About 10-15 years ago, I wrote a sci-fi book focused around some ethical conundrums. It is intended to raise a lot of important questions we need to deal with considering where technology is going, but is also intended to delve into the foundation of the abortion discussion.
I find myself returning to contemplate the problem of evil time and time again. Maybe millennials (of which I barely make the cut) have a bigger hang-up with the way evil's existence seems to encroach on the possibility of a good God's existence, but I think the problem is much broader than one generation. Whether it's the death of a daughter leading Darwin to embrace his religious doubts, or the holocaust of a whole race which is remembered and lamented in the works of Elie Wiesel - each generation seems to have its own works and workers who wrestle with the reality of evil's existence. Evil is hard to stomach, and especially so if one is a Christian who proclaims the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God who supposedly despises evil.
In response to the problem of evil Christian history has produced a number of defenses for God. These defenses are known as "theodicies." A theodicy doesn't claim to prove that God exists or that its explanation for evil's existence is the correct one, but it merely offers what is a possible explanation for evil's existence alongside a good God. If the theodicy's explanation is logically possible, then evil's existence is not incompatible with the existence of God, even if this particular explanation doesn't end up being the correct one. The goal is simply to show that the existence of a good God and evil aren't logically incompatible. At the moment, the most broadly accepted theodicy on the market is the free will theodicy as refined and presented by Alvin Plantinga. Plantinga argues that for a God to create a world in which his creatures loved him in a meaningful sense, then those creatures would need to have the choice not to love him. God could have created robots that would have never disobeyed him or done any evil thing, but in creating such a world, he would have created a world where true love was impossible. So while it is true that evil exists, it's only in a world where evil is possible that love can exist, and God deems that the existence of love is worth the price of allowing evil.
The Free Will Theodicy (FWT) is a beautiful defense because it makes a lot of sense. Everyone would love a world without evil, but we recognize that we'd all likely prefer a world where we make meaningful choices to love than a world where we were programmed robots - even if the price of love was the existence of evil. Love is such a beautiful and powerful thing that we recognize evil pales in comparison to it. The FWT is a fantastic defense of God, though as with all arguments, there are some problems. But it isn't in the scope of this article to expound on this theodicy or defend it. Suffice it to say that this is the going theodicy in Christianity, particularly Western Christianity. With the acknowledgement of this broad Christian adherence to the FWT, what I want to do, then, is actually draw out some implications this theodicy has for two other Christian positions: nonviolence and Christian anarchism.
My life feels like a series of pendulum swings. As I learn more and as I attempt to empathize with views I don't initially hold, I find myself being flung between extremes of belief until time levels me out somewhere closer to the middle. One of these back-and-forths has been on the issue of "Pascal's Wager." For those unfamiliar with this idea, Pascal basically said that when one looks at the choice of becoming a Christian or not, they are wiser to choose Christianity even if it seems like it is less probable. So long as Christianity is potentially true, one should choose to believe in Christ. Why? Because if you do believe in Christ and turn out to be wrong, you've lost nothing. However, if you don't believe and it ends up being true, then you lose eternity. If Buddhism is true and I don't believe in it in this life, I'll eventually arrive at bliss. But if Christianity is true and I fail to believe, I'm damned forever.
I initially thought Pascal's wager was brilliant. It made perfect sense to me. You should obviously see that in the risk/reward analysis, it is way better to believe in Christianity. However, after some years, Pascal's Wager left me with a very bad taste in my mouth. As I thought about it more and as I listened to atheists speak more (rather than just listening to my Christian community), I recognized several problems I had with Pascal's Wager, at least as most Christians were using it.
1) It emphasized intellectual assent without consideration of Lordship theology and assent of actions.
2) It didn't narrow one's choice down to Christianity, as there are other religions which have eternal judgment as a possibility from which one would want to escape.
3) It emphasized potential risk while dismissing (or not accounting for) probability. For example, a large bird could drop a heavy stone on my head from hundreds of feet and kill me, yet I don't, and won't, walk around with a helmet knowing there is a huge consequence should the event occur. The probability of its occurrence is practically zero. Falling out of bed is another example, as it kills about 450 people in the U.S. each year and injures close to 2 million, yet most of us take minimal precautions.
[For an extended audio version of this article, check out the podcast episode]
Theodicies are a big deal. Whether you know the term "theodicy" or not, you probably know a theodicy or two if you're a Christian. It's pretty much required, as remaining a Christian without knowing a few theodicies would be intellectually difficult. Whether you yourself have struggled with doubt about God and his goodness, or whether someone you know has struggled with tragic loss and God's seeming silence, the problem of evil is an issue we must all face and attempt to answer. In fact, the problem of evil seems to me to be one of the biggest hindrances to the faith for many today. A theodicy, then, is just our attempt at providing a possible explanation for the evil we experience and see, as well as the seeming silence of God and his goodness through such evil.
Theodicies have been weighing heavily on my heart recently. It's hard not to dwell on the problem of evil when evil so apparently abounds in the violence, racism, and abuse we see throughout the world, and even more despairingly, in the church. And it's hard not to address the problem of evil daily when it seems to be on everyone else's mind, especially on the minds of those who aren't Christians. We live in a nation where so many claim to believe in God, his goodness, and the power of prayer despite mounting evidence that those things are impotent and ineffectual in the face of evil and tragedy. Thoughts and prayers are too often given without any indication of their effectual merit, as evidenced by the next tragedy which inevitably comes. Beyond the man-made tragedies which weigh on us all, there are also those tragedies which seem inexplicable. I was talking to a former Christian just the other day and he told me that he didn't want to deal with any other Christian apologetics if I couldn't answer the problem of natural evil. I can pin moral evil on free creatures, but how can I possibly explain how a good God could exist when creation is so clearly fashioned in such a way that requires pain and death (e.g. 2nd law of thermodynamics and entropy, plate tectonics and volcanoes, storms and winds/lightning/floods, bacteria and viruses, animals clearly created to prey on other animals, gravity and our fragile bodies, etc)?
forward a very important distinction in the argument from evil. Since the issue is such an emotionally charged one, it is important to distinguish between the emotional problem of evil and the intellectual problem. Most of the time, individuals are dealing with the emotional problem. The pain of evil is so deep and so real, that loving God in that moment of suffering seems incomprehensible. Like the child who cries "I hate you" to her parents as she experiences punishment or disappointment, so it is with us. But just as disdain does not make parents non-existent entities, so it does not make a positive case against God.
In this next chapter, "Why Did the Universe Begin?" Craig begins to move beyond abstract philosophy, and starts to bring in some of the scientific evidence we find in the universe. It is an important chapter for understanding the more abstract ideas laid out in the previous chapter, and it helps the reader to really begin understanding the weight of the dilemma atheists face. It also helps the reader to understand the tremendous evidence for a being outside of the universe. It still does not point us to the Christian God, but we are moving more and more in that direction, as Craig continues building the positive case for God.
Basic Argument: (also found here)
1. Everything that exists has an explanation of its existence [either in necessity of it's own nature, or an external cause].
2. If the universe has an explanation, that explanation is God.
3. The universe exists.
4. Since the universe exists, it must have an explanation of its existence.
5. That explanation is God.
The argument above is unarguably logically valid. IF the premises are true, the conclusion MUST be true. Obviously, atheists will not agree with the conclusion, so they must disarm the argument by disproving at least one of the premises 1-3. Therefore, Craig spends most of his chapter defending the premises.
Some recognize that objective morality exists, but don’t recognize its grounding in God. And some people deny that God exists altogether. This particular topic, the absurdity of life without God, starts from the very beginning. It is largely geared towards individuals who view meaning, value, and morality as being wholly independent of a divine being. Therefore, it is a particularly powerful argument to use with atheists. However, it is also a great discussion to have with Christians who are doubting their faith, or considering the strengths of atheism. This topic provides us with the motivation to seek out whether or not God exists, and spurs us on to find the deeper answers of how those aspects play out. While it doesn't lay out evidence for the existence of God (Craig will do that in the next chapter), it does paint a vivid picture of what a life lived consistently and without delusion should look like under atheism.
*The views and ideas on this site are in no way affiliated with any organization, business, or individuals we are a part of or work with. They're also not theological certainties. They're simply thinking out loud, on issues and difficulties as I process things.