Friday, January 4, 2019

Why (so much) Evil?

A major challenge to Christianity is the so-called Problem of Evil: A perfectly good God would want to prevent evil, and a perfectly powerful God could prevent evil; why then is there so much evil in the world?

This question is addressed by Christian philosopher Dr. Greg Welty in his recent book Why is There Evil in the World (And So Much Of It)? [2018, Christian Focus: Fearn, Scotland]. Dr. Welty defines evil as any significant case of pain or suffering. Moral evil (e.g., murder, theft, verbal abuse, etc.) is evil caused by free persons, through intent or neglect. Natural evil (e.g., storms, earthquakes, diseases, savage animals, etc.) is evil caused by impersonal objects.

Greater-Good Theodicy
A theodicy is an attempt to justify why God permits evil. Most Christian theodicies are a form of the greater-good theodicy, where evil plays a necessary role in bringing about greater goods that outweigh the evil involved. Dr. Welty notes three Biblical themes that support such a theodicy: (1) God's purposes always aim at greater goods, (2) the sovereignty of God's providence often brings about these goods by way of various evils, and (3) the inscrutability of God's ways often leave us in the dark regarding what good will arise out of a particular evil, and how it depends on evil.

Dr. Welty notes that God is completely sovereign. He ultimately brings about all events, even human decisions, including natural and moral evil. However, although God is the ultimate, primary cause of all things, he is never the proximate, secondary cause of moral evil, which is always committed by willing humans (or angels). God does not sin in ordaining sin, since His intent is good, unlike the evil intent of the person who actually does the sin.

What greater goods are involved? Dr. Welty lists four: (1) punishment of sin (God displays His justice), (2) soul-building so that our characters are developed (God displays His love), (3) pain as God's megaphone to lead us to repentance (God displays His mercy), and (4) higher-order goods that exist to overcome evil. The ultimate good is to proclaim the glory of God.

In all this Dr. Welty provides ample Biblical references.

Natural evil and Its Origin
Dr. Welty traces the origin of all earthly evil to the disobedience of Adam and Eve. God in His judgment curses not only humans, but also the earth (Gen.3). Subsequently, we live in a fallen world (Rom.8:20-21) which contains much natural evil, so that even animals suffer. Here Welty is merely upholding the traditional Reformed position that initially, before Adam's Fall, there was no natural evil in God's "very good" creation.

One alternative position, discussed by Dr. Welty, is the stable environment (or natural law) theodicy. This theodicy contends that a stable environment, needed for us to make meaningful choices, requires regular natural laws, which necessarily open up the possibility of natural evil. For example, the law of gravity, needed to govern motion, can cause suffering if we—or an animal-- fall off a cliff.

In response, Dr. Welty points out that the Garden of Eden, and the New Earth in the life hereafter are two example of stable environments that are free from natural evil. Thus, a stable environment does not necessitate natural evil. Moreover, unlike the above theodicies, the Bible never indicates that the stable environment theodicy is a reason for natural evil. (For similar reasons Dr. Welty rejects also free will theodicy, which holds that the good of human free will outweighs the evil it necessarily incurs).

Evil and Science
Although Dr. Welty discusses various objections to his theodicy, he regrettably omits any mention its greatest challenge: the widespread conviction that it has been decisively disproven by science.

Mainstream science has no place for the Biblical Adam & Eve in an idyllic Garden of Eden. Allegedly, humans evolved, via a cruel quest for survival, in a group of at least several thousand; there never were two humans from whom all other humans descend.

Even worse, fossils indicating natural evil (animal suffering from predation, disease, etc.) are allegedly dated millions of years older than the earliest humans, in blatant contrast with the notion that natural evil was caused by Adam's Fall.

Clearly, the view that natural evil comes only after Adam's Fall entails rejecting mainstream fossil dates, and thus essentially embracing Young Earth Creationism (YEC).

Unhappily,  the bulk of Christian Academia has largely accepted mainstream science, and hence disdains YEC. Some Christian scholars do uphold the traditional natural evil theodicy, while at the same time explicitly rejecting YEC, seemingly unaware of any inconsistency (e.g., Wayne Grudem, Douglas Groothuis). Most, however, embrace alternative theodicies that are more in tune with mainstream science.

In sum, this is an excellent, very readable concise book on evil. It is very Biblical, and promotes the traditional Reformed position on evil. The main weakness, in my view, is that it doesn't address the alleged scientific objections. Nevertheless, I highly recommend it.


Steve Drake said...

Volume 3 in the "Big Ten" series that he (Greg Welty) and James Anderson of, I presume, Reformed Theological Seminary and blogsite are editing for Christian Focus Publications?

Unfortunately, not addressing the alleged scientific objections, seems to me to be another example of a scholarly Christian brother, yet again, avoiding the topic of the age of the earth and universe. They don't want to touch it; so don't talk about it. Too controversial, too much division, so just ignore it.

Sad, really. But more than sad, a direct assault on Christ's most holy and absolutely perfect character in His work of creation. Unable to see the dichotomy of holding a perfect and sinless Christ in His work on earth, yet avoiding the implications and charge against a perfect and sinless Christ in His work of creation.

Steve Drake said...

I carry around in my Bible, a color-coded graphical display of the geologic column with its eons, eras, periods and epochs. This graph delineates five mass extinction events, with a sixth between the Miocene and the Pliocene about 5.3Ma. The first mass extinction between the Ordovician and Silurian supposedly happened about 425Ma and wiped out 86% of all life. The third mass extinction between the Permian and Triassic wiped out 90% of life. The sixth, as mentioned above, wiped out a vast majority of all mammals.

If Christ in his work of creation of biological life on earth circa 4.5 billion years ago in the Haydean, waited 4.075 billion years, then wiped out that life in the first mass extinction, then created more life and wiped them out again in the second mass extinction, then created more life and wiped them out in the third mass extinction, then created more life and wiped them out in the fourth mass extinction, then created more life and wiped them out in the firth mass extinction, then yet again created more life and wiped them in the sixth and final mass extinction, does that say anything about Christ? Incompetence? Capricious? Trial and error? Couldn't get it right, so it took Him 6 times? And what does that say about death, disease, destruction during that time?

It says, (and the unregenerate rightly point out), that Christ is a monster, a diabolical fiend, a capricious puppeteer who doesn't or can't create with total omnipotent power, controlling every aspect of His creation to fulfill His perfect Will. If the geologic column is the way Christ created His biological life on this planet, then He is neither perfect nor sinless, nor even holy.

john byl said...

Hi Steve

Thanks for your comment. Yes, this book is indeed in "The Big Ten: Critical Questions Answered" Series edited by James Anderson & Greg Welty.

Anonymous said...

Dr. Byl nice to see that you are still active. I appreciate all the work you do through this blog
Ralph Eschbach

john byl said...

Hi Ralph

Thanks for your comment. Good to hear from a former student. I hope you are doing well.

JohnV said...

Dr. Byl:
T. Plantinga wrote a book on this topic, back in the 1980's I think. If I'm not mistaken the title was, Learning to Live with Evil. I read it a long time ago, and I think I remember an attempt at an explanation of the problem of evil.

I am curious: is there in Welty's work an explanation of Rom. 7:13, relating to the effects of sin upon all that originally was good?

Rom. 7:13 Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure.

The question of Why Sin? is most often related to (as "theodicy" suggests) an attack on the goodness and justice of God, usually driven by a justification of some sins as not sinful but rather just natural; such as homosexuality being justified in our times. As Rom. 7:13 indicates, something good is condemned, but only so as to justify sins.


john byl said...

Hi John

Thanks for your comment. Welty, as far as I have found, does not refer to Rom.7:13. However, he does refer to God's curse (Gen.3) affecting not just humans but the earth (Rom.8), and of natural evil testifying that we live in a “deeply messed-up world”, a “fallen world”.