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Friday, January 28, 2011

The Evidential Problem of Evil


The Evidential Problem of Evil is related to the Logical Problem of Evil in that it tries to show that the characteristics of God, as He is commonly conceived, are inconsistent with what we observe in the world. The Evidential Problem of Evil differs from the Logical version in a few smalls ways, though. Proponents of the Evidential version, for example, focus more Natural evils, such as disease and natural disasters, rather than Moral Evils such as murder and theft.

Also, the Logical version is a deductive argument, while the Evidential version is merely inductive. By that I mean that the Logical version attempts to show that because there exists evil in the world, there must not be a God. However, the Evidential version only claims that because there there is evil in the world, God probably does not exist. It's important to point out, then, that even if the Evidential Problem is entirely valid and accurate, it still does not disprove the existence of God, it only lowers the probability that He exists.

There are actually many refutations to the Evidential Problem of Evil. Here I describe only a few. Keep in mind that the goal here is not to prove Christian doctrine true, but only to show that it is consistent with the presence of evil in the world.


Consequences of Sin

This is probably the most common explanation for Natural Evils, and it is possibly the most consistent with Christian Doctrine. While I do not believe in the “Original Sin”, the idea that we are held morally culpable for Adam's transgression, I do believe that all people are, to some degree, sinful and subject pain, sorrow, and death. In Genesis 3, after Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the Lord described the consequences of their actions.
“16 Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
17 And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
19In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art,and unto dust shalt thou return.”

The Lord himself explains that suffering, pain, and ultimately death, are the direct result of unrighteousness. Natural evils are the natural result of our own unrighteous choices. Just as the natural result of jumping off a building is getting splattered across the sidewalk, the natural result of sin is a corrupt and fallen world.

Natural Disasters

The Bible also talks a little about natural disasters. It includes natural disasters as also being caused, at least in part, by the sins and wickedness of man. This seems to be supported by Isaiah 24:20:
“20 The earth shall reel to and fro like a drunkard, and shall be removed like a cottage; and the transgression thereof shall be heavy upon it; and it shall fall, and not rise again.”

The Earth itself responds to our wickedness and reels under the burden of our sin. God is no more to blame for our hardships than the sidewalk is for us splattering ourselves across it. But even if Natural Evils can also be explained by sin, we still need to explain the suffering of infants, those born with disabilities, etc.

Disease

The Bible admits that not all suffering is because of sin on the Earth. In John 9, Jesus and the Apostles discussed briefly one explanation for those born with disabilities.
“1And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth.
2And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?
3Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
Jesus admits that not all hardship is the result of sin, but is sometimes allowed for a greater good. In this case, it was to show God's power to heal (in the following verses). It may not give any comfort to know that the Lord would impose His will in such a seemingly cruel way, but the argument could be made that we agreed to it beforehand. In the verses above, the Apostles seem to believe in a pre-mortal existence. Otherwise, when do they suppose this man sinned that he was born blind? Jesus also makes no attempt to correct this presumption. Jehovah also describes this to Job, in Job 38:7, saying that before the world was made, “all the sons of God shouted for joy.” Not only were we aware of the hardships that mortality would bring, but in light of the whole plan we were so satisfied and willing with it that we all shouted for joy.

Of course, there are also many cases when the individual is not cured and some even die while still an infant. These individuals will presumably be compensated in the afterlife.

Compensation in the Afterlife

The argument of compensation in the afterlife is also consistent with Christian doctrine, but is a little controversial. It is the idea that the joys of heaven will make up for any hardship experienced on Earth. Not all denominations agree on what exactly this compensation will be, and I will refrain from commenting on the beliefs of other denominations, but the LDS church holds that individuals who die before becoming morally self-aware, either because of youth, mental handicap, etc, get a free ticket the Kingdom of God. A person cannot be held accountable for knowledge they do not have. While other conditions are not addressed in much detail, it is clear that the Lord's Final Judgment will be more lenient on some individuals depending on their circumstances in mortality.

The reason this argument is controversial is because of some commentary by Bertrand Russell, who said:

“If you looked at the matter from a scientific point of view, you would say, ‘After all, I only know this world. I do not know about the rest of the universe, but so far as one can argue at all on probabilities one would say that probably this world is a fair sample, and if there is injustice here then the odds are that there is injustice elsewhere also.’ Supposing you got a crate of oranges that you opened, and you found all the top layer of oranges bad, you would not argue: ‘The underneath ones must be good, so as to redress the balance.’ You would say: ‘Probably the whole lot is a bad consignment;’ and that is really what a scientific person would argue about the universe. He would say: ‘Here we find in this world a great deal of injustice, and so far as that goes that is a reason for supposing that justice does not rule in the world; and therefore so far as it goes it affords a moral argument against deity and not in favor of one.'”


However, this argument only works if we were speculating and making assumptions about a world we knew nothing of, based on what we observe here. However, we do know that if there is a christian heaven, it is in fact quite different from this world. We know that if it is there, than this world is no indication of the justice and order there. If not, then we are not speaking of Christian doctrine or a Christian God and the Problem of Evil would be completely irrelevant.

Soul-making or Irenaean Theodicy

This is another of the most common responses to the Problem of Evil. It is the idea that evil and hardship are necessary for spiritual growth. It's similar to the idea that evil is complementary to good. The argument says that we need natural evils such as pain, suffering, and hardship to give us opportunities to develop virtues. There is no bravery without danger. There is no compassion without suffering. Through hardship we learn important lessons. It is often said that this life is a test, and tests were made to be difficult and trying experiences. That's why they are called tests. They are trials.

I think there is some validity to this. After all, a person who gets whatever they want is never really happy. Anyone who has had to spend any significant amount of time with a spoiled child has also spent time hating their parents. It is not good to give them every little thing they want. It's good for them to be denied things here and there. Likewise, God knows he can't spoil us. Things can't always be how we would like them to be. It's not good for us.

The idea that trials and tribulation helps us to learn virtuous traits is also supported by scripture. Hebrews 12:5-7, 9-11 say:

“5And ye have forgotten the exhortation which speaketh unto you as unto children, My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of him:
6For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.
7If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?
9Furthermore we have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence: shall we not much rather be in subjection unto the Father of spirits, and live?10For they verily for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness.
11Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.”

Like children, we do not always enjoy the process of being raised, we may be angry with our parents when they punish us or withhold privileges, but in the end we are better people for it.

Conclusion

There are many more responses to the Evidential Problem of Evil, some of which may be presented in the future, but these are the most common. Which do I think is correct? All of them, in various cases. When I listen to people criticizing these answers, they seem to do so with the mindset that each one must account for every instance of natural evil in the world. This makes the assumption that Natural Evil may only have one cause, thus we are looking for a single idea that accounts for every evil. I don't think this is the case at all. I think it's pretty demonstrable that certain hardships may have one cause (sin, for example), while others may have other causes (our need to grow spiritually). Thus it very well be the case that many theories may be correct, though only in certain cases.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Birth of Jesus

Where was Jesus born?

One of the most commonly used examples of the Book of Mormon contradicting the Bible is the alleged location where Jesus Christ was born. The Bible names Bethlehem as the place where Jesus was born, but The Book of Mormon claims he was born “at Jerusalem”.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Jud├Ža, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)”

Luke 2:4

Apparently conflicts with...

And behold, he shall be born of Mary, at Jerusalem which is the land of our forefathers, she being a virgin, a precious and chosen vessel, who shall be overshadowed and conceive by the power of the Holy Ghost, and bring forth a son, yea, even the Son of God.”

Alma 7:10

If one says he was born in Bethlehem and the other says he was born in Jerusalem, how can they both be correct?


Jesus was born “at” Jerusalem

One way to answer this question is to look at the word choice in the Book of Mormon account.

The Book of Mormon does not claim that Jesus was born “in” jerusalem. It says that he was born “at” Jerusalem. This is important because the word “at”, according to most, if not all, english dictionaries, not only means “in”, but also “nearby”, “within the vicinity of” and even "toward". Bethlehem is only six miles from Jerusalem, which is certainly “nearby” to someone thousands of miles away in the Americas.

Certainly the Lord could have revealed the name of the town of Bethlehem, but it would not have meant anything to the people in America who would have had no point of reference. However, the Book of Mormon describes Jerusalem as a place of special significance for the ancient “Nephites”, so they would have been familiar with it's general location so using it as a landmark would have been made the prophecy of Christ's birth much more informative.

For example, I lived in the Philippines for two years. During that time many people asked me where I was from. I had grown up less than an hour from San Francisco, but when I named my small town, they looked at me with confusion. After all, most people in California had never even heard of my town. However, when I told them I was from “near San Francisco”, a much larger city, it was a much more helpful answer.

Therefore, in using the word “at”, it was not necessarily intended to mean that Jesus would be born “in” Jerusalem, but “near” Jerusalem.

This interpretation is substantiated by the discovery of the Amarna Letters.


The Amarna Letters

The Amarna Letters are a series of clay tablets sent from Egyptian administrators to the members of Canaan and other regions. These tablets were discovered in 1887 and have been dated to around the 1350s – 1330s BC. These documents refer to the “land of Jerusalem” as a region covering about 500 square kilometers. This would include Bethlehem.

So even if one were to ignore the full meaning of the word “at”, the fact remains that the phrase “at Jerusalem” still includes the area around Jerusalem. Just as New York City is a city within the State of New York, and Rome was a city within the Empire of Rome, or the Roman Empire, so to is Jerusalem a city within “the land of Jerusalem”.

So even though the Bible and the Book of Mormon claim two different places as the birth place of Christ, there is no contradiction. “Jerusalem”, at that time, also referred to the surrounding area, but even if The Book of Mormon refers specifically to the city, the word choice still implies that the birth would happen in or near the city, which it was.

So was Jesus born in Jerusalem or Bethlehem? Both.


Monday, January 3, 2011

The Logical Problem of Evil

If God is so good, how can he allow such evil to exist in the world? This easily one of the most popular atheistic arguments, next to The Omnipotence Paradox and The Omniscience/Free Will Paradox. For a few thousand years, it was a solid argument against the biblical God, but has now been resolved.


The Problem of Evil

The original Problem of Evil is often attributed to an ancient Greek philosopher named Epicurus, who lived from 341-270 BC. It first went like this:

  • If an all-powerful and perfectly good god exists, then evil does not.

  • There is evil in the world.

  • Therefore, an all-powerful and perfectly good god does not exist.

This argument claims that the existence of evil in the world is not consistent with the characteristics of an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-good God. This argument was eventually refined into the following:

  • God exists.

  • God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.

  • A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.

  • An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.

  • An omnipotent being, who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.

  • A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.

  • If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.

  • Evil exists (logical contradiction).

The argument then says that a God who claims omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence cannot exist if there also exists evil in the world. The biblical God claims these three attributes, and there also exists evil in the world, so the biblical God cannot exist.

After all, if God was omnipotent, and omniscient, then he must not be omnibenevolent, because he knows evil is there, and has the power to stop it, but does not apparently will it.

If he is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, then he must not be omniscient, because he has the power to stop it, and wills that it should be stopped, but does not apparently know it is there.

If he is omnibenevolent and omniscient, then he must not be omnipotent, because he knows evil is there, and wills that it should be stopped, but apparently has not the power to stop it.

The problem of evil went unanswered for about 2000 years, but now, philosophers and theologians mainly consider it sufficiently refuted by Plantinga's free will defense.


Evil and Free Will

It is commonly admitted among theologians and philosophers that God's power does not extend to logical contradictions. For example, he cannot create a four-sided triangle or a married bachelor. It's a contradiction of terms. By the same logic, he cannot force an agent to freely choose good.

Therefore, Plantinga argues that it is impossible for God, even being omnipotent, to create a world of free creatures in which there is no evil. Plantinga summarizes his argument:

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can't cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren't significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can't give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God's omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good.”

It is impossible to create a world in which the creatures are free to be morally good and morally evil, and yet they cannot choose evil. It is equivalent to say that the creatures both are, and are not, free. It is just as impossible as creating a four-sided triangle or a married bachelor. It would be like bringing the agent to a fork in the road and telling him he may travel either way, yet one path is clearly blocked. Granting the freedom to travel either path would then be meaningless.

So not only are the attributes of the Christian God (omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence) not logically inconsistent with the presence of evil in the world, but rather it seems that it is absolutely necessary in order to achieve any good.

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