Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Thoughts on the Problem of Evil, cross-posted from the Tweb message board

Over at the forums at theologyweb.com, I was asked:

//Anon. What's your query concerning the existence of God and the PoE?//

My response follows.

I don't have a query over it - I gave the POE as an argument that nearly swayed me to pos-atheism, before I realized that it was not a necessary conclusive logical argument after a quick brushup on informal logic. Some have presented an argument for evil (such as Dr. Craig's friend and sparring partner Raymond Bradley, who assumed the Biblical standard for good and attempted to prove the contrary), but the counterarguments given render the formal presentations of the POE inconclusive at various premises. However, given the existence of God and YHWH in specific, the POE has, in my views, always entailed answers from the part of the believer to merely raise the implausibility of formal premises in POE presentations, rather than render them defeated.

But the real weight of the POE is, admittedly, rooted in both emotion and logic. The gravity of natural disaster and the actions of evil men is a heavy burden everyone has to suffer at some point in their lives to some degree, and whatever you believe in, there's very likely something so horrible that will happen that will at least for a moment rattle whatever worldview you have right at the core.

My former pastor, Robert Jeffress, became a bit of an entertaining opponent for me during my years as a "Dawkins-prototype" Sagan-and-Randi atheist back in the late 90's. I'd write about him to the editor when he'd appear on the news doing something that chapped my political hide at the time (which was so sensitive then even Barker would cringe), and I'd even go back to his church on occasion to hear his sermons from a perfectly incorrect mindset. After I returned to studying theology with a more serious attitude and mature approach (my political wrath greatly diminished as well, but let's leave politics as the one topic of silence here anyway ), my old habit re-emerged and I began to wonder what he was up to far away in my old hometown, but I found he'd left to Dallas and left behind a massive controversy involving a new expensive church that admirers had given lots of money for, with specific thoughts to keeping him around. I browsed a few of his audio sermons and still found that old diametric opposition, albeit from the standpoint that his apologetics are about as strong as Ray Comfort's.

Near the point of giving up, I tuned in to a "stump the pastor" session found here http://prog.videorelay.com/fbdmedia/...34/20834DS.mp3. In general, it contained answers of mixed strength bolstered by his usual confident and talented voice, holding together especially when the current Southern Baptist atom bomb of Calvinism was tossed at him with accompanying loud "ohhhhhhh's" and hisses. But the most impressive moment by far in the clip, and in over a decade and a half of listening to his sermons off and on and judging his behavior mostly by the term "blowhard," is at the 5:30 mark. He's asked a question regarding how Romans 8:28is held in line with the tragedy a believer suffers, in this question specifically addressing Stephen Chapman's recent family tragedy.

Dr. Jeffress exegetes 8:28 in the context of 8:29 in a way that probably made the Calvinists tear up as if they took a bath in onion shavings, but before that, he gave five words that made my opinion of his honesty skyrocket, and not for reasons of finding a quote to take out of context, either. He said: "there are no easy answers."

Theological determinists like Gordon Clark do have easy answers, but they're terrible and would still send me running from this religion even if I end up unable to answer fully any of the apologetical arguments. Dr. Jeffress' quote, though, is what remains if TD is abandoned, and although not nearly the scarecrow that the "easy solution" is, it would still remain a strong epistemological and moral mountain even if granted that my metaphysical and historical skepticism is refuted to smithereens. Without significant thought or, most likely, a very tremendous leap of faith over the genuinely difficult pit I see from it, I'd have to go to Flew's Deism in such a hypothetical situation. But like anything else, it would be something to continuously study even as a nontheist, since it is a truly deep issue that itself (to me) does not formally logically necessitate the truth of either side of the debate - and since it is a problem needed to be studied by everyone regardless of belief.


  1. any comments on soul-building?

  2. The existence of so much pain and misery does not prove there is no creator, but it does prove there is no omnipotent, perfect creator watching out for us. If god exists he must be unable to stop needless suffering, unwilling, or both, but he cannot be both omnipotent and all good and create a world with things like smallpox in it, and allow diseases and tragedies and natural disasters to thrive. Also the idea of a perfect god creating an imperfect world makes little sense.

    No, if there is a "god" then it is not the god we imagine, it is a being more like us that creates the universe the way we would, as a science experiment. He/she/it/they would light a fuse and run away, so to speak. The idea of a god that lovingly designed the bubonic plague just doesn't make sense, and is actually a kind of horrible idea.