Sunday, June 30, 2019

The Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil
by Glenn R. Morton 2019

(Note, all my posts will be dated June so my posts below with my views on Genesis won't fall into oblivion by the change of the month)

The problem of evil is a serious atheist argument against God and deserves a serious rebuttal. Basically the argument, attributed to Epicurus by Lactantius, a Christian advisor to Constantine. The argument goes like this.

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?

I would point out to the atheist that God is both able and willing to remove evil but the method by which he is doing it doesn't satisfy them. They wish evil to be removed instantly. God takes a much longer view and in his view, the greatest evil isn't what happens to us in this world but what happens to us in the next.  He will remove evil via the Christian plan of salvation and the events of escatology. Atheists, however, think they know better than God and that the world should be run according to their plan, meaning that the world should be without evil. As we shall see, Lactantius explains why evil is necessary for us to know Good.

Quentin Smith sets up a strawman argument, saying we Christians simply believe the existence of evil is a 'mystery'.

Gratuitous Evil

I think there's a second, separate argument that decisively refutes theism, based on the ordinary logic of induction that we use in our every day lives. The famous British philosopher John Mackie said that if there's any miracle in the world, it's that so many people actually believe God exists. One of the reasons Mackie thought that this is the case is that Mackie found it obvious that if there's evil in the world, no all-powerful and perfectly good being could have created the world. Consider, for example, the Spanish influenza. In World War I (1914-1918), ten million people died. But in three months, from September to November of 1919, twenty million people died -- just as many as in the plague in the fourteenth century -- from Spanish influenza. Then suddenly, this virus that caused this deadly flu disappeared, and no one has seen it again. So how could this possibly have occurred if God exists? Is God not powerful enough to kill this virus or prevent it from growing? If so, then He's not all-powerful and is not really the god of the Judeo-Christian tradition. He's just a sort of extraterrestrial intelligence. He's just more powerful than us by degrees, just as we are more powerful than ants by degrees. But that is no god; that is a finite being. You would no more worship this being than you would worship ET.

Suppose God is all-powerful and is capable of killing the Spanish influenza virus before it killed off twenty million people. Why didn't He? Is it because He's not perfectly good? Because He does not care enough about human beings? That is no god. Sounds like more an evil being governs our universe. So that's just one example of many gratuitous evils in the universe.

So how do theists respond to arguments like this? They say there is a reason for evil, but it is a mystery. Well, let me tell you this: I'm actually one hundred feet tall even though I only appear to be six feet tall. You ask me for proof of this. I have a simply answer: it's a mystery. Just accept my word for it on faith. And that's just the logic theists use in their discussions of evil.

This is not what I and many Christians say of evil. We know why evil exists.  Smith and other atheists have forgotten something very important Christian theology says about our world.

Furthermore, they forget this Genesis 1:28:

" And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth[1]

God gave dominion of this world to mankind!  God gave us the key's to the car and we drove the car into the ditch. We are the ones who are responsible; much of the evil in this world is due to us!  We are the ones who killed millions people in World War.  What I am suggesting is something that only works for those of us who are more Arministic in our theology. Calvinists won't find this fitting within their theology.  If we humans have any impact on the nature of this world, then we can't lay at God's feet the blame for all the evil in the world.

Smith blames the Spanish flu on God, and one can try to say that all the diseases in the geologic past are due to God rather than man, but amazingly, science says some very interesting things about the power of individual humans to shape the nature of this world, including what happened in the past. Smith's criticism is partly based upon the idea that we have no impact on the past. This isn't true. From my article on Quantum Soul:

Theoretical physicist John Wheeler further elucidates the role of the observer with what are called “delayed-choice” thought experiments. (See Fig. 2.)

"Wheeler noted that it is possible to devise a double slit experiment at the cosmic level using light coming from quasars and a galaxy which operates as a gravitational lens on the way to Earth, bending the light inwardly as it passes by massive objects (as predicted by Einstein’s general theory of relativity). This light would generate an interference pattern showing that light has travelled as waves. But if a measurement would be performed before the screen on which the interference pattern takes form, the pattern would dissolve and the photons would change from waves into particles. In other words, our choice on how to measure the light coming from a quasar influences the nature of the light emitted 10 billion years ago. According to Wheeler, this experiment would show that ‘retrocausal effects operate at the quantum level."

The light's passage by the massive light-bending galaxy occurred long before there were any people or multicellular life on earth. Yet our decision today determines what happened to that light 2 billion years ago. To paraphrase Weinberg and Wigner, “Human beings are in the cookie jar at the beginning of the laws of QM.” Matter is obeying consciousness. Matter, at its most fundamental level, is NOT master of consciousness; consciousness is master of the matter!

Another retrocausality experiment done by Kim et al, allows the observer to change the equipment after the particles have gone through the double-slit apparatus but before they have hit the screen. Amazingly, the observer's choice still rules over what nature does.14

Wheeler eventually changed his mind, opting for another interpretation of delayed-choice experiments, taking the view that particles don't get their properties until they are observed, meaning, they are neither waves nor particles until the observer decides what equipment he wishes to use. Clearly, this is even a more radical position than that of most 19th century idealists. Such a view places the observer/soul as the creator of the universe and its past. (Move over, God!) Matter is not creating consciousness through biological evolution, but consciousness is creating matter and its history by observation. To paraphrase Descartes famous quote, the observer can say, "I observe; therefore I create; therefore I am [like God]." Hyperbole aside, Christian readers are likely to recall from Genesis 1 that “God created mankind in his own image.” Perhaps we see tangible evidence of this in delayed-choice experiments. Given that God gave us control of the earth, which means, we humans are responsible for much of the evil we see in the world, both natural and man-made. We can't lay at God's feet what we are responsible for. 

Either way one interprets that experiment, it gives great power to the human observer to shape his universe.  This is tangible, scientific evidence that mankind does have control over nature, even if we are not very good at wielding that power

God gave us at least partial control of the universe and if, in our sin, we messed it up, creating natural and human-caused evil, then we can't blame God. Consider first time you gave the keys to the car to your child.  He/she drives off, and you have no way to protect him. The laws of physics which you are required to obey don't allow you to protect him anymore. If your child drives into a bad neighborhood, or drives to the drug dealer, or the red light district, you can't prevent that.  If they decide to run down a group of people on the sidewalk for fun, you can't stop that.  I would argue that God has limited His actions in the universe to very special occasions.

Now, the atheist is going to say, well God is omnipotent; He can do what he wants.  But not if He has a reason to limit his interactions. Maybe as seen in Job, He has limited his interaction with the world. In Job, God and Satan make a bet on how Job will respond to tragedy and evil coming into his life.  God does not save Job from that evil. Job had to endure it.  Job 1:12 says:

And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand

Job lost his family, lost his wealth and became very sick.  needs to remove evil in a different way.

They (and I) have pointed occasionally to Isaiah 45:7."I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things"

If God created everything, then he created Satan as well, and would have foreknown what Satan would do. I don't see how Christians can avoid this conclusion, so God's plan included this.

One other source of evil in this world is that Satan seems to have control over the governments. He offered Jesus total rule over the world.

"Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them; And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve. 11 Then the devil leaveth him[2]"

Jesus didn't contradict Satan's claim to be able to make such an offer.

Secondly, it is interesting that atheists, when presenting the argument advanced by Epicurus, leave out Lactantius' solution to this paradox, which is, that if we don't know evil, we can't recognize good. Within classical Christian Theology, one could argue that even if Adam and Eve had not sinned, we would eventually have been introduced to the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, but introduced on God's terms, not Satan's. Here is what Lactantius said:

"But if this account is true, which the Stoics were in no manner able to see, that argument also of Epicurus is done away. God, he says, either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing or able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils or why does He not remove them? I know that many of the philosophers, who defend providence, are accustomed to be disturbed by this argument, and are almost driven against their will to admit that God takes no interest in anything, which Epicurus especially aims at; but having examined the matter, we easily do away with this formidable argument. For God is able to do whatever he wishes, and there is no weakness or envy in God. He is able, therefore, to take away evils; but He does not wish to do so, and yet He is not on that account envious. For on this account he does not take them away, because He at the same time gives wisdom, as I have shown; and there is more of goodness and pleasure in wisdom than of annoyance in evils. For wisdom causes us even to know God, and by that knowledge to attain immortality, which is the chief good. Therefore, unless we first know evil, we shall be unable to know good. But Epicurus did not see this, nor did any other, that if evils are taken away, wisdom is in like manner taken away; and that no traces of virtue remain in man, the nature of which consists in enduring and overcoming the bitterness of evils. And thus, for the sake of a slight gain in the taking away of evils, we should be deprived of a good, which is very great, and true, and peculiar to us. It is plain, therefore, that all things are proposed for the sake of man, as well evils as also goods.
Lactantius, The Anger of God,

One can see Lactantius' point in full display in modern society. As I observe our abundantly blessed land, Americans alive today have never known real want. There has
been no starvation in our land within the memory of anyone alive nor have we experienced destruction by war as Europe did in WWII. We have not experienced true despotism like I have seen in other countries. Because of this, tiny annoyances become monstrous issues in our minds. Not experiencing true, historical levels of calamity, we have no basis upon which to judge how good we have it.  Like an heir to a fortune who thinks everyone has their kind of money, we see the world through a broken window pane.

I recall running into an American in Rome and he asked me, "How can anyone stand to live here. Look around, there is nothing new, all the buildings are old and you would have to get your food from this tiny, dirty market. Would you want to live here like this?" Having traveled the world a bit, I was both amused and disgusted with this guy.  My reaction was, "Yeah, I would love it."  He didn't understand me, but he was showing the effect of his affluent lifestyle on his attitude towards the rest of the world.

One of the things I liked about working in China was that every employee could look out the window on the streets of Beijing and see what life is like without any education.  The poor of China live hard lives of physical labor--bicycling trash or other heavy objects. From

My employees knew of people making their living fishing in a dirty river like this man: The pictures below are my pictures and are  in descending order from the Pearl River, Guangzhou, China, near Tianjin, China and finally, in Tibet.

And my employees knew that people in their country lived in homes like the two above.

They knew how bad it could be and were grateful for their office jobs because they could see true poverty.. They knew what could happen if their lives fell apart.

Today, Americans do not see this kind of lifestyle in our country and they fail to be grateful for what they have.  Even our poor live better lives than the people pictured above.  I am a cancer patient. How do I know how well off I am?  By looking around and seeing people in far worse shape than I.  Lactantius is correct, we can't know good until we know evil. Below is Lactantius' presentation of Epicurus along with the part that the atheists always exclude which I have bolded:

It is so interesting to me that the atheists leave out Lactantius's explanation and don't even bother to address it, preferring to be intellectually lazy. Lactantius is correct, we can't know Good if we don't know Evil.

[1] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Ge 1:28). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
[2] The Holy Bible: King James Version. (2009). (Electronic Edition of the 1900 Authorized Version., Mt 4:8–11). Bellingham, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.

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