Does evil logically disprove the existence of God?— The Problem of Evil (Part 2)

In the last post I gave a brief introduction to the study of the problem of evil, covering the two basic forms of the problem and some preliminary definitions. You can view that post here. This week I want to dig a little deeper into the logical problem of evil and see if it can be answered.

THE LOGICAL PROBLEM

The logical problem of evil says that God (as defined by Scripture), and evil cannot both logically exist in the same possible world.[1] Since evil and suffering clearly exist, God must not exist. Two mutually exclusive things cannot coexist. For example, a poison that would kill any creature is a perfectly logical possibility, yet so is the idea of a creature that could drink any poison and live. However, it is logically impossible for both to exist in the same possible world. This is the type of contradiction alleged by the logical problem. Even assuming that God could exist, and that evil could exist, both could not exist in the same possible world. Since it is evident that evil exists in our world, God cannot exist.

Instead of examining David Hume’s version of the problem as mentioned in the last post, we will turn to someone a little more recent: the Australian philosopher John Mackie. Mackie writes, “In its simplest form the problem is this: God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; yet evil exists. There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true the third would be false.”[2] Out of all the responses to the logical problem of Evil, Alvin Plantinga’s recent response is without question the most well known. In God, Freedom, and Evil, Plantinga attempts to show that there is no logical problem with the three propositions (1) God is omnipotent, (2) God is wholly good, and (3) Evil exists, as Mackie posits. In apparent contradictions such as these, all that needs to be produced is an additional proposition that is consistent with each of the propositions already mentioned. Consider this set for an example: (A) Tom despises garbage dumps, (B) It is within Tom’s power to avoid all garbage dumps, and (C) Tom spends hours every day at a garbage dump. Mackie’s words fit here as well “There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions,”[3] however a fourth proposition can make sense of it all. (D) Tom makes 50 dollars an hour working at the city garbage dump. Likewise, all Plantinga has to do is find an additional proposition that is consistent with each in the set 1-3.

Art by Chris Koelle. From the illustrated poem by John Piper "Job."

Art by Chris Koelle. From the illustrated poem by John Piper “Job.”

Finding a proposition that would be consistent with both Christian theism, and propositions 1-3 above is actually quite simple. Plantinga gives us this proposition: (3’) “God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so.”[4] It may sound simplistic, but it is immediately apparent that the “problem,” as stated, is less than an explicitly logical one. However, it would be less than honest to stop here and say that (3’) has solved Mackie’s problem. This is because Mackie himself realized that 1-3 where not explicitly contradictory. He proceeded to propose three more propositions which he believed would seal the deal.

(4) “Good is opposed to evil, in such a way that a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can”[5] and, (5) “there are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do.”[6] From these clarifications of what Mackie means by “good” and “omnipotent” a further proposition could be deduced which would finally produce a logical problem. He writes, (6) “a good, omnipotent being eliminates evil completely,”[7] and of course this would be a direct contradiction to 1-3 (if we include the fact of God’s omniscience—an easy escape-route for the theist that Mackie seemed to have overlooked. For example, if God was oblivious to evil He could not be morally responsible to do anything about it). We will add God’s omniscience to proposition (1). So far the propositions are as follows:

  1. God is omnipotent and omniscient.
  2. God is wholly good.
  3. Evil exists.
  4. A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can.
  5. There are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do.
  6. A good omnipotent being eliminates evil completely.

It is true that (6) logically follows from (4) and (5), and that if (6) is true then 1-3 cannot be, and therefore God cannot exist if Evil does. But are 4-5 true? Not obviously. If either is found lacking, then (6) breaks down, and the contradiction no longer exists. Plantinga first tackles proposition (5). “There are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do.”[8] This is clearly not true; no matter how powerful a being is, it cannot do what is logically impossible for example.[9] God cannot create another uncreated being, or make a rock too heavy to lift, or both exist and not exist. So, immediately we must rephrase (5) to “There are no nonlogical limits to what an omnipotent thing can do,” and with it proposition (6).[10] Proposition (6) now reads, “A good, omnipotent being eliminates all evil that is logically possible to eliminate.” Strictly speaking the contradiction is already eradicated (6 no longer explicitly contradicts 1-3), but there is still more.

Consider now, (4), “A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can.”[11] This is not strictly true either. Consider this example: in order to graduate on time, Kyle was forced to take an 8 A.M. class three days a week in the final semester of his senior year (a period which he consistently tried to avoid). Doing so required Kyle to wake up earlier than he preferred, to miss seeing his wife in the mornings, and to experience much heavier traffic than he had in previous semesters. Upon hearing of Kyle’s dilemma, his professor contrived a solution. The next day Kyle received an email explaining that he had been graciously expelled him from his 8A.M. class. From that time on, Kyle could sleep in every morning, could eat breakfast with his wife, and would miss the brunt of the morning traffic. His professor had eliminated the evil conditions that Kyle was facing. While few would say that the professor’s actions where “good”—Kyle could no longer graduate on time—no one can deny that they where consistent with (4). Therefore proposition (4) should be modified to read, “A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can, as long as doing so does not create a greater evil or obstruct a good that outweighs that evil.” Proposition (6) now needs to be updated to reflect the changes to (4): (6) “A good, omnipotent being eliminates all evil that is logically possible to eliminate and which does not create a greater evil or obstruct a good that outweighs that evil.”

In updating the entire set it becomes clear that the alleged contradiction has disappeared.

  1. God is omnipotent and omniscient
  2. God is wholly good
  3. Evil exists
  4. A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can as long as doing so does not create a greater evil, or obstruct a good that outweighs that evil
  5. There are no nonlogical limits to what an omnipotent thing can do
  6. A good, omnipotent being eliminates all evil that is logically possible to eliminate and which does not create a greater evil or obstruct a good that outweighs that evil.

Clearly, (6) does not explicitly contradict 1-3, and in reality the theist’s work is done. All that really needed to be shown was that 1-3 (or the expanded 1-6) does not contain a contradiction. The atheist must now attempt to argue that there is no logically-possible scenario in which God could not eliminate evil without either creating a greater evil or obstructing a greater good. On the other hand, the theist, if he so desired, could postulate such a scenario and call the game. Doing so is beyond the scope of this post, besides, many have already done this work. One such example is Plantinga’s “Free-Will Defense” detailed in God, Freedom, and Evil[12] (the book in which much of the preceding logic originated). Plantinga’s Free-Will Defense (FWD) is so well developed that it has almost entirely eradicated the logical problem of evil from the arguments of serious philosophers today.[13] It must be understood that whether or not one believes in the truth of his scenario is irrelevant; in order for it to fail it must be shown to be logically impossible since the logical problem of evil charges the theist with a logical contradiction.[14]

It is clear from Plantinga’s work on this subject that there is no logical inconsistency between the existence of God and our experience of evil. Next time on the blog we will consider a more prevalent version of the problem used today.

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[1]See Ronald Nash for an explanation of “Possible Worlds.” Ronald H. Nash, Life’s Ultimate Questions (Zondervan, 1999), 209–227.

[2]Basil Mitchell, The Philosophy of Religion (Oxford University Press, USA, 1971), 92–93.

[3]Ibid., 93.

[4]Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, 26.

[5]Mitchell, The Philosophy of Religion, 93.

[6]Ibid.

[7]Ibid.

[8]Ibid.

[9]McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity Vol. 1, 218–219; Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, 17–18.

[10]Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, 21.

[11]Mitchell, The Philosophy of Religion, 93.

[12]Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil.

[13]Chad Meister, Introducing Philosophy of Religion (Routledge, 2009), 134.

[14]Douglas Groothuis, Christian Apologetics: A Comprehensive Case for Biblical Faith (IVP Academic, 2011), 631.

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What’s the problem? — The Problem of Evil (Part 1)

The following series of posts under the title “The Problem of Evil” are an adaption of a paper I wrote in 2012. I made a number of changes in an effort to make the content clearer and more ‘blog-friendly.’ I want to thank my wife and my friend Gary Fields for their help along those lines.

 

file6461281015948THE PROBLEM OF EVIL — What’s the problem?
The God of the Bible has revealed to us many of His varied and wonderful attributes through Scripture. We learn He is eternal, good, wise, just, and powerful (just to name a few). He possesses these qualities in their infinite forms, and they are eternally inseparable from His essence. He is not, for example, simply knowledgeable, He is omniscient—His knowledge is the epitome of knowledge. His goodness, the epitome of goodness. Of course, this is perfectly acceptable when our eyes are glued to the pages of our favorite systematic theology, but when we gaze at the world around us, we may encounter a problem. If these things are true about God, shouldn’t our world be different—better? If God is loving and powerful, why does He allow the vast amounts of evil we see around us? This problem—“the problem of evil”—is classically stated by David Hume. “Is [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?”[1] The problem of evil is a common defeater argument used by atheists to disprove or discredit Christianity. Understanding the argument (in its various forms) is an invaluable tool in apologetics.

Hume’s formulation of the problem could be categorized as the logical problem of evil. Since Hume, there have been many other atheist philosophers who have levied variations of this argument against the existence of God. In addition to the logical problem of evil there is the probabilistic problem of evil (or the “evidential problem”), which has arisen more recently, and is the predominant form of the problem used today.[2] Over the coming weeks I want to deal with the problem of evil (in its two major forms) and then work toward a biblical theodicy (that is, a theory of the actual truths about God and the world which reconcile His power and goodness to the evil we experience).

DEFINITIONS AND PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS
Before continuing any further, it will be helpful to define terms. First, while variations of the problem of evil can apply to all sorts of theistic belief systems (Judaism, Islam, etc.), here, we will deal with the problem from a distinctly Christian perspective. All of God’s attributes, traditionally understood within orthodox Christianity, will be presupposed. For example, there will be no need to examine defenses that deny God’s omniscience because these defenses disqualify themselves by virtue of contradicting the clear teachings of Scripture.

Another term that should be defined is evil. Here, evil will be used in a broad sense. It can mean human evil (understood to mean the negative effects of a choice of a free-agent), or natural evil (evils that exist outside of man’s power, such as natural disasters and sickness).[3] Some may point out that evil is sometimes understood in terms of privation. That is, evil does not have substance of its own, but is the lack of something good.[4] This may be true, but the problem of evil still stands. How can God, who is intrinsically good, allow the world to lack any goodness? Defining evil in terms of privation does not solve the problem of evil.

We should also clarify what we mean by problem. As was mentioned before, the problem of evil is typically divided into two categories; first, there is the logical problem of evil, and second, there is the probabilistic problem of evil (more commonly known as the “evidential problem”). The first attempts to prove that the biblical God and the existence of evil are logically incompatible. The second does not claim a logical problem per se, but claims that given the amount of evil observable in the world, the existence of God is highly improbable.

Finally, we should clarify the difference between what is considered a defense with regard to the problem of evil, and what is called a theodicy. While every theodicy is a defense, not every defense is a theodicy. A defense merely attempts to find a state of affairs that could possibly be; while a theodicy attempts to reveal the state of affairs that actually is, both, of course, aiming to solve the problem.[5] We will examine some popular attempts at theodicy in a future post.

To conclude, we will also discuss the problem from a pastoral perspective, and then work toward a biblical theodicy. Afterword, if the time can be found, I would like to turn the tables on the skeptic and deal with what could be called the “atheist’s problem of evil.”

I hope you will stick with me over the coming weeks as we explore this important topic. If you would like email updates of this blog you can subscribe for free on the upper right side of this page.

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[1]David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (Merchant Books, 2009), 81.

[2]Bruce A. Little, God, Why This Evil? (Hamilton Books, 2010), 5–6.

[3]Alvin Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1978), 30.

[4]Saint Augustine, Confessions (Simon & Brown, 2012), 113; Little, God, Why This Evil?, 83.

[5]Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil, 27–28.

What is Baptism?

“To be baptized is the first step of obedience as a Christian, implying a commitment to live a life of faithfulness to the Lord Jesus.”[1] While Christians from many denominations may agree with this statement, the answer to the question “what is baptism” finds much less unity. Some believe it is sprinkling, others pouring, but Baptists and other baptistic churches believe it is immersion.

DOES IT REALLY MATTER?
Baptism is part of the Great Commission given to the New Testament Church (Matt 28:19). It is clearly a duty of local congregations to baptize (Matt 28:19, Acts 2:41) and of Christians to be baptized (Acts 2:38, 10:48). What “baptism” is, then, is of great significance to our Ecclesiology and to the Christian life in general.

The Christian life was never meant to be practiced alone. Converts are immediately (passively) added to the Body of Christ (Acts 12:13), and are supposed to (actively) identify themselves with a local assembly of that body (Acts 2:28). Any concept of regenerate believers roaming solo would have been completely foreign in the early Church. Alva J. McClain writes, “Had we asked the believers of the Apostolic period whether it was essential to join a church, they would not have known what we were talking about. Every believer became a member of a church. It was involved in the very profession he made in Christ.”[2]

One can see this from the very inception of the Church. Acts 2:41-42 gives a condensed view of the chronological progression: “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls. And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” They were saved (“those who received his word” was a “euphemistic expression for regeneration, repentance, and faith”[3]), baptized, “added” (church membership), and devoted themselves to doctrine, fellowship, communion, and prayer. Notice that this is an umbrella statement of all who were saved—it does not say “and some of those who were saved decided to stick around, get baptized, and some even joined the church.” All who were saved identified with the congregation through baptism, and continued on in fellowship and communion. Anything less would have been unthinkable.[4]

If, then, local church membership is a requirement for all believers, and baptism is its prerequisite, one should know exactly what “baptism” is, and how it is supposed to be administered. In other words, what is the “mode” of baptism. The “mode” matters because God does not give us empty doctrines or words to which we can attach or fill in our own meanings. Every doctrine—every word!—has an intentional meaning, and to misunderstand its meaning is potentially to disobey.

THE MEANING OF THE WORD
The English word “baptism” is simply a transliteration of the Greek word βαπτίζω (baptizo) which means “dip,” “submerge,” or “immerse.”[5] Rolland McCune states that this is a fact “recognized by all Greek lexicons.”[6] Thomas J. Nettles agrees, “That the word translated ‘baptize’ (Greek baptizo) literally means ‘immerse’ is a matter of little, if any, dispute.”[7] Even Gerald Bray (an Anglican) admits that it “means ‘dipping’ or ‘immersion,’” yet denies that immersion is the only valid mode.[8] Similarly, John Calvin writes, “it is evident that the term baptize means to immerse,” but does not believe it matters much what mode a church adopts; he continues, “Whether the person baptized is to be wholly immersed, and that whether once or thrice, or whether he is only to be sprinkled with water, is not of the least consequence.”[9] But to admit that the word “baptize” means “immerse” and then to continue speaking of sprinkling as “baptism” is disingenuous. The word is the mode. Once the word is defined, the only questions one could have about “mode” would concern, “such things as whether it should be in a tank, a stream, or a lake and, probably by extension to today, whether the candidate should lean back, sit on a chair or get on his knees.”[10] To speak of “immersion by sprinkling,” or “immersion by pouring” is nonsense.

In Baptism: Three Views, Bruce Ware points out that “When washing or sprinkling are in view, the more common words used are louo, nipto or rhaino.”[11] Even if we grant that βαπτίζω had other, lesser-used meanings, no reason can be found for why the writers of scripture (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews) would consistently use βαπτίζω (or derivatives) when better words existed to express their intended meaning (if, in fact, sprinkling was in view).

It seems that if the translators of the early English Bibles would have simply translated the word βαπτίζω, instead of transliterating it, the challenges to baptism today would be far fewer. In spite of the unanimity of lexicons regarding βαπτίζω, and the existence of other, more appropriate words for sprinkling, many still are not convinced. Richard L. Pratt Jr. says that, “scholars continue to debate the precise meaning of [the word] baptism because the evidence is not entirely clear.”[12] It is difficult to imagine what type of evidence he is looking for, or how he can accept any of Scripture’s teachings with such an unappeasable requirement for clarity. Nevertheless, there are further, non-grammatical, evidences for immersion.

BAPTISM ACCOUNTS
Another line of evidence that clearly points to baptism by immersion has to do with the attending circumstances in the various baptism accounts in the New Testament. One example comes from John 3:23, which reads, “John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized.” What was the reason they were baptizing in this particular location? Because the “water was plentiful there.” Baptists and Paedobaptists alike should be able to recognize that “plentiful” water is not needed for sprinkling water on foreheads.[13] A similar argument can be made from the story of the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. “And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?” (8:36). Grudem comments, “Apparently neither of them thought that sprinkling or pouring a handful of water from the container of drinking water that would have been carried in the chariot was enough to constitute baptism …baptism by immersion is the only satisfactory explanation of this narrative.”[14]

THE PREPOSITIONS USED
It is helpful to return again to the grammar used in the New Testament when describing baptism. Not only does it consistently use the word βαπτίζω meaning “immerse,” it also consistently uses prepositions that point strongly towards baptism by immersion. Mark 1:5 reads, “And all the country of Judea and all Jerusalem were going out to him and were being baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.” Just four verses later Mark says, “In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.” Here, the propositions translated “in” are the Greek words έν (en vs. 5) and εἰς (eis vs. 6). While some legitamatly point out that έν (vs. 5) can sometimes mean “with,”[15] εἰς is more direct; It literally means “into,” or “in.” (In either case, both verses are good evidence for immersion). To say that someone “baptized with the river Jordan” would be awkward to say the least.

Gustave Dore's "The Baptism of Jesus"

Gustave Dore’s “The Baptism of Jesus”

If one continues reading in Mark’s Gospel he will find another evidence just one verse later. Mark 1:10 reads, “And straightway coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened, and the Spirit like a dove descending upon him.” That is ἀναβαίνω (anabainō “up”) and ἐκ (ek “out”). The only way one could remove immersion from this passage would be to have Jesus standing in the river when He was sprinkled (as many classic paintings do). But if this were the case than the Holy Spirit did not descend on Jesus until after he waded to the edge of the river, and climbed “up out of the water” onto the shore! If this were the case than the Spirit’s descent was not directly related to Christ’s baptism, but to his exiting of the river. What is the significance in that? Clearly, the prepositions used in conjunction with the baptism accounts point clearly to the fact that baptism in the New Testament was by immersion.

THE SYMBOLISM OF BAPTISM
While various aspects of salvation can be pictured by baptism (e.g. “washing away of sins” Ac 22:16),[16] the most basic and central picture is that of Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection for our sins.[17] The death, burial, and resurrection of Christ is explicitly linked with Spirit baptism in Romans 6:4, Gal 3:27, and Col 2:12 (compare I Cor 12:13). Water baptism corresponds to Spirit baptism in that it is an earthy symbol of a heavenly reality. McCune writes, “Spirit baptism places one into the body of Christ (I Cor 12:13); water baptism places one into the membership of the local church. Spirit baptism places one into the organism; water baptism admits one into the organization.”[18] Immersion, then, makes the most sense of this symbolism, in that the participant is “buried” and “raised” in the baptismal waters. Even Michael Horton (who holds to Presbyterian ecclesiology) admits this, writing, “Immersion does seem more suggestive of being buried and raised with Christ…”[19]

CONCLUSION
The evidence from Scripture is that baptism is exactly what the word means: immersion. Not only is this confirmed grammatically, but finds further confirmation in the circumstances surrounding New Testament baptism accounts, the prepositions used in describing those accounts, and the symbolism that is involved in the ordinance.


[1] Kevin Bauder, Baptist Distinctives and New Testament Church Order (Regular Baptist Books, 2012), 60–61.

[2] Rolland McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, Volume 3: The Doctrines of Salvation, the Church, and Last Things (Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary, 2010), 225.

[3] Ibid., 227.

[4] Bauder, Baptist Distinctives and New Testament Church Order, 61.

[5] David F. Wright, ed., Baptism: Three Views (IVP Academic, 2009), 21.

[6] McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, Volume 3, 271.

[7] John H. Armstrong and Paul E. Engle, Understanding Four Views on Baptism (Zondervan, 2007), 26.

[8] Gerald Bray, God Is Love: A Biblical and Systematic Theology (Crossway, 2012), 634.

[9] John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Revised (Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 2007), 868.

[10] McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, Volume 3, 271.

[11] Wright, Baptism, 21.

[12] Armstrong and Engle, Understanding Four Views on Baptism, 42.

[13] Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Zondervan, 1994), 968.

[14] Ibid.

[15] McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, Volume 3, 272.

[16] Grudem, Systematic Theology, 969.

[17] McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, Volume 3, 272–273; Grudem, Systematic Theology, 968.

[18] McCune, A Systematic Theology of Biblical Christianity, Volume 3, 278.

[19] Michael S. Horton, The Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims on the Way (Zondervan, 2011), 792.