Christmas Wishes from Thinking Matters

On behalf of Dominic, Stuart, myself and the rest of our contributors, I’d like to wish all our readers a Happy Christmas. Thanks for your continued readership, participation, and support this year – we’ve had a great time writing and interacting on the blog and look forward to serving you through the New Year.

As you celebrate this wonderful day, may you take the the opportunity to open your minds and hearts to the great and glorious news of the Gospel: the King who became not just a man but a servant, and took not just a manger, but a cross so that treasonous, stubborn, rebels might become sons and co-heirs with Him. Let us humble ourselves in gratitude and together seek to prove the wonders of Jesus’ love far as the curse is found.

The Unique Gift of Christmas

“No other religion–whether secularism, Greco-Roman paganism, Eastern religion, Judaism, or Islam–believes God became breakable or suffered or had a body. Eastern religion believes the physical is illusion. Greco-Romans believe the physical is bad. Judaism and Islam don’t believe God would do such a thing as live in the flesh.

But Christmas teaches that God is concerned not only with the spiritual, because he is not just a spirit anymore. He has a body. He knows what it’s like to be poor, to be a refugee, to face persecution and hunger, to be beaten and stabbed. He knows what it is like to be dead. Therefore, when we put together the incarnation and the resurrection, we see that God is not just concerned about the spirit, but he also cares about the body. He created the spirit and the body, and he will redeem the spirit and the body.

Christmas shows us that God is not just concerned about spiritual problems but physical problems too. So we can talk about redeeming people from guilt and unbelief, as well as creating safe streets and affordable housing for the poor, in the same breath. Because Jesus himself is not just a spirit but also has a body, the gift of Christmas is a passion for justice.

But Christians have not only a passion for justice but also the knowledge that, in the end, justice will triumph. Confidence in the justice of God makes the most realistic passion for justice possible.”

Tim Keller in Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus: Experiencing the Peace and Promise of Christmas, edited by Nancy Guthrie (Crossway Books, 2008).

Video from the Saddleback Apologetics Weekend

Last weekend, the Saddleback Church in Southern California hosted its second annual apologetics weekend. Hosted by pastor Rick Warren, the conference presented several scholars and pastors to discuss the life and person of Jesus Christ. At this time of the year when life seems to get more crowded with activity, these talks offer a great opportunity to remind ourselves of the meaning of Christmas and the God who took on flesh, the incarnate Christ.

If you’re having trouble accessing the links below, you can also get the lectures on iTunes.

Jesus Before He Was Born
Chris Wright (Langham Partnership’s International Director and author of The Mission of God)
Audio| Video

The Radical Message of Jesus
Scott McKnight (Karl A. Olsson Professor in Religious Studies at North Park University)
Audio | Video


The Shocking Life of Jesus

Peter Kreeft (professor of philosophy at Boston College)
Audio | Video

Jesus’ Miraculous Death and Resurrection
Greg Koukl (adjunct professor of Christian Apologetics at Biola University and president of Stand to Reason)
Audio | Video

The Jesus Left Behind – The Body of Christ
Philip Yancey (editor-at-large for Christianity Today and popular Christian author)
Audio | Video

HT: Brian Auten

The Mystery that Makes Sense of Everything

“The real difficulty, the supreme mystery with which the gospel confronts us, does not lie here [in the atonement, the resurrection, or the Gospel miracles] at all.  It lies not in the Good Friday message of atonement, nor in the Easter message of resurrection, but in the Christmas message of Incarnation. The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man — that the second person of the Godhead became the “second man” (1 Cor 15:47). . . the second representative head of the race, and that he took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as he was human.

Here are two mysteries for the price of one — the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and the most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. “The Word became flesh” (Jn 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the Incarnation.

…It is from misbelief, or at least inadequate belief, about the Incarnation that difficulties at other points in the gospel story usually spring. But once the Incarnation is grasped as a reality, these other difficulties dissolve.

If Jesus had been no more than a very remarkable, godly man, the difficulties in believing what the New Testament tells us about his life and work would be truly mountainous. But if Jesus was the same person as the eternal Word, the Father’s agent in creation, “through whom also he made the worlds” (Heb 1:2 RV), it is no wonder if fresh acts of creative power marked his coming into this world, and his life in it, and his exit from it. It is not strange that he, the Author of life, should rise from the dead. If he was truly God the Son, it is much more startling that he should die than that he should rise again.

‘Tis mystery all! The Immortal dies,’ wrote Wesley; but there is no comparable mystery in the Immortal’s resurrection. And if the immortal Son of God did really submit to taste death, it is not strange that such a death should have saving significance for a doomed race. Once we grant that Jesus was divine, it becomes unreasonable to find difficulty in any of this; it is all a piece and hangs together completely. The Incarnation is in itself an unfathomable mystery, but it makes sense of everything else that the New Testament contains.”

J. I. Packer, Knowing God (InterVarsity Press, 1993 – 20th-Anniversary Edition), Pages 53-54.

Why Southgate’s “co-suffering” Argument Suffers: The Intrusion of the Emotional Problem of Evil in Evolutionary Theodicy

In my recent series I particularly focused on addressing the Problem of Evil (POE) on the presumption of an evolutionary history of pain, predation, suffering and extinction, etc., (P) and the implied age-old earth. I concluded in The Problem of Evil: Part Two that Christopher Southgate’s “compound evolutionary theodicy” was strictly unnecessary because with the resources of Christian theism there was no POE, apart from the emotional force of P. The following post considers the emotional POE of P in Southgate’s theodicy and possible strategies for an appropriate defense.

The Emotional Force of the Problem of Evil

It is clear that Southgate is not strictly responding to an intellectual problem, but rather an emotional problem. He states, “the crux of the problem is . . . the Christian’s struggle with the challenge to the goodness of God posed by specific cases of innocent suffering.”[1] This is exemplified by Fyodor Dostoevesky’s Ivan Karamazov. In response to an innocent child’s suffering, Ivan says, “It’s not that I don’t accept God, Alyosha; I’m just, with the upmost respect, handing him back his ticket.” The intuition being that if God allowed evil in the world, his goodness is impugned and he is therefore no longer “a God worthy of worship”[2]

In a very real way, as long as there is pain and suffering and death, the emotional POE will remain with us. Christianity is furnished with rich resources to address this problem, theologically pastorally, and practically.

One such solution offered by Southgate in his compound evolutionary theodicy is his second plank: the “co-suffering” argument. The argument is that God is not one who remains distant, aloft and uncaring, but identifies with the pain of every sentient creature. This argument has two fatal flaws. First, to the emotional problem caused by human pain and suffering this is an appropriate response, for Christ enters into our suffering by becoming incarnate and being crucified. However, this is over-reaching as a solution to animal suffering. Christ’s life was an experience as a man identifying with humans (cf. Heb 4:15), and not as non-human animal.

Second, Christ’s co-suffering with us does not explain how God can be good and yet there be evil and suffering in the world. Instead it provides a balm, removing the sting of being alone facing such a harsh reality. This fact is well and should not be diminished. However, as a defence for only the emotional POE and not a theodicy, it has limited utility for any wider concerns.

An alternative for addressing the emotional POE for P would be an understanding of Michael Murray’s levels of pain experienced by different animals. It is also permissible to speculate that just as the Spirit of God is the helper of humanity and comforter of the redeemed, providing purpose and resolution in the face of adversity, strength and endurance through suffering, so the Spirit of God may similarly help his creatures in the whole of the animal kingdom.

These strategies are ultimately unnecessary, for the emotional state of someone does not determine truth. Appealing to emotions is an important part of the task of persuasion – not for determining what is and is not true. Although such strategies are unnecessary, they are available for those seeking to develop a defence for the emotional POE.


Footnotes

[1] Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation; God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil (Louisville, KE.; Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 13.

[2] Ibid., 10

Southgate’s “only way” the Wrong Way: God’s Omnipotence and Benevolence in the Problem of Natural Evil

The Problem of Evil

Christopher Southgate, author of The Groaning of Creation, denies a cosmic fall on the grounds that suffering, pain, predation, extinction, etc., (P) is instrumental in the Darwinian process for producing values, such as consciousness, rationality and the “range, beauty, complexity, and diversity of creatures the Earth has produced.”[1] Here is where the major plank in his compound evolutionary theodicy enters the picture: his “only way” argument–really just an assertion.[2] It is that for God, the P intrinsic to the Darwinian process was the only way in which God could bring about the many good values that have arisen in nature. In the Problem of Evil: Part Two, I offered three reasons why this major plank in Southgate’s argument is rotten. First, it presupposes natural evil is morally evil.[3] Second, a world without P may indeed be unimaginable, but that does not make P untenable. Third, his solution is successful in protecting God’s benevolence, but unfortunately at the expense of divine omnipotence.

On this third criticism Southgate does note Michael Lloyd’s unwillingness to accept such a solution specifically because it limits the power of God. All he offers is an assertion that fails to address the point. He states,

“I fully accept that we can never be sure that this was God’s only way to give rise to creatures such as stem from the 3.8-billion-year-long evolution of the Earth’s biosphere. We can only say that given what we know about creatures, especially what we know about the role of evolution in refining their characteristics, and the sheer length of time the process has required to give rise to sophisticated sentience, it is eminently plausible and coherent to suppose that this was the only way open to God.”[4]

But if God is omnipotent (can do anything that is logically possible), it is incoherent to suggest he could not have achieved the same values that have arisen by acting in such a way as to avoid the disvalues of P.  Hence Southgate’s solution to the problem of evil then is to favour a benevolent God to an omnipotent one.

To preserve God’s omnipotence a preferable argument would be that the actual world was the only feasible world for God to actualize given specific purposes, such as to bring a maximal amount of free creatures into relationship with him. Such a world may be filled with all types of natural and moral evil, even in the animal world. Since it is logically impossible to make someone freely do something, this does not subvert the traditional understanding of divine omnipotence. Southgate acknowledges creaturely freedom may be one of God’s purposes that could explain all the natural evil in the world, but shies away from saying this purpose is the reason why P characterizes the actual world.

Different divine purposes could apply in other specific situations. For instance, the spread of the gospel is in large part dependant on the fossil fuels that resulted from mass extinction events.


Footnotes

[1] Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation; God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil (Louisville, KE.; Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 29.

[2] Ibid., 16.

[3] I have argued in The Problem of Evil: Part Two that this is dubious with three reasons that could assume animal suffering is similar in type and intensity to human suffering, and with one reason that argues animal suffering is not similar.

[4] Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 30.

Friday Night Miscellany

It’s the second to last Friday before Christmas and the return of the link post (back by popular demand!). Here are some links from around the web to enjoy into the weekend.

Philosophy

– Steve Cowan summarizes his recent paper at the national EPS conference in Atlanta and the problem of God’s “authorship of sin” for libertarians and compatibilists.

– James N. Anderson reviews The Cambridge Companion to Christian Philosophical Theology.

– Dru Johnson reviews Analytic Theology: New Essays in the Philosophy of Theology.

– Francis Beckwith reviews Edward Feser’s Aquinas: A Beginner’s Guide.

– Alvin Plantinga’s lecture at Biola University on the conflict between science and religion.

History

More on the myth that people prior to Columbus believed the earth was flat.

– Colin Hansen reviews Carl Truman’s new book Histories and Fallacies on research methodology and the common problems faced by historians.

Apologetics

Defining faith.

– J. P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology, has launched a Facebook page.

– J.W. Wartick reviews Theism and Ultimate Explanation by Timothy O’Connor

– John Bird reviews The Gospel and the Mind by Bradley Green at The Discerning Reader.

– Tom Gilson proposes the essential missing prologue to all apologetics.

– The latest issue of Synthese (a journal dedicated to epistemology, methodology and philosophy of science) is devoted to Intelligent Design.

The trouble with Richard Dawkins: an interview with Michael Ruse:

Theology

Christmas is for those who hate it most.

While human rebellion is man’s craving to be like God, it is the glorious grace of the gospel that God has become like man.

Ten things about the story of Christmas that you might not know.

– Theology Masters has posted a list of the top 50 blogs by theology professors.

– Richard Lints, Thomas Schreiner, and Kevin DeYoung each put forward a list of helpful books on the doctrine of Scripture.

– Mark Dever offers some insightful reflections on the life of Roger Nicole (who sadly died this week).

– Kevin DeYoung explains the New Testament use of Old Testament prophecy.

Thoughts from Don Carson on how we should consider individualism in the West.

How should apply the geneaologies and censuses of the Bible to our lives?

Richard Baxter on Christian meditation.

– Video of a discussion between Mark Dever and Jim Wallis on social justice (5 parts):

Elsewhere

Allen Yeh and Douglas Wilson deliver their verdict on the latest Narnia film, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

– A preview of Makoto Fujimura’s gorgeous The Four Holy Gospels.

A virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel. Incredible.

– A replica of an ancient Greek mechanical computer that predicted celestial events. Out of Lego.

– Matthew Shapiro has posted his epic mash-up of films released this year:

The Problem of Evil: Part Two

In Part One I explored different articulations of the Problem of Evil and sought to remedy the force of those arguments. In this, Part Two, I will look at the theodicies of Christopher Southgate and William Dembski that take into account animal suffering in an evolutionary history as a part of the problem of evil, and in doing so develop a framework for my own theodicy.

Southgate’s Not-so-easily Dismissed Dismissals

Christopher Southgate is an example of a Christian Theologian grappling specifically with the problem of animal suffering from a theistic evolutionary perspective. Before offering his own theodicy in The Groaning of Creeation, Southgate dismisses three strategies for an evolutionary theodicy. I will argue these strategies are not so easily dismissed and in fact, suitable for inclusion in an evolutionary theodicy.

Augustine provides the first stratagem.[1] Southgate’s reply is that we have a far greater understanding of the suffering in the nonhuman world than we did in the pre-scientific age. This dismissal is more of a confirmation of Augustine’s point; that due to our epistemic position we cannot see the divine purpose of the suffering we perceive in the natural realm. But if evil is magnified in our comprehension, then our view of the good that God has brought and will bring about is too small.

The second stratagem Southgate dismisses is that nonhuman creatures do not really feel pain.[2] His appeal to the science is misleading and misdirected. It is a question for the philosopher of science to answer if the appearance of pain in nonhuman creatures should be equated with the type and intensity of pain experienced by humans. Michael Murray, a philosopher at Franklin and Marshall College, distinguishes three levels of pain experienced by different organisms depending on the development of their brains.

Level 3: a second order awareness that one is oneself experiencing (2).
Level 2: a first order, subjective experience of pain.
Level 1: information-bearing neural states produced by noxious stimuli resulting in aversive behavior.[3]

Spiders, Bumble Bees, and possibly even the larger reptiles, plausibly only experience the first level of pain. At most the evidence suggests that vertebrates, such as dogs, cats and horses experience Level 2 but not Level 3. The part of the brain that is most closely associated with the consciousness of pain, is also the part that was last to arrive among mammals – the pre-frontal cortex.[4] Accordingly, all can experience pain, but only the higher primates are aware they are in pain. Alexander Pruss, philosopher at Baylor University, after giving examples of phenomena such as being able to be distracted from pain, suggests “… it really could turn out that it is our ability to conceptually focus in on mental phenomena in a second-order way that is crucial to pain’s being really bad.”[5]

The third stratagem Southgate dismisses says the suffering of animals is just a fact of nature. Kenneth Miller is a proponent of this stratagem, which argues that animals have no moral character, and we should not project onto them moral categories that properly belong to the sphere of human beings.[6] Southgate’s reply again fails to address the pertinent point. That creatures have value to God does not explain why we should consider their suffering to be wrong.

Indeed, it is not immediately apparent that animal suffering is wrong.[7] First, humans have value to God – yet suffer. We trust that there is a sufficient reason for human suffering, though we may never discover it in this life. Why should we believe then that God does not also have a sufficient reason for suffering in the animal kingdom, though we may no see it? Second, the argument that natural evil is morally evil is dubious. Showing animal suffering is wrong from mere natural facts, such as suffering, breaks the Humean principle and commits a deontic fallacy by deriving an “ought” from an “is.” Third, on the Divine Command Theory of ethics God does not have moral duties, and so is under no obligation to spare animals from suffering, let alone their lives in mass extinction events. Any perceived cruelty on his part is wrong thinking on ours. Fourth, we naturally fall victim to what is termed a Hyper-active Agency Detection Device (HADD): that is, the human tendency to ascribe to nonhumans personal agency.[8] Ascribing moral significance to actions of an animal is to run afoul of the fallacy of anthropopathism. Craig quips, we are “being had by HADD.”[9]

Southgate’s Compound Evolutionary Theodicy

Southgate’s proposed “compound evolutionary theodicy” suffers problems of its own, however my criticisms here will focus on the place from where his theodicy sprung. This is his denial of a cosmic fall as responsible for the pain, suffering, death, extinction and predation (P) in the natural world. I shall describe his second objection to such a doctrine, and then give reasons why that objection is erroneous, then do the same with his first objection.

Southgate’s denies a cosmic fall on the grounds that P is instrumental in the Darwinian process for producing values, such as consciousness, rationality and the “range, beauty, complexity, and diversity of creatures the Earth has produced.”[10] Here is where Southgate’s “only way” argument–really just an assertion[11]–enters the picture, the major plank in his evolutionary theodicy. It is that for God, the P intrinsic to the Darwinian process was the only way in which God could bring about the many good values that have arisen. This reason immediately suffers from the following criticisms. First, it presupposes natural evil is morally evil.[12] Second, a world without P may indeed be unimaginable, but that does not make P untenable. His solution is successful in protecting God’s benevolence, but unfortunately at the expense of divine omnipotence.[13]

The first reason for Southgate rejecting a cosmic fall is that there is no evidence that any state of perfection existed at any time in earth’s history. He sights the uniformity of the fossil record as evidence. The dismissal at once suffers from three flaws. First, the “very good” of Gen 1:31 does not mean the absence of P. Southgate himself notes that this should be interpreted as aesthetic and functional, but he implicitly interprets it as moral and pragmatic in his critique.[14] Second, Genesis reports that Adam and Eve inhabited “the Garden,” gives a description of where Eden was, and were told to subdue and bring dominion over all the earth. This strongly implies the planet at large contained “thorns and thistles” where man had to toil to feed himself, and that Eden was a small localized area (and perhaps time) of safety and provision. Third, the narrative does not commit one to the belief that the consequence of a cosmic fall will present itself in the geologic record or somehow falsify a uniformitarian perspective. [15]

Dembski’s Proposal

Southgate is aware of this, for he continually positions his criticisms against a chronological reading of the fall narrative with an initial state of perfection, and footnotes the theodicy of William Dembski,[16] who advocates a kairological reading Genesis 1-3.[17] Dembski’s theodicy suggests that the effects of the fall are retroactive in history just as the salvific effects of the cross of Christ are.[18] On this scheme, God foreknew the human response to temptation and created a world that would reveal to humanity the gravity of the consequences of their sin in the natural world after the expulsion from Eden.

Southgate objects to this on the grounds that it is “weird” and “theologically extremely problematic.”[19] Weird it may be, but weirdness is not an adequate test for truth.  It is theologically problematic for on Dembski’s scheme God is responsible for P, and thus the creator of natural evil.[20] We have already responded to the way Southgate conflates natural evil with moral evil. But this objection is further ill conceived, for God is the creator of the same amount of natural evil on Southgate’s theology. Unlike Southgate, Dembski is up-front about this weakness. He says the fact that God created this evil (whether actively or by permission) is “a bitter pill to swallow.” Yet it is a pill that brings us the promise of redemption.[21]

Wrapping Up

If a defence manages to show that there is no POE, this will greatly diminish the need for a theodicy. Our review concluded that there is an external POE in a probabilistic form, the potency of which is severely diminished by the resources of Christian theism. Thus, apart from the emotional force of P given evolutionary theory,[22] Southgate’s evolutionary theodicy is strictly unnecessary. We have considered Southgate’s dismissals and objections, and constructed a framework for a theodicy that preserves Christian orthodox teachings regarding God’s omnipotence, benevolence and a cosmic fall that traces back to human sin, in the current mental environment that accepts evolutionary theory and a long history of predation. This compound theodicy proceeds by arguing there is no reason to think that natural evil is actually morally evil or that animal suffering is wrong, and good reason to think that it is not wrong by distinguishing different levels of pain and affirming the possibility that God has sufficient reason for allowing P in the animal kingdom.

In Part Three I will include the Appendices and Bibliography.


Footnotes

[1] Southgate quotes; “. . . this is the appointed order of things transitory. Of this order the beauty does not strike us, because of our mortal frailty we are so involved in a part of it, that we cannot perceive the whole, in which these fragments that offend us are harmonized with the most accurate fitness and beauty.” The City of God, 12, 4, quoted in A. Richard Kingston, “Theodicy and Animal Welfare,” Theology 70 (November 1967): 485. Also in Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation; God, Evolution, and the Problem of Evil (Louisville, KE.; Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 3.

[2] He states, “It is true we can never see into the mind of animals. But we do know some. We have scientific examples of animals under not merely physiological response but actual suffering . . . intense and protracted pain and/or fear among creatures, particularly when the creature senses there is no chance of relief, may justifiably be termed suffering, and there is ample evidence that exists, particularly in creatures that have complex brains processing information from pain-detection systems.” Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 4.

[3] Cited in William Lane Craig, “Nature’s Flaws and Cruelties” n.p. Reasonable Faith, Question 134. Cited 8 November 2010. Online: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7645 See Also Michael Murray, Nature Red in Tooth and Claw: Theism and the Problem of Animal Suffering, (Oxford University Press, 2009).

[4] William Lane Craig, “Animal Suffering” n.p. Reasonable Faith, Question 113. Cited 8 November 2010. Online: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7215

[5] “Or take that weird experiment that showed that looking at a paining body part through the reverse side of the binoculars, and hence making the part appear smaller, made the pain feel smaller.  . . . One might, for instance, come to one of two conclusions: (a) human conceptual abilities make pains less bad than they would be in a critter without these abilities; or (b) human conceptual abilities make pains worse than they would be in a critter without these abilities (or one might think that sometimes (a) is true and sometimes (b) is true).” Trent Dougherty, “Animal Pain and Animal Resurrection and Humanization: Somewhere between theodicy and defense” n.p. Alexander Pruss, comment 30 September 2010, Cited 8 November 2010. Online: http://prosblogion.ektopos.com/archives/2010/09/animal-pain-and.html

[6] In response he affirms the nonhuman world is of value, because God (A) created it, (B) pronounced it good, (C) sustains it in existence, (D) nurtures it with love. He concludes that the sufferings of the nonhuman world must be involved in theodicy. Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 4.

[7] The following reasons would all apply if P were comparable in type and intensity to human suffering. However, as I have argued, by distinguishing Levels of pain, there is no reason for us to think that it is so, thereby eliminating the need for the following considerations.

[8] Richard Dawkins provides an amusing example. His bicycle had broken down and with it his temper. Yelling at the bike he realized that it really couldn’t understand him. Some psychologists believe HADD is a tendency that is hard wired into our brains.

[9] William Lane Craig, “Nature’s Flaws and Cruelties” n.p. Reasonable Faith, Question 134. Cited 8 November 2010. Online: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=7645

[10] Christoper Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 29.

[11] Ibid., 16.

[12] I have already argued that this is dubious with three reasons that could assume animal suffering is similar in type and intensity to human suffering, and with one reason that argues animal suffering is not similar.

[13] For an explanation see Stuart McEwing, “Southgate’s “only way” the Wrong Way: God’s Omnipotence and Benevolence in the Problem of Natural Evil,” n.p. Thinking Matters. Citied 18 December 2010. Online http://thinkingmatters.org.nz/2010/12/southgates-only-way-the-wrong-way/.

[14] His critique is of Michael Lloyd’s two papers. Michael Lloyd, “Are Animals Fallen?” in Animals on the Agenda: Questions about Animals for Theology and Ethics, ed. Andrew Linzey and Bdorothy Yamamoto (London: SMC Prress, 1998), 147-60; “The Humanity and Fallenness” in Grace and Truth in a Secular Age, ed. Timothy Bradshaw, 66-82 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). A breakdown of these categories is given by Daniel J. Dyke, “Was Evil Present in God’s Very Good world?” n.p. Reasons to Believe. Cited 2 November 2010. Online: http://www.reasons.org/interpreting-genesis/animal-death-before-adam/WasEvilPresentinGodsVeryGoodWorld

[15] Some theologians (C. S. Lewis for example, as well as Michael Lloyd) hypothesize Satan’s fall as responsible for natural evil. If this is the case, Satan’s fall could have been before the foundation of the planet and thus show no different modus operandi of the biosphere in the geological record. This would also preserve the idea that natural evil is the result of a personal agents moral evil. Dembski finds this solution difficult exegetically and problematic theologically, for on this scheme God nevertheless is still responsible for allowing Satan to ravage an innocent creation. God’s inaction is a necessary condition for any evil occurrence.

[16] Southgate refers to Demski’s online paper “Christian Theodicy in Light of Genesis and Modern Science.” This work is no longer available, however his thoughts have been expanded and developed in a full length book, The End of Christianity; Finding a Good God in an Evil World, (Nashville, TE.; B&E Publishing, 2009).

[17] This is based on the insight that there are two Greek words that translate for time. Chronos, which means approximately a duration, i.e. “he took his time,” or “at the time of the changing of the guards,” and Karios, which signifies intentionality, i.e. “in the fullness of time,” or “at the appointed time.”

[18] As Newcomb’s paradox demonstrates, the usual metaphysical rule of backwards causation does not apply when dealing with an omniscient God.

[19] Christopher Southgate, The Groaning of Creation, 146.

[20] Southgate’s nomenclature is “ontological evil,” which is at once philosophically problematic; evil has no ontos, just as ice has no warmth. Evil is privation.

[21] William Dembski, The End of Christianity, 150. Dembski leaves this thought largely undeveloped. He does minimally state that God brings about natural evil to free us from the more insidious evil in our hearts.

[22] For further development of this see Stuart McEwing, “Why Southgate’s “co-suffering” Argument Suffers: The Intrusion of the Emotional Problem of Evil in Evolutionary Theodicy,” n.p. Thinking Matters. Citied 19 December 2010. Online http://thinkingmatters.org.nz/2010/12/why-southgates-co-suffering-argument-suffers/

The Problem of Evil: Part One

The task of reconciling the evil in this world with the goodness of God and his creation belongs to a branch of Christian theology called Theodicy. This task has been exacerbated in the past century and half by evolutionary theory that makes us acutely aware of the long-ages past filled with animal suffering. Developing a theodicy is of particular interest to the Christian theologian who seeks to make Christianity credible in the mental environment and requires the analytical tools of the Philosophy of Religion.[1]

The need for a theodicy is directly proportional to the force of the Problem of Evil (POE). Part One of this essay will therefore briefly survey different articulations of the POE and strategies that seek to explain or refute the force of those arguments. In Part Two, I will develop a framework for my own theodicy.

The Logical Problem of Evil

The logical POE has endured throughout the centuries until recent years. Its goal is to show that God does not exist. It is best put forth by David Hume, “Is he [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?”[2] From this the following premises can be articulated.

1)       An all-powerful and all-loving God exists.
2)       Evil exists.

It is claimed by the proponent of the logical POE that both these premises are incompatible. Alvin Plantinga’s work has significantly developed discussion on the problem such that today it is largely considered by philosophers to be solved.[3] First he points out that the hidden assumptions needed to draw out an explicit contradiction are not necessarily true and their proof is a load far too heavy to bear. These hidden premises are the following.

3)       If God is all-powerful, then he can create any world he desires.
4)       If God is all-loving, then he prefers a world with less evil than the actual world.

Secondly, he provides reasons why we should consider both (3) and (4) as possible[4] – reasons which we shall explore in responding to Paul Draper and Christopher Southgate. Thirdly, he provides a fifth premise that shows that (1) and (2) are actually consistent. This premise is as follows.

5)  God could not[5] have created a world that had so much good as the actual world but had less evil, both in terms of quantity and quality; and, moreover, God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil that exists.[6]

The Probabilistic Problem of Evil

The probabilistic POE is more difficult to dispel. This argument admits there is no logical contradiction between (1) and (2), but submits that their compatibility is extremely unlikely. It seeks to show that God’s existence is not impossible, but improbable given the amount of evil and suffering in the world. Three considerations are available that offset the force of this argument.

First, probabilities should always be assessed with respect to the background knowledge. If evil were to be taken in isolation, then the theist could freely admit that it provides grounds for the improbability of God’s existence. However, the theist should insist that evil be assessed relative to the full scope of evidence for God’s existence. Second, we are not in any position to know or assess if God has no morally sufficient reason for permitting the evils in the world. God’s foreknowledge extends perfectly into the distant future, while we are limited creatures who can only guess at the ripples effects any purported evil will accomplish in time. Third, there are certain Christian doctrines that render the compatibility of evil and God’s existence more probable.

That is to say, Pr(Evil/God & Other Christian doctrine) > Pr(Evil/God). William Lane Craig explicates four such doctrines. First, that the purpose of this life is not human happiness, but the knowledge of God. Second, humans are in a state of rebellion against God. Third, God’s purposes do not cease with the grave but are eternal. Fourth, the knowledge of God is an incommensurable good.[7]

The External Problem of Evil

These previous two arguments are internal[8] and have largely been abandoned. However, an external POE remains. This argument argues that God’s existence[9] and the existence of gratuitous evil are incompatible. Although the Christian theist is not committed to the premise that gratuitous evil exists, the objector will nevertheless try to show in an evidential fashion that it is true that gratuitous evil exists. (This is where evolutionary theory and a long primordial history of the world enter into our discussion, for with these the amount of evil and suffering in the world is dramatically increased.) The considerations given to answer the probabilistic POE will equally apply to natural evil as it does to moral evil.[10]

Paul Draper, an atheist philosopher at Purdue University, has used evolutionary theory as evidence to support his POE argument. Taking Theism (T) and Naturalism (N) as hypotheses, he asks which best explains the amount of evil we observe relative to the evolutionary process (E) and the distribution of pleasure/pain (P). By evaluating the simplicity and the explanatory power of each hypothesis he concludes that Naturalism is more probably true.

Draper’s argument is based on three dubious assumptions.[11] First, that the intrinsic probability of Theism and Naturalism are equal; i.e. Pr(N) = Pr(T). Draper admits his case depends on, “all things being equal,” but this judgment depends on the background evidence that should include any independent reason for or against God’s existence.[12] Second, that the probability of the distribution of pleasure/pain in a world with evolution and Naturalism is greater than a world with evolution and Theism, i.e. Pr(P/E&N) > Pr (P/E&T). However, as creatures with limited knowledge we have no reason to suppose that we are in any epistemic position to accurately weigh the distribution of pain and pleasure with any good that has or may yet result. Third, that the probability of evolution on Naturalism is greater than the probability of evolution is on Theism, i.e. Pr(E/N) > Pr(E/T). However, the evolution of biological organisms is dependent on the existence of biological organisms (B). He is thus actually arguing for Pr(E/N&B) > Pr(E/T&B), which with dubious in light of insights gained from the Intelligent Design community.[13]

In Part Two, while examining the evolutionary theodicy of Christopher Southgate and William Dembski interesting theodicy a framework for my own theodicy will develop.


Footnotes

[1] Plantinga has distinguished a difference between what he calls a “defense” and a “theodicy.” A defense will show that the proponent of the POE fails to carry his objection, while a theodicy will be an attempt at explaining why there is evil and suffering in the world.

[2] David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, ed. Norman Kemp Smith (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1980), part 10, p. 198.

[3] Evidence of this is its absence in professional philosophical literature. See William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove, IL.; InterVarsity Press, 2003), 541.

[4] For the logical POE, these reasons need not be plausible. They only need to be possible and the alleged incompatibility is broken.

[5] The “could not” should not be considered a limitation in divine omnipotence, but should be construed as there being no feasible world of free-creatures that God could have created.

[6] William Lane Craig and J. P. Moreland, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, (Downers Grove, IL.; InterVarsity Press, 2003) 541.

[7] Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 544-8

[8] An internal argument is a versions of the POE that is formulated with premises (1) and (2), both of which the orthodox Christian community is committed to. It seeks to expose an inner tension within the Christian worldview and thereby show that God’s existence is either impossible or implausible.

[9] God here defined minimally as an omnipotent and omnibenevolent being.

[10] I include animal suffering as one aspect of natural evil, which would also include earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, mass extinction events, pestilence, etc.

[11] The most fundamental flaw in Draper’s argument is his affirmation that gratuitous evil exists with his definition of Naturalism; namely, the affirmation that nothing but the “natural world” exists. (natural world = def. “By the “natural world,” I mean the collection of all existing physical entities (past, present, and future) together with any entities whose existence depends (either causally or ontologically) on the existence of those entities. “Natural” entities are entities that are part of the natural world so defined, and a “supernatural” entity, if there is such a thing, is simply an entity that can affect the natural world despite not being a part of it.”) Evil is however a non-physical property whose existence relies on objective moral values which cannot rightly be assigned to set of things natural. Naturalism does not, in principle, have the explanatory resources for the existence of evil. His argument is then, at bottom, a non-starter by begging the question.

[12] For instance, evidence accrued from Natural Theology or from personal experience.

[13] This would include the origin of complex and highly specified information in biological organisms, as well as the fine-tuning of the conditions necessary for existence of biological life, a life-sustaining planet and universe. See Hugh Ross, “RTB Design Compendium,” Reasons to Believe. Cited 8 November 2010. Online: http://www.reasons.org/links/hugh/research-notes

Roger Nicole, 1915 – 2010

Evangelical scholar and reformed theologian Roger Nicole passed away yesterday at the age of 95. Dr Nicole was a lesser-known theologian, but his leadership and writing has had an enormous influence on theology in the latter half of the twentieth century. A native Swiss Reformed theologian and a Baptist, Dr Nicole was an associate editor for the New Geneva Study Bible and aided in the translation of the NIV Bible. He taught for over 40 years at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and was a past president and founding member of the Evangelical Theological Society. Among his many articles and authored works, Dr Nicole’s largest contributions were in the areas of the atonement, the thought of John Calvin, and the doctrine of Scripture. His stalwart defense of Biblical inerrancy alongside other Evangelicals such as Jim Boice, RC Sproul, Jim Packer, and Carl F. H. Henry (Dr Nicole was a founding member of the International Council on Biblical Inerrancy) has left an important and enduring legacy for a generation of evangelicals.

In his introduction to a biography of Dr Nicole, J. I. Packer wrote:

“For a man of such power of mind, clarity of thought, range of knowledge and strength in argument, Roger’s patience and courtesy toward the less well favored is a marvel that has become a legend. He was said when first I knew him to have learned to greet people in something like fifty different languages so that he could always welcome overseas students and make them feel at home. Such sweet pastoral care in the conventional coolness of academia is also the stuff of legend, and deservedly so. No one could ever accuse Roger of throwing his weight about; very much a Swiss gentlemen in style, he is also a gentle man and a great encourager, overflowing with goodwill at all times. He has been a model for me in this, as in so much more. Roger stands at the head of my private list of persons worth celebrating, and I am sure I am not the only one who would say that.”

For more about Dr Nicole and his work, Justin Taylor has much more detail on his blog, while Colin Hansen has also posted tributes from Mark Dever, Tim Keller, and Don Carson.

We thank the Lord for Dr Nicole’s service and work for the cause of Christ and the good of the church. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.

Audio from the Evangelical Philosophical Society Apologetics Conferences

The EPS has just made available all of their conference lectures on their website for download. And not just the audio from this year’s conference but from all of their apologetics-themed conferences up until 2003. That’s around 180 lectures. This is an enormous resource. The downloadable mp3s each cost $1.99 (USD) but this is a small price to pay to hear top scholars such as J. P. Moreland, Craig, Paul Copan, Dr. Ben Witherington III, Dr. R. Douglas Geivett  (and our very own New Zealand apologist, Matt Flannagan), and many, many more. While talks and debates by apologists such as Craig, Habermas, and Moreland are readily available on the web already, it is great to have access to lectures by Stephen T. Davis, Chad Meister, Charles Taliaferro–thinkers that we don’t normally have access to online.

The material is organized topically:

And also by conference year:

Be sure to take advantage of this wealth of great teaching and let us know anything that you particularly enjoyed or would recommend.

Two New Books about Christianity and the Life of the Mind

It does not take much investigation to see that the Christian church no longer values the life of the mind and the pursuit of knowledge as highly as it once did. While there may be encouraging signs of change within Evangelicalism, for many the mind is still viewed with indifference, confusion, and sometimes suspicion. The Bible, however, commands us to use our minds and calls us to thinking that is rigorous, passionate, and God-centered. The writers of the New Testament make it clear that we cannot feel or act out our faith as responsible Christians unless we first think as Christians (Romans 12:2, Ephesians 4:23).

Crossway Books has recently published two new books to help Christians in this area. Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God is authored by well-known pastor and author, John Piper, and The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life is penned by associate professor of Christian studies at Union University, Bradley G. Green. Both titles look deeply at the task and privilege of thinking and how this is encouraged and sustained by the Christian worldview. With Christmas near, these books provide a great opportunity to fill the stocking of your friend or loved one with something that has both spiritual substance and intellectual bite.

Think: The Life of the Mind and the Love of God

In Think, Piper seeks to develop a considered theology of thinking that demonstrates it’s importance and necessity for the Christian life. Far from neglecting our emotions and our experience of God, he shows how our minds are in fact indispensable to knowing God better, loving him more, and caring for the world. We don’t have to choose between either our hearts or our minds, instead Piper argues that thinking carefully about God and done to His glory actually fuels passion and affections for God.

Endorsements:

“Piper has done it again. His outstanding book Think promises to shepherd a generation about the Christian commitment to the life of the mind. Deeply biblical and uniquely balanced, Think practices what it preaches: it is an accessible, intellectually rich study that calls the reader to renewed love for God and others.”
J. P. Moreland, Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

“An essential dimension of Christian discipleship is the life of the mind, and this may well be the most neglected Christian responsibility of our times. God has made us intelligible creatures, and he has given us the stewardship of intellectual faculties that should drive us to think in ways that bring him greatest glory. In this new book, John Piper provides brilliant analysis, warm encouragement, and a faithful model of Christian thinking. This book is a primer for Christian thinking that is urgently needed in our time.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Thinking—the alert, meticulous, probing, logical, critical use of the mind—will be a highway either to godliness or to its opposite, depending on how it is done. Taking leads from Jonathan Edwards, John Piper surefootedly plots the true path here. His book should be, and I hope will be, widely read.”
J. I. Packer, Professor of Theology, Regent College; author, Knowing God

The Gospel and the Mind: Recovering and Shaping the Intellectual Life

In The Gospel and the Mind, Bradley Green carefully examines the nature of the relationship between the Christian worldview and the life of the mind. He endeavours to the show that it is not an accident of history that (to use the phrase articulated by D. Bruce Lockerbie) wherever the cross is planted, the academy follows. By distilling several key concepts that are necessary for a flourishing and meaningful intellectual life – creation and the importance of history, the centrality of a telos to all things, the value of words – Green then argues that it is the Christian worldview that uniquely provides these preconditions. His book is not only a compelling argument for Christianity but also immensely practical: reminding us of the fact that the cross rescued not just our souls and bodies, but also our minds.

[vimeo id=”16898930″]

[vimeo id=”16899052″]

Endorsements:

“This remarkable and ground-breaking book is an adventure to read. Green argues convincingly that there is a strong link between Christian faith and the intellectual life of human beings. Given the Christian theological vision of God, human beings, and the world, learning has both a foundation and an animating purpose. Apart from Christian views of creation, history, and redemption, learning is adrift and without ultimate purpose. I strongly recommend this book for all those who long for the recovery of a vibrant intellectual life in our time.”
Stephen Davis, Russell K. Pitzer Professor of Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College

“The Enlightenment teaching that reason is a neutral universal act of thought free of tradition has been as decisively refuted as any philosophical theory can be. But the question remains of how to understand the embededness of reason in tradition. Green makes a convincing argument that Christianity contains just those foundational beliefs about reality that make the life of the mind possible. Christians who for two centuries have anxiously tried to conform their teachings to Enlightenment reason will discover—perhaps to their astonishment—that it is the gospel that makes reason in its fullest sense possible.”
Donald Livingston, Professor of Philosophy, Emory University