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God’s Being Apathetic Is Not the Answer

6:00:00 AMJosh Merlo

Michaelangelo I.png
Image I: Michelangelo’s Creation of Man


The problem of evil is one of the most pernicious challenges to the Christian God. One of the formulations of that problem is such: how can an all-loving, all-good God send His creatures to a place of torment and suffering? As was discussed, God appears either to be uncaring to send people to hell, fully knowing about (and perhaps causing) their damnation; or God appears to not know each person’s individual destiny, thus making Him not-all-knowing. The first position follows from a classical consideration of God (such as is found in Aquinas and Calvin), whereas the second follows from a more contemporary understanding born of process theology (perhaps the best-known proponent of which is William Lane Craig). Now, must one conclude that God does indeed have some privation, whether it be of knowledge or sympathy? No; God is neither apathetic nor ignorant.


Jonathunder I.JPGImage II: Alvin Plantinga
In the previous post concerning this matter, two solutions to the apparent dichotomy between God’s knowledge and sympathy were promised. The first of these solutions will be offered in brief. What might be called the “Augustinian solution” is as follows: it is better to be a free being in hell than a unfree being in heaven. Shades of Milton, perhaps, but Augustine offers a phrase similar to this in his On Free Choice of the Will: “For a runaway horse is better than a stone that stays in the right place only because it has no movement or perception of its own; and in the same way, a creature that sins by free will is more excellent than one that does not sin only because it has no free will” (59). Augustine’s response, then, to this particular instantiation of the problem of evil, can be generally termed the “free will defense”. What is held by Augustine (and others, such as Alvin Plantinga in his God, Freedom, and Evil) is that free will itself is a great enough good to justify the damning of certain souls that misuse their freedom. In other words, the subtraction of freedom from man (if it were possible to divorce freedom from man’s very nature) would be a far greater evil than that of some men being in hell. This reply to the problem of evil is certainly sound. Is it convincing, however? Can it be conceded that God chose the greater good of freedom at the expense of some unfortunate souls?


Once more, God is made out to be, if not apathetic, at the very least callous and consequentialist. Consequentialism is an ethical theory that (broadly) views moral obligations as deriving from consequences. What is good, then, has the best overall consequences. If throwing one man off of a flooding ship will stop its sinking and so save the lives of all the other passengers, such an action would be considered morally good (again, generally-speaking). Such utilitarian concerns are usually decried, though, by Christian ethicists. Are they now to be ascribed to the law-giving God of said ethicists? How can God be saved from justifying the end of a “better” overall world through a means (free will) that guarantees some persons will be damned? Here, a new rebuttal to the problem of evil must be turned to.


Image III: Leibniz
Christoph Bernhard Francke I.jpgGottfried Wilhelm Leibniz was a colossus of the Enlightenment, bestriding the religious, scientific, political, historical, and philosophical spheres of his time. One of his myriad works was called, quite simply, Theodicy, a text on questions of a religious nature. Leibniz later published an abridgement of his Theodicy, one that reduced his arguments into syllogistic form. From here shall be drawn a hopefully-conclusive rebuttal of the problem of evil. Aside: the question of actions being predetermined and still free is one that is addressed in the abridgement of the Theodicy for those interested. Regardless, proceeding to the question of how God can be omnibenevolent and still damn His creatures; Leibniz grants that it is possible for God to prevent sin. However, this is not enough to convince Leibniz that God should prevent all sin (and so the punishment for sin, hell). As is written, “It is possible that we contribute to evil and that sometimes we even open the road to it … and when, after thorough consideration, we do that which reason demands, we are not responsible for the results, even when we foresee them. We do not desire these evils; but we are willing to permit them for the sake of a greater good which we cannot reasonable help preferring to other considerations.”

As did the free will defense position, Leibniz’s argument must recognize that God permits certain evils. The difference here is that God is compelled by His own nature (He is, after all, not simply all-good, but also entirely reasonable) to choose to make the world as He did. It would be unreasonable to choose to populate a world with rocks instead of humans simply because some humans would eventually end up in hell. It would also be unreasonable to erase all the great goods of the human race from the template of creation for the sake of a few drops in an ocean of persons. The clever objector here will note that Leibniz still seems to be offering a rather consequentialist God. Perhaps, but is it so wrong for God to justify His means by His providentially-assured end? After all, God is God, and man is man. Do the ethical prescriptions man must follow apply to God? Does not the Bible tell believers that God’s ways are not their ways ? In the end, yes, God might indeed be a utilitarian. What does not follow from this is that God is either stupid or uncaring. Indeed, it is rather fitting that a being both omniscient and omnibenevolent creates a cosmos in which He assures the best possible outcome for His creation. Yes, it might not be the best possible outcome for each individual part of that creation. However, as Augustine asked: is it better for those individuals to be unhappy or to never have existed at all?

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