Valentine’s Day Array

We at The Christian Watershed would like to wish you a happy Valentine’s Day! As a token of our love we offer you this post from our new contributing author Jameson Cockerelle . . .

Five-Cent Synthesis

St. Valentine St. Valentine

Here is a post for you on this lovely Valentines’ Friday. It seems we’re thawing here in Texas (sorry southeast USA) and naturally my fingers have followed suit. This post is a few quick hits that have recently been on my mind.

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Intelligent Design and the Problem of Evil: A Problem

A while back I mentioned that I no longer support the intelligent design theory (ID). Most of my reasons are simply philosophical (though there are scientific errors within the theory, scientific errors can always be fixed whereas philosophical errors can sometimes require the ejection of an entire system of thinking). One of the biggest ones, however, is that ID is unwittingly problematic when it comes to the problem of evil.

Contrary to most straw-men arguments, ID theorists accept many premises within evolution, but simply deny that natural selection works as an explanation for everything. They believe that across time God has intervened in order to direct evolution or to create irreducibly complex organisms. But by stating that God has directly interjected within creation along the process of evolution means that God has done some pretty nasty things. It would mean that God, not natural selection (which can be attributed to the Fall, even prior to humans) caused multiple natural evils. Even once humans were sentient and in His image, it would mean that He, not natural selection, caused death and suffering in order to help the species evolve as a whole.

Overall, if God interjected along the evolutionary track then He necessarily had to cause evil and take part in evil. Furthermore, it would mean that God’s creation wasn’t up to His standards when it was originally created. Now, one who believes that God sustains creation could easily argue that God allowed creation to exist in a fallen state in preparation of the Fall, but that His standard remained perfect. In fact, this is what William Dembski essentially argues in the previously linked book. But a problem exists when God acts in order to cause an evil rather than simply allowing the evil to occur. Hence, ID poses a serious problem when it comes to the problem of evil. Along with many other reasons, I can no longer consider it a tenable theory for Christians (or theists) to rely upon.

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.

Rethinking the Problem of Evil: A Unified Theodicy (Part 1) – Introduction

As I compose this essay, storms have ravaged the southern United States, Alabama in particular, taking well over three hundred lives. In addition to the lives lost, homes have been destroyed, priceless heirlooms lost forever, and it has been a traumatic experience that will not leave the psyche of the victims anytime soon. As theists, in particular Christians, look to an event such as this we are forced to wonder why God would allow such a tragedy. Why would God allow this particular evil to befall innocent people? This question has been asked for thousands of years and, to date, a satisfactory answer has yet to be given.

The problem of theodicy has been a problem apologists have struggled with almost since the dawn of Christendom. When Rome was sacked in 410 by the Visigoths, the great Christian theologian and philosopher Saint Augustine found himself attempting to address why God has allowed such an evil. In fact, it is Augustine who was one of the first Christians to put together a structured theodicy (though some theodicies did exist prior to Augustine, specifically from some of the homilies by the Cappadocian Fathers)[1] that attempted to justify God’s actions rather than simply say that since He is God, He can do as He pleases.

While Christianity in the East never developed a theodicy justifying God’s actions (though the East does have a type of theodicy), Christianity in the West has never ceased searching for a theodicy to explain why God allows evil. The problem of evil has led many individuals to conclude that either God doesn’t exist, or He does exist and simply doesn’t care about humanity. It is my firm belief, however, that if one were to draw from the Eastern Orthodox “theodicy” (one that looks to man’s free will and God’s answer in the cross) while using some of the philosophical arguments of Western Christianity, one could arrive at a theodicy that helps to avoid an end result of atheism, agnosticism, or deism when confronted with the problem of evil.

Of course, when discussing the problem of evil it would be appropriate to ask, “which problem of evil?” The problem of evil can actually be divided up into three different categories: (1) The logical problem of evil, (2) the evidential problem of evil, and (3) the existential problem of evil. The logical problem of evil is concerned with whether or not a good God can co-exist with an evil world, or if one cancels the other out. The evidential problem of evil grants the idea that God can logically allow for evil, but instead argues that the amount of evil we see in this world leads us to conclude that God doesn’t exist or at least doesn’t care about us. Finally, the existential problem of evil deals with the personal evil we experience in our own lives, sometimes so great that it shakes our faith in God.

To date, no one theodicy has adequately addressed all three problems. While in the West certain theodicies have dealt with a particular category, to my knowledge no theodicy has been offered to work with all three divisions, at least not in a manner that is intellectually and personally satisfying. Thus, my goal with this essay is to provide a cohesive explanation on why God allowed evil in the first place and why He allows specific evils. I plan to accomplish this goal by turning to philosophy, early Christian writers (as viewed through the teachings of Saint John of Damascus)[2], and Scripture. Certainly this is no easy task, but it is a worthy one.

Before providing an introduction to the sections of my essay, I should note first and foremost that I do not accept my Unified Theodicy as complete or without problems. There are some answers and problems with it that I struggle with and I’m unsure about, so do expect my views to change concerning this theodicy. Rather, I am writing it in the hopes of starting a dialogue – or continuing a dialogue begun by Dr. Bruce Little – of finding a better theodicy, one beyond a “greater good” theodicy. While I believe that what I am currently offering is more complete than other alternative theodicies I’ve seen, it is by no means complete in its own right. It is my hope that someone far better than I will build upon what I have composed, or tear it apart and build something better; so long as an answer is found, I do not care.

In providing my Unified Theodicy I will compose seven sections and draw upon the works of three Christian writers (Alvin Plantinga, Bruce Little, and John of Damascus). I use Plantinga to explain the logical problem of evil with his free will defense and Little to address the evidential problem of evil with his Creation-Order Theodicy. In turn, I use John of Damascus (or the Damascene as I will refer to him throughout this essay) to answer the perceived shortcomings in Plantinga’s arguments as well as Little’s. Likewise, I justify my own Unified Theodicy by turning to the Damascene and to Scripture (in particular the book of Job).

Continue reading

Message Board Academics or The Intellectual Collapse of Naturalism

Today the New York Times has brought to the populace a debate that was essentially happening behind the academic curtain. Barbara Forrest published an article critical of Francis Beckwith’s work concerning the Constitutionality of teaching intelligent design. Now, Beckwith is a philosophical critic of ID, going so far as to say that he rejects ID, but still believes there might be constitutional ground to allow it to be taught in school (even if he thinks this is ultimately a bad idea).

Forrest’s response was less than academic, which is fine for a blog or an article in a popular magazine; though uncivil, it would hardly warrant an outcry or any second-guessing. The problem, however, is that Forrest was writing in an academic journal concerning the philosophy of science, one where ad hominem and genetic fallacies ought to be avoided. Sadly, Forrest’s article primarily consisted of attacking Beckwith’s Catholic background in order to prove her point that ID isn’t Constitutionally protected; in other words, she went after both the academic and personal character of Beckwith to establish ground for tossing out his claims.

Rather than argue for the validity of ID or debate the Constitutional merits of allowing ID into the classroom, I think there are bigger issues going on here that people have ignored (and one that is ignored in the NYT article). First, that the guest editors and editor in chief didn’t catch the ad hominem prior to releasing the article online betrays either a massive bias or inability to spot faulty reasoning. Secondly, while many in Forrest’s camp are arguing that Synthese was wrong for issuing an apology, none are acknowledging that she was wrong for writing the article in the first place. Third, someone who is a critic of ID was still targeted for simply defending the possible legality of teaching it, which amounts to a closing off of the debate. Finally, and most importantly, we’re finally beginning to see the intellectual credibility for naturalism erodes, which is both good and bad. Continue reading

Atheism is the default belief?

A popular claim I’ve heard touted by many atheists is that atheism (or lack of belief in any gods) is the default position for humanity. When we’re born, we lack any belief in gods or God. As we grow older we must come to that belief and grow into that belief. It is said that because atheism is the default position of humanity, all non-atheists therefore have the burden of proof (meaning scientific proof) and that atheists get to determine whether or not that burden has been met. There are, of course, a multitude of problems with this argument and I’m surprised few people have addressed this. The problems are: Continue reading

Damascene Cosmology – Third Premise: “Therefore, since all things are mutable and require a creator, that creator is God”

It is at this point that many readers will squirm, but such a reaction is simply not justified when considering the previous two premises. Though the idea of admitting the existence of God may not be palatable to certain readers, if they desire to base their beliefs off what is known rather than what stands in contradiction to reality, they must abandon naturalism and admit that God is the creator of the universe.

The conclusion is true because it logically follows from the premises and both premises are true. To review on why the conclusion is true:

1)   All things are either mutable (movable and changeable) or immutable (immovable and unchangeable)

2)   If something is movable then it requires a creator because an infinite regress is impossible

3)   An infinite regress is impossible because it would never allow events to come about

4)   Immutable objects are above an infinite regress because they do not move and therefore cannot be measured by time

5)   Everything we experience is mutable, therefore requiring a creator

6)   By definition, the creator must be God (due to what is needed in order to be immutable) Continue reading