The Problem of Evil? Part 6…

Now, there are a few other points I want to add here.  First, I think Hume makes an odd “mistake” in his supposed logical argument against  the existence of God.  If God is both omni-benevolent and omnipotent, why do we have evil?  Hume only includes God’s benevolence, and God’s omnipotence, and then attempts to pit them against each other.  One thing is obvious, he believes he is making a case against the Judeo-Christian idea of a God, which I do find significant in that it is usually the idea of the Christian God that non-believing philosophers, are dead set against.

So, I don’t find his argument against God holds up even under the logical scrutiny of other non-believers if they realize that God has many more attributes that must be taken into consideration.  The first two that jump to my mind is God’s Holiness and His Justice.  Is God benevolent?  Yup, but He’s also Holy and perfectly and absolutely Just.  This factors into the free will solution as well; God has a standard, if we fail to meet that standard, He will execute Justice.

Adam ate of the tree and the prescribed action in the divine justice system was quickly carried out.  Again, one cannot put forth an argument against God if one does not have, or present, an accurate “picture” of the very thing one is arguing against.

The other side to all of this talk of the “problem of evil” is that it is self-defeating when offered by a non-believer as an argument against God.  To label something well and trully evil, there must be an absolute objective standard of what evil is.  Just as with morality, the concpet of evil has no meaning if there is nothing but matter; if we are but mere matter, there cannot be anything truly called “evil.”

There can be things we do not like, but any connection to real morality would not be there IF we are nothing but mere matter.  Whether or not Hitler was right or wrong in his actions, for example, would only be someone’s opinion.  As a Christian, I can truly label Hitler’s actions as evil and wrong, and have those labels be meaningful.  By phrasing the problem of evil as the problem of evil, a non-believer is basically admitting that there is indeed real right and wrong; an absolute standard.  This “argument against God” falls prey to itself.

Now, there are some non-believers who will put this argument forward, but what they are really asking a believer to do is to explain evil.  The very human question, often asked in times of pain, depression, death, etc… is “Why?”  Many of the “solutions” I’ve put forth in this series covers that idea.  And, yes, I do favor the free will solution.  It makes sense both logically and scripturally.

But, in the end, I don’t find Hume’s “problem of evil” a problem at all, not in the sense of an argument against the existence of God.


Filed under Apologetics, Atheism, Christianity, Philosophy

12 responses to “The Problem of Evil? Part 6…

  1. Carl Sachs

    I am not sure you are being entirely fair to Hume on this point, Kliksa.

    If one looks closely at Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume introduces the “problem of evil” in a very specific context: as an objection to the argument from design. The problem is this: the standard argument from design appeals to the beauty and goodness of nature as a reason for thinking that it must have as its cause some wise and good designer. But then all of the diseases, famines, droughts, etc. would seem to mar that “design”. So it seems that nature is not good enough to warrant the inference that only a good and wise designer could have caused it.

    I would also hasten to add that if one reads Hume’s use of the problem of evil in context, his criticism is not directed against the Christian conception of God, but against the deistic conception of God. This is an extremely important point, because deism attempted to introduce a purely “rational” religion (i.e. a religion without any “supernatural” and esp. without anything “miraculous”). The deists attempted to demonstrate that human reason by itself, without any use of Scripture, was sufficient to demonstrate the existence of God. The argument from design was crucial to deism, and that is the target of Hume’s attack.

    I do not myself believe that a Christian’s faith in God ought to be shaken by “the problem of evil,” but I do think that the fact of suffering poses a good challenge to the argument from design, in the deistic form.

  2. Kliska

    I’ve actually studied Hume as he is considered a definite influence in philosophy “at large” and is often quoted in philosophical conversations even amongst college students. I disagree that it is aimed at the “Deistic” god, because of characteristics he attaches to his hypothetical…just the fact that he attaches certain characteristics seems to indicate he has a specific God in mind, whether or not he knows it consciously or admits it. In fact, I think this often happens even when people try to go “general” in their talk about God.

    As for the problem of evil being a problem for the idea of design, I don’t see that it would be an issue even for say, a general IDer who is a “Deist.”

    We’ll just have to disagree on these issues I believe.

  3. “If one looks closely at Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Hume introduces the “problem of evil” in a very specific context: as an objection to the argument from design. The problem is this: the standard argument from design appeals to the beauty and goodness of nature as a reason for thinking that it must have as its cause some wise and good designer. But then all of the diseases, famines, droughts, etc. would seem to mar that “design”. So it seems that nature is not good enough to warrant the inference that only a good and wise designer could have caused it.”

    Empirically, we can observe that nature is in a constant flux while acheiving an internal balance. God created it that way, and it was “good”. A stalk of corn balances itself with drought, flood, bacterial invasion, heat, cold etc… So does a hawk or a polar bear or a tuna. They are pre-determined to be part of the balancing act. Maybe by extinction. Maybe by abundance. Maybe by stasis.

    But now throw humans into the mix. We are also made from that nature – from the ‘dust of the ground’. So we incurr the same effects of nature’s flux. But we are also ‘living souls’. We have a spiritual component; the ‘breath of life’ given from God (‘in his image’). It is from this that we judge the effects of nature’s balancing act as “good” or “evil”. In sickness and in health. In suffering and in joy.

    Consider the characteristics we have that the other animals don’t. Language, Creativity, Conscience, etc… These are endowed via spirit. Now consider also that we have Free Will. Just as God is free to act or not, to rest or not, to speak or not; so is man. We are free to break away from being pre-determined, as nature would have us be. Thus, we can choose to do something about our plight in nature. We can heat homes, store food in cans, invent vaccines, etc…

    Perhaps the Jewish worldview helps us better deal with the ‘problem of evil’ with regard to nature:

    Jews view man and nature as created good, and still good. Sin is an action of free will, not a curse pronounced on the entire creation. But Christians tend to view man and nature as fallen into a condition of sin. So, regarding our perceptions of what we see as “evil” in nature, Judaism seems to be a more practical application of faith, as opposed to that of Christianity. It’s simply a more positive, grounded worldview; not a negative, overly-spiritualized one.

  4. Carl Sachs

    Oh, there’s no need to resort to “agreeing to disagree” just yet, I think.

    I agree with you that Hume’s conception of God is very much the Judeo-Christian conception — but so too is the deistic conception of God! My understanding of the matter is that the deists were concerned to hold onto the Judeo-Christian conception of God in some respects but not in others. For example, they didn’t deny his existence, power, goodness, wisdom — etc. — but the deists did deny all revelation and all miracles.

    (I know, I know you’ll say it’s not consistent — I’m not saying it is — but that’s my understanding of the deist position!)

    The reason why Hume’s argument works against deism, I think, is because deism is very limited in the sorts of reasons it can appeal to. Scripture is “off limits” — only observation and inference from nature and from experience are permitted. So one cannot appeal to any revelation about the Fall in order to shed light on the compatibility of suffering and God’s goodness, justice, mercy, etc.

    On the other point: I was referring to the argument from design, not to intelligent design theory. The two are very different — or so Dembski insists.

    Still think there’s nothing worthwhile for us to discuss?

  5. A pronouncment of “evil” as a design flaw of nature is really just an expression of our spiritual discernment.

    God said: “Behold, the man is become like Us, to know good and evil”.

    Is nature imperfect, or “evil”, because my friend is suffering from a debilitating disease? What about if a rock falls on him, or his land is washed away in a flood? Is he a victim of the natural laws of biology and physics in some “fallen” state? What if these things happened to a rooster, or a tomato plant instead?

    Consider this interpretation: “Behold, the man is become like Us, to BEAR WITNESS to good and evil”. Do plants and animals “bear witness” or are they simply part of the the natural mechanism, and subject to natural laws? Bearing witness requires an “understanding of situation or plight”. Man has this ability to bear witness to his situation, which is a characteristic of his spiritual component; while at the same time being subject to natural laws too.

    So, it is actually not nature per se, but the suffering that we bear witness to in our struggle to co-exist with nature. That is what we really mean when we refer to nature as containing “evil”. God told Adam and Eve in no uncertain terms that they will suffer in their attempt to co-exist with nature. They will certainly come to ‘know’ good and evil in this way (as they desired by their own choice). Why should this knowledge of good and evil lead to suffering? Because man is not just flesh as all the other animals, but spirit too. Man is made in God’s image, with the ability to bear witness to good and evil.

    So, through our innate spiritual discernment we come to know, identify and endure suffering in the natural world. This is what some may call “evil”. But it is certainly not a design flaw of nature. It is exactly the way man was designed.

  6. Kliska

    Carl, my main comments about Hume’s position still holds even (or especially) in light of your most recent comment, so I do think that one is a dead end for conversation betwixt us. As for the ID movement vs. the argument from intelligent design, I haven’t delved into Demski’s thought on it, and I lean toward creationism, so the fight’s not mine. 😉

    Mike, I think I would agree with some/most of what you are saying, but only if put into the Creationistic frame. God created mankind in such a way that they could survive the fall and continue on…prior to the fall there was no suffering in our natural world for them to witness.

  7. “…prior to the fall there was no suffering in our natural world for them to witness.”

    I guess I’m making the “if a tree falls in the forest…” argument. But in any case, I’m not convinced that the laws of nature were supernaturally “modified” by God as a result of original sin in order to bring suffering via natural calamities into the realm of possibility. I suspect the laws of nature were already designed perfect from the beginning, and that they were “Good” then and now.

  8. Carl Sachs

    Fair enough, Kliksa.

  9. Kliska

    We know from scripture that there were some definite changes implemented. I don’t think it was “in order to bring suffering” it was set up to allow the world to carry on without God’s direct sustaining. I believe the laws of nature were indeed designed in, in anticipation of the fall, but were not needed until that point (for example everything and everyone was to be herbivorous prior to Adam’s sin). It was good in that it was designed in, but not implemented.

    Looking at it from another perspective we see that there will be a time when there are indeed animals just like now, only they will no longer harm one another, nor us.

  10. Carl Sachs

    we see that there will be a time when there are indeed animals just like now, only they will no longer harm one another, nor us.

    At that time, is it expected that humans will also become vegetarian again, and no longer harm animals in any way?

  11. Kliska

    I believe scripture hints at our forth coming vegetarian state. In Eden, animals nor humans were allowed to eat meat, many (including me) think this shows how God intended it to be, but Adam mucked it up. In the book of Isaiah, we have this description;

    Isaiah 11:6 The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. 7 And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. 8 And the sucking child shall play on the hole of the asp, and the weaned child shall put his hand on the cockatrice’ den.

    In Revelation we learn the tree of life makes a reappearance, connecting us back to Eden…

    When God finally recreates the Heavens and the Earth, we are told the former things are passed away. Death is seen as an enemy to be defeated. I think these things hint (it never comes out and literally states) that there will not be any more animals killed for food in the new Heaven/new Earth. Of course, the whole ballgame is changed at the point, because we cannot comprehend (at least I can’t) such a widespread change both to humans who are changed, and to the world.

  12. Is God benevolent? Yup, but He’s also Holy and perfectly and absolutely Just.

    I wrote a little on the problem of good and evil recently as well. I don’t know that God’s goodness conflicts with his holiness. It may and it may be that one of the main points of Christian symbolism is that the rebellion of man created a conflict in God. After all, He does cut off his own right-hand Man as a result of righteousness and so on. When the logic typical to justice and law gets in the way of love then the Logos by which things are made is broken apart. Etc.

    But a “conflict” between attributes of God may not be what it seems to be, as God’s infinite goodness may be enough to both create and resolve the “problem of evil” if one views things like mercy, redemption and forgiveness are good.

    Part of what I wrote earlier:
    I know that logic may not help people experiencing evil in the moment but if an infinite God is totally good and a greater good can come about by creating, using or allowing for evil to exist then vast amounts of evil must necessarily exist. If messy forms of redemption are “more perfect” than law-like forms of perfection then evil must necessarily exist to the same extent that all the “more than perfect” things like redemption, mercy, forgiveness and so on exist.

    I’m not sure from what perspective it seems odd to me that God would do things in such a bloody, messy or dirty way because if it is odd then we’re very odd creatures of blood and mess ourselves. If the gardening God wants to get His hands dirty or to create evil then I’m not in a position to object on “moral” grounds and neither is anyone else that I know. And in order to think things odd I must be imagining some other “normal,” “clean” or “logical” way for the same ends to come about, yet the simple fact is that for all I know there may be no other means to achieve the same ends.

    At any rate, it’s funny to see the “problem of evil” advanced against Christianity when in fact awareness of this problem is essential to the gospel.

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