Saturday, November 27, 2010

Responding to Ivan, pt. 2 (or Answering? the Logical Problem of Evil or I'm Not Plato, Anselm, or Stephen Colbert)

[This post is a part of a series. Previous posts are found here and here.]

Ivan Karamazov has posed a difficult question to answer. It is a variation of the argument of the problem of evil (which is the one and only argument against theism, there are many arguments for theism).

This might be kind of cheesy, or it might be a throwback to the philosophers of old, or perhaps it is a cheap imitation of Colbert’s “Formidable Opponent,” but I want to explore this through the means of a made-up conversation. The first conversation, I hope, will reveal what I see as the issue with nearly all of the Christian answers I have heard in response to the problem of evil. The main issue being that they fail to get to the heart of Ivan’s question.

The second conversation will, I hope, reveal the approach that I believe to be best… so here it goes:

"Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that… one can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge you - answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature - that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance - and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."

No, I wouldn’t consent. But you are distorting the story. God is bigger than we are, we simply cannot see the whole picture. The distance between my mind and His is greater than the distance between the mind of a flea and my mind. For He is infinite and I am finite. I am not sure why God would create a world in which even one baby must suffer and starve to death, but I am sure that He has a good reason. We don’t have to know the reason and we shouldn’t expect to be able to comprehend the reason.

How can you say that? Can you really believe that there is a good, all-powerful God who would cause even just one person to suffer for some sort of secret reason? What kind of “good” is that?

Well first-off I don’t think God “causes” evil.

Well is he not in control of all things?

He is, but He causes some things and allows others.

Call it what you like, but ultimately he must be responsible for everything whether you say “cause” or “allow.” He could choose to “not allow” but he does allow. If he is the only one that had a choice of whether or not to create a world in which evil would or could exist, then he is responsible. He could have made a world in which people only did good – a world in which there in no opportunity for evil.

But that would have eliminated free choice. He wants us to have free choice because He does not want a bunch of robots that do not have a choice to not love Him.

So, is the secret reason for why God allows suffering that he wants people to have free choice?

Yes, it could be. Don’t you see that the love of a robot is not as real as the love of a person? A person has the ability to love you or not love you, so that makes it all the more meaningful when a person chooses to love you. You cannot really love someone unless you have a choice. Freewill makes all the difference.

I have at least two problems with that. 1) It is inconsistent. Does God love himself? Does the Father love the Son? Does God love the world? Can He choose otherwise? Could God choose to hate Jesus and still be God? What sort of God could be both good and unloving? Can you really maintain that love is meaningful only if choice is present? If so, then human love is superior to divine love. Or else there is no God whose very nature is love. The argument that love must be freely chosen is not one that you should want to advocate. 2) Even if your position was not inconsistent with the rest of your Christian beliefs, I do not see how it is good or right for God to create a world in which a baby must suffer and die in order that he can feel more loved by people. Say I offer you a choice. You can choose to live your life in a house with robots that will have the semblance of loving you. Or, you could choose to live the rest of your life in a house with people that love you, but you must kill a little baby first. In what sense would it ever be right to choose the second option? To choose the second would be cruel, inhumane, unloving, and selfish. Yet, you tell me that God has done this on a much larger scale.

Well no, that is unfair. I am not sure that the reason God allowed evil and suffering is because of man’s freewill. Perhaps it was because He wanted to magnify His glory. Make His name great. If there was no rebellion there could be no Redeemer. If there was no suffering and pain there could be no Savior. We would never get to know God as such. And He is a beautiful Redeemer. Grace and mercy and love are the greatest of the divine attributes. We could not experience these things if there was not sin and suffering in the world.

But again, in what sense would it ever be right to choose these things at the expense of even one little baby?

Well, I don’t know. Maybe it is for none of those reasons that He created a world in which there would one day be evil. The real trouble here is that we are just so finite and cannot understand His ways. Really we don’t have to know. Consider your argument:

1) Any being who is good will prevent evil as best as possible

2) An omnipotent being can do anything

3) If God exists, he would be completely good and omnipotent

4) Evil exists

5) So, God does not exist

Sounds reasonable. But the problem disappears if you add just one phrase to the first premise so that it states that “any being who is good will prevent evil as best as possible unless there is a morally sufficient reason to do otherwise.”

We don’t have to know what the morally sufficient reason is. We just have to know that there is one. That one phrase, “morally sufficient reason,” takes care of the whole logical problem of evil. You can guess any number of things as to what the reason might be, but in the end you just have to know that there is, or at least could be, a morally sufficient reason. So there you have it.

I think that we are back to where we started. Tell me this: what reason could possibly be sufficient to make it alright to allow a little child to be starved and killed? Perhaps you are willing to say that it is alright because you have a distorted conscience. Perhaps you are mad. What sort of moral code allows for the death of an innocent so that some greater good might be accomplished? The idea that the end justifies the means has allowed for all sorts of atrocities throughout history and any decent man sees that such a stance is morally reprehensible. Your answer has done nothing to answer my question. It has simply shown that you hold your god to a low moral standard.

[To be continued…]

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Marysue Crawley (or Cancer is Ugly, but Her Beauty Beat It)

The steady rain seemed appropriate.

It had taken me driving by her house three times before I could bring myself to park and go in. I knew it would not be easy to see her, but I wanted to speak to her one last time. I had to thank her and I hoped to encourage her. There have been many times in which the Lord has pointed to her faith to build me up in my own.

Kneeling by her bed I grabbed her hand and leaned in towards her. Not knowing if she could hear me, I spoke. After thanking her and sharing with her about the way He had used her in my life, I shared a few words that were meant to encourage her, but they were words that I knew I also needed to hear in that moment:

“He will not leave you alone.

He will not abandon you.

He will come for us.

Trust Him still.

Even in this dark hour may your faith in Him not waver.

He is by your side.

He is the one that has promised to make this right one day. He is the one that, even now, is making all things new.

I love you Marysue and I will see you again before too long.”

As I gave her hand a squeeze I got up off of my knees knowing that this would be the last time I would see this beautiful saint on this side of glory.

The tears came streaming down my face as the porch door closed behind me.

“Jesus wept.”

John Mark McMillan’s song “Death in His Grave”

Death In His Grave (Performance Video) from john mark mcmillan on Vimeo.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Help the Persecuted Church (or Help Sayed Mossa)

A lot of times it can be hard, as an American, to know what practical things we can do to help the persecuted church. Well, here's an opportunity.

You can read about it more on J.D. Greear's blog. The short of it is that an Afghan Christian by the name of Sayed Mossa has been imprisoned for his faith. He has been beat, sexually abused, and is facing execution. When this happened a few years ago with another man President Karzai stepped in and declared that Christians would be tolerated in Afghanistan.

Take just a few minutes and send a letter to President Obama to apply pressure to Karzai and hold him accountable to protect freedom. You can use this link to contact him.

You can write your Congressman too. Just don't do nothing.

Here is what I wrote, short and to the point (copy and paste if you want):

President Obama,

This is to add my voice to the support for Sayed Mossa. He is the Afghan Christian that has been imprisoned on account of his faith. Please apply pressure to President Karzai to have him give Sayed Mossa a fair trial. Please provide accountability to President Karzai to uphold freedom in Afghanistan.


Lucas A. Newton

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Responding to Ivan, pt. 1

In the comments of the last post I attempted to rephrase Ivan's argument to further clarify what he sees as the problem.

The idea of his argument focuses on this point: Christians say that God has a plan to work all of this out for a good that we cannot understand. But, if you had the power to create a universe and if you could make it under whatever conditions you wanted to, would you ever agree to make a world in which even one person (perhaps "that baby beating its breast") would have to suffer in order for a greater good to come about? If I would never agree to create a world in which even just one child had to be abused and killed in order to bring about a greater good, why should I believe that there is a God that would do that? Yet, Ivan charges, Christians reprehensibly proclaim a God that created a world in which many people would suffer.

I think it would be appropriate to take the time to respond to this argument. I think it is a charge against our God that carries a lot of weight with a great many people. Most people in the world have been affected by pain or suffering and nearly everyone has seen or heard about instances of gratuitous evil. Dostoevsky, through Ivan, takes the classic "problem of evil" argument and puts it in a form that accents the magnitude of suffering an evil. It appeals to man's compassion, sense of goodness, and understanding of justice.

Would you ever create a world in which even one baby would be raped and murdered? Would you ever allow for it? What sort of "greater good" could be accomplished through this world that could not be accomplished any other way? Or, in what way is this "greater good" so valuable that it is worth such atrocities against this infant? What sort of good is a good that can only be had through such a terrible evil?

If you find the idea of creating a world on these conditions so repulsive, how is it that you can accept that a God would create world in which this happens to many, many infants? And not only that, but there are countless other evils and atrocities that afflict the world of man.

Ivan asks a good question. A question that, once it is raised and heard, must be addressed in some way.

My answer, in the end, is simple. I think that to many it will seem insufficient. But over the next several posts I will attempt to show why there is no truer answer and why all other answers come up short unless they are connected to this one simple truth: we can believe this world to be what it is, and we can believe in the God of the Bible to be who He claims that He is, because Jesus was resurrected on the third day.

If the Ivans of this world accept this one statement all other things fall into place.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


While my blog has not been altogether forgotten, it has suffered from a good amount of neglect. I am working on some posts, but in the meantime have another quote for you.

This one comes from Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamazov. It is one of my all-time favorite books. It is one of those long Russian novels that few people will read. If you don't read it try to at least find the time to read the two chapters "Rebellion" and "The Grand Inquisitor." They contain the best argument against Christianity I have ever read. Dostoevsky, a Christian, uses his character, Ivan, to share what Dostoevsky considered to be the irrefutable argument against Christianity.

I don't think I have heard anyone outright refute it.

Here's a taste...

After explaining his problem with the world Ivan explains to His brother, Alyosha, that he cannot accept the world on God's terms:

"That's rebellion," murmured Alyosha, looking down.

"Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that," said Ivan earnestly. "One can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge you - answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature - that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance - and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."

"No, I wouldn't consent," said Alyosha softly.

"And can you admit the idea that men for whom you are building it would agree to accept their happiness on the fountain of the unexpiated blood of a little victim? And accepting it would remain happy for ever?"

"No, I can't admit it Brother..."

[trans. by Constance Garnett]