Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Problem of Evil Revisited—Part II



Continuing from where we left off in the previous post, he says:

“The second part of the question has to do with the origin of evil, and how evil could intrude into a universe created by a God who is altogether holy, altogether righteous; and not only is this universe created by such a God, it is also governed and ruled by such a God. And if this God is holy, and if he is righteous, how in the world can he tolerate so much evil in it?”

I have difficulty with his nebulous use of the language here. What does he mean by “universe”? The universe is a pretty big place. This earth is a speck of dust compared to the rest of the universe. What does he know about what is going on in the Andromeda Galaxy, or the Sombrero Galaxy, or any of the other 200 billion galaxies that are out there in the observable universe? He doesn’t even know what is going on in the other side of our own galaxy, never mind in the rest of the universe. It is a bit presumptuous of him to assume that his knowledge and experience of this world makes him an authority on what is happening in the rest of the “universe”. He continues:

“The origin of evil has been called the Achilles heel of Christianity; …” 

That is a somewhat sloppy use of language. The phrase “origin of evil” can have two different meanings. It can either mean how the very idea or concept of “evil” came into existence; or it can refer to how the practice, perpetration, implementation, or commission of evil entered into the world. Those are two different concepts, and need to be separated. The context of his talk suggests that he is actually referring to the second concept, rather than the first; whereas the first is the more fundamental one, which I have already discussed here. He continues:

“Now sometimes as Christians we fail to feel the weight of that problem. The philosopher John Stuart Mill put it this way: The presence of evil makes the very existence of God problematic, because in the Christian view of God we say that on the one hand God is omnipotent, he possesses all power. On the other hand we say that God is loving and good. And Mill looks at the pain, and the sorrow, and the suffering, and the moral evil in this world; and he said, Wait a minute, these two ideas, the goodness of God and the omnipotence of God, in light of the reality of evil, cannot logically cohere or co-exist. His argument is this: if God is all-powerful, and has the power to create a universe without evil; or has the power to rid the universe of evil; and any given moment—if he has the power to do it, and he doesn’t do it, then he is not good, or he is not loving; because what kind of being who has omnipotent power could stand by and observe the pain the suffering and wickedness in a universe of his own creation, and not eliminate it? It can’t be good! If on the other hand God is good, and God is loving, and wants to get rid of evil, that brings so much of blemish to his creation, like the BP oil spill that everybody recognizes is a disaster, and God would see it as a disaster, and he would love to see it cleaned up, but he doesn’t have the power to do it—so do you see, one way or the other, God is either not good, or he is not all-powerful.”

This is also a question that I have already answered more than once in my previous posts; and it is by no means the hardest of the two questions. The reason why he finds it so hard to answer is because he is too stuck in “predestination” and “faith-alone” of Calvinism. If he would rid his mind of that baggage, and with a slight theological adjustment, it becomes easy to answer. He continues:

“Now I think there is an adequate answer to that question, and it is one God willing I will try to provide for you in the minutes that are left in this consideration; but before I go any further to answer the question of where evil came from, I have to give my short answer to the question, my down and dirty answer the question: Where did evil come from? And my answer is this, I don’t know! So maybe it is time for me to just sit down and shut up. But what I want to do in the time remaining is to tell you why I don’t know.”

Well, he has come to the right place to find out. I will be happy to give him the answer free of charge! He continues:

“Forty years ago I was giving a lecture on this subject back in Pittsburgh, and in the audience was my mentor Dr John Gerstner; and he heard me say on that occasion these things: I said I don’t know how to explain the origin of evil; and what else I can tell you is that I am sure that in this world I will never be able to answer that question. I don’t know of any philosopher or theologian who has answered it adequately, at least to satisfy my mind; and I am sure I am not going to go beyond the insights of Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Luther, Edwards, and the rest who have wrestled with this. When I was finished, my mentor took me aside and he was somewhat pained, and visibly irritated with me. And I said, What’s the matter? And he said, What’s the matter is your arrogance! I said, My arrogance? What did I do? He said, You told these people that you didn’t know where evil came from, and that you couldn’t explain the problem, and that is fine; but you are only thirty years old, and you assume that you have already reached the saturation point [of] all the knowledge that you ever acquire in your lifetime. How do you know RC Sproul that you won’t be able to solve this problem tomorrow? I said, Because Aquinas couldn’t do it, and Augustine couldn’t do it, and Edwards couldn’t do it, and you can’t do it, and these guys are so much more intelligent than I am. I am trying to tell you I don’t think there is much likelihood that I am going to solve a conundrum that they were unable to resolve. Well again he rebuked me for my arrogance, and assuming that I had already reached the pinnacle of my own knowledge, and that maybe someday I would be able to answer the question. Well, to defend the remarks that I made forty years ago, I still don’t know the answer to this question, and not for a lack of trying.”

Like I said, he has come to the right place to find out. The advice that John Gerstner failed to give him at that time was, “Ask, and it shall be given” (Matt. 7:7–11); or, as the Book of Mormon says it, “He that diligently seeketh shall find” (1 Nephi 10:19). The answer to all of these difficult theological questions have been right in front of his nose in the Book of Mormon, and in other revealed scriptures of Latter-day Saints for all these many years; but he has lacked the faith to seek for and find them. He continues:

“What this question demands philosophically and theologically is an adequate theodicy. For how many of you is the word theodicy a new word, a word that you would have difficulty defining? Thank you. Okay, we are going to learn a new word today, the word theodicy. … is a word that comes from a combination of two very important biblical words: there is the word theos, which is the New Testament word for God; and then there is the word dikaios, which is the New Testament word for justice or righteousness; a form of which is the word dikaiosuné, which is the New Testament word for justification. What a theodicy is, is an intellectual, reasoned defense of God for the problem of evil in the universe. So in other words, it is an attempt to answer the critique of John Stuart Mill and others, and to justify God for this problem of evil. I don’t know how many theodicies I have studied in my lifetime—quite a few of them. I have yet to find one completely satisfying to my own brain. In a few minutes I will provide the theodicy which I think comes the closest to solving the problem that I have ever seen, but still lacks final resolution.”

Well, I will be happy to give him the perfect “theodicy” that gives him the perfect answer to that question, so he doesn’t need to look elsewhere. As I have already mentioned, there are two separate issues or questions inherent in this that he fails to differentiate. The first question is, Where did the very idea or concept of “evil” come from? Who created or invented it in the first place? The second question is, Why did God allow the implementation, practice, or perpetration of evil to enter into his creation? The first question is the more fundamental one, to which he basically gives the wrong answer. The correct answer to the first question is actually God! When God created or invented the concept of “good,” he could have only done so in contrast with the concept of “evil,” because one concept cannot exist apart from the other, or except in contrast with the other. That is what he (along with other Christian theologians) has failed to grasp.

The second question is actually the easier of the two, for which he admits he doesn’t have a good answer—and I do! Evil has to exist in our present condition because that is the only way that man can have moral agency, or freewill. If God intervened to stop people from doing anything wrong every time somebody was going to, then they wouldn’t be free agents. They wouldn’t have moral agency. To be free moral agents, they must be allowed to make wrong choices as well as right ones. But that only applies to this brief period of mortality. After that we enter an eternal state in which that condition no longer applies. This brief period of mortality in which we now live is a testing ground to see who will be faithful and obedient to the will of God. In order for that to be possible, mankind have to be free to make wrong choices as well as right ones. And for that freedom to exist, they need to have the two option presented to them, hence the need for the temptations of the devil:

D&C 29:

39 And it must needs be that the devil should tempt the children of men, or they could not be agents unto themselves; for if they never should have bitter they could not know the sweet.

The devil persuades them to do evil, while God persuades them to do good. Which side they go, is entirely their choice. There is no compulsion. When they make the wrong choice, then evil enters into the world. But they have the choice.

It is no good asking, Why do they make the wrong choice? The answer is, for the same reason that they make the right choice. It is because they have the choice. It is a real choice. If they made their choices based on some “inclination” which they were powerless to resist (as he claims), then it wouldn’t be a choice at all, and God would not be justified in holding them accountable. It is a real choice, and they are accountable for it. Then he continues:

“Now I don’t want to exaggerate, but my estimate is, and I don’t think this is hyperbole—Vesta could confirm it, you could ask her—at least it seems to me that about once a month, maybe it is not quite that frequently, but it seems to me that about once a month I get a letter from somebody out there who has solved the problem of the origin of evil, and they want to run it by me; and I have to answer these letters as politely and nicely as I know how, when I want to say, This is Amateur Night folks! And I don’t think you feel the weight of the problem, because the answers that I find in these letters that are addressed to me—and I do appreciate that people struggle with this question, and are trying to come up with answers—but it seems to me that the answers I hear again and again are not just simple, but they are simplistic. They don’t really see the depth of the problem. And of course, the most common answer I receive is that the origin of evil has to be located in human freewill.”

In a certain sense they are actually right—and he is wrong! They may not have fully comprehended all the ramifications of the argument, or thought their way through it; but “freewill” has a lot to do with it. Their instincts lead them to the right thinking, although they may not have fully thought through all the ramifications of it, or be able to fully articulate it. The reason why he can’t see it is because he is lumbered with the false theology of Calvinism which beclouds his thinking, and which in the back of his mind he is constantly trying to justify. He continues (emphasis added):

“And of course we all understand that the one who brings evil into the world, moral evil, is man, Adam and Eve, or before that the devil; and both of those personages were exercising the faculty of choosing, in which they have been endowed by their creator; and that they have made choices the result of which are evil. And so … what’s the problem? We answer this problem with the free will of man. Sin came into being because Adam or Eve or both of them freely decided to disobey God, just as Lucifer when he was a good angel was transformed into an evil, fallen angel when he exercised his free will by choosing to disobey God. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not denying that those choices were made, and I am not denying that they were evil choices. What I am saying is that they don’t solve the problem, because we know this, that before a choice can be made, prior to the choices being made, there has to be some kind of moral inclination; and if you examine it as carefully for example as Jonathan Edwards did in his classic work on the freedom of the will, Edwards comes to the conclusion that the only way you can account for an evil choice is by having an evil inclination or disposition to that choice—manifest that Adam and Eve’s choice was evil, and … and they chose it according to their will, and that is also true of Satan. But the question is, Where did their prior disposition come from? What was it that inclined Adam and Eve to disobey God?”

He makes two fundamental errors here. The first is that he (along with Christian theologians in general) has completely failed to grasp the theology of the Fall, as already discussed here. The second mistake he makes is in his conclusion (from Jonathan Edwards apparently) that, “the only way you can account for an evil choice is by having an evil inclination or disposition towards that choice.” I haven’t read Jonathan Edwards’ book; but I don’t think I need to read it in order to recognize the fallacy of that argument (which I have already discussed here).

Let us suppose someone is an alcoholic. He is addicted to consuming alcohol, getting drunk, and making life a misery for his family and everybody else around. Then he comes to his senses, decides that that is not the right way to live, seeks counselling, makes the effort, overcomes his addiction, and becomes a sober and nice guy from now on. First, that is a good example of repentance. That is what it means to repent. Secondly, it means that just because we have an “inclination” to do something wrong, that we have to succumb to that inclination. We have the choice (and power) not to. That is what it means to have a choice. If we were powerless to go against an evil inclination, then we wouldn’t have a choice. His argument is self-contradictory. On the one hand he likes to say that people have a choice. On the other hand he says that people make decisions based on the inclination they have towards that choice, which implies that they don’t really have a choice! He can’t have it both ways. Either people have a choice or they don’t. You can’t say that they have a choice, but that they are irresistibly bound by their inclination towards that choice. If that be the case, then they don’t have a choice at all. That is the negation of a choice. He wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants to give us a choice with one hand, and take it away with the other. The Bible tells us that we do have a choice—a real choice. Experience also tells us that we have a real choice. Calvinism, on the other hand, wants to tell us that we don’t! He pretends to give people a choice, when in reality it denies it. It is a deceptive choice. It is deceptive theology. It is a charade. It is not a choice at all. He continues (emphasis added):

“Now part of Roman Catholic theology is to struggle with this question, and talk about the doctrine of concupiscence. You may have heard of concupiscence, and Rome defines concupiscence in this manner: that concupiscence is of sin, and inclines to sin, but is not sin. Well in one respect I think that is right, that it is not an actual sin of disobedience in terms of the outward action; but that which is of sin, and inclines to sin is sinful; and so a being who has a desire to do something evil, before he chooses to do that evil, is already fallen before he makes the choice. Do you see that? That is the point that so many people miss. When they say, Oh, well, it was all because of the free choice of Adam and Eve. But the question is, why did these creatures who were made in the image of God, and who were made good, choose to disobey Him?”

The first thing that he needs to do is to cut Adam and Eve out of it, because he has got that story completely wrong. Secondly, experiencing a desire or inclination to sin is not itself a sin. It becomes a sin only if it is carried into action—otherwise it is just a temptation to sin. Experiencing the temptation to sin is not itself a sin. If the temptation to sin was itself a sin, then Jesus was a sinner, because he was “in all points tempted like as we are” (Heb. 4:15). But the ultimate question he is asking is, Why do people make wrong choices? The answer is, For the same reason that they make right choices—because they have the choice. People don’t always make wrong choices. More often than not, they make right choices. If people made wrong choices more often than right choices, the world would have been destroyed several times over by now. The reason why it hasn’t been, and even prospers, and civilization keeps improving and getting better, is because most people most of the time are making right choices. 

People make wrong choices because they are tempted by the devil, and yield to that temptation. They make right choices because they are persuaded by that Spirit which “giveth light to every man that cometh into the world” (John 1:9); and follow the moral norms of right and wrong that exist in every society. If the temptation of the devil didn’t exist, the choice to sin wouldn’t exist either, and nobody would sin. Suffering and evil enters into the world because people make wrong choices. God allows them to make wrong choices because to do otherwise would deprive them of their moral agency. But they will be held accountable for their actions in the day of judgement (unless they repent). That is the simple and easy answer to that question that he (and every other Christian theologian apparently) has not been able to find an answer to. He continues:

“Well if you say [the choice was made] for no reason, that there was no prior inclination, no prior desire or disposition, then you have described a choice that is not a moral action at all. You have denied the moral agency of the creature when you say, he does it arbitrarily.”

The truth is the exact opposite of what he is stating here. It is not an arbitrary decision. It is a real choice. They are “moral agents” precisely because they are not obliged to follow their “inclinations,” but can resist and act against it if their moral judgement tells them that it is not the right thing to do. If they were powerless to resist their “inclinations” (or to know better), that would indicate lack of “moral agency of the creature,” or an inability to act as moral agents. His argument turns the true doctrine on its head. Then he embarks on a lengthy discussion in which he reiterates mostly what he has said before, which I will skip until we get to this point:

“You know, the Swiss theologian Karl Barth called the problem of evil the unmögliche möglichkeit, the ‘impossible possibility,’ which is a contradictory statement. It is a nonsense statement. Well, in that case Barth was not just merely practicing his favorite tool of dialectical thinking, or the use of paradox to make a point; he understood that evil had to be possible, or it couldn’t have happened. But we cannot find any way in which it was possible. It seems at least on the outside that was impossible, and yet it happened, and that is why he calls it an impossible possible; and that is his way as a theologian to throw up his hands and say, I give up! I don’t know! Dr Gerstner would have said to Dr Barth, You haven’t died yet Karl; don’t give up so easily, or you are surrendering to the same arrogance that this kid in Pittsburgh has suffered from.”

Well, I think I have already demonstrated that it is not such an “impossible” possibility. To briefly recap on what I have already said, there are two questions here: (1) Where did the concept or idea of evil come from? And (2) How did the evil enter into God’s creation, which he had pronounced to be “good”? The concept or idea of evil came from God! In the day that God pronounced all things that he had created to be “good,” he could have only done so in contrast with the idea or concept of “evil,” because one concept is a necessary prerequisite for the existence of the other. At the same time that God created or invented the idea or concept of “good,” he also created or invented the idea or concept of “evil,” because one concept cannot exist, or have meaning, except in contrast with the other. Evil has no meaning except in contrast with good; and likewise, good has no meaning except in contrast with evil. It is impossible to conceive of one apart from the other.

The answer to the second question is, Evil entered into God’s creation in the day that God gave man freewill, and allowed Satan to tempt them. Some choose to do evil rather than good (or some choose to repent and some don’t), and that is how evil has entered, and continues to enter into the world.

In answer to the question of why men choose to do evil at all―in the first place? The answer is, For the same reason that they choose to do good—because they have the choice. Calvinism likes to tell us that they don’t really have a choice. RC Sproul wants to give them their freewill with one hand, and take it away with the other. He wants to tell us that they have a choice, but in reality they don’t, so he obfuscates it. He argues that they have a choice, but their “choice” is irresistibly arrived at by their “inclination” towards that choice―which amounts to saying that they don’t really have a choice. It is a negation of a choice. If their “choices” are irresistibly determined by their “inclination” towards that choice, which they are powerless to go against, then it is not a choice. A real choice exists only when they are able to go against an “inclination” towards a particular choice, because their moral compass tells them that that might not be the right thing to do. Calvinism is inherently dishonest. It is impossible to be a Calvinist and maintain your integrity at the same time. You have to be deceptive in order to preserve it. Skipping several more paragraphs of his talk, however, we come to the following:

“Evil is not good, but it is good that there is evil, otherwise it wouldn’t be in a universe ruled by a perfect God. God has his purpose for the entrance of evil into this world; and in a certain sense, as Augustine said centuries ago, God even ordained that evil come into the world. If he did not ordained it, it wouldn’t be here, because evil has no power to overcome the sovereign providential government of this universe.”

He has come close to the truth, but he hasn’t managed to quite get there. God has not “ordained” evil. He has not “ordained” that there should be evil in the world. What he has ordained is that mankind should be free to choose good and evil for themselves; and he has also ordained that Satan should tempt them in order to provide them with that alternative choice. If the temptations of the devil did not exist, men would not have that alternative choice, and therefore would not be “free” to choose good or evil for themselves—and no one would sin. It is the wrong exercise of that choice that is the cause of evil entering into the world. However since God is sovereign, and also omnipotent and omniscient, and knows the end from the beginning, he is able to make use of or direct that evil so as to make it work towards his own righteous ends—without at the same time infringing on man’s freewill. He continues:

“Now the the favorite verse that is annually voted by evangelical Christians as people’s favorite verse in the Bible, is Romans 8:28: ‘all things work together for good for those who love the Lord, and who are called according to his purpose’. Now unless God has sovereign power over evil, he will not be able to keep that promise. That promise that we cling to, that promise we rely on, that promise that encourages us, that no matter how many bad things we suffer in this world—it is not that God is saying that those bad things are good things; but he is saying that they are working for good. I am using it ultimately for good. Unless God has the power over good and evil, he can’t make that promise. Do you see that?”

That is right of course, subject to the provisos mentioned above. He continues:

“And so for purposes I don’t know, and I don’t understand, God as Augustine qualified, in a certain sense ordained that evil come into this world—not naively, so that you may experience the difference between good and evil. My daddy used to say, you don’t have to live in a garbage can to know that it stinks; but for a redemptive purpose.”

His daddy was wrong! That is in fact one of the consequences or rationale for the existence of suffering and evil in the world. If Jesus had to “learn obedience by the things that he suffered” (Heb. 5:8); and was “made perfect through sufferings” (Heb. 2: 10); what makes him think that we can do without? Does he think that he is smarter than Jesus, or can do something that Jesus couldn’t do? If Jesus couldn’t be “perfected” or “learn obedience” without being exposed to the pains and sufferings of this world, it is unlikely that we would be able to either. If Jesus couldn’t be “perfected” without experiencing this “garbage can,” chances are that we won’t be able to either. For the remainder of his talk he doesn’t say anything that has not already been addressed, therefore no further comment is needed.

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