Next week I shall be travelling to Oxford, England, to attend a conference with the theme "God and Physics". This conference runs from July 7 to July 10 and is sponsored by the Ian Ramsey Centre for science and religion in the University of Oxford. It will celebrate the 80th birthday of John Polkinghorne, a physicist-turned-anglican priest, who has written extensively about the interaction between science and religion.
I shall be presenting a paper on "God, Chance, and Evil."
Polkinghorne--and many others--believe that chance plays a large role in this world. Chance is thought to help solve the Problem of Evil: if God is loving and all-powerful, why does He allow evil to exist? Allegedly, God wanted to make creatures that would freely love Him; this requires autonomous human free-will, which in turn requires chance. The point is that God cannot predict our choices and hence cannot know the future. The creation of freely-loving humans necessarily involved the risk that they might sin. Since the evil of human sin is supposedly outweighed by the good of human freedom, God is absolved from moral evil. Similarly, the making of free creatures via evolution requires a "free process", which entails the necessary risk of natural evil--pain and suffering due to natural causes, such as disease and earthquakes. Hence God is absolved also from natural evil.
The price for this is that God voluntarily limits His power and knowledge, which leads to Open Theology. But if God's limitation is purely voluntary, why does He not intervene to prevent drastic evils, such as the holocaust? It would seem that, to solve the Problem of Evil, the risks that God takes must be genuine. This demands that His power (and knowledge) must be limited essentially, rather than merely voluntarily. This leads to Process Theology. For such reasons, many of the major players in the science/religion dialogue promote either Open Theology or Process Theology, both of which are far removed from orthodox Christianity.
I argue, contra Polkinghorne, that genuine chance is neither possible nor necessary. Genuine chance amounts to positing that an event happens without a cause. This contradicts the Principle of Sufficient Reason, which affirms that every event has a sufficient cause. Further, the Biblical God is the primary cause of everything; He sustains the world from one instant to the next. God usually works through secondary causes, due to the creatures that He upholds in existence. However, if an event has no physical cause, this merely means that God is the direct cause. It is inconceivable that the Biblical God could create an entity who actions are unpredictable by God. Indeed, if God is to sustain the universe in existence then God must know in advance what the state of the world will be in the next instant.
Concerning free-will, we, unlike God, cannot sustain ourselves in being. We continue to exist only through God's providential power. Hence all our acts and choices must likewise depend on God's power. It follows that we cannot act or think autonomously, independent of God. Moreover, chance does not help free-will. Finally, if my choices are due to chance then I have no real control to make a real choice. If I have no control over my choices then I cannot be held responsible for them. Chance thus undermines both freewill and moral responsibility.
A better view of free-will is compatibilism, which asserts that our freedom consists of making choices freely, without coercion. We choose what we want. This entails that we have a measure of control, so that we can be held morally accountable. We make our choices in accordance with our character and circumstances. Therefore God, Who knows us perfectly, can fully predict our choices. Such human freewill is consistent with divine sovereignty.
What about evil? Evil is part of God's plan. It is necessary for a number of goods. These include the value of human virtuous responses to evil (e.g., forgiveness, healing, compassion, courage, patience). More importantly, evil is needed for God to display His forgiveness, justice, mercy, goodness and glory. God will finally conquer evil, punish evil-doers, and reward the righteous in Heaven, where they will celebrate His glory.
Does this not make God responsible for evil? Yes, to some extent:
1. God is the ultimate cause of everything, including evil
2. God created a world where evil was inevitable, given its initial conditions.
3. God uses evil as a necessary means to proclaim the glory of His righteousness, justice, love and mercy.
4. God allows evils he could easily prevent.
5. God upholds the sinner and gives him the power to sin.
Yet God is not the direct doer of evil; hence he is not its author in that sense. His motivation and purpose differ from the actual doer of evil. Since we are not forced against our will to sin, but act knowingly and willingly, we are fully accountable for the evil we do.