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

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.


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