Last week, I put up a post titled “Pain, Suffering, and Evil: Evidence For or Against God’s Existence?” This post was mostly a response to the late philosopher J. L. Mackie and his paper “Evil and Omnipotence.” In Mackie’s paper, the claim is that the existence of both an omnipotent/omniscient/wholly good being and evil presents a contradiction. All I really did with my post was 2 things:
- I pointed out where Mackie’s premises where a few peas short of a casserole. For instance, his critique didn’t take into account the logical and necessary limitations of an omnipotent/omniscient/wholly good being which the vast majority of christian theologians and philosophers agree on. The other problem was that there was no room in his argument for such a being to have sufficient reasons to allow evil (which I thought was worth considering even though I didn’t want to get into all that at the time).
- I thought it was worth recognizing just what “evil” is according to Mackie’s atheistic position which is vague at best and completely nonexistent at worst — leaving his accusations to be unintelligible according to his own worldview.
This post sparked a lot of chatter from theists and atheists alike. One of the biggest objections (from both sides) concerned my argument for the possibility of God having sufficient reasons for allowing evil. Of course, the possibility of such a sufficient reason (whether we know that reason or not) would in no way contradict any of the properties of God that are listed in the argument. So as long as a sufficient reason is even possible, then my amendment should stay in the discussion–and for good reason. The only way this could be considered impossible is if the existence of such a sufficient reason contradicted one of the three listed attributes of God–which it doesn’t.
The Issue at Hand
All that said (because I want to be clear that this is not a concession about the response to what I’ve said about premise 1b), I would like to speak about a particular sufficient reason which I find to be very compelling in understanding God’s allowance of the existence of evil. So here we go.
BTW, this theodicy will be in consideration of the christian God (yes, this distinction does matter).
Say what you will about Genesis 1-3, but whether you take these chapters literally or whether you take a more broad, literary approach, you’ll find a crucial element in this story hinting toward what humanity is and what God’s intention behind it is. Look carefully though, or you’ll miss it.
And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
I’ve heard so many atheists criticize God (which they don’t believe in) for cultivating this scenario (which they don’t believe happened). Some have even gone so far as to refer to Mankind’s error as “entrapment” as if God set up this situation specifically for Adam to choose to do wrong. But I think this type of opinion shows a very important and fundamental misunderstanding on what this choice means for humanity and about God. For a person to hold this opinion, they must first have what I think is the wrong answer to the big question, “Why did God create this world?”
So Why Did God Create this World?
In addition to the Genesis passage, here’s another passage worth considering for the answer to our big question,
Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.
-1 John 4:7-8
So “God is love” and yet He gave Man the ability (freedom) to rebel against Him. Is this consistent? Absolutely. If there’s one thing that we can presuppose about love, it’s the ability to make the choice to love. And if there’s one thing that we can presuppose about the choice to love, it’s the reality of more than one option, i.e. the option to love…or not. So God has given us this gift of love, but love, being the delicate thing that it is, must be chosen (the gift must be freely accepted).
Suppose God set out to create a perfectly obedient world instead. Well that’s easy, take out the love/hate element — but such a world (and such a robot-like humanity) would not be an accurate reflection of God’s nature. After all, God is love, remember? The end result would be a perfectly obedient world that is perfectly devoid of love. The vast majority of atheists that I’ve spoken with on this issue seem to think that this obedient, robo-humanity would be the kind of world we should expect to exist if there were a God, but this concept doesn’t even match the nature of God; so we have good reason to rule out this idea.
Instead, the God of the bible — the God who “is love” — would be much more likely to create a world that would be the best possible world in terms of the freedom to choose love. In other words, it would look remarkably like this one that we’re in; a world where each person is morally responsible for their own actions and has the capacity to choose to love or reject God. In this world, a lot of people choose to ignore God’s objective morality and do evil, but there are 2 important truths we can draw from this choice:
- The ability to choose is such an incredibly valuable part of the whole system. The ability to choose means the ability to love; which is clearly important to God (and hopefully to you too).
- The choice to reject God’s objective morality and do evil is made in the midst of a spectrum of choices where good could have been chosen instead; meaning no one is forced to reject God — they do so freely.
A blogger named “AceTheist” said this about my last post,
“Saying that a wholly good, wholly omnipotent being may have sufficient reason for allowing certain evils to exist seems like another way of saying that some amount of evil is for the greater good, so to speak.”
That’s exactly what I’m claiming! In order for God to create a world where human love can thrive–where the most possible people can experience the joy of having a loving relationship with Him, the potential for humans to choose good or evil must be in place. That is the greater good. The other option would be that false, robo-humanity as described earlier. Some might object to God’s decision in not making robo-humanity. In other words, they think they’d “prefer” robo-humanity over the current condition. This view was expressed by TheEditor’sJournal blog,
“Ultimately I think most people want to be happy. If I was happy and safe why would I care if I was God’s puppet or not, so long as He was cool people and in my corner?”
This is also a fallacy since a person in a robo-humanity state could not prefer anything at all. You would prefer to not prefer? Then why not just not prefer to not prefer? Seems more efficient if you’re really committed to such a concept.
In closing, a world that contains sinners saved by grace is much better than a world filled with human-shaped appliances. I’m grateful to exist in the former.
Also, I’d like to say thanks to AceTheist, SiriusBizinus, TheEditor’sJournal, and the contributors of Reagent Post for arguing with me about this subject. Sometimes that’s just the best way to organize one’s thoughts.