Sunday, January 28, 2007

God and Evil - How to Reconcile

Cordin said...

I am an ex-christian that lost my faith several years ago. I first accepted Jesus as my saviour when I was about ten years old but am now a confirmed agnostic (age 37).

I would like to introduce the topic of theodicy and what I see to be an impossible reconciliation between the God of the Bible and natural evil.

My biggest obstacle to faith must still be the suffering in this world, and in particular, amongst the animals.

Yet, we are told that God IS love. (1 John 4:8).

According to the apostle Paul “…his invisible qualities are clearly seen from the world's creation onward, because they are perceived by the things made, even his eternal power and Godship, so that they are inexcusable.” (Romans 1:20) Humans might be responsible for much of the pain brought upon other humans (and animals), but who is responsible for the natural violence of the animal kingdom. If it is “perceived by the things made” that what has been made is in fact imperfect, at times evil, and quite violent, what does that tell us about God’s nature and His qualities?

I cannot bring myself to believe that humans are the only sentient beings on this planet. (Mirror/mark tests with chimpanzees for eg. indicate a level of self-awareness.) To me, animals seem to have been completely forgotten by God. A loving human often puts an animal “to sleep” out of its misery. Why does God let them die slowly?

I have to quote Mark Twain here:

“God will provide for this kitten.”
“What makes you think so?”
“Because I know it! Not a sparrow falls to the ground without His seeing it.”
“But it falls, just the same. What good is seeing it fall?”

-Mark Twain, The Mysterious Stranger


Earth’s living creatures are born, suffer, and then die with no hope of a second chance. To say they are ‘just’ animals or that they do not have souls does not change the fact that they feel pain. There is no reason to believe that animals are exempt from many of the same sufferings that we pray release from. (Romans 8:22) One only needs to step on a dog’s paw to learn this quite quickly.

If God hates violence, why create venom to paralyze? Why create claws and fangs for ripping and shredding flesh? Why create instincts in birds to bludgeon their siblings, forcing them out of a nest so as to die of starvation? Why do some monkeys practice infanticide?

If these features did not evolve then why did an all-powerful, all-loving Maker fashion them so? Could he not have made something better. Wasn't there already a perfect heavens of angels where sin and death could not be passed on to other creatures? Conditions so wonderful we pray for His "will to take place on earth as it IS in heaven"?

Some have answered that animals were not created to use these lethal anatomical structures in the way they do now. In order for God to declare that “everything that he had made…was very good”, Genesis suggests that all creatures of the earth were originally meant to eat plants. (Genesis 1:29, 30)

But, why then do porcupines have predator-resistant quills, or the blowfish protective spikes, or the skunk and bombardier beetle stinging chemicals? Is it just a coincidence that certain snakes capable of producing poisonous venom also have the fangs to deliver such poison and the physical ability to widen their jaws and the agility to strike with lightning speed and be able to stretch their body to accommodate entire large animals and the instinct to do so? Why do ‘vampire’ bats have anticoagulant in their saliva if they were not meant to eat blood from organisms? Why do parasitic wasps instinctively paralyze and keep a caterpillar alive for the express intent of laying its 'eggs' inside and feeding off their living bodies? Even the Venus’ flytrap seems ‘designed’ to feed on living creatures.

Why do predators have all the features for sneaking, ambushing, and devouring their prey? In turn, why do prey have the features necessary for outrunning, or outfoxing their predators? I find it hard to believe these adaptations are for the hunting of and protection from vegetation. (In addition, the fossil record shows that most species of animals (dinosaurs for eg.) went extinct well before man appeared and often suffered violent deaths or infection even before Adam's sin).

If the Creator of mankind had indeed exercised his power to foreknow all that history has seen since man's creation, would not the full weight of all the wickedness thereafter be deliberately set in motion by God when he spoke the words: Let us make man?"

To summarize: If God, in His wisdom, already had a perfect heavens in which to commune and share His love, where sin could not take hold because of the very way in which it was created- Why did He go ahead with ‘project earth’ when the disobedience of just one man (Adam) could corrupt the entire planet resulting in the death of all it’s creatures, supposedly, necessitating the sacrifice of His only begotten Son? It reminds me of the FORD motor company already having safe vehicles, but knowingly going ahead with the flawed design of the Pinto and it's tendency to explode - killing it's innocent occupants.

I cannot see how the Christian God could be all-loving, all-wise, all-powerful and yet not be partly responsible for evil.

Randy's Response: Clearly this is one of the great stumbling blocks for folks who are seeking God and for those who are already trusting God (or any god.) It is particularly difficult for Christians and Jews where the emphasis is on love. I teach a Bible study, and virtually every person in the study was shocked to one degree or another by the OT violence. Some teach that this was the "God" of the OT, and that Jesus changed all that. I suggest that those who teach in this way go to the last book of the Bible and see if the God of Revelation seems any different than the God of Genesis and Exodus.


So, who is this God who is the very embodiment of Love, and who at least allows for all this evil, torment, unfairness, injustice, anguish, and death? Most evangelicals teach that God "allows" the Devil to reign on earth, but that God did not create evil. I will merely suggest that this is another one of the unknowables like free will and infinity. That is, it is unknowable how the God who created everything is not responsible for evil and yet is pure love.

So, personally, I will take a duck on that part, but not on the logic of "evil" which I will use a shorthand for all the really negative aspects of the lives of people and critters.

The created world was perfect in the beginning, and Biblically it appears that God intended it to remain that way. Our hope of heaven is partially a regaining of that place where "evil" is no longer a part of how things work.

Humans and other animals are seemingly designed with the potential for evil as part of the genetics. This can be said to be God's intent, man's fall, or part of evolution. Dawkins refers to a selfish gene. To the extent that all living things are "self-centered," there is going to be evil.
Christ's answer was for folks to be other-centered, which runs counter to the selfish gene. I'm sure some will argue that it is possible to be selfish and understand that loving others unconditionally, sacrificially, and without expectation of return of that love, can be ultimately selfish if it works to improve the survival chances of the community in some way. I call this a stretch, but don't exclude it totally.

The Bible tells us that some things that happen to us that are seemingly evil are the natural consequence of our actions. Some are things that are allowed to happen to us to make us strong or to prepare us to minister to others. This next idea is my own theology, but I suspect others would agree. Death of humans is not the critical issue for God or man. It is the death of the spirit that matters. And thus we get all the way back to purpose. For the atheist, there can be absolutely no explanation for the death or horrible evil perpetrated on an innocent. With God, it may seem confusing to some, but at least His purposes can be played out by evil acts, however you choose to believe that this evil is created.

13 comments:

bernardo said...

Let me put my Deist hat on...

Like I wrote in my comments to this blog's inaugural post, the deists' God is not so self-contradictory.

If God is all-knowing and created everything, then God is responsible for evil. What's so wrong with that?

If you insist that "God is love" (whatever that means), then evil must (in the end) be worth the price.

I am fairly sure that humanity is slowly becoming more fair and more compassionate, overcoming selfishness and other uncivilized animal impulses, rising beyond the behaviors that our selfish genes evolved over millions of years. If it weren't for evil, injustice, and unnecessary suffering, we would not be forced to consider these painful issues, we would not be motivated to evolve humanity's morality. Recognizing evil, injustice, and unnecessary suffering, and trying to prevent them, is what makes people better and sets us apart from the animals (and from barbaric earlier generations). Right?

Or does your idea of God require that everyone be perfectly happy all the time? If that is the case, then your God is even more improbable than I realized... ;]

That's what I like about the deists' God: If you assume that the universe was deliberately created as part of a plan, and if it seems to you that the world is naturalistic, then you are free to speculate about God without all those ancient pre-scientific religious ideas needlessly blocking your speculations. You can reach your own conclusions without impossible/nonsensical axioms (such as "God is love") getting in the way.

For example, I can imagine (i.e. I see no contradictions in the idea) that the universe was created by a god in such a way that allowed for chemistry, which in turn made it possible for life to arise, which in turn made it possible for self-aware beings to evolve, which in turn makes it possible for intelligence, creativity, and reason, which in turn make civilization possible. Each of these things is a higher-level kind of thinking, and I can imagine a god setting up such a universe hoping that god-like thinking arises in it, eventually.

Not that any of this is necessary to explain any of what we see around us. But it's a nice thought, and it's certainly more consistent, elegant, and compatible with the natural world as we know it (and with logic), than ancient religions are. Like many people of the past few hundred years, I believe that if the idea of "God" is to survive the science-dominated world, then God needs to be "cleaned" of its messy ancient images, made compatible with a naturalistic universe, and kept from trying to answer questions that are better addressed by science, history, and philosophy/ethics. That kind of god is one I could believe in.

Then again, ancient religions (the ones still around) have memetically evolved to be so contagious and durable, their self-contradictory Gods still survive. Their contradictions paradoxically cause yet more awe ("Wow, it's a mystery!") rather than skepticism... It seems like believers enjoy the impossibility of logical contradictions, like these paradoxes make their God even more impressive. If some ancient text said that God shaped the universe like a square circle, people would be going "Wow! A square circle! Only God could so something so 'unknowable' to our puny brains!"...

Anonymous said...

Colin,

Some thoughts

Maybe animals are resurrected. Or recreated by God.

Sin spread to all ... including nature and animals.

Maybe animals are misusing their features just like man is.

In the end Revelation 21:3

Hang in their. If you want more scripture verification just ask.

Randy Kirk said...

I suppose it is easier to just relax and go diest. But, of course, part of the point of the blog is to tear into the evidence and figure out stuff. I happen to agree with Cordin that this is a big issue. Kinda waiting for Cordin to get back and chime in. Can't imagine he could have more important things going on in his life than defending his POV here. : )

bernardo said...

Sure. As you can see, it's not an issue I care too much about, but I thought I'd offer my 2 cents. No huge insights or anything.

And what could be more important than defending one's POV on this blog?!

(For the second or third time, I was lucky in that work today consisted of mostly watching a computer run a test and giving it inputs about 4x an hour, and recording test results (and debugging) once an hour. Plenty of time to come here and write)

Cordin said...

"When you build a new house, make a parapet around your roof so that you may not bring the guilt of bloodshed on your house if someone falls from the roof." -Deuteronomy 22:8


Although Bernardo is correct, in my opinion, that a deist belief in God does not result in a logical contradiction, I doubt many would find consolation in it. A god that does not intervene on behalf of individuals in this life or the next is not much more than no god at all. He may exist, but who could care, save those whom life happened to favor? At the other extreme, a God that purposefully predestines the universe with only an illusion of freewill (Calvinism for eg.) and then sends the "objects of his wrath" to eternal damnation is worse than a universe with no god (save of course, again, those whom life happened to favor.)

And then there is the possibility of a God who truly cares about those that suffer and must allow evil for noble purposes, perhaps the eventual betterment of mankind.

May I presume at this point that we are first interested in whether the Christian God fits this description?

My problem with 'Yahweh', and therefore the Biblical version of God, is that he implicated himself as "bloodguilty" when he built this "new house" called the earth without a proper "parapet around [the] roof". I believe the Bible shows that it's God had the power to do so differently, and yet chose not to. Before I continue with 'proving' my points on why the theology of the Bible (sin, physical vs. spiritual death, future paradise -Rev 21:3, 4) does not allow for it's God of love to exist (and the implications), can we come to common ground on this point?:

>> If one has the full ability to create sentient life two different ways - one that you know will, or may, lead to the suffering of thousands of millions; the other which will not - would it be an evil decision or at least a lie to choose the first if such one claimed they took no pleasure even in the death of something wicked? (Ezek. 18:23)

Anonymous said...

No I can't agree with that point. I don't think the way God chose to create life and allow it to exist is a contradiction of Ezekiel 18:23.

He is a just God and he is bound by his word.

In the beginning God told Adam and Eve they would die if they ate the fruit. They ate the fruit and they died.

What death is to God is separation from him. An example would be what Jesus spoke of as the vine and the branch. When the branch isn't connected to the vine it withers and dies because it can't receive the nutrients from the vine.

Humans die because they aren't connected to the life a relationship with God supplies to us.

All creation moans the pain of not being connected to life which is God. All creation dies.

Jesus restored that connection. Thus we have the opportunity to receive life from God now if we choose to.

But just like Adam and Eve we have the choice to accept what Jesus says or not.

Randy Kirk said...

Cordin,

The parapet is around those who trust him. And a parapet is still no guarantee of freedom from calamity. Ultimately, your question that you seek agreement on goes to the issue of ultimate purpose vs current good. You have to break eggs to make a cake, says the old saying. Children have to fall down in order to learn to walk. When faced with crises, what doesn't kill us, cures us. Those are the only proverbs I can think of for now, but I'm sure you get the point.

I may not agree with you, but I love your articulate and clear way of saying wrong things. :)

Cordin said...

Ultimately, the Bible teaches that "sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men because all had sinned." So, yes, the Scriptures teach that it was Adam that brought death to the human family. Does that not go contrary, however, to God's promise that a "...son shall not pay for the sins of his father." (Ezekiel 18:20). Yet the Bible has God condemning entire families (and there animals), or even thousands of people because of the sin of a single person. (Joshua 7:1,19-26; 22:20; 1 Chronicles 21:1-17)

In bringing out Ezekiel 18:23 (also verse 32) I wanted to emphasize the point that Yahweh says he does not desire the death of even the wicked. If he does not desire the death of even the wicked, how much more must he dislike killing the innocent. Why then punish all mankind, nearly 100% of whom did not commit the original sin upon which that punishment is based? Did Jesus not state, 'I want mercy and not sacrifice'. If in fact, it was ultimately because Adam (and Eve) chose to disobey God (at Satan’s prompting) and before they had any offspring, that sin was passed on as imperfection to all people resulting in the corruption of all earthly creation, why not fill the earth with individually created humans? Did He not already have a precedent of such creating with the angels? Would this not have prevented the 'fall' from happening? Or would God have all the kids stay after school because one of them misbehaved? (Let's not forget that the animals are being left to oblivion for no fault of their own. They are simply innocent by-standers in the cosmic struggle between God, Satan, and Man, having been drowned completely once already. How many innocent souls must die before someone cries injustice. I believe it only takes one.)

If God can create a future world where evil will not exist (Rev 21:3,4) and it was never his purpose for this earth to become imperfect with death (which I believe disqualifes the "ultimate purpose vs current good" approach), then why not make it that way right from the start? Foremost in my view, we are told that God already had a perfect creation in the heavens. These angelic ‘sons of God’ are said to have existed from before this [earthly] world began. (Job 37:4, 7) The Bible indicates that it’s angelic spirits must have freewill, otherwise, God again would be responsible for creating the Devil and thus evil. (John 8:44) Yet, if I understand correctly, according to Christian doctrine, spirits do not pass sin, suffering, pain and death to each other through inheritance for they ‘do not marry’ and thus do not reproduce sexually. (Matthew 22:30; Luke 20:35, 36)

The wisdom in this is that each angel will pay for his sins only and not for what any other angel does. (Jude 6) Heaven, therefore, does not become a place of 'inherited' corruption. I believe that is why Christians pray for God’s kingdom to come and for His will to take place on earth as it is in Heaven.

As to the command on building a parapet around one's roof (Deut. 21:18), the point of the command was to emphasize the importance of taking all possible precautions that injury or death would not befall others. If you had such knowledge, the ability to heed it, yet chose not to, you would be held reponsible for any loss of life, due to your negligence.

My analogy with God was that He did not take the necessary precautions when He made this earth. He had already proven that he was capable of fulfilling his goal, sharing life and love with others, without the need of creating anything "lower than the angels". What possible ultimate purpose could the allowance of battered, abused, and murdered children have? He is therefore negligent with regards the earth's creatures and, if the Christian God exists, I believe bloodguilty.

Randy Kirk said...

Dennis Prager, radio talk show host, person of the Jewish persuasion, and very wise fellow said:

And with that goal in mind, I will end with my re-wording of a superb summary of the argument for belief in God that was made by Rabbi Milton Steinberg (1903–1950), a rationalist (and non-Orthodox) rabbi: “The believer in God has to account for the existence of unjust suffering; the atheist has to account for the existence of everything else.”

http://www.jewcy.com/dialogue/thursday_why_are_atheists_so_angry_dennis_prager

bernardo said...

Cute and concise, but I have to disagree. The believer also has to account for the existence of God... If he does not, then no, we don't have to account for the existence of everything else.

karen said...

Okay Randy, I came by for a visit.
I was looking for where you discuss bible verses such as those brought up at NGB.

I've read thru this thread, and I think the fellas have done an excellent job of stating their cases, with which I agree (the atheist side) and could never have spoken as eloquently. Yet you seem to simply dismiss them with no real argument.

If god created everything then he has to take credit/blame for the evil too. And I don't see evil as an entity, but simply as a characteristic we assign to what we do.

If he is all powerful and omniscient, then certainly he could have figured out a way to make Eden work, and KNEW what would happen with the plan he used.

Cordin's example of the Angels was a good point.

Anyway, is there a particular thread where you discuss what we were about over at NGB, or is it interspersed about?

Randy Kirk said...

Thanks for dropping by and actually addding to the discussion. The answers are interspersed here and at http://ideaplace.blogspot.com. Are there specifics questions that you want me to answer? Would you like to create your own new thread for this site. Send it as a comment or email me at quixote77@sbcglobal.net

One observer suggested that God omniscience might be similar to a master chess player. He knows the outcome, because he can play up to the level of the opponant, but he chooses to let the play go on as long as it is within certain boundries. Not totally satisfying, but interesting I think.

As pointed out in this thread and over at the NOGodBlog, the question of evil may be the hardest to deal with. However, it doesn't necessarily become easier because one believes in a totally naturalistic world.

Anonymous said...

Religion is our attempt to make sense of our suffering and give us some control. Faith is completely subjective and irrational. I think at best Jesus existentially gives us a ground of being; a courage to be.