Posts Tagged ‘existence of God’

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!

Evidence for God’s Existence – The Argument for Intangible Soul

As we wrap up the series of arguments, we get to my own argument. I haven’t really heard this one posited anywhere else, and so I tentatively step out on my own here. I am honest enough with myself to admit that there may be holes in this argument that could come to light. If any of the four arguments bears attack, this one is probably it.

Now that I’ve tipped off any skeptics to lick their chops, let me explain the main point of the argument, give the hypothetical syllogism for the logic of the argument, then give the supporting evidence.

The main point of the argument is this: intangible concepts, such as ideas, words, emotions, moral characteristics, etc. cannot be reasonably shown to have material origins. The intangible soul, described plainly by theists and more specifically Christian theists, is the best explanation for the origin of intangible concepts.

The logical argument is this:

1) If intangible concepts exist, then the best explanation for the origin of these concepts is the soul.
2) Intangible concepts exist.
3) Therefore, the best explanation for the origin of these concepts is the soul.

Now the only objections to the second condition in the argument might come from the New Age movement, where some believe that our entire existence is illusory. I can’t really respond to that objection without going into all of the fundamental flaws with an illusory existence, so I’m going to put that possible objection aside and focus on the biggest potential problem with the argument: that the best explanation for the origin of intangible concepts is the soul.

For our purposes, I’m only going to take the argument far enough as to suppose the inference to the best explanation of soul. I think the logic would follow that the best explanation for the existence of soul is that it is created by God and instilled in us from birth, but that is not the goal of this post. If there is an objection at this level, perhaps we will address it in the comments. But I tend to believe that the greater number of possible objections will come in the initial step, rather than this second level. So let’s stick to the top level and reason it out first, then work our way down if necessary.

Now, the basis for the argument is rooted in taxonomy and genetics, with the simple scientific belief that something that originates from something else must contain the markers of its predecessors. A baby deer, for instance, will gather its genetic code from its parents. And deer are classified with other animals that have similar features into one family or genus, or phylum, etc., so the taxonomy tree is completed.

Now if we apply the same scientific method to intangible concepts, they must be similar to the thing from which they originate, right? So when we look for where intangible concepts come from, ought not that thing also be intangible? For where else in science or nature do we see something tangible produce something intangible? There is no evidence of this anywhere in science, so if we apply the same scientific method used to explain taxonomy and genetics, which point to the furthering of species, it makes sense that the origin of intangible concepts is itself intangible.

Now this raises a dilemma for the materialist. The materialist would say that such things as soul do not exist, and that things like emotions, words, ideas, come from the brain. But how do you explain the origin of such concepts in the brain using the scientific basis we’ve already discussed? The second issue with the brain being responsible for these is that the brain is not a creating entity, but rather a processing entity.

From the National Institute of Health: “The central nervous system consists of the brain and spinal cord. It is the major information-processing center of the body. The spinal cord conducts sensory information (information from the body) from the peripheral nervous system to the brain. After processing its many sensory inputs, the brain initiates motor outputs (coordinated mechanical responses) that are appropriate to the sensory input it receives. The spinal cord then carries this motor information from the brain through the PNS to various locations in the body (such as muscles and glands).” (emphasis mine) So the only initiation done by the brain is in response to a sensory input; it does not create anything by itself. Think about it this way–the eye processes light and sends information to the brain to tell you what you are looking at. But the eye did not create the light, it merely processed and necessitated a response. The brain is the same way.

Now the materialist would say, “Well words evolved just like other natural things. Similar grunts were processed by the brain and became associated with things, and over time they developed into words and that’s how we got language.” While that is entirely possible, this explanation does nothing for other intangible things like morality and emotions. The evidence for this is fairly rational–think of an emotion like love. Say your kid wanders into traffic. As a parent, you rescue them and can either hug them tightly or give them a swat on the rear for doing that. Both things are done out of love, but it is expressed different ways. The brain shouldn’t by nature process two opposite reactions to the same instance and arrive at the same conclusion, because the output must be appropriate to the input (i.e. my parent is inflicting pain, therefore she does not love me, versus my parent holds me tight and kisses me, therefore she loves me).

So for these intangible concepts, we need an entity that creates and generates them, rather than a responsive entity like the brain. Based on the taxonomy and genetics explanation above, it makes most sense that this entity also be intangible. So what is an intangible creative entity? Well, supernaturalism (and more specifically theism) has long posited the existence of such an entity called soul, by which things are created innately in us and our brain initiates motor outputs in response to express these things. Existence of soul would also mean that things like language, morality and emotions have been ingrained in us since the beginning of time, and while they have adapted due to different natural environments, they have always been present in one form or another.

Again, this poses a huge problem for the materialist, and more specifically for the evolutionist, because it would then make evolution the least plausible explanation for the existence of life. If language has existed from the outset, then humanity has existed from the outset, and did not evolve from some other life form.

So I feel like there’s a compelling case here that the existence of soul is the best explanation for intangible concepts. To make a reasonable objection, one must first tear down all of the arguments I’ve made here and provide positive evidence for the best alternative. I welcome your questions and objections.