Five items appear below:

1   Goodness and Evil                                    Bennie
2   Re. Goodness and Evil: A Response     Straughen
3   On "Goodness and Evil"                           Rogers
4   Goodness and Evil                                    Williams
5   The Existence of God                                Rogers


Goodness and Evil

Bruce Bennie

(Investigator 134, 2010 September)


The two most readily spoken words regarding the problem of evil are 'why' and 'how'. Why does God allow such massive pain and suffering on the planet, and how can God apparently stand back and not intervene to stop it?

The problem of evil challenges both the goodness and sovereignty of God. If God is truly good and creates only that which is extrinsically and intrinsically good, where has evil come from? If God desires the best for creation, why does there appear to be such meaningless suffering? How can it be morally justified? Does the Divine inaction reveal that God is inherently impotent, indifferent or malicious toward human beings after all?

In this paper I propose to argue that God has indeed a reason for allowing evil into human experience, and that for God not to allow evil would be to actually place God in a self-contradictory position.

Theists believe that God is absolutely perfect, and cannot create anything imperfect, and that perfect creatures cannot do evil. From the very beginning we are forced to take God's perfection as the standard for what is good. So we cannot look to God as the source of evil or we reject the notion of God as a morally perfect Being. If we reject the notion of God as a morally perfect Being, the problem of evil is no longer a problem, but the inevitable consequence of a morally imperfect Being. Yet if God, as the maximally Great Being, is morally imperfect, where do we get our idea of morality from? We can only understand what is evil if we have an idea of what is good. We can only recognise a crippled arm if we have seen a healthy one. It is not just a matter of sight, it is also a matter of function. According to the Christian view, God pronounced the Creation good (Genesis 1:31), that is, it functioned properly in all aspects. Evil, with all its ramifications, has disrupted, and on occasions destroyed, the good function God has made.    

So I have taken the view that God is a morally perfect Being. Yet we see evil exists. Evil has significantly corrupted the function of God's creation. Where then, has evil come from?

We could frame it as follows:
A perfect God created all things good.
All that exists has then been fashioned by God's power.
Then evil must have come through that which is good.  
If evil has come through what is good, then 'good' must have the ability to experience corruption. God cannot be corrupted. So we must look to see what else was created as "good" yet can also be corrupted. If God is morally perfect, where else do we find a moral capacity open to corruption? If such a capacity is open to moral corruption, yet was originally created good, then it suggests an ability to change from good to bad. Who do we see as having this ability? Certainly, human beings – who Christians would assert have been created in the image of God.

Geisler sums up it up as follows: "God is absolutely perfect. God created only perfect creatures. One of the perfections God gave some of his creatures was the power of free choice. Some of these creatures freely chose to do evil. Therefore, a perfect creature caused evil" (Geisler 1999, p. 219).

This puts human beings in a unique position. To lose the very problem of evil that causes such dysfunction in our lives, it appears we would have to lose the very capacity that makes us truly human, the very quality people have fought against oppression to preserve: the human right of choice. The very 'right' that people regard as a supreme value – the very Right that it ours by "right" because we are in the image of the very God we question over the problem of evil.

Yet, in light of the amount of suffering people experience, some ask could God not have made a world where free choice still operated, yet was a world in which no one chose to act in a wrong or evil manner? Yet if human beings have a genuine moral free will, then such choices could never be guaranteed. Wherever there is genuine free choice, in this or any possible world, evil choices would always be a possibility. Even God cannot guarantee perfect choices from free will creatures, otherwise they would not be truly free to make them. To create free will creatures, and then hinder their ability to choose, would be to place God in a self-contradictory position and threaten to reduce human beings to the level of a pet or a puppet.  

So we must ask what was worth the risk to God to create human beings with free will? We may find a possible answer in the Christian view of the image of God in human beings. Ramm notes that God is truly free. For human beings to share in that image, they also must have true freedom. This freedom "must be freedom to radical opposites…to good or evil" (Ramm 1972, p. 129). An explanation of why God allows evil may be that is the cost with which to mature the Divine image in creatures fashioned from the 'dust of the earth'. This places the answer to evil on an infinite level, and offers ultimate purpose and comfort in the suffering of this present age.

Yet what of the suffering not caused by human free will? If human beings, bearers of the Divine image and with dominion over the earth 'fell' morally, then the earth would surely suffer under that oppression. Indeed, Paul acknowledges that the creation does suffer because of the  moral fall of human beings, and that creation experiences futility because it, that is, its function was damaged (Romans 8:20).

Still, many question God's justice in the light of the extensive suffering evident upon the earth. The Christian view maintains that God has appointed a day when everything will be brought to rights and the impact and consequences of evil fully addressed and dealt with (Acts 17:31). That such justice does not yet appear to be administered now does not mean that it will never be administered. Even in our own legal system, crimes are often tried in court long after they have been committed. Offenders are often placed on bail or held in remand, but the trial date does eventually arrive and the verdict will be handed down.

We may groan that the wheels of justice turn slowly but we do not deny that the process of justice exists. Here is where the Christian can have faith that God will not be seen to be indifferent, impotent or malicious in the light of evil. Yet why might God not step in at our demand to alleviate suffering and the consequences of evil before some final judgment? Consider though, if a morally perfect Being, with absolute knowledge and power, stepped in to correct the evil we see and experience, where might such a Being stop? Having dealt with the tragedies afflicting so many, would moral perfection be indifferent to the imperfections of some of our own moral choices and actions? And who would feel free to assert themselves absolutely blameless in every regard?   

The problem of evil may in fact exist because of the humility of God; a divine humility that has chosen to allow other consequences to exist outside of God's own perfections. And far from causing us to question God's love, it may reveal God has loved us to the degree of respecting our free will above even the desire for a 'perfect' world. That in fashioning us as truly free, God honours us as truly human. And in doing so, allows our moral decisions to carry true significance.   

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Geisler, N 1999, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, Baker Books, Michigan.

Ramm, B L 1972, A Christian Appeal to Reason, Word Books, Waco, Texas.


 



Re: Goodness & Evil—A Response

Kirk Straughen

(Investigator 135, 2010 November)


There are aspects of Bruce Bennie's article Goodness and Evil (Inv. 134, Page 63) that I am unable to agree with. First of all I will begin with the general observation that much of it is based on theological speculations for which there is no sound evidence (1).

There is no evidence that there is a God; that this God is morally perfect and, at the same time responsible either directly or indirectly for imperfections in both Nature and human nature. Indeed, all the facts gathered over hundreds of years through careful scientific research lead to the conclusion that the universe, life and humanity have arisen through natural evolutionary processes (2).

Having said this, I shall now be more specific in my critique of Bruce's article: On page 65 he makes the following statement with regard to natural evil:
Yet what of the suffering not caused by human free will? If human beings, bearers of the Divine image and with dominion over the earth 'fell' morally, then the earth would surely suffer under that oppression. Indeed, Paul acknowledges that the creation does suffer because of the moral fall of human beings, and that creation experiences futility because of it, that is, its function was damaged (Romans 8:20).
Bruce hasn't made it clear in his article, but from his writing he appears to subscribe to a literal interpretation of the Genesis myth which attempts to explain evil entering the world through Adam and Eve's consumption of fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of good and evil.

Death, suffering and natural disasters existed well before the advent of humanity. There have, for example, been at least five major global mass extinction events that have occurred during the past 542 million years, with up to 20 to 50 percent of all genera on Earth during these events becoming extinct over a period of a million years or less. (3)

One cause of a global mass extinction 260 million years ago was a giant volcanic eruption that devastated marine life around the world (4). Not only did natural disasters destroy life before humanity arose, but so too did disease — dinosaur fossils show evidence of pathology such as developmental abnormalities, trauma and injury, infection, osteoarthritis and structural modifications (5). The world has never been a perfect place.

Bruce claims that evil in human nature exists because God gave Humanity free will. If God exists, then it's also possible that He, She or It gave Nature 'free will' in the sense that the Cosmos develops naturally without any predetermined divine plan. This would also explain the existence of what philosophers and theologians refer to as Natural Evil — Nature has the inherent potential and freedom to develop as it will.

Bruce claims that in the end God will put right the world. Given the fact there is no sound evidence that there is a God to put anything right, I think this is a forlorn hope at best.

In my opinion all the evidence points to the fact that it's up to us to make the world a better place. If we can't find within ourselves the strength, determination and wisdom to accomplish this task then it's possible Humanity will go the way of the dinosaurs.
1. http://godisimaginary.com.org/index.htm
2. http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/search/topicbrowse2.php?topic_id=46
3. www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Mass_extinction
4. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/05/090528142827.htm
5. www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=do-we-know-anything-about


 



ON "GOODNESS and EVIL"

Kevin Rogers

(Investigator 135, 2010 November)


In Investigator 134, Bruce Bennie wrote on the Problem of Evil in his article "Goodness and Evil". I thought it was a very good article, but I have the following comments:

The problem of evil as formulated by David Hume is as follows:
1.    Is God willing to prevent evil but unable to do so? Then he is not omnipotent.
2.    Is God able to prevent evil but unwilling to do so? Then he is malevolent.
3.    If God is both willing and able to prevent evil then, why is there evil in the world?

Bruce's article was an attack mainly on premise 1 by arguing the free-will defence. If God has given us free will, then it may be logically impossible for God to prevent evil. Thus the existence of evil does not necessarily mean that God is not omnipotent.

An issue that I would like Bruce to consider is this. Christianity offers the hope of new world order (heaven), where there will be no evil. Will there be free-will in heaven? If so, how can God prevent the re-emergence of evil?

The free-will defence answers the issue of moral evil, but does it answer the issue of natural evil?

Another defence against the problem of evil is to challenge premise 2. Maybe God has a good purpose in allowing evil. I suggest Bruce consider this as part of his argument as well.

Kevin Rogers
 



GOODNESS and EVIL
 
John H Williams

(Investigator 137, March)


I'm not a fan of theodicy, and regard it as 'rear-guard' rhetoric that earnest believers employ to justify things that don't exist. They may rationalise about the highly improbable, but a skeptheist applies a quicker, quite effective 'bleedin' obvious' test to refined sophistries purporting to offer a defence of supernatural beings and events.

Kevin Rogers' letter on goodness and evil (#135 p.5) is an example of what I mean. Yes, there is goodness and evil in the world, as one would expect, but to connect them to a deity who is highly likely not to exist demands a large amount of imaginative wishful thinking.

The "free-will defence" is, in my opinion, utterly meaningless and a complete waste of Earth time, the only time we know we've got.

The argument that "Christianity offers the hope of a new world order" where there will be no evil — and "Will there be free-will in heaven?" — beg big questions which haven't been resolved. Is there in fact a god named God who lives in place some call heaven?

So, when believers refer to the being they believe in and have faith in, perhaps they could incorporate the reality that its existence is hotly contested, ditto for a supposed celestial residence?

We've just endured the Vaticanised hype of Our Mary. Do sane, rational people believe that there is a 'spiritual being' 'up there' who's just had her status in the celestial pecking order upgraded, and who intercedes due to prayer, allowing terminal cancer patients (if very fortunate) extra years or decades of life? Or, more likely, a heroic Mary who lived and is now dead?

Here's a piece of non-theodicy which conforms to Ockham's principle of economy, in minimising assumptions about life and death: Where were we before we were conceived? We were non-existent, having been that way since the initiation of time and space, and from the moment of death we all, in an appropriately egalitarian manner, return to that non-existent state. It's simple and rational: we all share exactly the same non-experience — eternally nowhere, which is precisely where I perceive all gods 'exist'.

Now abideth faith, hope and charity: if only there were more Christian as well as non-Christian charity (agape).





The Existence of God

Kevin Rogers

(Investigator 138, 2011 May)


In John Williams' article on "Goodness and Evil" (Investigator #137) he refers to a "deity who is highly likely not to exist". John is making a general statement without owning it as just his own opinion. John is an avid atheist, as are some other writers in this magazine, but John is making an assertion that is short on argument. John usually writes on creationism and ID. However, I have never seen him engage any of the core arguments that are relevant to the existence of God.

The arguments that are relevant to the existence of God (both for and against) are typically:
•    The cosmological argument,
•    The argument from sufficient reason,
•    The teleological argument,
•    The ontological argument,
•    The problem of Evil, and
•    The hiddenness of God.

I would like to know what the basis of John's bravado is.

The vast majority of people on this planet believe in gods or a god or some sort. After all, we live in a world that strongly appears to be created and designed and so the existence of a creator/designer deity seems "bleedin' obvious" (John's words). In addition, scientific results from the last 100 years have confirmed that the physical universe had a beginning and that the laws of physics and Big Bang initial conditions are extraordinarily finely tuned to enable life of any form to exist. It is the objections to the cosmological and teleological arguments that are "refined sophistries" and "rearguard rhetoric", to use John's own terms.

Kirk and I recently completed a debate on the fine tuning argument, which is available on the Investigator web-site. I am quite satisfied that I presented a good argument and that I addressed all of Kirk's objections. Please let me know of any specific issues that I did not address. John made no comment whatsoever on this debate. I get the impression that he just waits for the dust to settle and hopes everyone will forget before resuming his mantra. I think that the main reason that John says he doesn't believe in God is not due to evidence or reason, but simply that he doesn't want to believe.

The problem of evil is the major argument against the existence of an omnipotent loving God. This topic was raised by Bruce Bennie and John should be grateful to Bruce for giving atheists a free kick. I was mainly commenting on Bruce's article and suggested that Bruce should develop his argument to address issues with the free-will defence. I am not overly keen on the free-will argument, as I believe it is only a partial answer. However, I suggest that John directs his comments on this subject to Bruce.

John presented a simple argument for the mortality of the soul, which essentially is, "if we didn't exist prior to birth, isn't it reasonable to presume that we won't exist after death?" I agree entirely; it is a good argument. However, the doctrine of the immortality of the soul is not a Biblical idea. It was an idea imported into Christian tradition from Greek philosophy. The soul is not inherently immortal. The Biblical view is that God will raise the dead in the same manner that Christ was raised from the dead. It is a physical resurrection, not the ongoing existence of a disembodied soul.

Religion investigated and debated on this website:

http://users.adam.com.au/bstett/

http://ed5015.tripod.com/