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God? and the Problem of Evil

Posted: Fri, December 29, 2017 | By: Humanism & Atheism

by Hank Pellisser

B. C. Johnson’s essay, “God and the Problem of Evil,” posits the theory that a good and powerful God does not exist, due to the profusion of evil in the world. The author presents the scenario of a six-month-old baby burning to death in a house fire. Why, he asks, does God do this?

Several possible explanations are advanced and carefully dismantled. For example, the theory that “the baby’s death would in the long run have good results” is rendered ridiculous, if we extend it to the conclusion that all acts of violence and tragedy are, in fact, beneficial. (The absurdity of this idea is illustrated in Voltaire’s satire, Candide.) If atrocities were truly considered “God’s will” there would be no criminals, just “good” people carrying out the intentions of an all-powerful Deity.

“The child’s ascent to heaven…” is also discarded as a potential excuse. If God wanted the child’s soul in paradise, asks Johnson, why did He roast the innocent flesh first? What possible function can the agonizing pain serve?

A third alibi is that God did not “start the fire; the “free will” He grants to the universe allows “accidents” like this to occur. This theory absolves God of arson. He becomes, however, an emphatically guilty bystander. To merit His reputation as “good” and “almighty” He would be required to rescue the child.

The next explanation critiqued by Johnson suggests that God “tolerates disasters… to create moral urgency.” Our suffering builds up “such virtues as courage, sympathy, and the like.” this theory is identical to John Hick’s “soul-making” thesis, presented in his essay, “The Problem of Evil.” Hick believes a gentler, less dangerous planet would eliminate ethical concepts and the spiritual growth of the inhabitants. “Courage and fortitude… Generosity, kindness… love, prudence, (and) unselfishness” are, according to Hick, impossible to develop in a world that has no anger or difficulty.

Johnson would easily eviscerate this naive construct of Hick’s. If “soul-bugling” truly occurred during “moral urgency”, we should, he would argue, encourage war, disease, and famine. Acts of violence would be good for our souls. In fact, all attempts to eliminate pain would be evil, because we would be eluding the ingredient (suffering) that our souls need to grow.

In my opinion, Johnson successfully skewers the belief system of Hick. I would also like to add a few stabs of my own. In the Los Angeles Times the morning I wrote this essay (May 21, 1992) there was a feature article in which the parents of three innocent children killed in “drive-bys” were interviewed. The parents are emotionally devastates. They believe they will “never really recover from” the tragedies. They weep all the time, suffer uncontrollable fits of rage, they lost their jobs, they lost their health, they cannot eat or sleep. Particularly relevant to this essay is the fact that some of them lost their faith in God. According to John Hick, the murder of their children was a “soul-making” opportunity. In reality, it was “soul-crippling.”

Hick’s concept might look neat on on paper but it just is not true. The individuals I know who have been victimized by trauma, sexual abuse, and violence, did not find the experience the least bit rewarding. They regard them as terrifying, painful, and debilitating, requiring thousands of dollars and years of therapy to recover from. According to Hick’s essay, the individual’s who were “lucky” enough to be involved in truly horrific soul-making events (the Vietnam War, for example) should be among the most enlighten of our society. In reality, they are more likely to be homeless, insane, or in jail.

I am one of the individuals that Hick refers to in his opening paragraph when he observes that “for most agnostics it is the appalling depth and extent of human suffering… that makes the idea of a loving Creator seems so implausible.” Many people would be gratefully convinced of God’s goodness if the evidence offered by theologian’s was rational. Hick’s “evidence” is not. Besides being untenable, it is also callous and scientifically ignorant.

For example, on page 168 he suggests that “disease is fostered to an extent… by moral and emotional factors seated both in the individual and in his social environment… These evils stem from human failures and wrong decisions.” Earlier in the paragraph, he bluntly states “these evils are manifestations of human sin.” This idea is astonishingly primitive, reminiscent of the Biblical era, when sick, blind, deaf, and emotionally disturb people were regarded as possessed by the devil. Hick would, it seems, be comfortable in the dark Ages, blaming bubonic plague on the parishioner’s sins. I wonder if he’s one of those heartless fundamentalists who thinks AIDS is a curse on the sins of Sodom. His unwillingness to recognize the malicious function of bacteria and virus, created by his “good” God, tis in well with his bogus psycho-spiritual theories. I almost wish something terribly “soul-making” wold happen to him, to jar him out of his self-righteous insipidity.

Another example of Hick’s fuzzy-headedness resides on page 166, when he bleats that “evil is essentially parasitic upon good, being disorder and perversion is a fundamentally good creation.” Whenever I pour the “goodness” of creation, I consider the pregnant ichneumon wasp, who paralyzes the tarantula and deposits her eggs in his abdomen. When the larvae emerge, they feast upon the living flesh of their catatonic arachnid host. I pity the hairy eight-legged creature, and I ask Hick: who created that wasp, and her infernal brood? The ichneumon is not “fundamentally good.” She is biologically-ordinand to be “essentially parasitic.” In my opinion, the principles of survival are frequently evil. To exist, almost creatures must destroy, devour, and digest the lives of others. “Eat or Be Eaten” does not serve as a benevolent framework for a soul-making planet.

My final gripe against Hick is that he lacks imagination. He cannot envision a reality more perfect than the one that exists on today’s Earth, not even to the extent, as Johnson urges, of sparing a few burning babies. He regards any improvement of the human condition as a spiritual error, leading to a “hedonistic paradise” where no soul-making occurs. his reluctance to quibble with God marks him as an apologist for the Deity; I am sure he is a lap-dog for some conservative Christian church. Are people like him, blinded with bias, truly considered philosophic?

B. C. Johnson obliterates several additional theist theories, beyond the ones previously mentioned. He notes that a good God must be “incredibly limited” since He cannot even “do what a fire department can do — reduce a baby from a burning building.” If one insists that God is good, Johnson claims, one must regains that his powers are so weak He is practically dead. Indeed, to “call such a thing a go would be to strain the meaning of the word.”

The theory that God’s actions are motivated by a “higher morality” is also addressed. Johnson regards God as so apathetic to vice and destruction that He can only be defined as “evil.” To accept the benevolence of God’s behavior requires “faith” in a moral system that is the inverse of our own. This is an irrational request, so paradoxically confusing it leas one to the conclusion that God is either a hypocrite, a very bad teacher, or both.

“Faith” that an individual might have in God is examined by numerous other philosophers. William James believes faith is justified, in his essay “The Will to Believe” because “religion offers itself as a momentous option.” He suggests that in situations where pure intellectualism blocks our ability to believe something, “some participation of our sympathetic nature would be logically required.” In my opinion, James flagrantly misuses the word “logically” in this sentence. Logic is not present in a mental procedure that is partially-dependent on “sympathetic nature.”

My assertion is fortified by W. K. Clifford, who insists “It Is Wrong, Always, Everywhere, And For Anyone, To Believe Anything Upon Insufficient Evidence.” He castigates those who stifle doubt, discussion, and inquiry, proclaiming that “the life of that man is one long sin against mankind.” I am confident that Clifford would agree with my analysis of Tolstoy’s My Confession: it is a blubbering portrait of the man’s melancholia, cowardice, and ego.

Tolstoy’s philosophies inquiry is shallow and self-serving. His attack on Epicureans is particularly biased. He claims that the “dullness of their comprehension and imagination… makes it possible for them to forget that which gave no rest to Buddha - the inevitableness of sickness, old age, and death… Tolstoy refuses to consider Epicureanism as a heroic ad positive philosophy. Instead, he insists that “strong, consistent people” commit suicide. In doing so, he glorifies his own intellect, depression, and desire for self-destruction. The reference to Buddha is also an erroneous contrivance: Buddha eventually achieved “rest” through enlightenment, and was emphatically not suicidal. The frequent employment of Buddha and Solomon as allies who support his conclusions is a particularly nauseating feature of Tolstoy’s pomposity.

Bertrand Russell encapsulates the truth of Tolstoy’s condition in his paragraph entitled Fear, the Foundation of Religion, in his essay, “Why I Am Not a Christian.” Russell (and I) believe religious “faith” is instigated by “terror of the unknown and… the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles…” The comfort that Christianity provides “saved” Tolstoy, who canceled his self-execution, devoting the rest of his life to “searching after God.”

The immortal paradise that belief in God promises has consistently blinded the rational thinking of millions of people for thousands of years. Included in this vast number are many philosophers who make leaps of faith for a heavenly God that they would never make for anything on Earth. James and Tolstoy take this initial leap; Clifford and Russell do not.

The second “religious” jump is belief that the God one has faith in is “good.” This is what Hick does. C. S. Lewis, however, reverses the procedure in his, Mere Christianity. He seeks to “prove” the existence of God by tracing the origin of humanity’s “Moral Laws.” Lewis’s code, which he also refers to as the “Laws of Nature,” is, in actuality, completely “unnatural.” It is also ethnocentric. For example, cannibalism has been encouraged in many cultures; so has the infanticide of female infants. Mosaic Law scarcely resembles contemporary law, due to changes in society over the centuries. C.S. Lewis’s vision of a “Moral Law” is only a subjective hallucination. Like Tolstoy, Hick, and James, he is leaping irrationally towards a belief system that give him hope for an order and a future that he desperately craves.

D. E. Trueblood, author of the essay “The Evidential Value of Religious Experience”, is, in my opinion, a gullible empiricist. The fact that many people “reported that they have known God directly” convinces him that the Deity is real. I would encourage Truebood to read Abraham Maslow’s work, which defines “Peak experiences” as human events that do not demand the existence of God. I wold also ask Trueblood why God’s appearance to individuals is so erratic, arbitrary, and of such a vague and ephemeral nature. True blood’s presentation is also one-sided; he does not detail the many delusory and dangerous cases of wackos (like David Koresh) who thought they were Jesus or God. Why is their testimony invalid, while the others (who proclaim a “good” God) are regarded as authentic? Trueblood is similar to C. S. Lewis and Hick: they are irrational believers who seek to justify their hopes by convincing us. Their weak arguments only reveal their bias.

My own philosophy is adroitly explained in Steven M. Cahn’s God, Reason, and Religion that denies the existence of both a deity and an essential “goodness” pervading our existence. Instead, the chapter entitled “Religion Without God” seeks to revere the values that human beings share with each other. Even without God, we can obey moral principles and treat each other with compassion. In truth, an atheist’s adherence to what is “right” is more heroic than a theist’s, because he or she acts without hope of eternal reward.


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