Theodicy

Blogger Ex Cthedra has kindly unearthed and posted a comment of mine from a couple years ago at bonald’s old site Throne and Altar, wherein I set forth in fairly succinct form the theodicy I developed over about ten years. I had totally forgotten this comment, and in retrospect I find it does a pretty good job of nailing down all the main points of the argument.

  1. Creatures are necessarily fallible.
    1. God cannot create creatures that are different from him and that are omniscient. For only God can be omniscient.
    2. God cannot create creatures that are different from him that do not have the capacity to disagree with him. Only God can have the will of God. A creature that is not God must, by definition, have a will that is just its own, and that is therefore somehow different from God’s. To be a creature at all therefore *just is* to be liable to disagree with God, whether “on purpose” or not.
    3. A creature cannot therefore know what it ought to do as well as God knows what it ought to do.
    4. All this is to say that God cannot create a creature – any creature – that is not free to diverge from his will.
    5. It is also to say that God cannot create a creature – any creature – that can fully know and understand the context and consequences of its decisions, as God understands them.
    6. So creatures – any creatures – are prone to Fall. It’s the only way to make creatures. They are *necessarily* fallible. Their failure is not necessary, but their fallibility is. [thus the existence of a Heaven in which free saints and angels do not sin does not at all vitiate free-will theodicy.]
  2. Failure is not inevitable, but it is very likely.
    1. Among a population of quintillions of creatures, that together comprise a causal system – a world – the likelihood that one of them will fall is very great.
    2. Why would a creature – particularly a rational, intelligent creature like a man, or a seraph – decide to Fall?
    3. Because, not being omniscient, a wholly innocent creature could not know ex ante – *metaphysically* could not know ex ante – what sin or evil meant; could not know why sin is bad. To a wholly innocent creature inhabiting a sinless, utterly pleasant world, “bad” would be a meaningless term, an empty category – or, rather, not even a category, but rather mere noise. The only aspects of a sinful course of action that would be apparent to such a wholly innocent creature would be the good ones.
    4. To such a creature, God’s warning about the apple would seem important. But he would have no idea why he should heed it. To a wholly innocent creature, “should” would be an empty category, like “poiyt4ch” is to us.
    5. This would be so even for a rational creature with an IQ of 80 bazillion, like Lucifer. Before his Fall, evil would have been to Lucifer what the sight of the sunset is to a man who has never seen: simply not out there as a consideration.
    6. This is not to make evil comprehensible. It is only to point out how it can seem attractive – for the evils of a course of action are inapprehensible to an innocent creature, and are to him therefore not at all compelling [and, indeed, are not even actual]; he apprehends only the goods thereof.
    7. A Heaven populated with saints and angels who had witnessed or been evil would be much more likely to result in stable righteousness than a Heaven populated with souls who had never experienced sin at all. Such souls would know well what horrors they avoided by refraining from sin.
  3. Our causal system has members that have Fallen. Lucifer fell, engendering spiritual evil; as a consequence our cosmos then fell, engendering natural evil; so, eventually, Adam fell, engendering human evil. The matter of this world was by these Falls permanently and irremediably deflected from its original, immaculately virtuous course. Unlike God, creatures are all contingent upon other events, and their constitutions are therefore strongly influenced by their predecessors. Only thus can they be causally related to those predecessors. Every one of us is therefore tainted, simply by virtue of our membership in this world. We inherit the influence of our sinful causal inputs. Thus the sins of the fathers are visited upon their sons, to the seventh generation. Such is Original Sin. This inheritance is inescapable. It goes along with the causal coherence that alone makes a world a world. The only way to prevent this inheritance is to unmake the world. And, NB: to unmake a single sinful act, to prevent a single one of its dire consequences – for the world at large, or for the future of the sinner himself – is to unravel the whole causal order.
  4. To unmake the world would itself be a very great evil. Genesis makes this pretty clear. God promised Noah that he would never again simply destroy evil. Rather, he would work with it. The world would be allowed, indeed enabled, to run its course, to work its way. God would support that, and work with it. At the Omega, He will nevertheless still be all in all. He will not be gainsayed – how could that be possible, mutatis mutandis? – He will work his will, despite creaturely evil, indeed by way of creaturely evil.
  5. So, it makes no sense for us to complain about the evil God allows. The only way he could prevent that evil altogether would be to prevent our existence in the first place.

Well and good, I suppose. But then I read my immediately precedent comment, and found that it voiced what seems to me an extremely important caveat:

Evil is not merely a “problem” that atheists erect as a way of avoiding the decision of faith. I know this from personal experience with very great evil. The evil that struck my family out of the blue was not at all a problem for my faith, thank Heaven. Indeed, it deepened my faith immeasurably – and not because of the miraculous blessings that we also experienced, but, precisely, because of the tragedy that can never be erased, and that has wounded us all, permanently, forever. Yet I know – I know personally – that there are many other people who, faced with similar sorts of tragedies, lose their faith completely. The spiritual dimension of the problem of evil is orthogonal to the philosophico-theological dimension. When the evil struck us, I became interested in evil as a philosophical puzzle for the first time, and realized that I did not have a good understanding. This happened at the same time that my confidence and trust in God expanded immensely. He was a very present help in trouble.

I now feel that I have a pretty good philosophical and theological handle on the problem of evil. It no longer feels like a mystery to me. And that understanding has almost *nothing to do* with my life as a Christian, or with my relationship with my Father. It’s like the difference between a solid understanding of the physiology of the pain of hitting your thumb with a hammer really hard, and the actual experience of hitting your thumb with a hammer really hard.

But I can see all too well how it might have gone the other way for me. Had I not been fortunate in my catechesis, I might have lost my faith as I sojourned there in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. So, the catechesis is *important.*

I discuss this theodicy using other catechetical approaches here and here.

31 thoughts on “Theodicy

  1. What prevents God from creating creatures whose wills only differ from His own in stupid, trivial ways, like their favorite color? Or – what obligation does God have to create non-God things at all, such that it justifies the immense evils that accompany the existence of creatures? (Couldn’t He by an act of panentheistic self-diversification accomplish much of the same ends?) If actual evil is necessary for “stability” in this sense, is this much actual evil is not – surely a seraphic hypergenius could deduce the necessary lessons from a single white lie?

    (These are not meant to be rhetorical; I presume you have reasonable answers!)

    • Good questions, thanks.

      What prevents God from creating creatures whose wills only differ from His own in stupid, trivial ways, like their favorite color?

      From the perspective of Omniscient Omnipotence, *all* our differences with God, as merely finite divergences from an infinitely vast motion, are stupid and trivial – swallowed up in its victory.

      From our creaturely perspective, trivial degrees of freedom are capable of generating only trivial amounts of value. The greater the freedom of a creature, the greater its creative power, and the greater the beauties it is capable of expressing. The freedom of a creature, remember, is a measure of its actuality. A creature with no freedom would not actually exist, at all.

      Or – what obligation does God have to create non-God things at all, such that it justifies the immense evils that accompany the existence of creatures?

      None. Presumably, Omniscience would not have created non-God things unless doing so justified the immense evils of the Fall – unless, that is to say, the Good generated in Creation far outweighed the evil. It is not difficult to see that this is so, provided you admit that the saints can enjoy life everlasting. An endless career of goodness enjoyed by even one saint infinitely outweighs the utter evil of any number of finite lives.

      (Couldn’t He by an act of panentheistic self-diversification accomplish much of the same ends?)

      If “panentheistic self-diversification” means “creation of other ultimates,” then no; that concept is incoherent, for there can be only one ultimate actuality. If it means anything else, it means the same thing as “creation of creatures” – of a created order capable of failure.

      If actual evil is necessary for “stability” in this sense, is [it not true that] this much actual evil is not – surely a seraphic hypergenius could deduce the necessary lessons from a single white lie?

      [I’ve interpolated some words into this last question so as to try to make sense out of it. Please let me know if I have misinterpreted you.]

      Apparently not! There are some trivial failures, to be sure, from which it may be possible to recover one’s balance. But there is a causal momentum to evil, and a binding logic, as anyone who has ever told a white lie knows very well. Even tiny, trivial lies have a way of propagating down through history according to a compounding function: once tell a white lie, and one is liable to suffer a moral commitment to a course of ever more egregious lying. Thus everyone with a jot of moral seriousness understands “white lie” as an oxymoron.

      There is nothing mysterious in this. We see the same causal compounding at work in the tiny crack that must end by destroying the whole windshield. We see it in the expression, “for want of a nail, a Kingdom was lost.” Once a complex system begins to fall apart even a little, it tends eventually to fall apart altogether.

      • There is nothing mysterious in this. We see the same causal compounding at work in the tiny crack that must end by destroying the whole windshield. We see it in the expression, “for want of a nail, a Kingdom was lost.” Once a complex system begins to fall apart even a little, it tends eventually to fall apart altogether.

        Bingo. Thinking of it mathematically, unless p(success) = 1, over a long enough timeline, the probability of at least one failure will converge with one. Consider the limit of p^x as x approaches infinity, given a nonnegative p < 1.

        Does eternity count as a long enough timeline?

      • Thanks, Proph. NB that you have mathematically demonstrated why we are all tainted by Original Sin *by the mere fact of our birth into a tainted causal order.* The inevitability of the eschaton is also implicit in your math: death is the limit of the function as x goes to infinity. The math also therefore expresses the notion that the wages of sin is death.

    • “1.God cannot create creatures that are different from him and that are omniscient. For only God can be omniscient… God cannot create… God cannot… God cannot…”

      An agnostic once asked me if God can make hot cocoa so hot that even he can’t drink it. What do you think?

      • Cute.

        The bottom line is that no being can enact a contradiction in terms. No being can do (x & -x). This limit is the only one that pertains to God; other sorts of beings are unable to do all sorts of things that are not in themselves contradictions (e.g., there is nothing inherently contradictory in breathing water, but I can’t do it), but God can do all things that are not contradictory.

        There are at least two quite interesting aspects of this fact. First, this limitation on God is not something that is imposed upon him from outside himself, but rather is an aspect of who God is, an aspect of his eternal Nature. In other words, this limitation on God is not so much a limitation on his being as an expression of his being. Second, God cannot be other than God. He cannot do any thing that only a being other than God could do. E.g., he cannot do evil, cannot err, and so forth.

        So, no: God cannot create hot chocolate that is too hot for him to drink. He also can’t add 2 and 3 to get 6, or create a stone too heavy for him to lift, etc.

      • God didn’t stop being God at the Incarnation. So, clearly, there is nothing about informing creaturely, physical existence that forces the Logos to become something other than the Logos.

        The Athanasian Creed handles this very question with great precision:

        For the right Faith is, that we believe and confess; that our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is God and Man; God, of the Essence of the Father; begotten before the worlds; and Man, of the Essence of his Mother, born in the world. Perfect God; and perfect Man, of a reasonable soul and human flesh subsisting. Equal to the Father, as touching his Godhead; and inferior to the Father as touching his Manhood. Who although he is God and Man; yet he is not two, but one Christ. One; not by conversion of the Godhead into flesh; but by assumption of the Manhood by God. One altogether; not by confusion of Essence; but by unity of Person. For as the reasonable soul and flesh is one man; so God and Man is one Christ

        Clearly, then, at the Incarnation God did not transmogrify into a man; didn’t become a creature.

      • I was thinking that Christ came from a woman, he didn’t materialize as an adult like he did in the OT before Jericho, therefore fully a creature. But upon second thought, he did materialize just the same, this latest time in the womb as a baby. Thanks.

  2. Our frequent commenter Ilion, who often has trouble posting comments through the site, wrote to me:

    But I can see all too well how it might have gone the other way for me. Had I not been fortunate in my catechesis, I might have lost my faith as I sojourned there in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. So, the catechesis is *important.*

    A large part of the problem — and good teaching can help, though not wholly, overcome it — is that people want an *emotionally satisfying* answer to the so-called Problem of Evil/Pain. Really, what they want is a Pain that doesn’t Hurt, and Evil that doesn’t Devour: what people continue to want is to be able to sin without consequences.

    Ultimately, the “Problem of Evil/Pain” is a problem because most people, each generation in its turn, refuse to learn the lesson of sin.

  3. “3. Because, not being omniscient, a wholly innocent creature could not know ex ante – *metaphysically* could not know ex ante – what sin or evil meant; could not know why sin is bad. To a wholly innocent creature inhabiting a sinless, utterly pleasant world, “bad” would be a meaningless term, an empty category – or, rather, not even a category, but rather mere noise. The only aspects of a sinful course of action that would be apparent to such a wholly innocent creature would be the good ones.”

    Does this imply, then, that God knows what sin or evil meant even before the existence of sin or evil?

    • No. Not before; “before” is inapposite to God, because for an eternal being there is no before or after.

      But even had God never created, he would nevertheless, as omniscient, have understood evil.

      • True knowledge implies “knowledge” or awareness of its privation. Hence, we read of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

        Excellent thread, by the way, though you already know my hesitation to endorse your theodicy fully. 99% there, though! 🙂

      • I owe a lot to Joseph, precisely because he can’t quite agree with me 100%, and was good enough to engage with me on the matter of our disagreement at great length and with extreme patience. I learned a lot from that exchange. Gluttons for punishment can read along as we beat that 1% difference to death over many pages, beginning here.

  4. Good post. Where did the term “Theodicy” come from? In Greek it’s like “Theos” (God) + “dike” (justice), but in English all I can think of is “theology” + “idiocy”.

    • It’s a Greek word, coined by Leibniz. Interestingly, the Greek dike is cognate with the Latin dicere, to show or tell (as in dictator). So “theodicy” connotes not just the Justice of God, but the Word of God: the Torah, the Logos, the Son.

  5. In philosophical circles, the currently popular version of the POE is what’s called the “evidential POE.” The idea is that, okay, the logical POE has been answered–i.e., the agnostic or atheist skeptic can’t show that evil in the world is strictly incompatible with the existence of an all-good and all-powerful God. However, the evidential POE is the idea that somehow the quantity or certain types of evil tend to _disconfirm_ the existence of an all-good, all-powerful, and all-knowing God.

    One of the most popular responses to this is what is (IMO infelicitiously) known as “skeptical theism.” The skeptical theist claims that the types and quantity of evil do not disconfirm traditional theism, because if traditional theism were true we would expect not to know the reasons for God’s allowing this much and these types of evil. The atheist skeptic then tends to reply that this is ad hoc reasoning.

    I’m not a big fan of the skeptical theistic response except in very narrow boundaries (e.g., with regard to animal pain and God’s plans for the animal kingdom, which we wouldn’t expect him to reveal to us to any great extent), because like Kristor I’m inclined to think that, with special revelation, we _do_ have a pretty darned good idea, at least in broad outline, as to why God allows “so much” and “so many kinds” of evil. It seems to me that the skeptical theist response involves setting aside special revelation. (Indeed, I think this is deliberate, as it’s supposed to be an exercise in pure natural theology.) To set aside special revelation, however, is to set aside pertinent evidence, and all the more so as, on my view, Christianity itself and the truth of special revelation are evidentially defensible.

    Now, that doesn’t mean that I know specifically why God has allowed *this* or *that* evil event to happen to good people or to some child. A lot is conjecture, especially w.r.t. very young children or the mentally disabled, who (it seems) cannot be purified spiritually on this earth by their suffering. But even our conjectures there are somewhat justified in disjunctive terms (e.g., “Either the answer is something like this or it’s something like this or it’s something even better that I haven’t thought of”) because of what we are *independently* justified in believing about the nature of God and His ways with man.

    That, at least, is my present take on the evidential POE. I thought it might be of some interest in this particular thread.

    • I have never been able to take the evidential POE seriously. I mean, I can understand why a skeptic might grasp at it, but it seems obvious to me that once the logical POE is dealt with, the POE is just dealt with, period full stop. If evil is logically compatible with an Omnipotent Omnibenevolence, then evil is not a philosophical problem for theism, at all.

      And the math of the evidential POE doesn’t parse. Take all the evil of this cosmos, which must end, and is therefore strictly finite, and weigh it in the scale against the production of a single imperishable good. That single good infinitely outweighs all the evil of this cosmos. Literally *any* finite amount of evil, no matter how great, is a fit price to pay for the generation of just one imperishable good. Given this calculus, how does the evidential POE even get started?

      The evidential POE, then, amounts only to a plea that we don’t *understand* why God allows this or that particular evil, so that we can’t therefore understand just exactly *how* God is compatible with it; and this opens the possibility that he might not in fact be compatible with it. This is just bogus. There are lots of things that we don’t understand; but we don’t infer from our confusion about them that they are less likely to exist than if we did understand them.

      E.g., speaking of irrational evil, I often fail to understand the reasoning of liberals. That does not suggest to me that liberal reasoning simply doesn’t exist. It suggests rather that liberal reasoning is defectively reasonable – is, i.e., somewhat rational, somewhat irrational.

      This segues nicely into another plug for my conversation with Joseph Arimathea, because we spent a lot of time kicking around the notion that evil, as a defect of rational order – i.e., as a defective expression of the Logos – is in principle inherently unintelligible. We can devise explanations of this or that evil, so that we can understand their etiology. But upon close inspection these explanations are revealed to be explanations of the rational bits of things that are deformed by irrationality. The irrational bits of those things, by contrast, cannot be explained, precisely because they are irrational. Indeed, as defects of goodness and order, the irrational bits of things are ipso facto defects of being. How can you explain non-being, the unactualized creative potential of an actuality? There’s nothing there to explain!

      So I have never been able either to countenance rationalizations of this or that evil, as justified aspects of God’s Providence – as, i.e., planned by him from before all worlds *so that* he could thereby bring about some great eventual good. It makes me rather sick at my stomach when I hear people say things like, “God just wanted your baby.” I can’t see how God could inflict evil upon persons only as a means toward some end, because the Holy One can do no evil. How could the Logos perform Illogic?

      I can on the other hand well see how he would have no metaphysical alternative but to allow his creatures to do evil (this is the essence of the theodicy I set forth in this post), and, they having done it, they having erred and strayed and warred, use the matter of their evil as a means to his ends. How might he do this? By his terrible swift sword, and the wrath of his thunder; by the Law which is the power of sin to sting; by his death; by the sweet pervasive suasion of the Holy Spirit enlivening all things with its prayer; by the allure of his sublime beauty; by his creative power, which ever (lo!) does now a new thing.

      • Right, I think the evidential POE advocates would have to say that postulating imperishable Goods (for example, eternal souls in bliss to which the sufferings of this present life are not worthy to be compared) is itself ad hoc, because we have no independent evidence for them. Here, again, I would come back to the evidence of special revelation (and the evidence for special revelation) that there _is_ such an afterlife and such a redemption and such eternal bliss. Hence, since there is independent good evidence for these things, postulating them in response to the POE is not ad hoc.

        I strongly agree with your distinction between God’s _allowing_ evil and bringing good out of it and God’s _planning_ evil so that he can bring good out of it. God does not _plan_ that the baby die and somehow set it up that the baby die *so that* he can bring good out of it (such as the softening of the parents’ hearts).

        The only counterexamples that spring to mind would be cases where Scripture definitely tells us that some evil, even carried out by man, was intended by God as a judgment–for example, the Babylonian conquest of the southern kingdom, which was foretold repeatedly by prophets as directly intended by God to punish Israel for repeated idolatry.

        At the same time, it does seem to me that when we answer the POE we must be willing, even when speaking of God’s allowing evil, to say outright that the good God intends to bring about by allowing the evil includes good *for the individual* who is harmed. This good might be some increase of bliss or wisdom in the afterlife, for example.

      • I still don’t get the basis of the evidential POE. If all the evils of the world are logically compatible with God, then any of them are. What evils are “left over” to form an evidential POE, if all evils are dealt with logically? Not that I’m challenging you on this, of course, but the whole discourse on the evidential POE seems pointless to me.

        Evils that God carries out as judgements are not instigated by him, but rather by the sinners for whom those judgements are the righteous and lawful sequelae of their sins.

        Finally, I agree that we must be willing to say that the good God intends in allowing evil includes the good of the creatures harmed by that evil. Even on purely naturalistic terms, pain is a guide toward the Good. By showing us what is bad, it shows us what is good.

      • Kristor:

        I have never been able to take the evidential POE seriously. I mean, I can understand why a skeptic might grasp at it, but it seems obvious to me that once the logical POE is dealt with, the POE is just dealt with, period full stop. If evil is logically compatible with an Omnipotent Omnibenevolence, then evil is not a philosophical problem for theism, at all.

        The evidential POE, then, amounts only to a plea that we don’t *understand* why God allows this or that particular evil, so that we can’t therefore understand just exactly *how* God is compatible with it; and this opens the possibility that he might not in fact be compatible with it. This is just bogus. There are lots of things that we don’t understand; but we don’t infer from our confusion about them that they are less likely to exist than if we did understand them.

        As I mentioned in my email to you, it really comes down to (a juvenile) emotionalism: the pretense of making rational arguements is just an after-the-fact pose, which is somehow supposed to paper over that fact that the “logical POE”, and thus the so-called POE perior, has been dealt with but one is refusing to acknowledge and admit that.

        ==
        At the same time, what about the “Problem of Good”? The reality of good (or Good) just isn’t compatible with a world of meaningless matter in motion.

  6. The idea is to shift from deductive to non-deductive reasoning. It’s not that any evils are “left over” but rather that we’re no longer dealing with “strictly incompatible” or “compatible” anymore at all. That is to say, the skeptic does not try to *rule out* theism deductively, as the logical POE attempts to do, but rather only to bring what he considers to be non-deductive evidence against it. Consider a parallel (to what the atheist or agnostic thinks he can do with the evidential POE): Your neighbor’s kindly behavior towards you and your children and his own dogs, etc., is _logically compatible_ with his being secretly a maniacal killer. It’s _possible_ that he’s a monster at heart and is just really good at hiding it in all sorts of ways. (We could add all his local good deeds, his wise words, the way he takes care of his elderly mother, anything like that you want.) He _could_, in strictly logical principle, have a double life as a strangler that he’s just really, really, really good at hiding. Nonetheless, all of those things create an evidential case for your neighbor’s good-heartedness.

    In the same way, the person pushing the evidential POE admits that the logical POE was an overreach inasmuch as it attempted to show by strict _proof_ that the notion of an all-powerful and omnibenevolent God who would permit evil is logically incoherent. (Just as it would be an overreach for you to try to prove that it is logically impossible for your neighbor to be a secret monster.) However, he believes that he can present a non-deductive evidential case that probably no such God exists based on the amount and type of evil that we have.

    I think that this might be true if we had no special revelation as to what God really is like. If we were just lost in conjecture and had to *make up* the idea of the Fall and the afterlife (especially the afterlife) as possible explanations, then a charge of ad hocness might well be able to stick. (I’m working on a paper on ad hocness right now. Just got my first rejection slip for it this morning. :-)) But since we do have good independent reason to believe in the Fall and the afterlife, those aren’t mere ad hoc auxiliary hypotheses brought in to “save the appearances” for theism.

    • Re the rejection slip: good for you! Keep at it.

      Re the nice neighbour: say that one day he up and shot his dog. Would this give sufficient grounds to infer that he is an evil maniac? No. Would it give sufficient grounds to infer that he is not an evil maniac? No. It would give no sufficient grounds for an inference one way or another.

      Ditto for the case of a neighbour who seems like a total scoundrel, but turns out to be a good Samaritan.

      Then also, no matter how much rhetorical hay the skeptic might make with the evidential POE, the believer can make far more rhetorical hay with the evidential POG.

      Thus I just don’t see how the evidential POE counts for the skeptic, one way or another. Sorry if I seem to be belaboring the point, but it seems to me that the skeptic would do better to just abandon the POE altogether, as lost ground, and move on to other arguments. But, if the skeptics want to keep beating their heads against the wall with the evidential POE, well, who am I to tell them to stop?

      Ad hocness. That would be hoceity, right?

      • Well, there are a lot of problems with the evidential POE that I haven’t even mentioned. Some of them might be related to your point as well. For example: Suppose that the Thomists are right and that we can know God’s absolute Goodness a priori and can also know that all the “omnis” must be unified, so that the one eternal and self-existent being _must_ be omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent. In that case, it’s game over. No version of the POE can even get started. There’s nothing like a deductive proof for putting the lid on theological speculation and endless debate. Now, I’m not fully convinced that the Thomists are right here, but I do often find that those pushing the evidential POE just ignore that possibility altogether–ignore the positive deductive, a priori theological arguments.

        Second, as many have pointed out, the very ability to perceive that something is _wrong_ is itself an argument against naturalism, an argument for an objective standard of Goodness. Hence, some who would make the moral argument would say, an argument for the existence of God. So the very act of stating the POE in any form may involve stating or assuming evidence (such as the existence of right and wrong, evil and goodness) which supports traditional theism. This enormously complicates any attempt to make the evidential POE. Any good Bayesian will tell you that if some piece of evidence has multiple and complex evidential effects, it’s not going to be a simple matter to conditionalize on it. So those who state the evidential POE are much too cavalier about assuming that the evidence they are using can only, if anything, be evidence *against* theism.

      • That’s a lot of problems.

        The evidential POE effort suffers from a basic methodological flaw: it tries to draw inferences about the character of the necessary, transcendent, eternal source of all being on the basis of contingent creaturely facts, that might have gone differently than they did. I mean, it’s like trying to infer that God is the sort of fellow who prefers Chevrolets, Fords, and Toyotas because those makes predominate; or that he prefers bacteria to mammals. It’s nuts.

        We could of course say the same thing of Natural Theology. But Natural Theology has the advantage over the evidential POE guys, because it argues from such premises as that the world is ordered, or is intelligible, or is teleologically oriented toward the expression of certain types of values, and other sorts of perfectly general observations of the world.

  7. Seems to be alot of begging the question going on in your post, with some points more heretical than others.

    In point 4 you say:

    To unmake the world would itself be a very great evil. Genesis makes this pretty clear. God promised Noah that he would never again simply destroy evil. Rather, he would work with it. The world would be allowed, indeed enabled, to run its course, to work its way. God would support that, and work with it. At the Omega, He will nevertheless still be all in all. He will not be gainsayed – how could that be possible, mutatis mutandis? – He will work his will, despite creaturely evil, indeed by way of creaturely evil.

    God promised no such thing. God was speaking of destroying creation, not “evil.” Genesis 9:11 says, “And I will establish my covenant with you; neither shall all flesh be cut off any more by the waters of a flood; neither shall there any more be a flood to destroy the earth.”

    Indeed 2 Peter 3:10-12 tell us that He will do it again but in an even greater way:

    10 But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.
    11 Seeing then that all these things shall be dissolved, what manner of persons ought ye to be in all holy conversation and godliness,
    12 looking for and hasting unto the coming of the day of God, wherein the heavens being on fire shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat?

    The POE is only a problem for those who do not have a proper understanding of the sovereignty of God. Please forgive me if I am wrong but I see you making the classical error of seeking to defend God to the unbeliever by somehow divorcing Him from the “evil” that takes place in the world.

    Remember Job received no answer from God as to why his calamity befell him. Instead, God questions Job, which causes Job to realize the error of questioning God’s motives. See Job’s response in chapter 42: “I uttered that I understood not; things too wonderful for me, which I knew not.”

    Isaiah 45:7

    I form the light, and create darkness:
    I make peace, and create evil:
    I the Lord do all these things.

    There will be no complete reconciliation of these problems and many others on this side of glory. God is God and we are not, I am comfortable with this.

    Cheers

    • Thanks for a searching comment. You are of course correct that God did not promise Noah that he would not destroy evil; this was an error of diction on my part, in the quick composition of a comment to a blog post. But the larger point stands: the only way God could eliminate the evil facts of the created order would be to eliminate the facticity of the created order altogether. Thus to destroy the facticity of evil would be to destroy creation. And this would be a very great evil, which Genesis does indeed make clear.

      As for the Day of the Lord discussed in 2 Peter, and in many other places, it is the destiny of a fallen system to fall apart completely, sooner or later. This is made clear in the math that Proph adduces in his comment above. We may either construe this destiny as following metaphysically (as Proph’s mathematical treatment would seem to suggest), or as following from the will of God (as St. Peter would seem to suggest); but since metaphysics is an expression of the Nature of God, and the Nature of God is coterminous with the Will of God, these amount to the same thing.

      The same sort of analysis holds for the blasting of Sodom and the sacrifice of the firstborn of Egypt. God does the blasting and the killing, not capriciously or irrationally, but as expressions of his Justice. It must be remembered that God’s acts in history are aspects of his singular Act of being himself, according to his own Nature, which is expressed in and for the created order as her Logos. The painful outworkings of Justice are not instances of evil, but rather consequences of such instances. The Law is the power of sin to sting; thus it is not the Law that stings, but the sin. We would not say that gravity is responsible for the evil that a man suffers when I drop a stone on his head; neither then is the Logos responsible for the evil men do in his cosmos, or the sufferings that naturally redound to those who insult the Law.

      Finally, as for YHWH’s statement in Isaiah that he makes peace and creates evil, the verse may be taken in two ways: either as YHWH’s statement that he is directly responsible for everything that happens – in which case, creatures, bearing no such responsibility (there being none left over for them, under this construction), cannot be properly subject to any imputations either of wickedness or righteousness; or as YHWH’s statement that he sets the foreconditions for peace and for evil – defines them, and creates beings that are capable of expressing them, or not. Is it not obvious that we must take the latter construction as the more likely correct? Under the first, the whole of Biblical religion is rendered nonsense, from first to last: we lose Torah, righteousness, sin, sacrifice, redemption, the whole shooting match. Under the second, the whole of Biblical religion makes perfect sense.

      Under that second construction, what God is saying through Isaiah is that, as the source of all things, he is in his own Nature definitive of good – and, ergo, evil – for all creatures. Logically, as the primordial and principial instance of Good, God’s own being implicitly defines evil, as the privation of the Goodness of God. There is nothing mysterious in this; at least, it is no more mysterious than the procedure whereby, say, the definition of “one” implicitly defines “many” as “not one.”

      I am not trying to divorce God from the suffering that follows ineluctably upon traduction of his Righteous Will. I am just trying to be careful in assigning the blame for that evil. If you smash yourself against the Rock of Ages, you are going to get hurt. And that won’t be the fault of the Rock. God is what he is, and we could not ask evil to be other than it is without asking God to be other than God – without, i.e., asking the impossible.

      In seeking clarity on this issue, I am indeed defending God from the charge of being the ultimate author of all evil, which if it were successful would destroy the faith, preventing not only the salvation of the unbeliever to whom all apologetics are appropriately addressed, but the salvation of all believers, too. No good, charitable and compassionate men – a fortiori, no Christians – who are also consistent thinkers could adore a God who inflicted suffering unnecessarily. If the church were to conclude that God does indeed inflict superfluous harm, it would instantly vanish, or else turn into something like sorcery, or voodoo, or the religions of the Aztecs and the Phoenicians: the mere ritual propitiation and magical manipulation of supreme and supremely evil, capricious, terrifying and horrific demons.

      NB however: that God is not the direct author of all evil does not mean he is not supreme, or indeed supremely terrifying, or even horrific; awareness of his Presence is indeed an occasion of great dread, and horripilation. He’s not a tame lion. But neither is he an evil lion, or an evil demon.

      All that being said, you nevertheless have a point, that apologetics runs the risk of domesticating the Almighty to the worldly notions of the secular infidel. Granted. Talking about God is fraught with philosophical risk. But a due and sufficient philosophical care will thread the needle between the Scylla of errant ignorance and the Charybdis of proud presumption, generating a theology that, as accurate and therefore elegant, and as conveying the ring of Truth, earns the admiration of the unbeliever, and opens him to credence, and – what is far more important than mere intellectual assent – to a life of faith. It is the latter, and nothing else he (or we) might do, that will eventually domesticate the convert to the Almighty, who may then work his Will in that life.

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