Archive for February, 2012

The Problem of Evil: Just Who Is Responsible?

I recently discussed the problem of evil, which is a popular topic of debate between theists and atheists. For those unfamiliar, the general notion is that if God exists, why is there evil or suffering in the world? Surely God could have created a world without evil, because He is all-powerful and all-loving. The fact that evil exists suggests either that God is not all-powerful or He is not all-loving, and would therefore cease to be God. The atheist then concludes that because there is evil, God almost certainly does not exist.

I’ve posted on this elsewhere, but to me it seems theists often jump to free will and the permission of evil to accomplish a greater good. While this is definitely a component of the theist’s defense, it appears to me that we often miss the initial step: who is responsible for evil?

As a theist, to me it seems like we need to clarify this responsibility before we can discuss further. If an atheist poses to you the problem of evil, the first question ought to be this: “Can evil exist without man?” That is to say, if man did not exist, would there still be evil?

In reply, the atheist can really only go two ways. The initial implied assumption here is that the atheist is a naturalist, and as such believes that nature is amoral and indifferent. Nature doesn’t care about the plight of man, and so it applies no value to man. Since evil is a moral value judgment, and nature has no values, nature is amoral and incapable of evil on its own.

So the atheist can say either of the following:

1) Yes, evil can exist without man, or
2) No, evil cannot exist without man.

If the answer is the first option, then the atheist is stipulating to the existence of the supernatural realm, and the entire framework of the atheist’s worldview is shattered. Why is this true? Because the only realms that could exist are the natural and the supernatural, by definition. If nature is amoral and man doesn’t exist, then the only way a moral value judgment like evil could exist in such a situation is within the supernatural realm. So the atheist has just admitted their own worldview is irrational!

Realistically, this means the only option for the atheist is #2, where the existence of evil is predicated on the existence of man. However, this also poses a problem for the atheist, as we are then able to construct a logical argument based on the premises laid out from the atheist’s worldview:

1) If evil exists, then someone or something is responsible for evil. (P1)
2) If man does not exist, then evil does not exist. (P2)
3) Nature on its own is amoral. (P3)
4) Evil exists. (P4, denying the consequent)
5) Therefore, someone or something is responsible for evil. (C1 –> P1, P4)
6) Also therefore, man exists. (C2 –> P2, P4)
7) Nature existed before man existed. (P5) [This is the naturalist’s assumption based on the theory of evolution.]
8) Therefore, there was a time before man where evil did not exist. (C3 –> P2, P3, C2, P5)
9) But evil exists now. (P6)
10) Therefore, the someone or something responsible for evil didn’t exist before man, but exists now. (C1, C3, P6)

Based on these ten steps, the only reasonable conclusion is that man is responsible for the evil we see in this world. So the atheist is really assuming that the problem of evil begins with man, unless he relinquishes his entire worldview and commits to supernaturalism.

So the issue then becomes the following: couldn’t God have created a world where man didn’t exist? I suppose it’s logically possible, but we as humans are in no position to make any assumptions about such a world where we didn’t exist–namely, that it would be a world that is better than the one we are currently experiencing. Surely it wouldn’t be better for us, because we wouldn’t exist. So we have no basis on which to judge God based on the existence of evil.

Without even discussing free will, any theist can make a reasonable assertion that the problem of evil is a poor and invalid objection to the probability of God’s existence. If you are faced with such a task, don’t worry! You have the answers!

Could Religion Really Not Exist?

I was discussing with an atheist friend on his blog the idea of supernaturalism vs. naturalism, and one of the arguments he brought up was surprising to me. His claim was that if you were to erase all memory of anything having to do with science, we would still get science roughly as we see it today. However, if you were to erase all memory of anything religious, it would be reasonable to expect that religion would be very different than we see it today, and quite possibly not even exist. Is this reasonable?

I would disagree for two reasons:

1) As an atheist, my friend would have to assume that there was initially a time period where neither science nor religion existed, because under atheism man was not present at the beginning, but later evolved over time. And yet under these conditions, both science and religion still arose in their current formats. So based on the evidence we have of a time where there was no presence of science or religion, we can safely assume that a similar state would produce both, since it has been done before.

2) General revelation seems to point men to an outside source for the creation of our world. As Aristotle said in his work “On Philosophy”:

When thus they would suddenly gain sight of the earth, seas, and the sky; when they should come to know the grandeur of the clouds and the might of the winds; when they should behold the sun and should learn its grandeur and beauty as well as its power to cause the day by shedding light over the sky; and again, when the night had darkened the lands and they should behold the whole of the sky spangled and adorned with stars; and when they should see the changing lights of the moon as it waxes and wanes, and the risings and settings of all these celestial bodies, their courses fixed and changeless throughout all eternity–when they should behold all these things, most certainly they would have judged both that there exist gods and that all these marvelous works are the handiwork of the gods.

This is a man who shaped much of medieval scholarship in areas like physics, logic, poetry, rhetoric, linguistics and biology. He also predated the coming of Jesus and the writings of the New Testament. And yet Aristotle did not see it possible to explain science without the supernatural. The things he could see in creation pointed him to the gods.

Is it any wonder that Paul would testify to this revelation in Romans? “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” — Romans 1:20

I think these are two powerful pieces of evidence that would lead us reasonably to assume that if memories of both science and religion were erased, science and religion would both be born anew.

It’s just one minor but still relevant argument pointing in the favor of God’s existence as more probable than improbable.