A Discussion on the Problem of Evil

Will G

3/6/08

 

This is part of a long and interesting discussion I had with an atheist philosopher about the problem of evil, and whether it could be dealt with effectively by a new expression of theodicy. The original discussion is used to mention objections to the theodicy. The full discussion is available here (which I've edited here to be shorter and into specific questions). I wanted to highlight this theodicy so it could help other Christians deal with the problem of evil. The essay that follows is based on the original post, edited as a result of the discussion to help explain the theodicy.

 

According to philosophy God is the greatest possible being, but even he cannot do some things, like make two plus two equal five or tell a lie. Are there any other limits to God's power? I would add that it's only God who can be totally perfect, and that anything created by God has to be intimately sustained by him for that thing to exist at all. I would argue that these two extra limitations are probably acceptable as they are found by making our concept of God even greater than previously thought. If they are accepted, then there is not necessarily any problem of evil, as this essay will attempt to show. The reason for this is that these two extra limitations imply by careful reasoning that God cannot create perfect people without a delay of at least one moment, and that during this delay these imperfect people must necessarily experience a lot of evil due to their imperfection, which means that a perfect reality cannot be made without a delay of at least one moment. And the nature of this explanation can potentially justify God taking more time to create this perfect reality.

 

The first step explaining why God cannot create perfect people without a delay of at least one moment: if it is accepted that only God can be perfect, then by creating beings independent of him to love him it then follows that God would have to create those beings necessarily flawed to some extent. This would not, according to Christian theology, greatly hinder God in creating perfect beings, because he could then use his Holy Spirit to help the spirits of created persons to allow them to draw on his perfection forever, bypassing this problem. However, since these persons would first have to accept the Holy Spirit in order to be made perfect, then logically this could not be at a time when they were already perfect, which means that there has to be at least one 'felt', or 'experienced' moment when people are imperfect while they accept this choice. This imperfection as I conceive it is in everyone equally, and is the capacity in all of us to think of bad actions as reasonable (it's that good people reject making these bad choices, whereas evil people choose wrongly); in heaven we won't be able to choose wrongly, like God can't, because we will never, like God, be able to conceive of a wrong action as reasonable in any circumstance (this is based ultimately on a Kantian argument regarding the nature of morality).

 

The next step explaining how the existence of these imperfect people brings about evil while they are imperfect: because God is the ground of all being, it then follows that he has to sustain any world he creates very intimately. The sustaining required is so intimate that apart from God and the universe being separate entities, and the proviso that what affects the universe does not affect God but what affects God affects the universe, the universe effectively IS God for the purposes of this argument. This is how I interpret the limitation of God having to be the ground of all being and needing to sustain everything to the greatest degree for anything else to exist at all. Therefore, as a result of the closeness of this sustaining, the people in any universe are effectively residing in God's being, and thus it seems reasonable to think that their broken relationship with God as a result of any temporary imperfection they have would rebound on them to make them suffer evil while they (effectively) reside in God, given the nature of such an environment and their damaged relationship with God. Imperfect people in any reality must therefore constantly experience evil, which can plausibly be interpreted as involving a fixed ratio of evil to good moments over people's experiences, which God can distribute out, not necessarily dividing the evil equally, nor, if there is more than one moment, dividing it equally among all the moments (distributing evil doesn't appear to involve a contradiction so God should be able to do it, which would help explain why everyone doesn't experience the same amount of evil). And since the concept of evil incorporates more than just an experience of pain, truly terrible things must happen over the average moment. Within a religious framework, the creation of this evil can fit with what we see in our world if one says that God distributes this evil in a way consistent with natural laws and physical appearances, to make our world understandable, but that this evil is ultimately not caused or experienced physically but caused because of these ontological relations I have described and experienced not by brains but by souls whose experiences are made to deliberately mirror the state of their brains. Thus, God under this model still retains complete power over the physical world, it's just that this doesn't help him reduce the quantity of evil as something experienced by non-material souls. Although regarding this evil it is important to note that God can still perform miracles related to evil, but only through redirecting evil from one person to another (and also to note that after people have been made perfect then all these problems disappear.) In any case, what follows from all this is that there must be at least one moment of evil.

 

Now the question is: why does God take so long? - there has clearly not just been a single moment of evil. Well, this ratio of evil to good that applies to any reality with imperfect people, although the evil moments involve great suffering, is still one with many more good moments to evil moments, and is the same regardless of whether God takes one moment or a billion years. And taking a long time wouldn't affect or diminish from a future for (potentially) everyone incorporating an eternity of perfect happiness. Thus, it makes sense that God might delay in creating this perfect world if he had a reason for doing so, a reason the belief in which is rational enough to allow the rest of this argument to largely defuse the problem of evil.

 

Questions/criticisms:

1.  Is this theodicy circular?

2.  Does this theodicy imply a limited God?  And what evidence is there that only God can be perfect and that he needs to sustain everything so intimately?

3.  Why do you interpret God's intimate sustaining of the universe in this way?

4.  Wouldn't God's ability to affect the physical world in any way allow him to stop evil?

5.  Can you give any concrete examples of something like this theodicy happening in real life?

6.  Is this theodicy heretical?

7.  Is this theodicy unjust?

8.  Like all theodicies, wouldn't this theodicy ultimately undermine morality if it were true?

9.  Would this theodicy give humans a power to do good that God doesn't have?

10.  Doesn't this theodicy rely ultimately on the idea we have free will, which is an incoherent concept?  And how can we have free will if God can foresee our choices?

11.  What is this 'Kantian-Christian' conception of morality I keep referring to?

12.  Of what relevance does the free will defense have to this theodicy?

13.  What about evolutionary evil?

 

1.  Is this theodicy circular?

 

This is blatantly begging the question. Let me draw out the logical structure:

 

P1. Only God can be totally perfect.

P2. We are not God.

Conc. Thus, we are not perfect.

 

This may seem very straightforward to you, however, in order to accept the first premise, you must first accept the conclusion. In other words, in order to believe that only God can be perfect, you must already believe that we are not perfect. Clearly, we cannot be perfect if only God can be perfect.

 

Your point would be valid if I was trying to argue that Christianity was true, to someone else, but that is not the point of the OP. The problem of evil is mounting an attack on Christianity, and by doing so is assuming that Christianity is true, and is seeking to point out that it doesn't make internal sense. Therefore, as the defender of Christianity I am allowed to assume all points of Christianity are true, or at least a Christianity that I interpret and believe in, and will therefore try and defuse the internal attack. So it's not circular to claim that only God can be perfect within the framework of my defense.

 

...It is true that some times a Christian is allowed a certain amount of speculation in the premise section of any argument, insofar as he or she is trying to merely point out that there are no internal inconsistencies within Christianity.

 

That will be the extent to which I will assert God's characteristics in this article.

 

Anyways, my claim to your circularity now has nothing to do an internal doctrine of Christianity. Right now I am saying that your argument for why the problem of evil does not represent an internal contradiction in Christianity is itself circular. You’re allowed to say whatever you want when it comes to what Christians believe. But, you are not allowed to make a circular argument for why there are no internal inconsistencies in Christianity.

My point is this, if your going to respond to every concrete situation I can muster by saying only that God could not stop it since he would only have to spread the same amount of evil around, you are being circular. You are trying to prove that there is a necessary amount of evil; you cannot use it as an explanation for why you are right.

...

Here’s a suggestion. Why don’t you set up a line-by-line argument showing me why there is a necessary amount of evil?

 

I suspect this is really the heart and soul of the matter. You think that I'm being circular not because I'm arguing within Christian premises but because you think I'm arguing for things within those Christian premises without showing that they reasonably imply.

 

I think that it would be helpful for me to lay out the structure of my argument in a logical sequence. Rereading the original article might be helpful here, since I recently edited it to clarify things:

 

1. God is the greatest possible being.

2. We can increase the greatness of our concept of God by saying that only God can be totally perfect, and that God is the ground of all being so much so that he has to sustain anything he creates to the greatest degree for it to exist at all.

3. These two premises imply by careful reasoning that God cannot create perfect people without a delay of at least one moment, and that during this delay these imperfect people must necessarily experience a lot of evil.

4. God cannot create perfect people without a delay of at least one moment from 2, because he has to create people imperfect, and therefore to make them perfect would have to 'do' something to them to allow them to draw on his perfection. The most plausible way of seeing this would be to say that God's action would involve the free choice of the created creatures, in terms of them accepting some thing that God does to them. Therefore they would need to make a choice as imperfect people to be made perfect and therefore would have to experience at least one moment of imperfection while they make this choice.

5. From 2, if God sustains everything in the most intimate way that something can be sustained, then this implies the transitivity relations we discussed, by a reasonable inference as we discussed of what this sustaining would imply. This means that apart from God and the universe technically being separate, and the proviso that what affects God affects the universe but not the other way round, the universe effectively IS God. Therefore, since people are effectively dwelling in God's being, it is reasonable to think that their necessary imperfection and broken relationship with God would rebound on them to cause them to suffer evil while they are imperfect, like a community having a bad relationship with their natural environment.

6. Therefore from 4 and 5 it is reasonable to infer that there has to be a delay of at least one moment in creating perfect people, during which time these imperfect people would have to experience a lot of evil.


7. A plausible way of interpreting the experience of this evil is as a ratio of evil to good moments for people (evil in the sense we can't get as much good in our lives every moment as would be needed to avoid being deprived of goodness, from an Augustinian interpretation of evil.)


8. Although experiencing the evil is necessary, there doesn't appear to be a contradiction in the idea that God can distribute this evil out to people (also across time) which is why I say he can in terms of our discussions on this topic.

9. All that's required here is that persons experience evil, not necessarily persons-as-physical-bodies or brains, implying my response to the 'P3' question.

10. This gives us a good theodicy by laying the groundwork for a complete solution to the problem of evil if there is a reason for God choosing to delay making people perfect. On this, see here:

 

"Now the question is: why does God take so long? - there has clearly not just been a single moment of evil. Well, this ratio of evil to good that applies to any reality with imperfect people, although the evil moments involve great suffering, is still one with many more good moments to evil moments, and is the same regardless of whether God takes one moment or a billion years. And taking a long time wouldn't affect or diminish from a future for (potentially) everyone incorporating an eternity of perfect happiness. Thus, it makes sense that God might delay in creating this perfect world if he had a reason for doing so, a reason the belief in which is rational enough to allow the rest of this argument to largely defuse the problem of evil."



 

Thus the theodicy is implied by these two original principles of only God being perfect and God having to sustain everything intimately by being the ground of all being.

 

2.  Does this theodicy imply a limited God?  And what evidence is there that only God can be perfect and that he needs to sustain everything so intimately?

 

Most view God simplistically. That is, He can do whatever he wants and also he is all good. However, you suggest here that God cannot do certain things, due to the "transivity of the relationship." (Between us and Him?) I'm curious if you could expand on this point a little, as I believe it is the definitive point in this discussion.

 

It is definitely true that many Christians believe God to be capable of anything in the highest way they conceive, capable of giving us free will while also controlling us completely, perhaps. But obviously most or all philosophers of religion who are Christians will endorse the idea that there are some things God can't do, such as make two and two equal five - the 'logical limits' limitation.

 

When Alvin Plantinga proposed that God was logically limited (I think it was him) the philosophical world pretty much allowed him to have his cake and eat it too, so to speak, to say that God couldn't do everything while he also used the words 'all powerful' when he referred to God. The reason why is that philosophers understand better than most people why God not being able make two and two equal five is not a real limit, and thus not a point to contest. When someone says something that is logically impossible, according to the theory of language, they are not making a statement that has any real meaning. When a person demands that God make something both to be itself and something entirely different, not itself, at the same time, they're not actually expressing a demand of God. To express a demand of God, you have to say something that makes sense, and demanding that God break the law of non-contradiction literally doesn't make sense, so people who ask God to do the logically impossible are not actually saying anything meaningful. So it's not a big limit on God for him not to be able to do things which cannot even be articulated into a language or thought, because they don't make any sense. Now there are Christians who will go around and say that 'their God should be able to make two and two equal five', but actually everyone's God, the God of Islam, and the God of any religion, cannot make two and two equal five, because the proposition doesn't make sense. The only reason why the Christian would say that is because either of our poetic faculty which allows us to kind of hold in our mind the images of the absurd, or because he or she lacks understanding of the way something is a contradiction or doesn't make sense. I have done mathematical problems in my life and gotten the wrong answer, but I could have sworn that I had the right answer until I realised my mistake. It's really the same thing with someone who says God can do something logically impossible.



 

So not being able to do something logically impossible isn't a real limit, and shouldn't be seen as such.

 

Now the question is, and this is where the real controversy comes in - limits that are more than the limit you cannot do anything logically impossible. This is usually what separates the orthodox Christian philosophers from those Christian philosophers with answers to the problem of evil that stray too far out of the mainstream and which do not become widely accepted because of this. Can you ever limit God more than logical limits?

 

In my defense, I would say no, which is why I think that my defense can be legitimately regarded as being in the orthodox category, and thus an answer to the problem of evil which is well worth discussing.



 

But you might point out, that some of my limits don't appear to be logical limits, in fact, three out of the four don't appear to be logical. It is impossible for God to lie, impossible for God to make another perfect being outside of himself since only he can be perfect, and impossible for God not to sustain everything in an incredibly deep way. These don't appear to be logical.

 

But actually if I bring in my wider theology on these issues I actually do think they are, and maybe now I can think of defenses as to why they are logical. I'll start with the 'lie' one.

 

When it comes to morality, I'm a Kantian, so I believe morality comes necessarily from being rational beings. I wrote an interesting article on this in the sidebar on Why God Must Be Good. Because morality comes necessarily from rationality, then God, who is totally rational, necessarily has a perfect idea of right and wrong. But also, because God isn't the product of a competitive evolutionary environment where he was struggling for survival, God also doesn't have any of the selfish desires or motivations that all biological organisms have. Therefore, there are no obstacles to God perfectly carrying out this rational understanding of morality (note, the rational understanding comes in a large part from not having any selfish desires and also wanting to do stuff, to 'act', and make rules for how you would act around others, that is to say, from never having biologically selfish desires God never has a reason to restrict peoples' free will and his sense of justice and fairness comes from this understanding of how he would always act.) Indeed, it is logically impossible for there to be any obstacles, because God is defined, and would have to be, someone who would never have any such selfish reasons/motivations to do things. Therefore this limit of 'no lying' which people may have thought was not a logical limit, actually turns out to be a logical limit, and so not a real limit.

 

Take the limit that only God can be totally perfect. I actually do believe there is a way of logicalizing this. In the Gospel of John it starts off by saying 'In the beginning was the Rationality, and the Rationality was with God, and the Rationality was God.' This is a legitimate translation of the word 'Logos' which is translated as 'Word' in most Bibles. So clearly God is the ultimate rational being, who existed before all things and is in essence a personification or 'agentification' of rationality, logic, reason and mathematics. And as I just tried to show, any such God is by definition perfectly good and cannot lie, morality being a rational enterprise, and selfishness being a biological or empirical/contingent enterprise, and has a perfect understanding of right and wrong. Therefore it's fair to say God is totally perfect.

 

Now, this God is 'all himself', that is, everything from the very beginning that was rational and aware of itself was God. There was just God in the beginning. So clearly, to make other creatures God will have to create something outside of himself, otherwise it would always have been with God and always been God. But, and this is what I will be proposing, if God is also the source of rationality, like some vast ocean of reason, then creating beings outside of himself to some extent might be creating beings that are by definition not as rational, if indeed everything rational is God, and has always been a part of God. If God is all consciousness that has existed forever, then if something else is conscious how can it possibly be God? And if God is the only source, and IS, rationality, then how can something not God be rational? And if something is not rational, how can it be good? Therefore we are partly part of God (enough to know good and evil), partly sustained by God, but that distance from God necessary to make us separate from him condemns us by logical necessity to be less rational than him and therefore evil to some extent. Evil as a violation of rationality.

 

The last limit, that of sustaining everything, can be explained from this. If God is the source of all being, by definition, then it seems likely that if God were to make something outside of him then he would have to support it pretty intensely. Therefore he has to support all the things he makes outside of himself to a very close degree for them to exist at all, which then creates the transitivity relation we discussed.

 

3.  Why do you interpret God's intimate sustaining of the universe in this way?

 

...The first explanation and the one in my OP is that the sustaining by God of the universe is a very close kind of sustaining that would essentially carry something that affected God over to the universe and how the universe functioned. In other words that way God sustains things is so intimate that it's essentially transitive. If something affects God, then because of the closeness of God sustaining everything, it also affects the thing God is sustaining in the same way adjusted for the different nature of the object. As you can see, this is an extraordinarily close kind of sustaining for it to work like this, for it to be transitive.

 

1) Allow me to straighten a few things up a bit. Before we go any further, I’d like you (Will) to explain what you mean by transitivity

 

The way I'm using the word 'transitivity' is based on how I think it's used referring to ordinary concepts, in science it could have a slightly different meaning (I'm not sure.) Basically it means that because of a certain relationship that holds between A and B, what affects A also affects B, adjusted for the nature of B. An example would be if there was a 'live' electrical wire, and I grabbed hold of it while my feet were on the ground. Electricity is going through the wire, but because of the 'transitivity' between me and the wire, the electricity also affects me, but not in the same way as the wire. Because I'm a person, not a wire, and my feet are on the ground, the electricity goes through me and adjusted for the nature of a human, electrocutes me (possibly even killing me.) So in my usage, transitivity would apply in this sense between the wire and me, in regard to the electricity, while I am touching the wire.

 

...

 

After writing my last post, my examples actually made my argument more clear to me. What kind of connection are we really talking about if God is a wire and we're the people holding on to it with electricity running through it (electricity being our imperfection)?

 

Essentially what I'm saying is that, with a few caveats, we should essentially think of the universe and God as the same thing, with the caveats being that they're technically separate objects, and that what affects the universe doesn't affect God, but what affects God has to affect the universe. Consider a metal bar that was welded together from two smaller bars. There is a 'line' across the middle of the bar showing where they were welded together, but other than that you couldn't tell them apart. I'm saying that God is sustaining the universe so intimately that for anything that affects God, God IS the universe.

 

Note I'm also being orthodox and saying that the universe and God are separate, which is indeed right, and also that the relationship is strictly one-way, only from God to the universe, and never from anything in the universe to God. But other than those caveats, an easier way of perhaps conceptualizing this would be to just say God is the universe and we're living in God. That's how close the relationship is in terms of sustaining.

 

Now, we have clear examples of people affecting natural environments they're in which rebounds on them in negative ways, in terms of a relationship; obviously fewer with people living in organisms in terms of everyday life. If a community has a bad relationship with their environment in terms of dumping toxic sewage into their water system, that will rebound to hurt them.

 

I'm saying our imperfection is basically like a community ruining their natural environment (through no fault of their own or God's) and thus having damaging negative effects rebound on us through us living in this environment. I think this has been for me a more helpful way of thinking about this problem.

 

...

 

Now, the core irrationality in our beings is totally anti-God like darkness is to light in a room. You turn the light on, the darkness goes away, turn it off, the darkness comes back. You don't have both at once. So this core irrationality in us, which comes out as varying levels of evil in people, has a very damaging effect on our relationship with God. And if you have this conceptualization of God and the universe's relationship being like we're living inside this God, then this means with those caveats the universe effectively IS God, so it makes sense that our bad relationship with God can affect us in our universe. The concept of a relationship necessarily implies that both people have that relationship to each other, so what from us goes to God comes from God to us. We have this broken relationship with God, we're living in God's being, therefore, this relationship comes back to us through people in God's being having evil experiences (see a clarification on the relationship between evil experiences and physical laws down in this post.)


 

4.  Wouldn't God's ability to affect the physical world in any way allow him to stop evil?

 

Imagine that there is a little girl, aged 11, who is very talented at the violin. Indeed it seems that God has blessed her with the talent necessary to praise His name in music. However, since she is only 11 she is dependent on her mother to take her to violin practice everyday. Her father is too busy and must pay the bills in order to pay for her lessons. Consequently, he cannot take her. Now, one-day the little girl’s mother is driving along a highway, following all of the rules of the road, when a drunk driver runs into her and kills her. The little girl thus must stop playing the violin, as no one is available to take her to lessons. She never learns how to play the violin and she spends years mourning the death of her much-needed mother.

Now, let’s just say that in one of these two cars is the little girl’s mother. The evil that occurred when the mother died IS that the two cars rammed into each other and the mother died. So, to stop that evil would be to stop the two cars from ramming into each other. If you can stop the two cars from ramming into one another, then you can stop the evil from happening

 

We'd better stop here, as I don't agree. Look again at the tail end of my previous post where I said that the physical laws of the universe are just something God has arranged so that when evil happens, it is understandable. The physical laws of the universe, and physical events in the universe, in no way cause evil. From a post earlier on:

 

"Next natural evil. Now, whether or not we have a system of laws and a readily understandable universe is irrelevant in my defense to whether the evil in our world will happen. Because the evil isn't based on the natural laws ultimately, but on those relationships argued for in the article, and is thus not contingent on any particular form our natural laws take, or even that the laws of, or appearance of, our natural world is understandable. As it happens, God has laid out this suffering in a way according to natural laws, so when someone has a heart attack, we can know it was because he had a bad heart condition, or for other scientifically knowable reasons."



 

Also look here at your proof:

 

P1. For all x, if x is a physical event then God can stop it.

P2. Two cars A and B ramming is a physical event.


P3. Two cars A and B ramming caused evil.


4. If two cars A and B ramming is a physical event then God can stop it. (1)


5. Thus, God can stop two cars A and B from ramming. (4, 2)

6. Thus, God can stop something from causing evil. (3,5)



 

I don't agree with P3 as I don't agree that the crash caused the evil. What caused the evil was the ontological relations of being I've been explaining - if God had stopped the crash, then what then? The evil would still have happened, it just would have had nothing physical to go along with it and everyone would be scratching their heads as to why everyone is suffering so much.

 

These nuances are very important, and if you can overcome them your argument will be that much stronger.



 

1. A woman is in a car.


2. A car is about to hit the woman’s car.

3. God stops it because he can do whatever is logically possible.


4. An evil was prevented.



 

Again, I'd disagree with 4, as above.

 

To restate the original ontological relations, we have a necessarily bad relationship with God because we're imperfect, we are IN God presently (in a way explained earlier), therefore we suffer pain and evil from the effects of this damaged relationship, and this pain isn't necessarily connected with anything that happens in terms of what we observe or any law of nature but which God has decided to connect thereto. So I'd invite you to reformulate your argument taking into consideration this objection.

 

If you claim that they would suffer from some other evil that occurred in the world, then I can counter simply by saying that God could stop that evil, and so on to infinity



 

The subjective experience of the world in our minds is not necessarily reflective of what goes on outside of them. We could subjectively, in a scientific experiment perhaps, be disconnected from the physical world (but only in our minds) and experience all kinds of weird things. Moreover, a scientist, with sufficient technology, could probably make us feel the most hopeless feelings of unhappiness and despair without necessarily anything changing in the world apart from some brain chemistry.

 

But on the subject of brain chemistry, my beliefs about this (working within a Christian framework) are that our brains mirror our souls in some way, which explains why what affects our souls affects our brains, in terms of pain and so forth. But the thing 'in us' that in us is our person, ourselves, although mirrored by what goes on in the brain, is really not our brains but our soul or 'image of God' self. Not this physical stuff. My brain will decay into the ground, but my soul will continue forever. So it seems reasonable that what goes on even physically in our brains could be disconnected from our experience as human souls, and we could still therefore suffer as a result of our imperfection.

 

If you were to say that the 11-year-old girl would only experience evil elsewhere in her life even if God had stopped the car wreck from killing her mother then I could just say that God could also stop those future evils from happening, ad infinitum. In light of this, I have no idea how the response you made relates to what I was arguing.

 

I think the point that we are our souls, and experience through our souls, and our souls are not the same as anything physical, adequately responds to what you said about evil having to be physical, by pointing out that the ontological relations that cause evil don't have to work on a physical level, only a 'soul' level.


 

Okay, so let me start off by saying that this is really a strange position to take. It ignores a lot of facts about Neuroscience and pain. Not to mention, I don’t know of any other Christian who would take this position.

 

Well, I'm sure that a lot of people would probably agree with you. But then again, sometimes strange things are true. As a Christian I find this theodicy to be acceptable, but I can only do as much as to present what to me sounds like a good defense against the problem of evil, and hope others who read it find it to be a good one.

 

And, I have a strange feeling that you are contradicting yourself. In what sense would we be suffering? To you, it seems, evil is some kind of abstract cloud of…stuff that floats around waiting for God to find some physical event to put it in.

 

See above, evil is demanded not physically but ultimately in human experience; in our 'souls', which in this world mirror our physical brains, but which are not necessarily the same thing as our brains. Moreover it all happens due to these ontological relations in my theodicy, an explanation that has not yet been shown (although admittedly it is quite abstract) to not work.


 

It arises out of our imperfection, but our imperfections are physical things. For example, you gave the example of our natural tendencies to be angry as an imperfection that could lead to evil. These natural tendencies can only be understood as physical events in the brain.

 

A person's tendency to have no self-control or have serious anger management issues is an imperfection of the brain; our imperfection that cuts us off from God is an imperfection of the soul. An analogy might be from an imperfection of the physical to make clear what an imperfection of the spiritual is like.


 

Look, if evil for you has nothing to do with the physical world per se, then I can’t really argue with you. I’d like to consider myself as someone who has at least a semblence of understanding about the real world. When I get punched randomly by a bad guy, it was that punch that I didn’t want to have happen. If it had not happened, then I would not be in pain. 



 

What we choose can cause evil. This you will not deny. But our choices only cause evil insofar as they are manifested in the real world. You can’t punch someone but with the laws of physics. Two cars cannot ram but with the laws of physics. If you took those things away, you would take away the evil.

 

I think you're looking at it from, I'll admit, what could only be described as the normal way of looking at the universe, pain, physical laws, and a naturalistic ontology. My argument on the other hand speaks to more than what the average belief describes of those things, but seeks to go beyond it in a more elaborate ontology within a Christian worldview geared specifically to answering the problem of evil - and within my premises what I say is coherent, I still think.

 

Now, based on your theology, we could conclude that even had I not punched the baby, the baby would still be feeling the evil


...


But since it was of my own choice that this evil arose, how could the baby still be feeling evil?

 

If you didn't decide to punch the baby, then the exact quantity of evil would still happen, but since there's no reason for God to distribute it out to the baby since you will not choose to punch the baby, God would distribute it out some other way (by natural evil I believe since the sum of evil choices would be less), not necessarily to the baby. Similarly if humanity was so bad as to try and inflict more evil than God has to distribute out, then God would deny those people the ability to do that, because humanity doesn't have to suffer any more evil than is in our evil quotient.

 

I think that God would rather distribute out evil in natural evil rather than moral evil, although he does allow us to do evil to one another if we freely choose to. The reason for this is that a society where no one would do evil to one another even if they could would be a loving and harmonious society, and that society would be preferable to a violent society even if as a consequence the harmonious society would have to suffer a lot more natural evil to make up the necessary evil quotient.

 

5.  Can you give any concrete examples of something like this theodicy happening in real life?

 

In philosophy, it is impossible to generalize on an example. But, it is also true in philosophy that when you make a general statement you MUST be able to take an example. Otherwise, what you’re saying simply does not hold. So please, give me one concrete example of a non-moral imperfection in humans contributing to the sum of evil in the world. It is time now that we took this circumlocution out of the abstract and into the legitimate. 


 

To give an example about non-moral facts contributing to evil 'generally' or evil in people individually, take a propensity in a person to fly into a rage at almost no provocation. This is not a moral fact about someone. The fact someone has an urge to fly into a rage over the slightest wrong, and this rage is incredibly strong and intense, is not actually saying anything necessarily about whether they're a bad person. It's possible for someone with incredibly bad anger management issues to be a perfectly good person, only they need to struggle mightily to contain themselves, but of course they have the freedom to act how they ultimately wish. But at the same time, it can't be denied that this non-moral fact about people does, in a lot of people, contribute to a MORAL fact about them, which is that they have done seriously bad things. Not everyone who has serious anger management issues does something very wrong, but some do. So this non-moral fact (some people have serious anger management issues) contributes to a moral fact about people, when combined with their free will (since although we all have freedom, those with self-control and anger management issues are more likely to do something wrong at some time than very calm and even-tempered people, so their temperament has some influence) leads to a moral fact about people (there are some people who are morally bad partly as a result of having a propensity to serious anger management problems.) So in the same way, the fact that any person God creates is imperfect to a degree, as a kind of structural imperfection, present in all people equally, is not a moral fact. We have to wait until how people act and what their character is like before we can call people evil, not just because they have structural imperfection in them. But this non-moral fact contributes certainly to moral badnes in some people, like the way it is plain to see non-moral facts about anger management, self-control etc. contributes to moral badness in some people, although it is of course not a moral fact about any of these people that they have anger management or self-control issues.

 

So in reference to my theodicy, we all have a core of imperfection, which causes the broken relationship that causes ultimately, evil. This imperfection is not a moral fact about people any more than people having a propensity to anger management problems is a 'moral' fact about anyone, since it doesn't have to result in any bad acts. The imperfection in us doesn't have to result in any bad acts, but it's an extremely strong pressure on people to be bad, which for some people results in really evil acts, but for all of us results in a failure to be as good as our conception of good demands we should be.

 

Now on the other hand you probably mean, give me an example of a non-moral fact about someone contributing to evil in the world, not like in what I've provided then but as a result of a transitive relationship between someone and something else, that contributes to evil in the lives of people as a result of a transitive relationship. I think I can come up with a philosophical analogy.

 

"Suppose that there was a community of telepathic beings who lived together, and as a way their biology was set up, derived all of their happiness from their communal link with each other, from the joy they experienced at communal thought. But then disaster struck, and a virus infected everyone in the community which damaged the part of their brains that handled the telepathy. As a result they cannot derive much of their former happiness from their link with each other, because their connection is worse, and so suffer greatly as a result; a great evil."



 

Just like them, we gain happiness and contentedness from God, he is the source of it all (from the Gospel of John: 'In Him was life, and the life was the light of men'.) But this virus, this in-built necessary imperfection, which is not a moral fact about people but which leads to moral facts as earlier talked about, hurts us by cutting us off from this God, this source of all happiness and contentedness. For the alien community, there is transitivity between the virus, between what happens to their brains, and between what happens to their brains and their ability to experience happiness. For us, the virus is the broken connection with God, the virus working in the aliens brains is the transitivity between God and the experience of being in this universe, and the unhappiness of the alien creatures is our unhappiness at being in a universe for which good things cannot always be sustained.

 

6.  Is this theodicy heretical?

 

…All of these metaphysically unwarranted claims, which find no support from the Bible I might add…

 

It's an interesting point that my ideas about only God being totally perfect is not within the Bible, although I'm not sure that some quotes couldn't be found somewhere to justify it. But as skeptics are fond of pointing out, neither is the trinity, but that's a pretty integral part of most people's understandings of Christianity. Evidence for my theological beliefs will come from the idea making sense of God's actions and nature, and from it not undermining any Biblical texts. Also I might note that the idea about God sustaining the universe intimately is probably a scriptural one, see Acts 17:28 and Colossians 1:15-17.

 

I guess I want an argument for why Christians think that only God is perfect. Or do you take this on faith? (You might consider posting an explanation of this.)



 

I have written an enthusiastic article on my site about it, here. The evidence for the idea comes from a few things: 1. It is a very useful theological belief, from my perspective and I'm sure for others as well, for making the ways and actions of God easily understandable in our world, regarding evil, the doctrine of hell, free will issues, and I'm sure other questions in Christianity. As a Christian I therefore will choose to adopt it because it helps me understand these things in a very clear and if I even say so, fulfilling way. 2. There is no Biblical evidence it is not true, and in addition to this, it does not undermine the theological framework that has been constructed around Christianity, to my knowledge, at all. 3. It has a ring of plausibility to it, in my estimation, compared to a 'convenient theological belief' created and afterwards dispensed with the moment a defense is needed to a given philosophical problem.

 

It is possible that there are Biblical passages that can fairly be taken to imply this view, I suspect there may be, on the other hand it's possible there aren't, and I haven't had the opportunity thus far to make a study of this.

 

...it would not hold sway with ANY religious person I know. They all believe in miracles of some form or another…

 

But I don't agree that my argument says that. As I said earlier on, God can play tennis with black holes if he wants to, and do anything at all in this universe that doesn't involve reducing the quantity of evil suffered over all history. So, I mean, I think it would be perfectly fine for God to give everyone, for example, advanced intergalactic space flight through the power of praying to him, or the ability to move mountains into the sea by the same way, as long as it didn't reduce the quantity of evil in the world.

 

But on that evil comment, I need to clarify regarding what you said. I do believe in miracles - also of the kind that relieves evil - because that is clearly in the Bible, but I just don't think it can happen in a way that reduces the quantity of evil that will be suffered throughout history. So when God does any miracle, he has to allow someone else to suffer evil. This actually helps me, because it explains why, even though God can do miracles to heal the sick and make the lame walk, which he did in the Bible, he doesn't do it very often because it just shifts evil around; it doesn't get rid of it entirely; and what will get rid of it entirely will be making people perfect in the new heaven and the new earth. 


 

I’d also like to point out that the Manicheans would gladly agree with you. You, of course, know about Manicheaism. It was rejected by Augustine and later called a heresy by the Catholic Church. My point is that no one has the views on evil that you do. Only probably Taoists or Buddhists. I can’t think of ANY Christians who would say what you are saying about evil. But, as you so intelligently pointed out, this does not make you wrong.


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Evil is not a thing. To think that is to adhere to Manicheaism


...


(Mind you, it has been labeled a heresy to say that evil has some real existence in our souls or whatnot. This does not, as I have said earlier, make your claim wrong though.)



 

I don't think evil is a thing, I hold an Augustinian approach to evil where it is a lack of goodness, or a good thing being taken away. God can't sustain as much good in our experiences as we ought to have. (On this being a strange view of evil, on my restatement of the argument below, the theodicy only technically demands persons experience evil, not necessarily physical bodies.)



 

About the souls comment, because our souls experience evil doesn't mean they have evil in them, in the sense that the experience of evil crystallizes into evil being in our souls. It's just an evil experience. You can have a brain that suffers but it doesn't mean there's suffering actually IN the brain chemistry, as opposed to just an experience of suffering. So in the same way we have a soul, and that soul suffers, but the evil that is experienced doesn't have to be IN the soul as part of its makeup, rather it's an experience of the soul (I probably misunderstood you here.)



 

I also don't think souls have evil in them because they are imperfect either. Our imperfection is our irrationality which is our ability to seriously consider bad actions as worth making (good people reject such choices; evil people accept them). But this irrationality isn't evil in itself, it's a non-moral fact about people, one that tends to lead to evil because it's a very strong pressure to do wrong. The reason why it can't be evil in itself is because it's up to us and our free will as to whether we give in to the irrationality and make bad choices. We still have free will but a 'fallen nature'. No one starts off evil, we can become evil by choosing bad things.



 

To my understanding Mani wasn't proposing this, but if you know he did then that would be an important criticism as I don't want to be proposing a heresy.

 

7.  Is this theodicy unjust?

 

I would much rather believe that God lets us experience evil to the extent that we are evil, individually. Not to the extent that someone else is evil

 

I also should mention that I don't conceive of a person's 'imperfection contribution' being based on the extent to which they themselves are morally bad. That is to say, I believe that the thing which in all persons contributes to the 'sum' of imperfection, while it gives rise to varying levels of moral badness in people, is not itself moral badness. Rather it should be thought of as some kind of fundamental disconnect from the creator, in all people, good and bad, that equally contributes to the imperfection sum, and which generates differing levels of moral failings in every person. I will mention this in the OP.

 

In fairness, you do acknowledge that God distributes pain in an absurd way. But to defend this utterly barbaric divine act of foolishness you simply say that we must bite the bullet and wait for justice in the afterlife.

 

My argument, if successful, shows why God would create a world with the amount of evil in it as our world currently has. According to this idea, *whatever* God does, God cannot avoid the amount of evil that is in our world whatever he does in trying to create a perfect future world for us. The question should be: why doesn't God direct this evil that we see in our world *only* to bad people. On this point I don't have a clear answer, although I might point out that my theodicy if successful, would get the theist at least as far as explaining the quantity of the evil in our world, just not why only evil people don't suffer. That's a much better position than before. And also, since the evil has to happen to someone, the idea justice (and happiness) can be obtained in an afterlife is a worthwhile point.

 

The question should be: why doesn't God direct this evil that we see in our world *only* to bad people.

 

[By another commenter MacGuy] This really depends on how one defines a "bad" person because according to Scripture, none are good which is made quite clear. Under your theodicy, wouldn't this be easily answered? Imperfection is a result throughout all of nature and for God to direct evil only to bad people would be contradictory (it seems). Even those you would define to be "good" would by necessity be sinful so for God to only direct this evil to the presently "bad" people would appear to be unfair. After all, at some point in our lives we were unsaved as well but there's also the chance that the evil brought upon them would either make it more likely for them to be saved or not. Perhaps this is mere speculation but is it not possible? Thus God would distribute the evil in a diverse manner to various people so that we can share the same struggles. This may actually be a better alternative than simply invoking all the evil on a given "bad" person.

 

In essence, those who are good would also experience such struggles but in the process this would bring them to a closer relationship with God. They could also relate more to the sinner and this may just increase the amount of saved. If God simply took out all of our troubles, we wouldn't be reminded of the constant grace that He has provided in our lives so we'd end up becoming spoiled brats. It must be remembered as well that both the evil and good people share this world. I think the question would be like asking "Why didn't God just place the evil people in another planet and the good people on earth?". Also, it does seem possible that the evil is great enough that the "bad" person alone couldn't account for. We have to remember that Christians have also done wrong things and to this would bring evil effects... Are we then going to have God place our sin on people who never committed it? 


 

This would be, quite literally, an evil thing to do. If an all-powerful being were to do this, we would rightly chastise it, and I am not going to let such a statement gain merit without the author earning it.


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This surely is an evil thing to happen in the world. It is at least something that an all-powerful and all-good creator—who, no one has yet denied, has the power to have stopped this travesty—would let happen. To say that God must spread the evil around because the 11-year-old was also a sinner is perhaps the most perverse thing I’ve heard in all my life. 


 

I think possibly we're still talking past each other about what this argument theorises about the relationship between evil and God's power. Take that situation you mentioned about the girl and her mother. This is an evil thing to happen, no doubt. Now I want you to reread your situation, and when you reread it, try and form a 'gut instinct' or 'gut feeling' about the evil in that situation, assuming you can put a kind of 'intuitive rank' on it compared to other evil events. It would be a quite hard to try and put any kind of numerical value on 'how evil' an event is, so all we can do is have a gut feeling in our minds about how 'truly evil' some happening is. Now, with that gut feeling about the evil in that situation, I want you to try and divide that feeling into tenths. Then with a tenth of that estimation, imagine giving each of those tenths to ten other people, so each person experiences (about) 1/10th of the evil that happening to the girl and her mother, and all those affected. Now, in addition, assume that nothing ever happened to the girl and her mother, but 1/10 of your estimation of the evil involved in that happened to 10 other people. I understand that it's very wrong for such things to ever happen, but would the situation really be dramatically improved if 10 other people suffered 1/10 each the evil in her situation? I don't think, at least, that it's a huge objection to God considering the exact same amount of evil in our world happens whatever he does, although certainly it's a tragedy whenever it happens to anyone.

 

...


 

Regarding a real world example, let's first take the 'justness' of this theodicy, since a lot of theodicies don't work when transferred to real world examples.

 

I think an example could be a group of people at a hospital, who have a horrible illness that causes suffering. The sicker they are the more they suffer, and some people are in a worse state of the illness than others. Unfortunately, there is not enough medicine to make no one suffer, and the more medicine you have, the less you suffer. To give people in the worst state a huge amount of medicine would thereby, although a very good thing to do, have to mean that either someone else who suffers as much wouldn't get that medicine, or that a lot of people who suffer less than them wouldn't be made temporarily better (only temporarily as the illness will eventually return to the same intensity.)



 

Let's say that we are struck with an illness, in the sense of being totally dependent on medicine from the hospital, from the fact we are totally dependent on all our happiness and good things in our life on this great Being, this God who is the source of all life and being. So we need, every moment, enough goodness in our lives and happines from this good sufficient to make us, for that moment, a happy, content, or otherwise flourishing person with many good things happening in our lives. But due to our broken relationship with God, and God sustaining the universe incredibly intimately, and therefore God's ability to sustain all these good things we should have being damaged as a result of the inherent and necessary nature of the participants in the situation, there are less 'good things' or 'good moments' that can be parcelled out to the inhabitants of our world than we need. There is less goodness to go around that would make all of us not only happy but with all of the good things in our lives we should have. Therefore the situation is like the hospital with only a limited amount of medicine to go around yet more need for it than there is supply to make all well.

 

8.  Like all theodicies, wouldn't this theodicy ultimately undermine morality if it were true?

 

[By commenter Dr. W (andrew)]  If I were to go back in time, and murder Hitler and Stalin, would it be a good act? Even today, if a US marine were to come across Osama Bin Laden and shoot him on sight, as he saw him about to perform an evil act, would that be considered a good act? But that grants humans a power that apparently God himself does not have!

 

An interesting objection here that you are the first to bring up, is that it might be argued that people shouldn't even *try* to prevent evil as the same amount of evil will happen anyway. It's a clever objection, because although it probably doesn't defeat the argument, it makes it encourage wrong acts, in the sense of encouraging people not to intervene to stop evil, and thus makes the argument to some extent absurd.

 

A response could be that the evil that will occur within our history is distributed out not only over people, but also over time. So it's possible for the vast majority of the evil that will happen in our history to have happened 'early on'. In fact, it's even possible that humanity is destined to enter an era of much less evil and suffering, since humanity has already suffered the vast brunt of this evil (I don't know.) A lot of Christians would say that the Bible says that the state of the world will get immeasurably worse before the end times; whether this is true, might be up to interpretation, and is not necessarily a part of my theodicy. So it's possible humanity will enter an era of less suffering in our world, which precedes a neat and orderly ending of our world and entrance, for all (or some, depending on soteriological beliefs) into a life of perfect happiness forever.

 

Therefore, based on the above paragraph, I think that any person who sees a potential evil, or something that could be prevented that rightfully should be, could *never* say 'God wishes me to allow this evil' or 'I should just sit back and allow evil to continue to occur'. Because for all you know, God is making us enter an era of less suffering, and therefore wants, very much, for you to intervene to stop the evil, and moreover you should think that you can make a real difference to the state of the world. So people should be constantly working towards improving the world, because they don't know that a much better world isn't around the corner and is achievable and which God wants them to work towards, and indeed, God has created us in a way that we will always work towards that world.

 

What would you say if we somehow found out that a much better world wasn’t around the corner? Should we then NOT try stop evil from happening? You seem to suggest this.

 

I think an interesting science fiction story could probably be written about what people would do and think if this theodicial situation occurred, perhaps in a virtual world they inhabited... Nevertheless, no one could reasonably act differently than God if they were in his shoes, so the facts of the case still justify him.

 

Ah, but here you’ve defended it with an incoherent response about science fiction stories and justifying the behavior of God…What? That had nothing to do with what we were talking about.

 

I was trying to point out that if everyone believed in this theodicy then it wouldn't necessarily follow that we would all be nihilists or whatnot. I think humanity would find some way to cope without abandoning morality. And that even if it does lead to a bizarre situation for us, here on earth, then as long as God is justified in his actions the theodicy is OK, it just has some weird implications.

 

9.  Would this theodicy give humans a power to do good that God doesn't have?

 

His was the more profound point that since, empirically, we DO seem to be able to stop evil and have seemed to stop evil in the past, we-- according to you--must have a power that God doesn't have

 

Given a case where evil was stopped, then wouldn't it be the case that the evil was stopped not because humanity has a power that God doesn't have, but because in that instance God didn't have to distribute the world's necessary evil into that case? If so, wouldn't it really be the case that it is God who gave us the ability to stop it, at least insofar as in that case he didn't have to distribute the evil out?

 

This is what I mean by “mere conjecture.” You can’t, on the one hand, argue that it is necessary that there is a certain amount of evil in the world and that even if God were to try to stop it in one instance it would only necessarily spread around according to some meta-laws you’ve not yet explained only to turn around and say that, on the other hand, well actually, there have been cases when God DID have the power to stop evil without having to spread the same quantity of evil elsewhere.

 

My meaning was not that God can reduce the amount of evil, my meaning was that if we stop an evil (apparently stop, that is) then it's because God didn't have to or didn't see fit to spread the necessary quantity of evil to the incident we stopped, so that's why we could stop it. But if God didn't see fit to spread it to that incident, it doesn't mean that he gets out of having to spread it somewhere; it just isn't in that particular incident but it will be somewhere else, if not there. That's why humans don't have a power to do good that God doesn't have; we're not 'beating God', we're working within what God has to spread somewhere and what we can do.

 

[By commenter Dr. W (andrew)]  The fallacy of your argument is that I could (hypothetically of course) join up with 1000 people and go on a shooting rampage all over the United States, and cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people and create far more evil than good. I, as a human, could upset the so-called balanced ratio, and God could do nothing to stop it! This is why your argument along with free will cannot work.

 

1. God lets us do what we want

2. He cannot intervene in evil, but somehow controls the ratio.

3. I could disrupt the ratio, and God could do nothing to stop it.

4. I, again, somehow have more power than God.

 

God does not decide our future for us and we have free will, but he also knows infallibly what we will decide to do, as part of his omniscience. So although we have the freedom to choose to commit an evil act, God also knows whether we will do so, and thus is never in a position of having distributed the wrong amount of evil (which it is important to remember is also distributed over time.)



 

About the ratio, the ratio is always the same no matter how long imperfect people are in existence, and God cannot change the ratio. The ratio is an interpretation of how the ontological relations that generate evil would happen, that demand the experience of evil in persons while they are imperfect.

 

Whether the ratio matches the amount of evil in the world is meant to be an analytic truth, that is, it can't possibly be shown to be wrong because evil is distributed out over time as well. The only way we could know what the ratio was is if history had ended and we were in the new heaven and new earth, and could then look back at all the evil that had ever occurred in history. Then we could calculate the average amount of evil per moment, and this would have been the evil to good ratio. Under this, it is impossible to show that the ratio doesn't match with the evil in the world.

 

Under the view God is omniscient and can see our future choices, your act would have been foreseen and would have been incorporated into what the ratio required.



 

This raises the question of whether free will is compatible with omniscience. My view is that free will is basically people making choices using reason in line with a steady character or personality. 'An Essay On Free Will' from the sidebar gives a good statement of this view.

 

10.  Doesn't this theodicy rely ultimately on the idea we have free will, which is an incoherent concept?  And how can we have free will if God can foresee our choices?

 

[By W] I don't often understand the theists argument of free will and determinism (form of, at least). Maybe you could explain it more in depth?

 

Discussing omniscience and free will is not necessarily a bad idea here, if it is potentially a weakness in the argument. My idea of free will is argued for in the article 'An Essay On Free Will' available from the sidebar. I'll summarise the argument here:

 

Basically I think that we are determined, but it's not a physical kind of determinism, rather it's a rational kind. Under the view of free will as rationality, people make a free choice when they use their rational faculty to make a decision. This is rational determinism, because if you took all the reasons and rational goings-on in someone's head when they made a decision, and then recreated it in that person later on, then they would make the same decision, because the reasons and rational goings-on would be identical. So just like physical determinism is the idea that you could force someone to make the same decision by exactly recreating a physical situation, so rational determinism follows the same principle except with rational goings-on in people's heads. So people are rationally determined because choices are determined by the goings-on in the rational faculties of people's heads, and if they can be perfectly replicated in other situations, then decisions will always fall the same way.



 

As to what place physical determinism has in this, I conceive of our rational faculty and our ability to make choices based on reason to be a higher kind of determinism that physical determinism does not normally interfere with. We have our brain chemistry, but our brain chemistry is meant to always operate under and facilitate our rational nature and its rational determinism, which (as religions traditionally conceive) is not really a physical thing. (Note: I believe that an agnostic/atheist might say that rational determinism is really another way of looking at a specific aspect of physical determinism when it applies to brains. Whether this is false I don't mean to argue, but specifically I want to maintain that if it is true, then the physical determinism that corresponds to rational determinism in my argument, and only rational determinism, has to be completely dominant in people's brains for those choices to be free.)



 

As part of this idea it's very important that people's choices can't be highly predictable in the case of very questionable choices, or be completely predictable in the case of easy choices. The reason for this is that we have an intuitive sense for when someone's rational autonomy (free will) might have been interfered with, and people predicting other people's choices with too much accuracy, when our knowledge of other people's rational goings-on is always to some degree limited, can trigger this intuition since we then think that this knowledge had to be gained by compulsion or even (hypothetically) mind control. In the case of questionable choices, for example, if someone confidently predicts, that Mark will give Jack The Extortionist, his neighbour, all his money, one would think that was because that person knew Jack was threatening Mark, since otherwise Mark would have absolutely no reason to do this. Similarly, although the chance would be so small as to make it like a rounding error, you can't say with absolute certainty that Tom, an apparently normal guy, will choose to receive a million dollars rather than be murdered. I say this because it's possible, although incredibly unlikely, that Tom is actually such a weird guy that he will choose to be murdered rather than have a million dollars. So, because we don't have perfect knowledge of other people and their rational goings-on, perfectly predicting someone's rational choices is humanly impossible, for there's always the infinitesimal possibility they could really find certain things rational. Therefore, if a person ever knows with perfectly justified certainty how someone else will make a choice, then since that's humanly impossible we intuit, and indeed are right, that they must be controlling their choice in some way.

 

From this understanding of the role of unpredictability in making choices seem free, one can see how the idea of choosing other than we do isn't really an intuition about determinism at all; it's about unpredictability. It's an intuition about unpredictability in much the same way as it would make sense for me, after tossing a coin up in the air, to say 'It could land on heads or tails.' Whether it will land on heads or tails is determined by the laws of physics, but I don't know whether it will land on heads or tails, so to my mind it could go either way. So in the same way, choices are actually rationally determined, but we think they can go either way because we can't be certain of the outcome.

 

But put the idea of God into the mix and this whole intuitive system gets thrown into turmoil, as we then conceive of a person who can perfectly predict our every choice, and therefore since according to our intuitions knowing someone's mental goings-on is impossible, we can then 'know' that this person has to be constraining our choices, like with mind control or some 'force' or other. But this is really a mistaken intuition in an otherwise really good intuitive system for detecting when other people are being compelled, and this difficulty disappears when we interpret free will in the right way. So there should be no problem with the idea that our choices are (rationally) determined, free, and known perfectly well by God. We also have another intuition, that free will is a really fantastic and great to have, and I think that this intuition is true. The intuitions supporting libertarian free will are true as well, it's just that they can also be interpreted in this way.

 

Do you think that if you rewound the tape of another man's life, another situation could have played out, assuming that the starting conditions his mind were identical?



 

You seem to suggest that things would have played out the same, which is determinism.



 

In my view there are actually two competing determinisms at work - rational determinism and physical determinism - and essentially the answer is that you could perfectly predict the man's choices, but in a physical world you'd have to know both sets of determinism perfectly well. So for instance, if the man would always encounter the exact same physical stimuli the second time round, there's no reason, assuming a steady character and abilities, for him to choose or work out what to do differently. So he would decide the same way given the exact same physical stimuli. But if you changed the physical stimuli to any degree the second time round, you couldn't say that, because the man might be presented with different situations to rationally decide on. So the outcome would be different (one can see how predicting other people's choices would require not only complete knowledge of the physical universe, but also perfectly their personality/character/way of deciding as well.)

 

An atheist I presume would see rational determinism as a subset of physical determinism that applies to our brain region when it's working well. I don't feel any need to adopt this, preferring instead to think of rational determinism as an outworking of having souls and taking place according to laws that are laws of rationality, existing independent of physical laws. Rational determinism takes place according to character/personality interacting with rational laws like those of logic or mathematics for example, or 'laws of morality' like rights for persons (assuming these Kantian beliefs of mine.)



 

This determinism though has to be read in the context of my explanation as to what free will is, since determinism is usually taken to be against our free will intuitions, I would rather see these intuitions as possibly supporting a compatibilistic view as well.

 

11.  What is this 'Kantian-Christian' conception of morality I keep referring to?

 

Also, just a small comment. As far as free will is concerned, the claim you make is essentially that rationality is despositive (Kant), namely, that any act by a person was the result of what that person THOUGHT to be the most rational act at the time. (Though, it may not have been the most rational.) This seems very correct. For, even if one seeks to go against rationality on purpose, one is still doing it because one thinks it is the best thing to do at the time.

 

However, this leaves us vulnerable to what we happen to think is the most rational thing to do. Obviously, Hitler's actions were bad, and he shouldn't have done them. But since he thought they were the most rational thing to do, then how can we say that he shouldn't have done them?

 

I think it's always an interesting philosophical question to ask 'Why should I be good?' People can be good and evil but all tend to do what seems to benefit them or if they are good what benefits others according to a rational kind of calculation. Of course, I may not find being a criminal rational, but a criminal would disagree. If goodness is about rationality - how can rationality tell us who is right? I and the criminal would have fundamental disagreements on what is rational!

 

The answer from a Kantian-Christian perspective would be that it's because of our flawed, fallen nature that we conceptualize rationality in a way that can lead to imperfect behaviour. Our minds are so 'messed up' by the Fall, that we might actually see it as rational to do something wrong, whereas an 'unfallen' mind like God wouldn't really 'get it'. It's a testament to how deep the effects of the fall are on our minds (and indeed that there is any effect at all) that we genuinely can't see how it would always be totally rational for each of us always to do what is right. Because if we could see that, we wouldn't ever do wrong. So a requirement of the fall having an effect seems to be that we take it as rational to act imperfectly towards others. But God isn't affected by this nor will people be in the afterlife.

                                                                                                          

[Added Note: I think that this irrationality might be expressed not as people failing to correctly work out why they should do good all the time, but rather as desires created in people that make evil acts rational to achieve those desires.  So an evil act might be a fair and legitimate ‘working out’ of how to fulfill a desire: the problem is that the desire itself is evil.  Our irrationality has manifested itself at the ‘base’ level, i.e. creating in us evil desires that cannot but be acted upon rationally to cause evil.

 

This idea needs a ‘basic and perfect’ model of person that can establish how humans have ‘fallen’ from rationality.  This idea, from Kant, is found by an analysis of what the most basic kind of person, which Kant thinks of as a ‘purely rational’ agent, would be like interacting with other people.  Kant thinks of a purely rational agent as a being pretty much like a human without any of our desires (except one, which any agent has to have by definition, which I’ll get to in a moment.)  Why no desires?  Well, an agent with no desires is probably a simpler kind of agent, because it would seem much less complicated than a human with our many conflicting desires, and so more basic.  Also, all the rational agents we encounter in everyday life (i.e. other people) have desires because of evolution (or even programming in the future) and so it would seem unwarranted to assume every kind of rational agent would be from such a process, and therefore have desires.

 

So a purely rational agent would have no desires.  But as Kant points out, it would have to have one desire by definition.  Because a purely rational person would be an agent rather than a disembodied rationality, it would want to act: to ‘will’.  This is because the concept of an ‘agent’ implies that which ‘wants to act’ from the very concept of ‘agent’, and unless it couldn’t think of anything else to do, wouldn’t want to just sit there forever doing nothing.  The question is, could it think of something to do?  The agent still might not find anything to do, despite wanting to, but it at least would try to think of something.

 

The argument goes that, firstly, the agent can’t come up with a rule regarding other people where it selfishly hurts them, because it doesn’t have any selfish desires (as a purely rational agent).  Secondly, it also can’t come up with a rule of doing whatever it wants and ‘steamrolling’ over the wishes of other people, because it doesn’t want anything that other people are blocking it from.  Thirdly, it also can’t come up with a rule of being inert and ignoring other people, because that would be making no plan of action at all and never doing anything, and the agent wants to at least do something (although the agent might still end up doing nothing if there are no other options).  What other options are there?

 

The fourth and only alternative to these plans, is to think up some kind of plan based on some kind of quality or characteristic that other beings possess.  One characteristic that springs to mind is that other beings are, like it, rationally autonomous and have desires of their own.  Actually, this seems to be the only candidate that describes within itself a very clear and coherent plan of action.  And that plan is to recognize as the most fundamental of rights the rational autonomy of other beings, and that would mean not only acting to honour other being’s freedom, but also taken to its furthest conclusions actively accommodating their every freely desired wish (as long as this doesn’t take away from the autonomy of other persons.)  Therefore if a purely rational being ever wanted to do anything, it seems it would have to honour other beings’ free will and wishes perfectly well.

 

That last point is important because even if one rejects the idea that a purely rational agent would want to act then Kant’s ideas still seem to follow should the agent unnecessarily choose to act, given the lack of other choices given the lack of desires.

 

Of course, the interesting thing about this from our perspective is that such an agent would seem to be perfectly good.

 

And since God isn’t programmed with desires by evolution like us and other species, nor has he been programmed with desires by a higher power, it seems that he would be like this. 

 

If this is how God is good, then the fact that God’s love is derived from such a calculated process doesn’t make him any less loving or his desire to help us any less meaningful.  In fact, the whole concept of a ‘desire’ only exists as something derived originally from this ‘Holy Will’ (and in imperfect people this will being perverted to create evil, irrational desires.)  I think that what we think of as desires and emotions are really a physical translation of this rational willing into the physical world, so God really is ‘love’.

 

The reason why humans can be held accountable to this Moral Law even though with imperfect desires it seems we would be very different from this being, is because God gives us (or we still have) the ability to see actions from the divine perspective, or rather, from the perspective of what any purely rational agent would do.  We can then, if we desire to do the right thing, then act on that knowledge.]

 

12.  Of what relevance does the free will defense have to this theodicy?

 

“If He destroyed our imperfection, we would no longer be free beings and to begin with, He wished to honor the being’s free will and their wish to be happy but this had some effects that He must bypass using methods such as the Holy Spirit to accomplish it.”

 

This is utter nonsense. To say that God must allow evil to respect our free will insults anyone who has ever been degraded by the evil of others. Should we have not entered the war effort to stop Hitler in order to respect the free will of Hitler? No. The free will argument ultimately fails to explain why there is evil because a direct consequence of the free will argument is that WE (being mere mortals) should not intervene on the wills of other evil doers, which is absurd. Furthermore, God would not even have to intervene on the free wills of others to stop evil—it is not ruinous to the free will of a wrongdoer to prevent him from doing wrong.



 

I think I need to note here, that I think MacGuy is accurately reflecting my understanding of free will (his other points defending my argument are already subsumed within our current discussion; it's that this comment merits special defense).

 

What I mean is, that we are created imperfect, and then God does... something, to make us perfect. This something is God offering and us accepting the Holy Spirit, and after we have accepted it we are connected with God and as rational persons can be as perfect (with God's help) as he is morally, through us having perfectly good inclinations with regard to our choices. And I think it is this perfecting of our inclinations that repairs our relationship with God entirely. I now think that it is probably our flawed inclinations that damage our relationship with God from the start, not our bad moral choices that flow from them.

 

But what do I mean by inclinations? And how can moral inclinations be shared by everyone to the same degree, as I earlier argued regarding the structural thing that damages our relationship with God, since people are both good and bad? And how can inclinations like poor self-control or something like that be an inclination of the soul, not a physical inclination in an earlier point?

 

What I mean by bad inclination is not a bad physical inclination but a bad rational inclination in the sense that, when it comes to the faculty of our free will, we all have the exact same ability to make an evil choice. For some it would be this situation, for another person another. For some there would be many situations, for others very few. But we all have equal freedom with respect to doing the wrong thing. It's just that others use their free will to almost always make good choices instead of less good ones (why they deserve to be called good people) whereas others use their free will to do evil, and thus deserve to be called bad people.

 

This is not how it is with God, who can never even conceive of a reason to do something wrong (although he is aware of our rational deficiencies, they couldn't ever apply to how he would think about himself.) What I'm saying here is in line with (my interpretation of) Kantian ideas of the morally perfect person as a purely rational agent - which don't imply a limit on God at all for the same reason (see the sidebar on Why God Must Be Good.)



 

The theodicy arises because logically, in order to accept the Holy Spirit to then be made perfect, you'd have to be accepting it at a time or felt moment when you're imperfect. So you'd have to experience a felt moment or experiential time at which point you're accepting the Holy Spirit while being imperfect (the 'one moment of imperfection' limitation).

 

God *cannot* force the Holy Spirit on persons to make them perfect without their consent, because such a thing is literally self-contradictory. The reason for this is that what will fix our relationship with God is us having perfect inclinations to make perfectly good choices, and to have any such inclinations given our necessary imperfection would either be impossible, or require a person to be constantly in a state of accepting the Holy Spirit, as only through the Holy Spirit can it be done. Thus to repair the relationship, you'd need to have perfect inclinations for choices, but this would only exist in someone who's already and continuously accepting the Holy Spirit. Therefore you'd have to have accepted the Holy Spirit to then have those inclinations, and this 'felt/experienced moment' of choice can't be skipped, because if you skipped it then you wouldn't have experienced making any such choice that you have made. So you have to experience a time at which the choice is being made and thus a situation for which that can be true; viz. the choice is not made already, and thus you have to experience, during making this choice, a moment of imperfect existence. In other words everyone needs to accept the Holy Spirit as an imperfect person.

 

The only way for God to bypass this is for him not to create persons at all, since all persons have free will (according to the way I define free will - see my sidebar article on free will as rationality) and instead to create robots, which of course then he could have do anything he wanted, like a programmer writing a computer program. But I think making persons as opposed to robots does make all the evil in our world worthwhile, so MacGuy is literally right in interpreting me, in the sense I'm defending, in saying that God ultimately has to allow all this evil for the sake of freedom, or rather, personhood.

 

13.  What about evolutionary evil?

 

Now, suppose the evil has to happen, although it's distributed - so God cannot intervene to reduce the amount of evil that's in our world. Let's look at the three classes of evil, as I would divide them up into these three classes. The fourth class might be hell or soteriological evil, but that's irrelevant to this discussion, since my defense is compatible with universalism.

 

The first class of evil might be evolutionary evil. This is evil that occurred before any humans came onto the scene. This presents a very specific problem to Christianity because according to the Book of Genesis evil is a direct result of human sin, and therefore since there were no humans before Adam and Eve (or the first full humans) there would it seems have been no evolutionary evil. Yet obviously there was.



 

The first class of evil will be dealt with in my defense by saying that since humans *start off* imperfect instead of 'falling from grace' like in the traditional interpretation of the Genesis story (I have another interpretation based on the word 'know' in the Hebrew text not meaning knowledge of but acquaintance with evil) then at the very least the world starts off imperfect (in a moral sense, I don't mean it's not a nice place to live aesthetically). Now of course, it is not a huge stretch to say that since God had to create our world starting off morally imperfect (in terms of evil events) that there might be *something* like evolutionary evil, defined as suffering before humans. Now obviously God took a fair amount of time before creating people, but I theorised a number of reasons for this (see the article from the sidebar on 'Evolutionary Evil'.) So that might deal with that class of evil.