Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Why does God allow horrific evils? by Dr. William Lane Craig

God’s Permitting Horrific Evils
Dr. Craig

I have attempted on several occasions to have you explain the following .

1) How can a maximally great being possibly have a "sufficient" reason to allow things such as the rape of a child, if as you say such an act is "objectively" evil?

It seems to me that the above is as illogical as a maximally great being having a sufficient reason to allow 2+2=5 .............. If 2+2 =4, then no amount of power, will, or sufficient reason could change that objective truth! I would like to hear you explain how if in the same sense that " Child + Rape = objective evil" then how could a maximally moral being find sufficient reason for permitting it being actualized in any possible world?

Your previous attempts in suggesting that God, allows such evil in order to have more souls come to him freely simply doesn't seem to add up logically. At best that is presupposing that a maximally great being could act contrary to his own objective truths for some greater good. (Allowing the suffering of an innocent child = more saved souls) But does that make any more sense than 2+2=5? Certainly not to me! Could God, for the sake of saving souls permit married bachelors, square circles etc.?

If (child rape) "is" objectively evil as you say, then even God, could not have a sufficient reason to permit it. Allowing the suffering of a child to save a soul makes it an discretionary act of God's subjective decision making, and not an objective truth rooted in his very nature. If God can permit it to occur then it follows that despite our subjective objections to such acts that God, has a purpose in allowing it to be actualized. If God permits it, then it follows logically that it cannot be objectively wrong; how else could God have a sufficient reason for permitting it? It appears you want it both ways: But objective truths has no sufficient reason to be anything other than true or false!

2) A world wherein events such events as the "Holocaust" do not occur is maximally greater than a world wherein such events do occur. The Holocaust occurred! It follows our world is not maximally great!

It would follow logically that if it were even possible that such a world could exist, that only such worlds would exist if in fact a maximally great being does exist.

Why would a maximally great being create a world wherein his maximal greatness is not reflected?

The world we live in is often very cruel and seems as if (so called evil)) is arbitrarily measured out unfairly.

A child is raped and dies leaving behind a loving family and never having known the joys growing up, marrying, or having children of his/her own, yet many Nazi's including (The Dr. Of Death: Josef Mengele) escapes and lives a life of Reilly into their golden age. Fair? A sign of maximal greatness to bring more souls to Christ? The truth is, agnosticism, and atheism is primarily the result of the cruelness and harsh world we live in: Its hard to believe that a maximally great being allows less than maximal greatness to prevail in any possible world. Then what is the agnostic and atheist told? Believe it this this way or that way, or else a much crueler world awaits them: But, what kind of maximally great being hides from his creation and expects blind allegiance in order to make it into the next world wherein we are told it will actually reflects his maximal greatness? Why not create that world in the first place? I used to be a devout Christian, yet have watched both my mother and father be robbed of their mental faculties after years of faithful service. The cruel world my father lives is 24 hrs of pain and the onslaught of dementia, the same disease that claimed my own mothers life...But I am but one of millions of members of the human species that has watched faithful servants be rewarded in this life with Dementia, Alzheimer's , Cancer , Gulags, Nazi's, tornado's, hurricanes, dunk drivers, etc.... The reality Dr. Craig, is that the world does not reflect maximal greatness, it reflects arbitrary measures of pleasure and pain wherein we all must at times ask: Why? I won't say arrogantly with certainty that God does not exist, but it is becoming harder and harder for me to believe that a personal and maximally great one does.

United States

Craig's response:

My own father died of Parkinson's disease, David, and I watched with horror his slow descent into dementia from a vibrant, successful businessman to a frail, helpless wraith. So I sympathize with your situation and understand something of the agony you must feel.

Nevertheless, your questions, though heartfelt, embody a number of misconceptions that need to be corrected. Let’s discuss them in turn.

1. How can a maximally great being possibly have a "sufficient" reason to allow things such as the rape of a child, if such an act is "objectively" evil?

This is an expression of the so-called logical version of the problem of evil, which claims that the existence of God is logically incompatible with the evils in the world. The burden of proof here actually rests on the shoulders of the non-theist who claims that this is logically impossible. That burden has proved to be so heavy that scarcely any philosopher today defends the logical version of the problem of evil. It is trivially easy to provide a logically possible answer to your question. For any evil the non-theist might name, the theist can say that it’s logically possible that by permitting it, two similar events (and so twice as much evil) would have been prevented. If that’s not enough, then make it five times as much or a hundred times as much—any of these scenarios is logically possible. You may say that that’s highly improbable. Right, but then you would be abandoning the logical version of the problem of evil for the probabilistic version, which is a different discussion.

The misconception behind your question, David, emerges in your comment: “If God permits it, then it follows logically that it cannot be objectively wrong.” You’re under the misimpression that if God permits some act to occur, then that act cannot be objectively wrong. No wonder you think that God’s permitting an evil act is like His permitting 2+2 = 5! You think that God’s permitting an evil act somehow transforms that act from being objectively evil to being objectively good or at least neutral, which is impossible. This is confused. When God permits people to sin, the sinful acts remain evil. But God’s permitting them to sin is not evil. What you should have said is that “If God permits it, then it follows logically that God’s permitting it cannot be objectively wrong.” You’ve made an illogical leap from the moral acceptability of God’s permitting an act to the moral acceptability of the act itself.

You try to justify this leap by asking, “How else could God have a sufficient reason for permitting it?” Very simply, either by achieving a greater good or preventing a greater evil. In our lives we do this all the time: we allow evils to occur because we thereby achieve some greater good or else we prevent some worse evil. One doesn’t need to have the magical ability to transform an evil act into a good act in order to have a morally sufficient reason to permit it.

2. Why would a maximally great being create a world wherein his maximal greatness is not reflected?

Christians believe that God's maximal greatness is reflected in the world, particularly in Christ's self-sacrificial, atoning death for undeserving sinners. Your argument that God’s maximal greatness is not reflected in this world, David, is really confused. Consider your opening argument:

1. A world wherein events such events as the "Holocaust" do not occur is maximally greater than a world wherein such events do occur.

2. The Holocaust occurred.

3. Therefore, our world is not maximally great.

This is a bizarre argument. It’s evident that you do not understand the technical term “maximal greatness.” Maximal greatness is a property of God alone, so the conclusion is trivial. Nobody thinks that the created world is maximally great. Even those who think that this is the best possible world do not claim that it is maximally great; and there’s no reason to think that there even is a best possible world (or range of worlds), much less that this is it!

You then assert, “It would follow logically that if it were even possible that such a [maximally great]world could exist, that only such worlds would exist if in fact a maximally great being does exist.” This faulty inference is what Alvin Plantinga has called “Leibniz’s Lapse.” Leibniz mistakenly inferred from God’s omnipotence that this must be the best possible world. What he failed to realize is that there are worlds which may be logically possible but nevertheless not feasible for God to actualize. As Plantinga points out, while sinless worlds of free creatures are logically possible, they may not be feasible for God, given the decisions the creatures would freely make. There is thus only a proper subset of logically possible worlds which are feasible for God to actualize, and none of these may be worlds which include as much moral good as the actual world without also including this much moral evil.*

You then begin to inveigh against the cruelty and unfairness of the world. David, of course, the world is cruel and unfair! What Bible have you been reading? The Bible teaches that this is a fallen, sinful world and that “the whole world lies under the sway of the evil one” (I John 5.19). The whole creation groans in travail for its redemption (Romans 8. 18-22). “In the world you will have tribulation,” Jesus warned, “but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 6.33). As Christians we follow a crucified Savior, himself the victim of human injustice and cruelty, and “the servant is not above his Master” (John 15.20). Our hope lies not in this world but in the resurrection, when every physical infirmity and disease will be permanently vanquished. Jesus’ own resurrection is the basis of our hope.

“What kind of maximally great being hides from his creation and expects blind allegiance in order to make it into the next world wherein we are told it will actually reflects his maximal greatness?” you ask. What a perverse understanding of Christianity you have! God doesn’t hide from creation or demand blind allegiance; He reveals Himself both in creation and in human history through the incarnation and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Not only has He given evidence of Himself in creation which is sufficient for all persons (Romans 1.20), but more than that, through His Spirit He seeks to draw all persons to Himself (John 16.8). If God hides, it is only from those who willingly shut their hearts and pridefully refuse to seek Him with due humility.

You ask, “Why not create that world in the first place?” Very simply, because that world is the result of people’s free choice to obey and worship God. This world is a vale of decision-making, during which we have the awesome responsibility to determine our eternal destiny. God wants you to know and enjoy Him forever; but He will not force Himself on you.

From your closing comments, David, it's evident to me that you are really suffering from what I call the emotional problem of evil, not from the intellectual problem of evil. So let me lay aside the philosopher’s mantle and offer you some pastoral counsel. Your parents staked their lives on the truth of the Christian faith. Do you think that they would be happy to see you walk away from Christian faith because of their suffering? They believed that the suffering of this life was but an infinitesimal moment compared to the eternity that they would spend with God in heaven. If asked whether they would endure their years of suffering on Earth in order to gain eternity, they would reply without hesitation, “Yes! A million, million times over!” What comfort, what hope, does atheism have to offer you instead? Why reject the solace that is to be found in Christ and the hope of the resurrection? Where will you turn instead? What hope do you have for your parents? By turning away from God, you turn away from the only answer to your parents’ suffering.

Now, of course, if you had good intellectual reasons for thinking the Christian hope to be false, then you would have to bite the bullet and embrace despair. But you don’t, David! Your arguments are confused and misconceived. I fear that they are intellectual concoctions to justify your emotional rejection of God. Don’t be deceived by these unsound arguments. Confess your sin, seek God, and find comfort in Him. Your parents would be pleased.


* Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1974). You need to read this book.

by William Lane Craig |

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Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Why does God allow or cause natural disasters?

Here is a wonderful post by Dr. William Lane Craig.

#350 God’s Permitting Natural Evil

Hey Dr. Craig,

I was hoping you might be able to help me resolve an issue concerning natural evil that came up as I was going over some notes from my philosophy class I took this past semester. I have been trying to reconcile natural evil with the existence of God spring boarding off of the soul making theory of creation, as posited by the church father Irenaeus, but I keep running into a dead end. Here is my thought process:

Using the same ideas that many apologists use, I can understand God permitting evil to use it for good purposes. It doesn't sit comfortably with many people, but it makes sense logically and theologically. There I don't have a problem. The same idea is used with natural evil in many cases. God permits it to allow us to mature, grow our souls, and ultimately bring people to Him. However, there is one word that doesn't make sense to me, that being "permit". Certainly God permits evils, but with natural evil it seems like more than that. Since nature is on a determined path, I would assume since it has no say so in what it does, does it not follow that the one who determined that path is ultimately responsible for the natural atrocities that occur in Creation? I understand that God could permit evils to happen, but in the case of natural evil, it seems like God is causing evils to happen. We used this same train of thought in my class's discussion of free will to show that if God determined our actions, then He is ultimately responsible for them.

Now, the only way I can see out of this problem is to deny that natural evils are really evil. I don't believe that they are all judgment or a result of Adam's fall, because disasters are simply the result of natural processes. That being said, why do we call them evil? Why do we not rejoice or at base, act indifferent whenever a tsunami hits Sri Lanka? Why do we think that things ought to be a different way?

Let me put it this way. These natural events evoke in us emotional responses such as sorrow, pity, compassion, and the like. That is all well and good in Irenaeus' theory of soul-making. We're supposed to be developing as persons, as souls. However, the conflict seems to arise when looked at the issue this way. These emotional responses come about in the case of moral evil when we are exposed to an event, and we reason that things should not be that way, that there is a better way for things to be. This sense of "oughtness" comes from God, as you have defended in your work. In the case of natural evil, the same emotions come up, evoking in us a response that things should be a different way than what they are. Why are we right in feeling those emotions if God has already set up what is going to happen, as far as natural processes are concerned?

I am really stuck on this one. Everyone who addresses this problem never seems to make the connection between God being the creator of natural processes and said processes being responsible for natural evil. Using that logic, if the processes are determined, God is the cause of natural evil, which flies in the face of everything about the Christin God, unless it's not really evil. However, then the above problems come to a head. The emotions that God created us with tell us that things should be different than what God set up. But if the events aren't evil, then they are good and a part of God's will, and our morals would seem to be steering us wrong. And if that is true, how can we trust our morals? I'm caught in a vicious cycle here!

I understand there being natural consequences to our actions, like CS Lewis pointed out in "The Problem of Pain," but these natural events are outside of our control and completely in God's. You often use the example of plate tectonics as an example of perceived natural evil which has many good consequences. But wasn't it God who set up the laws by which the plates act? Isn't there a possible functioning world where natural evils are avoided and only moral evils are permitted? God may have a purpose in allowing natural evils, but how can He ordain them?

Any help would be greatly appreciated. I can't seem to avoid making God the Author of this evil.

Unless creation actually was affected by Adam's fall.

- country not specified


As you can imagine, Nick, there’s so much that could be said about your question!

At one level your question is not really so much about the problem of evil as about the doctrine of divine providence. You’re concerned that God does not merely permit but is the cause of the natural evils in the world. Now clearly, the Christian theist does not believe that God miraculously intervenes to cause every earthquake, tornado, mudslide, or natural occurrence in the world. So He is not the direct cause of such events. At most He can be said to be the remote cause of these events in the sense that He established the natural laws that govern the universe and the initial boundary conditions on which those laws operate. Let’s imagine that God did that at the Big Bang and never subsequently intervened miraculously in the world. Your claim is that God is therefore the cause of all subsequent natural evils that occur in the history of the world.

Now notice that your inference presupposes that “nature is on a determined path.” Yours is the perspective of LaPlace, who boasted that, equipped with Newton’s laws and the knowledge of the present position and velocity of every particle in the universe, he could predict the exact state of the universe at any time in the past or future. LaPlace’s boast is false if quantum indeterminacy is ontic, not merely epistemic, that is to say, really characteristic of nature rather than an expression of our limited knowledge of nature. This sort of indeterminacy is rapidly magnified over time. I’m told, for example, that given the indeterminacy inherent in the position/velocity of a cue ball, within just twelve strikes of the ball, for all we know it could be located anywhere on the pool table! Clearly, if quantum indeterminacy is ontic, God could not cause an earthquake to occur at a specific time and place just by setting up the natural laws and initial conditions of the universe. If an earthquake does occur, it is only because God did not intervene to stop it. That is to say, He permitted it. Problem solved.

But suppose, as I’m inclined to think, that quantum indeterminacy is, in fact, merely epistemic, not ontic? What then? Does that make God the (remote) cause of every natural evil? Well, no. For what is bad about natural evils is not simply the occurrence of certain natural events themselves. There is nothing evil, for example, about one continental plate’s slipping under another, nor about the earth’s trembling as a result. Such natural events are themselves ethically neutral; morality doesn’t apply to rocks and rain and wind. Rather if there is something bad about such events, it’s that human beings get caught in them. As you say, we sense that children ought not to be swept out to sea and drowned in tidal waves. (Notice, by the way, that there is a powerful theistic argument lurking here, as my colleague Douglas Geivett has pointed out. For the naturalist has no basis for saying that a tsunami that sweeps over a Pacific island is a bad thing. It may be bad for the islanders, but it’s a great boon for the marine life surrounding the island! If you say that such things ought not to be, then you are tacitly acknowledging that there is a way that things ought to be. That is to acknowledge a design plan to which such events fail to conform. But that requires a cosmic designer who has determined how things ought to be.)

But if what is bad is that human beings get caught up and hurt in such natural events, then it is clear, given human freedom, that God is not the sole cause of natural evil. For He did not cause people to be in the times and places where the natural events took place. Of course, this is not to say that people are to blame for being in the times and places they are when disaster strikes. Given human ignorance, they’re just unlucky victims. It is simply to say that God does not make the sole causal contribution to the actuality of a bad, natural state of affairs. Again, what He did was permit the people to be in the place and time when the disaster struck. Now non-theists would doubtless say that such lassitude on God’s part is responsibility enough, but that is not the point of your question, Nick. You want to know merely whether it can be sensibly said that God permits rather than causes natural evils. The answer to that question is that clearly this can be sensibly maintained.

Beyond that, the theist will argue, as you note, that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the natural evils that occur, so that He cannot be held to have acted wrongly in permitting such disasters to happen. The non-theist errs in thinking that “what ought not to be” ought not to be permitted. But God can be justified in permitting bad states of affairs. For example, I think it is very plausible that only in a world which is suffused with natural evil would great numbers of people freely come to know God and find eternal life. In a world utterly devoid of natural evil we should likely be spoiled and pampered children, oblivious to God, not mature moral agents--an emphasis that meshes nicely with your own soul-making theodicy. Therefore, it is not wrong of God to permit natural disasters, any more than it is wrong of me to allow my child to go to the dentist.

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