Weblog of a Christian philosophy student

Weblog of a Christian philosophy student. Please feel free to comment. All of my posts are public domain. Subscribe to posts [Atom]. Email me at countaltair [at] yahoo.com.au. I also run a Chinese to English translation business at www.willfanyi.com.

Location: Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Problem Of Evil Solved In Four Paragraphs

The Problem Of Evil Solved In Four Paragraphs
Will G
Edited 1/30/08 in response to a comment
Edited 1/31/08 clarifying argument
Edited 2/2/08 reference to the discussion
Edited 2/8/08 significant revisions

According to philosophy God is the greatest possible being, but even he cannot do some things, like make two plus two equal five or tell a lie. Are there any other limits to God's power? I would add that it's only God who can be totally perfect, and that anything created by God has to be intimately sustained by him for that thing to exist at all. I would argue that these two extra limitations are probably acceptable as they are found by making our concept of God even greater than previously thought. If they are accepted, then there is not necessarily any problem of evil, as this essay will attempt to show. The reason for this is that these two extra limitations imply by careful reasoning that God cannot create perfect people without a delay of at least one moment, and that during this delay these imperfect people must necessarily experience a lot of evil due to their imperfection, which means that a perfect reality cannot be made without a delay of at least one moment. And the nature of this explanation can potentially justify God taking more time to create this perfect reality.

The first step explaining why God cannot create perfect people without a delay of at least one moment: if it is accepted that only God can be perfect, then by creating beings independent of him to love him it then follows that God would have to create those beings necessarily flawed to some extent. This would not, according to Christian theology, greatly hinder God in creating perfect beings, because he could then use his Holy Spirit to help the spirits of created persons to allow them to draw on his perfection forever, bypassing this problem. However, since these persons would first have to accept the Holy Spirit in order to be made perfect, then logically this could not be at a time when they were already perfect, which means that there has to be at least one 'felt', or 'experienced' moment when people are imperfect while they accept this choice. This imperfection as I conceive it is in everyone equally, and is the capacity in all of us to think of bad actions as reasonable (it's that good people reject making these bad choices, whereas evil people choose wrongly); in heaven we won't be able to choose wrongly, like God can't, because we will never, like God, be able to conceive of a wrong action as reasonable in any circumstance (this is based ultimately on a Kantian argument regarding the nature of morality).

The next step explaining how the existence of these imperfect people brings about evil while they are imperfect: because God is the ground of all being, it then follows that he has to sustain any world he creates very intimately. The sustaining required is so intimate that apart from God and the universe being separate entities, and the proviso that what affects the universe does not affect God but what affects God affects the universe, the universe effectively IS God for the purposes of this argument. This is how I interpret the limitation of God having to be the ground of all being and needing to sustain everything to the greatest degree for anything else to exist at all. Therefore, as a result of the closeness of this sustaining, the people in any universe are effectively residing in God's being, and thus it seems reasonable to think that their broken relationship with God as a result of any temporary imperfection they have would rebound on them to make them suffer evil while they (effectively) reside in God, given the nature of such an environment and their damaged relationship with God. Imperfect people in any reality must therefore constantly experience evil, which can plausibly be interpreted as involving a fixed ratio of evil to good moments over people's experiences, which God can distribute out, not necessarily dividing the evil equally, nor, if there is more than one moment, dividing it equally among all the moments (distributing evil doesn't appear to involve a contradiction so God should be able to do it, which would help explain why everyone doesn't experience the same amount of evil). And since the concept of evil incorporates more than just an experience of pain, truly terrible things must happen over the average moment. Within a religious framework, the creation of this evil can fit with what we see in our world if one says that God distributes this evil in a way consistent with natural laws and physical appearances, to make our world understandable, but that this evil is ultimately not caused or experienced physically but caused because of these ontological relations I have described and experienced not by brains but by souls whose experiences are made to deliberately mirror the state of their brains. Thus, God under this model still retains complete power over the physical world, it's just that this doesn't help him reduce the quantity of evil as something experienced by non-material souls. Although regarding this evil it is important to note that God can still perform miracles related to evil, but only through redirecting evil from one person to another (and also to note that after people have been made perfect then all these problems disappear.) In any case, what follows from all this is that there must be at least one moment of evil.

Now the question is: why does God take so long? - there has clearly not just been a single moment of evil. Well, this ratio of evil to good that applies to any reality with imperfect people, although the evil moments involve great suffering, is still one with many more good moments to evil moments, and is the same regardless of whether God takes one moment or a billion years. And taking a long time wouldn't affect or diminish from a future for (potentially) everyone incorporating an eternity of perfect happiness. Thus, it makes sense that God might delay in creating this perfect world if he had a reason for doing so, a reason the belief in which is rational enough to allow the rest of this argument to largely defuse the problem of evil.

Note: After posting this a visiting philosopher, Lamar, and I had a long and varied discussion about this topic and this theodicy. I thought this discussion was of an unusually high quality and very engaging and that readers should take a look at it. Lamar's blog is here.


Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Imperfection Theology

Imperfection Theology
Will G
(Redated to front.)

As I've done more thinking about the defense of Christian philosophical doctrines, I've found one approach has been highly useful in preserving orthodoxy while also giving great answers. I call this kind of approach 'imperfection theology', and I think it'd be worthwhile to create a post on it. In keeping with the theme that I should make my ideas more accessible, I've created a picture illustrating the core idea, below.

1. God cannot create perfect persons outside himself. Anything of God is completely perfect, anything apart from God must necessarily be somewhat imperfect. God is so great that only he has total perfection - only the greatest possible being can have total perfection. Therefore, something separated from God to any degree whatsoever is imperfect to the degree separated. This includes beings that God creates, because to create a being with a different 'mind' from God, that being must to some extent be separate from him (see the note on 11 regarding angels.) This is not a 'limit' on God's omnipotence, really, because if we understood the ways of the universe and philosophy better, we'd see how it must be so as a matter of non-contradiction; just like the way two and two cannot make five.

2. Due to the 'nature' of any reality, if there are imperfect people in it then the moral experience of that reality is flawed, meaning, there is a lot of evil in it. One interpretation of how this might be the case is that the universe is 'part' of God or intimately sustained by God in some way, and therefore just like our imperfection/evilness destroys our relationship with God, so our imperfection destroys our relationship with the universe which is part of/sustained by God, thus taking away good things from reality, which is the same as bringing evil. This leads to evolutionary evil because an imperfect reality had to be created for imperfect people (millions of years of animal suffering before sin), that humans collectively must suffer a proportion of evil to good in reality (natural evil) and that sometimes humans are mysteriously allowed to do very evil things to fulfill this 'privation of good' quotient (moral evil) by their free choices.

3. The imperfection affects everyone who is created differently. Some people are affected and become horribly evil. Some people are affected so they cannot choose to be saved. In order to overcome our necessary imperfection, God has to use his Holy Spirit with the soul of a person, and if that person accepts a huge loss of autonomy (and individuality?) and accepts the complete sovereignty of God, then God can effectively overcome this imperfection, but it requires a very serious choice. The alternative is a state similar to limbo, of no happiness or pain, forever. Some people will rationally and reasonably choose, based on their characters, to go to limbo forever rather than heaven. Everyone is given that choice in the afterlife, but they won't choose any differently than on Earth, nor can God do anything to change the choice from no to yes. If a person thinks, actually, no one would choose to go hell/limbo, well, perhaps they (and we) can't conceive of just how limiting or autonomy-losing the choice for heaven really is. My position is that it's as limiting in terms of individuality and autonomy as it needs to be for it to be plausible that rational people will sometimes choose to go to this kind of a limbo/hell rather than this kind of heaven (but we can't be robots and have to have free choice involved somewhere.)

4. In heaven, since everyone will be perfect having made this choice, there will be no evil and be perfect happiness forever. The problems calling for the creation of this universe and its evil will have been overcome.

These are the core themes of imperfection theology. I've created an appendix of other elements for those interested.


5. Out of all humans who will ever live, a minority will choose to go to heaven, and a majority will choose to go to hell. God allocates these people into history according to his mysterious will. People who are Christians can know they're saved; it's a lot more uncertain for those who never hear the gospel. Since I'm a Christian, I think that it's Christianity which can tell a person whether they're saved, but I might point out that God doesn't actually have to have a religion in the world, that people believe in. I assume there's a reason for having Christianity in the world and advertising it, but I don't know what that is. Whether God introduced Christianity into the world or not, it wouldn't, under my view, have made a difference to the numbers of the saved or the amount of evil, but I assume that the existence of, and spread of, Christianity, must serve some kind of purpose he has in mind.

6. God hides himself because firstly, it wouldn't make a difference to the number of the saved if everyone believed the truth of Christianity (see 5), secondly, it wouldn't make a difference to the amount of evil (see 2) and thirdly, believing in God and not wishing to make the choice for heaven might hurt the rejecter's free will to decide otherwise (see 3). This explains why God 'hides' himself as much as he does, making the evidence of his existence ambiguous, and only demonstrating his existence to people in a way the proof of which cannot really be communicated to others.

7. The main function of the atonement, I think, was for Jesus to take on humans' imperfection on himself in some way, in some way allowing us to be made perfect in the afterlife and not suffering the consequences of necessary imperfection in cutting us off from God. I don't think it required a physical atonement, but physical atonement was involved - I think it was more of a spiritual action that was accomplished. Nor do I think God necessarily had to advertise this, but bringing Christianity into the world serves some purpose. To have an effect on a person they have to be connected to God/Jesus in some way, i.e. connected to the Holy Spirit by choosing to be saved.

8. When people pray, they are really asking for God to reallocate evil from someone to someone else. God is reluctant to do this a lot of the time as it only redirects evil. If a prayer is not about evil, God may have various reasons for saying no.

9. Because God loves everyone equally and shows no favoritism, he hasn't chosen to make only non-Christians suffer: Christians and non-Christians suffer equally.

10. I don't know why the Bible is imperfect, but God will not let anyone lose faith because of this, assuming that I, as a Christian, am right about Christians being those who will make the choice to go to heaven. Everyone who will be saved is going to be saved, and if they believe in Christianity will never stop believing, even if stuff in the Bible, or anything else, bothers them. Those who lose faith because of this or for any other reason were never going to choose to go to heaven in the afterlife (although I think they certainly believed.) So although it's puzzling why God allows people to apparently gain and then lose their faith, it doesn't really affect the broader picture.

11. There can be perfect angels, because they have in some way already undergone a perfection process or some kind of other method of creation, but this doesn't defeat my idea in the sense God can create perfect angels, because only a proportion of angels could be perfect - just like for humans, and I say humans can be perfect. Note the existence of fallen angels.

Edited 1/16/08

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

A Framework That Solves The Problem Of Evil

A Framework That Solves The Problem Of Evil
Will G
Edited 1/21/08

Summary. The problem of evil is a notoriously difficult problem, one that is troubling for a lot of theists. But interestingly enough, I believe it can be completely solved if you add a few specific theological concepts to Christian theology. Basically, the idea is that anything apart from God is imperfect to some degree, due to God being so great only he can have total perfection, so God had to create people as imperfect beings. The way God makes a person perfect is by using the Holy Spirit, who, with the will of that person, can allow that person to draw on God's goodness forever. This meant God had to create a world of imperfect people, because as another limit he cannot do the creating and the making-perfect in the same moment. And this entails allowing evil because unfortunately, since every world God creates must be sustained or part of God in some deep way, to exist, then just as our imperfection ruins our relationship with God without the Holy Spirit, so since the universe is part of God or sustained by God our imperfection ruins our relationship with the universe, which is more like spirit than substance. Our own temporary imperfection in this world rebounds on us by taking away good things from reality. And God could make us perfect and bring into being a perfect reality much more quickly than he does now, but there's no advantage in doing so because however long God took, the proportion of evil in the world would be the same, and thus it doesn't matter and it makes sense that God might have a reason for taking so long.

The problem of evil is one of the most discussed in the philosophy of religion, but continues to lack a generally agreed upon answer among philosophers and theologians.

In this essay I am going to provide a framework within which the problem of evil can be answered. The framework is specifically designed to answer the problem of evil, which I think it does successfully.

Obviously there are already many theological frameworks that answer (or rather, don't have) this problem, such as those that allege God isn't all powerful, all loving or all knowing. Unfortunately, these frameworks veer too far away from orthodox Christianity, and so don't work within orthodox Christianity. I am more interested in providing a framework that accomplishes the same goals but is much more acceptable.

Within the framework I will lay out, one can have the following beliefs:

1. There is a God who is all loving, all knowing, and is as powerful as it is possible for anything to be, the powers he has to be enumerated here.
2. This God can create a perfect reality for people, although he has to create an imperfect one for them first.
3. This God can create a perfect reality for us at any time, but he couldn't have done so in the same instant as he made our world.
4. This God can do anything good or bad in our reality except reduce the amount of evil in it.
5. This God can change to any level the amount of evil or goodness in a future reality.
6. This God can do anything not related to good or evil in any reality.

This is a more interesting framework for solving the problem of evil than saying God isn't very powerful, or isn't good, since in this framework, a lot of powers are preserved, as well as absolute goodness, since it's acceptable for God to allow our reality with all its evil if he has to in order to create a future perfect reality for us.

There are three limits within this framework I will put on God, that are the mirror of (1), (2), (3), (4), (5) and (6). And these limits only apply to these things. In other words, they don't have to extend beyond limiting these specific things.

Limit One: God has to go through a two stage process to create a perfect reality, and the first and second stage cannot be 'gone through' at the exact same instant.
Limit Two: The first stage has to have evil in it.
Limit Three: The evil in the first stage has to proceed against a certain good to evil ratio.

The first limit fulfills (2) and (3). God can create a perfect reality, but has to create an imperfect one first.
The second limit partially fulfills (4). God can create a perfect reality, but has to go through a first stage (our reality) allowing evil. However, the evil in it could theoretically be reduced. But the third limit says the evil has to proceed at a certain good to evil ratio, and that ratio means that at any time, the same amount of evil has to be in the first stage, completely fulfilling (4). (Note: the third limit makes the existence of our world more plausible, because the same amount of evil has to exist in any reality no matter how long that reality has been in existence (equal to the proportion of evil to good.) Note that I am not talking about suffering, but evil, which is not necessarily the same thing as suffering. A world over in a nanosecond could never contain much evil, unless the suffering therein was indescribably great. Therefore, if God went to the second stage more quickly, then he wouldn't reduce the amount of evil people suffer, thus making it plausible that he might decide to delay for some reason.)
The first limit allows (5), since it's the second stage.
The fact that at the end of this world, there is a perfect world, that God couldn't have gone to without creating our world with all its evil, I take it, justifies God's goodness in (1).
And none of these limits addresses powers not related to evil, allowing the power to do anything else, fulfilling (6).

So by this framework, you could solve the problem of evil and keep the powers enumerated by (1), (2), (3), (4), (5) and (6). This is a more interesting refutation of the problem of evil than simply saying God doesn't have much power.

Of course, this framework has two problems. The first problem, is that you can't just limit God apropos of nothing, you need to make it plausible that he's limited in a certain way. It's not plausible to say that God simply has to go through two stages and that's that. The second, related to that, is that if God is limited in these ways, then surely he must be limited in other ways as well. Opening the doors to these limitations must open the doors to many more, undermining Christian beliefs.

But this isn't necessarily true. An answer would be to find a plausible way of limiting God in these ways, that has a ring of plausibility. And then making sure these limitations are very specific, so they don't spill over into other areas of God's power.

Let me suggest two limitations that might do this.

One: Say that as a logical limit on God's power, God cannot create perfect people outside of Himself. Everything perfect has to be part of God, everything not perfect has to be apart from God. So to create any person outside of God entails making something apart from God, and therefore something imperfect. For God to sidestep this would be akin to God making two and two equal five, which not even he can do.

This means that God has to go through a first stage where the creatures he makes are imperfect. God logically cannot start off in a stage where his creatures are perfect, because any creature has to be apart from him, and therefore imperfect to some degree.

Of course, that would mean no one could ever be perfect, and that there could be no second stage of perfect people. But actually, God has a Holy Spirit and can use his Holy Spirit to connect people to Himself in a very deep way, overcoming our apartness from God. So God could create a second stage where his creations are perfect through the Holy Spirit.

This creates the two stage limitation, by necessitating multiple steps to making a perfect person and that God can't go through them all at the same time. It's alleged that God cannot create a person outside himself and in the same instant use his Holy Spirit to make them perfect. That's the first limit.

Two: Say as a logical limit, not due so much to God specifically as the nature of existence itself, that any imperfect person in any reality must suffer evil. This is because the presence of imperfect people corrupts reality in some way. The presence of imperfect people corrupts reality so that evil things happen.

One way of thinking of this is to think of any reality as being somehow connected to God, or part of God in some way. Sustained by God, if you will. Therefore it can be affected by people's imperfection, because just like our imperfection and evil cuts us off and ruins our relationship with God, so it may cut off and ruin our relationship with an otherwise perfectly good reality. A bad relationship with God = a bad relationship with our reality, which is part of or connected with God in some way = goodness being inexplicably taken away from people in our world. Our own evil and imperfection comes back to rebound on us, and everyone is imperfect.

In this way, perfect happiness in heaven may not be something God does as something that just naturally happens as a result of everyone in heaven being morally perfect, through their connection with the Holy Spirit.

This fulfills Limit Two, that in the first stage, bad things have to happen, because people are imperfect. It also fulfills Limit Three, if you say that the evil and corruption of reality operates at a certain ratio of corruption/evil to good, with a proportion of imperfection in all people. It also allows a perfect reality after this one.

Thus, the only real limit I've endorsed on God in this theodicy is that God had to create a reality of suffering before creating a perfect afterlife - he could not bypass it somehow, and that in this first reality evil couldn't be reduced below this level. Everything else God can do.

Now, I think we can avoid the 'spillover' objection, that limits in these areas would limit God in other ways. I don't think this is the case, if you look at the way I explain those limits. They could be confined to just those areas. And they aren't just being pulled out of thin air, there is a ring of plausibility to them.

To sum up, this defense against the problem of evil isn't necessarily right. By this I mean, this defense could be sound, but, not what God does. But it's an interesting exercise, because it does create a valid framework for solving the problem of evil within itself, and so within itself, answers the problem.

Edited 1/21/08

A Note On Types Of Evil

I'd like to make a note that that clearly there are different types of evil, like natural (not caused by a person), moral, and evolutionary (happened before people came). This theodicy can explain these different types of evil very well.

Evolutionary evil: An imperfect world for imperfect creatures necessitates a world that starts off imperfect, one where animals have suffered before humans.

Natural evil: An imperfect world for imperfect creatures would contain evil not caused by any rational agent. God can allocate this evil as he wants, presumably, according to his mysterious, divine plan. This evil has a structure God has put in the world, that is to say, it appears as the result of natural forces.

In a world that has to have a lot of evil in it, God might choose to allow this evil to occur by the actions of people, as part of his mysterious plan. Thus, he allows people the freedom to inflict great evil (which would have happened at some point in one form or another), as part of this plan.