From Atheism to Theism:
From Theism to Christianity:
From Atheism to Theism:
From Theism to Christianity:
As I mentioned in a previous post, I am taking a Philosophy class this semester on “Suffering, Tragedy and the Christian Faith.” A student responded to one of my posts on the Logical Problem of Evil in a way that suggested part of that problem is that God created both good and evil. Now, the logical set of the POE goes something like this: 1- God is omnipotent, 2- God is wholly Good, 3- And yet evil exists. Ancillary questions like why did God create good and evil (which assumes God did), what is omnipotence, how do we know God is good, and what is evil soon arise out of the LPOE. For a more robust handling of some of these questions check out an old paper I wrote on The Perversion of Good – A Practical Theodicy. In this post, I want to plant some ”seed thoughts” for later developments… so that said, please grant me some grace in your critique (for I will need to think this over more myself before it is defensible).
I like to talk in terms of “potential” and “actualization” when it comes to the origin of what we call evil. Humans had the potential to not fall into rebellion and thus continue in the original goodness of creation and enjoy unbroken fellowship with the triune God forever without actualizing evil (choosing contrary to God’s will). One of my favorite books of all times is Perelandra. In this second installment of C.S. Lewis’ space trilogy, Lewis’ character explores a world in which the original inhabitants have not fallen into rebellion/original sin.
In responding to some another set of questions from another student, I thought up the following example for the “perversion of good” motif:
Nuclear energy. A scientist altruistically discovers the equations to make atomic energy possible for all people. He understood if he shared his mathematical equations they had the potential for good, but also for evil. He decides to share the equation with others and allow them to decide how they will use this knowledge.
The scientist’s initial good discovery (which would have provided cheap energy to the nations for a very long time) was entrusted to others with the intention of it only being used for clean energy and not for weapons; however, it was instead perverted into weapons of mass destruction by those he entrusted it with. So there exists today what appears to be a bifurcated view of nuclear power: the good (energy), and the bad (nuclear weapons). The scientist did not create the nuclear weapons, but allowed others the choice. The potential existed to choose according to the will of the scientist, but also the potential to choose against that will and thus in that decision actualized/created evil.
If you push this example too far it will break-up since it is an anthropomorphic example to describe something that epistemologically is beyond our comprehension (in fullness not part).
“If God is a good God, then why did he allow my mother to die of cancer?” “Why do bad things happen to good people?” We have all heard or perhaps asked such questions concerning God and the apparent evil we experience in this present age. The majority of people who ask such questions are not philosophers, but dear friends, family members, and perhaps our own hearts. The question of good and evil in this world is one that is not limited by religion, race, or history. It is an existential question that every person is faced with. Many philosophical thinkers have viewed the problem of evil as a rational objection to theistic belief, what German theologian Has Kung called “the rock of atheism.” The presence of evil in the world, however, can be logically consistent with a good, omniscient, and omnipotent God. In this paper, I will articulate a thesis for the presence of evil, show the importance of this thesis, defend it while also citing potential objections, and finally I will give a succinct conclusion.
My hope in this paper is to give a practical theodicy for the evil we are faced with in this age. The paper’s aim is not to be a defense, that is, to give a formulated argument against a view of evil, but to give an account of why a good and all powerful God allows suffering and evil to persist. Instead of viewing evil and suffering as a “rock of atheism,” I believe evil and suffering are more consistent to an alarm clock, waking humanity to the severity of our current reality. A major metaphysical question to ask concerning God’s involvement in the world is to ask, “What are God’s attributes?” The three attributes that are focused on in this paper are God’s goodness, omniscience, and omnipotence. The working thesis for this paper is that it is logically plausible that the evils instigated in the world are caused by the free choices of humans, angels, and nature; therefore, God logically exists as an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good being.
The importance of this thesis is not just the philosophical question, but also of existential significance of our answers to the question. The question of good and evil is not a question of cosmic forces that act in opposition somewhere outside of us, but the reality of the good and its depravations within us. The issue of evil is perhaps the most relevant and painful questions that philosophy addresses and if properly articulated, can provide a person with a sure and steadfast hope to overcome its effects: pain, suffering, and injustice. The existence of evil, suffering, and pain causes us to ask tough questions concerning evil, but as Viktor Frankl understood, “If there is a meaning in life at all then there must be a meaning in suffering.”
In the following concise defense of my thesis, I will focus on the following “key ingredients” to my theodicy: freedom as potential, evil as a perversion of good, and the restoration of all things. I begin with the creation. I operate from the theistic philosophical assumption that God is the creator of the universe and is separate from his creation; therefore, God is wholly other and is apart from nature. God’s attribute of omnipotence means, “power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. This is no limit to his power.” So from this understanding of omnipotence, it is as nonsensical to say, “God can give creatures free will and at the exact same time withhold that free will” as it is to say, “God can make something green and blue at the same time.” Humans, similar to angels and nature itself, are endowed with the freedom to choose contrary to God’s will. Augustine insisted that evil and God’s infinite goodness are not contradictory based on the freedom of the will. Augustine affirmed that, “the will is created by God, and is therefore good; but that the will is capable of making its own decisions. It is good for the will to be free, even though this means that such a free will can produce evil.” Thus when the infinitely good and omnipotent God created humans and angelic beings with a will of their own, he created beings that were originally good, but had the freedom of contrary choice. Evil then is not some cosmic entity or an opposing evil deity, but a choice that is contrary to God’s infinite goodness.
Evil is often looked upon in modern culture as something that is distinctly separate from good. Most churches wrongly place God and Satan on the same platform as if God is the ruler of what is good and Satan in the ruler of what is bad. Black/white, light/dark, good/evil fit in better with the Taoist expression of “ying and yang” than an orthodox Christian understanding. The dark side of the moon is dark only because of the absence of light; a paper with black letters on it was once white before the letters; evil was once good. Therefore, evil is but a perversion of what was once deemed good. Lucifer, the Christian archetype of evil, was once regarded as one of the closest beings in proximity to Yahweh before rejecting Yahweh’s infinite goodness for his own ways. I make this point not to devalue the pain and suffering that result from the evils of this age, but to make certain that such evils are not ascribed to an infinitely powerful, knowing, and wholly good God.
So far in this theodicy, the type of evil spoken of can be classified as a moral evil, but there is also the broad category of natural evil. Natural evil covers such things as physical pain and suffering that result from either impersonal forces or human actions such as floods, fires, disease, famine, and defects. William Hasker in his own theodicy states, “It is important to acknowledge the existence of evil in the world as a pervasive reality. This evil mars and obscures but cannot entirely hide or obliterate the goodness inherent in the creation.” God created nature in a way that it can exist as a system: the rains come, the seeds grow, and the animals eat and eventually die. This apparent “circle of life” was also put into confusion as a result of the creation’s first stewards, Adam and Eve. What we call epidemics and natural disasters today are results of a confused natural order, as the apostle Paul described it in Romans 8:19-22:
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.
The natural evils that persist are a result not of God pulling the strings of nature to send a tsunami here or a disease there, but are the result of nature set to confusion as a result of the rejection of God by the first son and daughter of humanity.
The scope of God’s restoration must then work in a way to restore not only moral evils, but also natural evils. This is why even the creation cries out according Paul in Romans 8 for there is an entanglement between the restoration of creation and the restoration of humanity. Despite God’s omnipotence to endow his creatures with contrary choice, his infinite goodness moves him to pursue us in our rebellion as a lover does their betrothed. Evil is a rejection of God’s love and goodness, so a decision to return back to God, first requires God to bestow grace to us for we are born into a state of “Non Possee Non Peccare” (not to be able to not sin). Unlike Pelagius, Augustine said that it is first through grace that we experience freedom, because we are all born into sin. Adam and Eve were the only ones initially born into a state of “Posse Peccare, Posse Non Peccare” (to be able to sin, or to be able not to sin), but as far as we are in Christ we are in a state of “Non Posse Peccare” (not to be able to sin). The restoration of humanity then is not a return to a previous state, but entering into a new state of freedom from evil that is finalized in the resurrection of the dead. This requires God in his omnipotence to make a new and living way for the humanity that initially rejected his infinite goodness. It is beguiling that the Lord of the universe chose the cross as a means to bring humanity to a new glorified state for by doing so, he endured the most severe suffering, pain, and rejection in all of history. The way the Lord chose to redeem humanity on the cross legitimizes our own pains and sufferings and should move us beyond them into the new reality of the Kingdom of God.
There are a few potential holes within this theodicy, I am well aware. For the page limit in this paper, I had to make such assumptions like that of a Christian theist, an adherent to libertine freedom, as well as my definitions of omnipotence, goodness, and evil. Some could argue that my handling of omnipotence is sufficient to create free will, but not when it results with the loss of a single soul to hell. But I ask, what do you mean by “hell” and “omnipotence”? For God’s omnipotence in a sense allows for those who reject His infinite goodness, to remain rebels forever. As C.S. Lewis puts it, “In creating beings with free will, omnipotence from the outset submits to the possibility of such defeat…I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” I find the logical problem of evil argument, championed by J.L. Mackie to form a rather simplistic and dangerous equation, “omnipotence + goodness + evil = no God.” As I have shown in this thesis, this equation is inadequate since, “omnipotence + omniscience + infinite goodness = Gods ability to endow creatures with free will, a potential to choose good or not to choose good.”
The title of “the problem of evil” is an “enlightenment packaging” that actually covers up the realities of evil. As David Root puts it, “The Materialist’s aims – to show that the problem of evil is sufficient to disprove God’s existence – can be appreciated for their simplicity; however, they fail to save the appearances. In another age, it was not so much the problem of evil as it was the issue of evil.” Some call evil a “problem” as a result of modernity’s lie that humans can be autonomous and wholly independent. Such a lie of being self-autonomous is what started the current age we live in, one that Paul refers to in Scripture as “this present evil age.” I am actually stunned that philosophy deals with “evil, suffering, and pain” as yet another reason to not have theistic faith. It is almost like the pain of evil is harnessed as a very emotional proof for non-theistic philosophers against belief in God and I find it demeaning for all of us who suffer from the evils of this world to use evil in this manner.
It can also be argued by some that this concise theodicy of mine does not account for the probabilistic problem of evil. William Rowe argues based on the concept of “intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some great good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.” This particular argument is based a lot on the subjectivity of those who assign the probability. Those who are non-theist will assign a low probability to God, but those who are theist will assign a high probability. The probabilistic problem of evil demonstrates more about the presuppositions of the philosophers than it does if God’s existence is rational.
In conclusion, the issue of evil is very present and real in this present age. The thesis of this paper has shown that the evils instigated in the world are caused by the free choices of creatures; therefore, God logically exists as an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good being. The hope of this theodicy was not to devalue the reality of one’s suffering, sorrow, and pain that are the growing pains of this evil age, but my hope is quite the opposite: to bring legitimacy and clarity to what evil truly is and to articulate the hope for a final restoration from evil. As Revelation 21:4 states, “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” For when Adam and Eve chose to reject God’s infinite goodness, the potential for evil became actualized evil. This is the evil we experience today in the two categories of natural evil and moral evil. The hope for the Christian is to enter into a new state in which it is no longer possible to sin, which will be finalized in the resurrection. This choice, however, is extended by the grace of God, so that we may choose or reject God’s means of reconciliation in Christ. The blame for the origin of evil is essentially human and not divine, but God’s intervention in Jesus Christ gives us the option to truly be freed from the evil that atrophies our capacity to be and do good.
To view the pdf version of this click here: PH501 – Paper 3 – Good and Evil
 William Hasker, Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 107.
 Jerry Root, C.S. Lewis and a Problem of Evil: An Investigation of a Pervasive Theme (Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications, 2009), 186.
 C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperCollins, 1940), 18.
 Justo L. Gonzalez, The Story of Christianity, Volume 1: The Early Church to the Dawn of the Reformation (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1984), 212-213.
 Peterson, 146-147.
 William Hasker, The Triumph of God over Evil: Theodicy for a World of Suffering (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008), 202.
 Steve O’Malley, lecture CH 501 (Asbury Theological Seminary, Spring 2007)
 Lewis, 129-130.
 Root, 187.
 William Rowe, “The Evidential Argument from Evil,” in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 3rd ed., ed. Michael Peterson et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 354-362.
“Those who wish to succeed must ask the right preliminary questions.” This statement from Aristotle is a fitting analogue to the preliminary question that must be asked prior to an investigation of David Hume’s objections to miracles. Before one can ask if miracles are legitimate or even possible, he or she must first ask the metaphysical question, “How, if at all, God influences reality?” Therefore, this paper commences with an investigation of the preliminary philosophical assumptions that are made by David Hume, so that we may see how he can disregard miracles a priori. The paper will then transition into a critique of Hume’s arguments (specifically the a posteriori aspect) against miracles. In conclusion, I will give a defense for a reasonable belief in miracles. The unfolding thesis in this paper will show that a belief in miracles is a reasonable enterprise that rests strongly on one’s philosophical presuppositions.
C.S. Lewis, in his book Miracles, rightly states, “The result of our historical enquiries thus depends on the philosophical views which we have been holding before we even began to look at the evidence. The philosophical question must therefore come first.” For instance, I currently do not believe in the American Santa Clause. When my mother gives me a Christmas present “from Santa,” I immediately reject this as a possibility, since it does not fit into my preliminary assumption about reality that Santa Clause is fictitious. Therefore, the package cannot possibly be from Santa, so there must be something wrong with my mother’s testimony. Now when I was a child, I would have received this gift from Santa Clause with very little doubt, since I held the presupposition that Santa Clause was real. So in order to first answer the question of “whether or not miracles can occur” or “if a miracle is legitimate,” we must first ask the question: “what are our metaphysical assumptions about God?” The preliminary assumption that I make in this paper is that God is the creator of the universes and that nature is a system distinct from God. This supernaturalist view allows for another system (God or God’s agents) to interact with nature in the form of miracles. The supernaturalist assumption, unlike that of the naturalist allows for the possibility of miracles to be legitimate or fraudulent.
David Hume, on the other hand, immediately rules out miracles a priori with the limited philosophical assumption of naturalism. “According to naturalism, everything which exists or occurs lies entirely within the domain of natural processes. Nothing comes into nature or influences it from outside. There is no “outside”; nature is all there is.” So starting from the vantage point of a naturalist, Hume can logically rule out a priori the possibility of any influence from outside, since the laws of nature encompass all of reality. As Richard Swinburne, who builds on Hume’s argument, puts it in his book, The Concept of Miracle, “the laws of nature state what happens. Consequently everything that happens must accord with them.” This affirmation by Swinburne and Hume that the laws of nature are robust enough to capture all of what happens is troubling when an “apparent” violation to the laws of nature occurs. As C.S. Lewis summarizes, “if we decide that Nature is not the only thing there is, then we cannot say in advance whether she is safe from miracles or not… But if Naturalism is true, then we do know in advance that miracles are impossible.”
Even if I were to concede for the sake of argument, the philosophical presuppositions of Newtonian physics and naturalism inherent in Hume’s claim, there are still serious flaws with his a posteriori objections to miracles. David Hume gives four reasons why we should doubt reports of miraculous events: the witnesses are not reliable, humans are gullible, educated people are seldom convinced, and counterevidence is always stronger. The first reason for rejection of miracle testimony is that there never has existed in all of history a miracle that was witnessed by a multitude of people of the highest caliber of integrity. The description of what is required for a legitimate witness such as, “unquestioned good sense, education, and learning… beyond all suspicion… credit and reputation in the eyes of mankind” is not only highly subjective, but also impossible. Hume demonstrates with this initial proof of testimony that it there can never be a reliable witness to a miracle. This first proof is obviously being used by Hume to eliminate testimony of miracles. This proof in itself shows the irrationality of Hume’s objections, since it requires standards for the witness that no single human being is capable of possessing.
Hume’s second point, that human nature is inherently gullible, is essentially attempting to legitimize his first irrational point that there are no reliable witnesses. If human nature is bent towards embracing the wonder and surprise of miracles, then there can be no reliable witnesses and thus no miracles. Hume goes on in his reasoning to disregard human testimony that is associated with religion, “if the spirit of religion join itself to the love of wonder, there is an end of common sense; and human testimony, in these circumstances, loses all pretensions to authority.” The assumptions here are apparent enough: that sense is common, that religion and wonder cannot join together apart from sacrificing reason, and that human testimony can have no authority.
Hume’s third argument is perhaps the most scathing. It is an ad hominem argument that attacks what Hume classifies as the “ignorant and barbarous.” Ostensibly, Hume argues that all supernatural and miraculous events are observed chiefly to abound in the ignorant and barbarous peoples of the world. In essence this third point is nothing more than an ethnocentric statement, a very ignorant proof by a very learned man. Once again this proof lacks the scope to prove that all “ignorant and tribal people” lack the capacity to testify to miracles. I myself am well educated, well traveled, and well read, but yet I have personally experienced divine miracles.
The fourth claim is an interesting one since Hume doesn’t allow much room for God or gods in his objections. Here Hume allows that the apparent miracles attributed to one religion would end up canceling out the miracles of another religion. This line of subtle argumentation makes very little sense for a naturalist, since even resorting to this example of religions to prove his point; Hume is acknowledging the supernatural that apparently doesn’t exist. There is also an assumption that the rules of supernatural forces (i.e. gods) are the same as that of natural forces. The a posteriori argument concludes abruptly with Hume stating, “no human testimony can have such force as to prove a miracle.”  This last statement by Hume is a summarization of what he was trying to indirectly show with his four proofs.
As I first argued, we must first ask the right metaphysical question about God‘s relationship to nature before we can approach the topic of miracles. The naturalistic presupposition of Hume and others concerning miracles instantly removes the possibility of an intervening force from outside the closed system of nature; therefore, eliminating the possibility of a miracle actually occurring. My question is “what do you do with well-documented miracles?” Imagine if Hume, himself saw a person pray for healing in the name of Jesus Christ for Hume’s brother who was blind from birth and then the brother was miraculously given sight. It would be irrational for Hume to conclude that a miracle did not occur. This is a similar example to the one given by Robert Larmer in which case he argues, “the most rational response would clearly be to acknowledge God’s interventive activity. To hold out for a totally natural explanation would be uncritical, dogmatic and question-begging.”
I also take argument against the definition of a miracle as an act of God that breaks the laws of nature. With the miracles of Christianity, we see the cause of the miracle to be God, but the results follow according to natural law. I am also not suggesting that by starting with a supernaturalist presupposition that one can automatically say a certain miracle is an act of God. The supernaturalist presupposition does allow for the possibility both a priori and a posteriori of a miracle to occur, but it doesn’t reject miracles automatically like the naturalist presupposition of Hume. Therefore, it is more rational to begin with a supernatural presupposition since it does not automatically limit the explanation of extraordinary events in nature. The major critique of my thesis is my assumption that God is entirely separated from and creator of the universe. There is also the assumption that God desires to disrupt the natural order that he created and the question arises, “if this God is good why do not more miracles occur?”
In conclusion, I am reminded of a scene from a documentary on miracles called The Finger of God. In this particular scene, a group from a church was at a public park and started praying for a teenager who had hearing loss. The teen’s friends were with him and were watching as these wacky adults prayed over their friend. After minutes passed, one man who was in the prayer team walked away and shouted the teen’s name. In that moment the teenager heard his name and turned in the direction of the voice! The teenager was amazed at the healing that happened, but his friends just kept on playing basketball like nothing happened. I share this story to highlight the most important aspect of miracles: philosophical presuppositions. Two people can look at the same event and see two totally different reasons for it happening. In this above scene, those who believed (or were open to believe) in miracles witnessed one, but the teens playing basketball just kept on playing basketball trying to reason away what they just experienced. I am reminded of the testimony of the blind man whom Jesus healed in John 9. After the Pharisees tried to prove away this miracle through discrediting Jesus, the blind man, the blind man’s parents, and the witnesses to the miracle, the blind man testifies plainly, “though I was blind, now I see.”
 C.S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: the MacMillan Company, 1947), 12.
 William Hasker, Metaphysics: Constructing a World View (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1983), 108.
 Richard Swinburne, The Concept of Miracle (New York: MacMillian and Co, 1970), 20.
 Lewis, 21.
 David Hume, “The Evidence for Miracles Is Weak,” in Philosophy of Religion: Selected Readings, 3rd ed., ed. Michael Peterson et al. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 474 – 478.
 Ibid., 475.
 Ibid., 478.
 Michael Peterson et al., Reason & Religious Belief: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion, 4th ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 202.
 Lewis, 72-73.