Category Archives: Existence Of God Series

Existence of God – 33

The moral argument is rather straightforward, and WLC notes that it has been the most convincing of all the arguments he has developed for the existence of God (though he cites the KCA as his favorite, and I think I have to agree).

We have also seen, in the analogy of the author, how God would be the ground of objective morality, and further, how nothing else could be.  Before we depart from the moral argument, let’s consider the analogy a little deeper, and see what might be understood about objective morality.

Namely, we have an author (a unembodied mind, in our thought experiment) telling her story.  Since, before the story begins, she is the only thing that CAN be good, then we must say – If anything is good, the author is good.*

This is tricky for us, in our usual way of thinking (in the first draft of this post, I flew by it).  That is, we are speaking, in a sense, as outside observers, looking in on this closed system, and declaring that if anything is good, the author must be good.  But couldn’t we look in, see the mind of a serial killer, and determine that that author is not good?

Of course we can, but in order to do that, we must be outside observers; that is, within the closed system, if we are to say anything is good, then the serial killer mind must be good.  His will then, in the context of the story he tells, is also good – in that closed system.

When we extrapolate this to our world, and God (and when we hear the critics who want to tell us how terrible God must be), we are swallowing up that outside observer status; we’re now inside the closed system.  And if we can look and see that serial killing is wrong, it is because we have surmised from our Author that something else is right (namely, preserving life).

So the criticism that God is not good is stripped down to two possibilities:  Either the critic does not know what he is talking about (ie. what actually is good), or nothing at all is good, not even God.  The criticism falls away, in either case.

Therefore, the author continues to be good as the story begins.

Again, the author makes a decision – an act of the will –  to begin a story, and in this sense, to create.  And so the question now is, can that decision possibly be “wrong,” morally?  Or – given that if anything is good, the author is good – is the decision, of necessity, morally right?

The question is interesting; I want to assert that if we grant that the author is good, then her will must also be good.  After all, if an act of her will could be bad, how would that happen?  What deficiency of “her” would exist, in that world where nothing but she exists, such that her decision could lack in goodness?  Isn’t everything she does – in that closed system – necessarily good, if anything is good?

So she begins her story, and it is necessarily something other than what she is.  It has an entirely different substance than her substance, even an entirely different existence than her existence.  It is contingent, for one thing – it could have failed to exist, and depends on a necessary reality (the author) for its existence.

Now she might have any purpose at all for telling the story – bear in mind, the reasons may not be the same as our authors, who have audiences of their peers – but suppose her reason is like that often attributed to God:  An overflow of creative power and love.  (This itself, of course, is figurative language).

And so, her aim in creating is to bring into existence beings like her – that is, made in her image – whom she will love.  Of course, there is nothing greater than her, in this system, so there is nothing compelling her to love her creatures.  She simply does so, freely, because it is her essence.

As mentioned above, these created things are not the same as her – they are necessarily different.  They are created, not creator.  Their existence is contingent, not necessary, and has come about because of the free choice of the creator.

The creator, wishing for these beings to share in her existence as much as possible – to their unspeakable glory – gives them free will, and thus the choice to love her.  As they do, and the more they do, the closer they draw to her, and thus into union with her existence.

But they can choose not to, and to act this way is to smear and diminish the image of the creator within them.  (“Within,” again, being figurative – it is like attempts to “locate” the soul).  And so, those acts which bring a person (and others) closer to the creator, which inspire communion with her – these are called “good,” because, again, the creator is good.  Those that increase the chasm between a person and the creator (and pull others away with them) are rightly called evil.

It is this dynamic, of communion with God (or we might say such things as “being itself” or “the ground of reality”) and the forces drawing us toward Him and pulling us away, that comprise the phenomenon we sense when we engage our sense of good and evil, of right and wrong.  Morality, it seems to me, is the sense of one’s position and velocity relative to God.

 

*We do flirt here with some Platonic possibilities, which are not entirely friendly to the God of classical Christianity.  If that is an unfamiliar notion to some readers, this would simply be the idea that “the good” is an ideal form, actually and eternally existing apart from God, and it is something which would then be applied to actions or entities in the world.  For example, if we posited a closed system, we would say that there is both the mind of the author and this form of “the good.”  If we remove the author, we still have “the good” existing in that system.  If we return the author to the system, we can evaluate and see if “the good” can apply to the author, and to what extent (maybe the author is mostly good, but a little bit bad, too).

**Here we flirt with them some more.

 

Existence of God – 32

The suspense is over.  You can release that white-knuckled grip.

We left the last post with this question:  Can’t evolution account for human morality?  If so, doesn’t that eliminate the need for a God?

More precisely – if we can ground morality in evolution, then we don’t need God for that.  If morality receives its being (see ontology” in the last post) from evolution, then it can be an independent reality which does not lead inescapably to God.*

This would be a very puzzling thing indeed – can evolution bestow being on anything?  Isn’t evolution a process, and not an actual entity?  Does it possess powers?  This strikes one as an awful lot like cosmologists ascribing creative powers to the laws of physics…which have usually been understood as descriptive, not capable of action.**

So what my friends have done, then, is to confuse moral ontology with moral epistemology.  They have answered the question, “Can evolution account for our discovery of objective morality?” or even, “Does the success of our species along evolutionary lines depend on adherence to an objective morality?”  That is – what can we know about morality, and how can we know it?

Craig’s argument asks a very different question:  Where did that morality come from, which evolution led us to discover, which seems even to promote our survival as a species?  If morality is only an evolutionary phenomenon, then it is only a survival technique.  If it is only a survival technique, then “moral” values and duties are not objectively right or wrong, good or bad.

And we’re back to Premise 2, which virtually everyone agrees with.  Except the psychopaths.  Premise 2 therefore gives us a firm push back to Premise 1 – If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.  “Evolution” is not an answer here.

Citing “evolution” is like watching a character develop in a story, starting as a scoundrel and becoming a hero (Lady and the Trampanyone?) and supposing that “character development” is the ground of moral values and duties in the context of the story.  No – that development is responsible for moral epistemology (what the characters can know about morality, and how they can know it), but it does not explain from where those values and duties have received their being.  That depends on the author.

 

*One might reasonably ask, if evolution is regarded as an entity, “From what does evolution receive its being?”  But you are likely to be greeted with a blank face which, shaken off a moment later, will result in the assertion of the dogma, “Evolution is a fact.”  I recently asked an agnostic friend, with all qualifiers in place – I’m not debating that evolution is true, but I don’t know what this assertion means, “Evolution is a fact.”  Isn’t it really a theory, which describes a verified phenomenon?  How are we to properly understand “evolution”?  He, amicably enough, admitted that he didn’t really know.

**Yet another acquaintance has made the point that humans are pattern-seeking creatures, and we sometimes see patterns where none exist – a strange assertion, to be sure.  It would be more accurate to say that humans detect agency where none (apparently) exists, as when a shadow catches the corner of one’s eye, and one assumes an intruder or ghost.  But if you notice a pattern in the trees of a virgin forest, this does not mean there isn’t a pattern:  It means there may not have been anyone who planted them just so.  Yet, they are in that pattern according to natural laws…Isn’t it odd, then, that a cosmologist would ascribe agency to laws?  Isn’t it possible that they are making the mistake my acquaintance thinks that religious people are making?

Existence of God – 31

In discussing the moral argument, it seems possible – if not necessary – that objective morality is grounded in God.  That is, according to the argument, we can know there is a God from the existence of objective moral values and duties.

The second premise, that objective moral values and duties exist, seems clearly true.  When push comes to shove, most people seem willing to admit this.  The fight, WLC has noticed, comes with the first premise.

Premise 1 – If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

This premise, as we have seen, leads us to the conclusion that God does exist.  But can’t there be any other grounding for objective morality?  If there is, at least possibly, then we might not be inescapably led to the existence of God after all.

This is where the conversation has become – weird? – sometimes.  A few atheist friends, and even a devil’s advocate (atheist-ally?), have tried to find a loophole here.  WLC notes some more academic possibilities, and dismisses or refutes them.  You can have a look here; for now, I’ll only deal with the ones I’ve personally encountered.  They are neither the best nor the worst objections, but they do appear to follow a common theme.

Namely, they seem to confuse moral ontology with moral epistemology.

The difference is important, and this will require us to add a post for clarity.  For now:  If you’ve been following the blog, you understand that epistemology is the study of knowledge.  What do we know?  How do we know it?  Can we know it for certain?  Can we know anything for certain?  These are the questions which keep the epistemologist employed.

Ontology, according to Google, is the branch of metaphysics dealing with the nature of being.  Namely, if moral values and duties are an objective reality, from where do they get their being?  Or, “Where do they come from?”

This is a lot like asking where humans come from – what causes us to exist?  Where do the laws of physics come from?  What causes them to exist?  From whom or from what do they receive their being?

So – we are not asking how a person comes to know the content of objective morality.  We are asking how it is that objective morality can exist, from where objective morality receives its being.

Here is what some of my friends have said:  They come from evolution.

Let’s flesh this out, and in the next post I’ll respond.

The argument is some variation of the following:  Evolution by natural selection is responsible for our present existence.  According to evolution, survival is the purpose of life – that is, each individual wants to live, and propagate the species.  Well and good – so where does morality come in, which requires such counter-intuitive actions as sacrifice, even dying so that someone else might live?

Well, these things turn out to make good evolutionary sense:  A soldier dying for his country might propagate the country, after all.  A mother dying for her children propagates her very own genes.  Even a monk, giving up sexual intercourse altogether, gives his life for ideas which are all but genetic – they are memetic, according to one line of thinking.*  He is, in the final analysis, not really being so altruistic – his ideas live on.

The argument is that morality makes good evolutionary sense because these are the rules by which the human species may prosper.  Of course we’d eventually figure them out, or at least some of them – the sooner we figure them out, the better our long-term survival.  Even conflict in war – I say in brief – is really a conflict of ideology, and what is conflict in ideology except the conflict of two different ideas about the way humans should conduct themselves, thereby promoting the survival (and happiness, among we enlightened being) of the human species?

Let’s zoom in, just for effect:  Why is rape “wrong”?

Well, it’s wrong because it violates the rights of an individual.  But why is that wrong?

By respecting the rights of individuals, we thereby promote the health of a society.  Promoting the health of a society is just one step below (if not the very step itself) of promoting the survival of the species.*

Is this an answer, then?  Does this defeat Premise 1 of the moral argument for the existence of God?

Perhaps you already know what the response will be.  Nevertheless, stay tuned!

 

*I refer to the concept of the “meme,” which I believe was either invented or championed by Richard Dawkins.  The common objection to this naturalistic notion is that “Memes do not exist.”  If they do – prove it.  Where is the empirical evidence?

**One might ask – is rape, therefore, absolutely wrong?  Say there is only one rape a year; there is no culture of rape, only an isolated incident from time to time.  It does not even remotely affect the health of the society, let alone the health of the species (say that there is no trend – the frequency is exactly one per year).  Moreover, say we can somehow isolate the rape victim, to an island paradise where he/she has servants waiting, where every need and desire is met for the rest of his/her life, in order to compensate for the felt violation of rape.  Even better:  say we can manipulate the brain, so that the whole experience of rape, and all its repercussions, are entirely erased.  In its place, we manufacture an experience of unspeakable joy and peace.  Is rape still wrong?

Existence of God – 30

Last time we looked, in cursory fashion, at the second premise of the argument for God’s existence from objective morality.  Namely, it seems clear that there are values and duties which are objectively right or wrong – that is, they are right or wrong no matter what anyone thinks of them, much like arithmetic.

Some want to challenge this second premise, but it quickly becomes a case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater – in an effort to avoid all moral values and duties, the skeptic will even throw out the judgment that rape, or genocide, is objectively wrong.  This seems to be a bold-faced lie, or else evidence of psychopathy.*

But virtually everyone will say there are objective morals and duties (e.g. of course rape is wrong).  Most atheists I know have affirmed this much.

And so we fall under the weight of the first premise:

Premise 1 – If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

Now, if we’re talking with an equal opportunity skeptic, he has not decided already that atheism is true.  How ought a premise like this strike him?

Well, I would expect him to search for a way to ground moral values and duties apart from God.  If he can find one, then it might refute the premise; if he cannot, then it would seem he must accept the premise.

Here, our illustration from a few posts prior may be useful:  Consider the author, stripped of her body, existing only as a mind.  In the closed system of the author, who has not begun telling her story…now remove the author.

Is anything left?  No, of course not – by definition.  There is nothing left.  And if there is not anything left, there is not anything which might be called “good.”  We begin to see the ontological problem with objective morality – what can it be grounded on?

Let’s leave this aside, though, and entertain the notion that the story is underway, and we are not sure whether there is an author.  Perhaps a story could tell itself by as-yet-unknown laws or logic.  Either way, in the context of the story, we want to say that certain things are obviously right (e.g. loving one’s children) and others are just wrong (e.g. committing genocide).  In the context of the story, we have no doubt:  Premise 2 is true (objective moral values and duties do exist).

But where do these values and duties come from?  What makes things objective right and wrong?  We’ll look at one or two ideas in the next post, and see how there is often confusion (on both sides) between moral ontology and moral epistemology.

 

*Before the skeptic becomes inflamed, remember – I’m not saying anything bad about you, under the circumstances.  Lying is no worse than truth telling, is no worse than lighting a candle or passing gas.  This is just a factual observation, then, which could be wrong.  If it is, so what?  Why should it matter if I exaggerate or put false words in your mouth?

Existence of God – 29

We concluded the last post with the question, “Are there objective moral values and duties?”

There’s some potentially treacherous sailing ahead.  It all seems clear to me, but when I’ve spoken to some atheist friends about this, a kind of confusion settles in that seems mysterious, surprising.  I might add “obtuse” if I wasn’t worried about offending them.*

First let’s ask:  Just what does “objective” mean?  Simply this – that a thing does not depend on opinion for its validation.  For example, 2 + 2 = 4, no matter what I think.  I could throw up the wildest, most protracted, Bill Maher-ish argument possible, and still have no effect whatsoever on the fact that 2 and 2 add up to 4, even if an entire studio audience applauded my effort.  Mercifully so.

“Objectivity” can be applied to empirical things, too:  The law of gravity is an objective reality.  No other reality has seen more protracted or violent protests as when a man is falling to the earth against his will, either from a short distance or a great one; still the reality holds.  This qualifies it as objective, even if every person on earth were ready to deny it.

So:  Are there objective moral values and duties?

The example quickest to mind for many – and one offered by WLC – is that of the Holocaust.  In other words, the mass genocide of six million Jews was right, wrong, or of no moral significance whatsoever.

If a person accepts that objective morality exists, she is left to answer either “yes” or “no.”  More on this in a moment.

If a person rejects the notion of objective morality, he is left to answer that the Holocaust was of no moral significance whatsoever, and neither is any other word, thought, or deed.  One could murder millions of people or mow the lawn, and neither carries greater moral significance than the other.

Now, this latter option seems, in all other circumstances, to be obviously false; the former choice likewise has an obvious answer.  You might deny, against all evidence, that the Holocaust occurred, and try to escape the question this way.  But that only seems to admit that there is an objective morality, and that the Holocaust was objectively wrong – else, why avoid the reality?

I suggest that the question of morality becomes confused only when the implications of a God are introduced.  Let’s look back at the argument.

Premise 2 – Objective moral values and duties do exist.

This seems obvious, especially in an extreme example.  Yes, of course they exist; yes, of course the Holocaust was wrong.  There is something about gathering people in a deliberate and discriminatory way, marching them through intolerable conditions along great distances, tearing families apart, forcing them to work long and hard and feeding them just enough calories to stay alive, performing acts of torture, painful medical experiments, and other humiliations on them, and finally killing them en masse and stacking their bodies like sandbags in mass graves – this strikes us as obviously and extremely wrong.

Moreover, if the Nazis has gone on to global dominance, and continued their program of mass killings, we might all have been brainwashed into thinking this was an admirable goal, one which must be supported by every good citizen of the Third Reich.  Perhaps every person would eventually believe the Holocaust was a good thing.  And still, we know it was not.  The answer doesn’t change, not even if all the world thinks it does, no more than it does in simple arithmetic.

This gives us Premise 2.  The examples could be multiplied; they are not difficult to think of.

The crux of the argument, then, rests with Premise 1, which we will look at next time.

 

*My tongue is in my cheek, lads.

Existence of God – 28

We have investigated the Kalam Cosmological Argument for the existence of God, and likewise the notion that belief in God may not require an argument at all, but might be properly basic. The former does not address God’s goodness, per se; the latter assumes it, for the purpose of demonstrating the model, and deals with objections relating to God’s goodness.

In fact, at the end of the last chapter, the quality of “goodness” figures as a defining attribute of God, one that would not be doubted even in the face of terrible evil. From a certain distance, this might be seen as an incoherence; then again, from a distance, a car might look like a cow. If one keeps the distance, but merely circles, one might constantly confuse whether they are seeing a cow, or a car. But if we drive right up, the view should become clearer.

 

First, the argument, again from William Lane Craig:

Premise 1: If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.

Premise 2: Objective moral values and duties do exist.

Conclusion: Therefore, God exists.

 

As WLC notes, the argument itself does not say that God, then, is the basis of objective moral values and duties; however, “such a claim tends to be implicit in premise (1) and emerges in the defense of that premise against objections.”

To illustrate the point – wait for it – the analogy of the author seems to serve rather well. Consider: Begin with an author, a composite of body and mind, and nothing else. Take away the body. All that remains is the mind. [This is like God, “in the beginning”].

Now, if anything in this scenario is “good,” what is it? Of course there’s only one thing it could be, and that is the mind. [If anything is good, God is good].

The author begins her story, and the various things she brings into existence are good or bad depending on their cooperation with her [Whatever God wills is good] and their implicit participation in her goodness [We are made in the image of God, and good inasmuch as we reflect that image].

In this way, we can see how God would be the basis of objective moral values and duties. The argument, then, essentially works backwards to this point. That is, do we observe objective moral values and duties?

Existence of God – 27.1

Before we leave Plantinga and his model for understanding “warranted Christian belief,” one more illustration of the sensus divinitatis bears retelling.  This is based on one of Plantinga’s illustrations, but I paraphrase here:

 

You are in your home, and the police show up.  They identify you, and promptly arrest you.  You are wanted for murder.

When you get to the police station, you pull together the evidence they have, and it’s compelling – the victim was a friend of yours, with whom you had a major falling out.  Two people say they saw you headed to the victim’s home just before the time of the murder.  An officer comes in with one of your shoes, and it matches the footprints found at the scene of the crime.

You mentally scramble to remember where you were at that time, and you realize that, while you did have an argument, you left well before the time of the victim’s death.  Importantly, you remember with as much certainty as possible that you did not kill him.

But you just went for a walk in a new part of town, where no one would recognize you.  You did not stop to speak with anyone, and you did not do anything out of the ordinary.  No one can support your alibi.

Plantinga’s question is this:  In the face of such evidence, is it rational for you to give up your innocence?  Or are you still warranted in believing you are innocent?  Even if the evidence piles up further, and you are ever more helpless to defend yourself – still, isn’t the assurance of your memory belief strong enough for you, at least, to maintain your innocence?

This, of course, he applies to many situations, but it could apply here:  The “evidence” wrought by the problem of evil can be very powerful, indeed.  You might argue for God’s existence anyway, and face some incredulous stares.  Still, your experience of God’s existence may be more powerful yet, and Plantinga suggests this can be enough to qualify as a warranted belief.

 

Pious note:

Plantinga, even in his official work, addresses the Christian life.  I would say he presents it as would an inside observer – he’s not selling it, per se, not proselytizing, but he is no stranger, either.

This is something like that, but more personal.

I have been chatting with my fellow Catholic Guy, one Adam Fischer, and marveling at an idea like this.  As I consider the arguments for God’s existence, and the fact that a great many believers seem not to seek a logical foundation for their beliefs (which might serve to correct some of their erroneous beliefs), I have sometimes wondered whether all of this could really be just.

That is, a great many believers, the majority perhaps, seem uninterested (and maybe uncomfortable?  Untrained?) in considering the logical arguments for God’s existence (and those opposed, too).  Failing that, for one reason or another, is their faith somehow ephemeral?  If irrational, then insubstantial?

What Plantinga’s model does is account for and substantiate them all:  A person of the meanest intelligence might, through the sensus divinitatis, come to know God.  The crazy aunt or uncle might have some crazy ideas; even so, their apprehension of God’s existence may be considered authentic.  No advanced studies are required.

Adam then noted that the astounding thing about Catholicism, which gave momentum to his conversion, is that the Sacraments are accessible in a similar, universal way.

Anyone may be baptized – no credentials are required, only a sincere want (and even this want can be vouched for).  Adam particularly noted lands where Christianity had not reached – whatever you might try to teach them about the Incarnation or the Trinity, everyone understands eating, and so they can receive communion.  That most fundamental of human experiences was sanctified by Christ, and by it we have a means of reaching everyone with His message.

(I warned you – it was a pious note).

Existence of God – 27

So we have, at least, given our college best to the logical and probabilistic problems of evil.  (Please wait while I go wash my hands, and perhaps my brain).

It may be for naught.  Whatever we can manage to say, even logically, about evil is one thing; the reality of it – the lived horror – is another thing.

So Plantinga asks – what about that?  What about a properly basic belief that there could not be a God, in the face of the evils we see?

Let’s lay this out:  Before, we had a look at Plantinga’s model, which says that no argument is needed, no logical proof, in order to rationally believe in God.  Given a precise understanding of warrant, he even says that belief in God can be warranted.

So, how about the other direction – could a person, faced with the raw, soul-scraping evil in the world, come to the belief that God could not exist, given that evil?

What about that? Can’t belief in the non-existence of God be properly basic, given an experience of evil? No argument would be needed. It would be as immediate and direct as knowing there is now a screen in front of your face.

This, as Plantinga says, is the best version of the atheological case from evil. He calls it an “inverse sensus divinitatis.” And he says much else, which is stirring and disturbing, in order to frame the question. It is an honorable presentation, I think.

Here is his answer: In a person whose faculties were properly functioning – that is, among the others, the sensus divinitatis is working properly – such a person

would have an intimate, detailed, vivid, and explicit knowledge of God; she would have an awareness of his presence, glory, goodness, power, perfection, wonderful attractiveness, and sweetness; and she would be as convinced of God’s existence as of her own. She might therefore be perplexed by the existence of this evil in God’s world – for God, she knows, hates evil with a holy and burning passion – but the idea that perhaps there just wasn’t any such person would no doubt not so much as cross her mind. (Emphases Plantinga’s, rendering mine).

In other words, being perplexed is not the same thing as doubting. This explanation does not do anything, in all likelihood, for those whose sensus divinitatis seems not to be functioning properly – that is, the atheist, or even the warm weather theist.* Perhaps, for such people, the moral sense is developed but the SD is not – they can recognize evil, but not God.

The way the analogy of the author might apply here is probably best held until later, in the context of the next argument for God’s existence – the argument from objective morality.

 

*It might be objected that this is unsatisfactory, that it seems to casually discard those who do not hold a belief in God and condemn them to eternal suffering. Of course, this objection only matters if there really is a God, and if there really are consequences for this fact beyond the present life. If that much can be understood and admitted…

Analogy from another sense:  There are those who are physically blind, and they are obviously not excluded from salvation. It does not even preclude them from navigating their physical environment. Even if they should blind themselves by their own actions (rather than, say, being born blind), it does not have any necessary bearing on their salvation. [It is not a requirement of salvation to have all cognitive capacities functioning properly].

Can anyone’s SD be fully impaired, so that it is not possible to have a properly basic belief in God? I’m not sure, but even so, it would not seem to preclude such a person from salvation. One might simply require a greater faith, or a variation on the typical forms of faith – perhaps, though they do not present themselves in absolute certainty, the various proofs for God’s existence could be convincing. Perhaps one may be persuaded by the faith of another – a friend, a spouse, a parent, a saint. [The impairment of a cognitive faculty may be compensated for].

Existence of God – 26

We see that the probabilistic problem of evil fails for our want of omniscience – there is no possible way for any human to rule, with complete authority, that God does not have a purpose for the seemingly gratuitous evils we see in the world.  Absent such knowledge, there is no way to know whether any suffering actually is gratuitous, and therefore the main pillar of the argument cannot stand.

An aside:  I feel obliged to recount a lesson from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe.  When Aslan makes his deal with the White Witch and submits to being killed in exchange for Edmund, he says that he must submit because of the “Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time.”  This was magic the children did not know about, but the White Witch (having been created at the Dawn of Time) knew it well.  And yet it seems a gratuitous exchange – the king of Narnia, dying for a selfish boy.  The only hope of Narnia, who could devour the Witch’s army almost at once, given up for the life of a boy who had never carried a sword.  It doesn’t make sense.

We come to find out that there is “Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time,” and in this we actually have a better outcome than if Aslan had not made the deal.  I propose that the probabilistic problem of evil suffers a weakness like this – it is ignorant of the Deeper Magic.

Before we get to the emotional problem of evil, which Plantinga introduces in quite an interesting way, I’d like to explore the intellectual problem of evil a little bit further.

When we speak of gratuitous evil, we seem to to be speaking in terms of a balance sheet, or counterbalancing scales.  Evil on one side (of the ledger, or the scales) and goodness on the other.  We then, without being too precise, estimate that the evil in a situation outweighs the good; on the balance sheet, we have a deficit of goodness.

I’ve already said that we are not aware of all of God’s purposes, and so in any given instance of evil, our scales appear weighted toward evil.  God’s, however, might be balanced, or favor the goodness of a situation.  Very well.

But is this the best rendering of a situation?  Even if we could objectively value the “units” of goodness and those of evil and weigh them, do we really grasp the reality of the situation by scales and balance sheets?  After all, what is evil?

I want to suggest (and I’m not the first to do so) that evil is not anything.  What we call evil is merely an absence of good, just as what we call cold is merely an absence of heat.*  In the language of the balance sheets, evil is zero.

Notice what this means – evil is not a negative number.  There is no possibility of a negative number.  Consider:  If you were to remove all the heat from a given space, what would the absolute temperature be?  Zero; we call this “absolute zero.”  There is no negative temperature.**

Evil, instead, is a deficit of good – it is a lack, a depravity, where some greater measure of good ought to be.  It is a failing, a falling short of the goodness which God intended and desires for us, and which he promises to those who will trust him.^

In this sense, the causal relationship arises more clearly.  It’s not that God permitted the kidnapper and rapist to do something which results in a net-negative; rather, He permitted a vacuum.  The net sum (of goodness) would never be less than zero.  In fact, it must always be greater than zero.

When the woman says she could walk through Hell with a smile on her face, she means that she looked into the abyss – the absence of good –  and knew she did not have to submit to it.  She knew she was something, and that as a matter of fact, she would always be greater than nothing.

Is this not a great good, this simple knowledge?  Aren’t these women saintly in their disposition, in their perseverance?  In what way have their words and actions been lacking?  Are they not, in these things, greater than their abductor and rapist?  Are they not, perhaps, greater than you and me in this way?

One other point tends to be glossed over when gratuitous evil is discussed.  The naturalists, I have observed, speak as though we are in the only and ultimate realm of reality.  They speak this way even as they critique God’s handling of the Universe – they speak out of both sides of their mouths.  They seem not to realize (or not care) that they are artificially handicapping God, and the great good that he is.

In other words, God is the infinite good.

This is not a pious expression – I am saying that, whatever is a “unit of good,” God is equal to an infinity of those.  You can never count up his goodness.  He is an actual infinity of goodness.

In this way we might understand why the sin of Adam and Eve is call “The Fall” – they fell, precipitously, from an inconceivable magnitude of goodness.  Heaven, then, is like infinity – further up and further in.  The fall from infinity to any other number is an infinite descent, and Christians have always known the gap could not be bridged by finite means.

That woman in Cleveland might never put it in these words; could it be that she not only sees that she is something, but that God is everything?  Has she, in this experience, seen that God is so unimaginably greater than any evil (or any good, for that matter) that her faith is strengthened and renewed?

Wouldn’t it be the greatest possible good if God leads her, through this evil, into everlasting life?

 

*I leave a larger study of this definition of evil for another time.

**Same here – I leave the objection,  “But there are negative temperatures!” to another study.  For now, it suffices to say that I am speaking of the “absolute” temperatures, which calculate the amount of heat in a space (and I compare this to a calculation of the amount of good in a situation).  Our scales in centigrade and Fahrenheit are conventions, which do have their uses.

^The reader will probably recognize this, but I use some of the classical language for evil here.  One might – as I once did – simply think of such words as “depraved” to be poetic, even hyperbolic.  But depravity is a lack leading to ill-health and ruin, and here we see one way to understand that, mechanically.  It’s not poetic, it’s precisely descriptive:  When one is depraved, he does not have enough goodness to maintain his health, and he will fall toward zero, the abyss, which is death.

Existence of God – 25

The logical problem of evil can be dealt with, and so the skeptic might decide to retreat to the probabilistic problem of evil – that is, given some of the instances of gratuitous evil in the world, we would expect an all-powerful and all-loving God to render such evil impossible.  Given that such instances of (seemingly) unnecessary evil do happen, we can be reasonably confident that God does not exist.

For example, three women escaped this year after a decade of captivity.  Their abductor allegedly* raped them repeatedly and deliberately caused the death of one of their unborn children (another child made it to full term and was six-years-old at the time of the report).  The three women later gave statements for a publicly released video.

I don’t know what this does to you.  It evokes in me the first stages of a murderous rage.

I once heard a story from a priest who presided over the funeral of an infant.  The child’s parents were in jail.  The infant had essentially been abused to death:  There were burn marks from cigarettes all over his body, scalds from being immersed in hot water.  I don’t know what else the child suffered.  I think my ears refused to hear it.

What does this do to you, you of limited potency?  If you knew exactly where such things were happening, and that they were happening right now, what would prevent you from rescuing that child?  What would keep you from breathing compassion on him, even if he was breathing his last?  What would you do with the parents?

What does it mean, then, that God permits this?

I confess that I have bled over into the “emotional” problem of evil, but I think this is all the power that the probabilistic problem of evil has.  By itself – academically, if you can stomach the term here – the probabilistic problem of evil can be dealt with.  How shall we proceed?

Let’s be academic first, because then it will be out of the way.

The failing of the probabilistic problem of evil is that we must presume to know…well, much, much more than we do.  Consider:  In order to say that the kidnapping and rape of those women in Cleveland was “gratuitous,” we would have to say that there was no possible purpose for it, no possible good which could at least balance the scales of justice (let alone, produce more good than evil).  What great good could come about such that God would be justified in permitting the kidnapping and rape of these women?

We just don’t know.^  This is why the probabilistic argument fails – the skeptic cannot say with certainty that any instance of evil is gratuitous.  How would he know?  It might seem gratuitous, he might see no purpose in it at all – well and good, and ultimately we can all identify with this stance.

But to say that, in all probability, God does not have a purpose behind a given instance of suffering?  This requires some kind of reasonable certainty.  We just don’t have that.

This, no doubt, is unsatisfying to the skeptic.  No doubt, even among believers, it does not do much to allay the emotional power of the problem of evil.  It is an academic answer, which, as far as I can see, does address the argument and shows how it fails (at least among we mere mortals).**

Can we attempt an answer, though?  Can we attempt to peer into the mind of God?  I leave this to another post.

Rather, as long as we’re being academic, let’s bring in the analogy of the author.

Our author is writing, and the conflict in act two is that her main character is imprisoned, and being tortured.  The torture scene goes on, and the suffering of the hero is profound.  The torture is so ruthless that we, the readers, begin to wonder how the hero can survive.  But survive he does, and he escapes, and we’re on to act three.

Now, especially in the moment of the suffering, we might wonder whether all of this torture is really too much, in the context of that world (not to say, according to our tastes, but according to whatever possible purpose it might have in the story).  We might think the hero has been needlessly impaired, or the suffering has been so profound and humiliating, and has offended the dignity of the character so completely, that we cannot imagine what purpose it might serve for the author.  These, at least, are among the things we see when we encounter seemingly gratuitous suffering in our world.

Now, I have been just short of superlative here, in describing the suffering of our hero.  The question is, is there any possible purpose for this suffering, any possible good which could justify this great evil?

The hero, obviously, might have no idea how to answer these questions.  Other characters, like friends of Job, might speculate and provide entirely unsatisfying answers – or admit that they can’t see what the purpose is.  Does this fact alone render the author non-existent?

Of course not.  Still further, does it mean the author actually has no possible purpose for the suffering?  Again, no.  Moreover, because we are speaking of a fictional character, I dare to suggest that you might already have conceived of some reasons for the suffering.  When emotions aren’t involved, it becomes something like solving a riddle.  There’s no need for me to speculate here – I invite you to propose answers to the riddle.

 

*I don’t know if anyone expects such thoroughness of investigation from me, but can a dead man be tried and convicted?  Anyway, the “allegedly” appears a formality, but I am in no position at all to be sure either way.

^Far from being a cop-out, this is also the failing of utilitarianism.

**This raises the question – on naturalism, does it make sense to consider anything “gratuitous”?  Doesn’t gratuitousness depend on a purpose, and the means for accomplishing that purpose being over-indulged?  On naturalism, whom would we charge with the crime of being gratuitously evil?  If it’s the fault of humans (as in genocide, perhaps, or sadism in torture), isn’t that always the fault of humans?  How can we even blame God for that on theism?  So must we only speak of natural events being gratuitous on naturalism?  But the charge here seems especially weak, since we can (now more than ever) see how any given instance of natural evil actually plays a role in the grand purposes of our world (e.g. – an earthquake, no matter how devastating, is only the cause of tectonic activity, which plays a role in recycling nutrients and therefore making life possible.  Isn’t it better that life on earth exists, rather than not at all?  Isn’t this better, even at the cost of occasional disasters?)