Sunday, November 23, 2008

“The Problem of Evil” Debate: and the winner is ...

Sadly, the debate in the discussion of the preceding post has descended to personal attacks, perceived personal attacks, and recriminations. My goal is to maintain a higher level of mutual personal respect on this site, especially when the conversation is between believers and skeptics. Perhaps the fault is mine for offering the quadrilemma of Epicurus for discussion. The issue easily becomes an emotional one, it seems.

I appreciate many of the arguments offered by the theists who commented. Many of them have merit. But at the risk of alienating my believing friends (something I seem to be doing a lot lately!), I must declare myself on the side of the skeptics here. If I had to choose a winner, it would be Psiloiordinary, and the skeptics who joined him. Of course, I disagree with where their arguments lead them. I am solidly in the theist camp. But the tone of some of my fellow theists on this topic, their dismissiveness of the problem, their lack of humility distress me. The problem of evil is, in my view, a significant challenge to theism, one that has lacked a satisfactory answer. Christians often object to theodicy itself (that is, the felt need to defend God), as a pointless, even presumptuous endeavor. “Who do we think we are to sit in judgment of God and his actions?” they ask. I’ve never accepted such an approach. It presumes that, though the Creator made us rational and moral beings, he expects that we will not use these faculties in our response to him. No, for me the problem of evil is a very real problem, one that cannot be dealt with easily. We owe it to a world of skeptics to offer our best answers with a high level of humility.

Many who have thought long and hard on this problem have come to similar conclusions. Because the problem of evil is a real problem to me, and to my faith, I have read a number of books on the subject, including
The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis, Unspeakable by Os Guinness, The Doors of the Sea by David Bentley Hart (which should be required reading by all who would engage in this debate!), and Is God to Blame by Gregory Boyd (which comes the closest to my own views). (I've also read the challenges of Richard Dawkins, and other atheists on the subject.) For the most part, the Christian authors above display a healthy tentativeness in their approach, and a humility in their tone befitting the issue at hand. There are no easy answers.

Having said that, I now propose to boldly lay out my own views on the problem of evil. I addressed these views briefly a year ago in a series of posts on this site. I will now resubmit them with more detail and elaboration. I will do this in a new series of posts. I will not defend or debate my thoughts as I present them. If readers have questions for clarification, I will be happy to respond. I will deal with reader objections only after I have finished the series. Fair enough?

I will begin shortly at an unlikely starting point: Jesus’ radical teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. Stay tuned ....


Anonymous said...

Heya Cliff.

I'm going to refrain from commenting further on your site - but I wanted to apologize to you personally if anything I said failed to meet your standards. I stand by all I've argued, and even my conduct. But I meant no offense, certainly no distraction, so I'll simply apologize to you and pull back.

Interesting series nevertheless.

-- Nullasalus

Psiloiordinary said...

I see that atheists are not worthy of an apology from nulomannerous ;-)


I have obviously had to double check all my thinking in light of this posting.

I take comfort from the fact that you are a nice chap.

So on balance I will forgive you for your "support".

I look toward very much to your thoughts on this topic.

Will we still get the rest of your deist arguments ?

I hope we can get to your evidence for theism in due course.

I will attempt to thicken my skin and not take offence at such silly claims in future.



David McMaster said...


I came in late for commenting on that last post, but I did honestly try to be respectful with my statements and questions. If I was dismissive, I must fault my poor abilities to express myself with the written word.

I said:
"From the biblical record it seems obvious that God is willing to directly and indirectly cause mass suffering and death. With all due respect, doesn't it follow that the problem of evil being discussed here has little or no meaning?

How could anyone possibly hope to defend God's actions. Either you accept God's deeds as necessary or you don't. If you don't then you'll either say he doesn't exist, or you'll hold Him in utter contempt.

Wouldn't it be true that if God exists, then by definition any action He takes would be necessary?

By the way, I really would like to know the answers to these questions."

Perhaps my comment is better suited for this post anyway.

You said:
"Christians often object to theodicy itself (that is, the felt need to defend God), as a pointless, even presumptuous endeavor. “Who do we think we are to sit in judgment of God and his actions?” they ask. I’ve never accepted such an approach. It presumes that, though the Creator made us rational and moral beings, he expects that we will not use these faculties in our response to him."

Doesn't the fact that God is willing to go on record as having caused so much suffering and death indicate that He doesn't care what you or I think about those actions? Certainly we should do all that we can to understand God and His creation, but in this instance it feels like God is saying to us, "Back off. I gotta do what I gotta do."

Again, I do not mean any disrespect by these questions. They are honestly asked.

Psiloiordinary said...

Hi Cliff,

I have gotten to know you a little in the last year or so.

So you deserve to know this;

I "lost", as the usual euphomism goes, two kids.


One still born, one at twelve days.

This will perhaps explain my recent touchiness.


Said it now.

End of subject.

Back to the debate!



Cliff Martin said...


Please do not take offense. In part, the discourse went in the direction it did because of misunderstandings. I've known Psi now for over a year, and I regard him as respectful, but hard-hitting. I've also learned to understand his lighter side. In your discussions with Psi, I would read his comment and see his good-natured smile, but you would mistake his comment for an attack, and move into defensive or counter-attack mode. I appreciate very much the way your mind works, even if I do not always agree. I want you to know you are welcome here, and I hope you will reconsider pulling back.


Thank you for revealing that bit about yourself. It is very telling, and helpful to know.


You were by no means the target of my comments about the lack of respect, etc. I appreciated your comment, agree with it in many respects, and I thought you offered it with respect. I hope you continue to post here. I always love it when you do! As for your question (a good one!) I think it best to withhold that discussion until after I've finished laying out my views ... which are quite radical and sort of change everything!

BTW, I have a friend who recently lamented that his blog had hits from 49 states, Alaska excluded. You got a mention there, and you can read our discusion here.

Tom said...

The last post certainly was long-winded and emotional, but despite the offenses, there were a number of interesting points raised. It would be good to discuss them in a focused way. The difficulty is that this is a big, complex issue so it is easy to say, "...and what about this? ...but what about that?"

Null's assertion that the PoE is not a big issue if one takes the tack that accepting the presence of evil beats the nihilistic alternative is a shallow perspective, but probably shared by many believers. While such exchanges may often be frustrating on both sideas, learning to communicate through opposing ideas is part of what I enjoy about this blog.