Philosophical Apologetics

New Book: Vital Issues in the Inerrancy Debate

Being chosen as a co-editor for a new book on Biblical inerrancy, Dr. Fernandes adds his own views to those of others in the field. What is Biblical inerrancy and why is it an important topic?

The following is taken from the official site at: defendinginerrancy.com

WHAT’S INERRANCY!? AND WHY SHOULD I CARE?

It’s been said that a table must have at least thBook Imageree legs to stand. Take away any of the three legs and it will surely topple. In much the same way, the Christian faith stands on three legs. These three legs are the inspiration, infallibility, and inerrancy of Scripture. Take away one, and like the table, the divine authority of the Christian faith will surely topple. These three “in’s” complement each other, yet each expresses a slightly different distinction in our understanding of Scripture.

Inspiration. The first “in” is inspiration and this deals with the origin of the Bible. Evangelicals believe that “God breathed out” the words of the Bible using human writers as the vehicle. Paul writes,

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God (literally “is God-breathed”), and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Infallibility. The next “in,” infallibility, speaks to the authority and enduring nature of the Bible. To be infallible means that something is incapable of failing and therefore is permanently binding and cannot be broken. Peter said “the word of the Lord endures forever” (1 Pet. 1:23-25) and therefore its authority cannot be broken.  When addressing a difficult passage, Jesus said, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:34-35). In fact, He said, “one jot or one tittle will by no means pass away from the law till all is fulfilled” (Mat. 5:18). These speak to the Bible’s infallibility.

Inerrancy. The last “in,” inerrancy, simply means that the Bible is without error. It’s a belief in the “total truthfulness and reliability of God’s words” (Grudem,Systematic Theology, Inter-Varsity, 2004, 90). Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17). This inerrancy isn’t just in passages that speak about salvation, but also applies to all historical and scientific statements as well. It is not only accurate in matters related to faith and practice, but it is accurate and without error regarding any statement, period (John 3:12).

BUT IS IT REALLY IMPORTANT?

Yes, inerrancy is extremely important because: (1) it is attached to the character of God; (2) it is taught in the Scriptures; (3) it is the historic position of the Christian Church, and (4) it is foundational to other essential doctrines.

1. It’s Based on the Character of God

Inerrancy is based on the character of God who cannot lie (Heb. 6:18; Titus 1:2). God cannot lie intentionally because He is an absolute moral law-giver.  He cannot err unintentionally because He is omniscient. And if the Bible is the written Word of God (and it is), then it is without error.

2. It was Taught by Christ and the Apostles

Inerrancy was taught by Christ and the apostles in the New Testament.  This should be our primary basis for believing it. B.B. Warfield said,

“We believe this doctrine of the plenary inspiration of the Scriptures primarily because it is the doctrine which Christ and his apostles believed, and which they have taught us.” (Limited Inspiration, 1962 cited by Mohler, 42)

To quote Jesus himself, “the Scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35) and “until heaven and earth pass away not an iota, not a dot, will pass away from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matt 5:18).

3. It’s the Historic Position of the Church

Gutenberg BibleInerrancy is the historic position of the Christian Church. ICBI produced a whole book demonstrating this  point (see John Hannah, Inerrancy and the Church, Moody). As Al Mohler pointed out (Mohler, 48-49), even some errantists have agreed that inerrancy has been the standard view of the Christian Church down through the centuries. He cites the Hanson brothers, Anthony and Richard, Anglican scholars, who said,

“The Christian Fathers and the medieval tradition continued this belief [in inerrancy], and the Reformation did nothing to weaken it. On the contrary, since for many reformed theologians the authority of the Bible took the place which the Pope had held in the medieval scheme of things, the inerrancy of the Bible became more firmly maintained and explicitly defined among some reformed theologians than it had even been before.”

They added, “The beliefs here denied [viz., inerrancy] have been held by all Christians from the very beginning until about a hundred and fifty years ago.” (cited by Mohler, 41)

4. It’s Fundamental to All Other Doctrines

Inerrancy is foundational to all other essential Christian doctrines. It is granted that some other doctrines (like the atoning death and bodily resurrection of Christ) are more essential to salvation. However, all soteriological (salvation-related) doctrines derive their divine authority from the divinely authoritative Word of God. So, epistemologically (in a knowledge-related sense), the doctrine of the divine authority and inerrancy of Scripture is the fundamental of all the fundamentals. And if the fundamental of fundamentals is not fundamental, then what is fundamental? Fundamentally nothing! Thus, while one can be saved without believing in inerrancy, the doctrine of salvation has no divine authority apart from the infallibility and inerrancy of Scripture.

IT’S AN ESSENTIAL

Inerrancy deserves high regard among evangelicals and has rightly earned the status of being essential (in an epistemological sense) to the Christian Faith.  Thus, to reduce inerrancy to the level of non-essential or even “incidental’ to the Christian Faith, reveals ignorance of its theological and historical roots and is an offense to its “watershed” importance to a consistent and healthy Christianity. Inerrancy simply cannot be rejected without grave consequences, both to the individual and to the Church.

IT’S UNDER ATTACK… RIGHT NOW!

The International Council on Biblical Inerrancy (ICBI) was founded in 1977 specifically over concerns about the erosion of inerrancy. Christian leaders, theologians and pastors assembled together three times over the course of a decade to address the issue. At the first meeting, a doctrinal statement was jointly created titled “The Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy” (see full text here). This document has been described as “a landmark church document” created

“by the then largest, broadest, group of evangelical protestant scholars that ever came together to create a common, theological document in the 20th century. It is probably the first systematically comprehensive, broadly based, scholarly, creed-like statement on the inspiration and authority of Scripture in the history of the church.” (Dallas Theological Seminary, “Records of the International Council On Biblical Inerrancy”)

Despite this modern safeguard, in 2010, Dr. Mike Licona, an evangelical professor, wrote a book titled The Resurrection of Jesus: A New Historiographical Approach. In this book, he suggested that the account of the resurrected saints walking through the city might be “apocalyptic imagery” (Mat. 27:51-53). In other words, he suggested that the events did not actually happen, but that it was lore or legend. Subsequently, Licona resigned from his position with the Southern Baptists and at Southern Evangelical Seminary. What followed is rather alarming. Incredibly, some notable evangelical scholars began to express their support for Licona’s view, considering  it consistent with a belief in inerrancy.

SCHOLARS TRYING TO REDEFINE INERRANCY

Of course, in order to defend Licona’s view they had to redefine inerrancy to include what were previously considered to be errors.  Some did this by misinterpreting inerrancy as expressed by the ICBI framers.

Since 2011, more alarming statements from Licona have surfaced, including: (1) A denial of the historicity of the mob falling backward at Jesus’ claim “I am he” in John 18:4-6 (RJ, 306, note 114); (2) A denial of the historicity of the angels at the tomb recorded in all four Gospels (Mat. 28:2-7; Mark 16:5-7; Luke 24:4-7; John 20:11-14) (RJ, 185-186); (3) A denial of the accuracy of the Gospel of John by claiming it says Jesus was crucified on the wrong day (debate with Bart Ehrman at Southern Evangelical Seminary, Spring, 2009); (4) A claim that the Gospel genre is Greco-Roman biography which he says is a “flexible genre” in which “it is often difficult to determine where history ends and legend begins” (RJ, 34). Amazingly, these views continue to gain support among the evangelical community.

Read More …

Does God Exist?

What evidence is there that a god exists? If a god doesn’t exist, certainly the God of the Bible doesn’t exist. And if the God of the Bible doesn’t exist, why should we behave like he does?

In this video, Dr. Fernandes presents a number of philosophical and scientific reasons that a god must exist. The evidence spans from the thoughts of ancient Greek philosophers to modern scientific discoveries. If you would like a great overview of the modern evidence, this video is a great place to start.

A Priori Knowledge

From A Priori Knowledge and Miracles
by IBD Vice President Matthew J Coombe

Essentially there are two types of knowledge,1 a priori (“from the earlier” or “before the senses”) and a posteriori (“from the later” or “after the senses”). The distinction between the two types is purely epistemic in nature. The most telling difference between the two, as described by Kant is, a priori knowledge is independent of all experience,2 and includes propositions such as, “all bachelors are unmarried males,” and “7 + 5 = 12.3

Classically, many philosophers have accepted a priori knowledge but recently it has received much scrutiny and even some have attempted to reduce it to pure linguistics.4 The skepticism results from the failure to distinguish a clear and coherent account of the classical conception of a priori knowledge from a general theory of knowledge.5 Kitcher PhilipTo properly distinguish and apply a priori knowledge one must ask two questions, 1) what is the primary target of the analysis? 2) Does the analysis of the primary target presuppose a general theory of knowledge?6 If the target requires a theory of knowledge then it cannot be considered truly a priori. Some epistemologists, such as Phillip Kitcher, not only argue that propositions have no intrinsic meaning,7 (and therefore there is no a priori knowledge) but that a priori knowledge is experientially indefensible8 and therefore cannot even be proven at all.

A priori knowledge, if it exists, must be known independently of experience. Several issues are quickly brought to attention, is it possible for man to have knowledge independent of experience? If the answer is “no” then Hume’s a priori rejection fails. If the answer is “yes,” then it must be discerned if the type of knowledge utilized by Hume is indeed free from experience. So then, the issue before the house is. is knowledge contingent upon experience? If one incidence of knowledge can be determined to have occurred apart from experience then a priori knowledge is possible.

Consider a primitive alien planet. On this planet, Gog and Harry (two aliens) are looking at a pile of roldals (the closest equivalent to these on earth are apples). Gog places two roldals on the ground; though to delineate “two” Gog does not utilize the word “two” but rather “glue.” Likewise Harry grabs “glue roldals” and places them next to Gog’s roldals. Now they want to figure out how many they would have if they were to combine them. They designate a stick to be a “+” sign and a rock to be an “=” sign. Further they decide the number four shall be known as “horse.” Therefore: glue roldals, stick, glue roldals, rock, horse roldals— two plus two equals four.

James BeebeDid experience aid in the formulation of the previous conclusion? It would seem that certain mathematical claims are universal and necessary. James R. Beebe examines if things like mathematical proofs are indeed “putatively a priori necessities.9” Beebe argues that due to pervasive nature of empiricism (or rather a posteriori knowledge) there exists an inherent tendency away from a priori knowledge;10 this tendency is not prima facie against a priori knowledge but rather for a posteriori. Beebe’s thesis is to investigate if this penchant is indeed justified. Instead of focusing on basic principles, most of the skepticism applied to a priori knowledge is concerned with impractical linguistic word play syllogisms. For example: 1) If I know that 2 + 3 = 5, then I know that I am not involved in any subject whose a priori beliefs are massively and constantly in error due to skeptical circumstances. 2) I do not know whether or not I am affected by such skeptical circumstances. 3) Therefore, I do not know that 2 + 3 = 5.11 Beebe sites Wittgenstein and Descartes as those who pose the type of skeptical circumstances that prevent such knowledge. For example, Descartes argues in his Third Meditation that it could be possible for God or some deity to deceive every instance of reliable knowledge12 (such is the basis for the previously mentioned syllogism). The problem is, even the proposition, “I should be skeptical concerning a priori knowledge because my environment could be fake, contrived, and/or deceiving,” is in fact an instance of a priori knowledge. Further, even if the most hyper-skeptical environment existed, it would in no way negate the veracity concerning mathematical principles. Consider the aliens once again, but in this instance suppose that they are in a completely computer generated environment and everything around them is fake. Even in this skeptical and false world, the number of rodals, when properly added, will always remain the same. Ultimately, Descartes viewed hyper-skepticism as a menace that restricted intellectual discourse and argued that it was not a useful epistemic tool.13

To determine the connection between a priori knowledge and miracles we need to question the relationship between “before the senses” knowledge and experience. While a priori knowledge can be independent of a hyper-skeptical world, this in no way ensures a unilateral connection between the two—a connection would be required if miracles were either to be accepted or objected via a priori knowledge. Confusion surround the nature of a priori thought further conflates the issue.

Merely because something is a priori, this does not entail that it must necessarily be devoid of any a posteriori components in order for it to remain an instance of a priori knowledge. For example, Plantinga argues that if there were five passengers in a car crash and two survived the crashed, we can know the number who died in the crash a priori is three. The a posteriori knowledge factors in when one considers, what a car crash is or what it means to “survive,” or “die.” Since the combination of the two types of knowledge do not contradict each other, then the combination in no way invalidates the instance of a priori knowledge.14

Consider four scenarios, in each of these scenarios there is a car crash of which there are five passengers, three victims, and two survivors. In the first scenario, the accident took place in a movie, the second was reported on during the evening news, the third was told from a friend who had witnessed the accident (though this friend is known for embellishing) and you witnessed the fourth scenario. The ability to obtain a priori knowledge in each of these scenarios is in one sense contingent upon the a posteriori and in the other independent from it. The veracity of a priori knowledge (in these incidences) is dependent on the efficacy and types of source accounts and evidence.15 In the movie example, the a priori knowledge is sound, but the event is not actual. The other three scenarios likewise result in consistent a priori knowledge iff the sources are accurate.

Therefore, a priori knowledge can be predicated on a posteriori knowledge and the burden of proof in these scenarios is on the a posteriori and not the a priori.16 Further, there is a link between experience and a priori knowledge. This link is not necessary, but when it does occur the veracity of the a priori knowledge is not contingent upon itself, but rather the veracity of the a posteriori presuppositions and justification is the contingency. Thus, to question certain instances of a priori knowledge is merely to question the justification for the a posteriori. It is because of this justification requirement that some epistemologists have argued for the superiority of a priori knowledge.1718

Joshua_ThurowThe final question concerning the link between the two types of knowledge is to answer the question if experientially justified a priori knowledge is capable of being defeasible or to question if it is able to be overturned. Epistemologist Joshua Thurow argues that if a priori knowledge is possible then it is defeasible by non-experiential evidence (due to its very nature). However, if it is defeasible by non-experiential justification then it would likewise be overturned by experiential evidence.19 This conclusion however seems unmerited. To determine if a priori knowledge is defeasible or not, the nature of the claims associated with it should be detailed to a further degree.

All necessary truths are incidences of a priori knowledge,20 but not all incidences of a priori knowledge are necessary. For example the law of excluded middle is a necessary truth that can be known a priori; it is necessarily the case that something cannot be both true and not true in the same sense at the same time and one is able to know this without examining anything in physical reality. For example, someone cannot rightly deduce, “I cannot know truth,21” because if true, her premise fails, and if false then truth can be known and would result in an instance of a priori knowledge. Further, this would be an example of an a priori truth that is also necessary.

Some a priori truths might be instances of knowledge but not necessarily true. The only types of a priori truths that are not necessarily true are those that are true by definition. “All bachelors are unmarried males,” is driven by a definition that need not necessarily be true—there could be a possible sub-culture where “bachelor” means a newly married male. What makes such an instance actually a priori knowledge is because “all bachelors are unmarried males” is true by definition and therefore requires no research or experience—thus, a priori.

Some have attempted to reduce necessary truths to pure linguistics.22 But as argued concerning the example of necessarily or axiomatic truths (of which to deny is self-refuting) such examples cannot be reduced to pure linguistics. While some necessary truths can be reduced to tautologies, this by no means entails all necessary truths are reducible to merely linguistically significant statements.2324 Even Thurow eventually concedes that instances of necessary truths which are defeasible by experience are of the “true by definition” variety and therefore the linguistic factor could affect the truth value, but, iff the definition were equivocal.25

In conclusion, a priori truths can be necessary or true by definition and either can be justified depending on the usage or if is predicated on some a posteriori truth. Necessary a priori truths are irrefutable but are limited in scope. True by definition a priori truths are contingent upon language and in some cases limited by a posteriori foundations (such as the example of car accident). Even before examining Hume, it seems unlikely he would consider his objection as “necessary” therefore, if his objection has merit it would have to be a true by definition or a posteriori contingent a priori truth.

1Alvin Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function (Oxford University Press, USA, 1993).2

2Jonathan Dancy, Ernest Sosa, and Matthias Steup, A Companion to Epistemology (John Wiley & Sons, 2009). 1

3Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function. 3

4Ibid. 3

5Albert Casullo, “Analyzing a Priori Knowledge,” Philosophical Studies 142, no. 1 (January 2009): 77–90, doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.liberty.edu:2048/10.1007/s11098-008-9302-5.

6Ibid. 77

7Philip Kitcher, “Knowledge, Society, and History,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy 23, no. 2 (June 1, 1993): 155–177, doi:10.2307/40231815.

8Philip Kitcher, “A Priori Knowledge,” The Philosophical Review 89, no. 1 (January 1, 1980): 3–23, doi:10.2307/2184861.

9James R. Beebe, “A Priori Skepticism*,” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 83, no. 3 (2011): 583–602, doi:10.1111/j.1933-1592.2010.00488.x.

10Ibid. 584

11Ibid. 595

12René Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy (NuVision Publications, LLC, 1960). 12

13Harry M. Bracken, Descartes (Oneworld, 2002).15

14Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function. 3

15Casullo, “Analyzing a Priori Knowledge.” 89

16Ibid. 79

17Darragh Byrne, “A Priori Justification,” Philosophical Books 48, no. 3 (2007): 241–251, doi:10.1111/j.1468-0149.2007.00447.x.

18Plantinga, Warrant and Proper Function. 8

19Joshua Thurow, “Experientially Defeasible A Priori Justification,” The Philosophical Quarterly 56, no. 225 (2006): 596–602, doi:10.1111/j.1467-9213.2006.461.x.596

20Albert Casullo, A Priori Justification (Oxford University Press, USA, 2003). 88

21Paul A. Boghossian, Content and Justification: Philosophical Papers, Text is Free of Markings (Oxford University Press, USA, 2008). 177. Boghossian is less inclined to believe something so specific can be known via a priori knowledge, but he is willing to allow statements such as, “I am currently entertaining a thought,” which equally argues for my point concerning propositions that are necessarily true because to deny the proposition ultimately affirms it.

22E. D. Klemke, “The Laws of Logic,” Philosophy of Science 33, no. 3 (September 1, 1966): 271–277, doi:10.2307/186275..

23Ibid. 273

24Alfred J. Ayer and Sir Alfred Jules Ayer, Language, Truth and Logic, 2nd ed. (Dover Publications, 1952). 16

25Thurow, “Experientially Defeasible A Priori Justification.” 600

The “God of the Gaps” Fallacy

What is it?

The god-of-the-gaps fallacy is an argument commonly used to belittle faith. It is predicated on the notion that as our knowledge of the natural sciences increases, fewer supernaturally motivated conclusions about our universe will be necessary. In other words, God is only a placeholder explanation for phenomena until researchers discover the actual cause.

The God Thor creates lightningFor example, modern man is well aware that lighting and thunder has nothing to do with angry deities; Instead, it is understood that it is actually an arc of electricity in the atmosphere. In the same way, modern man is also rightly skeptical of the conclusion that illness results from the anger of malevolent “spirits”. Research has revealed the causes to be known bacteria, viruses, cancers, and other related things.

In the past, because god-of-the-gaps was utilized to explain what could not be understood, some theorize that there is a coming time when the “god” of the gaps will explain nothing. In other words, science will explain all of man’s questions. Not only is this conclusion misguided but actually is utilizing the same logic it is attempting to decry.

Positive Arguments

The classical arguments for the existence of God (ontological, axiological, cosmological, teleological) are not negative arguments. They are not responses to unexplained phenomenon. Rather they are responses to what is known about the world.

Creation paiting on Sistine ChapelFor example, because we know all things which begin to exist need a cause, it is impossible for anything that began to exist to be self-caused; It follows then that everything from human consciousness to the universe would need a cause. Further, in all cases where something is caused, the producer of the cause must have certain features which enable it to be the cause the observed effect.

In the case of the universe, for example, such features must include: intelligence, consciousness, intentionality, and sufficient power. Thus, because of what we do know about the world, and how cause and effect works, the existence of God is not a lowest common denominator god-of-the-gaps response. Instead, is the best possible response to the data we have at hand.

Even if one argues that the existence of the universe is not restrained to the laws of causality, as some theoretical physicists do, believing that the universe is an anomaly of the “quantum vacuum” is still highly problematic. If as a recent paper from Japan asserts, the universe is indeed the result of such a rare occurrence as a the expansion of a quantum vacuum bubble, then one would have no justification for believing that such causation would be reasonably possible; Possibility does not necessitate reality. On the other hand, if one assumes it is possible, as the Japanese paper asserts, then why do we only see one universe? An even better question is: Why only universes?

Big  Bang TimelineOf course, if one wanted to be honest and go the route of saying that the universe is an anomaly of which we have only mathematical models, with little actual physical evidence, then that same person has just argued that we have no reason to believe the philosophical conclusions they create based on such a model. In reality, the only reason atheists argue that the universe doesn’t need a cause is personal volition. Many argue this way because they personally, but not intellectually, prefer to believe in a religion which allows them to do as they wish. They do not like where alternative conclusions take them.

The god-of-the-gaps fallacy occurs when one goes from what he does not know to god (or some supernatural phenomenon). The apologist is not following that line of argumentation. Instead, he is going from what he does know (e.g. causality) to God. Basing conclusions on what is known and logical could hardly be considered the a god-of-the-gaps fallacy.

In an ironic twist, if one defends the belief that science will one day answer all of men’s questions, that one should use the belief in science to fill in the “gaps”, he is actually making the same argument … merely with a different conclusion. Scientific methodology and mathematical models become “gods-in-the-gap”.

Conclusion

While the theist is charged with arguing from what is unknown to God, the skeptic is going from what is scientifically unknown (i.e. the answers to man’s problems and questions) to no God; The justification or evidence is the same for both scenarios. Thus if a skeptic convinces someone that they are refuting a god-of-the-gaps fallacy, they may also refuting their own argument. Usually, they are making a straw man argument, because it does not accurately portray the evidence, the conclusion, or the methodology of the Christian.

A Theodicy (Answering some questions about God and evil)

By IBD Vice President Matthew J Coombe

Originally Posted on mjcoombe.com

Incumbent to the duty of the apologist is to be prepared to not only defend the essentials of the faith (the existence of God or the resurrection) but also issues that tend to have a strong grasp on the emotions of people—the seemingly incompatibility of evil and the existence of God is one of these issues. In this paper I will address five questions and that can hinder the intellectual capacity of people to discern aspects of God (be it His goodness or even His existence) and formulate a theodicy. The questions are, 1. Why is there any evil at all? 2. Why are there the types and kinds of evils that there are? 3. Why is there the amount of evil that there is? 4. Why is there the particular evils that there are? 5. Why does God allow moral evils, and, natural evils, as He does?

Before attempting to make compatible the existence of God and the existence of evil, it should be examined from purely a neutral standpoint (if this is even possible)This is a crucial step as it sets the table to answer each of these questions. For the purposes of this paper, suppose we argue that the neutral position consists of a world that is nearly identical in every respect from this world save one major difference, there are no purported religious experiences or in fact no religions at all—no one believes in God and for all intents and purposes God does not exist. In this sense, I will refer to religion as a belief in a being or reality that transcends earth and its inhabitants. In this scenario I would like to ask the question, does this world have a problem with evil? The answer is both yes and no. Yes it has a problem with evil in the sense that people would still kill each other, still commit hate crimes, and commit all sorts of atrocities; or that moral evil would still be as equally prevalent in this world as it is in ours. Further, on top of the problems with moral evil there also the remaining problem of natural evil; earthquakes and tsunamis and hurricanes still ravage the land leading to death and people losing homes and property.

In another sense, even though it is clear to the inhabitants of our world that the neutral world is full of evil, it is impossible for these events and actions to actually be considered evil (from the neutral perspective). Simply put, if there is no absolute moral law (the ability to claim that certain things in all cases are evil) then there could be no breaking of those moral laws. At best, without the use of a universal standard, one could merely hold to preferences and nothing else, i.e. “I prefer to not be murdered” as opposed to “all incidences of murder are evil.” The only means of having a universal law is through a universal law giver (God), without which universality is impossible.

Any normative system of ethics would deny subjective morality as it pertains to person to person morality. Or that, it seems that a robust ethical system could not be stemmed from the preferences of any given person—there are too many limiting factors between people.  Education, culture, mental faculties, past trauma, presupposition, socio-economic status, and upbringing all affect one’s view concerning the morality of any given event. Further, if person to person morality follows, what happens if a conflict occurs? What if Dwight thinks it is perfectly fine to murder but Gareth does not like the idea of being murdered at all. What then? Obviously the scope must be bigger then a given individual.

If person to person morality fails what about having morality decided by a given group of people (such as a country)? The problem with this possibility fails for the same as the previous, different countries have different cultures, educations, socio-economic status and so on. On top of this, if a country or a culture decides what is evil or wrong, then one culture could not tell another culture that their actions are wrong—who could then, by moral grounds rightly stand up against Nazi Germany? Thus far, the neutral world has no means of proclaiming the evil of anything.

This neutral world could, via universal consensus decide that everything on vice list A(which contains things like rape, murder, and stealing) is evil and conversely everything on virtue list A ( which contains things like charity, hospitality, and bravery) is good. If this occurred, would it be possible then for universal objective evil and good to exist? The answer is still no. Even if the entirety of the world were in agreement on the morality of a given action, this would not entail objective morality, but merely subjective morality but with a high degree of agreement.

Further, if the neutral world began to exist (and by however means it did) based on an irrational cause (for there is no rational causer such as God) how could the people of this world ever hope to even formulate words about evil let alone be able to clearly delineate it; or that one could believe that the world is merely a product of an irrational cause, but if that was case, they would have no rational grounds in believing that (or anything at all).

It is only in a world that has a rational cause and an objective moral law giver that one is not only able to make coherent claims about anything in general, but also about what is right and wrong. Even when people deny the existence of absolute morality he will still act upon it. For example, Richard Dawkins has said on numerous occasions that if atheism were true that there would be no universal morality, however he has also stated on numerous occasions that he would not debate William Lane Craig because the God that he is defending committed genocide. If Dawkins were to be consistent his reason for not debating Craig would be a non- sequitur.

Therefore, it would not follow to claim that the existence of God and evil to be incompatible for evil could not even exist without an objective moral law giver in the first place. The next obvious question is, if there exists an objective moral lawgiver (such as God) why does God allow evil to exist at all? There have been several possible answers given to this question. The first is the free will theodicy, which states simply, humans have been given the ability to choose good or evil and he has chosen evil and therefore this is the source of evil.

Several key criticisms of this view are as follows. Why did God (if is omnipotent) create beings who are capable of doing evil? Is God inept in creating such a being (then He could hardly be considered omnipotent) or then is He merely the author of sin and evil (and therefore not good himself). There are three primary responses to this line of thinking. 1. From a metaphysical standpoint, the skeptic might be desiring God to do something that is logically impossible, namely, it might be beyond the capability, even of an omnipotent being), to create free willed beings that never sin. Of course God could create beings who never sin, the same way an architect could design a building with no widows. The crux of the issue is freedom. If freedom was truly given and holds, could God ensure such a being never sins? If the answer is “yes” then perhaps one would wonder “is man truly free?” It boils down to, God could create beings who never sin or commit evil, but it seems He cannot (by definition) create free willed beings who always act in a certain way.

2. There is also the notion of “trans-world depravity.” This considers the actions of free willed beings to always be one of a propensity to do evil. For example, some have claimed something like, “If I was in the Garden of Eden, I would never have sinned.” The concept of trans-world depravity would entail that not only were the actions of Adam and Eve normative, but in any possible world any two sentient and free beings would have eventual succumbed to her baser depraved desires and sinned.

3. Though freedom is able to bring about evil, without freedom there are certain goods that could never be achieved otherwise. For example, a man may wish to be told he is loved by someone. He decides that he is capable of bringing about this desire by one of two means. The first is he could create a robot that is programmed to affirm its love for him. The second option is, he could romance a woman and give her reason for her to decide for herself freely if she loves him. Suppose the man decided to do both, which scenario do you think would have made the man most satisfied, the robot doing as was contrived or the woman freely choosing? Of course as with any scenario of two people in love, there is bound to be fights and difficulties (none of which would be possible with the robot) but obviously anyone who has been in love would not hesitate to maintain that the various problems or ruts by no means entail that the love was not worth it.

On top of this, I do not think there is anyone in the world that would maintain that freedom (even if it at times can lead to evil) is itself an evil thing, I have yet to see people marching in protest on their capital with signs donning things like “Take away our freedom.” Or “More oppression, less choice!” No, in fact the opposite is usually the case, people usually are demanding more freedom. So then, freedom is a good thing, even if it brings about limited bad things.

In sum, evil exists because free will beings exist. And while people maintain that evil is bad, she will also maintain that freedom is good. It could even be noted that the unjust limited of freedom is likewise an evil.

The next question is, why are there the types and kinds of evils that there are? (In answering this question I shall also answer question 5). Generally speaking there are two main types of evil, moral and natural. Moral agents or people commit moral evils, these are willful (but not necessarily intentional) actions done by a person towards another person. Non-moral agents such as hurricanes and tornados commit natural evils.

Often atheists criticize God for either being impotent in preventing evil or evil Himself for allowing it. Richard Swinburne’s argument circumvents this line of reasoning by arguing that there exist certain goods, which cannot be achieved unless there is evil. Or that, God is justified in allowing certain types of evils because it can bring about a good, which could not come about, by any other means. Atheists often claim the best possible world created by God would be one without pain or evil. This line of thinking is misguided.

First of all consider the elements of the best possible movie. What elements would be in the movie? A good or peace is disrupted by an antagonist or natural evil. A hero triumphs over the evil. These two elements are almost always universally found in movies. Would people be willing to spend money to see a movie in which nothing happens? If there is no conflict then there is no intrigue, if there is no intrigue it could never be considered the best possible movie. Further, consider video games. What elements would be in the best possible video game? Would kids or adults be willing to spend 50 dollars on a video game in which there was no journey to take, or princess to save, or enemies to defeat? How much fun would it be to control a character that simple sits in room? Who would think that this could be considered the best possible game?

If the video game and movie analogies follow it could further be argued that the best possible world would be one that likewise had the same type of intrigue. Without pain or difficulty there could be no triumph. On top of this, evil in smaller amounts seems to bring about goodness in larger amounts  (and even prevents more evil.) For example having an illness or a disease is an evil, but the having of the disease would create antibodies that could in the future prevent further diseases in the future.

Swinburne mentions a very interesting thought experiment. This thought experiment is as follows; suppose you were given the opportunity for only a few minutes of life. This life is not an immature one or one in which the person has no awareness of his surroundings, but rather that of full cognition and understanding of the environments and surroundings. Then in those precious minutes available you were given a choice. You could either have this time spent in pure felicity in which no pain or malice entered your body or mind. Or, you could warrant this time in pain and agony. The catch is, if you chose the later or the pain, it would not be in vain but rather people would benefit from your minutes of anguish. It would be very strange that people would choose the limited felicity with no lasting effect as compared to allowing limited evil with lasting effects of good.

Both in the animal world and with humans altruism is at times necessary and always seen as admirable. Perhaps animals lack the cognitive faculties to truly appreciate another of its kind when altruism occurs, but humans have the ability to appreciate the deed and see the good in it. Considering both fictional and non-fictional examples, sacrifice for the greater good is always commendable by people. In fiction, when a hero fights to his dying breath to save people who are unable to save themselves, this is universally considered a very meaningful gesture. In war people are considered heroes if they die for others, especially if it is for a group of people. If a solider is wounded or even killed in the defense or for the safety of his kinsmen, he is often rewarded with the highest honors.

In each of these scenarios the goodness of altruism and sacrifice could only be considered good, if there existed evil or conflict in the first place. Without the conflict the goodness could not be achieved. This is the primary thesis and presupposition of Swinburne in his essay. While atheists claim that God is evil or inept for allowing evil they fail to see three primary things. The first is, that there are a certain level of and types of good that could only be achieved in a world in which evil exists. These things would be (to name a few) forgiveness, medicine, reconciliation, and repentance.

Atheists also fail to recognize that not only is the evil that is allowed by God utilized for his (and other people’s) good but also the world in which they claim would be the best possible world (free from evil and pain) actually does exist and is found in the Christian notion of heaven. Everyone would agree that evil or pain is permissible if it can bring about a greater good. For example, suppose a dog with rabies bit a boy, and to save his life the boy would have to endure a series of painful injections to prevent him from contracting rabbis and dying. The pain of the injections would then be considered acceptable because the pain and evil of the injections is of far less consequence then the pain or evil associated with death. So then, God is justified in allowing certain evils, because there are certain goods, which are only possible in a world that has evil in it.

Another possible reason for God allowing evil is seen with Hick’s Soul making theodicy. In general Hick argues that humans are not created complete. Just as a child is born with the need to grow cognitively and socially so too man is in need of certain degrees of growth. There seems to be an underlining theodicy found throughout the Scriptures that feeds this line of thinking. This theodicy is based on the superseding of God on the realities of pain and suffering, that the glimpses of pain are but shadows to the pleasures and comfort, which are found in Him.

Human thinking becomes distorted when she considers God to be something of a Hotel manager whose job is to make her feel as comfortable as possible—comfort has never been the aim of God. Just as it is good for a parent to teach her child to delay gratification, “finish your homework and then you can watch tv,” so also humans must realize the immediate pleasure or happiness is in no way the sum of human experience. Further, if immediate pleasure is not the goal, then it could rightly be applied that immediate pain is likewise not the goal.

Pleasure and pain are a part of the human life and experience and yet neither of them are meant to be the sum of human experience. What then does this tell us? Namely that,  the pleasure we feel or can feel is meant to be a taste of what one experiences in ultimate reality (which is heaven) and pain is meant to help refine that person as to groom himself and others for that same ultimate reality. Then question becomes, why would God allow evil and pain, even if it was for the purpose of an ultimate reality such as heaven? The answer to this is, God is in the business of soul winning. The ultimate reality, is the ultimate goal of man. If this is the case then God is justified in allowing evil if it could bring about the condition that a person’s soul is won.

While moral evil has been heavily addressed and given several plausible theodicies, what about Natural evil? While a man choosing to hurt or a kill another man might escape the fault of God, who but God would be responsible for a hurricane? Before answer this question it should be noted that Hick’s soul making theodicy and Swinburne’s theodicy could apply to natural evil as well. Just as a human can only learn forgiveness through being wronged, perhaps a man can only learn the power of fellowship by a group of people fighting together to build a wall of sandbags to save a community from an impending flood.

Further, while many natural evils (disasters) are given the title of “act of God.” Perhaps they should more rightly be called “act of Adam” and natural evils should be reduced to nothing more then the moral evil perpetrated by Adam. If the Jeudeo-Christian tradition is true sin and death entered into the earth when Adam sinned. His free choice cursed the planet. Before his decision to sin occurred there were no natural evils at all. So then, it should follow that essentially there is essentially only is one type of evil, moral evil.

Question 3 asks, why is there the amount of evil that there is? The logical problem questions the compatibility of evil and God, whereas the Evidential problem of God questions the amount of evil in the world. The problem with this style of argumentation is, (especially William Rowe’s formulation of the argument) is, Rowe does not necessarily have a problem with evil but rather the amount of evil. For example, he says “There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.” So then he does not have a problem with evil existing, per se, but rather to the degree and kind it exists today. This is troubling. For example, if Rowe really held to this thesis, then if God removed all evil from the world and decided to place it all on one man, lets call him “Carl” (this would entail that if any evil happened it would happen to Carl, disease, accidents, and so forth). Rowe would have to be satisfied with allowing a much lesser evil to occur (because no one else on the earth would feel the grip of evil except for Carl) for a greater evil. But it seems, even If God did allow this, Rowe would not recant his statement but would rather argue something such as, “why is God doing this to Carl?”

So then the evidential argument fails because it seems like no atheist would consider God a just being, even if he removed all the sin and death and evil from the world and put it on one person and that person suffered it all. Most likely the critics would merely shift the question to Carl’s suffering and not the worlds. Thus the problem would be shifted back to the logical problem of evil, of which no one really advocates to be a problem.

So then, the evidential problem is not really what is at issue. This being confirmed does not entail that the apologist should not be ready with a response. Consider the action of stepping on a nail. Obviously the pain from such an event is a good thing. At first one might be inclined to consider, “How can the pain of being impaled at all be considered good?” Suppose that Bob’s (the man who stepped on the nail) foot had no feeling and there was no reaction to the nail. Further, since his foot has no feeling he did not realize the nail was in there. Because he was unaware of it being inside of him he did not think to pull it out or go to the Doctor to receive a tetanus shot. Eventually the wound becomes infected and since Bob cannot feel the pain, it goes undiagnosed. This could result in an amputation or even death through infection.

So then, it seems pain is good because it can let one know when something is wrong. The next question one should consider however, is why are there varying degrees of pain. For example, if a man slowly dies of dysentery could not he just feel the pain associated with a needle prick or a slight headache instead of the constant agony? Why the excruciating pain? There are several answers to this. 1. Degrees of pain are necessary to affirm severity. Suppose that all pain was equal to that a pin prick. If this was the case then, how else would one be able to differentiate an “ice cream headache” and a migraine cause from a brain tumor? Varying degrees of pain are required for discerning varying degrees of severity. It is for this reason doctors and medical professionals use what is called a pain scale. Via the pain scale and other diagnostic tools the doctor is able to make a determination as to the best course of treatment.

2. If everything was the same sensation there likewise then could be no pleasure either. Pain is important because it can tell a person when something is wrong. Pleasure is important because it can (biologically speaking) tell us when something is right.

3. In cases of severe pain, such as previously mentioned it might be the case that if anything the more pain someone is in, the more deviant the event is from the way things are meant to be. For example suppose you saw a glass vase with the handle broken. Clearly you would be justified in maintaining the handle is meant to be connected to the vase, however, this is a relatively small deviation from the fully functional and connected vase. Further suppose that the next day the same vase was seen but this time it had shattered into a thousand pieces, it could quite easily be noted that the vase as in it is in its current state is a greater deviation from its original state. The same could be said of a person. A broken hand is a deviation from the way it should be, further a shatter or mangled hand is an even further deviation from the way it should be.  Incumbent to this line of thinking actually results in evil as evidence for the existence of a meta-narrative. If there exists in humans, a way things should always be, there must exist a meta-narrative and it would follow from this there is likewise a meta-narrator. So then, extreme pain can, if anything else tell humans that the current state of affairs that resulted in the massive pain was not the way things were meant to be. Enter once again Swinburne’s greater good theodicy, as well as Hick’s Soul making theodicy as further evidence.

The amount of evil need not only be considered in terms of severity, but also in terms of quantity. It might be of greater urgency to give a theodicy for one hundred children living in malnutrition then one dying of dysentery.  How does the apologist respond to this? The first means is as already mentioned. “Charity” is a good that can only exist in a fallen world. Every opportunity of the pains associated with starvation could be quenched with compassionate people acting upon that compassion. Further, the amount of (moral) evil is invariably limited to the free actions of free people. Or that, God could force people to murder less and feed starving people more, but then the goodness associated with people freely choosing to do the good would lose its potency. Again, God is in the business of making refined souls, not comfortable living.

To answer succinctly, pain is good in limited amounts. In larger amounts if anything it can assure one that the pain is a result of the deviation of a meta-narrative. Further, much of the moral evil can be eliminated if people freely chose to limit it.

And finally 4. Why is there the particular evils that there are? The types of evils that exist are in direct correlation with the free beings that likewise exist. If the Judeo-Christian notion of God is true, God cannot commit evil. Evil is often defined as a deprivation of what is good. Other examples of things that only exist as deprivation are darkness and coldness— neither of these things actually exist but rather are deprivations of something else. If light is completely removed from a room then there is darkness. And while machines exist that can create light, there are none that can create darkness, but rather only things that can remove light.

Further, theoretically with infinite energy there could be infinite heat. Conversely there is no such thing as infinite coldness—coldness is merely the removal of heat. Since coldness is the removal of heat this is why there is such as thing as absolute zero, this is the point of which no more heat can be removed and therefore the coldness is limited. However, the same cannot be true of the possibility of limiting heat.

If evil and God work like this, then the further one removes himself from God and His standards the more evil there is to likely come about. So then, the types and varieties of evils that exist do so because humans have freely rejected the moral consciousness written on her heart. Since this is the case the types of evil that are possible for humans are limited only by their imagination and physical limitations.

Even though God allows humans to continue on with the sin and evils, it should be noted that this is by no means a passive continuance. If God is omniscient it would follow that He would know the consequences of creating a world of free willed beings and if He is good, had even before creation, a plan of redemption. This plan is through Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ represents the greatest theodicy that could ever be given.

The Problem of Evil

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

One of the greatest obstacles keeping people from accepting Christ is the problem of evil.1 This problem can take several different forms. First, the metaphysical problem of evil asks how evil can exist in a world created by an all-good God.2 Is God the cause of evil, or, is evil itself uncreated and eternal? Maybe evil is not real; it is simply an illusion.3 The metaphysical problem deals with the origin and reality of evil in God’s universe.

Second, the moral problem of evil deals with the evil choices of personal beings.4 This form of the problem argues that since an all-good God would want to destroy evil, and an all-powerful God is able to destroy evil, the existence of evil proves that no all-good, all-powerful God exists.5 The Christian apologist defends the existence of an all-good and all-powerful God. Therefore, he will respond to this argument.

The third form of the problem of evil is called the physical problem of evil.6 The physical problem of evil deals with incidents of natural disasters and innocent human suffering.7 How could God allow evil to occur that is not directly caused by the abuse of human free will?8

The fourth and final form of the problem of evil is not really a philosophical issue. It is the personal problem of evil.9 The personal problem of evil is not a theoretical question about the existence of evil. Instead, it is a personal struggle with a traumatic experience in one’s own life.10 Examples of this would be the sudden and unexpected death of a loved one, a bitter divorce, the loss of a job, or the like. In these situations, the troubled person does not need philosophical answers. What is needed is encouragement, comfort, and biblical counsel.11 Since this form of the problem of evil does not deal with philosophical discussion, it will not be dealt with in this chapter. The remainder of this chapter will deal with the first three forms of the problem of evil.

THE METAPHYSICAL PROBLEM OF EVIL

The metaphysical problem of evil can be stated as follows: 1) God created everything that exists, 2) evil exists, 3) therefore, God created evil.12 There are several ways people respond to this argument. First, like the Christian Science Cult, some can deny the reality of evil.13 They view evil as an illusion, but this entails a rejection of Christian Theism which clearly accepts the real existence of evil and offers Christ as its solution.14 Therefore, viewing evil as an illusion is not an option for the Christian apologist.

A second possible response to the metaphysical problem is dualism. This is the view that God and evil are coeternal.15 God did not create evil, in this view, since evil is eternal. This view fails in that it makes evil a second ultimate being along with God. God would then no longer be infinite since He and evil would limit each other. However, the cosmological argument has shown that there must be an infinite Being to explain and ground all finite existence. There cannot be two infinite beings, for they would limit each other. If God and evil are both finite, then there would have to be an infinite cause for the existence of both. Dualism would only push the problem of evil further back. It does not offer any ultimate solution to the dilemma. Also, the acceptance of dualism entails a rejection of the existence of the God of the Bible. Therefore, it is not an option for the Christian theist.16

The Christian apologist must defend the reality of evil without proposing evil as eternal or as a creation of God.17 Saint Augustine dealt with this same problem centuries ago. His proposed solution to the metaphysical problem of evil was that all things created by God are good. Nothing in its created nature is evil. Evil, therefore, cannot exist solely on its own. However, evil is real; it does exist. Still, it must exist in something good; it cannot exist on its own. Evil is a privation, a lack or absence of a good that should be there. Evil is a corruption or perversion of God’s good creation. Blindness in a man is evil, for God created man to see. But, blindness in a rock is not evil, for God never meant rocks to have sight. Evil, according to Augustine, is a lack of a good that should be there. Augustine stated, “evil has no positive nature; what we call evil is merely the lack of something that is good.”18

Augustine stated that God did not create evil; He merely created the possibility for evil by giving men and angels free will. When men and angels exercised their free will by disobeying God, they actualized the possibility for evil.19

Thomas Aquinas argued against the metaphysical problem of evil along the same lines as did Augustine.20 This basic response has been the traditional Christian solution to the metaphysical problem of evil. God did not create evil, but, evil exists as a privation or corruption of that which is good. God cannot be blamed for evil. He is only responsible for creating the possibility of evil. When God gave angels and men free will, He created the possibility of evil. Fallen angels and fallen men are responsible for evil through their abuse of free will.21

THE MORAL PROBLEM OF EVIL

The moral problem of evil affirms that an all-good God would want to destroy evil, while an all-powerful God is able to destroy evil. Since evil exists, it is concluded that an all-good, all-powerful God does not exist.22 Some people respond by denying God’s existence (atheism). Others deny that God is all-powerful (finite godism). Rabbi Harold Kushner is an example of the latter. He argues that God is not all-powerful. Kushner declares that mankind needs to forgive God for His failures and help Him to combat evil.23 Obviously, the options of atheism and finite godism are not viable for Christians. Christians must defend both God’s omnipotence (all-powerfulness) and His infinite goodness. Therefore, the moral problem of evil must be answered in another way.

Christian philosophers Geisler and Corduan offer several effective responses to the moral problem of evil. First, there is an unnecessary time limit placed on God.24 The argument against the existence of the theistic God from moral evil assumes that because evil exists God cannot be both all-good and all-powerful. However, what if an all-good and all-powerful God allowed evil for the purpose of a greater good? What if this God is also in the process of destroying evil and will someday complete the process?25 Second, God may have created the possibility of evil for the purpose of a greater good (human and angelic free will). God would not force His love on angels or mankind, for any attempt to force love on another is rape (and not really love at all).26 Therefore, He gave men and angels the freedom to accept or reject His love and His will. Free will necessitates the possibility of evil coming into the universe.27 In fact, human and angelic free choices brought evil and human suffering into the world.

Third, God will use evil for good purposes. If evil did not exist, there could be no courage, for there would be nothing to fear. If evil did not exist, man could only love his friends; he could never learn to love even his enemies. Without evil, there would be no enemies.28 Only an infinite God can know all the good He will bring out of evil (Isaiah 55:8-9).

Fourth, Geisler and Corduan argue that an all-good and all-powerful God is not required to create the best possible world. They reason that all He can be expected to do is create the best possible way to achieve the greatest possible world. Heaven is the greatest possible world.29

Several other points could also be made. First, the atheist usually denies the existence of objective evil since he knows that this would admit to the existence of the absolute moral law.30 The atheist knows that once he acknowledges the absolute moral law, the existence of God (the absolute moral law Giver) surely will follow.31 For evil to be objectively real, it must exist as a perversion of that which is ultimately good. To escape this conclusion, the atheist usually chooses to deny the existence of evil. Therefore, it is rather ironic that the atheist (who usually denies the existence of evil) attempts to use evil to disprove the existence of the God of the Bible. The presence of evil may be problematic for all other world views (including Christian theism), but it is totally devastating to atheism. If there is no God, then there are also no objective moral values. The most consistent atheists, such as Nietzsche, have readily admitted this.32

Second, all world views must deal with the problem of evil, but the God of the Bible is the only guarantee that evil will ultimately be defeated.33 The God of deism is no longer concerned with the problems of this world (such as evil).34 In pantheism, evil is an illusion.35 In atheism, there is no basis to call anything evil.36 But, the biblical God guarantees that evil will be defeated through Christ’s death, resurrection, and return (John 1:29; 1 Peter 2:24; 3:18; Romans 4:25; Isaiah 9:6-7; 11:1-9; Zechariah 9:9-10; Revelation 20;4-6).

Third, non-Christians act as if the existence of evil is an unexpected factor in the Christian world view, but this is not the case. God would not have given mankind the Bible had it not been for the problem of evil. If man had not Fallen in the garden, he would have had no need for salvation (Genesis 3:1-7; Romans 3:10, 23; 5:12; 6:23). The Bible could actually be titled “God’s Solution to the Problem of Evil.”

In short, the solution to the moral problem of evil (how an all-good, all-powerful God can co-exist with evil) is that God gave humans and angels free will. It is the abuse of this free will by humans and angels that has brought evil and human suffering into existence. God created the possibility for evil (by giving man and angels free will), not evil itself.

Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga adds an important detail concerning the Christian response to the moral problem of evil. He writes that there are two ways Christians can respond to this dilemma. First, he may develop a free will theodicy. A theodicy is an attempt to explain what was God’s reason (or reasons) for allowing evil. On the other hand, according to Plantinga, the Christian does not have to go that far. Instead of presenting a free will theodicy, he may develop a free will defense. In this case, rather than attempting to explain the reason as to why God allows evil and human suffering, the Christian can merely suggest a possible reason why God has allowed evil and human suffering.37 The free will defense, according to Plantinga, is sufficient in itself to show that the existence of evil does not rule out the possible existence of the God of theism.38

In other words, since the problem of evil is an attempt to prove God’s existence as being impossible, the Christian only needs to provide possible solutions to this problem. Once this is done, God’s existence will have been shown to be possible. Further argumentation (such as the cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological arguments) can then be presented to argue for God’s existence with a higher degree of probability.39

THE PHYSICAL PROBLEM OF EVIL

The physical or natural problem of evil deals with evil not directly connected to the abuse of human freedom.40 All physical or natural evil is at least indirectly related to the abuse of human freedom. Without the Fall of man in history, creation would still be perfect (Genesis 1:31). Still, much physical evil is not directly related to human choices. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, and deaths of innocent infants are examples of physical evil.

Geisler and Corduan list five explanations for physical evil.41 None of the five are meant to be all-encompassing. Each explains some of the physical evil that occurs. First, some physical evil is necessary for moral perfection.42 There can be no courage without something evil to fear. Misery is needed for there to be sympathy; tribulation is needed for there to be endurance and patience.43 For God to build these characteristics in man, He must permit a certain amount of physical evil.

Second, human free choices do cause some physical evil.44 It would be an obvious error to assume that no physical evil is caused by the abuse of human free will. The choice to drink and drive has caused much physical evil. Many infants have been born with an addiction to cocaine due to their mothers’ choice to abuse drugs while pregnant. It is impossible for God to remove all physical evil without tampering with human free will.45 It is even possible that some major natural disasters are caused by the evil choices of humans. According to the Bible, this was the case with Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:20-21; 19).

Third, some physical evil is caused by the choices of demons.46 The Scriptures speak of demons (fallen angels led by Satan) causing suffering to humans (Job 1, 2; Mark 5:1-20). Demons oppose God and His plans, but they will ultimately be defeated by Christ (Revelation 19, 20, 21, 22).

Fourth, God often uses physical evil as a moral warning.47 Physical pain is often a warning that greater suffering will follow if behavior is not changed. Examples of this would be excessive coughing that is often caused by smoking and heavy breathing caused by over training during a physical workout. Also, God may use pain and suffering to cause a person to focus on him, rather than on worldly pleasures.48

Fifth, some physical evils are necessary in the present state of the physical world.49 To survive, animals often eat other animals. Humans eat animals as well. It appears that, at least in the present state of the creation, lower life forms are subjected to pain and death in order to facilitate the preservation of higher life forms.50

Physical evil, therefore, does not present any insurmountable problems for Christian theism. Though man is limited in knowledge and cannot infallibly ascertain why God allows each and every case of physical evil, the five reasons given above should suffice to show that the presence of physical evil in no way rules out the existence of the God of the Bible.

CONCLUSION

Once the Christian apologist has provided strong evidence for God’s existence, he need only give possible reasons why an all-good and all-powerful God would allow evil and human suffering. God has good reasons for allowing evil and human suffering, even though we may not know them fully. Therefore, the existence of evil does not disprove the existence of an all-good and all-powerful God. These two are not mutually exclusive.

ENDNOTES

1 Nash, 177.

2 Geisler and Corduan, 318.

3 Ibid.

4 Ibid., 333.

5 Ibid.

6 Ibid., 364.

7 Ibid.

8 Ibid.

9 Nash, 179-180.

10 Ibid.

11 Ibid., 180.

12 Geisler and Corduan, 318.

13 Mary Baker Eddy, Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Boston: The First Church of Christ, Scientist, 1971), 293, 447, 472, 480, 482.

14 Geisler and Corduan, 318-319.

15 Ibid., 319.

16 Ibid., 319-320.

17 Ibid., 318-320.

18 Augustine, City of God, 217, 247, 305, 508.

19 Geisler and Corduan, 323-324.

20 Aquinas, 91-92.

21 Geisler and Corduan, 320-330.

22 Ibid., 333.

23 Kushner, 129,134,145-148.

24 Geisler and Corduan, 334.

25 Ibid., 348.

26 Ibid.

27 Ibid.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid., 342-343.

30 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 34-39.

31 Ibid.

32 Friedrich Nietzsche, The Portable Nietzsche, ed. by Walter Kaufmann, (New York: Penguin Books, 1982), 228.

33 Geisler and Watkins, 41.

34 Ibid., 148-149.

35 Ibid., 99-100.

36 Ibid., 59.

37 Plantinga, 28.

38 Ibid.

39 Ibid.

40 Geisler and Corduan, 364.

41 Ibid., 372-378.

42 Ibid., 372-373.

43 Ibid., 372.

44 Ibid., 373.

45 Ibid., 373-374.

46 Ibid., 375.

47 Ibid., 376.

48 Ibid.

49 Ibid.

50 Ibid., 376-378.

Refuting Moral Relativism

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

Philosophical apologetics often deals with the branch of philosophy called ethics. Ethics deals with issues of morality, that which is right and wrong.1 The Christian ethical perspective holds to absolute moral values, laws that are universally binding. Often, non-Christian views hold to moral relativism. Moral relativism rejects the idea that there are objective rights and wrongs.2 What is right for one person is not necessarily right for another person, and vice versa. Each person decides what is right for himself. Many atheists and pantheists are moral relativists.3

AN EXAMINATION OF MORAL RELATIVISM

Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) was a German philosopher. He believed that the advances of human knowledge had proven that belief in God was a mere superstition. Nietzsche therefore reasoned that since “God is dead,” all traditional values have died with Him. Nietzsche was angered with his atheistic colleagues who were unwilling to dismiss traditional moral absolutes which had no justification without God’s existence.4

Nietzsche preached that a group of “supermen” must arise with the courage to create their own values through their “will to power.” Nietzsche rejected the “soft” values of Christianity (brotherly love, turning the other cheek, charity, compassion, etc.); he felt they hindered man’s creativity and potential. He recommended that the supermen create their own “hard” values that would allow man to realize his creative potential.5 Nietzsche was very consistent with his atheism. He realized that without God, there are no universal moral values. Man is free to create his own values. It is interesting to note that the Nazis often referred to Nietzsche’s writings for the supposed intellectual justification for their acts of cruelty.6

Many other atheists agree with Nietzsche concerning moral relativism. British philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) once wrote, “Outside human desires there is no moral standard.”7 A. J. Ayer believed that moral commands did not result from any objective standard above man. Instead, Ayer stated that moral commands merely express one’s subjective feelings. When one says that murder is wrong, one is merely saying that he or she feels that murder is wrong.8 Jean-Paul Sartre, a French existentialist, believed that there is no objective meaning to life. Therefore, according to Sartre, man must create his own values.9

There are many different ways that moral relativists attempt to determine what action should be taken. Hedonism is probably the most extreme. It declares that whatever brings the most pleasure is right. In other words, if it feels good, do it.10 If this position is true, then there is no basis from which to judge the actions of Adolph Hitler as being evil.11

Utilitarianism teaches that man should attempt to bring about the greatest good for the greatest number of people.12 Utilitarianism is problematic. First, “good” is a meaningless term if moral relativism is true, for then there would be no such thing as good or evil. Second, to say that man “should” do something is to introduce a universal moral command. However, there is no room for universal moral commands in moral relativism.13

Joseph Fletcher founded “situation ethics.” Situation ethics is the view that ethics are relative to the situation. Fletcher claimed that he was not a moral relativist. He believed that there was only one moral absolute: love. Still, his concept of love was so void of meaning that his view of ethics, for all practical purposes, is synonymous with moral relativism.14

The situation never determines what is right. It is God who determines what is right. Still, the situation may aid the Christian in finding which of God’s laws should be applied.15 For when two of God’s commands come in conflict due to a situation so that a person cannot obey both, God requires that the person obey the greater command. God then exempts the person from obeying the lesser command. An example of this is the fact that god compliments Rahab the Harlot for lying in order to save two innocent lives (Joshua 2; Hebrews 11:31; James 2:25).16

REFUTING MORAL RELATIVISM

Moral relativists deny absolute moral law. Still, they, like all people, recognize the evil actions of others when they are wronged. When they are wronged, they appeal to an objective and universal law that stands above man. Moral relativists deny absolute moral law in the lecture hall, but they live by it in their everyday lives.17 Moral relativists reserve the right for themselves to call the actions of Hitler wrong,18 but, if there is no such thing as right and wrong (as the moral relativists say), they cannot really call any action wrong.

The moral law does not ultimately come from within each individual, for then no one could call the actions of another, such as Hitler, evil.19 The moral law does not ultimately come from each society, for then one society could not call the actions of another society (such as Nazi Germany) wrong.20 Finally, the moral law does not ultimately come from world consensus,21 for world consensus is often wrong. World consensus once thought the world was flat. World consensus once considered slavery morally permissible.

Appealing to world or societal consensus as the ultimate source of the moral law is actually just an extension of the view that the individual is the ultimate source. The difference is only quantitative (the number of people increases). However, for there to be a moral law above all men (in order to judge all men), this moral law must be qualitatively above all men. If there is an absolute moral law qualitatively above all men, then there must be an absolute moral law Giver that stands qualitatively above all men. The moral law is not descriptive of what is; it is prescriptive of what should be.22

Since the absolute moral law leads directly to the existence of the theistic God (the absolute moral law Giver), many atheists and pantheists may feel compelled to reject it’s existence. Also, people who wish to live promiscuous lives often choose to reject God’s existence. The apostle John appears to be talking about these people:

And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed (John 3:19-20).

ENDNOTES

1 Geisler and Feinberg, 24-26.

2 Moreland, Scaling the Secular City, 240.

3 Geisler and Watkins, 59, 99-100.

4 Friedrich Nietzsche, 95-96, 143, 228.

5 Ibid., 124-125, 139, 191, 197-198.

6 Copleston, A History of Philosophy vol. 7, 403.

7 Russell, 62.

8 Norman L. Geisler, Christian Ethics (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 32.

9 Geisler and Feinberg, 406.

10 Ibid., 400-401.

11 Geisler, Christian Ethics, 36-37.

12 Ibid., 63.

13 Ibid., 73-75.

14 Ibid., 43-61.

15 Geisler and Feinberg, 411.

16 Ibid., 424-427.

17 Hodge, Systematic Theology vol. 1, 210.

18 Hick, The Existence of God, 183-186.

19 Moreland, 246-247.

20 Ibid., 243-244.

21 Geisler and Feinberg, 355.

22 C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 27-28.

Postmodernizing Religion

by Paul Pardi

Religion often has been seen as a necessary balance to the stiff, cold, conclusions given to us by science. Whereas science tells us what the world is, religion tells us what the world means. However, since the enlightenment, religion has, for many, lived in a tension: religious believers are concerned that the object of their faith is “true” yet see the rationalist approach to religion with its deductive proofs for God’s existence and rigid, analytic approach to doctrine as a bane to religious belief and practice. When thinkers like Hume and Kant showed these “proofs” to be inadequate, religion either fell on hard times or survived under the auspices of an irrational activity called faith. The post-Enlightenment period certainly has not been easy on religion but is religious belief destined to be either irrational or irrelevant? Enter postmodernity.

Many philosophers of religion see the adoption of some strain of postmodern thought as a valuable return to the ineffable quality of religion that was lost in the modern period. Releasing God from the shackles of the modernist, logic-chopping philosophy enhances faith and encourages devotion. In this sense some see postmodern thought as a welcome friend to religion. The postmodern epistemology seems to serve as a fine bedfellow for faith in a transcendent being. James Turner in his penetrating *Without God, Without Creed* concludes his historical analysis of the rise of atheism in Western culture with the following insight: “The crucial ingredient, then, in the mix that produced an enduring unbelief . . . boiled down to a decision to deal with modernity by embracing it—to defuse modern threats to the traditional bases of belief by bringing God into line with modernity. Put slightly differently, unbelief emerged because church leaders too often forgot the transcendence essential to any worthwhile God. They committed religion . . . *intellectually* to modes of knowing God fitted only for understanding this world.”

In fact the religious mind has been skeptical for some time of attempts to make God the conclusion of a syllogism or logical proof or scientific discovery. Most conservative believers of any religion would not claim to have come to faith in God by way of some argument. These same believers also, when asked why they believe, would not cite a list of evidences justifying their beliefs. On the face of it, it appears that postmodern epistemology justifies what the religious believer wants to claim: the most important truths are not based upon evidence, reason, and logic but upon experience and community. Thus, under the postmodern epistemology, religion moves out from under the scientistically-bent modernist label “irrational” to the postmodern “non-rational.” For many religious persons, the latter is much better than the former. J. Bottum concludes an article for *First Things* by highlighting a distinct value postmodernity provides to the Catholic apologist, “There is perhaps a use we might make of the postmodern in apologetics, for the collapse of modernity may allow believers to speak once again about God without defensiveness or self-consciousness.”

As with most issues in philosophy, not everyone sees the outlook for the union between postmodern epistemology and religious belief with the same optimism. One immediate question that comes to mind is this: has the postmodern epistemology changed the nature of religious belief or has religious belief always rejected what Alan Padgett calls “linear, scientific thinking” and thus finds the postmodern epistemology a welcome and long-awaited friend? Philosophers of religion now are wrestling with these questions. Interestingly however, this debate doesn’t have two sides but three. There are those who adopt the postmodernist epistemology and see a clear application of that epistemology to religion. As an example of an implementation of this approach, the University of Chicago Press has an intriguing series dealing with postmodernism and religious belief. Their 21 volume collection entitled the *Religion and Postmodernism Series* edited by Mark C. Taylor (who recently released his fourth contribution to the series entitled, *About Religion : Economies of Faith in Virtual Culture*) covers a variety of topics from a somewhat narrow range of authors (including the eminent Derrida himself).

On the other side are those that are highly critical of this union. As might be expected, the criticisms surface not on the marriage itself but on the postmodern epistemology in particular. Of course, it naturally follows that if the postmodern epistemology is vacant, one certainly does not want to marry it to religious belief. *Postmodernism and Christian Philosophy* edited by Roman T. Ciapalo critically examines these very issues. The general consensus of the anthology is that postmodernism is generally a negative influence on Christian thought. Similarly. St. Mary’s College in Twickenham, England will be discussing the viability of the relationship between religion and postmodern epistemology in their conference entitled *Religion and the Cultures of Postmodernity: Quests for Meaning in a Fragmented Age* in June of 2000. On a more popular level, a group called The Crossroads Project is promoting a book by Dennis McCallum entitled *The Death of Truth*. They held a conference with the same title that addressed issues surfaced in the book. McCallum sees postmodernism largely as having a negative influence on culture despite the inadequacies of a pure modernist worldview.

Somewhere in the middle of this debate (and probably most in keeping with the postmodern spirit) are those that see both negatives and positives in the postmodern approach to knowledge and thus in it’s application to religion. The University of Indiana Press has released two back-to-back titles dealing with the subject of postmodern thought and religion in its *Indiana Series in the Philosophy of Religion*. Merold Westphal (who has done his own share of writing on Kierkegaard and Hegel and serves as General Editor of the series) edited *Postmodern Philosophy and Christian Thought* which deals with the new challenges postmodernity brings to the Christian idea. Similarly *God, the Gift, and Postmodernism*, edited by John D. Caputo and Michael J. Scanlon sympathetically treats the discussion between postmodern theology and the postmodern epistemology putting Derrida and theologian Jean-Luc Marion into dialog.

As I read the introductions to these books and skimmed the chapters, I found that the authors were less concerned with getting a set of “facts” before the mind of the reader and more concerned with constructing images. Communicating factual information, seems to imply rigidity of thought and a one-way, author-to-reader monologue. These authors seem more interested not in telling the readers what to believe as true, but in creating images that are more ideologically fluid and “dialogical.” Still, the books represent a position that holds, for the most part, that postmodern thinkers like Derrida have it right (whatever that might mean) and the project of these volumes is to explore how notions like deconstruction and the “hermeneutics of finitude” might apply to religion.

I asked philosophers Dr. C. Stephen Evans and Dr. Merold Westphal about this movement in philosophy of religion towards postmodernity. I asked Dr. Evans if he saw postmodern philosophy to be a friend or a foe of religious belief. He said, “I am inclined to say both friend and foe. Obviously, it is a friend in unmasking Enlightenment rationalism and its attacks on the rationality of faith. But it is an enemy in undermining respect for objective truth and developing suspicion about ‘metanarratives.’” He sees postmodern philosophy’s biggest aid in that it tears down religious epistemic hubris and opens the door for a more “perspectival” understanding of knowledge given the human condition (which, under the Christian framework, is a state of sinfulness and depravity). On the other hand, “The most damaging aspect is that it can lead to a loss of faith in truth and in the human capacity to know anything, and this in turn leads to a loss of conviction, a pluralistic ‘tolerance’ of everything.” he said. “What we need is an understanding of our finitude and sinfulness that does not despair of the possibility that there is a truth to be known and that we can at least approximate that truth in part.” Evans captures the essence of what many philosophers of religion are trying to do, at least in the West, in evaluating the application of postmodern philosophy to religious systems.

Westphal was a bit more optimistic about postmodernism’s influence on religion. In fact Westphal indicates that postmodernism surfaces a commonality among the major religious systems of the world. He stated, “The great monotheisms, Jewish, Christian, and Islamic, have insisted that God is ultimately unfathomable, ineffable, mysterious, beyond the capacity of created intellects to comprehend. This is a joint reflection on the nature of God as infinite and on the nature of human understanding as finite. Postmodern epistemology is an analysis of the finitude of human understanding on its own terms, without reference to creation or the Creator. But there is an agreement about the inability of human knowledge to grasp totality, infinity, the ultimate.” Westphal affirms that providing this sense of our own epistemic finitude is one of the most auspicious functions of postmodernizing religion. He’s quick to point out, however, that in accepting that finitude, postmodernism may take us too far. “The danger, to which both secular postmodernists and theistic thinkers are sometimes prone, is to assume that if we cannot have everything we cannot have anything, that the only alternative to absolute knowledge, fully adequate (perfect mirror) to its object is cynical nihilism.” Westphal appears to want to caution against this. This is a common *festina lente* that theists tend to apply to the postmodern project vis-à-vis their secular counterparts.

One more important observation needs to be made. One does not have to dig very deeply to see the close affinities postmodern philosophy has with much of Eastern thought, particularly Eastern *religious* thought. Whereas systems like Buddhism and Daoism tend to embrace what appear to the western mind to be contradictions (in the form of, for example, a koan) in an attempt to train the mind to live with contradiction, the postmodern mind isn’t so radical. Postmodernism tends to apply interpretive lenses to contradictions and thus make the contradictions less, well, contradictory. Hegel’s patrimony here is obvious (a fact which makes me think Schaeffer’s observation that modern Christianity’s woes are due primarily to Hegelian thought came three decades too early; Schaeffer may turn out to be more correct than any of his commentators realized). Interestingly there does seem to be some movement on bringing Eastern religious thought and postmodern philosophy together. A paper by Ian W. Mabbett called “Naagaarjuna and Deconstruction” attempts to demonstrate just this. Speaking of Naagaarjuna and Derrida he writes, “Eastward and westward: opposites meet. Perhaps the apostle of the Middle Way and the prophet of infinite deferral have something in common.”

For my own part, being the modernist that I am, I find the notion of a postmodern religion both disturbing and largely incomprehensible. Still, if I were to make a prediction I’d say that a postmodern religious system, like much of Kant’s writings, is just obscure enough that at the end of the day, many philosophers of religion and theologians will find it irresistible.

Philosophers’ War Over the Soul

by Paul Pardi

Recently, in an op-ed piece for Newsweek magazine, George Will roundly criticized Princeton philosopher Peter Singer for holding to a form of utilitarianism that allows him to deny that humans have intrinsic dignity and value and that, in some cases, killing a newborn could be morally justified. In the same vein as Singer, philosopher and professor of psychology at MIT Steven Pinker argues that personhood probably is a degreed notion having to do with possessing “morally significant traits” like memories and a sense of community; traits that “immature neonates don’t possess . . . any more than mice.” His conclusion: perhaps newborns aren’t truly persons and the immorality of taking their lives isn’t as clear-cut as some moral philosophers pretend it is.

Certainly one of the main themes in the philosophy of religion regarding immortality and personhood is that of deciding what to do with the soul. Should the soul end up in the intellectual discard pile along with phlogiston and witches or does the soul actually exist? Much of the current thinking on this subject focuses on this question. At first this may seem like an issue for philosophers of mind rather than for philosophers of religion. Actually, the issue concerns both. The philosopher of mind is interested in determining the ontological question: Does the soul exist? The philosopher of religion is interested in the implications of that ontology. In addition to moral implications, there are theological ones as well. For example, If we have no soul, then it is hard to make sense of the idea of immortality, yet immortality is a core tenet of most religious belief. As William James once noted, “Immortality is one of the great spiritual needs of man. The churches have constituted themselves the official guardians of the need . . .”

So there are two issues that concern the philosopher of religion. First there is the ontological question of whether or not there actually is a soul. Second, there are the moral and theological (and one might say anthropological) implications of the answer to that question. The apparent tension that exists between the current work being done in philosophy of mind and religious teaching seems to be constituted by a disparity between the “hard facts” of science that tell us that we’re nothing more than our bodies and brains, and religious dogma that seems to go contrary to that claim. For religion in the West, much of the religious teaching on the soul and the afterlife comes from a revelation from God (such as the Bible). In much of Eastern thought, the idea of immortality constitutes a fundamental principle upon which the entire religious structure is based. Boston University has been looking at solutions from both sides of the divide. For the past year, the university’s philosophy department has been examining this issue in its Institute for Philosophy and Religion. The title of this year’s program is “If I Should Die: Life, Death, and Immortality. Some of the titles of upcoming seminars are, “If I Should Die Before I Am Awakened: Buddhist Reflections on Death” and “Is There Life After Death? Where Are The Dead?” by Jürgen Moltmann.

Taking the lead from the current trend in philosophy of mind, many philosophers of religion are opting to dissolve the tension between the soul and the body by getting rid of the soul and translating “soul talk” into body or brain talk. They accept the current scientific thinking on mind-brain reduction and then argue that revelation claims are completely compatible with that thinking. A recent book edited by a team of theologians and philosophers at Fuller Seminary entitled Whatever Happened to the Soul? by Fortress Press (this book recently was reviewed in the current issue of the journal Philosophia Christi) does just that. In light of the current trend toward materialist views of consciousness, this book does not have anything new to offer regarding the ontological status of the mind. It does, however, have a lot to say about how one ought to understand religious claims regarding the soul and the afterlife in light of that trend. (Another novel approach to this problem was taken up recently by Australian philosopher Peter Forrest in his God Without the Supernatural by Cornel University Press.)

More traditional philosophers of religion balk at this approach. Many of these thinkers hold to some form of substance dualism. First, they argue that if we reject the idea of a substantial, immaterial soul, many aspects of the mind and personal identity simply cannot be explained adequately. Second, it becomes very difficult to understand the idea of an afterlife without talking about it in terms of a soul. Two new books argue against reductive materialism and for forms of substance dualism in just this way. William Hasker’s latest, The Emergent Self also from Cornell (part of the Cornel Studies in the Philosophy of Religion series) attempts to argue for a form of dualism (which he calls “emergent dualism”) while still recognizing “the critical role of the brain and nervous system for mental processes.” Whereas the Fortress book tends lean much more heavily on the side of mind to brain reduction, Hasker seeks to preserve the more traditional role for the soul while taking into account the recent discoveries in brain research. Given the newness of the book, Hasker’s contribution has not been adequately evaluated as to its viability as a player in the discussion.

The second book, Body and Soul: Human Nature and the Crisis in Ethics  by J.P. Moreland and Scott Rae (due out in March by InterVarsity Press) takes a more traditional view and defends a substance dualist view of the soul. The first part of the book, treated by Moreland whose particular strength lies in metaphysics and philosophy of mind, deals with the important metaphysical questions related to this issue. In the second part, ethicist Rae teases out the implications of the view for bioethics. Recently there has been a rash of articles and reviews that, like Moreland and Rae, call into question the viability of a purely materialistic view of the mind. William A. Dembski in the Catholic journal First Things, “Are we spiritual machines?” in an article with that title. Similarly, Matt Donnelly, in the most recent issue of Books and Culture entitled an article with the question, “Is Science Good for the Soul?” in which he explores the recent (what he calls) monist-dualist debate.

Western thinkers aren’t the only philosophers and theologians dealing with these questions. For example, Robin Cooper has written a book on Buddhist thought and its compatibility with recent brain research called The Evolving Mind: Buddhism, Biology, and Consciousness. The issues that are raised in Buddhist thought vis-à-vis Christian theology are markedly different. In a review for the Catholic University of America, Charles Jones wrote, “As one might expect, the resonances and tensions that emerge from the juxtaposition of Buddhism and modern science differ markedly from those that arise from the current struggles to position science within a Christian theological framework.” The point here is that the tensions that exist between modern science and traditional views on the body and soul cross religious traditions and the east-west boundary.

Which side will end up winning the favor of the academy is tough to answer. As far as philosophy of religion goes, there does seem to be a trend towards more traditional thinking regarding the soul and afterlife. This is true in spite of the opposite view dominating philosophy of mind. Given that the majority of thinkers historically have held to the existence of both a soul and an afterlife, this may be one area where philosophers of religion would be wise to refrain from too quickly abandoning their roots.

Miracles

by Dr. Phil Fernandes

A chapter from his doctoral dissertation
© 1997, Institute of Biblical Defense, All Rights Reserved

Christianity is a religion based in history. The claims, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth occurred in history. For this reason, historical apologetics (to be discussed in Part Six) is of great importance. If one can prove that Jesus really did rise from the dead in history, then one will have gone a long way towards establishing Christianity as the true religion. However, before an apologist can engage in presenting historical evidences for the resurrection of Christ, he must first answer the philosophical objections against the possibility of miracles. If miracles are by definition impossible, then it makes no sense to look into history to see if Jesus really rose from the dead.

The strongest philosophical argumentation against miracles came from the pens of Benedict Spinoza (1632-1677) and David Hume (1711-1776). Spinoza was a pantheist.1 He believed in an impersonal god that was identical to the universe. He reasoned that an impersonal god could not choose to perform miracles. Whatever an impersonal god does, it must do by necessity. Spinoza believed that nature necessarily operates in a uniform manner. Therefore, he argued that the laws of nature cannot be violated. Since miracles would be violations of the laws of nature, they are impossible.2

David Hume was a deist. He believed that after God created the universe, He no longer involved Himself with His creation. Hume reasoned that miracles, if they occur, are very rare events. On the other hand, the laws of nature describe repeatable, everyday occurrences. Hume argued that the wise man will always base his beliefs on the highest degree of probability. Since the laws of nature have a high degree of probability while a miracle is improbable, Hume considered the evidence against miracles always greater than the evidence for miracles. Therefore, according to Hume, the wise man will always reject the proposed miracle.3

RESPONSE TO SPINOZA

Spinoza argued that miracles are impossible. Several things should be mentioned in refutation of Spinoza’s argument. Though it is true that a pantheistic god cannot choose to perform a miracle (a pantheistic god is impersonal and, therefore, cannot choose anything), there is strong evidence that a pantheistic god does not exist.4 As the cosmological argument has shown, a theistic God exists.5 A theistic God is a personal God, and a personal God can choose to perform miracles.

Second, Spinoza’s premise that the laws of nature can never be violated is suspect. The laws of nature are descriptive; they are not prescriptive. In other words, the laws of nature describe the way nature usually acts. The laws of nature do not prescribe how nature must act.6

Third, Spinoza’s definition of a miracle as a violation of the laws of nature is objectionable. It is possible that miracles do not violate the laws of nature; they merely supersede the laws of nature. C. S. Lewis argued along these lines.7

Fourth, if God created the universe, then the laws of nature are subject to Him. God can choose to suspend or violate (depending on how one defines a miracle) the laws of nature any time He wishes. In short, Spinoza has failed to show that miracles are impossible.

RESPONSE TO HUME

Hume, unlike Spinoza, did not argue for the impossibility of miracles. Instead, he argued that miracles were so unlikely that the evidence against them will always be greater than the evidence for them. Hume argued that miracles are improbable, and that the wise man will only believe that which is probable. Hence, the wise man will never accept evidence for a miracle.8

The Christian apologist can respond to Hume’s reasoning in the following manner. Just because usual events (the laws of nature) occur more often does not mean that the wise man will never believe that an unusual event (a miracle) has occurred.9 The wise man should not a priori rule out the possibility of miracles. The wise man will examine the evidence for or against a miracle claim, and base his judgment on the evidence. Since there were over 500 witnesses who claimed to have seen Jesus risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-8), a wise man would not reject the miracle of the resurrection merely because all other men have remained dead. It seems that a wise man would examine a miracle claim if there are reliable eyewitnesses. If there is no good reason to reject the testimony of reliable eyewitnesses, it seems that a wise man would accept their testimony that a miracle has occurred.

CONCLUSION

Some people will not accept any event unless it has a natural cause. Therefore, they reject miracles because they have a supernatural Cause (God).10 But, the cosmological argument has shown that the universe itself needs a supernatural Cause (God). Therefore, if there is a God who created the universe, then He would have no problem intervening in His universe by supernaturally working miracles within it. A person cannot rule out miracles simply because his world view does not allow them. If his or world view is weak (such as pantheism and deism), then he has weak reasons for rejecting miracles. If, on the other hand, a person has strong evidence for his world view (such as theism), and that world view is consistent with the reality of miracles, then he has strong reasons for believing that miracles are possible.

This chapter has only shown that miracles are possible. A later section of this work deals with historical apologetics. At that point, evidence will be examined to see whether miracles have occurred or not. Philosophical argumentation can only show that miracles are possible. Historical evidences must be utilized to determine if an alleged miracle (such as the resurrection of Jesus from the dead) has in fact occurred.

ENDNOTES

1 Norman L. Geisler, Miracles and the Modern Mind (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1992), 18.

2 Ibid., 15.

3 David Hume, An Inquiry Concerning Human Understanding (New York: The Liberal Arts Press, 1955), 117-141.

4 see article on Failure of Other Non-Theistic Worldviews.

5 see article on the Cosmological Argument.

6 Terry L. Miethe, ed. Did Jesus Rise From the Dead? (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1987), 18.

7 C. S. Lewis, Miracles, 59-60.

8 Geisler, 23-28.

9 Ibid., 27-31.

10 Ibid., 50-51.