Wednesday, May 28, 2008

More on the Problem of Evil

Father Sam Norton's discussion of the problem of evil that I blogged about earlier this week has turned into a successful meme. Some great minds on the blogosphere are taking on the challenge.

Professor James McGrath says the following:

Often the issue of theodicy is viewed as finding the best solution to the problem of undeserved suffering that preserves the concept of God we already have. But this assumes that we have received a unified, definitive understanding of God that must be preserved in this way, and anyone who has engaged in academic study of the Bible or religion in general will know that this is not the case. And so unless one has good reason for assuming a particular set of symbols and doctrines relating to God, the best approach is that set forth in the Book of Job: formulate and reformulate a view of God that does justice to the world as you experience, while also acknowledging how limited our understanding of the universe we are a part of really is.

If I were the sort of anthropomorphic God mentioned, I would like to hope that, if I asked my creations to be the sort of people that "go the extra mile" (literally or metaphorically), help those in need even if they are foreigners from a hated race, and hold them to these sorts of ideals, then I would live by those ideals myself. An anthropomorphic God is one who is very much like us, only bigger and more powerful and supposedly better in the sense of more kind and loving. If I asked my creations to forgive 70 times 7 times, and to turn the other cheek, I hope I would also do that myself. But this is one of the paradoxes of many forms of fundamentalism: it depicts God as setting a standard for human beings that the Scriptures, stories and doctrines of that tradition do not consistently show God living up to.

This is not to say that one cannot hold to some form of anthropomorphism and deal with the problem of evil in some way. The free will defense works to a certain extent for moral evil, even though it does nothing to mitigate the issues of cyclones and tsunamis. One simply has to acknowledge that God has placed constraints on his freedom by giving freedom to his creations. The analogy I used to use was of a chess grandmaster. If I play chess against a grandmaster, the expert can know for sure he or she will win even though I am free to make any legal move within the game. How is that possible? Simple: the grandmaster is better at it, and can see further ahead because of it. Apply this to an omniscience, omnipresent God, and his will reigns supreme even if we are free. Of course, sooner or later you have to explore the details of the analogy and that is when things get dicey. What are God's pieces in such a scenario, and how does God move them?


There is much more--read it all here.

Professor Jim West gives this response:

First- let’s be clear that there are a variety of ‘evils’ in the world. First, there is man made evil and suffering. This category of evil includes crack smoking mothers giving birth to deformed babies; people building homes and cities in low lying, flood prone geographical locations; life long smokers dying of lung cancer; miners dying of black lung; and the ever delightful spread of sexually transmitted diseases because of rank, animalistic human promiscuity; the folly of war; the horror of Auschwitz. In sum, anything that man does to himself is human generated evil and suffering.

In response to human suffering God gives us the answer. One another. We are God’s plan in face of human wickedness. It is our bounden duty and responsibility to aid one another when the other suffers- whatever the cause. It is also our bounden duty to restrict the growth of suffering by proper economic and ecological planning. We need to educate the crack whore; build our cities in better locations; ban smoking; ensure the safety and well being of all workers; ban promiscuity; end war; make impossible by the imputation of mercy anything like Auschwitz. In sum, do what’s right instead of what’s wrong, selfish, or wicked.

Second- the category of evil which includes things outside of our control. Quite frankly, there just isn’t much of that. It’s easy to blame God for all manner of human induced suffering but what in life is that far outside of our ability to control? Can people in tornado prone areas not build shelters? Can mothers not take care of themselves while they are pregnant? Can governments not decide that war is never an option? Can we not develop environmentally friendly methods of providing the energy we need? In my estimation, the answer to all of those questions is yes.

In conclusion, then, suffering and evil can be laid at the feet of people. Of us. Of wickedness and selfishness and greed and, well let’s just say it, sin. Cure sin, and you cure suffering.



Read all of it here.

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