Dan DeWitt – Atheism and the Problem of Evil

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What Is Good?

The biblical explanation of the cosmos is a theme emphasized in the opening verses of Genesis, where each day of creation is stamped with the words “it was good.” But can an unguided world governed by mere chance, as the atheistic worldview suggests, provide any sort of objective foundation or absolute definition of “good”?

If the world is a product of chance, is governed by nothing, and is heading nowhere, then how can we point to some overarching value of goodness? As the prominent atheistic ethicist Kai Nielsen once said, “We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view. . . . Pure practical reason, even with a good knowledge of the facts, will not take you to morality.” And if we cannot get to the moral point of view from a purely scientific perspective, then how can an atheist use a moral point of view to reject the existence of God?

5 Minutes of Hell

Many atheists would disagree with Nielsen’s statement. But the real test is whether they can provide an objective foundation for the morality they defend. They may be hanging on—mid air, white-knuckled—to a value system that lacks any sort of real grounding. In this way, their values are entirely wishful thinking. How can there be personal good and evil in an impersonal universe of mere matter and energy? If the universe doesn’t care, then why do you?

Consider two scenes from recent history. In January 2014 a New York based Satanist group submitted a proposal to build a seven-foot statue of Satan at the state capitol of Oklahoma in protest of a monument of the Ten Commandments displayed there. [2] A spokesperson described the statue as a place of serenity and contemplation where children could sit and find inspiration. I doubt I’m the first to regard the mental picture of this scene as over-the-top creepy.

It should be noted, however, that most Satanists, like the group lobbying for the statue, don’t really believe in Satan. Most Satanists are actually atheistic in their outlook, disavowing any spiritual realm. In fact, the group’s spokesperson described Satan as a literary construct and made it clear they don’t believe in some actual embodiment of evil in the world. They are more or less a political group using Satan as an icon to express their desired secularism.

Now, consider another scene that took place a little over a year prior to the proposal for this statue. Only eleven days before Christmas, twenty children lost their lives at gunpoint in a small northeastern town. On the morning of December 14, 2012, at 9:35, a twenty-year-old man entered Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, and went on a killing rampage before committing suicide at 9:40 a.m. In the five intervening minutes the horrors of hell were on full display in hallways and classrooms filled with teachers, administrators, and little sons and daughters whose parents would never hold them again, or tuck them in at night, or read them another bedtime story. Before these precious children left for school that morning, they likely had breakfast with their families in homes warmly decorated for the holidays. There were probably stockings hanging from the mantle and Christmas trees where gifts would never be opened. No one would have guessed that this day would end in bloodshed. Except for a young man who was busy finalizing his plans and loading his gun.

We all rightly call the act he committed “evil.” It was categorically evil. Psychobabble doesn’t capture our outrage. And even the most secular among us seem willing to adopt biblical terminology in the face of such an atrocity. Every fiber of our humanity screams “evil,” and for good reason. That’s why worldview discussions are not cute intellectual games. We are not playing around. We’re confronted with a real question, and it’s one every thinking person must consider at some point: What worldview can account for the human desire to classify certain actions as truly evil?

To go back to the capitol scenario, imagine if the group had succeeded in building its statue of Satan as a symbol of secularism next to the monument of the Ten Commandments. Two images, two contrasting worldviews. One monument representing a world free from religious explanations, and the other, a world ordered by a moral source. Which of the two gives the ethical framework needed to evaluate the events at Sandy Hook?

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Mike Riccardi – God and Evil: Why the Ultimate Cause is not the Chargeable Cause

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Several weeks ago, I began a series of posts by outlining some foundational biblical teaching about God’s decree. We examined numerous passages of Scripture that speak of God’s decree as eternal, unconditional, unchangeable, and exhaustive. As a result, we concluded that God is properly said to be the ultimate cause of all things. As the Westminster Confession states, “God from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass” (WCF, 3.1).

Whenever you say something like that in a theological discussion, immediately the question is raised: How can God be the ultimate cause of whatsoever comes to pass—even actions and events that are evil and sinful, things which God Himself prescribes against—and yet not be rightly charged with unrighteousness. Perhaps the most common answer to that question is an appeal to the notion of divine “permission.” In other words, though God is ultimately in control, He doesn’t ordain evil; He merely allows it. In a second post, I demonstrated why such a solution is unsatisfactory, both theologically and biblically. After considering a number of passages that don’t shy away from attributing to God a very active role in the bringing about of evil events, we concluded with John Frame: “God does bring about sinful human actions. To deny this, or to charge God with wickedness on account of it, is not open to a Bible-believing Christian. Somehow, we must confess both that God has a role in bringing evil about, and that in doing so he is holy and blameless” (Doctrine of God). That post demonstrated that Scripture plainly teaches both (a) that God is unquestionably righteous and (b) that He indeed ordains sinful events and actions. And if that’s what Scripture teaches (and it is), it is not our place to sit in judgment upon and question the consistency of those declarations. That only breeds the worst of biblical and theological mischief. To argue that God is unrighteous for ordaining evil is to sit in judgment upon both the Word of God and the Judge of all the world. Instead, it falls to us to receive both propositions as true on the authority of God’s infallible and inerrant Word.

But is there any way to understand how it can be that God is not the chargeable cause of sin, even though He ordains that it be? There is a way for the worshiper of God to ask that question submissively, not because we demand that God give an account of His understanding of justice that satisfies our sensibilities, but simply because we desire to know Him and worship Him for what He has revealed of Himself. And there is a way to answer that question that remains faithful to sound biblical interpretation and theological reflection.

The answer that Scripture seems to give can be boiled down to two propositions. First, though God is the ultimate cause of all things—even evil—He is never the proximate, or efficient, cause of evil. Second, Scripture regards only the efficient cause of evil as the chargeable or blameworthy party. Let’s look to a sample of texts that bears this out.

Assyria, the Rod of My Anger

In Isaiah 10, God pronounces woe upon His people for their idolatry and injustice (Isa 10:1–2). He threatens that He is about to bring about a “day of punishment” and “devastation which will come from afar” (Isa 10:3). “Nothing remains but to crouch among the captives or fall among the slain” (Isa 10:4). In verse 6, we learn that God will carry out this punishment against wicked Israel by sending the nation of Assyria to destroy her. He says, “I send it [i.e., Assyria] against a godless nation and commission it against the people of My fury to capture booty and to seize plunder, and to trample them down like mud in the streets” (Isa 10:6). God will send Assyria to level devastation upon Israel to punish her for her idolatry.

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Paul Copan – If God’s Creation Was “Very Good,” How Could Evil Arise?

Genesis 1 ends with God pronouncing His creation “very good.” Where did evil come from then? James 1 says God is neither the instigator nor the source of sin; He does not tempt, nor can He be tempted (verse 13). Rather, every good thing comes from God (verse 17). So evil did not originate with God but apparently with moral creatures (whether angelic or human) whom God created good. But isn’t this odd? Creatures in a perfect environment still going wrong? How did that first sin emerge?

In this article, I first review certain biblical passages that allegedly suggest that God is the source of evil, which, if true, would contradict other Scriptures affirming God’s intrinsic goodness. Second, I examine one theologian’s problematic attempt to account for evil’s origin and then address the general Calvinist arguments to do so. Finally, I present what I take to be a successful account of primeval sin, which follows the book On the Free Choice of the Will by the notable theologian Augustine (A.D. 354–430). His approach adequately upholds both God’s goodness and genuine creaturely freedom.

What do I mean by freedom? I mean that the moral buck stops with the agent. Our actions are up to us. They are not simply the result of external influences (e.g., environment) or even internal states (e.g., moods, emotions). We cannot say, “I just couldn’t help doing what I do” or “My genes made me do it.” As 1 Corinthians 10:13 indicates, no temptation comes to us from which we cannot find a way of escape, with God’s help. Or, as God tells Cain, “sin is crouching at the door; and its desire is for you, but you must master it” (Genesis 4:7, NASB). We are responsible for our actions, and we cannot blame God or someone else for our wrongdoing. Ought implies can, with the ever-available grace of God. Our ultimate point will be that sin originates in creatures, not in God, even if God’s purposes permit and redemptively bring about good from creaturely sin and failure (e.g., Genesis 50:20).

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Dave Jenkins – The Problem of Evil in the Book of Job

Introduction to Theodicy
The Lord is sovereign, powerful and good. Evil exists and creatures bear moral responsibility for it. In making sense of the undeniable presence of sin, along with injustice and suffering it causes, many people deny one or more of these essential truths. People postulate that God is not truly in charge of the world and rendered finite by sin, that God is somehow limited in his ability to effect change in the world, or that perhaps God is both good and evil. Some try to deny the reality of evil, rendering it an illusion or a matter of perception. Others deny responsibility for their own sinfulness, shifting the blame to other people or a bad environment.

The word theodicy comes from the Greek theos (“God) and the root dik- (“just”) and seeks to justify the ways of God to man showing that God is in the right and is glorious and worthy of praise despite contrary appearances. Theologian Dr. J.I. Packer says that theodicy asks how we can believe that God is both good and sovereign in face of the world’s evil- bad people; bad deeds, defying God and injuring people; harmful (Bad circumstances, events, experiences and states of mind, which waste, thwart, or destroy value, actual or potential, in and for humankind; in short, all facts, physical and moral, that prompt the feeling, “This ought not to be.”

Christian philosophers and theologians have explored several approaches to the problem of theodicy. Christian philosopher, C. Stephen Evans says, “Two of the more important Theodicies are the “soul-making theodicy,” which argues that God allows evil so as to make it possible for humans to develop certain desirable virtues, and the “free will theodicy,” which argues that God had to allow for the possibility of evil if he wished to give humans (and angelic beings) free will. Theodicies are often distinguished from defenses, which argue that it is reasonable to believe that God has reasons for allowing evil even if we do not know what those reasons are.”

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