2) Poland, Jeffrey. Physicalism:  The Philosophical Foundations. New York: Oxford, 1994. 228.

(3) Ibid. 18.

Mystic Mondays: Is there Something More?

Today  I’d like to share a passage from The Wisdom of Solomon which vividly portrays the ethical consequences of the naturalistic view of reality.  I ask you to meditate on these words and to wrestle with the implications of a world in which God does not exist, in which there is no objective purpose or reason for anything, and in which there is no life after death.  Do not simply engage this topic with your mind but examine it with your heart as well. Ask yourself these questions:  What is the purpose of my life?  Is there an objective purpose to my life if God does not exist? If there is no life after death then why should I live a moral life?  Is sensual pleasure what defines me?  If there is no God, why should I care about the weak?  Why should I be moral at all?  Is there something more?

“For they [the ungodly or atheists] reasoned unsoundly saying to themselves, ‘Short and sorrowful is our life, and there is no remedy when a man comes to his end, and no one has been known to return from Hades [i.e. death].  Because we were born by mere chance, and hereafter we shall be as though we had never been; because the breath in our nostrils is smoke, and reason is a spark kindled by the beating of our hearts.  When it is extinguished, the body will turn to ashes, and the spirit will dissolve like empty air.  Our name will be forgotten in time, and no one will remember our works; our life will pass away like the traces of a cloud, and be scattered like mist that is chased by the rays of the sun and overcome by its heat.  For our allotted time is the passing of a shadow, and there is no return from our death, because it is sealed up and no one turns back.

‘Come, therefore, let us enjoy the good things that exist, and make use of the creation to the full as in youth.  Let us take our fill of costly wine and perfumes, and let no flower of spring pass by us.  Let us crown ourselves with rosebuds before they wither.  Let none of us fail to share in our revelry, everywhere let us leave signs of enjoyment, because this is our portion, and this is our lot.  Let us oppress the righteous poor man; let us not spare the widow nor regard the gray hairs of the aged.  But let our might be our law of right, for what is weak proves itself to be useless.” – Wisdom of Solomon 2:1-11

Random Thoughts for June 16, 2011 – Concerning God and Morality

* If God doesn’t exist, then how do our moral actions matter? A man brutally murders a child and can escape justice. Even if given justice, 200 years from now it will not matter.

* What hope exists for those who suffer in this world? While the evidential problem of evil poses a challenge for theism, it is only in theism that we can recognize suffering as a tragedy (thus, the paradox in the problem of evil). Without God, such suffering is simply a part of nature and nothing to fret about.

* The skeptic will shout about the crimes of the Old Testament, but what objective moral code can the atheist point to in order to justify his rage? The best he can do is show that the Bible presents an incoherent view of God, but he cannot attack the morals of the Old Testament (or Bible in general) because he lacks any foundation to do so (again, another paradox).

* “Why act morally?” Atheism is left without an answer. “To survive” they say, but how shall we survive? What methods are best for survival? Why should we accept those methods. And finally, why should we desire survival? Is our survival necessarily a good thing?

* That one can be moral without God isn’t an argument against God, it’s an argument against atheism. That we somehow possess the ability to make a free and conscious decision to go against our nature and do what is right, even if it is against our own survival or self-interests, is something that simply cannot be naturally explained.

* Christianity has caused a lot of ills – certainly such a statement is true, but how do we know they are ills outside of having a moral code based upon God?

* The saddest part of people still using the Euthyphro dilemma is that there are hardly any Platonic religions around to which such a dilemma would apply. Regardless, it’s a flawed syllogism anyway and is guilty of begging the question (it doesn’t allow for a third option and forces an unnecessary either/or).

* Morality must be objective, but that objectivity cannot be abstract; it must be relatable. Yet, only persons are relatable and personable. Thus, objective morality must be found in a person, not in an abstract. Ultimately, much to the chagrin of the skeptic, objective moral truths are found in God.

Damascene Cosmology – On the Nature of Immutable Beings

Second Sub-Premise – “If they are immutable, then they are uncreated”

As the first sub-premise says that anything that is created is also mutable (which implies the need for a creator), the second sub-premise provides the opposite, that if something is uncreated, then it is immutable.

The first thing to understand about immutability is that if a being is immutable, it does not require a creator. If an immutable being had a creator then we could posit that at one time the immutable being was created; this would mean that the immutable being was no longer immutable. If something came into existence it went from one state S1 to another S2. That is, the being went from non-existence to existence, which is a change of state for the being. Thus, to be immutable, by definition a being must be without a creator or without a beginning.

This means that whatever is immutable is also eternal. If we accept Aristotle’s explanation that time is motion (that is, the measurement of things) and combine it with Einstein’s theory of relativity, then it would seem that time can speed up or slow down depending upon the motion of matter, meaning that time is the measure of the motion of matter. Continue reading

Damascene Cosmology – On the Mutability of Nature

First Sub-Premise – “If they are mutable, then they are created”

Before explaining how things that are mutable are also created, we should first seek to understand what it means to change or be mutable. To change means to change in one’s nature or being, that is, to get better or worse. A rock can be bigger or smaller. One rock might be bigger than the other. A beast can beget another beast, so that within the nature of the beast there is the ability to multiply. For instance, two rabbits can form another rabbit so there are three rabbits. Within the nature of “rabbit” we then see the ability to change; today there might be 3 rabbits, tomorrow there might be 300 rabbits, and the day after there might be 150 rabbits.

Change also occurs to free-will creatures. A human can become more or less good. They can embark on actions that cause them to have a greater moral standing or a lower moral standing. They can also increase and decrease in wisdom. The same stands true for angels who can also make free-will choices to be good or bad and who can also increase or decrease in wisdom. This shows that both physical (animals) and non-physical (rational) entities can be subject to change in some form.

Regardless of the type of change, the key factor in change is movement. If two rabbits become three rabbits, then there was a movement that caused the third rabbit to come about. Thus, a movement caused the change.  With free will creatures who become wiser, it is their desire to become wise that can cause the change in their wisdom. For non-sentient creatures, there is something else that causes them to move.

The implications of movement causing change would indicate that objects that change are not eternal. For instance, if x moves y, then y cannot be eternal. The reason is the chance indicates that y is not perfect; in some way it multiplied, it increased, it decreased, it became better, and so on. An example is if Peter taught Paul that it was morally wrong to steal. In this case, Paul was moved by Peter and increased in his moral knowledge and became more moral. Such knowledge and morality were not inherent within Paul’s existence to begin with. If Paul existed for eternity, then we must wonder how he would ever obtain the knowledge that Peter taught him or why Paul did not have said knowledge to begin with.

For the naturalist, the idea that mutable items indicate a creation is problematic. The reason is that energy, which is said to be eternal, is quite mutable. Energy comes in different degrees and can take different forms. The energy released from a car accident is smaller than the energy released from an atomic bomb. Matter is also found in different forms and degrees (there is more matter in you than in an ant).

If it is true that what is mutable is created, then naturalism lacks a proper standing. Naturalism would be untenable as all material elements are complex and therefore subject to change. The only way a naturalist can avoid the conclusion that God is the unmoved mover is to claim that an infinite regress is possible. Continue reading

Clearing up the word “change”

In two posts concerning my Damascene Ontological argument, it seems a lot of the controversy has surrounded what it means to “change.” The reason such a controversy erupted is my failure to adequately define “change” within the argument.

I would say that it might be better to use the terms “mutable” and “immutable,” which are more precise. To be mutable means to change in who we are or have within our nature to ability to increase or decrease in a certain property or function. For instance, a human can become wiser. A human can become more moral or less moral. Likewise, a human can be divided in the sense that he can reproduce himself (with the aid of another).

To be immutable means the opposite of mutable. It means to not be able to increase or decrease in property or function. It means one does not mature or become immature. One simply is. While an immutable being might have emotional reactions or change how his plans might come to fruition, it doesn’t follow that this constitues an actual “change;” nothing is added to the immutable entity, nothing is taken away. He stays the same, though his reactions might be different.

Continue reading