Wednesday, October 28, 2009

God, Evil, and Forgiveness

Luke “The Common Sense Atheist” has a new essay, Arguing About Evil.

After evaluating "Plantinga’s Free Will Defense" in favor of God, Luke writes…

Even if this is possible, it only explains a world in which there is some evil, not so much evil as we see in this world. In fact, it is easy to give examples of how God could have made a less evil world without ending human freedom. For example, he could have tweaked Hitler’s genes such that he still could have freely chosen the life of a fascist warmonger, but he would have been much more likely to freely choose the life of a peaceful gardener… Doesn’t the sheer abundance of evil in the world at least make God’s existence improbable?

I wrote back…

Even though I believe in God, I share the concern of atheists on this issue. The problem of evil is vexing. And more importantly – to paraphrase you, Luke – the problem is not just the mere existence of evil, but the vast amount of it. “Why so much, God?”

Where do I stand on this issue? Well, I’m tempted to say that even while God’s ways are mysterious, “We should have faith in God, because we know through Reason that God is worthy of that faith.” However, I’m sure many people would find that unfulfilling, and I don’t blame them. So I’ll try again…

We should be open to the possibility that God is not perfect, and more importantly, we should be open to the possibility that God WANTS us to acknowledge his imperfection.

When he’s made mistakes, he wants us to join him in an act of co-creation to fix them. And when he’s made gross mistakes – serious moral errors – then he invites us to do what we do for any worthy human being in that situation: Forgive Him!

Yes, forgive God! Seriously. I realize that’s a speculative, controversial idea, and I’m certainly open-minded to better alternatives. But atheism, in my opinion, is NOT one of those better alternatives. Why? Because it is false.

To this day, I still think my idea of “forgiving God” is the most controversial idea in The Mustard Seed.


Novaseeker said...

I suspect you won't agree with me, but my own belief about this is that the reason God has done things this way is to leave free will truly free and neutral. Why is that important? Because it makes love more genuine. If the deck is stacked (either thoroughly in a deterministic way or Calvinist predestinatarian way, or even partially in a way suggested here), then that love that results from whatever free will is left, if any, will be that much more coerced, that much less "freely given", and therefore that much less genuine.

The Christianity I believe in holds that God created out of love and to to reflect love. Why then so much evil? The answer is that unless sentient creation is truly free, including being so free as to be equally capable of choosing the evil, then the love that is chosen by some is less genuine, because it is less of a true "choice". The world may have been a less evil place that way, but the love expressed in the world would have also been more jury-rigged and less genuine. In other words, God didn't desire to create a race of love robots who would love Him back because they were programmed ot jury-rigged to do so. Instead He wanted real love, and real love is always a choice -- and the best way to ensure that this was a free choice was to make it a truly free one, rather than a jury-rigged one.

But, then why so much evil? Well, that's explained by Genesis, for Christians at least. The EO reading of the "fall" is that the disobedience of Adam and Eve led to mortality (not the intended condition of humanity), and, as a result, somewhat of a leaning towards evil, rather than towards good (what the Latin church has called "concupiscence"). Why is this viewed as resulting from mortality? Because in the context of a mortal life, where mortal life is all there is, people are going to skew, often, towards the kind of selfishness and short-sightedness that is the essence of evil acts and decisions. So the fall resulting in mortality also results in concupiscence, which is why there is so much evil apparent in the world at the moment.

It's important to note that from the Christian perspective, God did not *create* Adam and Eve with concupiscence. He created them with free will -- including the freedom to disobey Him at the cost of their immortality. As to why He was so grandiose with his grant of free will, that gets back to my first paragraph above.

Todd White said...

Thanks for sharing, Nova.

This is obviously an issue I’ve struggled with for a long time, and I think most people struggle with it at one point or another.

I think you’re right that the gift of free will is the major element in reconciling ourselves to the existence to evil. True love (whether of God or other human beings) cannot exist without free will. And maybe that’s where any logical explanation should end.

But to be honest, even I – as a strong advocate of free will – find that explanation unsatisfying. As Luke wrote in his essay, it doesn’t help us explain 1) natural evil (such as earthquakes, etc.), and 2) the sheer enormity of evil that exists in this world.

Even if I was a Christian – and believed in the “Fall” – I would still struggle with this issue because then I would ask, “Should we – as ancestors to Adam and Eve millions of years later – be held accountable for their sins?” From my perspective, that seems quite unjust.

The Gnostics, as you’re probably aware, believed that there were 2 Gods (one good, one bad), and Earth was the province of the Bad God. But I have a few problems with that theory too (starting with the fact, of course, that I don't have any evidence that it's true). And even if those 2 Gods DID exist, who created them? And why? Eh, my brain is starting to hurt!

Clearly, though, I think we can agree that - at a minimum - the existence of evil should not be a reason for people to convert to atheism.