The Problem of Evil: Part 5

Standard

This is the concluding post of the series.

The Problem of Evil: Part 5

Apologists must demand that atheists remain consistent to their worldview when approaching the problem of evil. Why? Because no atheist actually consistently lives within the bounds of their worldview presuppositions. Very few atheists actually take their presuppositions (that logic is not absolute and morals are subjective) to their logical extreme. However, as John Frame observes, “The unbeliever may resist this extreme [the logical conclusion of his presuppositions], for he knows it is implausible, but there is nothing in his adopted philosophy to guard against it.”[1] Similarly, Ravi Zacharias has noted, “An Atheist may be morally minded, but he just happens to be living better than his belief about what the nature of man warrants.”[2]

When it comes to the problem of evil, atheists must ultimately borrow from a theistic worldview in order to deny theism. First, the atheist must assume the existence and authority of logic. While the atheist worldview does not allow for immaterial, transcendent laws, the atheist must assume as much in order to argue against the existence of God. Second, the atheist must propose that the world is filled with that which could be objectively called evil or things that ought not be. The atheistic worldview does not allow such an assessment. So, in order to raise the issue of evil as an objection to the existence of God, the atheist must once again borrow from a theistic worldview. Inconsistency is the tell-tale sign of a failed argument. Therefore, it behooves the Christian apologist to demonstrate this inconsistency and to demand the atheist to account for their borrowing from a worldview in order to deny it.[3]

[1] Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 194.

[2] Ravi Zacharias, The Real Face of Atheism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2004), 64.

[3] See Bahnsen, Pushing the Antithesis, 105

The Problem of Evil: Part 4

Standard

My last post in this series dealt with the issue of logic and the problem of evil. This post will examine morality and the problem of evil.

The Problem of Evil: Part 4

Atheists rightly observe the immense pain, suffering and injustice in the world and deem it evil or morally repugnant. So, when atheists proclaim the evil of rape, murder and thievery, theists can agree. But only from a theistic worldview can someone observe all that takes place in the world and deem it genuinely evil in any meaningful, objective sense. Any statement declaring some action or activity as “evil” assumes some standard by which good and evil can be judged.

This is problematic, because atheism reduces morals to either personal preferences similar to enjoying one flavor of ice cream over another, or to cultural constructs reflecting the cumulative preferences of a given people group. In either case, a blatant fact remains: morals are entirely subjective. This fact produces a bleak situation aptly described by Win Corduan. He writes,

“Without a God behind the world, suffering and evil can be no more than painful indicators of the futility of a meaningless life.”[1]

The effect that this has upon morality is stunning. If all morality is ultimately subjective and rooted in subjective, finite structures (be it individually or collectively), then nothing can be deemed truly evil. This is especially troubling when considering human rights and the value of life. As Greg Koukl and Francis Beckwith point out,

“The notions of human respect and dignity depend on the existence of moral truth.”[2] If one removes the objectivity of truth and the binding nature of logic, then the only conclusion one can arrive at is that “…nothing has transcendent value, including human beings.”[3]

When atheists object to the existence of God based upon the existence of evil, apologists must respond by addressing their false assumptions. Certainly, evil exists; that is not in dispute. However, the recognition of evil from the atheistic perspective is in dispute. The reason for this disputation arises from the fact that, in order to object to God’s existence based upon the existence of evil, one must assume a degree of objectivity in proclaiming that which is undesirable is actually evil. The problem this assumption presents for the atheistic worldview is manifold. The issue at hand is primarily this: Can anything be described as objectively, morally evil from the materialist perspective? The answer is no! Philosopher Chad Meister points out this dilemma when he writes, “One cannot consistently affirm both that there are no objective moral values, on the one hand, and that rape, torture and the like are objectively morally evil on the other.”[4]

Nothing can be called objectively good or evil unless trans-cultural, objective moral values by which we assess moral particulars actually exist. Given the “matter only” claims of atheism, immaterial, binding laws which provide the framework for moral decisions and assessment simply cannot exist. The only genuine “out” for the atheist is to claim that when a culture comes to a consensus regarding that which it calls evil, then that action or condition is actually evil. Taking this position raises a serious problem; namely that might makes right. The strength of the will of the masses dictates that which could be called good or evil. Therefore, the actions of a given people could never be objectively deemed as immoral. Thus, the Holocaust was little more than the cultural out working of the consensus of a people group and cannot be objectively identified as immoral.

A problem further resides in the assumption that cultural consensus may identify that which is good or evil apart from objective moral values. How does one assess what constitutes cultural consensus for the definition of good or evil? Is it a simple statistical majority or is it a two-thirds majority? What statistical requirement could be deemed as the moral or good rule to which all cultures should adhere

Additionally, how does one define cultural consensus when even the very definition of a culture or people group could be questioned? For instance, it is recognized that within every nation exists sub-cultures. At what point should it be considered morally good to allow subcultures to dictate for themselves that which is good versus that which is evil? How could anyone objectively identify the activities of a sub-culture of necrophiliacs as genuinely evil in such a world? The answer is quite obvious: it would be impossible apart from moral tyranny (which would be logically permissible).

Furthermore, individuals do not live in the real-world in such a manner as to remain consistent with this subjective moral proposition. If morals were simply cultural constructs, when the atheist hears news of genocide or ritualistic mutilation of female reproductive organs, they would not respond with, “That is evil!” No! Instead, they would reply with, “Well, that is not my moral taste but to each his own.” Yet, time and time again the leaders of modern atheism exclaim in horror at the atrocities carried out around the world. This is especially true when the atheist believes that they or their interests have been wronged. As C.S. Lewis has pointed out, even those who deny the objectivity or absolute nature of the Law of Nature (moral absolutes) assume these absolutes when they or their interests are wronged. This sentiment goes beyond frustration with some outside force infringing upon their preference or happiness. What does occur is a negative reaction at the thought that those harming the atheist or their interests violated some standard the atheist assumes to be binding, and that should be obvious to the outside agent.[5]

In an ultimately self-defeating way, the cultural “out” for the atheist leads to absurdity. This fact leads Greg Bahnsen to the following assessment:

“On the one hand, he [the unbeliever] believes and speaks as though some activity (e.g.’ child abuse) is wrong in itself, but on the other hand he believes and speaks as though this activity is wrong only if the individual (or culture) chooses some value which is inconsistent with it (e.g.’ pleasure, the greatest happiness of the greatest number, freedom). When the unbeliever professes that people determine ethical values for themselves, the unbeliever implicitly holds that those who commit evil are not really doing anything evil, given the values which they have chosen for themselves. In this way, the unbeliever who is indignant over wickedness supplies the very premises which philosophically condone and permit such behavior, even though at the same time the unbeliever wishes to insist that such behavior is not permitted–it is “evil.”[6]

It is one thing to assert that an action, situation or condition is evil. It is an entirely different issue to justify one’s belief that an action, situation or condition is evil. Only by assuming the very same conditions they are denying (objective, transcendent moral values) can an atheist make any definitive moral judgment.

[1] Winfried Corduan, No Doubt About It (Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 1997), 128.

[2] Gregory Koukl & Francis Beckwith, Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1998), 21.

[3] Ibid, 22.

[4] William Lane Craig & Chad Meister, ed. God is Good God is Great (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2009), 109.

[5] C.S. Lewis, The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics (New York, NY: HaperOne, 2007), 15. Lewis goes on to argue that despite varying cultural interpretation of the Law of Nature, it is nevertheless, universal. So, while some may argue that a man can only have one wife and another argues he may have many wives, both assume that it would be absolutely wrong to take any woman a man pleases. This is especially true if that woman (via a marriage covenant) “belongs” to the man from whom she is taken.

[6] Greg Bahnsen, Always Ready (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2009), 170.

The Problem of Evil: Part 3

Standard

The Problem of Evil: Part 3

In my previous post, I noted the inconsistencies that are inherent to the three most popular explanations for the existence of logic. This post will explore this issue further.

These aforementioned inconsistencies can be further demonstrated by using the Transcendental Argument for God (henceforth referred to as TAG).[1] This argument is premised upon recognizable constants used in logic. These constants or absolutes are generally referred to as the laws of logic. These laws are the law of identity[2], the law of non-contradiction[3] and the law of excluded middle.

The laws of logic are constant and consistent throughout human experience. For example, the laws of logic demand that there is no such thing as a square-circle. Similarly, the laws of logic preclude the possibility that we may one day discover a marauding band of married-bachelors. The laws of logic must be true at all times. If these laws were not true, then the aforementioned impossibilities would become potentially actual occurrences. Any attempt to prove that these laws are not absolutely true would be self-defeating, for in demonstrating that these laws are not universally binding, one must use said laws in presenting one’s case. Additionally, without the existence of the laws of logic, rational exchanges would be utterly impossible. The exchange of information would be, at best, subjective and at worst absurd. Therefore, objecting to the absolute nature of the laws of logic is a futile exercise.

Building upon this understanding of logic, TAG proposes that the laws of logic are transcendent. This characteristic means that regardless of time, location or the existence of humans, the laws remain true. To deny such a proposal would be to allow that at some point, that which is logical could change. In other words, there may be in our future a time when square-circles come into existence or in which married-bachelors become a recognized minority in world population.

Logic is Universal

The transcendence of logic can further be confirmed by the fact that the laws of logic are recognized by different persons from different contexts at different times. Human beings often differ on tastes in music, ice-cream and the best places to vacation. Yet, logic supersedes these subjective nuances of human opinion and thinking and is therefore different from and not dependent upon the thoughts of humans. Rather, it transcends human thinking but is recognized or discovered by humans.

Logic is Conceptual

Another aspect of logic is its immaterial and conceptual nature. Logic has no mass or material composition. Logic is not produced by any physical process within the universe and is not dependent upon any continuing process for its existence. While these logical absolutes are not composed of matter they are recognized and considered by human minds. However, these absolutes are not created by human minds. To be created by a human mind would render them subjective. Yet that which is conceptual is produced by a mind.

Logic Comes From God

Given the conceptual and absolute nature of logic, it must be the product of an infinite, non-human mind. Within the bounds of Christian theism, this mind is recognized to be the mind of God. This is not to say that God created logic. Rather, logic is that which emanates from the mind of God. God is logical, therefore all that He creates accords to the logical processes of His mind.

Conclusion

Therefore, by stating the problem of evil in a logical manner, the atheist is assuming specific properties within his universe that simply cannot exist. Given the presuppositions of atheism, it would be impossible to demonstrate that evil actually exists and that this is a problem for theism. Still, the existence of evil is in fact an issue that must be addressed by theists because a logical argument for the non-existence of God can be made based upon the existence of evil. Still, this argument is only logical in a universe that is foreign to an atheistic worldview. Proposing that the existence of evil is a logical problem (a problem meaning that it is an issue requiring attention) for Christian theism is both a true statement and a self-defeating statement. If Christian theism is false, the syllogism by which the problem of evil is stated is at best subjective reasoning and at worst meaningless. Both the atheist and theist can agree that the problem of evil is neither subjective nor absurd. In agreeing to such a fact, only the theist is remaining true to his presuppositions and consistent with his understanding of the universe. In summary, by formulating the problem of evil, the atheist must assume that his universe does not, in fact, exist. (Part 4 Coming Soon)

[1] TAG could best be understood as a family of arguments rather than a single argument. There is no definitive manner in which to state the argument and it can be adapted to the audiences understanding of logic.

[2] Something is what it is and is not what it is not. For instance, a human is a human and not also a dog.

[3] Something cannot be both true and false at the same time in the same way.

 

The Problem of Evil: Part 2

Standard

The Problem of Evil: Part 2

Any time the atheist objector states the problem of evil, they generally do so in a format that is both logically coherent and emotionally engaging. It is interesting that atheism is purported to be a position that is logical and consistent with reality. Given the materialist worldview of atheism, its use of and insistence upon logic is highly problematic. In an attempt to circumvent the problems surrounding their use of logic, atheists have presented a few options for explaining the origin and authority of logic.

Option #1 – Nature

One manner in which atheists attempt to explain logic is by claiming that logic comes from nature. That is to say that logic merely describes that which we observe in nature. The problem with this approach in explaining logic is that it assumes logic. The way in which occurrences in nature are classified is through the use of the scientific method. However, this is circular reasoning. The scientific method is a viable method by which to asses occurrences in nature chiefly because it assumes that logic exists. Classification of what is observed in nature occurs through the use of logic. Scientists do not derive logic from nature and then define what they observe in nature by what they have derived. No, they assume that which occurs does so in a manner that is logical.

Option #2 – Survival of the Fittest

Another popular proposal for the existence of logic is its development as a means for survival. This proposal fails on a few accounts. First, this assumes that an impersonal process can produce that which is personal. Second, this assumes that adherence to logic assures survival. Experience proves that this is simply not true. It would seem as if species which do not possess capabilities for recognizing logic appear to have a greater ability for survival than beings that recognize logic.[1] Fourth, proposing that evolution explains the origin of logic is also circular because it would demand that evolutionary processes would exhibit the use of the laws of logic. It would seem as if evolutionary processes logically recognize that logic is necessary for survival. Thus, this option for explaining logic raises more questions than it answers.

Option #3 – Consensus

Some atheists explain that the laws of logic are little more than generally agreed-upon principles. Yet, logic transcends the groups for which they are normatively considered as conventions (i.e. Western civilization). If logic is formed by an informal vote or consensus, then the pervasive nature of these laws in human experience is unexplainable.

[1] John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God, 104.

 

The Problem of Evil: Part 1

Standard

Over the past few years, I have taught classes and delivered papers that deal with the problem of evil. I am going to attempt to summarize much of this material in a series of blog posts that I hope will be helpful. Check back for updates.

The Problem of Evil: Part 1

The purpose of this series is to familiarize the reader with fundamental points of entry by which the irrationality of claiming the non-existence of the Christian God, based upon the existence of evil, may be demonstrated.

In responding to the various objections levied against Christian theism by popular promoters of atheism, the problem of evil is one of the more difficult objections to overcome. The difficulty in responding to this objection is not due to its strength as an argument against Christianity. Instead, its strength lies in the emotional response it conjures. Sadly, the emotion-evoking rhetoric of the New Atheists (i.e. Dawkins, Harris…etc) tends to blur the lines between that which makes sense logically and what speaks to the heart emotionally.

Perhaps the most basic of all of the classic statements regarding the problem of evil is as follows:

1.  If God were all-powerful, He would be able to prevent or to destroy all evil.

2.  If God were all-good, He would desire to prevent or to destroy all evil.

3.  Evil exists.

4.  Therefore, an all-powerful, all-good God does not exist.[1]

William Rowe formulates the problem this way:

1.  There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

2.  An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some great good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

Given the conditions he observes in the world, Rowe concludes,

3.  There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.[2]

The traditional formulation of the problem assumes a few critical facts: First, that which can be objectively identified as evil actually exists. Certainly, the use of the term objectively could be debated. Still, this concept is being assumed in order to furnish a viable premise upon which to deny the existence of God. Second, if God existed, He would want to and actually would destroy all evil. Third, the reality which we experience is therefore logically incoherent with Christian theism. The first and third assumptions directly demonstrate worldview inconsistency. (See Part 2)

[1] Adapted from John Frame, Apologetics to the Glory of God (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1994), 150.
[2] Louis P. Pojman, ed. Philosophy of Religion. William Rowe,  The Inductive Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God (Albany, NY: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1998), 212.