The Problem of Evil, Part 5a…

Ok, here are the other “Problem of Evil” posts: Part 1, 2, 3, and 4.  As I’ve been discussing, “The Problem of Evil” is one argument that is used against the idea of there being a God, and now I’m going to make an intro post on another main “solution” to the “problem;” Free Will.

I’m breaking this discussion of Free Will up into several parts, because anyone who has looked into this knows that whole books have been written about this very topic.  I’d also like to eventually talk about the debate in light of Christianity as well; Calvinism vs. Arminianism in particular.

Ok, so this “solution” centers around mankind’s responsibility in bringing about evil in the world.  Free will is a condition for morality; for true right and wrong…for true righteousness, there must be choices available.  Why?  Because morality, to be truly meaningful, must have a split between a “right” action/choice and a “wrong” action/choice just by sheer definition.

The question arises, “Could God have made everyone where they would freely “choose” the good, no matter what?”  The answer is “no” because it is a logical contradiction.  If no one could do otherwise than choose to do good, then there is no meaningful choice involved at all.  The focus in this solution shifts from God to mankind.  The idea can kind of be summed up like this, “God made evil possible, man made it actual.”

In this solution, God is not responsible for evil in that He created it, rather mankind is responsible because he made a wrong choice.  If God desired robots He very well could have made them, but He did not.  He desires us, for various reasons, and He desires us to freely choose Him.

Does this solution line up with scripture?  Sure.  We only have to look to the account of Adam and Eve for one clear example.  As I’ve blogged about before, The Tree of Knowledge and the command not to eat of it was there as a choice.  Right choice and behavior was available; don’t eat of the tree.  Wrong choice and behavior was available as well.  Of course, as I mentioned before, this choice is about faith; trust God and follow what He says, or react with lack of faith and go against Him.  We also see in scripture that Adam’s act, his choice, has major repercussions for the world.

I’ll continue on in part 5b…

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18 Comments

Filed under Apologetics, Atheism, Christianity, Philosophy

18 responses to “The Problem of Evil, Part 5a…

  1. Carl Sachs

    Far be it for me to tell a theologian how to go about her business, but I’d like to hear a bit more about why it is better that there exist a world in which evil is possible than that there exist a world in which evil is not possible.

    Clearly God is good, and evil is best thought of as privative — a freely chosen rejection or a turning away from God. That seems to mean that “good” just means something like “the fullness of God’s presence”, and evil just means “the absence of God.”

    Or does it? Here’s my question — and it’s a philosophical one, not a theological or anti-theological one — are these terms synonyms, or are they co-extensive predicates? In other words, do they have the same sense, or only the same reference?

  2. Kliska

    Here’s the problem with your first “question;” it can be phrased in the more positive light, and that is the intent of the free will solution. “I’d like to hear a bit more about why it is better that there exist a world in which freedom, trust and love is not possible.” Do you see how the wording of the question changes the focus? If God did not make sin a possibility there would be no opportunity for mankind to have free will, to truly trust or to experience meaningful, powerful, and wonderful love.

    To debate whether or not a world without evil would be “better” or “worse” from a human perspective is kind of a moot point. The world exists and there is evil in it. The “problem of evil” tries to lay evil in our world directly at God’s feet, the “solution” of free will lays it, actual evil, at mankind’s feet.

  3. Carl Sachs

    If God did not make sin a possibility there would be no opportunity for mankind to have free will, to truly trust or to experience meaningful, powerful, and wonderful love.

    Oh, I get that. But still, that doesn’t really answer my question. Why is it better that there be a world in which there is both “the experience of meaningful, powerful and wonderful love” — from the human perspective — and horror, evil, atrocity, etc? Granted that you can’t have one without the other — that’s the crux of the free will assumption — why is it better to have both than neither?

    To debate whether or not a world without evil would be “better” or “worse” from a human perspective is kind of a moot point. The world exists and there is evil in it. The “problem of evil” tries to lay evil in our world directly at God’s feet, the “solution” of free will lays it, actual evil, at mankind’s feet.

    At the feet of mankind? Or at the feet of the individuals who are perpetuating the evil, and the institutions which make them possible?

    Now, I should say that I don’t really feel the grip of “the problem of evil” all that strongly as an intellectual problem. I regard it as a moral problem — a problem about having the courage to call evil by its name, to confront it where it arises, to reach out to its victims with love even at risk to oneself, and to maintain some critical self-consciousness about one’s own actions. Theodicy, for me, is just a game — an intellectual puzzle — though of course it wasn’t for Leibniz, and some Christian philosophers, such as Swinburne, seem to take it pretty seriously.

  4. Martin

    Just a quick comment that doesn’t really add anything to the conversation… 🙂

    I agree with you about this solution to the problem of evil. I’ve NEVER been impressed with it as an argument against the existence of God, and it would not sway me away from the Christian God in the slightest, were I a Christian. 🙂

    This is one area where you Christians make perfect sense to me, at least within the framework of your worldview. 🙂

  5. Kliska

    “Oh, I get that. But still, that doesn’t really answer my question.”

    Sure it does. If the possibility of evil didn’t exist those other things wouldn’t either. Notice that evil doesn’t have to exist for the others to exist, only the possibility, hence free will. I for one believe that there indeed will be an existence that has all the positives, but that evil does not exist, not that it could not, but that it will not; I believe it and also think scripture points to it.

    “Why is it better that there be a world in which there is both “the experience of meaningful, powerful and wonderful love” — from the human perspective — and horror, evil, atrocity, etc? Granted that you can’t have one without the other — that’s the crux of the free will assumption — why is it better to have both than neither?”

    Just to point out an interesting fact, we couldn’t even have this conversation without both, because you are asking why is it “better?” The answer is that it is better because that is the way God let it unfold. I happen to think it’s better too, because of the positives, but my opinion doesn’t count. God, in His righteousness, sees that the ending is worth everything we are going through now…and I will remind my readers that it is God Himself who took on the pain, misery, and sin of all mankind in order to redeem us to Himself. So, not only did He not cause the evil, He suffered for us humans who did indeed cause it, in order that some day we can live in that evil-free world, if we yield to righteousness…and Righteousness is God.

    To put it really simplistically, (and this is totally from a human POV) if I want to own a dog, I have to realize that I’m going to (more than likely) outlive that dog. I love dogs, and they bring me incredible joy to have around…but when I have to put one down, or they die it really and truly hurts. So, do I buy the dog, or deny myself the joy to avoid the pain? My family has always recognized that the good outweighs the bad, and had our dogs.

    “At the feet of mankind? Or at the feet of the individuals who are perpetuating the evil, and the institutions which make them possible?”

    All mankind “perpetrates” evil. Every single human as an individual and as a group. Mankind has fallen, and even our instincts and earliest tendencies and thoughts are skewed…as are our physical selves.

  6. Kliska

    Thanks for your thoughts, Martin.

  7. Carl Sachs

    I’d still like to know whether you understand moral terms (such as “good” or “righteous”) as synonymous with the presence of the divine or as co-extensive.

  8. I don’t think any of us really can comprehend what absolute good or evil is if you take away freedom to choose.

    If on some planet somewhere, there was only good AND there was freewill, the ultimate expression of that freedom might be giving one’s life for another. So, should we find nobody living there because everybody has sacrificed themselves? Or should we find a place full of people because nobody is ever compelled to sacrifice their life because nothing evil ever occurs to their neighbor?

    However, if on another planet somewhere else there was only evil AND freewill, the ultimate expression of that freedom might be in selfishly preserving one’s own life, at the expense of everyone else. So, should we find plenty of people there? Or perhaps should we find nobody left alive because nothing good ever occurs to stop them from killing each other?

    To give your life is to have life forever. To cling to it is to lose it forever.

  9. Kliska

    “I’d still like to know whether you understand moral terms (such as “good” or “righteous”) as synonymous with the presence of the divine or as co-extensive.”

    You are asking the questions from your perspective in such a way that I can’t grasp what it is that you are really and truly asking. Not that it is on purpose, but you are asking the question in a way I never would, so I’m finding it hard to answer in the way you’d have me do.

    From a human perspective “goodness” and righteousness is what lines up with God. Again, God’s very being, which is absolute. As an extension it could be seen as lining up with God’s will. Can goodness or righteousness ever be defined apart from God; no, I don’t believe so…those words would be subjective and have no meaning.

  10. Carl Sachs

    You are asking the questions from your perspective in such a way that I can’t grasp what it is that you are really and truly asking. Not that it is on purpose, but you are asking the question in a way I never would, so I’m finding it hard to answer in the way you’d have me do.

    What I’m “really and truly asking” is a straightforward question about the semantics of your assertion, assuming (as background) the debates informed by Frege, Wittgenstein, Quine, and Putnam about the distinction between “sense” and “reference.” I know that you teach philosophy and logic, so I’m assuming that this is all somewhat familiar material to you.

    My purpose, such as it is, is simply that I’m interested in having you clarify your ideas. I’m not baiting you, I’m not interested in challenging your assumptions, and the last thing I’d want to do is attack your faith, or be seen as doing so. (I’m simply not that kind of atheist.) I’m just interested in figuring out the semantics of your assertions, as one philosopher to another.

  11. Kliska

    Carl, your tone is kind of odd to me. I’m simply asking you to rephrase your question. There’s no need to get defensive about any of it. I haven’t the foggiest clue who “Frege, Wittgenstein, Quine, and Putnam” are, nor does their POV matter to me in this conversation between us.

    I’m giving you my explanation from my perspective, if you can’t rephrase your question, my explanation will have to suffice.

    You may have forgotten that my main training is in Psychology; my Master’s degree is in Psych, and I’m a licensed counselor. I know philosophy, I teach philosophy (as I do Logic, Sociology, Psychology…), but philosophy is by no means my my main interest…you could say I’m more interested in the heavy hitters, and the main philosophical perspectives.

  12. Carl Sachs

    My apologies, Kliksa; I’d assumed that your training was similar to mine and that the sorts of questions that interest me are like those that interest you.

    Here’s the gist of what I was getting at: some 20th-century philosophers, beginning with Frege, thought it important to distinguish between sense and reference. For example, “the evening star,” “the morning star,” and “Venus” all refer to the same object, but they do not mean the same thing — if they did, then “evening” would mean “morning”! So there is a sameness of reference and a difference of sense.

    And the same point holds for all things that people talk about — not just physical objects. For example, “the only even prime number” and “the whole number between one and three” have the same reference but different senses. Whereas “triangle” and “geometrical figure with three sides” have the same sense — that’s how definitions work.

    With that said, my question was, do “goodness” and “divine presence” mean the same thing — are they the same in sense? — or do the terms have different senses and only have the same reference?

    If this isn’t the sort of question which interests you, feel free to ignore it — I shan’t be offended at all.

  13. Kliska

    First, let me say that I don’t believe the distinctions that you say Frege thought was important don’t really seem that important to me in this context, as “the evening star” and “the morning star” would be synonymous no matter how you slice it, I understand the concept, but I don’t see it as important in the discussion of this “problem of evil” that is the basis (or should be the basis) of our current conversation.

    Let me try to show you where I’m coming from. Here’s the way I would answer that question, just from my own thoughts on the issue; where you have God (perhaps “divine presence” in your own words), there you have Goodness…as God is Good (His very nature defines it). However, you also have many other things as well; complete Justice, Mercy, Love, etc… So, they are not synonymous in other words; the idea of Goodness does not fully encompass, nor define God (again, divine presence).

    And, you cannot have Goodness without God serving as a reference, nor without the initiation springing from God Himself, in today’s fallen world man cannot do good apart from God. In other words, I don’t find the objects/terms of our conversation (such things as God and Goodness) as fitting into the debate that Frege may have had, as presence of the divine is so much more than “Goodness.”

  14. Carl Sachs

    I’m satisfied with that response. Thank you.

  15. The free will defense with regards to the problem of evil is soundly refuted here *link deleted*.

    • Kliska

      Actually, Robert, my discussion about the limitations of Hume’s proposed version of the problem of evil shows the flaws in that website’s presentation of the problem of evil; again, they pick and choose God’s characteristics, and that won’t work. If one discusses God, then one has to discuss Him as a whole, not just pick certain characteristics that makes one feel they’ve made their point.

      So, no, it doesn’t “soundly refute” anything, and links to sites such as that are not permitted on my blog.

  16. The article discussed the problem of evil as expounded by Epicurus.

    But fine, if you wish to remove the characteristic of God as “all-loving,” then that does indeed resolve the problem of evil, for then God’s nature includes evil.

    In any case, your reasoning in this article is laughable. God required evil for man to have free will, but it was man who made it “actual”? Lucky for God, I guess. What a joke.

    But go ahead, censor and ban all you wish. This is what falsehood requires to be sustained.

    • Kliska

      Yes, but it covered the same ground I’ve already discussed. You are not reading my replies, nor apparently my posts; it is not considering the other aspects of God’s character that is the problem; His Holiness, His Righteousness, His Justice, etc… that is but one of the issues with the supposed “problem of evil.” The reasoning is quite sound as long as one doesn’t try to form a straw man as you do here. God did not require evil to have free will; what was required was that a choice be available to mankind, as that is the only way to truly have free will.

      I didn’t ban anyone, I did remove a link to a website that is extremely misleading as well as being flat out wrong. This is about maintaining the Truth, and also it is about my very serious responsibility and knowledge that this blog is under my watch, and I know for a fact that I’m answerable for its content before God. My aim with this blog is to bring people to the truth of Christ, not to put links to pages that can’t be bothered to accurately represent the truth, or their opponents’ arguments.

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