Saturday, February 18, 2012

World Views and the Problem of Evil


 Here is a paper I wrote on the Problem of Evil for my World View’s Class this last year.

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This paper is an overview of the problem of evil for various world views.  The basic tenet of the Problem of Evil (or henceforth P.O.E.) are the question of the reasons for the evil that we all see in the world; both natural (hurricanes/earthquakes) and gratuitous (man’s inhumanity to man).  In the final analysis; I will show that only the Christian world view gives a satisfactory explanation of the P.O.E.

First I want to explore how a person who holds to a Scientific Naturalist view (or Atheists) copes with the P.O.E. As theorized by Sigmund Freud (Sire, 2009) it is “…the notion that materialistic (naturalistic) science can answer all the questions that need to be answered.” (p. 92) A Scientific Naturalist will explain the presence of evil in the form of man’s inhumanity to man, is being caused by our evolutionary past. Charles Darwin (Wilson, 2006) theorized that humanity sometimes suffered from the evolutionary “reversion” which he equated to “blackness in sheep” where he then states “…with mankind some of the worst dispositions, which  occasionally without any assignable cause make their appearance in families, may perhaps be reversions to a savage state…” (p 876)  So science writes off evil in humans as a more pre-historic evolutionary problem.

So for the Atheists, evil is just there.  It just happens by shear accident of birth, or something science will someday overcome. Yet for our momentary lives, Bertrand Russell (1903) famously stated “…no fire, nor heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave…” As written by Douglas Groothuis (2011) “Atheism is not burdened with attempts to explain evil in relation to God.  Evil Just exists in a godless world.  The problem vanishes.” (p. 617) Therefore, Atheism has no answer for the P.O.E. except time and chance; and perhaps we will evolve beyond it one day.

Next, a similar view to Atheism is the Agnostic view of the existence of God.  According to Aldos Huxley, (Phillips et al, 2009) who coined this term, was “…to describe a tentative, uncertain attitude toward any question about God and the meaning of life.” (p 27) In another words, for one to make no decision; or to hold yourself aloof from holding any position about God, the after-life, or where life began. Pascal lampooned these Agnostics, who thought of themselves as the elite of his day when he wrote;
“I must spend every day of my life without thinking of enquiring into what will happen to me.  I could perhaps find some enlightenment among my doubts, but I do not want to take the trouble to do so, nor take one step to look for it…Sneering at those who are struggling with the task, I will go without forethought or fear to face the great venture, an allow myself to be carried tamely to my death, uncertain as to the eternity of my future state.” (Honor Levi #681,p.161)
So what you have in the Agnostic world view as far as the P.O.E. is concerned, is the same as an Atheist, one who will not make any attachment to a Theistic decision.  In my experience, it is a non-decision; this person is always thinking a better answer will come along.  They will agree with any scientific explanation to ‘wish-away’ evil.  Yet when faced with evil (loss, death, and sickness) will at that point state “If there was a god, how could he let this happen.”

          The next view is how the Pantheist handles the P.O.E.  With a Pantheistic world view, if “All” (pan) is God.  Then god is man, rocks, animals, storms…so you have no distinctions of type.  If you are a Pantheist, you dispense with evil.  Doug Groothuis (2011) defines it this way; “Since all is ultimately divine, evil is unreal; it is only a problem of perception, and not a problem of objective reality. Pantheist believe that God ‘is beyond good and evil.’” (p. 620) But ironically, Pantheism still makes moral judgments in the so-called “Law of Karma.” So there is some kind of judgment for either “good” and “bad” things you may have done in another life. “Everyone gets what he or she deserves, even supposedly innocent children,” (p. 624) writes Groothuis.

          Finally, an examination of how the Christian world view tackles the P.O.E.  Unfortunately, more fists have been raised at heaven over this problem of pain, suffering and loss; as Groothuis writes “…in the smothering grip of evil, humans also turn on heaven.” (p. 614) Yet only within the Christian world view is there a reasonable explanation that gives hope for cracked and broken humanity.  The concept of a humanity fallen from ‘grace’ or a higher state of creation,  which then leads to the necessity of redemption and final restoration is unique in all of cosmologies.  We have a hope for recovery; we were originally made “good.”  Groothuis writes:
We should remember that the specific theological concept of the Fall is unique to the Bible and significant in understand the problem of Evil.  No other world view explains our condition in light of a space –time defection from the original intentions of the Creator. (p. 625)

If we take the syllogisms which deny the existence of God by the presence of evil:
1.     God is omnipotent and omniscient.
2.     God is omibenevolent.
3.     There is objective evil
Therefore:
4.     God’s power means God can prevent any evil, since God can do absolutely anything.
5.     God’s goodness means he could prevent any evil
6.     But there is evil, therefore God cannot exist.
But a consistent refutation of this line of reasoning goes like this:
1.     An omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God created the world.
2.     God created a good world in which evil was possible and became actual, and had a good reason for doing so.
3.     Therefore the world contains evil. (p. 631)
This is a defense of there being evil in the world created by God, not a theodicy; a theodicy is a justification of evil.

So despite the P.O.E., Christianity give us all hope for a final redemption of all things, that other world views dismiss or will away.  That in the Incarnation we have a face to God that no other religion has.  Within a Christian world view, we have some hope; not a dismissal, or a mere shoulder shrug.  Groothuis vividly sums up this explanation of redemption when he writes:
No other worldview teaches that God Almighty humbled himself in order to redeem his sinful creatures through his own suffering and death.  No other world view endorses the idea that the supreme reality was impaled by human hands for the sake of lost souls.  No founder of any other religion cried out in his sacrificial death, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me? (Matthew 27:46, see psalm 22:1)  (p 644)
Only within the Christian world view do we have hope in any suffering or evil; for we have a God who understands our suffering; for he has suffered in order to save us.  Only through Jesus Christ can we “…hold fast the confession of your hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23 NASB)



References:
D. Groothuis(2011) Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith. Downers Grove, I.V.P

Holy Bible (1995) New American Standard Bible. La Habra, The Lockman Foundation.

B. Pascal (1995) Pensees Translated by Honor Levi. UK, Oxford University Press.

Phillips, Brown, Stonestreet (2006) Making Sense of Your World 2nd ed. Salem, Sheffield.

B. Russell (1903) Entropy and Heat Death.  Retrieved November 25, 2011 from: http://alamut.com/subj/ideologies/pessimism/entropy.html

J. Sire (2004) Naming the Elephant. Downers Grove, I.V.P.

E. Wilson (2006) From So Simple a Beginning: The Four Great Books of Charles Darwin. New York, Norton.



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