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The Five Responses to the Problem of Evil

This is an unedited excerpt from my upcoming book with Crossway: The Discipleship Book: Now That I Am a Christian. Chapter title: “Pain and Suffering” (book name and title tentative).

The overwhelming majority of Christians who suffer with significant doubts in their faith do so due to the pain and suffering they experience in their lives. The late Christian philosopher Ronald Nash once said that it is completely irrational to reject the Christian faith for any other reason than the problem of evil. This expresses the respect he gives to this issue. The “problem of evil” is the problem of pain and suffering. This is, indeed, a tremendous problem. C. S. Lewis, the great Christian writer, wrote a very academic book on pain, suffering, and evil called The Problem of Pain. It was a wonderful, monumental work and I recommend it without hesitation. But after he wrote this work, he experienced pain and suffering at a different level. It is one thing to evaluate something from the outside; it is quite another to personally experience it. C. S. Lewis lost his wife after a battle with cancer filled with ups and downs. It broke him and brought him to his knees, and he rested for a bit in front of God, asking painful questions which stemmed from his disillusionment. Thankfully, his whole experience is recorded in another book about pain. This one was a very personal book called A Grief Observed. In it he laid himself bare before God, expressing his confusion. I highly recommend this book as well. These are two very different works, one intellectual and one emotional, by the same person about the same subject.

I don’t want you to be surprised by suffering. I want you to be able to handle evil and pain both in an academic way and an emotional way. I am going to talk first about the academic side of evil, pain, and suffering. It is often called the “intellectual problem of evil.” Hang with me, as things might get a bit technical.

The Intellectual Problem of Evil

The intellectual problem of evil attempts to address a logical problem in a world that has pain, suffering, and evil, yet has a good and all-powerful God who rules it. Let me define this problem using a syllogism:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: An all-good, all-powerful God could not exist since there is so much suffering and evil in the world. If he did, he would eradicate this evil.

The debate over this problem has only intensified in a world where technology allows us to share in the sufferings of millions of people all over the earth. The internet brings us one click away from faces of those who have had their children kidnapped, are starving to death, are diseased and deformed in unimaginable ways, and whose unloving parents leave them locked in a closet as they go out to dinner. We can’t go a day without hearing about evils that, while not all are part of our immediate community, are a common experience for the human race.

Therefore we begin to question God’s role in all of this. And we are brought to this dilemma. If God exists, if God is good and does not like evil, and if God is powerful enough to change things, why does evil still exist? Let me give you some of the wrong ways people handle this issue.

1. The Sadotheistic response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and Evil Exist

Conclusion: God enjoys to bring about suffering and pain for no reason at all.

God is on an opposing team.

The Sadotheist believes that God is an evil sadist who enjoys bringing about suffering with no good intentions whatsoever. This could be true. It could be the case that God is a sadist. What I mean is that there is no logical difficulty here that cannot be overcome. The problem with the Sadotheist position is that this is not how God has revealed himself in history or in the Bible. The cross of Christ is the greatest illustration of God’s love that we have. God himself got his feet dirty and his hands bloody in order to save mankind. On top of this, the Sadotheist has to borrow from God’s morality in order to judge God! In other words, how does the Sadotheist know what good and evil are outside of God’s love and existence? This view, while logically possible, is biblically wrong.

2. Open Theistic Response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: God has self-limited his abilities so that he can truly relate to mankind. Therefore God cannot stop all suffering and evil.

God is on our team, but he is only a cheerleader on the sidelines who is rooting for us as he watches things unfold.

In this response, the open theist handles the problem of pain and suffering by saying that God, due to his commitment to man’s freedom, can’t do anything about it. This is a self-limiting of both God’s power and his knowledge. Evil may happen, but it is only because God is committed to the freedom of man’s will. This view is logically possible as well. In other words, God could have this more or less hands-off approach to the happenings of the world. But this militates against much of Scripture, which says that God is in control and he does know the future. For example, look at what the book of Daniel says about this:

Dan. 4:35 All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, “What have you done?

It looks like God is in control of things. Whatever happens is in some sense God’s will, even evil. I think it is important for us at this point (as I can see your eyebrows raise and hear your heartbeat increase!) to distinguish between what theologians call “the two wills of God.” God has two wills. We call them his “will of decree” and his “will of desire.” Does God want you to suffer? Yes. Does God want you to suffer? No. These are both correct! Hold on now, I have not gone crazy. Let’s put it this way: Did God will that his Son be killed on the cross? Yes. Did God will that his Son die on the cross? No. You see, there is a sense in which God’s ultimate desire or will is that no one ever sin or suffer evil. But in a fallen world, God uses sin to accomplish his purposes. If God did not use sin and evil, then he would not be involved in our world, for there is nothing else to work with! He has to get his hands dirty, if you will, and use sin if he is to accomplish his good purpose. Ultimately, this will lead to a world without sin and suffering (heaven). But for now, he works with it and, in a contextualized sense, wills it. The Open Theist response to evil fails to see how God could be involved in such terrible things. But it also fails to consider that God is working all things together for good, even suffering and pain.

Rom. 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

3. The Pantheistic Response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: Suffering and Evil are illusions we create with our own mind. To eradicate them, we must deny their existence.

God is not on any team since there is not actually any opposition.

The pantheistic view is simply to close our eyes and ears and act as if evil, suffering, and pain do not really exist. In this view, all suffering is an illusion that we must train ourselves to be blind to. But this does not work, either rationally or biblically. To deny the existence of something does not determine the existence of something. The Bible speaks very clearly about the existence of evil. Even in the Disciple’s Prayer we looked at in a previous chapter, we see that Christ tells us to request deliverance from “the evil.” Would he command us to pray against something that does not exist? I don’t think so. Therefore, the Pantheistic response is not a Christian option either.

4. The Atheistic Response

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: An all-good, all-powerful God could not exist since there is so much suffering and evil in the world. If he did, he would eradicate this evil.

God is not on any team because he does not exist.

The atheistic response looks reasonable on the surface, but when we take a closer look, it is logically absurd. First (and most importantly), like with the Sadotheist, in order to define the very concept of “evil,” the atheist has to borrow from a theistic worldview (one that believes in God). In other words, if there is no God, there is not really any such thing as evil. Second, if there is a problem of evil, there is also a problem of good. If there is no God, how do we explain the good that happens in the world? In the atheistic worldview, there is actually no such thing as good or evil. This, itself, does not make atheism wrong (there are many other arguments that do), but it does show the absurdity of this argument. Finally, (and read this carefully) the one who believes in God has to explain the existence of evil; the atheist has to explain the existence of everything else. Which is easier?

5. The Christian Response:

  • Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent)
  • Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent)
  • Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist

Conclusion: God has good reasons for allowing suffering and evil to exist. He uses suffering and evil to accomplish a greater good, even if we never know exactly what that reason is.

God is on our team and he is both the quarterback and coach!

You see, the “logical problem of evil” is not really a problem, if by problem you mean something that cannot be solved, rationally or biblically. Rationally, there is no reason to assume that God cannot have a purpose for evil that results in good. We see this every day. When someone goes in for brain surgery, they have to endure the intense suffering of having their skin cut and their skull taken apart. But the greater good of the cancer being removed is evident to all. There is no reason to say that God can’t use even the most atrocious suffering to bring about a greater good.

Biblically, this is very clear. Not only does Roman 8:28 say that God works all things together for good (and this most certainly includes evil), but there are many stories in the Bible which evidence this. For example, in the book of Genesis, Joseph, who loved and followed God, was sold into slavery by his very own brothers. After he was wrongly imprisoned for many years, he was finally released and elevated to a position second only to Pharaoh. While in this position he made it possible for most of the world, including his father and brothers, to live through the famine which lasted seven years. His suffering was intended by God in order to bring about good. Notice what he said to his sorrowful brothers:

Gen. 50:20 “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.”

“God meant it for good.” Therefore, the intellectual problem of evil can be dealt with without sacrificing intellectual integrity. In fact, as we look through the options, the Christian option is the option that makes the most rational sense.

But this does not make it a slam dunk. Intellect is one thing. Emotions are another.

Want more? Get my book. 2013

 

210 Responses to “The Five Responses to the Problem of Evil”

  1. Thank you , Michael. I’m going to use some of these in my Sunday a.m. Bible study class. The problem of evil is a recurring question from time to time. This is quite helpful. :)

  2. Great! I added a bit more so that there was more context to this post.

  3. Richard Worden Wilson October 14, 2012 at 2:11 am

    HeyHey, C. Michael,
    More knowledgeable, perceptive, wise, and recognized Open Theists would surely not respond the way I am, since your perspectives and straw man arguments are predestined and future reasoning about this issues can’t be changed, but really !!!! Have you actually read the main proponents of Open Theism? None that I have read say that God is NOT all powerful. That is not their belief. In all probability, most of them would agree whole heartedly with your “Conclusion: God has good reasons for allowing suffering and evil to exist. He uses suffering and evil to accomplish a greater good, even if we never know exactly what that reason is.”

    So, just what are you trying to prove by the straw man thing? That Open Theists are not responding as Christians and can’t or don’t come to Christian conclusions?

    All the best to all in Christ, Richard

  4. An Atheist would not, in fact, agree with the first or second premise. Also, the atheist does not have to borrow from theism to observe suffering, evil or pain. These things are observable by all with no reliance on the supernatural.

    The only thing you can really say of the Atheist in the context of this article is premise 3: that suffering and evil are observable in the world. As the Atheist posits no additional claims AS an Atheist; there is nothing else to say.

    A human, theist OR atheist may give several explanations for suffering and evil in the world, none relying on supernatural intervention OR passivity. The thesis of this article can not be universalized outside the theist world view, specifically one where a shepherd-like god is supposed to exist and actually monitor and care for the faithful. Outside this walled garden of thought, the very existence of this logic is a vapor. One suggestion might be to leave atheism out of your comparison, so as to not draw attention to this problem.

  5. Against Open Theism October 14, 2012 at 3:43 am

    @Richard:
    No, open theists are, in fact, saying that God is not all powerful. They say that since God has given humans libertarian free will, it is logically impossible for this god to be able to even know how these actions will turn out. He can only make “probabilistic predictions” (John Sanders’ term) of these actions. The future is partially “open” and not a “thing” that can be known, since it is logically impossible for their god to even know how these actions will turn out if it truly libertarian free will. Their god is truly a “grand chess master” (Greg Boyd and other open theists use this term), who is just a glorified human created in the image of open theists and not truly the transcendent God of Scripture.

    Jonathan Edwards is right in saying that these people are only pretending to believe the Scriptures to be the Word of God:
    http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/edwards-on-foreknowledge-part-i/
    http://www.enjoyinggodministries.com/article/edwards-on-foreknowledge-part-ii/

  6. Richard, I am open to being corrected (excuse the pun), but I am pretty sure that the way that they would describe it is that God has self-limited his power due to the rules of engagement. Therefore, in this sense, he is not all powerful. He is as powerful and knowledgable as he can be in a world with freedom of the will. And yes, I have read all the magisterial open theists.

  7. Will,

    That does not make any sense. To recognize something is to affirm its existence. In order to affirm the existence of good and evil, there must be a borrowing from the Christian worldview.

    The thesis of this article are based on the premise. The universalization of the premise is dependant on the legitimacy of the answers given. I agree that an atheist cannot work within this structure. That is the point.

    • It’s absurd to say that one must borrow from the Christian worldview – it’s the rediculous pressup argument. Start off by proving that the bible is true. Then there is the problem of the hundreds of other religious worldview that one technically could be borrowing from – all equally as unprovable as the Christian worldview. It’s an issue of terminology. Evil and good can be easily supplanted by, say, well being and suffering. Many soulless animal species can be observed recognizing these concepts. It’s entirely arrogant to assert that the Christian worldview is the ultimate authority for what one would base the concepts or right and wrong, especially when considering how arbitrary and contradictory those concepts are within the actual text which provides the basis for your beliefs. Stop telling people what they are doing. Human society is completely capable of providing the rules, if you will, which will best support human flourishing, simply through majority view and biological tendencies. The world would be a better and more unified place minus all organized religion.

  8. “But this does not make it a slam dunk. Intellect is one thing. Emotions are another.”

    …6a And without faith it is impossible to please God Heb 11:6a

    We realize this: that in the last days some will be always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth. 2 Tim 3 1,7

    But we have the Spirit of truth John 14: 17 Whatever is born of God overcomes the world; and this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.1 John 5. 4

    Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the men of old gained approval. By faith Enoch obtained the witness that before his being taken up he was pleasing to God. Heb 11:1

    We ought always to give thanks to God because our faith is greatly enlarged; our perseverance and faith in the midst of all persecutions and afflictions is a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that we will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed we are suffering. 2 Thess 1

    The proof of our faith more precious than gold found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ1 Pet 1:7

    So, building ourselves up on our most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, we keep ourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. Jude 1:20-21

    Amen !!!

  9. C Michael
    I reject your position that the concept of evil and suffering (or goodness) can only exist within a Christian world view. You have offered no support for the claim and should understand how insulting and myopic it is to non Christians and non theists.

    Further if you construct a false structure from your premises that does not universalize to the Atheist, yet you include the atheist in your article, that says more about you and your premises than it says about atheists.

    You posit that the Atheist would draw conclusions about the existence of evil in the world based on the given 3 premises, yet the Atheist would reject two of them and in fact NOT reach the conclusion you Have ascribed to them. Further, the atheist does not conclude that there is no god BECAUSE of the problem of evil and suffering in the world, they default to the position in the absence of acceptable evidence to the claim of a supernatural world. The existence of evil and suffering in the world is a separate (and more important IMHO) issue.

  10. “The thesis of this article are based on the premise. The universalization of the premise is dependant on the legitimacy of the answers given. I agree that an atheist cannot work within this structure. That is the point.”

    Frankly, I agree with this logic. How can those who claim that God does not exist, rationally discuss His existence and involvement in anything. Their only reason for engagement is to cause problems among those who believe, and in the end their goal is to attempt at disproving God in any way possible.

  11. Will,

    I don’t know how this could have been so insulting to you. I am sorry for this, but any time someone says someone else is wrong and makes their arguments, I am sure that emotions will get a bit high on the one being criticized. I have made the conclusion in many teachings that atheism is the most irrational of all worldviews, and this charge of insult does not change my conclusion or wording. I am trying to use non-emotion language without belittling, but when I come to such conclusions, the arguments will either hold their ground or fail to the readers.

    This is a discussion of the problem of evil from the Christian standpoint. Therefore, the syllogism is given in such a way. I would love to see how you would construct the problem of evil from the atheists standpoint. But at least I give the concession that it is a problem. The various ways of solving it are broadly philosophical, not simply the Christians’ way of solving it.

    What I have done is present a case in a world where evil is evident to all and many Christians are struggling to find out how to deal with it.

    I think I gave respect to atheism in that I said that the illogic of saying evil exist, but there is no God (which is a formal absurdity and I have no reason to give credit otherwise), does not necessarily prove atheism wrong, it just shows how any atheist who argues against Christianity based on the problem of evil has to borrow from a theistic (not necessarily Christian) worldview in order to make such an argument.

    If you don’t use this argument against Christianity, I applaud you. However, this was written primarily to Christians to encourage them 1) to read my book when it comes out! and 2) to show them that Christianity presents the best possible solution for the problem of evil.

  12. Besides this, from what I understand, most academic atheists no longer use this argument as Plantinga has put it to rest. Though there could still be some out there. But I don’t know of any theist who don’t use the atheists believe in evil (those who do actually believe that it is real and universally definable) as an arguement that, at least, the atheist is not being consistant as they borrow from a Christian worldview.

    I am going to have to jump out of this discussion as I have to finish this book! Deadlines…

  13. Richard Worden Wilson October 15, 2012 at 2:06 am

    C. Michael said: “Richard, I am open to being corrected (excuse the pun), but I am pretty sure that the way that they would describe it is that God has self-limited his power due to the rules of engagement. Therefore, in this sense, he is not all powerful. He is as powerful and knowledgable as he can be in a world with freedom of the will. And yes, I have read all the magisterial open theists.”
    Michael,
    Thanks for thinking that you are open to change. 8>) I pray I am also.
    Right, open theists tend to say that our all powerful God has arranged his creation in a way that limits His willingness to act in ways that override the free will of active agents He has created. It is because He is All Powerful that He has arranged things the way they are, not having real existence until they unfold the way they do in time, NOW. So, He is not seen by open theists as not being all powerful, but seen as not able to know things that haven’t happened yet. He is seen by open theists as being fully able and powerful enough to do what he wants to do, now and any time that actually exists in which it is possible to do things, but not as powerful enough to do things that aren’t possible to do, like know futures that don’t yet exist, since that would be in contradiction to the way He has actually created the universe. In other words, God is seen by open theists as not any more powerful than He is, and only as powerful to act as He is able to be in the universe the way He has created it–which is really as all powerful as it is possible for God to be–able to do whatever He has decided to do. Self-limiting may be the most powerful form of power. You surely acknowledge that God doesn’t do everything He could do, but I wouldn’t mis-characterize your beliefs as being among those who say “God is not all powerful.” You shouldn’t mis-characterize open theists as saying that either.
    PS: “magisterial open theists” hey, that’s funny!

  14. thanks michael this very subject is a difficult one for many even those of differant faiths i love the way you flow with the logic angain thank you for not shying from the difficult theological questions it helps people like my self to grow deeper in the faith

  15. Hi Michael,

    Some people talk about evil and suffering as though they are the same thing, but they are not. Maybe there can be a slight variation of (1) (the sadotheistic response) by saying that God is good but wants to maximize suffering in order to maximize His glory. It’s a mix of (1) and (5).

    The logic goes like this: human suffering is used to bring glory to God, and God does whatever it takes to bring glory to Himself; therefore, God maximizes human suffering.

    Whatever lack of misery in this world is used to bring about more misery in world to come for unbelievers, and thus it brings more glory to God.

    Furthermore, God could have ordained that everyone would go to hell after they die, but that brings about less misery than ordaining a few would enter heaven and the majority to would go to hell, because misery loves company. The misery endured by the reprobate would be much more bearable if everybody else is also in hell.

    As Jesus said, “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt 8:11-12 ESV).

    Therefore, God had to send His Son to die for those few people, in order to make hell much more miserable for everybody else. The universal sum of human misery would be maximized, and thus the glory of God would be maximized.

    Unlike (1) and (4), such an argument would not be be borrowing God’s morality in order to judge God. It still affirms the goodness of God, while recognizing that God views His own glory as being important than alleviating human suffering (which no Christian would deny). However, unlike (5), it does not see suffering as an “evil” that is used to bring about a greater good (for reasons we may not know). Rather, God actively seeks to maximize suffering, and His increased glory is stated explicitly as the…

  16. Will’s objection does make some sense.

    I don’t believe that an absolute moral standard can possibly exist in an atheistic worldview. Any moral judgment in an atheistic world must ultimately and necessarily be subjective, relative and utilitarian.

    This is not to say that there can be no ideal. But an ideal exists only if it is perceived to foster satisfaction of the individual and/or ensure the fitness of the collective. Once adopted by the collective, individuals are then conditioned to operate by these social constructs, believing that somehow these ideals are larger than themselves.

    As such, there is in fact a legitimate standard with which the atheists recognize good and evil (at least perceived good and evil) — and their judgments are often valid — without borrowing from Judeo-Christian worldview…

  17. Will’s objection does make some sense.

    I don’t believe that an absolute moral standard can possibly exist in an worldview without God. Any moral judgment in such a world must ultimately and necessarily be subjective, relative and utilitarian.

    This is not to say that there can be no ideal. But an ideal exists only if it is perceived to foster satisfaction of the individual and/or ensure the fitness of the collective. Once adopted by the collective, individuals are then conditioned to operate by these social constructs, believing that somehow these ideals are larger than themselves.

    As such, there is in fact a legitimate standard with which the atheists recognize good and evil (at least perceived good and evil) — and their judgments are often valid — without taking anything from our Judeo-Christian worldview…

  18. I’m pretty sure that most discussions about the possibility or impossibility of the existence of evil in an atheistic worldview suffer from a failure to properly define terms.

    If you define “evil” as some sort of departure from a God-ordained norm for the universe, then of course you can’t believe in evil without believing in God. But this is a trivial truth. It’s a circular argument.

    Atheists (and many others) do not define evil in this way, for obvious reasons. They believe in evil as a subjective experience of human beings rather than as something defined arbitrarily by God’s personality or will. We believe in evil because we experience certain things as evil, many of them universally. While a vast simplification, this is the gist of a non-theistic view of evil. It’s intuitive and experiential at its core rather than trying to point to some reality outside of humanity. But we still call it evil. What else would you call it?

    If we can all understand that we’re defining our terms differently, maybe we can stop talking past each other.

  19. Dan, that’s exactly the point. For an atheist, there IS NO good and evil, only personal opinions. There’s nothing inherently right or wrong with any action. If a whole chunk of society is OK with, say, killing millions of human beings because they belong to a certain ethnic group, who am I to say they’re “wrong”?

    Yes, every such discussion ends up in Hitler, sorry for that, but it fits. No, people didn’t kill Jews because they were atheists (I guess most were not). What I’m saying is: people will do the most horrible things thinking they’re doing some good (their opinion). An atheist might see that and be horrified, but He cannot condemn it on any ground except his own opinion.

    One can use the argument that what’s bad for the species survival, or something of the sort, is to be labeled “wrong”. But that line of thinking would end up in, say, suspending care for our weaker citizens in favor of the young and strong. Sparta operated in such a fashion when they’d kill babies with disabilities. Well, I think Spartans were positively wrong. They thought they were right. Who says what is what?

    In this aspect (good and bad are subjective), atheism is an acceptable world view, it’s not logically impossible. It’s also a pretty scary one, where might makes right.

  20. First, it is incorrect to put “Christian Response” in opposition to “Open Theism”, because Open Theism is one of the possible Christian response. Second, there are more possible Christian responses than the one proposed.

    Third, the Open Theism position is incorrectly presented, so much so that the presentation amounts to a caricature.

    Open Theism is not necessarily a position wherein God self-limits. Even if it were, it would not be correct to use “cannot” rather than “will not” or “does not”. Moreover, the presentation of self-limitation is very flat, unlike the actual beliefs.

    • I am not sure that their are enough magisterial “open theists” to say one could definitely misrepresent them. There are certainly not many who formerly identify with Open Theism on a conscious level. So the handle, open theism, can always be misrepresented since there is no one view here. And it provided an nice, accurate enough, handle that works for the structure of the syllogism. But in God “self limitation” he cannot according to the rules of engagement. I did qualify it as self-limitation, so I fail to see the problem with cannot. As well, it is not a christian response as it moves into an unorthodox sycritism. This does not mean that open theists (or any who take this position on evil), but what it does mean is that this is not a Christian response which fits into any scheme of othodox Christianity. If we don’t go there with it, then it will become increasingly difficult to speak of the “Christian” answer to anything.

      Hope that helps. The problem could have come in the area of my failure to write clearly.

  21. Rick,

    I think you’re missing something crucial about the nature of moral propositions. There’s a reason the majority of moral philosophers reject your position.

    Moral philosophers often use the word normativity to refer to the kind of authority that moral propositions have, or that operational definitions in psychology have, such as maturity, well-adjustment, etc. The word usually refers to an ideal standard or model. Moral statements aren’t like facts or scientific laws; they can be broken.

    Showing that something is a human invention or a personal preference isn’t a way of showing it isn’t real. Moral values exist in the only way rules of conduct can exist. People believe in and regulate their behavior in accordance with them. And the standard by which we judge right/wrong isn’t arbitrary. It’s based on what produces flourishing/well-being. You can’t reduce this moral view to utilitarianism or consequentialism, because outcomes/utility aren’t the only determinants of well-being. Certain character traits have been objectively shown to lead to well-being/flourishing. We wouldn’t get very far without treating one another the way we want to be treated. Civil society, cooperation and solidarity wouldn’t be possible, and on the whole most people’s lives would be worse.

    It won’t do to say: “Why should we care about others? Who says?” The fact is, we do, it’s innate, it helps produce our well-being/flourishing, and to ask why we should aim for well-being is absurd.

    Plato’s Euthypro dilemma comes to mind here: Is the good good because God loves it, or does God love it because it is good? God doesn’t advance our understanding of the source of ethics. For God’s judgment to be just/non-arbitrary, it needs to track independent reasons. If it doesn’t, then it’s arbitrary and we have no business calling it good/bad. Since a being like God would only aim for our good, if we can discover what’s good for us, we can know the moral without…

  22. The problem of evil and the problem of suffering are really two separate problems, even though the Christian worldview has a satisfying logical explanation for both. It’s best not to conflate evil with suffering.

    Evil = privation of good
    Suffering = pain and distress

    In an atheistic worldview, there is no objective good and evil, but there is still suffering, for their are scientific instruments (such as functional MRIs) that can objectively measure physical pain as well as distress based on brain patterns. Atheists can still talk about “right” and “wrong”, if they define “right” not in terms of actions that are “good”, but rather as actions that reduce “suffering”.

    As a side note, if we’re discussing various responses for the problem of evil and the problem of suffering, and we make a decision to include non-Christian responses, we should make it clear that these five are not the only responses or even the most popular ones. For instance, one popular response not mentioned here, embraced by 2 billion people worldwide, would be the Islamic response to the problem of evil and the problem of suffering.

  23. Rick,

    Moral standards according to atheists aren’t merely personal opinions. Well, to a certain extent they are. But as they often argue, so are everyone else’s. Despite our insistence of having an absolute moral compass that is Christ, the way in which we apply our moral standards (i.e. how we interpret and execute the Biblical principles) are often marred by fundamental corruption of the human condition, as evidenced by church history.

    On the other hand, these moral judgments, or “personal opinions”, are always limited, guided and conditioned by a “normative ideal” of the society in which we live, which are allowed to perpetuate due to a perceived benefit in fostering satisfaction of the individual, ensuring the fitness of the collective, or both. These ideals are often marketed as being larger than the individuals themselves and therefore worth honoring. It is by these standards that much is being judged as being “right” vs. “wrong” without having to appeal to the Divine.

    This approach may take away the absolute certainty one places in the moral code of his day (if he is willing to reason through it), but that doesn’t render the code any less meaningful or useful. Members of the society still need to abide by these standards although questions and challenges are allowed to a limited degree. It imbues a sense of fluidity that allows for progress and evolution (albeit not always for the better). Ans some may argue that, in a pluralistic society, it is a drive for improvement and a guard against tyranny of the majority.

  24. Michael,

    The insulting aspect, to be specific, is to claim that a theistic / christian world view is required to recognise sufferning and evil. As if Atheists, Native Peoples, Buhddists, hindu etc are incapable to internalizing morality.

    It is worth noting that Evil, as a word, comes from a prechristian germanic pre-nom. Amongst the various ways Evil / good are considered as concepts, the Christian one, ie “Evil is an absence of god or a rejection of god” (or variant) is a minority. A major section of the discipline of philosophy is ethics and morality, a discipline that began outside of and prior to a Judao-Christian ethic.

    Claiming Evil or Good or Suffering as Christian concepts does violence to reality.

  25. CMP,

    I am no Open Theist, but I have to point out that this statement is just logically flawed.

    “I am pretty sure that the way that they would describe it is that God has self-limited his power due to the rules of engagement. Therefore, in this sense, he is not all powerful.”

    How does one choosing not to use a power that they have make them less powerful?? I have the power to buy a gun a shoot people – the fact that I choose not to doesn’t make me less powerful. My boss has the right and power to fire me for no reason whatsoever. The fact that she chooses not to doesn’t seem to me to make her less powerful. God has the ability to destroy the entire universe with just a thought, the fact that He chooses not to exercise this power again doesn’t make Him less powerful.

    I also think one question that is important to ask in the Open Theism is does omnipotence mean that God can do things which are logically contradictory (i.e. create a married bachelor or a square circle)? If one answers yes then it seems that those who argue that theism is incoherent have a good point. If one answer no then one simply can’t dismiss open theism on the grounds that it robs God of his omnipotence and instead must engage in a much more lengthy discussion about the nature of time, Middle Knowledge, and the nature of Free Will. I believe that Open Theism is wrong, but I also think that many give it far too easy of a dismissal without exploring the underpinnings of it and testing its assumptions as well as your own assumptions about some rather heady matters.

  26. Re: “The insulting aspect, to be specific, is to claim that a theistic / christian world view is required to recognise suffering and evil. ”

    I agree. Any philosopher or theologian that has grappled with the views of atheists on evil acknowledges in their writings that one cannot dismiss them too easily.

    ***

    Re open theism as unorthodox

    Open theists accept the various creeds, the divinity of Christ, the various approaches to salvation and justification, omnipotence, omniscience, God is love, inerrancy, etc. They are fully orthodox in all the ways that count. In the esoteric realm of philosophy, they disagree with Calvinists over which worlds are possible worlds, whether truth is bivalent at all times, and over the definition of “omnipotence”. Open theists will agree with any verse in the Bible that refers to or implies God’s omnipotence, and they would agree that God can do anything that is possible for any conceivable being to do.

    The restrictive definition of “orthodox” would put Catholics outside of orthodoxy (because of their views on salvation, justification, works, original sin), put Arminians outside of orthodoxy (because their view of ominipotence is similar to open theists in terms of the essential difference from Calvinist views), put pentacostals outside orthodoxy (because of views on the Holy Spirit), etc.

    Consequently the schema used is unnecessarily narrow and so unhelpful. Given the acknowledgement that there is no one view among open theists, it is important to note that and to indicate why the simplistic structure is being used. The structure is allegedly needed for the overall argument to work, but I question and doubt both its usefulness and benefit given that it misrepresents the core of the open theist argument.

    The current varieties of open theism differ significantly in how they conceptualize the future as being in some sense “open”.

    Lastly, if the terms of the syllogism are kept consistent, they are not…

  27. Ryan,

    I agree with you that “Showing that something is a human invention or a personal preference isn’t a way of showing it isn’t real”. That’s how I conclude my last post. I just don’t like where it takes us to.

    I appreciate your explanation of good defined as what brings well-being, made things clearer to me. Of course, an atheist does have to reduce everything to natural laws at the core, so you are, in the end, still talking about consequentialism: Survival? Reproduction? Whatever goal mother nature put in our genes.

    So man can have morals without God, you are correct there, we just define morals differently.

    Oh, I don’t like a “no God” good because:

    Christians HAVE an absolute goal to aspire to (God), but they see skewed and are twisted, so that goal is not reached even if they try to. Francis talked a bit about that.

    Others SET a goal to aspire to (say, well-being), but that goal is defined by skewed and twisted (nah, not fully evolved) people, on top of that they see skewed and are twisted, so that goal (already a moving target) is not reached even if they try to.

    In short, we are too flawed to be setting our own goals.

    A Christian has an absolute standard outside of himself, It’s far, yes, unreachable, like every perfect thing should be. To simplify things for us, God put all that is good into one person, and gave us this person. But that’s another matter…

  28. Re “Showing that something is a human invention or a personal preference isn’t a way of showing it isn’t real. ”

    True, but it is a way of showing that it is relative and lacks pan-human / universal objectivity and applicability. That is, the creation of morality by one human does not inherently supply means or reasons by which it could or should be applied to other humans.

    ****

    Re Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma: It has not been a problem for a long time for any seriously considered orthodox Christian theology. What is moral is defined by God’s inherent character. It is what God is, and so is neither outside God nor arbitrarily commanded by God.

  29. The original post is a play upon the Humean argument against theism, to wit*, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able to prevent evil but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both willing and able? Why then is there evil?”

    The post then examines this argument by challenging each of the premises in turn (one premise being challenged twice), and then accepting all the premises. Each rejection of a premise is given a label, though it is not clear why the labels are either relevant or helpful. Moreover, if the understanding of a position is indicated by whether the holder of that position would recognize the description of it, then the label of “Open Theism” fails in that it does not describe a view that would be accepted by any known open theist.

    But the labels are not really important in that the overall argument does not stand or fall on their success. More problematic, however, is that the overall argument does not express the Humean position in its strongest forms, nor does it provide a “satisfactory” argument (scare quotes intended).

    To address the 2nd problem first, the answer provided seems to be essentially and substantially “God only knows!”, viz “God has good reasons for allowing suffering and evil to exist. . . . even if we never know exactly what that reason is.”

    The rubrik for determining if that answer is satisfactory is whether it is “the most rational response” to the “intellectual problem of evil”. However, merely putting the phrase into the form of an English proposition does not of necessity make it “rational” let alone “most rational”. But is “I don’t know” the most rational response? More rational than “God does not exist”? or than “perhaps God does not exist and I should abandon my faith?”, or than “God is malevolent”.

    Many people have found “I don’t know” to be a highly unsatisfactory answer and, indeed, to be sufficient grounds for…

  30. Just to throw this in there, don’t forget the end of Romans 8:28 — everything God does is not for the good of all people, but for those who love him (if I may, the elect — or, election aside, Christians). Thus, evil can be said to be for two purposes that add up to one: to 1) increase the long-term (even if only eternal) joy of Christians, and 2) to pour out wrath upon the non-Christian.

    But, even this second end is for the Christian. As Romans 9 then says, God exercises damnation for non-Christians for the sake of the Christians, so that they may both see the mercy given to them as greater and witness the true holiness of God in wrath over sin.

    Thus, Romans 8 fits with 9; all things, whether mercy to the elect or judgement for the reprobate, work to glorify God and increase the joy of the elect.

    From here, as the post said — it’s intellectually simple enough, but emotionally? This is not an easy doctrine to get. And there’s a reason Paul begins ch. 9 with weeping. It’s not a doctrine to build up our pride, but to actually smash our pride to bits and lead us (among other things) to humble evangelism.

    Anyhow, I’ll back out now. Just some food for thought.

  31. John said:

    “Re Plato’s Euthyphro dilemma: It has not been a problem for a long time for any seriously considered orthodox Christian theology. What is moral is defined by God’s inherent character…neither outside God nor arbitrarily commanded by God.”

    I don’t doubt that. A general lack of evidence, a view of scriptures as literature – not history, a plethora of anthropological, psychological and historical evidence, internal contradictions, prima facie evil biblical content, haven’t been a problem for those within the orthodox Christian school of thought. They are, however, still a problem for the rest of us. And most moral philosophers aren’t with you on that one, including many from your own camp. It’s very unusual to find a Divine Command moral theorist outside Christianity, and many within it reject it.

    Your response doesn’t solve the Euthypro dilemma. First, how on earth do you know God’s inherent character is good? Second, if God does exist and is all good, if he legislates according to his inherent character, then he legislates according to what’s good, since he himself is allegedly all-good. So, to the extent we can discover what our good is, we can – according to your view – discover morality. How is this not clear?

    And we don’t need “pan-human” universal objectivity/authority for ethics to have some kind of authority. This is a clear false dilemma. In my view, ethics has a different, weaker sort of authority, and just because you don’t like how weak it is and wish it to be stronger doesn’t make ethics on a naturalistic worldview completely subjective and solipsistic. I think you’re kidding yourself here. Think of the normative concept in psychology called ‘maturity.’ Outside a human context, this word has no meaning. We constructed it to describe a set of behaviors and character traits that tend to make humans well-adjusted, happy, cooperative, etc. It’s non-universalizability doesn’t endanger it’s factual…

  32. …truth and authority. God does exist! He’s cutting me off for blaspheming…

  33. Re Ryan’s comments

    1. Moral command theory, as relevant to the E. dilemma, is that morality is what it is simply and contingently because God commands it. Whatever is moral, gains its moral nature simply from being a command of his, and God could command the opposite action the next day and both commands would be moral. Hence morality is arbitrary, being simply contingent on the unrestricted commands of God.

    If morality is equivalent to God’s own nature, then it is not based simply/solely and contingently on his divine command.

    2. The Euthyphro dilemma is either that morality is a standard set but God and so within God and arbitrary (morality is what it is on the basis of what God commands–divine command theory), or that morality is objective and thus a standard outside of God and one that he must follow in order to be considered moral (and how can an allegedly omnipotent, sovereign God limited by something that defines standards for his behaviour?). Thus, either morality is arbitrary or God is subject to a standard outside of himself.

    If morality flows from his own nature, then it is not simply a changeable divine command that results from a choice by his will, but is rather eternal, objective and universal. Because the standard of morality is not outside God, the other horn is avoided as well.

    3. An objective morality is one that lies outside of ourselves and one that we must submit to or be immoral. Given that one cannot derive morality from ontology (unless you have made some spectacular philosophical breakthrough), then morality must be contingent on the subjective perceptions of sentient beings. No one being can privilege their morality over any other–unless there is some being to whom all others owe something. In the latter case, which Christians call God (the triune God), the standard for morality is universal, outside all human subjectivity, and owed by all humans

  34. Re Ryan: “normative concept in psychology called ‘maturity.’ Outside a human context, this word has no meaning. We constructed it . . .”

    That’s what subjective means. So, thanks for proving my point.

    Further, my point about subjectivity did entail a limited authority for human norms. The point about limited authority is, however, that it is not objective.

    In addition, human “norms” sounds convincing as an idea–until one gets down to the nitty gritty of actually applying it. Then it breaks down. Take theft. Is it theft to steal bread when hungry? Is it theft for a government to take taxes? Is it theft (and can theft even happen) when private property is defined out of existence? (marxist communism)

  35. I like the way that you have outlined the possibilities here. What I have come to believe is that we have misunderstood several things. First, we don’t have any reason to believe that God ever intended us to live in a world free from any pain. God declared creation “good”, not perfect. And given the normal functioning of our planet and bodies, a certain amount of suffering is inescapable. But given how we grow through pain, this should have been a net good.

    We humans are the real problem. And I think that what God is really looking for is for us to step up to the plate and take responsibility for changing whatever part we each play in the spread of pain and evil. To a certain extent he’s a bit like the parent of a drug addict who refuses to protect them from the consequences of their own actions. It’s not that he doesn’t care about our suffering or won’t do anything to mitigate it when it’s possible to do so without causing further harm. But ultimately it’s up to us to say “enough’s enough” and start majorly changing.

    Anyhow, I go into more detail about this line of thinking here:
    http://theupsidedownworld.com/2012/08/02/its-the-prime-directive/

    Good luck with the book!

  36. You might enjoy semantic quibbling and pedantic analyses, but I don’t.

    Your characterization of Divine Command Theory (DCT) is wrong. DCT holds that morality is somehow dependent on God’s commands or nature. Of course, there are variants of DCT, but your view still falls within the range of views commonly called DCT.

    Second, your claim that morality flows from God’s nature and thus is not arbitrary but universal and binding still doesn’t escape common objections. How do you know God is all good? If he is all-good, why would he be compelled to only legislate by drawing from his omnibenevolence? Couldn’t he have other reasons that might be arbitrary and unknowable to us? What business do you still have calling it good? If such a being exists and issues commands, then they may be binding in the sense that he can sanction violators, but not binding in the sense that these commands are known to be objectively right beyond any doubt.

    I suspect you suffer from a lack of exposure to moral philosophical literature outside the Christian camp…maybe not. But you’ve narrowly defined what morality or normativity must look like to count as “objective” and universal, and then proceed to multiply entities beyond necessity, create a God we have little reason to believe exists, and then claim he’s responsible for the “objective” nature of morality.

    Rather than obstinately insist that moral “objectivity” can only be had if imposed by a divine will, consider my argument and the argument of the majority of Western analytic philosophers. They say, to put it briefly, morality can be “objective” in the sense that once something is shown to be good for us and produce flourishing/well-being, we have a compelling reason already to do it. What produces flourishing/well-being – while not fully known to us – is not subjective. Science has shown objectively what behaviors/traits tend to produce it.

  37. And before you ask why we have reason to care about our own well-being or flourishing, reflect on how very stupid that sounds and how your own immediate experience and your observations of others overwhelming indicates that at core we all yearn for this, even if we can’t seem to obtain it.

    You and I mean very different things when we use the word ‘objective’ which is why I continually placed the word in quotations. You’re using it in a metaphysical sense to mean some unnatural moral dimension or strata that exists which sets right and wrong. I use it to mean that you can’t arbitrarily call anything you like right or wrong, since it’s always tied to what produces our flourishing/well-being, something that isn’t entirely subjective.

    Lastly, from a more human and less philosophical perspective, think about how much a moral or commendable act is diminished if someone does it only to get a reward, or because someone told them to do it. It’s a very depressing world you’re advocating for. We all do many things because we want to, because we care for one another, see that others are like ourselves and enjoy friendships and cooperation, not because God has to tell us like children how to behave. To say that these common reasons we all have for why we behave as we do are entirely subjective and arbitrary unless a divine will tells it to us is degrading and dehumanizing.

  38. I think many of these comments are an unfortunate case of boxing yourself into a particular worldview and only examining evidence, lines of argument and observations that fit neatly into it.

    Broad facts from science in general, secular philosophy, anthropology, psychology, history, physics, etc. all seem to be lacking from many of these remarks.

  39. “You might enjoy semantic quibbling and pedantic analyses, but I don’t. ” — No, I prefer finding out what is true. Disagreeing with you, and pointing out why you are wrong is not being pedantic (if it is, why are you also engaging in it?). Accurate communication and investigation of the truth require accuracy in terms. And FYI, being pedantic refers to being overly concerned with trivial points. A reply to the Euthyphro argument is not trivial.

    On divine command theory, you are simply wrong. There is an important and significant distinction between a moral command that is not restricted or grounded by something else, and one that is. You appear not to be aware of relevant literature on this issue. A classic statement of the problem is that given by Bertrand Russell, in his work Why I Am Not a Christian:

    “If you are quite sure there is a difference between right and wrong, you are then in this situation: Is that difference due to God’s fiat or is it not? If it is due to God’s fiat, then for God Himself there is no difference between right and wrong, and it is no longer a significant statement to say that God is good. If you are going to say, as theologians do, that God is good, you must then say that right and wrong have some meaning which is independent of God’s fiat, because God’s fiats are good and not good independently of the mere fact that he made them. If you are going to say that, you will then have to say that it is not only through God that right and wrong came into being, but that they are in their essence logically anterior to God.”

    Christian morality cannot be an arbitrary command because God cannot sin, “It is impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18). Hence God’s morality is constrained by, or grounded in something. If that grounding is outside of / anterior to God then he is not the sovereign omnipotent God of Christianity.

    If Goodness is an essential characteristic or quality of God, then it is not stuck on the…

  40. That’s a good question. Hoping rather naively that even a pseudointellectual, cherry-picking quasi-philosopher’s worldview – formed in an unbalanced, self-serving way, can be broached or at least considered for it’s flaws. The best from your camp are willing to entertain doubt to sharpen their own views, or just to admit the limits of human belief and faith.

    Accuracy in terms isn’t all that’s required for successful truth investigation. What are you, a rationalist? Did you get the memo yet about science and empiricism being adopted by almost every serious person as the most reliable form of inquiry? You really don’t know that evidence-based accounts – in combination with logical clarity & precision – have been far more successful in solving problems and predicting how matter behaves than rationalism?

    I didn’t say your reply to the Euthypro argument was trivial. I said your attempt to distinguish your view from DCT was pedantic and wrong. Is this willful misinterpretation here? What a time waster!

    You say: “On DCT, you are simply wrong.”

    From the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy:

    “Divine Command Ethics – an ethical theory according to which part or all of morality depends upon the will or nature of God as promulgated by divine commands.”

    For someone concerned with subtle distinctions in analysis to the exclusion of broader considerations of evidence and impartiality, you missed something key. I did NOT say there isn’t a difference between a DCT theorist who says God’s act of commanding action P makes it right, and a DCT theorist who says morality is grounded in and flows from his essential, good nature. I said that both these views fall under the umbrella of DCT schools of thought.

    The arguments have advanced, by the way, since Russell and the 1900s.

    You haven’t answered other objections. Why should God’s goodness alone dictate how he legislates? What of his other attributes? Did a good God legislate genocide,…

  41. A few others I put in after I got cut off just include reemphasizing objections I’ve made that stand unrefuted.

    How do you know God exists? How do you know he’s the God depicted in the Christian bible? How do you know the bible as we have it contains God’s unadulterated, inerrant revelation? If you think it does, I have some verses to bring up from the Old Testament containing divine decrees that don’t reflect an all-good nature or timeless wisdom. If it doesn’t, by what criteria do you filter the man-made and God-breathed contents?

    How do you know God is good or all good? How do you know he would legislate morality in accordance with the ‘good’ aspect of his nature? Couldn’t some other aspect of his being dictate what moral code he would legislate? If God legislates according to what’s good, to the extent we can discover what our good is, then can’t we discover and ground morality without the bible or God telling it to us. I have trouble taking you at face value when you claim that, in making daily ethical decisions, you don’t nearly always reflect on empathy, consequences, what produces yours and others well-being/flourishing, what promotes cooperation, fair-play, etc.

    I don’t expect you to address all these questions. I’m drawing attention to the fact that one of us prefers a firm grasp on the questions or problems rather than permanent, final adherence to solutions that don’t answer them, raise new, more difficult questions or fail to explain or account for evidence deriving from multiple domains of inquiry (i.e. science, psychology, anthropology, physics, etc.)

    There’s a palpable myopic quality to many of the comments in this thread. Many apologists seem to take refuge in philosophy, then cherry-pick philosophical flavors to confirm a belief they uncritically smuggled past customs, and hope that couching arguments in philosophical form avoids the annoying problem of considering evidence from the sciences.

  42. Are you seriously interested in answers Ryan? or are you just a troll? Should I really be writing answers to you? or just to the other readers who might browse here?

    Everyone does philosophy Ryan, everyone alive. Philosophy is just thinking about stuff–like life, death, love, friendship, truth, existence. So everyone takes “refuge” in philosophy, even you. You’ve been engaging in philosophy just by reading the posts and responding to them. And why is that you are so sure that it’s others and not you who is “cherry-pick[ing] philosophical flavors to confirm a belief they [you] uncritically smuggled past customs”?

    Philosophy also undergirds science.

  43. I’m not interested in answers…just questions. Honestly, you should have picked up on that from my last submission. This isn’t intended to be self-glorifying, but I take inspiration from Socrates. I know what I don’t know, and a keen focus on keeping that attitude is what makes any real intellectual or leading scientist/researcher so successful. I am neither, but that attitude can only help. Once you think you know and have it figured out, you won’t learn or improve much more. A simple, cheesy phrase will have to do: Can you fill a cup that’s already full?

    Instead of focusing on answers, it might be more useful to focus on informed discussion and firmly grasping what the questions really are.

    I don’t know what a troll is. I don’t visit many online forums, usually just Facebook and occasionally a select few forums on philosophy or religion.

    At some point, you’ll have to apply the principle of charity here. I’m not being that vague. What I mean by take refuge in philosophy is to hide behind it and use it to compensate for some weakness or flaw. By no means did I mean to say – nor do I think it makes any sense to read it that way – that philosophy is bad or useless. I have a philosophy degree, took it seriously and did well in it. It’s important.

    But too often religious types adopt philosophy as their primary toolset and way of couching and communicating arguments to the exclusion of other important ways of knowing, like science! Clearly, this is unbalanced and likely to lead to an incomplete, myopic picture of reality. “When the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem seems like a nail.” (- Don’t Remember)

    Can you really tell me with a straight face that most Christian apologists/philosophers haven’t made up their mind about God and are unwilling to change it BEFORE they start studying philosophy. Key word…before. Just to make sure we avoid as much further misinterpretation as possible.

  44. So, to be perfectly clear, my beef is with those who would serve up philosophy a la carte, and who would largely insulate their worldview and arguments from broader considerations of the findings in various sciences.

    And how do I know I’m not guilty of serving up philosophy a la carte? I don’t, and probably am to some extent…we all do. The difference between us is I know this and compensate the best I can. Nonetheless, I think my tendency to be more cautious, skeptical and focused on clearly understanding the problems and questions is evidence enough that I’ve made a good faith effort to avoid the confirmation bias. I don’t mean this to sound self-important, but I think this is a fundamental problem or blind spot among many christian philosophers and apologists.

  45. I don’t want to be too presumptuous, but my guess would be that your reaction to my emphasis on grasping complex questions over formulating quick answers that only raise more ?’s signals the kind of incomplete, cherry-picked exposure to philosophy that I mentioned earlier.

  46. And what, in this thread, counts as a cherry picked bit of philosophy? You should deal with the actual arguments put forward rather than hiding behind pejorative accusations. And this is a blog, not a treatise so you gotta cut people some slack. Moreover, the topic of this thread is one issue, and not intended to cover the gamut of arguments for and against the Christian God.

    You proferred the Euthyphro dilemma as an argument against God and Christian morality. I showed that you were wrong.

    Your arguments against Christian philosophers are a (failed) attempt at poisoning the well. Even if they are biased, etc., so what? Show where their arguments are wrong. It is the correctness of the arguments that counts, not the source or advocate of the argument.

    On the definition of Divine Command Theory you provided, you are correct that commands of God flowing from his nature fall within that theory.

    However, you are wrong that there is no distinction between arbitrary commands (i.e., commands not grounded in something) and commands flowing from God’s nature. Only the former are relevant to the E. Dilemma. The Russell quote is an example of the statement of the E. Dilemma vis a vis the Christian God. His statement of it is the same one you are using, and the same that was used in centuries before him.

    ***

    Re Trotter “First, we don’t have any reason to believe that God ever intended us to live in a world free from any pain.” The pain we get from touching a hot stove is a good that protects us (lepers suffer because they don’t feel pain). However, the argument from evil is that there is too much pain in this world, that if there were a good God, he would have created a world with a lesser amount of pain. Hence, given that there is this much pain, God must not exist.

  47. i think ryan just likes to hear himself talk…

  48. Hi Michael,
    I recently have been studying Revelations 2:8-11(NJKV): “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write, ‘These things says the First and the Last, who was dead, and came to life: 9 “I know your works, tribulation, and poverty (but you are rich); and I know the blasphemy of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.”’

    Sometimes it is His will that we suffer (notice not by His hand directly, but the devil’s), but it is for testing and trial, to refine us and our faith in Him though the suffering, not necessarily the deliverance from it. Notice Jesus tells them the suffering is about to come, and knows exactly how long it will be, and that some must remain faithful until death.

    Anyway, I just thought that this portion of Scripture may help in developing one’s idea of suffering and evil and God’s hand in it. It obviously isn’t the only portion of Scripture to help us in understanding, but I think it’s a good one to meditate on. God bless as you and all of us as we seek His truth and His glory, not our own.

  49. “Will says: C Michael, I reject your position that the concept of evil and suffering (or goodness) can only exist within a Christian world view. You have offered no support for the claim and should understand how insulting and myopic it is to non Christians and non theists.”

    Many atheist thinkers admit that atheism is unable to justify objective moral norms. They admit that atheism entails moral relativism or moral nihilism. That’s not a Christian caricature of atheism. You need to keep up with your own side of the argument.

    As to “insulating,” you only have the right to be offended if there’s an objective distinction between right and wrong. So your umbrage begs the question.

  50. Ryan says:

    “How do you know God exists? How do you know he’s the God depicted in the Christian bible? How do you know God is good or all good?”

    We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. There’s a vast corpus of literature in apologetics, natural theology, and philosophical theology addressing those issues.

    “How do you know the bible as we have it contains God’s unadulterated, inerrant revelation? If you think it does, I have some verses to bring up from the Old Testament containing divine decrees that don’t reflect an all-good nature or timeless wisdom.”

    That begs the question. You need a source and standard of objective morality to render that value judgment in the first place.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Around the Blogosphere (10.19.2012) | Near Emmaus - October 19, 2012

    […] C. Michael Patton: The Five Responses to the Problem of Evil […]

  2. Weekly Meanderings - October 20, 2012

    […] « Outlets, outlets, outlets Weekly MeanderingsOctober 20, 2012 By scotmcknight Leave a CommentC. Michael Patton’s sketch of apologetics and the problem of evil.Patrick finishes up his series calling complementarianism […]

  3. Worth a Look 10.22.12 – Trevin Wax - October 22, 2012

    […] The 5 Responses to the Problem of Evil: […]

  4. Quora - October 22, 2012

    Why doesn’t the existence of evil in the world keep Christians up at night?…

    > God has good reasons for allowing suffering and evil to exist. He uses suffering and evil to accomplish a greater good, even if we never know exactly what that reason is. God is on our team and he is both the quarterback and coach! You see, the “logi…

  5. Quora - October 22, 2012

    If God is good and loving ,then why there is violence and injustice still prevailing in world?God has the power to destroy all evils and create harmony all over the world….

    > 4. The Atheistic Response * Premise 1: God is all-good (omnibenevolent) (untrue) * Premise 2: God is all-powerful (omnipotent) (untrue) * Premise 3: Suffering and evil exist (true) Conclusion: An all-good, all-powerful God could not exist since there…

  6. Five Responses to the Problem of Evil « thereformedmind - October 23, 2012

    […] and critique the different non-Christian responses as well as defend his Christian answer.  Here's the rest] Share this:ShareEmailPrintDiggFacebookStumbleUponLinkedInTwitterRedditLike this:LikeBe the first […]

  7. If God is good, why is there so much evil? « Strengthened by Grace - October 24, 2012

    […] Patton interacts with “Five Responses to the Problem of Evil.” I don’t want you to be surprised by suffering. I want you to be able to handle evil and pain both […]

  8. Weekly Links (10/26/2012) « The Beacon - October 26, 2012

    […] his excerpt of his com­ing book, Michael Patton dis­cusses five responses to the prob­lem of evil. See how he uses three premises (and the omis­sion of one or two of them) causes one to draw […]

  9. As 5 respostas ao Problema do Mal | O Filho de Davi | ...Hosana ao Filho de Davi!... Mateus 21:9 - October 26, 2012

    […] traduzido e gentilmente cedido por Filipe Guerra | iPródigo | original aqui […]

  10. God draws straight with crooked lines | Trekking Through the Wilderness - October 28, 2012

    […] interested in a more theological or intellectual view of the problem of evil, I recommend The Five Responses to the Problem of Evil by Michael […]

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