Monday, 3 January 2011

Theodicy - The Problem of Evil

I was commenting recently to an Atheist friend; the eminent Richard Dawkins had come up on her page. I was wondering what Richard Dawkins would do with a guy like Ken Miller, a well published molecular and cell biologist who gives assent to evolution and does his own debates against American Evangelical Creationism. Ken Miller is Roman Catholic and says that he is a theist in the broadest sense. Admittedly, that can only mean one thing... he doesn't give much attention to his faith.

A little while later it dawned on me," You know... that probably wouldn't be that great of a debate." The reason being is that the only thing they would have to argue about is the cosmological argument, which is the issue of whether or not the universe has a cause and what that might be. The other thing they might argue about is theodicy, which addresses the problem of evil.

These are the two pitfalls of such debates. It's one thing to watch an atheist scientist beat up on a theist rhetorician who parrots second hand Creationist arguments, to watch an atheist scientist and a theist scientist shrug in agreement, but quite another to watch them wade into a mire of philosophical issues they don't have the credentials to discuss.

So often people watch these epic clashes, bedazzled by the scientific jargon, sitting on the edge of their seats, mesmerized by the simultaneous embarrassment and verbal glory of the debaters. We forget that these men are usually specialists, or at least pretend to be. They are either theologians, scientists, philosophers, or mere rhetoricians. Too often, the rhetorician plays the menace and it must be admitted that most often in the matters of science it's a theist. A creationist rhetorician will hide behind a mass of unfinished, ill-quoted, misinformed, assumptions and subjective arguments. We even catch them holding up completely discredited and disproved theories like the infamous "irreducible complexity of the eye" and the "irreducible complexity of the bacterial flagellum." If the creationist initiates a question on science and the atheist responds with a line of science, he will follow a line of so-called morality, and visa versa, evading the issue.

Too often theists in general get represented by meddling rhetoricians who aren't qualified to teach a high school biology class. But on the other hand, Atheists are just as guilty. Such is the case with Dawkins. Dawkins is a Biologist; that's what he is. But you see him attempting to speak authoritatively on philosophy, morality, history, ethics, virtue, etc. He's not qualified to comment on any of those things and usually he ends up hackneying out arguments from Kant, Hegel, and Hume with shaky form and questionable understanding. Even if he did possess a good understanding of such philosophies, which has not been evidenced, he does not have the ability to defend these philosophies systematically, nor can he explain their intricacies. It's cocktail party knowledge; they don't really even know what they are talking about.

Because of this, Dawkins and other atheists often come out strong with tricky and hard ethical questions, but end up feebly retiring prematurely, feigning a noble profession of ignorance in an attempt to make their opponents look arrogant. That's not to say that such atheist debaters don't exist, those who are philosophers and anthropologist, etc. Rather, most often apologetics debates are completely mismatched. In fact, I've never seen one that was well matched. I've observed a team of atheists versus a team of creationists. But what if such a panel existed where you had the best of the best? The atheist team having an anthropologist, a biologist, a philosopher, and a physicist; and the theist side had a theologian, a biologist, a philosopher, and a physicist? Only then I think would such a debate be worthy of note; a debate where another two could continue where the former two left off.

Anyway, as stated, most apologetics debates disintegrate once the issue of philosophy and theodicy arise. The debate turns into a defamation of ideas, a verbal slug-fest, and all sides deteriorate into ridiculous non sequiturs and random scenarios designed not to reveal the truth, but rather into trap the opponent in his words or trick him into admitting something as if character assassination was the point of the debate. This of course usually takes place at the end of the debate once both sides are fatigued after having tried to their utmost to make eloquent arguments and eloquent refutations. It becomes nothing more than a show of vanity by the end, very often.

Leaving aside the venue of apologetics and focusing on theodicy, I think the subject deserves some treatment. It's a fair question the atheist asks," If there is a God, then why is there so much suffering and what we might call evil in the world?" The thing is, most atheists would be talking out both sides of their mouth by even saying this. Atheist don't believe in a universal morality, they don't believe in objective ethics and virtues. In fact, most of them would staunchly defend the notion that these are conventional, man-made, subjective concepts. So, in essence, if we take their assertion as just stated, then that would be like asking an Alaskan native to account for culture of the Bushmen of Africa. Subjective is subjective right?

But far from attempting to wiggle out of answering, like the rhetorician does, I'm just pointing out the hypocrisy there, and I'll go a little further. The atheist asks the question because the theist is stating that there is an objective morality and that there is a universal right. So, the atheist is basically putting a ball in the theists court that he's pretty sure the theist can't possibly dribble. That's fair; the atheist shouldn't have to argue the theists side of the argument for him. But supposing that the atheist is right, what then? What do we make of evil? What can we possibly say? There's only one thing we can say: there is no real evil, there is no real morality. What then? If there's no tangible, objective moral difference between giving a person a hug and giving them poison, then there is no problem of evil. It simply doesn't exist.

This is where the atheist hypocrisy usually rears it's ugly head and we have a full on, uncompromising endorsement of morals from the atheist, which is exactly what they atheist was refusing to tolerate from the theist. Except, instead of the theist's morals, the atheist pushes post-modern humanism down everyone's throat. So, the atheist only condemns the theist so they can turn around and do the same exact thing, and that as we all know, whether you're a theist or an atheist, is pure hypocrisy.

Theodicy can seem like a tough nut to crack, but in reality the only thing that makes it a tough subject is that people apply strawmen to the people arguing the issue. For some reason, the theist isn't allowed to make an argument unless he defends the Calvinist double-predestination, where God controls everything and everyone and micromanages the universe with supreme impeccability, right down to the tiniest quirk. That's kinda like the atheist saying to the theist," Hey, let's race, but you have to drive in the car I give you." Huh?

In a universe where God and man are both described according to the Catholic schematic, answering theodicy isn't problematic at all. The universe works in the same pattern as we observe everyday. Parents make a child, the child once grown has choices to make. It can make good choices or bad choices. In short, freewill is the answer to theodicy. At the bottom of each of my blogs I have my favorite quote from Aristotle, perhaps from all philosophy," Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim."

God is the good; the good is certainly something anyone can give assent to and at the same time know that it is immeasurable. Here we have a reasonable argument concerning God, I think.. Everyone does what they do for a reason, even when accidents happen, they did certain things which set the accident in motion. A woman procures an abortion so that she will not be encumbered with a child, aiming at the good of freedom. A man steals to satisfy a desire, aiming at the good of happiness. People rape to satisfy sexual urges and to establish dominance, aiming at the goods of power and pleasure. All of them fail miserably. In the end, however, they prove Aristotle correct, that all things do in fact aim at the Good.

So, the problem of evil is exactly what Christians have been saying it is all along: a conflict between man's ability and desire to obtain the good. It comes down to free will. Man must take responsibility for the problem of evil, because he causes it and eliminates it, by both action an inaction. This has nothing to do with God being malevolent and everything to do with His sovereignty. As the Greek philosophers were so fond of saying," The sun, too, peers into privies and is not contaminated by them." That evil exists has not to do with God. In fact, evil is a kind of vacuum, seeing as how God is the Good and evil is chiefly a lack of good, as we have just demonstrated with the rapist, the thief, and the murderer. The Christian schematic isn't problematic at all, like the Atheist suggested it was. It's only problematic if Christianity is forced in such a debate to defend a heresy and a non-God. There, theodicy solved.
"Every art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and choice, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been declared to be that at which all things aim." ~Aristotle~

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