After publishing my recent article, “The Problem Of Evil: Logical Disproof Of God Or Emotional Denial Of Him?” I was happy to see much debate surrounding it. In light of this debate, I have chosen to highlight one particular response that touches on the main objections I received, and I have included my response to it. It is my hope that this will move the debate forward. This may be particularly dry (more so than my usual writing), but it seems necessary to set aside the usual conventions of “good blogging” for the sake of an adequate response.
…your post “The logical problem of evil: Logical disproof of God or Emotional Denial of him” frames your argument as a one or the other type scenario. You started off by stating the problem: “How could an all-good, all-powerful God such as the one in Christianity allow all the evil and suffering we see in the world? This is the problem of evil.” You then go on to claim that upon noticing this contradiction, it does not suffice as necessary grounds to reject the all perfect Christian God. However, this is where you are wrong. The problem of evil is a logical problem, and you ultimately offer a faith based response. This is apparent later on in the article when you say that although the contradiction does not disprove God or prove God, that we should just believe in the Christian God even if there is the slightest reason to believe (Faith). You side-step the issue entirely and then implant your own belief as if it is the most logical conclusion. This is why I said that you failed to understand the problem. The answer may be simple and clear for you to accept but the contradiction is not resolved within the hearts and minds of non-believers; the Contradiction still exists and it is natural for people to desire logical resolution—especially in regard to the big questions. Most people believe that God must be a logically consistent being (and for good reason), so if we don’t understand God and our relation to God, then somewhere along the line we got a premise wrong.
Your examples from Luke and Job, do not resolve the contradiction either, they only emphasize it. You then state that “Clearly (as if the reader has already ascertained the answer that you have and that any dissent is just foolishness) any aim that the Christian God would not allow any suffering is based on flawed Christian theology to begin with. But what is this bad theology that you speak of? You never answer this.
You cite Job 38 as God unapologetically asserts his authority—still no resolution. However Job accepts that he just does not understand and just accepts God. Again, no resolution, just acceptance. (More faith)
You assert that “the simple answer is that it exists because we as rational agents have the ability to choose it when we choose anything that is not good. Since we choose evil, we are left with the consequences of it. It is not some sort of ether created by God or a primeval antecedent to Him.” BUT WHY DO WE HAVE THE CAPABILITY TO COMMIT EVIL? You will say that it is because of our free will but the problem arises again; could not God have created a free man without free will leading to evil? Could we not have been both free and good? Did we have free will before the fall?
You said “This is about logically arguing that there is no logical contradiction inherent in a good God allowing a reality in which there is evil and suffering.” Just because you state that there is no contradiction does not make it so. Stating that we cannot understand God does not resolve the issue or somehow eliminate the contradiction; all it does is offer some peace of mind.
You seem to misunderstand me when I use the term “logical.” Colloquially, the term means intellectual, or something involving critical thought. But when I use the term “logical contradiction” or “logical disproof,” I mean something that is more technical. By logical disproof, I mean a set of premises that, if true, leave no conceivable way for the stated conclusion from those premises to be false. So when I say that the problem of evil is not a logical disproof of God’s existence, I am not saying that it doesn’t involve intellectual considerations. I’m saying that the intellectual considerations do not exclude all conceivable ways for the premises to be true while the conclusion is false. I also attack one of the very premises themselves which is that God would not allow suffering.
That’s where Luke 4 comes in. If we are talking about the Christian God rather than a contrived deity, we must suppose that God is as the Bible, the source of Christian belief, portrays Him. Luke 4 portrays a God who allows suffering, therefore, as long as we are talking about the Christian God, we must grant that God allows suffering.
This is further evidenced by the book of Job where God clearly allows suffering.
The question we must then ask is if this rules out the possibility that God is good. In other words, is it logically contradictory that God allows suffering and is also good? (Notice we haven’t mentioned whether this God exists at all, we are merely talking about the idea of Him in the abstract) In order to be logically contradictory, there can be no conceivable way for the statement that God permits evil and suffering and that God is good to both be true (in the same way there is no conceivable way for the statement that a given shape is a circle and that the same given shape is a square to both be true).
But Job and Isaiah both give a conceivable way for both statements to be true. Job lays the fundamental groundwork in chapter 38 where it says God has authority over all of existence. You seem to miss the moral connotations of “authority.” This is only the statement that God has control and dominion over all things He has made and given. This is foundational. If God did not have authority or rightful control over all of creation, then He would be just as morally culpable for inflicting or allowing suffering as a human. But the Christian idea of God is fundamentally different from humans. Humans do not grant and therefore have rightful authority over the state of another human. But God as the creator of that human has authority in a way humans do not have over each other. This opens the door for a conceivable possibility that God could have the moral right to allow suffering and evil.
The rest of Job and Isaiah only point out that we do not then have to understand why God would exercise his authority to allow suffering. We simply have to recognize the mere possibility that God does have reasons we cannot comprehend, and this is quite conceivable.
So to recap where we are at in the line of argument, we need only find a conceivable way that the Christian God could allow suffering and be good at the same time in order to prove there is no proper logical contradiction. There is a conceivable way for both to be true even if we do not fully understand it, therefore there is no logical contradiction. Thus the problem of evil is not a logical disproof of the existence of a good God.
We have said nothing about whether this God exists, therefore faith has played no role thus far. We have only argued for the logical possibility of such a God. There is a conceivable way that God exists, and that is all that matters so far. I explicitly state this does not prove God exists, and nowhere do I say that we should believe in God if we have the slightest reason. I only acknowledge the possibility that we could have good reasons, and that the problem of evil does not logically preclude any of these reasons by leaving no conceivable way for a good God to allow suffering and evil.
Now you ask if it is possible for God to have created free agents who are entirely good and could never have committed evil. Prima facie, this might sound fair enough. But the reality is that in order to do so, God would have had to have placed certain parameters on humans to begin with. Those parameters would exclude any meaningful choice to love and worship God rather than follow our own evil desires. In essence, God would have created robots forced to love him rather than rational agents capable of choosing to love Him. So then there seems to be no conceivable way for God to have created beings that are capable of choosing to love and worship Him while only giving us the ability to choose to love and worship Him. Therefore, it is logically contradictory that God would have done so, and therefore impossible (in the same way that making a three sided square would be logically impossible). You may wonder how this fits with the possibility that there would be no sin in heaven, but if we have gotten to heaven by already choosing to love and worship God at the expense of our ability to choose otherwise then we have really already fulfilled the very purpose of giving us free will in the first place and it is hardly problematic that we would desire to have such parameters placed on us in the future.
So then if the problem of evil leaves conceivable ways for a good God to allow suffering and evil, but we still choose to deny God’s existence or divinity based upon the problem of evil, then it must be because we want to do so. This is an emotional choice rather than a logical choice. It may be based upon intellectual considerations, but it is emotional at heart since we are following what we desire to believe based on considerations that do not logically lead to that conclusion alone.
This does not mean somebody who disbelieves in God because they do not see sufficient reason for justified Christian theistic belief is doing so for emotional reasons. This applies only to those who suspend theistic belief due to the problem of evil alone. Hence the conclusion that the problem of evil is an emotional problem rather than a logical problem.
This then leads to the real question of whether there is sufficient reason for justified Christian theistic belief, and this requires other considerations such as philosophical, historical, and scientific theistic arguments. The sole purpose of my previous post is to demonstrate that the problem of evil does not logically preclude these arguments.
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