Tag Archives: Philosophy

Ayn Rand; Brilliant? Fool? Both? pt. 1

As a philosophy instructor I’ve of course learned and taught about Ayn Rand, but only recently have I really looked at her, as a person, instead of “just” the philosophy she adopted as her own and presented to the public.  Ayn had a lot of interesting philosophies, and many of those philosophies have a place in our current society, and could even be embraced by Christians; however, Ayn also had many personal and psychological issues that get in the way of her own philosophy.

Contrary to Ayn’s own apparent belief, her philosophy had been around for thousands of years before she was born; her objectivism wasn’t so much a new philosophy, as it was a mix of philosophies that could be found in the annals of philosophy that came before her.  She also lacked a logical basis for her philosophy, though that idea would insult her very much.

First, a run down of what “objectivism” is, according to Ayn. Objectivism is espoused to be an answer to subjectivism.  Objectivists like Ayn believe that our senses actually and accurately inform us about reality.  Human logic stands in for God (which is an illogical position that I’ll address later); meaning Ayn believed that human reason alone could result in absolutes.  For example, we can rationally conceive of a morality totally defined via human reason and have it be absolute.

One of the hallmarks of Ayn’s morality was the idea of selfishness; that selfishness is morally right.  She was fond of bashing (and misunderstanding) altruism, as well as Christianity. And, the one big thing we’ve heard recently because of the state of our economy and country; she pushed for laissez-faire capitalism with extraordinarily limited gov’t interference in the business world.

Ayn’s philosophies never caught on in any academic sphere.  One reason; she disliked academics, so there was her strike against the liberals.  She disliked religion and denied there was a God, so there was her strike against the conservatives.  She effectively cut off both routes to respect and implementation of her philosophies (this is important because one reason she wrote what she did when she did was to try to change the directions of the U.S.).  While her philosophies are popular amongst college/high school students, it is her stories that are popular amongst the “common folk” whom she often complained did not understand the deeper implications of her work.

Surprisingly enough, Ayn was anti-feminist and anti-homosexual, finding both positions to be immoral and disgusting.  She had odd ideas about sex and sexuality that are apparent just by reading her fiction stories.  To be a “good” objectivist was to believe that it was the man’s place to be worshiped, and a woman’s place to be submissive and to be owned.  Authors tend to write themselves into certain characters and by reading Ayn’s descriptions of her female characters, we can see a common thread that is both sad and disturbing.  I intend to take a look at this in my next blog post as well as discussing her take on altruism and morality.

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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.

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The Problem of Evil, Part 5b…

The last post was about Free Will as a solution to the “Problem of Evil.”  In this post, I’d like to delve into another aspect of this solution.  Most of the time, when people talk of the Problem of Evil, the focus is on moral evil.

Remember, moral evil is that evil that is directly caused by humanity; torture, murder, rape, etc…  There is that other type of evil to take into account as well, and that is natural evil, as I mentioned before.  Natural evil comes about from “nature” and the various laws of science operating.  If you fall, gravity will pull you down and perhaps aid in breaking a bone, or even result in death from things like head injury.

Free will isn’t just a solution supported or put forth from Christian philosophers.  The interesting thing here comes in when it becomes clear that most people that support the free will solution are focusing in on only moral evil.  It is pretty obvious that our wills, whether they are free or not, play into moral evil…that’s the whole point.  Mankind contributes evil to this world all the time; we lie, cheat, steal, kill, etc…

Now, from a Christian perspective, the Free Will solution also covers natural evil.  From our perspective, God created a good world for us to live in; a safe world, one in which we didn’t even have to worry about death.  Again, Adam’s free will choice of not faithing on God brought about natural evil in our world.  God gave charge over to Adam over this world of ours, and Adam’s choice impacted not only humanity but also the rest of physical reality here.

We believe that all creation groans under the weight of sin, not just humanity.  This is one of the few explanations that I’ve come across that can and does account for both kinds of evil.  It is true that we can now try to yield to righteousness, instead of to sin, in the realm of moral evil, but we must also put up with a fallen creation, not just a fallen humanity, in the realm of natural evil.

Natural evil can be anticipated, but in most cases of huge natural disasters, we are unable to “fight” it directly.  We have to anticipate and then respond.  So, the characteristics of the two kinds of evil are different, but the ultimate responsibility still lies with mankind.  The ultimate outcome, again according to scripture, will be a restoration not only of mankind, but also of all creation.  Both moral and natural evil will be taken care of.

One common question that come up is something along the lines of, “So, you believe if Adam shimmied up a tree and fell on his head that he would have survived prior to his eating of the Tree of knowledge?”  My answer is “yes.”  God clearly has the power to sustain…not only life, but also inanimate matter as well…

Deuteronomy 8:1 All the commandments which I command thee this day shall ye observe to do, that ye may live, and multiply, and go in and possess the land which the LORD sware unto your fathers. 2 And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no. 3 And he humbled thee, and suffered thee to hunger, and fed thee with manna, which thou knewest not, neither did thy fathers know; that he might make thee know that man doth not live by bread only, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the LORD doth man live. 4 Thy raiment waxed not old upon thee, neither did thy foot swell, these forty years.

What we have here is a clear example of God maintaining the state of even inanimate matter; their clothes lasted forty years whilst they trudged about in the wilderness…they never needed knew robes, shoes, etc… because God intervened, apparently at the molecular level, in order to maintain their clothing.  He is quite capable of sustaining that which He wishes to sustain.

Again, I wrote this post mainly because I do think it is important to touch upon both kinds of evil, moral and natural, and also to show that Christianity does indeed account for both through the free will solution.  I hope to give a brief overview sometime soon of the Arminian vs. Calvinistic position on the whole free will issue.

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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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The problem of evil? Part 4…

Well, I lied.  In part 3 I said I would cover free will in this post, but I’m saving it til later.  I wanted to discuss another POV that will wind up connecting with free will first.  Please do read my other posts on “the problem of evil” here: part 1, 2, 3.

This “solution” to the problem of evil sees evil as therapy.  The idea here is that evil is a tool that God uses to help mankind learn and mature as a species.

I always explain this POV to my students like this; we all know kids who have been raised by extremely overprotective parents.  These kids are not allowed much freedom, nor are they allowed to experience the consequences of any mistakes that they happen to make.  They are protected from the world in many ways that actually hinders their maturity.

Now, oftentimes what happens when these kids do manage to get out into the world?  Usually one of two things; either they go nuts with their new freedom and wind up committing really bad mistakes because of a lack of decision making and self-control, or they wind up being overcome by the world completely; real life is simply too much for them.

This solution to the problem of evil is kind of based on that idea.  God allowed evil…he allowed mankind to make choices and suffer the consequences, not because He Himself caused the evil, but so we will learn what evil is, and why it is a good idea to pay attention to what He has to say.

John Hick is pretty well known in the philosophy field for supporting this idea, but it really can be traced back to Irenaeus’ teachings.

Mankind as a whole is learning from our interactions with this world, including both natural and moral evil.  It serves, so the idea goes, to purify, and ultimately bring about spiritual healing in time.  Now, this solution rests on the idea of free will too, which I will indeed get to.

Leaving that to the side for a minute, how does this solution line up with scripture?  Some of it does indeed line up with what we are taught.  First, God’s Law, and everything that comes with it is indeed teaching one main lesson…the lesson that is being drilled into humanity; for sin comes death.  This teaching is everywhere throughout scripture and in human experience.  Death entered in through Adam’s sin, and continues on throughout current human history.

Also, the idea that hardship and suffering teach us things is also included in scripture…however, so is the idea that suffering should be defeated, that death should be, and will be, done away with.  Evil isn’t something we are to embrace in the least, it is more presented as a fact of life.  This “solution” then makes sense on one hand (suffering does shape us), but I don’t find the idea that mankind was created immature in scripture…quite the contrary.

Again, free will is an important component that I will get to soon…

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The problem of evil? Part 3…

In this installment, I’ll look at another solution to “the problem of evil” discussed in part 1 and part 2.  The reason I pulled this “solution” out from the rest is that it is a popular one to discuss, and in fact it resembles a story that often goes around the ‘net in forwarded emails.

St. Augustine was quite fond of this solution, and wrote quite a bit about it.  The solution is that evil is the absence, or privation of goodness.  What makes this a solution revolves around what God is directly responsible for in His creation.

What God directly creates, so the idea goes, He is responsible for.  So, did He directly create evil?  Well, that’s the catch.  If one views evil as the privation of goodness, it was never “created” as such.  Here are the popular analogies used to try to help explain;

First the matter of “cold.”  Cold actually doesn’t “exist” as an independent thing.  Rather, we define cold by heat; cold is the absence of heat.  When you take the temperature of something you are actually measuring it’s heat, not it’s “coldness.”  As we approach absolute zero, there is less and less heat measured.  Cold is a term that we came up with to be able to communicate certain concepts.  So, if I say, “it’s cold,” it is absolutely meaningful, though I’m really saying, “there is an absence of heat.”

Second, the matter of dark, or darkness.  Darkness, as with cold, is completely dependent on something else; light.  “Dark” isn’t made up of particles, or waves…darkness is merely the absence of light.  Light waves exist certainly, but there isn’t “dark waves.”  When we say the room is dark, we are actually commenting on the absence of light.

So, the same idea is applied to evil in this solution.  God, so the argument goes, did indeed make all things good, but also “changeable.”  Meaning He did not create a robot-like universe, instead, while not creating evil, He did create goodness and the ability for the corruption of goodness.

In On Free Choice of the Will, Augustine says this (emphasis added), “Every good is from God.  There is nothing of any kind that is not from God.  Therefore, since the movement of turning away from good, which we admit to be sin, is a defective movement and since, moreover, every defect comes from nothing, see where this movement belongs: you may be sure that it does not belong to God.  Yes, since this defect is voluntary, it lies within our power.

God wouldn’t be responsible for the non-being, or “non-thing” of evil.  He didn’t create it, as it, by definition completely dependent on goodness, which God did create.  When we see someone doing something “evil” we are commenting on the absence of goodness in that person’s actions.

This solution is interesting for a couple of reasons.  First, we do know that God declared His creation “good,” in the beginning, so that would kind of flow with Augustine’s position.  And secondly, it quite rightly shifts the responsibility to us when it comes to our actions.  Oftentimes even believers look around and bemoan the state of things without wondering what we can do to make it better.

This sets up the discussion for part 4 of mankind and free will.

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The problem of evil? Part 1…

I’ve gone over some of the arguments for the existence of God, now I’m going to turn to the one major philosophical argument against their being of God.  Please hang in there with me; I’m doing this in several parts since I’m trying to fight off a lovely illness, and I don’t feel like typing for long periods of time at the present. 🙂

This argument against God is often called “The problem of evil,” though even more often people just ask it as a question, such as, “If God exists why is there evil in the world?”

The philosopher Hume put it this way; “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

Some other vocabulary will suffice in this introduction; the difference between natural evil and moral evil.  Natural evil is that evil that occurs because of nature, or the natural world; if I trip and fall, gravity will pull me down.  Sometimes when we trip, we break a bone, which leads to suffering…that is one example.  Also things like starving, or drowning.  Anything that is a result of a natural law, or an effect can be considered a natural evil.

Moral evil is much more “personal” to humans.  This evil springs from human will.  Anything we do to ourselves or others falls in this category; murder, torture, rape, abuse, etc…. are examples of moral evil.

So, evil is present in our world, not many people dispute that.  Most don’t dispute that it is a bad thing either…especially moral evil.  In my next few posts I’ll be looking at different responses to this idea of “the problem of evil,” including mankind’s free will, and also asking if it is even a logical argument against God.

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