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#353 God’s Permitting Horrific Evils

January 19, 2014
Q

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.

David

United States

Dr. craig’s response


A

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.[1]

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.

 

  • [1]

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

- William Lane Craig