Board index The Problem of Evil and Suffering

Why do bad things happen? Why is there so much suffering in the world? How can we make sense of it all. Is God not good? Is he too weak?

Young Christian: Questions on Evil

Postby Dazzled » Mon Jan 14, 2019 12:50 pm

First of all, I have recently started reading the Bible and am quite engaged by it.

I have attempted to do some previous research on this issue because I am well aware I am not the first one to ask this question.
First and foremost, I will present the two types of Evils or "Absence of Good/s", it dosen't matter what you call it.

Moral Evil. Natural Evil.

In the beginning, God created the Earth, and it was perfect, it was described as perfect. My FIRST question, initally separate to Evil is this:
As I understand it, the reason for creation was for the glory of God, so what does perfection actually mean. If the world was created in perfection for the glory of God, then, naturally, the existence of evils, or lesser goods does not Glorify God, it may turn us to him as suffering turns people to God, but it does not give him Glory, because in a more ideal-perfect state, suffering is not needed to turn us to God, as shown by Adam and Eve's faith with God prior to taking the fruit from the tree of knowledge. Thus, perhaps the world was created to test us, to see if we were worthy of entering side-by-side with God in heaven, however then, by definition the Earth cannot be perfect as Heaven is perfect and if the Earth was perfect the two would be the same and thus presumably, the Earth is the lesser of the two perfections. Was the Earth then created to test us, and is Perfection in its FUNCTION to test us, which explains why lesser goods exist, to challenge us? Is that a logical conclusion or not. Regardless what does perfection actually mean here.

The argument of free will seems really good to me, up until you get to the point of Animals. Moral Evil is easily explained by free will, natural evil is theologically explained by the fall, and just on that note briefly. Because we take Genesis as essentially a big metaphor-ish type story, for natural evil to be theologically explained like that, something equivalent to the fall, at least spiritually has to have happened. Do we have any idea how or when that happened? Also, additionally, did God not punish man, and "Curse the ground", thus did God not bring in Natural Evil - or did God not need to curse the ground for that to happen once the Fall occurred, I don't understand how God was the one to curse it, possibly therefore bring it about, and therefore not be a source solely of good. Back to my original question, Free will easily explains Moral Evil, and there is as I have said the idea of Man's Fall relatively explains Natural Evil, but what about Animals?

Animals do not have free will, perhaps you can argue they have the capacity to freely-roam around etc, but animals that are in cages can theoretically be just as prone to suffering from natural causes. So why would God create creatures that are prone to such suffering, for example dieing, burning slowly to wildfires, and yet not "justify" that with free will.

As I stated before, suffering turns us to God, I can accept that and understand it. But in the very beginning, at least in genesis, if God created a perfect Garden of Eden, with the tree of life in it etc. had Adam and Eve not eaten the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, then there would be no suffering and so I ask, what causes them to turn to God, even before taking the fruit? Was it just the knowledge that he created them? or..
One answer that I sort of see as a possible response you guys could come up with might be that the suffering is justified as, in the afterlife, we eternally are happy. But that equates to very different things, justification and compensation.

Just because we hopefully will experience eternal happiness, does not mean that the unhappiness or lack of perfect happiness is justified by the afterlife. It is compensated, in the best possible way for sure, but again, it is not therefore justified so I don't really think that is an adequate response to the question of evil.

E.g, a father lost his son to a murderer, murderer goes to jail, father receives lots of money, father is able to forgive the murderer and reconcile his mind and heart. That still does not justify the murderer, as then compensation would allow the murderer to repeat, and kill again, be justified again by compensation, and the cycle repeats, thus a breakdown of morals.

Sorry if this is sort of rambly etc. you find lots of thoughts come to your head as you write them down!
Thanks in advance
Dazzled
 

Re: Young Christian: Questions on Evil

Postby jimwalton » Mon Jan 14, 2019 1:06 pm

> In the beginning, God created the Earth, and it was perfect

The Bible doesn't say or imply that it was perfect. We are better to understand it as ordered and functional ("good"). God is still in the act of creating, and it will not reach "perfection" until the End, when He reconciles all things to Himself.

> As I understand it, the reason for creation was for the glory of God

The cosmos is to function as God's temple—the place where he reveals himself, forms relationships with the humans he made, and engages in life with them.

As far as natural evil, the entire concept and gamut of evil is difficult to capture under a single umbrella. There is the evil that humans use their free will to choose to do, there is evil we perceive in the destructive qualities of natural disasters, and there is also the evil we see in diseases that have nothing to do with the choices of humans. Some people would conclude that any suffering is “evil” because it involves pain endured by people; and therefore even accidents with machinery are “evil.” Some would say any kind of pain or negative experience is “evil.” There is also societal evil, like the Holocaust, political evil (in oppressive regimes), and spiritual evil (Satan and demons and whatever other spiritual forces try to wreak havoc on the planet).

I can at least carve a distinction between moral evil (evil that is the result of people’s choices) and natural evil (e.g., volcanoes, earthquakes, tornadoes, etc.). Natural “evil” is only generally considered such if there is collateral damage. In other words, a volcano that doesn’t kill anyone or anything is an event worthy of scientific inquiry, but if a person gets killed or injured, it is interpreted as natural evil. This is false thinking because for the latter to be truly evil, there has to be an immoral intent from a personal cause in creating the lava flow with the specific objective of bringing about suffering. A tree falling in the woods isn’t evil, nor is a volcano on a deserted island (or one that creates an island). Therefore “natural evil” is a misnomer, and if people get caught in natural events as circumstantial victims, we cannot accuse the volcano, or nature at large, of being evil. We can only attribute the title of “evil” to that which has been perpetrated by a personal force against what is understood as “good.” Therefore moral evil and willful evil are the only true kinds of evil.

> Free will

The argument of free will is the correct direction in which to go. Moral evil is a result of the free will of human beings. God is by definition uncreated. Anything created is therefore not God, and is vulnerable to making mistakes. It's not free will if we can only choose the right and the good.

> Because we take Genesis as essentially a big metaphor-ish type story

No, we don't take Genesis as a metaphor. But I do take Genesis as telling us the story of how God ordered the universe and Earth to function. It's not about material creation. Light and dark function to give us day and night (time). The Earth functions to bring forth vegetation. The heavenly bodies function to give us times and season. Humans function to rule and subdue the Earth. It's about function. It's not a metaphor.

> for natural evil to be theologically explained like that, something equivalent to the fall, at least spiritually has to have happened. Do we have any idea how or when that happened? Also, additionally, did God not punish man, and "Curse the ground", thus did God not bring in Natural Evil

God created the world to be dynamic, not static. The natural world is dynamic, capable of change and adaptation, with a large number of systems that interact, balance, and even depend on each other. Some of those systems exhibit characteristics more like chaos (though that is a scientific category of a dynamical system) and others more like order and purpose. It is within these two categories that natural systems cause what is commonly regarded as natural evil.

If you have ever tried to balance something on the palm of your hand, you have discovered that you can do it for a while but eventually something (distraction, wind, your movements) causes it to become less stable and it falls. This principle was posited by a meteorologist in the late 60s, who wrote a paper titled, “Predictability: Does the Flap of a Butterfly’s Wing in Brazil Set Off a Tornado in Texas?” This thought was so significant we now know it as the Butterfly Effect. Even if we had delicate sensors in every square foot of the globe and its atmosphere, we would still not be able to reliably (100%) predict the weather. The “Butterfly Effect” would always be present.

Our world is infused with a huge number of interacting chaos systems: weather patterns, electrical impulses, the firing pattern of neurons in the brain, ecosystems, etc. And they behave occasionally in wild ways (the Zika virus). And they result in natural evil: drought, earthquakes, volcanoes, disease.

I contend that God should not stop all that because a dynamic world in which free creatures can exercise genuine creativity, thereby bringing about truly novel effects, is a better world than a static world. Therefore God would wantto create a dynamic world. For instance, since both our circulatory system and nervous system are beneficial chaotic systems, there is strong scientific evidence to conclude that dynamical systems are beneficial to life. The heart can recover from occasion arrhythmias and even blockages by creating new patterns; our brains can recover from some injuries. In addition, if the brain were static, creativity wouldn’t be possible. If the natural system were just linear and static, natural processes (trees, snowflakes, clouds, shorelines, faces) couldn’t produce novel outcomes.

> Animals do not have free will

Of course they do. Have you ever tried to get your hat back from a dog?

> if God created a perfect Garden of Eden, with the tree of life in it etc. had Adam and Eve not eaten the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge, then there would be no suffering and so I ask, what causes them to turn to God, even before taking the fruit?

As already said, the created world is never portrayed as perfect. There had to have been death in the system before Adam & Eve sinned. Every time they picked a piece of fruit, they "killed" it. And you can't tell me they never stepped on an ant or bug.

Lots of questions, not enough space to answer them all. We can keep talking further if you want.
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 5514
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Re: Young Christian: Questions on Evil

Postby Dazzled » Wed Jan 16, 2019 12:26 pm

Thanks so much for you reply, I really appreciate it.

> The Bible doesn't say or imply that it was perfect. We are better to understand it as ordered and functional ("good"). God is still in the act of creating, and it will not reach "perfection" until the End, when He reconciles all things to Himself.

This makes sense, I felt like I vaguely remembered that I had read in a foot note that very good was a substitute from the Hebrew from perfect, but upon a second look, it was a figment of my imagination.

> Because we take Genesis as essentially a big metaphor-ish type story.

This was my bad, a very incorrect use of the word metaphor, what I meant to convey was that, we don't necessarily take it as a historical account 100% of the time, we don't take it literally.

I was wondering if you could explain this point to me though, You seem to deny that Natural Evil exists but no one seems to share your view at all. Additionally, god "Cursed the ground" meaning that it became "less good", not necessarily in all scenarios, but at the bare minimum, in some, how would you defend that?

Also, if God was the one to "Curse the ground" and for arguments sake, you took natural evil to exist, would that not mean that God was the Root Cause of Natural Evil despite being provoked by Adam and Eve? God DIRECTLY cursed them which caused natural evil whereas the Moral Evil that resulted from them did not require God to curse for the moral aspect of the fall to occur, thus logically was he not the one to instigate natural evil?

Could you perhaps re-explain like I'm 5 your idea of the static world again?

> Animals do not have free will.

>> Of course they do. Have you ever tried to get your hat back from a dog?

I can't tell if you are joking or not as it is a bemusing thought, but animals most definitely do NOT have free will. How would you defend the suffering that they can feel when God dosen't have to deal with the "free will" dilemma so to speak.
Dazzled
 

Re: Young Christian: Questions on Evil

Postby jimwalton » Wed Jan 16, 2019 1:27 pm

> we don't necessarily take it as a historical account 100% of the time, we don't take it literally.

"Historical" just isn't the best kind of perspective. If I'm telling you why I went to the store, you wouldn't ponder whether my reason was historical. The Bible is clear that God created the universe (Jn. 1.3; Heb. 11.3, and others) in a historical sense, but I take the perspective that Genesis 1-2 are about order and function: God created the cosmos to function as his temple and to be the place he could form a relationship with the people he made. It's more about the purpose, the reason, and how it functions than it is about that God created the material world in a historical sense. I still take it literally: it's literally about God assigning functions and roles as He brings order to the cosmos. It's the clearest and most literal reading of the text. But "historical" is a non-applicable word.

> You seem to deny that Natural Evil exists but no one seems to share your view at all.

"Natural evil" seems to me to be a misnomer. If an earthquake happens on a deserted island we consider it a natural phenomenon, but if it happens in a metropolitan area and people got hurt, now it's evil? See, that doesn't make sense to me. It can only be evil if has been perpetrated by a personal force against what is understood as “good.” But no one has perpetrated the earthquake in a populated zone. Earthquakes are part of the natural cause-and-effect dynamism of the planet. So we can't call them evil. The damage they cause to people is happenstance because people choose to live near fault lines.

> Additionally, god "Cursed the ground" meaning that it became "less good",

God's cursing of the ground didn't cause any change in the natural order. It's not like he put a hex on it or some magical spell. In the Garden food had been provided for them. Now they will have to work hard for food. They will be subject to the full force of the hostility and danger of nature. They would no longer have access to God's protective environment. As far as "less good," we can easily say that, in the ancient mindset, an element of disorder has been inserted into the functional order that God had designed.

> Also, if God was the one to "Curse the ground" and for arguments sake, you took natural evil to exist, would that not mean that God was the Root Cause of Natural Evil despite being provoked by Adam and Eve?

God's cursing of the ground is not when natural disasters started. If we look at the history of the planet, it has always been characterized by various and numerous cataclysmic phenomena. His cursing of the ground pertains only to humanity's struggle to survive. So God is not the root cause of natural evil. First, I think "natural evil" is a misnomer, and second, God doesn't perpetrate earthquakes, volcanoes and such to kill people. There's no indication in the Bible that God DIRECTLY causes them. That's not the way it works.

> Could you perhaps re-explain like I'm 5 your idea of the static world again?

The world has to be dynamic rather than static. Without change and adaptation, action and reaction, the Earth would have died. It has to be able to breathe (volcanoes), dispel pressure (earthquakes), to change and adapt (environment). Even if it's not necessary (though I think it is), it's certainly beneficial to do so. And our bodies also have to be dynamic rather than static. It's how we heal from heart attacks, strokes (TIAs), and even physical injuries.

In addition, it is because of the dynamism of our brains that we are able to show creativity and reason. If our brains couldn't change and adapt, act and react, and even form new synaptic patterns, we wouldn't be able to get smarter. Dynamism is necessary for our existence and our knowledge. The elimination of so-called "natural evil" would be of severe detriment to life. The trade off (and there's always a trade off), is that occasionally people get injured or killed when they are in the path of these phenomena. But God is not to be blamed for that.

> but animals most definitely do NOT have free will.

I'm curious what substantiation you have for this? Every animal I knows exercises free will. When I chase my dog, he makes decisions. He chooses to play or not, fetch or not, come or not. My cat chooses to ignore me or ignore me, to jump on my lap and then to let me pet her or bite me. Animals have personality. My dog was a very friendly guy; the neighbor's dog is skittish and backs away. They make decisions. I would say any being that is self-aware is also self-directed. And if they're self-directed, they exercise free will.

> How would you defend the suffering that they can feel when God dosen't have to deal with the "free will" dilemma so to speak.

I'm not sure what you mean by this. Can you explain it further or differently for me?
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 5514
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Re: Young Christian: Questions on Evil

Postby Dazzled » Thu Jan 17, 2019 11:19 am

Thanks for your replies again, so just to clarify a few things and re-word.

1. When you said you take it literally, the Bible, you mean that you accept as a literal interpretation that Lot's wife got turned into salt?

2. In relation to animals having free will. I personally believe that they do not have free will at all. Free will, as laid out in the Bible is essentially: The choice between good and evil. To exercise your free will, the choice must include a moral dimension and precipitate a struggle between right and wrong. Adam and Eve could make decisions before eating the fruit from the tree of knowledge, thus making decisions cannot constitute as free will. Which is why I take the above definition.

If I am swimming in the ocean, and a shark attacks me, do I expect the shark to look inside its heart, think poor human, I don't want to kill him and spare me? No. The shark is hungry, it wants to survive, its INSTINCT, is FREE FOOD. It made an INSTINCTIVE DECISION for SURVIVAL.

Sure survival can come in many ways, Dogs can feel pleasure, they can crave your attention and love, it gives them pleasure, they instinctively want it. They can steal as many hats as you want, but that dosent mean they have free will just because they took a hat for loving attention. That is simply wrong in my opinion.

Thus when I say "How would you defend the suffering that they can feel when God dosen't have to deal with the "free will" dilemma so to speak." I mean, free will only applies to humans, and so the free will defence cannot be used for the suffering of animals, how would you defend the suffering of animals therefore?
Dazzled
 

Re: Young Christian: Questions on Evil

Postby jimwalton » Thu Jan 17, 2019 11:35 am

> When you said you take it literally, the Bible,

What I said is that I take Genesis 1 to be an account of God literally assigning roles and functions to the cosmos, the Earth, and humanity. In general, though, "literally" is an inadequate word to use describing the Bible. The Bible is a rich literary collection containing music, poetry, metaphor, allegory, archetypes, parable, hyperbole, metonymy, irony, simile, and many other literary forms, as well as genres such as prayer, prophecy, blessing, covenant language, legal language, etc. "Literally" quickly becomes a word with very little meaning or helpfulness. If a poet says the trees of the field will clap their hands and the mountains will jump for joy, is that literal? Of course not, it's poetry. If a man prays, "God, kill all those people", we may all understand that his prayer is inappropriate, and is not blessed by God, but is it literal? Well, how does that word even apply? And how does it apply to archetype, allegory, parable, and all the others? It's a word that should be dropped from the discussion because it doesn't take us anywhere except to the Land of Misunderstanding.

It's better to think that the Bible should be taken the way the author intended it to be taken. If he was using hyperbole, we're to take it that way. So also allegorically, historically, parabolic, poetic, etc. Our quest is to understand the intent of the author. In that case we'll take the Bible *seriously*, but "literally" doesn't take us anywhere.

> Lot's wife got turned into salt?

No. The implication of the text, and what is also said in Luke 17.28-32, is that she turned back and returned to Sodom. She didn't just glance over her shoulder. She went back, and died for her decision. The same molten materials of the explosion rained down on her because she was so close to the destruction. She was overcome by the sulfur "rain".

> Free will, as laid out in the Bible is essentially: The choice between good and evil.

I don't find evidence that this is true. Free will in the Bible includes many sorts of decisions. Even Adam naming the animals was an exercise of free will. Adam caring for and tending the garden would include exercise of free will. Adam's declaration of "flesh of my flesh and bone of my bones" is some evidence of self-awareness and self-expression.

> To exercise your free will, the choice must include a moral dimension and precipitate a struggle between right and wrong.

Therefore this is not true. While the moral dimension is a decision of right vs. wrong, free will expresses itself in every decision we make, even of what socks to put on. Without general free will, there is no place even for reason, because our reasoning processes involve the consideration of various possibilities and making a choice, and of weighing data and making decisions (should I hoe the row on the right first, or the one on the left, should I start this project if it might rain today, etc.). Without free will, our brains don't work.

That's why your position on free will is untenable. It's too restrictive for the real definition of free will. You confine it to only moral decisions of right and wrong, when in actuality it covers to entire scope of human existence.
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 5514
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm

Re: Young Christian: Questions on Evil

Postby Dazzled » Tue Jan 22, 2019 12:29 pm

Did Adam and Eve have free will prior to, or after eating from the tree of knowledge?
Dazzled
 

Re: Young Christian: Questions on Evil

Postby jimwalton » Tue Feb 05, 2019 3:47 am

Prior to. That they were told to work and care for the garden (which are priestly terms, not agricultural ones) shows that they had free will. That they were to name the animals (Gn. 2.19-20). That they were free to eat from any tree in the garden (Gn. 2.16) shows that they had self-direction. We can even hear the woman's free will in Gen. 3.2-3 in her sense of self-awareness, conscious understanding, and choice of words. We can see her mind working in Gn. 3.6 as she weighs her desires against God's. She had free will prior to eating from the tree.


Last bumped by Anonymous on Tue Feb 05, 2019 3:47 am.
jimwalton
Site Admin
 
Posts: 5514
Joined: Mon Sep 17, 2012 2:28 pm


Return to The Problem of Evil and Suffering

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 1 guest


cron