The Problem of Evil – Part 4

Two Considerations for a Solution

There are two considerations when offering a solution to the Problem of Evil from a Presuppositional standpoint. In order to look at the first, let’s reconsider the formalized statement of the problem:

a) God is all powerful
b) God is all loving
c) God knows that evil exists
d) Evil does exist
e) Therefore, God does not exist

Notice that this takes the form of a deductive argument, meaning that the conclusion “God does not exist” follows with necessity just as long as every one of the premises is true, and just as long as the form of the argument itself is valid (which in this case, it is).

An important aspect of the argument above to recognize is the difference between premises a-c, and premise d. In presenting this argument, the unbeliever is stating premises a-c as hypotheticals; that is, according to the claims of Christianity, premises a-c are true. However, premise d is presented as fact. 9 times out of 10 the unbeliever does not say “the Bible claims that evil exists”, but rather “evil exists”. Let’s consider why this distinction matters.

When presenting the argument above, the unbeliever is attempting to demonstrate the truth of all of his/her premises in order to demonstrate the conclusion is true. We, as believers, “give” premises a-c to the unbeliever, since those are the attributes of God found in the Bible. However, we don’t need to “give” premise d to the unbeliever, at least not at the outset.

Please note that I am not claiming that we, as Christians, do not believe evil exists – we obviously do. However, as the burden is on the unbeliever to make their case, there is a real benefit in pressing them to demonstrate that premise d is true. After all, if a demonstration of the existence of evil is not forthcoming from the unbeliever, then they have failed to prove that God does not exist. The purpose in taking this tack is not to avoid the question of whether evil exists, but rather to press the unbeliever’s worldview to demonstrate their inability to make the argument in the first place.

With that said, ask the unbeliever to demonstrate that evil exists. In doing so, be sure to clarify that they must offer an objective demonstration of this, if they wish to demonstrate their conclusion that God does not exist. This is exactly the point at which you can press the issue of worldviews, as the unbeliever does not have an objective, non-arbitrary set of presuppositions to use as a foundation to demonstrate that evil exists.

Short of offering an objective foundation for the existence of evil, the best the unbeliever can do is turn to you and state “but don’t you believe evil exists?” This is exactly what you want them to ask!

We will cover the second consideration next time around, and offer the Biblical answer to the problem.

— BK


C.S. Lewis…The Presuppositionalist?

Even though I strongly disagree with C.S. Lewis in many areas, I find myself strongly attracted to his ability to display the truth in powerful and beautiful words all at once. I have pulled some quotes from the works of C.S. Lewis that I most certainly agree with and could never dream of improving upon. Some of these thoughts are representative of the presuppositional method of apologetics, which I cannot imagine anyone ascribing to C.S. Lewis. If the claims of this method of apologetics are true though, we should expect to find it resting at the bottom of apologists’ arguments.

I pray that you will read closely, slowly, and savor every word. Afterall, “100 per cent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased”. These are serious matters, and no one could make certain that we understood this more than Lewis could.

Atheism

“The notion that everyone would like Christianity to be true, and therefore all atheists are brave men who have accepted the defeat of all their deepest desires, is simply impudent nonsense.”

“A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere—’Bibles laid open, millions of surprises,’ as Herbert says, ‘fine nets and stratagems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”

“Really, a young Atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side.”

Presuppositionalism

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. … Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying that it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless–I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

“If naturalism were true then all thoughts whatever would be wholly the result of irrational causes…it cuts its own throat.”

“When you are arguing against Him you are arguing against the very power that makes you able to argue at all.”

Evidence of God

“The universe rings true wherever you fairly test it.”

“‘Something of God…flows into us from the blue of the sky, the taste of honey, the delicious embrace of water whether cold or hot, and even from sleep itself.'”

“If the universe is so bad…how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator?”

Morality

“Whenever you find a man who says he doesn’t believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later.”

“This year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people.”

“Human beings, all over the earth, have this curious idea that they ought to behave in a certain way, and can’t really get rid of it.”

Redemption

“We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin.”

“Every uncorrected error and unrepented sin is, in its own right, a fountain of fresh error and fresh sin flowing on to the end of time.”

“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”


Implicit Contradictions

Well, I haven’t made much progress with the “Militant Atheist” I spoke of the other day, but I have gotten him to contradict himself. It happened in another part of the same discussion thread, where he and I were basically trading insults (yes, I know – I shouldn’t even bother). Here is how the conversation went (btw, I changed his handle to “MA” to protect his identity):

MA: “The only standard that needs to be considered is the scientific method. If you can’t do it, then just admit it so I can quit wasting my time.”

BK: “If this is a waste of time why do you continue to respond?”

MA: “Becuase I enjoy watching you avoid something we both know you can’t do. It is funny”

BK: “Well which is it? Do you want me to “admit” something and stop wasting your time, or do you want me to keep it up so you can “enjoy” yourself?”

Pointing out this implicit contradiction (that he wanted me to stop what I was doing as it was a waste of time, yet he really wanted me to keep doing it as he enjoyed it) really changes nothing in the overall discussion between us. However, pointing out such slip-ups helps keep us both on our toes.

— BK


Succinct

It never ceases to amaze me how difficult it is to reason about our presuppositions.

The most natural approach to reasoning, I believe, is to rest upon our presuppositions blindly, without thinking about them at all. This is apparent to me time and time again in discussions I have with unbelievers. A rather enormous challenge in presuppositional apologetics, therefore, is getting your opponent to see that they have presuppositions, and that they must give an account for them. This is no easy task, believe me! The discussion I had two days ago was no exception.

There is this discussion board that I literally “lived” on for the past 7 years, that I have only now begun to wean myself from. It hasn’t been all bad, actually – I learned a great deal about the beliefs of others, and about what I didn’t know about my own beliefs by spending time on that board. My skin grew thick from the constant abuse I took there, and my skills as an apologist grew greatly from what they were when I started out.

Two days ago I ventured back to that board, and entered into a discussion about prayer. Never one to give even an inch to Christianity, this individual latched on to one of my comments and immediately challenged me to prove that “my god” answers prayer. Seeing an opportunity to challenge his presuppositions, I responded – and we were off!

After a few exchanges, where he challenged me to prove the truth of the Bible, I said to him “I’m not trying to prove the authority of scripture – I am relying upon it“, realizing – hoping actually – that he would challenge me to account for what I was relying upon. Sure enough, he responded with “Well, before you can rely on it, you must prove it is valid“. After some more back and forth, he set the bar with the following – “The ONLY way to demonstrate that the bible is true is by hard evidence and facts“. This was the perfect lead-in to start to challenge him about his standard, which I proceeded to do.

I then asked him “what standard are you measuring [your standard] against” and “why should you use this standard, and not another?” His response? “The validity of my standard can be validated in every observation that that has ever been made that resulted in a hypothesis that was tested and validated (or not) since the beginning of history.

This was just what I was hoping for. I countered with “So your standard is validated by using the very thing your standard relies upon – evidence, reasoning, and the scientific method“, hoping that he would see the circular nature of his argument. He didn’t. It required another few rounds of back and forth before he finally realized he couldn’t simply assume that his standard was valid, and responded with “Okay then, how would you suggest demonstrating the validity of the scientific method?“.

I will likely return to the board in the next day or so to respond, at which point I have no idea how far I will get with him.

Regardless, this conversation got me thinking. There has to be a way to make presuppositionalism succinct. There has to be a way to get right to the heart of the matter, within just a few minutes, because there is so much time to spend after you reach that point. What is that “heart of the matter” of which I speak? Getting your opponent to realize that they are arguing from a standard – a worldview – that itself needs to be accounted for.

This is one of my goals to tackle – to figure out a “formula” (for lack of a better word) to accomplish this.

Thoughts?

— BK


A Study of “Always Ready” – Part 3

So on Sunday the “Choosing Hats” study group met once again via Skype, and went through chapter 10 of “Always Ready”. We also recorded the study – or so we thought.

At this point, I am waiting on a return email from technical support for the developer of the plugin I used to record from within Skype. All of the tests we did worked fine, but the 5.5GB!!!! file that represents our hour-long discussion now seems to be corrupt. Hopefully (God willing) they will be able to assist me in removing the source of the corruption in the file.

So for those of you on the edge of your seat, waiting for the next installment … don’t slide off!

— BK


More on the Free Will Defense

The article below on the Free Will Defense to the Problem of Evil has generated some interesting comments. Here is one that caught my attention:

Perhaps in heaven God’s immediate presence naturally produces the desire to remain as such, which consistently trumps any potential desire to sin.

I don’t think it is God’s presence so much as it is the fact that we have been changed from the inside out.

Chapter 9 of the Westminster Confession of Faith states the following:

Chapter IX

Of Free Will

I. God has endued the will of man with that natural liberty, that is neither forced, nor, by any absolute necessity of nature, determined good, or evil.

II. Man, in his state of innocency, had freedom, and power to will and to do that which was good and well pleasing to God; but yet, mutably, so that he might fall from it.

III. Man, by his fall into a state of sin, has wholly lost all ability of will to any spiritual good accompanying salvation: so as, a natural man, being altogether averse from that good, and dead in sin, is not able, by his own strength, to convert himself, or to prepare himself thereunto.

IV. When God converts a sinner, and translates him into the state of grace, He frees him from his natural bondage under sin; and, by His grace alone, enables him freely to will and to do that which is spiritually good; yet so, as that by reason of his remaining corruption, he does not perfectly, or only, will that which is good, but does also will that which is evil.

V. The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only.

Supporting scripture …

[11] EPH 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. HEB 12:23 To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect. 1JO 3:2 Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. JUD 24 Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy.

Thoughts?

— BK


The Problem of Evil – Part 3

The Common Solution

Given the fact that the Problem of Evil has been around for centuries, it should be no surprise that Christians have come up with (what they believe to be) solutions to the problem. And although many different approaches to solving this have been attempted, one approach in particular stands out as the most common. This is typically termed the Free Will Defense.

As the name implies, the Free Will Defense starts with the assumption that people have free will, and therefore have the ability to choose to do either good or evil. According to this view, God didn’t create robots (that would not be a loving God, after all), and so the existence of evil is therefore a potential situation. Since people have the freedom to choose to do good acts or evil acts, it is ultimately their freedom of will that brings about these evil deeds.

There is, however, a large problem with this particular line of defense. All the unbeliever need do is bring up the subject of Heaven, and the free will defense completely collapses. Why is this the case? Well, consider that there will be no sin (i.e. evil) in Heaven, but there will be people there who purportedly still have free will.

The unbeliever may point out that since the inhabitants of Heaven have free will, and free will can lead to evil (the very basis of the free will defense), then what is to guarantee us that there will be no evil in Heaven? It seems that the Christian must either give up free will, or the existence of evil in Heaven, or he must rethink his defense.

Now, in response to this challenge, the Christian might claim that God actually keeps people from sinning in Heaven[1], as that is the only way to be certain sin will never enter his presence. In other words, God actively works in people in order to keep them from sinning. However, the unbeliever can simply point out that God could also do the same thing on earth. If God is able to suppress people’s ability to sin in Heaven, then he certainly could do so here on earth. He is an all-powerful God, after all.

The Christian might instead claim that the inhabitants of Heaven will be able to sin, but that God knows that they will not sin. In other words, the claim that there will be no sin in Heaven is purely prophetic, rather than decretive[2]. For instance, heaven may be such a wonderful place, that the Christian never again will have the desire to choose evil, and therefore will not.

But the unbeliever is bound to ask some questions. For instance, how many variations of creation did God “test drive” (by looking ahead at an eternity of people’s choices) before creating the world he did, in order to guarantee that none of the people who end up in heaven will ever sin? Besides, the fact that God chose to create a universe where he knew people would sin (at least on earth) still makes God the ultimate cause of sin, it seems.

In addition, and more to the point, why didn’t God simply create earth just like heaven in the first place? Didn’t God know ahead of time how people would act? Didn’t he know that they would sin and do evil deeds? Doesn’t the fact that God could create a place free from sin (even if it partially owes to man’s free will), and yet he didn’t, mean that he is not all-loving? Doesn’t the fact that God knows there is evil going on right here and now mean he is also to blame for not stopping it by using the same “fix” he uses in Heaven?

The fact is, no matter what tack this Christian takes in using the free will defense, he must be able to provide an answer to the Heaven Test. The existence of a sin-free Heaven is a real problem for the Christian that chooses to use the free will defense.

In addition to the free will defense, there are a variety of other approaches that Christians use, each of which ultimately fails the “Heaven Test”. If God could have created earth just like Heaven (or just skipped earth altogether), then he is either not all loving for being unwilling to do so, or he is not all-powerful, for being unable to do so.

Next time we’ll look at what I believe to be the Biblical (and only possible) answer to the Problem of Evil.

— BK

[1] Of course, it should be obvious that this answer presents a real problem for anyone presenting the free will defense in the first place, as it would seem that God is messing around with the will of people, in order to keep them from sinning.

[2] A purely prophetic claim means God “looks ahead” at the choices his creatures will make, and realizes that none of them will sin in Heaven. A decretive claim indicates that God, in some sense, is in control of Heaven and does not allow any sin.


Is it sinful to call evidentialism…sinful?

Recently I was directed toward a blog post found here:

http://calvindude.com/dude/blog/2008/08/on-the-%E2%80%9Cappropriate%E2%80%9D-apologetic-method/

I must confess that I am unfortunately not familiar with this particular writer.

In his post Calvin Dude presents a number of arguments against the use of the presuppositionalist method in certain contexts. The arguments look as though they are almost wholly based upon misunderstandings of the presuppositional method. As best I can tell this writer’s concerns are dealt with directly in most presuppositionalist literature.

The author of the entry begins by taking issue with an apologist who claims that presuppositionalism is the only valid method of apologetics, which leaves me completely confused since the author appears to have actually read a great deal about the subject of presuppositionalism. Are there any presuppositionalists who believe that other methods are valid? Perhaps there are, but I am not so concerned with this question as I am with what follows.

The more pertinent question here is whether or not it is actually sinful to approach apologetics from something other than presuppositionalism. As radical as it appears, and as “mean” as it may sometimes sound, those of us at Choosing Hats recognize other methods as being sinful. We are not the only ones. In fact Bahnsen did as well.

Thus I find it a bit odd that we (not directly, obviously) should be compared to Dr. White’s “cage stage” Calvinists – those who are new to Calvinism and, lifted with pride in newfound knowledge, attempt to force it upon everyone they can. None of us here have just now read Bahnsen for the first time. Nevertheless it is apparent that we find other methods of apologetics to fall short in many ways. I am not sure I understand how Bahnsen himself could be used in this supposed parallel either. He certainly was not reading his own work for only the first time while he was going about calling other methods of apologetics sinful!

Does Scripture ever use evidentialist arguments? No. Rather evidences are always offered in accordance with the presupposition of God’s revelation to humanity. Read that again. Evidences are offered in Scripture. There is a difference between using evidences and using evidentialism. Evidences are not a method of apologetics, they are entities used in apologetics. Dr. Bahnsen presented an enormous list of evidences during his debate against Dr. Stein, but he did not use evidentialism. Does Scripture warrant evidentialism? No. Psalm 19 and Romans 1 state that God is known to exist. God is clearly seen through what has been made, so much so that people are without excuse. God is known and God is seen. Clearly. So much for traditional arguments! An especially relevant example here is the teleological argument, but there are many other syllogisms which essentially (I mean that literally) deny that God is known and clearly seen through creation.

Presuppositionalism involves a higher view of evidences than does evidentialism. Both evidences and unbelieving responses to them are to be understood in terms of God’s revelation, not in terms of would-be autonomous thought. God’s glory is manifest in nature. I can honestly say that I have never run across a single presuppositionalist who denies this. That God’s glory is manifest in nature is not an evidentialist argument in the sense of Scripture using an evidentialist as opposed to a presuppositionalist method. Presuppositionalists do not deny evidence or its use. How many volumes need be written on this misunderstanding before it is cleared up?

Presuppositionalists are at fault for not addressing other-than-atheist manifestations of the non-Christian worldview with the same rigor and thoroughness as they do atheism. This fault should not be credited to presuppositionalism’s account. There are apologists working on correcting this problem. I hope to be able to make my own contributions toward this end. Nothing is preventing other presuppositionalists from joining in this effort.

Presuppositionalists are at fault for keeping their material largely inaccessible, often using philosophical language and argumentation that the vast majority of people would not be able to understand. This fault should not be credited to presuppositionalism’s account. There are apologists working on correcting this problem. I hope to be able to make my own contributions toward this end. Nothing is preventing other presuppositionalists from joining in this effort.

Every non-Christian, whether Muslim, Mormon, Atheist or whatever else; is totally opposed to the Christian worldview. We do not therefore treat them as though we can agree upon certain assumptions and evidences. We cannot. Evidences do not speak for themselves. Assumptions which are necessary for intelligibility can only be accounted for if one presupposes Christianity. That’s the argument. It is biblical and it is cogent.

God converts people, not presuppositionalism or evidentialism. Apologetics are a means to an end ordained by God. No one amongst us is disputing this; it is an obvious truth. God uses means to accomplish ends. For example, God uses the preaching of His Word to bring about repentance and faith. God uses even terrible preaching to bring people to Christ. Terrible preaching is nevertheless a sin. Utilizing preaching methods which go against those prescribed in Scripture is sinful, even though it may be a means by which God chooses to save someone. Likewise in the case of apologetic method. If presuppositionalism is prescribed by Scripture, as I argue that it is, and if evidentialism is warned against by Scripture, as I argue that it is; then evidentialism is sinful. I do not think this evidence of presuppositional cage-stageism on my part or on Dr. Bahnsen’s part. I distinctly remember thinking that Bahnsen was a bit off his rocker and harsh the first time I ran across his work. I thank God that I nevertheless returned to his writing and saw more clearly what it is that this man gave his life to.

Calvin Dude’s post reveals some places where presuppositionalists could really clean up their acts; I am not excluded. I touched on a few of these above. I do not believe these weaknesses to be found in the method itself. He is correct that the context of the apologetic encounter, involving such factors as the person in opposition to the truth, bears heavily upon the way in which we use our method. However, we should never submit to a philosophy found outside of Christ Jesus, and evidentialism as an apologetic method is such a philosophy. Thus it is sin to use the evidentialist method of apologetics. Those who still disagree may be doing so based upon a different definition of evidentialist apologetics which should lead to further discussion on this subject.


A Study of “Always Ready” – Part 2

waYesterday afternoon, three of us here at Choosing Hats conducted our second Study of the book “Always Ready” by Dr. Greg Bahnsen. This time we kept it under an hour!

Click on the link below to hear our study.

Skype-recorded Audio of Study

By the way, please feel free to leave any comments or questions you wish after listening to the audio. We would love to hear from you!

— BK