The problem of evil

As I’ve read through some of the recent books & articles by the anti-God folks like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and others, I’ve been considering the possibility that the real issue isn’t necessarily dealing with the existence of God, but rather it is dealing with the problem of evil. A belief (or non-belief) in God seems to relate to our ability or inability to deal with the issue of evil and perhaps even the personification of evil (aka Satan). I refer to Dawkins, et al., as “anti-God” rather than skeptics or non-believers, because they’re not really skeptics or non-believers. They do believe in something, just not a non-material god. And, their apparent willingness to accept the gaps and other problems inherent in a Darwinist or materialist worldview shows that they are not skeptics (at least to the same degree) all of the time.

One of the big obstacles in belief in God appears to be some version of, “if there is a good, all-powerful God, why does he allow, or why doesn’t He do something about, evil?” Pages and pages have been dedicated to such topics, including sub-topics dealing with the flaws in Creation, the apparent flaws in design, the evil in mankind (especially in God-believers), and so forth. None, however, ever seem to deal with what the religions teach about the problem of evil. The Bible is decried as a poor example for a morality guidebook, without ever considering the explanation the Bible itself provides for why evil exists, and why God continues to allow evil to exist.

People (both atheists and believers alike) do scream when people like Pat Robertson or Jerry Falwell declare evil to be God’s judgment on some specific sin. But again, no one – at least in the mainstream media – ever seems to deal with the real issue. There is a new book out, however, which apparently tries in a scholarly way to support the “judgment” theory. Author Steven Keillor, in God’s Judgments: Interpreting History and the Christian Faith, argues that yes, God did use terrorists to judge America’s sins. Whether he’s right, to any extent, remains to be seen. According to a review in Books and Culture, Keillor’s “aim is to ‘find some answers’ and ‘not a worldview answering everything.'”

In an interesting coincidence, the same publisher, IVP, has also recently published N.T. Wright’s Evil and the Justice of God, which does attempt to find the worldview, as expressed in the Bible. While not, perhaps, explaining everything (Wright is not afraid of raising the various “ambiguities”), Wright’s theory of evil does provide a worldview for understanding not just the evil in the world, but also the evil within us. I had purchased the book some time ago, but only picked it up the other night as I (for the first time all summer) found myself without at least one book that I was in the midst of reading.

Now, many of you know that if NT Wright were ever to leave the Anglican Church and start his own movement, I’d seriously consider joining. That being admitted, I will say that this book captivated me as very few books do. Wright’s first chapter is revelational, as it explores Western Enlightenment and Postmodern thinking and how it has failed to deal with the problem of evil in any real way. Those suspicious of “Christian” ultra-conservative politics will be particularly pleased with his analysis. He then proceeds through some key Biblical books and themes, the true nature of evil and how God indeed deals with it.

I’ve read through a little over half the book (I’m amazed at how Wright can take such an enormous issue and so thoroughly deal with it without reducing it, in so few pages), and will no doubt write a bit more on the subject when I’ve finished.

And, yes, I really will deal with Dawkins, soon. I planned to have taken vacation this week and should have had more time, but alas, it wasn’t to be…

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5 Responses to The problem of evil

  1. onein6billion says:

    “God did use terrorists to judge America’s sins”

    Too ridiculous to bother to comment on.

    “By the way, no one seems to like it when Dembski or Behe become the skeptics. By challenging the status quo, aren’t they in fact doing what science is supposed to be doing?”

    They would be if their arguments were scientific or had any merit. But they keep repeating the same old refuted arguments over and over and over and over. Dembski’s “explanatory filter” doesn’t work and Behe’s “mathematics” are hopelessly flawed.

  2. It’s one thing to be a skeptic, but they aren’t, really. They are asking for acceptance of poorly placed evidence to prove something that can’t be tested. I fail to see how what they do is much different from UFOlogy. Or 911 conspiracy thinking. I was at an atheist picnic this summer and someone there was talking about how it would have been impossible for the WTC to collapse on its own, so it must have been imploded by dynamite, ergo Bush did it to get the country in this war.

    So, even atheists aren’t immune. Alas, we are none of us free of foolishness. I smoke.

  3. me says:

    Charvaka was even 500-600 years earlier. Also, the statement found twice in the Psalms, The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” would imply that there were those in that time period who denied the existence of God. As a wise man once said, “there is nothing new under the sun.”

    I realize that atheism probably comes in more flavors than Ben & Jerry’s. My thoughts were prompted, as I said, from reading primarily Dawkins & Harris as they argue primarily against God (which is why I used the term “anti-God” rather than “atheist.” You simply can’t deal with the Bible or with the Christian God without dealing with the issue of evil.

    Regarding selective skepticism, it certainly appears to exist in science. The instant adoption of Dawkins’ dog-breeding example, given to refute Behe’s latest book, is a prime example. Another is the oft-repeated “it just needs more study.” A skeptic would add “let’s see if we can disprove this,” not “but I’m sure we’ll figure it out.” By the way, no one seems to like it when Dembski or Behe become the skeptics. By challenging the status quo, aren’t they in fact doing what science is supposed to be doing?

  4. Oh, and for the “gaps” in “Darwinism” they are treated skeptically as everything else. They need further study; but the type of “study” done by Dembski, Behe and Wells is not efficacious because it produces little more than “sound and fury, signifying nothing.” They illustrate nothing that has not been cleared up years ago, by the likes of Dobzhansky, Wilson, Gould, Futuyma, Lewontin, and yes, my friend PZ Myers:

    (if you ever want a huge spike of readers on your blog, get mentioned by PZ.)

    Science works by attacking gaps. The people I mention attack the science done by other scientists with far less mercy than they go after blowhards like the ID’ists. Like our science teacher, Mr. Erickson, taught us in fifth grade “When science answers a question, twenty more appear.” When a scientist asks a question of religion, they are told that they are trapped by a “presupposition.” “You just have to believe because the True Religion is self-evident, but just in case you don’t believe it, the evidence is that 10 x 10^20th is beyond the edge of evolution.”

    Or am I misstating it? Are there only non-overlapping magisteria when the claim is used to keep scientists away?

  5. Regarding your first two paragraphs, there is far more to atheism than the restatement of the Epicurean disproof of God. The problem of evil is not as Twain’s “hookworm” hatred of a God which he still believed to exist; but a response to the claim that good can not exist without God, or religious belief. Hitchens provides counterexamples. Harris looks at Christianity the same way he looks at Islam, Judaism and Hinduism. Dawkins says “Show me a way that God exists except in the minds of the believers.” But as I have said before, the term “New Atheists” is derisive, and the materialist claim is that we need no longer ascribe the curious works of nature to a supernatural cause:

    “In no way now can it seem plausible
    That while space yawns in every direction, endless,
    And numerous seeds in seas unfathomable
    Fly this way and that, driven on in ceaseless motion
    Our world and sky should be unique creations
    And all those seeds out there accomplish nothing!

    “When after all our world is made by nature
    Of her own, by chance, by the rush and collision of atoms
    Jambled any which way, in the dark to now results
    But at last tossed into combinations which
    Become the origins of mighty things,
    Of the earth and the sea and the sky and all that live.”

    This was written by Lucretius just before the time of Jesus; and it, along with the following stanzas, illustrate that the “New Atheist Noise Machine” has been around far longer than Darwinism:

    “When before our eyes man’s life lay groveling, prostrate,
    Crushed to the dust under the burden of Religion
    (Which thrust its head from heaven, its horrible face
    Glowering over mankind born to die,)
    One man, a Greek, was the first mortal who dared
    Oppose his eyes, the first to stand firm in defiance.

    “Not the fables of gods, nor lightning, nor the menacing
    Rumble of heaven could daunt him, but all the more
    They whetted his keen mind with longing to be
    First to smash open the tight-barred gates of Nature.
    His vigor of mind prevailed, and he strode far
    Beyond the fiery battlements of the world,
    Raiding the fields of the unmeasured All.

    “Our victor returns with knowledge of what can arise,
    What cannot, what law grants each thing its own
    Deep-driven boundary stone and finite scope,
    Religion now lies trampled beneath our feet,
    And we are now made gods by the victory.”

    _De Rerum Natura_

    It would not be until Constantine evangelized with the sword some 400 years later that the “New Atheism” was forced underground for more than a millenium, surfacing only in pockets and quickly quashed by Torquemadas, Luthers and Calvins.

    btw:I see that O’Leary’s and Beauregard’s book is out soon. I’m curious yet about how they will make the tie between MRI’s and Jesus.

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