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Problem of Evil

Problem of Evil

Victor Hugo on Deep Waters, Dark Shadows

Go Night falls; he has been swimming for hours, his strength almost gone; the ship, a distant far-off thing, where there were men, is gone; he is alone in the terrible gloom of the abyss; he sinks, he strains, he struggles, feels beneath himself invisible shadowy monsters; he screams. ¶ Men are gone. Where is God? ¶ He screams. Help! Someone! Help! He screams over and over. ¶ Nothing on the horizon. Nothing in the sky. ¶ He implores the lofty sky, the endless waves, the reefs; all are deaf. He begs the storms; but impassive, they obey only the infinite. ¶ Around him, darkness, storm, solitude, wild, unconscious tumult, the ceaseless churning of fierce waters. Within him, horror and exhaustion. Beneath him the devouring abyss. No resting place. He thinks of the shadowy adventures of his limp body in the limitless gloom. The biting cold paralyzes him. His hands cramp shut and grasp at ... nothing.

God and Evil

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The question of evil ― its origins, its justification, its solution ― has plagued humankind from the beginning. Every generation raises the question and struggles with the responses it is given. Questions about the nature of evil and how it is reconciled with the truth claims of Christianity are unavoidable; we need to be prepared to respond to such questions with great clarity and good faith.  God and Evil compiles the best thinking on all angles on the question of evil, from some of the finest scholars in religion, philosophy and apologetics, including: Gregory E. Ganssle and Yena Lee, Bruce Little, Garry DeWeese, R. Douglas Geivett, James Spiegel, Jill Graper Hernandez, Win Corduan, David Beck. With additional chapters addressing “issues in dialogue” such as hell and human origins, and a now-famous debate between evangelical philosopher William Lane Craig and atheist philosopher Michael Tooley, God and Evil provides critical engagement with recent arguments against faith and offers grounds for renewed confidence in the God who is “acquainted with grief.”

Wandering in Darkness

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Only the most naive or tendentious among us would deny the extent and intensity of suffering in the world. Can one hold, consistently with the common view of suffering in the world, that there is an omniscient, omnipotent, perfectly good God? This book argues that one can. Wandering in Darkness first presents the moral psychology and value theory within which one typical traditional theodicy, namely, that of Thomas Aquinas, is embedded. It explicates Aquinas’s account of the good for human beings, including the nature of love and union among persons. Eleonore Stump also makes use of developments in neurobiology and developmental psychology to illuminate the nature of such union. Stump then turns to an examination of narratives. In a methodological section focused on epistemological issues, the book uses recent research involving autism spectrum disorder to argue that some philosophical problems are best considered in the context of narratives. Using the methodology argued for, the book gives detailed, innovative exegeses of the stories of Job, Samson, Abraham and Isaac, and Mary of Bethany. In the context of these stories and against the backdrop of Aquinas’s other views, Stump presents Aquinas’s own theodicy, and shows that Aquinas’s theodicy gives a powerful explanation for God’s allowing suffering. She concludes by arguing that this explanation constitutes a consistent and cogent defense for the problem of suffering.

Nature Red in Tooth and Claw

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While the problem of evil remains a perennial challenge to theistic belief, little attention has been paid to the special problem of animal pain and suffering. This absence is especially conspicuous in our Darwinian era when theists are forced to confront the fact that animal pain and suffering has gone on for at least tens of millions of years, through billions of animal generations. Evil of this sort might not be especially problematic if the standard of explanations for evil employed by theists could be applied in this instance as well. But there is the central problem: all or most of the explanations for evil cited by theists seem impotent to explain the reality of animal pain and suffering through evolutionary history. Nature Red in Tooth and Claw addresses the evil of animal pain and suffering directly, scrutinizing explanations that have been offered for such evil. ~ Book Description

Regarding Haiti: An Imperative

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Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? … If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. » Give here or here.

The End of Christianity

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Theodicy attempts to resolve how a good God and evil world can coexist. The neo-atheist view in this debate has dominated recent bestseller lists through books like The God Delusion (Richard Dawkins), God Is Not Great (Christopher Hitchens), and The End of Faith (Samuel Harris). And their popularity illuminates a changing mental environment wherein people are asking harder questions about divine goodness. Surprisingly, these books please intelligent design champion William Dembski, because “They would be unnecessary if Christianity were not again a live issue.” Entering the conversation, Dembski’s provocative The End of Christianity embraces the challenge to formulate a theodicy that is both faithful to Christian orthodoxy and credible to the new mental environment. He writes to make peace with three claims: (1) God by wisdom created the world out of nothing. (2) God exercises particular providence in the world. (3) All evil in the world ultimately traces back to human sin. In the process, Dembski brings the reader to a fresh understanding of what “the end (result) of Christianity” really means: the radical realignment of our thinking so that we see God’s goodness in creation despite the distorting effects of sin in our hearts and evil in the world.

A Story of Natural Evil and the Suffering of Animals

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In more recent philosophical expressions of the Problem of Evil, the argument is carefully articulated to ensure that the evil under consideration is unquestionably gratuitous. That is, while there is suffering for which the theist can posit some possibly redemptive or soul-making purpose, there is also suffering for which it is nigh impossible to imagine any greater good being served. Specifically, attention has turned to natural evil, and to the suffering of animals in particular. For example, William Rowe’s widely discussed argument imagines a fawn, alone in the woods, engulfed by a raging forest fire, suffering for days before dying. How could a good and powerful God, if he existed, allow this kind of suffering, which is immeasurable every day? On the other hand, when I watch tens of thousands of wildebeest and zebra attempting to cross the Mara River as they finish their annual migration across the Serengeti, many of them violently ripped to pieces in the attempt by basks of writhing crocodiles, it is not obvious to me that this militates against the existence of God.1 I am awed and quickened by the spectacle. Though I naturally root for the antelope, I see tragic beauty in this contest for survival, red in tooth and claw. I’m not altogether sure that a world of harmless bunnies, tribbles and parakeets… a world without riptides, sandstorms, cliffs and fires, would better bespeak a great and beneficent creator. Indeed, I wonder whether a world whose magnificence is due in part to its being as wild and untamed as ours is not itself a justification for the peril and pain entailed therein. But, when I say that I am not sure, that is the truth. I am by no means unsympathetic to the suffering of animals. My heart is rent when I watch PETA’s documentaries exposing our oftentimes callous and cruel treatment of animals bred for human consumption. It is egregious to kick a dog, to string up a cat. Furthermore, we have the biblical vision of heaven which portrays a time and place when the lion lies down with the lamb, implying perhaps that the current, ravenous state of nature is not the way it’s supposed to be. Considering the abundance of animal suffering, it has always struck me as a bit unfortunate that the examples offered by Rowe, Tooley, and others in these arguments are usually abstract, when they needn’t be.2 So, as I continue to reflect on what we should infer from a natural world that is as violent as it is breathtakingly beautiful, I offer the following contribution. It is a riveting account from the journal of a close friend, Dace Starkweather, who experienced the very real, fiery devastation of Pike National Forest3, and bore witness to the woodland creatures and free range cattle that suffered there. I don’t think anyone has ever questioned whether Rowe’s example is paralleled in the real world, but this vivid, real-life account makes the question of apparently pointless natural evil all the more poignant.

The Problem of Evil

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It is generally supposed that the fact that the world contains a vast amount of suffering, much of it truly horrible suffering, confronts those who believe in an all-powerful and benevolent Creator with a serious problem: to explain why such a Creator would permit this. Many reflective people are convinced that the problem, the problem of evil, is insoluble. The reasons that underlie this conviction can be formulated as a powerful argument for the non-existence of God, the so-called argument from evil: If there were a God, he would not permit the existence of vast amounts of truly horrible suffering; since such suffering exists, there is no God. Peter van Inwagen examines this argument, which he regards as a paradigmatically philosophical argument. His conclusion is that (like most philosophical arguments) it is a failure. He seeks to demonstrate, not that God exists, but the fact that the world contains a vast amount of suffering does not show that God does not exist. Along the way he discusses a wide range of topics of interest to philosophers and theologians, such as: the concept of God; what might be meant by describing a philosophical argument as a failure; the distinction between versions of the argument from evil that depend on the vast amount of evil in the world and versions of the argument that depend on a particular evil, such as the Lisbon earthquake or the death of a fawn in a forest fire; the free-will defense; animal suffering; and the problem of the hiddenness of God. ~ Product Description

Philip Yancey on Pain as a Design Feature

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Theologians blithely attribute pain to the Fall, ignoring the marvelous design features of the pain system. Every square millimeter of the body has a different sensitivity to pain, so that a speck of dirt may cause excruciating pain in the vulnerable eye whereas it would go unreported on the tough extremities. Internal organs such as the bowels and kidneys have no receptors that warn against cutting or burning—dangers they normally do not face — but show exquisite sensitivity to distention. When organs such as the heart detect danger but lack receptors, they borrow other pain cells (“referred pain”), which is why heart attack victims often report pain in the shoulder or arm. The pain system automatically ramps up hypersensitivity to protect an injured part (explaining why a sore thumb always seems in the way) and turns down the volume in the face of emergencies (soldiers often report no pain from a wound in the course of battle, only afterwards). Pain serves us subliminally as well: sensors make us blink several times a minute to lubricate our eyes and shift our legs and buttocks to prevent pressure sores. Pain is the most effective language the body can use to draw attention to something important.

The Triumph of God over Evil

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Noted philosopher William Hasker explores a full range of issues concerning the problem of evil. Having taken account of the current state of the discussion and squarely facing some of the most trenchant arguments marshaled by John K. Roth and D. Z. Phillips, Hasker forges a constructive answer in some depth showing why the evil in the world does not provide evidence of a moral fault in God, the world’s creator and governor. A fresh and provocative contribution to the ongoing discussion of theodicy. "Hasker’s book is a model of first-rate philosophy. Beginners are unlikely to get a better introduction to the problem of evil; Hasker is a master at summarizing and getting hold of the core of the issues at stake. Veterans will be brought up to speed on the current debate; Hasker is sure-footed and fair in his assessment of friend and foe. Through it all there shines a beautiful mind that manifests a heart on fire with honesty, compassion and robust faith." ~ William J. Abraham

Christ and Horrors

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Who would the Saviour have to be, what would the Saviour have to do to rescue human beings from the meaning-destroying experiences of their lives? This book offers a systematic Christology that is at once biblical and philosophical. Starting with human radical vulnerability to horrors such as permanent pain, sadistic abuse or genocide, it develops what must be true about Christ if He is the horror-defeater who ultimately resolves all the problems affecting the human condition and Divine-human relations. Distinctive elements of Marilyn McCord Adams’ study are her defence of the two-natures theory, of Christ as Inner Teacher and a functional partner in human flourishing, and her arguments in favour of literal bodily resurrection (Christ’s and ours) and of a strong doctrine of corporeal Eucharistic presence. The book concludes that Christ is the One in Whom, not only Christian doctrine, but cosmos, church, and the human psyche hold together. ~ Product Descritption

David Bentley Hart on God and Natural Disasters

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As a Christian, I cannot imagine any answer to the question of evil likely to satisfy an unbeliever; I can note, though, that — for all its urgency — Voltaire’s version of the question is not in any proper sense “theological.” The God of Voltaire’s poem is a particular kind of “deist” God, who has shaped and ordered the world just as it now is, in accord with his exact intentions, and who presides over all its eventualities austerely attentive to a precise equilibrium between felicity and morality. Not that reckless Christians have not occasionally spoken in such terms; but this is not the Christian God.

The Cosmos as a Work of Art

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I will sketch an argument that if we follow St. Augustine in seeing the cosmos —i.e., the sum total of all created existence—as a work of art, then we have good reason to be sceptical of the judgment that there are gratuitous evils.  I will do so by stating several features of works of art each of which, when transferred to the case of the cosmos, makes it difficult to conclude that any evil we see is gratuitous.  However this account does not undercut the religious claims that from the goodness of things in the universe we can tell something about God’s goodness.  Paradoxically, evil does not give a strong argument against the existence of God, but good might give a strong argument in favor of it.

Rethinking Evil: Contemporary Perspectives

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This innovative volume will be welcomed by moral and political philosophers, social scientists, and anyone who reflects seriously on the twentieth century’s heavy burden of war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, and other evidence of people’s desire to harm one another. Mar’a P’a Lara brings together a provocative set of essays that reexamine evil in the context of a "postmetaphysical" world, a world that no longer equates natural and human evil and no longer believes in an omnipotent God. The question of how and why God permits evil events to occur is replaced by the question of how and why humans perform radically evil acts. ~ Product Description

Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God

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When confronted by horrendous evil, even the most pious believer may question not only life’s worth but also God’s power and goodness. A distinguished philosopher and a practicing minister, Marilyn McCord Adams has written a highly original work on a fundamental dilemma of Christian thought — how to reconcile faith in God with the evils that afflict human beings. Adams argues that much of the discussion in analytic philosophy of religion over the last forty years has offered too narrow an understanding of the problem. The ground rules accepted for the discussion have usually led philosophers to avert their gaze from the worst “horrendous” evils and their devastating impact on human lives. They have agreed to debate the issue on the basis of religion-neutral values, and have focused on morals, an approach that — Adams claims — is inadequate for formulating and solving the problem of horrendous evils. She emphasizes instead the fruitfulness of other evaluative categories such as purity and defilement, honor and shame, and aesthetics. If redirected, philosophical reflection on evil can, Adams’s book demonstrates, provide a valuable approach not only to theories of God and evil but also to pastoral care. ~ Publisher’s Description

Michael Martin on God, Mystery, and Evil

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On most interpretations of the theistic God, He desires His creatures to love Him. However, the mystery of evil conflicts with this desire. It is difficult for rational humans to love God when they do not understand why there is so much evil. If the reasons for evil are beyond humans’ ken, God could at least make THIS abundantly clear. Why does He not do so? Moreover, why does not an all-powerful God have the power to raise human intelligence so humans can understand why there is so much evil? If there is reason for not doing this, then why is THIS not made clear? There is mystery on top of mystery here which seems to conflict explicitly with God’s desire to be loved.

David James Duncan on the Problem of Evil

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Beside a Scientist, Marion is also a Pacifist and an Atheist. This means she is basically against most things, such as War, Sports, and God. Don’t get me wrong here. She is a fine woman in her way. Just a bit too serious and cynical, we feel … This weird outlook must of started up because her two brothers or maybe three were either all three or both killed during WW1, which Marion calls The Great War, in spite of WW2 being Greater. It also probably never helped when both her parents died shortly thereafter of a combination of broken hearts and the Spanish Inflewenza.

The Evidential Argument from Evil

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Is evil evidence against the existence of God? Even if God and evil are compatible, it remains hotly contested whether evil renders belief in God unreasonable. “The Evidential Argument from Evil” presents five classic statements on this issue by eminent philosophers and theologians and places them in dialog with eleven original essays reflecting new thinking by these and other scholars. The volume focuses on two versions of the argument. The first affirms that there is no reason for God to permit either certain specific horrors or the variety and profusion of undeserved suffering. The second asserts that pleasure and pain, given their biological role, are better explained by hypotheses other than theism. Contributors include William P. Alston, Paul Draper, Richard M. Gale, Daniel Howard-Snyder, Alvin Plantinga, William L. Rowe, Bruce Russell, Eleonore Stump, Richard G. Swinburne, Peter van Inwagen, and Stephen John Wykstra. ~ Product Description

Evil and the Evidence for God

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Many have thought that the reality of evil in the world makes the existence of God unlikely and religious belief irrational. The most influential contemporary solution to this problem has been offered by philosopher John Hick: God is responsible for evil, using it as a soul-builder to make human beings into morally perfect creatures. This book is an appraisal of Hick’s work on the specific topic of theodicy — his effort to cope philosophically with the problem of evil from within the Judeo-Christian tradition. R. Douglas Geivett seeks to show why any adequate response to the problem of evil must begin with the positive reasons one might have for believing in God. Geivett begins with a survey of three influential figures who grappled with this question: St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Gottfried Leibniz. Hick’s approach to the problem of evil is then contrasted with their views. The author makes a case for the possibility of natural theology and he defends the view that it is rational to believe in the existence of God, even given the reality of evil in the world. Geivett takes issue with Hick’s approach to the significance of evil, the nature of human freedom, and the character of the afterlife. He argues for a return to the Augustinian free-will tradition: that creatures with free wills are responsible for evil. This discussion of one of the most challenging questions in the philosophy of religion concludes with an afterword by John Hick in which he responds to the author’s thesis.

The Problem with the Problem of Evil

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Current discussions of the ‘problem of evil’ vary greatly in at least two ways. First, those involved in such discussions often differ on the exact nature of the problem. Some see it as primarily logical (deductive), some as primarily evidential (inductive), and still others as primarily psychological (personal, pastoral). Second, those involved in such discussions differ radically on what is required of the theist in response. Some claim that unless the theist can offer an explanation for evil (a theodicy) that is satisfying to rational individuals in general, theistic belief is rendered unjustified. Others agree that the theist must offer a theodicy, but deny that such an explanation must be found convincing by most if theistic belief is to remain justified. And still others deny that the theist is required to offer any sort of explanation (theodicy), arguing instead that the theist need only defend the logical consistency of simultaneous belief in the existence of evil and God.

The Problem of Evil

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The problem of evil is one of the most discussed topics in the philosophy of religion. For some time, however, there has been a need for a collection of readings that adequately represents recent and ongoing writing on the topic. This volume fills that need, offering the most up-to-date collection of recent scholarship on the problem of evil. The distinguished contributors include J.L. Mackie, Nelson Pike, Roderick M. Chisholm, Terence Penelhum, Alvin Plantinga, William L. Rowe, Stephen J. Wykstra, John Hick, and Diogenes Allen. Including an introductory essay and a selected bibliography, this comprehensive and completely up-to-date collection is an invaluable guide to current scholarship in this highly debated area of the philosophy of religion. Oxford Readings in Philosophy aims to bring together important recent writings in major areas of philosophical inquiry, selected from a variety of sources, mostly periodicals, which may not be conveniently available. ~ Publisher’s Description

Russell Baker, New York Times Humorist, on Death and God

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For the first time I thought seriously about God. Between sobs I told Bessie that if God could do things like this to people, then God was hateful and I had no more use for Him. ¶ Bessie told me about the peace of Heaven and the joy of being among the angels and the happiness of my father who was already there. The argument failed to quiet my rage. ¶ "God loves us all just like His own children," Bessie said. ¶ "If God loves me, why did He make my father die?" ¶ Bessie said that I would understand someday, but she was only partly right. That afternoon, though I couldn’t have phrased it this way then, I decided that God was a lot less interested in people than anybody in Morrisonville was willing to admit. That day I decided that God was not entirely to be trusted. ¶ After that I never cried again with any real conviction, nor expected much of anyone’s God except indifference, nor loved deeply without fear that it would cost me dearly in pain. At the age of five I had become a skeptic . . .

E.M. McDonald on God and Nature

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If such a God did exist, he could not be a beneficent God, such as the Christians posit. What effrontery is it that talks about the mercy and goodness of a nature in which all animals devour animals, in which every mouth is a slaughter-house and every stomach a tomb!

Must God Create The Best?

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Is God obligated to do all within his power to maximize the quality of life for each individual in our world? Let us consider the following principle: (P1) A necessary condition for the actualization of any possible world containing sentient, self-determining beings is that God do all he can within the legitimate constraints inherent in this world to maximize the quality of life for such beings. Since many, if not most, versions of the problem of evil are based on the contention that a perfectly good God would do more to rid our world of pain and suffering, all parties agree that P1 is a very important principle, perhaps the most important of its type. It might be argued initially that P1 stipulates an impossible task for God. Just as there can be no ‘best’ actualizable world, someone might maintain, there can be no maximal state of existence for any given individual since for every state of existence we might identify as such, there would, in principle, always be another state of existence with even higher quality that God could (or attempt to) produce.

William Styron on Species of Time

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Precisely at the same hour in which [the Jews] were being done to death, the overwhelming plurality of human beings, two miles away on the Polish farms, five thousand miles away in New York, were sleeping or eating or going to a film or making love or worrying about the dentist. The two orders of simultaneous experience are so different, so irreconcilable to any common norm of human value, their coexistence is so hideous a paradox… Are there, as science fiction and Gnostic speculation imply, different species of time in the same world, “good time” and enveloping fold of inhuman time, in which men fall into the slow hand of the living damnation?… What had old Stingo been up to while Jozef (and Sophie and Wanda) had been writhing in Warsaw’s unspeakable Gehenna? Listening to Glenn Miller, swilling beer, horsing around in bars, whacking off. God, what an iniquitous world!