The Problem of Moral Evil and the Alternatives for Theism
- (p. 333) There are three kinds of evil: moral, metaphysical, and physical. Cruelty is an example of moral evil, blindness is an instance of metaphysical evil, and an earthquake is an example of physical evil. Some physical and metaphysical evils result from human freedom, but it seems obvious that some nonmoral evil is not the result of human free choice. Therefore, there is justification in treating the question of natural evils separately. By natural evil we mean, then, those evils that do not result directly from human choice. And by moral evil we mean those evils, whether spiritual or natural, that do result from human choice. In this chapter we will begin to develop a theodicy based on the notion that even though this is not the best of all possible worlds, this world represents God's way of bringing about the best of all possible worlds.
Moral Evil: The Problem and Actual AlternativesTheistic Answers to the Problem of Moral Evil
- The basic shape of the problem of evil was stated by Pierre Bayle1 in the seventeenth century.
… 1. Evil exists.
… 2. An omnipotent God could destroy evil.
… 3. A benevolent God would destroy evil.
… 4. Therefore, since evil is not destroyed, either
… … a. God is omnipotent and hence malevolent in some way, or
… … b. God is benevolent and hence impotent in some way, or
… … c. God is both malevolent and impotent, or
… … d. there is no God at all.
But alternatives a, b, or c are not in accord with the infinitely perfect and powerful God of theism. Hence, the conclusion d, "there is no God," would
(p. 334) follow. That is, if the only kind of God that can exist is an infinitely perfect one (according to theism), and an infinitely perfect God cannot exist (in view of the problem of evil), then it would follow that no God exists at all.
- Or, if the theist wishes to retreat from his insistence that God must be absolutely powerful and perfect (and hence forsake his theism), then some kind of finite god is the most he can conclude in view of the problem of evil.
- The theist objects to the third premise and replies thus: God is destroying evil and will one day complete the process. If true, this would qualify as an explanation for evil, but it would leave at least two problems for theism. Why did such a God permit evil to begin with? What is the evidence that evil will finally be destroyed? Before we examine the theistic answer to these questions, let us look at another way to put the problem of moral evil.
… 1. God is responsible for making everything in the world, including human free choice.
… 2. Human free choice brought about moral evil in the world.
… 3. Therefore, God is responsible for what brought about moral evil in the world.
A theist would not deny this conclusion, but he would deny that it is morally incriminating to God. God is responsible only for the possibility of evil resident in human free choice but not for the actuality of evil that results from free choice. The theist's reply could be stated this way:
… 1. God is morally culpable only for acts he actually performs.
… 2. God does not actually perform morally evil acts (humans who are free to choose do).
… 3. Therefore, God is not actually culpable when men perform morally evil acts.
It is unlikely that the antitheist will accept the truth of the first premise, on the grounds that there were better alternatives open to God. At this point, the burden on theism is to show that there were no better ways to produce a moral world (which is what we will attempt to show). Or, to phrase the antitheist's reply differently, he may charge that God is responsible for permitting evil, even though he does not produce it. And this would be morally reprehensible in an absolutely perfect and powerful God who both knew evil would result and yet does nothing to prevent it. The task of theism is to show that evil is permitted by God for morally good purposes.
- In brief, no matter how the problem is phrased, the minimal burden on theism is to give the moral justification for why God created the possibility of evil, since he knew that it would be actualized by human free choice and why God.is permitting evil to continue when he has the power to stop it. Without
(p. 335) an adequate answer to these problems, theism has not met its challenge in the face of the moral problem of evil that exists in the world.
Moral Evil: The Bind of the Hypothetical Alternatives
PLANTINGA AND THE FREE WILL DEFENSE
- Some of the most influential work recently done by a theist on the problem of evil comes from the pen of Alvin Plantinga2. He has replied to the problem extensively within the context of modal logic3. Let us consider one of the several formulations of his argument. We shall avoid some of the detailed technical apparatus he utilizes, not because it is unimportant to the ultimate success of his argument, but because one can understand the flow of his logic without it.
- Plantnga's strategy is to concentrate on the apparent inconsistency in these statements:
… 1. God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good, and
… 2. There is evil.
Plantinga believes the way to reconcile such an inconsistency is to find a third proposition that is consistent with 1 and entails 2. And we need to be clear about the truth status of this third proposition. The problem with an inconsistency is that there appears to be no way (in modal4 terms, no possible world) in which both propositions can be true. All that is necessary is to show that there is a possible world in which both statements can be true, and the inconsistency is resolved. Thus the reconciling proposition also need only to be possibly true in any one possible world. It does not have to be actually true.
- Plantinga locates this reconciling proposition in a conjunction of two propositions:
… 3. Every essence suffers from transworld depravity, and
… 4. God actualizes a world containing moral good.
- Let us briefly look at these two propositions in reverse order. First of all, 4 is clearly consistent with 1. This is exactly the kind of thing we would expect such a Being to do. But in order for there to be moral good in the world, there
(p. 336) must be creatures who do moral good. And, unless those creatures are significantly free, it would not make sense to call their actions morally good.
- But freedom has a price tag attached to it. If people are to act freely, then their free actions are not under God's control. One cannot say that someone chose freely if that choice was brought about either directly or indirectly by God. Consequently even God cannot do the impossible and prevent free creatures from choosing to do moral evil. God cannot contradict himself and make free creatures who do not choose freely.
- Thus there is no logical reason why creatures might not eventually choose wrongly in each possible world. This is what Plantinga means by "transworld depravity": a creature is significantly free and chooses to act wrongly in every possible world. This possibility is expressed by statement 3. Conjoined to 4 it is still consistent with 1. But in that case, if the free creatures choose wrongly, there is evil and statement 2 follows. Thus 3 and 4 conjointly are consistent with 1 and entail 2. The apparent inconsistency has been resolved.
- Plantinga's formulation has engendered much discussion, both pro and con. For our present purposes, we can grant that there are no logical holes in his case. But one may still be dissatisfied with Plantinga's answer. For ultimately, believer and unbeliever alike will want to know not only if the statements are possibly true within modal logic5, but if they are actually true metaphysically.
- Plantinga is not concerned with that issue: he very carefully distances his defense from a theodicy. Thus he rightfully claims to have provided us with a successful defense. But, as Keith Yandell, following Nelson Pike, states, one of the first things someone wants to know is whether God did in fact create such significantly free creatures who exhibit transworld depravity6. And if so, why would God do such a thing? Thus we move on from a possibly successful defense to a theodicy.
THE QUESTION OF FREEDOM
- Plantinga's defense pivots on the notion that human beings have significant freedom. This idea implies that the creature is not influenced in certain choices by God. As Plantinga puts it, "if I am free with respect to an action A, then God does not bring it about or cause it to be the case either that I take or that I refrain from this action7." Very simply, if God somehow directly or indirectly makes sure that my action comes out one way rather than another, I did not really act freely. The very concept of freedom seems to entail such a lack of constraint.
- (p. 337) But Antony Flew, J. L. Mackie, and John S. Feinberg, among others, have argued that the notion of freedom does not necessarily entail indeterminacy. Flew and Mackie both take this point of view in order to show that the free will defense fails; God's having created free creatures does not imply that he could not prevent them from choosing wrongly8. Feinberg takes that same line in order to preserve his strong Calvinistic theological commitments9.
- As we mentioned in an earlier chapter, Feinberg distinguishes between a compatibilist and incompatibilist view of freedom. He opts for the former, according to which an action may be said to be free even though it was taken under causal influences and was predictable10? For him, then, it is quite consistent to speak in terms of a person's action being free even though God directed him to take such an action, just so long as the person chose to act in such a way without experiencing constraint.
- The notion of compatibilist freedom is not entirely implausible. The issue of freedom versus determinism is a long-standing one, and it may sometimes seem that the theist jumps to some quick conclusions on this matter when it comes to construing a theodicy. Perhaps human beings are not so free as that their actions are indeed causally indeterminate. Yet, if Feinberg is right the concept of human freedom is still not meaningless.
- Nonetheless, for our present purposes, construing freedom along compatibilist lines does not contribute significantly to a theodicy. That this is so becomes apparent even in Feinberg's work, where the free will defense is replaced by a free desire defense and the causal origin of evil is simply postponed by one stage11.
- The strong Calvinist holds that God significantly constrains certain human actions, particularly the choice to believe in him. To anyone who would argue that this constraint violates human freedom the compatibilist argument undoubtedly has a hollow ring. Such a freedom must be to him an ersatz that falls far short of the authentic thing. It may be best to simply negatively identify the strong Calvinistic position with the view that human beings do not have significant freedom in Plantinga's sense. Nothing else will sound convincing to the critic anyway.
- But such a Calvinist does not (nor need he) deny that human beings have a will, the capability of making choices, or moral responsibility. These are
(p. 338) notions that are often put into their mouths by their opponents, but not even hyper-Calvinists would say that humans are mere puppets12. For them, the ultimate theological authority is Scripture, which affirms a human will, human choices, and human moral responsibility. What they are not willing to do is to draw the rational inference from there to a free will, free choices, and responsibility based on significant freedom. So we can weaken the thesis of compatibilist freedom to speak of humans making significant, though non-free, choices.
- These observations will make themselves felt in the subsequent discussion in the following way. The primary argument proceeds on the assumption that human beings are significantly free moral agents. However, most of the ensuing argument is compatible with strong Calvinistic belief, though occasional memoranda of divergence will be in order. In almost all cases where we speak of the free actions of human beings, it suffices for the argument to speak of the significant actions of human beings. A reader who is so inclined may make that mental switch.
- This theodicy embraces both Calvinistic and non-Calvinistic views of human choice because its major premise does not depend on a particular view of free will. The major premise is based on the nature of God and the fact that God is carrying out his plan for the world that is the best of all possible ways of bringing about the best of all possible worlds. This premise can be true if God does so with creatures who are significantly free, but it is not excluded if his creatures are not significantly free.
THE STRUCTURE OF THIS THEODICY
- What makes the problem of evil so acute is that theists admit by the very kind of God in which they believe that God could have chosen but did not choose to take three other alternatives. Traditional theism admits that God could have elected not to create a world of any kind. God was free not to create. Creation flows from God's will and not from any necessity of his nature. Further, theism acknowledges that God could have created an amoral world where there were no free creatures. Without freedom there would be no moral evil. Finally, we admitted that God could have produced a moral world of free creatures who simply, would never choose to sin13.
- This third alternative provides the most discomfort to theism and bears further examination. Some theists object to the possibility of a perfect world, contending that even if it is logically possible that no one will ever sin, it is
(p. 339) virtually certain that sooner or later some creature will sin. How could God guarantee that free creatures would never sin without eliminating their free choice?
- One answer is his supernatural prevention of their evil acts. An omnipotent God would have no problem in turning the murderer's knife into putty, the assassin's bullet into cotton, and the lyncher's noose into a noodle. Every time someone intended evil toward another, God could intercept the results of his act and prevent evil. But the theist could protest two, things: first, that this would not really eliminate evil, for people would still be thinking, and intending evil; secondly, that in preventing evil from happening in the world, God has also destroyed the possibility of improving the world. The second objection has merit and will be discussed later. The first objection is a possibility but it is not destructive of the view that God could make free creatures who will never sin.
- Another possibility is that God could have created only those beings that he foreknew would not do evil. This seems possible because if creatures sometimes do not sin, there seems to be no reason why they could not always freely choose not to sin. But the theist might object that this is both contrary to what we know of human free choice and leaves no guarantee that someday someone might not decide to exercise his option to do evil. Without some factor or force to prevent evil will, surely evil choices will occur.
- But there is another way for God to have kept creation from evil without destroying a free choice, namely, by his infinite power to persuade humans not even to think evil by unveiling the infinitely appealing good of his own nature to them. Surely the beatific vision is an infallible method of persuasion, and an omnipotent God can assure its completely effective operation.
- We would not claim that this is logically impossible but only that it would be morally unworthy of God to do so. It would be like eliciting the desired response from a child by bribing him with candy. In effect, luring people to God before they freely choose to come by irresistible persuasion is a violation of full human free choice. As C. S. Lewis aptly noted:
the Irresistible and the Indisputable are the two weapons which the very nature of His scheme forbids Him to use. Merely to over-ride a human will (as His felt presence in any but the faintest and most mitigated degree would certainly do) would be for Him useless. He cannot ravish. He can only woo14.
- One could always wonder what humans would have chosen to do on their own. It bespeaks more of divine dignity to allow free choice to do evil before one is permanently persuaded to do only the good. Hence, a world with evil is a morally necessary prerequisite to the most perfect world possible. A less perfect moral world is possible, but then it would not be the most perfect
(p. 340) moral world that an infinitely perfect God could achieve. In brief, permitting evil is the best way to .produce the best world.
- Obviously we have reached a point where the strong Calvinist needs to argue slightly differently. Since he denies human beings implied significant freedom, but attributes to God irresistible persuasion, he cannot take the same approach. Nonetheless, he is not barred from asserting that by permitting evil God is taking the best way to produce the best world.
- Cornelius Van Til has summarized this kind of Calvinistic position. "Man is responsible for sin, and he alone is responsible…. On the other hand, it was God's will that sin should come into the world. He wished to enhance his glory by means of its punishment and removal15. " This statement needs elaboration. At the heart of this is the belief that the best possible world is one in which God's glory is maximized. But this goal for God needs to be understood properly. God is not an Oriental potentate who cruelly enslaves his subjects for the sake of his sadistic pleasure. Rather, a maximization of God's glory is also for the ultimate benefit of his creation.
- From this Calvinistic point of view it may be said not only that God is bringing about the best world, but also that his very method (not merely the results of bringing it about) is significant. God is in the process of giving a demonstration of his sovereignty over the universe. To that end he allowed the rebellion that began with Satan and then enslaved all of humanity to proceed. God is demonstrating that he is superior to any form that this rebellion may take. He is allowing sin to unfold in all of its manifold varieties and dimensions. But regardless of how intense the opposition to him may be, God is able to show that he is still in control: he can still punish rebellion and, most importantly, his grace can contravene in unconditional love and forgiveness. When the demonstration is over, God, not only has confronted all possible rebellion against him, and not only has displayed his sovereignty under all conditions, but also will have brought about the best of all possible worlds. Thus for the strong Calvinist also, permitting evil is the best way to produce the best world, even though he may hold a diminished view of the nature of human free choice.
- But in order to establish the thesis that this evil world is the best way to achieve the best world possible, the theist must show that no world at all, or at least no moral world, would not have been better than an immoral world and that a moral world where humans never sin would not have been better than one where people do sin16. In short, why did God choose what appears
(p. 341) to be less than the best alternative (a moral world with evil) when he is allegedly the best possible Being?
- How can theism establish that this is the best way to obtain the best world? How can all the evil brought about by human free choice be justified; to say nothing of the physical evil that is apparently not the result of human free choice?
- In terms of the shape of the problem already given, the theist must support three premises to establish probability for this “best way” (to the best world) position.
Let us examine these in more detail.
- First, the view that this world is the best way to obtain the best world is possible (i.e., it is not an impossible or contradictory position).
- Next, no other possible alternative is more probable.
- Finally, there is sufficient reason to believe that the best possible world is achievable.
The Possibility of a Theistic Answer to Evil
- If it can be demonstrated that this present world is not the best of all possible ways to achieve the best of all possible moral worlds, then our answer to the problem of evil fails. Let us first acknowledge that we offer nothing like rationally inescapable arguments here. However, we have reason to believe that there is no impossibility involved in this view for the following reasons. First, there is no apparent contradiction in affirming that evil can be the condition for a greater good. We are not arguing that evil is the greater good (this would be contradictory); we are contending only that permitting evil can lead to a greater good.
- Further, there is experiential precedent for this kind of solution. It is sometimes the case in our common experience that evils lead to good and there is no apparent reason why it cannot be true of the universe as a whole. That is to say, there are certain things that we freely choose to permit as means to a greater good which, if they were chosen as ends in themselves, would be considered evil. For instance, the pain of getting a tooth pulled is a case in point. Pain for pain's sake would be an evil, but permitting pain for the sake of a healthier, happier life is not an evil. And this is precisely the point we wish to make about this evil world being the means to a better one. It is not a question of beating one's head on the wall because it feels so good when one stops. Rather, it is more like the strain and pain of training that is a necessary condition for achievement in any area of life.
- No theist who believes there is a better possibility would will the evil of this present world as an end in itself. But if this evil can be suffered as the
(p. 342) necessary condition to a greater good, there is no reason why one should rule out in advance the possibility of this being an answer to the problem of evil. In brief, the fact that there is no logical contradiction in our view that this evil world is the best way to the best world and the fact that we have experiential examples of evil means being the condition to good ends are sufficient to establish the possibility of this view.
- Finally there is apparently no way to disprove the possibility of the truth of this position. Indeed, as we saw earlier17, total disproofs of God from evil are self-defeating, for they assume an ultimate or divine perspective in order to prove thee can be no such perspective.
- Further, there is nothing logically contradictory about the statement “This evil world is a condition for achieving a better one.”. And any premise based on how the world was experienced in the past and is experienced in the present cannot logically eliminate the possibility that it may be different in the future. We conclude, therefore, that the position that this world is the best way to achieve the best world is at least a possible position, whatever probability or improbability it may turn out to have.
The Probability of a Theistic Answer to Evil
- The probability of the theistic solution to evil, which we will call the "best way" to the best world view (in contrast to the "best world18" view) can be established in three ways:
The first two arguments are internal to theism. One is based on the actual alternative God chose and the second on the hypothetical alternatives open to him. The third argument is external to theism in that it indicates a way to verify our "best way" view from other than a direct inference from the nature of God.
- By an inference from the nature of God as the best Being with the fact that this present world is not the best world, we can infer that this evil world must be the best way to produce the best world.
- By comparing the alternatives available to the theistic God, it can be concluded that the morally best world is better than a morally good world or than no moral world at all.
- By examining human history and experience, one can see the evidence of the probability of this best world to come.
THE ARGUMENT FROM THE NATURE OF GOD AND THIS WORLD
- The basic logic in this first argument for our theodicy is this:
… 1. God is an absolutely perfect Being.
… 2. Producing less than the best possible world would be an evil for an absolutely perfect Being.
… 3. But an absolutely perfect Being cannot produce evil.
… 4. God produced this world.
… 5. But this world as is and as has been is not the best possible world.
… 6. Therefore, there must be a perfect world to come (of which this present world is a necessary prelude to its production).
- Two comments are called for on this statement of the argument. Since we have already defended the truth of the five premises of this argument earlier (and even granted them to the nontheist in his argument against theism) there is no reason to withdraw them here19. The first premise is verifiable20. The argument is not a priori. The cosmological argument is an a posteriori argument from experience. It is based in our experience of beings as contingent or dependent and proceeds to infer that there must ultimately be an independent Being upon which dependent beings are depending. Anything that would falsify the cosmological argument, therefore, would militate against the conclusion we have just drawn from it. What could that be? Several things would undermine the cosmological argument. If nothing existed (i.e., if everything went out of existence), there would of course be no one (and no need) to verify God's existence (God needs no verification of his own existence). If nothing contingent existed (i.e., if one no longer experienced his own contingency or that of anything else), then the cosmological argument could not get off the ground. That is, if only one being existed, namely an eternally self-conscious necessary Being, then the cosmological argument would be invalid. One could also falsify the cosmological argument by showing that an infinite regress of existentially dependent causes of present existents is possible. In that case, it would not be necessary to conclude a first Cause of all that exists. Finally, if it could be shown that being can be caused by nonbeing (i.e., that the principle of existential causality21 is not true), then the theistic argument could be refuted. But since we have here offered a means of refuting the argument and have given our argument that the theistic God has been verified, then there is no reason why this theistic conclusion cannot be used as a premise in an argument for the "best way” hypothesis on
(p. 344) evil22. In short, theism can be used to support theodicy. For if there are good reasons to believe that the best of all possible Beings exists, then it is reasonable to infer that he will take the best of all possible ways to achieve the best of all possible worlds he chooses to create.
THE ARGUMENT FROM THE ALTERNATIVES OPEN TO GOD
- Another argument from within the theistic framework deals directly with the alternatives open to God. It was admitted that God has four possibilities with respect to creating a moral world (i.e., a world with free creatures in it):
The problem for our theodicy is to show just cause for God’s choice of the last option rather than the first three alternatives.
- God did not have to create any world at all; he was free not to create either a nonmoral or a moral world but to simply create nothing.
- He did not have to create a moral world at all; he could have not created free creatures and hence prevented all the evil that free creatures have brought on themselves.
- God could have created free beings who would never use their freedom to bring about any evil.
- God could have (and evidently did) create free creatures who did exercise their freedom to do evil.
- Before our argument is set forth, it should be pointed out again that it is not necessary to demonstrate that the third alternative is best but only that the other alternatives would not have been better. By "best way" we mean there was no better way for God to do it. This fulfils the requirement that the best Being did his best in that there was no better way available to him than the one he chose.
- No world versus some world. Would no world have been better than some world, especially this world? Would nothing have been better than something?
- There is a basic fallacy in this reasoning: it assumes nothing is better than something when there is no common standard by which nothing and something can be measured. Nonbeing and being have absolutely nothing in common.
- In what sense could a nonworld be better than a world? It could not be metaphysically better, since nothing has no metaphysical status; it does not exist. So it is meaningless to speak of no world as metaphysically better than a world. If anything has the metaphysical advantage, it would certainly be something (even if it is imperfect) rather than absolutely nothing. For if it is meaningful to speak this way, then a cracked vase would be metaphysically better than no vase at all.
- Be this as it may, there is another problem with the contention that no world is better than this one. In order for it to be effective as counter-alternative to this moral world, it must hold that no world is morally better than this world. But clearly no world is not a moral world at all. Hence there is no ground for the comparison. For the moral and nonmoral have nothing in common by which to compare them. Thus it is meaningless to contend that no world is morally better than this moral world23.
- But why did not God create a nonmoral world of creatures who, because they had no free choice, would never do evil? Would not such a world be preferable to this world where free creatures have brought about such evil?
- Here again there is no basis for the comparison. For there is no way to compare nonfree creatures and free creatures so that we may say one is morally better than the other. To be free is good and not to be free is not to have that good, but it is not thereby to be evil (stones are not evil because they have no free choice. In fact, stones do not lack free choice; free choice is simply absent in them.) Further, to be free to do evil (which is what a moral world entails) is good and not to have this freedom is not thereby an evil.
- But what about both being free to do evil and doing it? Is this not morally worse than not being free at all? No, the abuse of free choice is wrong, not because no free choice is evil but because free choice to do only the good is better than free choice to do both good and evil. But this is only another way of saying that a morally imperfect world cannot be declared worse in comparison to a nonmoral world but only in comparison to a morally better one. There is no way to affirm meaningfully that a nonmoral world would be better than a moral world (whether it be a good or bad one). The final and decisive battle against theism on moral grounds must be fought on moral grounds, that is, by comparing moral worlds where each has free creatures in it.
- A morally good world versus a morally better world24. The real rub for theism in establishing the probability of a "best way" theodicy is that it seems both logically possible and morally preferable to have a world where humans are free but do not sin as opposed to a world where humans are free but do sin. Why then, if there is a theistic God, does the latter kind of world exist if the former would have been better? This is a meaningful question because it is comparing like with like (viz., two moral worlds, one of which appears to be morally better than the other). But once the problem is stated in this form it immediately poses problems for the antitheist.
- One problem concerns the standard of the comparison. How can one world be judged better than another world unless there is a moral basis beyond the world by which the worlds are compared? And if the antitheist grants an ultimate standard of Good beyond the world, then he is arguing in a vicious circle. For he is claiming that there is no ultimate Good (God), because he has posited something (evil) that is not ultimately good. If the antitheist retreats from his claim that he has found some evil that is really ultimately evil, then he cannot use it to disprove that there is an ultimately good God in the universe.
- To state the dilemma in other terms, how can an antitheist use the nature of God as the standard of what is morally better in order to prove that there is no God? For once he grants that there is an ultimate standard for morality beyond the world, he has thereby granted what the theist calls God. And if the antitheist insists that this moral Basis beyond the world is not to be identified with God but with some eternal (Platonic) Good to which even God (if there is one) must be subject, then the theist may reply that the dispute is merely verbal. For the antitheist really believes as does the theist, that there is an eternal and ultimate moral law beyond this world.
- But how can there be an ultimate moral law without an ultimate moral Lawgiver? How can there be ultimate prescriptions without an ultimate Prescriber? Indeed, such a morally perfect Source of all morality is exactly what the theist believes God is.
- The antitheist may take another tack in view of his dilemma. He may simply wish to press the charge that theism is internally inconsistent (i.e, that this kind of evil world is incompatible with the theist's own conception of` God as the morally best Being). The antitheist may insist that, judged on the theistically granted definition of God, this evil world is not as good as a moral
(p. 347) world where sin never happens. What could be better than a world where there is complete free choice without evil?
- In outline, the basis for our contention that permitting an evil world is the best way to achieve the morally best world is twofold. First, a world with the greater number of moral virtues is morally better than one with a lesser number of them. And certain virtues like courage, fortitude, mercy, and forgiveness are attainable only in a world where sin occurs.
- Secondly, a world with a higher attainment of moral virtues is better than one with lesser attainment of them. And experience shows that many virtues, such as love and kindness, are heightened by the presence of evil. Experience also shows that the appreciation of something is enhanced by the threat of reality of its loss. This being so, the highest degree of moral perfection is possible only if evil is permitted as a precondition for the achievement of this higher good. And theism is forced by its own commitment, as well as by antitheistic criticism, to acknowledge that the best possible Being must employ the best of all possible means to produce the best of all possible ends. We can summarize the argument this way:
The proviso of the argument, of course, is that the best possible world will be achieved by this present evil world. More will be said in a moment about the achievability of the perfect world.
- 1. God must produce the morally best world he can produce (i.e., if he is going to produce a moral world at all).
- 2. A world where evil serves as a condition for the attainment of higher virtues is better than one where less than the highest virtues are achieved.
- 3. This world is a world wherein evil serves as a condition of the attainment of the highest virtues possible.
- 4. Therefore, this world is better than a world where evil never occurred.
- A nonevil world versus an evil world. There are two levels of response to the hypothetical possibility that God could have created a world of free creatures who simply .would never choose to sin. First, it is possible that no such world would ever have actually occurred. And, second, even if such a world would have actually materialized, nevertheless it would not be morally better than this one.
- First of all, not everything that is logically possible actually happens. My nonexistence is logically possible, but is not actually the case, since I do exist. It is logically possible that the United States could have lost the Revolutionary War since other armies have lost against lesser odds. But they won, and it is futile to speculate what might have been or would have been if they had lost. Likewise it is logically possible that no one would ever sin, but the fact is that men have actually sinned. In short, we contend that in a world of free choice a
(p. 348) state where no one ever sins is logically possible, but it is in the nature of free choice that God could not secure such a state. Nothing he could build into a free world would make sinlessness inevitable, as long as someone chooses to sin.
- That is, it may not be possible, without tampering with human freedom, to produce a free world where men never choose to sin. If a man decides to sit on the back porch but is chased by hornets to the front porch, did he freely choose to go? Not really. He was coerced by physical threat contrary to his real choice. He acted under duress. And in this sense, it would be less than perfectly loving for God to coerce someone against his real choice. Love is persuasive not coercive. Forced love is really not love at all.
- It may be that God could create a world where all men would always choose the good by programming them (like behavior conditioning) so they would never want to do evil. But it must be noted that such programing would “go beyond freedom and dignity." This itself would be a violation of the free choice of men and cannot be in a moral world. Freedom is an absolute essential to a truly moral universe. Love cannot be programed. Love is personal and subjective, and no amount of programing can automatically and inevitably produce a loving response. Some divorces will occur no matter how loving and desirous of reconciliation one partner is.
- Second, a world where evil never occurred is morally inferior because it would never provide occasion for achievement of the highest virtues or the highest degree of other goods. The highest goods are dependent on the pre-conditioning of evils. Where there is no tribulation, patience cannot be produced. Courage is possible only where fear of evil is a reality. If God created a world where evil never occurred, he could not produce the greatest good25.
- Now let us summarize the overall argument.
Since the truth of the premises has already been discussed and they are an obvious part of the theistic argument by now, we proceed to combine the two arguments to support the "best way" thesis as follows:
- 1. God would not produce a world where free beings will always do evil if it were possible to produce one where they will nevermore do evil.
- 2. This is a world where free beings do evil.
- 3. Therefore, this world is not God's final production (there will be a better one where free beings will nevermore do evil).
Perhaps the ambiguity that misleads antitheists can be cleared up by this distinction: the free world where humans never sin would be the best world possible, but it cannot be the first world. For unless an imperfect world is permitted (as the condition for achieving the freedom without evil), the perfect world cannot become a reality. There is no way to get to the promised land except by going through the wilderness. The antitheist is right about the final goal, a world where humans are free but will not sin. But he is wrong about the possibility of creating such a world fully achieved and perfected from the beginning. Even an all-powerful God cannot do the impossible, and it is impossible for him to create directly consequences that demand conditions without first permitting the conditions.
- 1. It is morally better for God to create the morally best world possible (to do less than his best is evil for God).
- 2. A world with higher moral virtues is a morally better world.
- 3. A world where humans are permitted to sin as a precondition to a better world is better than one where they are not.
- 4. This present world is one where humans are free and do sin.
- 5. Therefore, this present world is better than a world where humans never sin.
- 1. God cannot do what is impossible26.
- 2. It is impossible to create conditional virtues directly.
- 3. A world with the highest moral virtues is conditioned on the presence of evil.
- 4. Therefore, God cannot create directly (without allowing the presence of evil) a world with the highest moral virtues in it.
- Since the second premise is the one to which an antitheist is most likely to object, it calls for justification. Is it really impossible for God to create directly a morally, finished or perfected-world? Why could he not have done so? According to biblical theism, God created Adam fully adult. The first trees in the Garden of Eden could have been created “fully grown." There is no reason why the Grand Canyon could not have been created with all the strata in it. All of these things imply process in the ordinary sense but none of them actually demand a process; an omnipotent God could have created them without a process. If so, why did he not create the world from the beginning with its full moral perfection? Why did not God produce the best from the very first without any evil process leading up to it? Surely it would have been better.
- We lay aside the argument that even some physical things cannot be produced by God without a process, and rest our case on the argument that at least optimally free beings cannot be morally perfected without the presence
(p. 350) of evil. First, Adam was not created with morally achieved perfection; only testing could do that.
- Second, even Christ the perfect man was said to have been made "perfect through suffering" (Heb. 2:10). That is, the perfection he had became even more perfect through suffering in an evil world. The cross itself, the highest expression of love (John 15:13; Rom. 5:8), would not have been possible without the presence of evil. Christ prayed, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me"; but, knowing it was not possible, he added, "Nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt" (Matt. 26:39). Surely, if it had been possible to avoid the horrible agony of the cross, then an all-loving and all-powerful God would have spared his son from it; but he did not. Biblical Theists can only assume that no other way was possible.
- Third, human experience shows that some ends cannot be attained except through certain means. There is no way to become a great pianist without long and hard practice, or a great athlete without strenuous training, and so on. One cannot learn patience except through tribulation. Even God cannot create patience directly in a free life, because patience and the other higher perfections are learned. God can only teach; the person must do the learning. And learning is a process for humans. The human is a being in process (i.e., a spatiotemporal being), and the only way beings in process learn anything is by the process of learning. And without the presence of evil, the greatest lessons in life will never be learned. Jesus was said to have "learned obedience through what he suffered" (Heb. 5:8) and thereby was "made perfect" (Heb. 5:9). As we shall see later, obedience to God is the ultimate lesson to learn. And the very best way to learn it is by testing from God. For if God never permitted actual suffering, how would a human ever learn from experience (and experience is the best way men learn) that obedience is better than disobedience?
- Finally, only brief mention needs to be made here that even logically some things cannot be learned apart from certain antecedent conditions. Courage cannot be learned apart from danger; resistance to temptation makes sense only in the presence of the possibility to sin. This leads to our last point.
- The best and only truly effective way to teach any lesson to free beings (i.e., to their wills as opposed to their minds) is to persuade by the good, not merely to instruct by the right. If any lesson emerges from human experience it is that morally right conduct does not follow automatically from simply making laws and informing free persons what is right and what is wrong. The law does not automatically elicit obedience. The only way to get free persons to do the right is to persuade them by the good. If a human being sees that it is good (i.e., what is best) for him, then his will is moved to do it. Simply preaching right and wrong to him falls on deaf ears (even Adam in the state of innocence had the same problem) unless his will is moved by the good in it. If
(p. 351) this is so, why did not God reveal the infinite good of his nature (i.e., give men the beatific vision) from the very beginning? In this way their will, being persuaded by an infinite good, would never have turned to evil and we would have our perfect world in which sin never arose.
- It is because a beatific vision from eternity would not have gained the highest moral perfection of the universe and hence would have been less worthy of God and less worthwhile to humanity. Such a divine infusion of absolute good would short-circuit the very process by which a person learns everything, namely, by the process of experience. And learned perfections are more valuable to free creatures than those that are not learned, just as hard-earned money has more value than money inherited without effort. Of course this does not apply to God. For he does not need to learn anything as God; he already knows all that anyone else can ever learn. The learning process, then, can only be more valuable to free creatures. And that is precisely the point we are trying to make. But a perfect God would by his perfections be obligated to do what is better for his free creatures. For it is the free creatures that he wants to learn the most they can from their experiences in an evil world. God needs to learn nothing about good by contrast with evil, since he is absolutely good. But creatures are only finitely good, and the only way a finite free being can gain the maximum freedom out of his condition is to have it tested under less than ideal circumstances. God is free to do only the good, since he has nothing to learn from evil. But a finite person, on the other hand, has much to learn from evil. The presence of evil is in fact a necessary condition for the maximization of moral perfection for free creatures. If people were shown "the sweet by and by" before they lived in the wretched here and now, they would possibly be persuaded not to do evil but they would never have learned for themselves why doing evil is wrong. And it is a greater good for free creatures that they learn for themselves. An initial infusion of absolute good into everyone's fife would mean that God would have forced free choices in a certain way. And it is not morally best to so determine how free creatures will use their freedom. It would be like a teacher telling his students how wise he is, rather than teaching them what he knows and letting them decide for themselves even in the strong Calvinistic understanding, not much is different. Here too, God is teaching his creatures the moral implications of their significant choices. Thus, the same logic applies to both views.
- Finally, there is reason to believe that an initial infusion of absolute good into the lives of people would not only be morally less worthy of God (as just argued), but that it would actually be contrary to full finite freedom27. For an infinite persuasion is irresistible and what is irresistible allows no room for free choice; it is in fact a coercion of freedom. For instance, if I choose to sit on
(p. 352) my patio on a beautiful summer day and am "persuaded" to leave by some hornets, I am not really free to stay. Only the original choice to sit there was truly free, not the coerced choice to leave. And an infinite good is even more persuasive than hornets. A world of good and evil is a necessary condition for determining who really desires to choose the good and who chooses the evil. A world that finalizes these choices may follow, but it would be a violation of free choice to persuade humans' wills by infinite goodness to do what they would not have done were they really free to do otherwise.
- If an infinite good is irresistibly persuasive in its power so that humans would not truly be free were God to expose them to it, then does it not follow that the saints will no longer be free in heaven? Heaven becomes a place of bondage and the loss of true freedom. On the contrary, true freedom is the freedom to do the good, not the free choice to do evil. And this is the lesson persons of good will learn while on earth. In heaven freedom will be emancipated from the bondage of doing evil. Evil is privation or lack, and it is better not to have a moral lack. And even though it is true that in heaven humans are no longer free to sin (a freedom that was highly valued here on earth), nonetheless humans were once free to do so, whereas persons with a beatific vision from the beginning would never have been free to do evil.
- Furthermore, the inability to do evil in heaven (i.e., the loss of free choice) is only a permanentizing of what one, by his free choice here on earth, really desired to be achieved. That is, the beatific vision is, by God's irresistibly persuasive power, not a frustration but a fulfillment of what the godly have really chosen. And it is of no small significance to note, too, that without this permanentizing of choices made here on earth there would be no way to guarantee the destruction of sin. That is, the only way to produce a permanently perfect world is by permanentizing the choices made here on earth so that it is no longer possible to change them for the worse. (Whether it will be possible to change them for the better will be discussed subsequently.) People will choose to do only the good because they will to do so. And they will not choose evil, because they no longer have any desire to do so, being perfectly satisfied with an infinite good.
- What we are suggesting is not necessarily incompatible with what strong Calvinists mean by "irresistible grace." The Calvinist does not believe that God coerces anyone into his fold apart from the response of faith or apart from a person's will. Rather the Calvinist believes that God works through the human being's faith and repentance.
- In order to understand better how the present considerations apply to a Calvinistic framework, we can remind ourselves of the analogy of a parent and his child, which is a frequent picture in the Bible. As a parent teaches a child certain concepts and behaviors, he may put the child into certain planned circumstances where the child will show certain predictable reactions.
(p. 353) For example, the parent who wishes to teach his children obedience will not remove all temptations for disobedience from the child's environment—knowing full well that a cookie may be snatched or a vase may be broken. But through the experience of success and failure (obedience and disobedience) the child learns to love and obey the parent with his full will. The point is to teach the human being the moral implications of his moral choices. And in this life, that lesson can be learned either in the context of a significantly free choice or in the context of a merely significant (though not actually free) choice. Still, the choice is made and, almost all versions of theism would agree, is permanentized in heaven.
- In summation, it is impossible for God to create directly a world with achieved moral values of the highest nature. He must first allow evil as a precondition of the greatest good. Hence, this world with freedom and evil is the best way to produce the morally best possible world. So far we have offered two arguments for the probability of our "best way" hypothesis, one from the inference that God as the best Being must do what is best; another from the fact that an evil world is a better way of achieving the best world than a world where evil was never permitted. We now turn to our third and final means of verification for this theodicy.
ESCHATOLOGICAL VERIFICATION OF THIS THEODICYIf sometime in the future a perfect world is achieved, our theodicy will have been finally verified. But what if such a world never comes? Will theism have been falsified? No, theism will not have been falsified; at most, only this theistic solution to the problem of evil will be unsuccessful28. Theism could still be true and/or another solution to the problem of evil could be the right one.Further, as John H. Hick showed, there is not a symmetrical relation between verification and falsification. Some things can be verified but not falsified. Hick uses immortality as an example29. If people can witness their own funerals and continue consciously in life, their immortality will have been verified. But if no one survives death, there is no one to falsify the hypothesis that humans are immortal. In a similar but somewhat different way, we argue that if the perfect world comes, our thesis will be confirmed. But if at any given time the perfect world has not come, the thesis has not thereby been falsified, for the perfect world may yet come. There is no specified time limit as to when the eschaton will appear. Whenever it comes, there
(p. 354) is still an eternity of bliss ahead which will make the sufferings of time minute by comparison and eminently worthwhile. The skeptic may wish to level the same criticism against our thesis that is leveled against Hick's eschatological verification: something that can be confirmed only in the future is of no assistance in deciding the truth now. And both theist and nontheist want to know the truth now. It makes a good deal of difference in the way they think and act in this life as to what will be the truth about the supposed next life. At best, eschatological verification saves the theistic position from meaninglessness, but it does nothing to establish any probability of its truth (at least not for the all-important present when truth questions must be decided upon, according to theism).For two reasons this is a valid criticism of Hick's use of eschatological verification but not of ours. First of all, this is offered by Hick (at least in "Theology and Verification") as the only way to verify theism. We have already established by an independent argument (based on human present experience as contingent, dependent beings) verification for the existence of the theistic God. We do not have all our theistic eggs in the eschatological basket. Eschatology will confirm our case for theism but it is not the only support for it. The cosmological argument is the basic evidence that there is an absolutely perfect Being who operates with absolute perfection. Furthermore, unlike Hick, we do offer verifiable indications from both the present and the past that the final, perfect end will be achieved. It is to this evidence which we now turn.There are two kinds of presently obtainable evidence for the probability of our thesis that this evil world is the best way to achieve the perfect world: human experience and divine intervention. First, as was indicated earlier, human experience is witness to the fact that free beings achieve higher moral perfection through suffering than without it. Second, divine intervention is an evidence that something has been done to reverse the course of world events for the better.Let us examine the first line of evidence. Certain virtues are unachievable without the presence of evils. Fortitude cannot be achieved without suffering; courage is not possible without danger, and patience cannot be perfected without tribulation. Other virtues cannot be realized in their highest degree without the precondition of evil. One gains a greater appreciation for food after he has hungered and for water after he has been thirsty. Similarly, the highest appreciation for health is realized only after experiencing illness. And the indications of human experience are that this is in fact what happens to individuals. Evil is the occasion of greater good. The presence of social injustices does activate humans' social consciousness. The cry of the needy does touch the hearts of the philanthropic, and the fact of cancer does occasion determined research to cure it.(p. 355) But even if one grants that there is progress in the lives of individuals toward a higher moral perfection, is there any reason to believe that the world as a whole is progressing toward this perfection? Is humankind learning the proper use of freedom by the abuse of freedom? It seems safe to say that in the history of humankind virtually every lesson from the experiences of persons with evil will has been learned by some individual somewhere at some time. The problem is that the race as a whole has not been able to profit from these experiences. The lessons have been learned by some individuals in the race but they are not remembered by the race as a whole. And even if they were remembered, some people would still not be motivated to apply them. Perhaps if these lessons were stored in some giant computer as a total fund of human experience that could be appealed to by supreme authority as decisive for all human activity, then the race could profit by what its individuals have collectively learned History shows that humans are fruitlessly learning the same lessons over and over again. If there were a memory bank available to the united authorities of people which could be appealed to as decisive experience for what is good for free creatures, then there would be grounds in human experience for demonstration to all other free creatures who had not these experiences. It would be a wasted effort if every person had to learn every lesson of evil for himself.But there is no such giant computer memory bank available to store these lessons and no united authority to apply them to the race. Or is there? The theist says there is. The omniscience of God has stored every lesson learned by every individual; the omnipotence of God can apply it to the whole, race, and. the love of God can provide the motivation for people to want to learn the lesson of freedom.So the infinite power and perfection of God, which was the theist's initial liability, turns out to be his only hope of explaining how the human race will ever learn from its mistakes (i.e., learn how evil never pays). The infinity of God lends probability to the thesis that the world is profiting by its abuse of freedom. It is profiting from it because God is storing the lessons for men. All the lessons of why free choice with evil is better than free choice without evil are being preserved by God and will ultimately be applied by him to the whole race in order to convince it of the wrongness of evil. Then, when the infinitely persuasive good of God's nature is revealed, it will not violate but perfect the freedom to do good that free choice to do evil has shown is the only proper good for free creatures.The biblical theist has a further evidence for the probability of his thesis, namely, the supernatural intervention of God in world events30. The
(p. 356) omnipotence of God makes miracles possible; the omnibenevolence of God makes them probable in view of our evil condition; but only human history shows that they are actual. But according to biblical theism, God has manifested himself in human history (the incarnation of Christ). Furthermore, he did do something to defeat evil (the atonement of Christ) and provide assurance – historically verifiable assurance – that this is true (the resurrection of Christ31). It is not our purpose to develop these arguments here; others have done so adequately enough to indicate a probability in favor of the fact that God has moved in the time-space world against evil. Furthermore, there is evidence in the history of the believing community that evil is being overcome in the lives of all those who avail themselves of this overcoming power.And the assurance to the biblical theist that the final perfect end will come is the prophecy of Scripture. The Bible was correct in its supernatural prediction that Christ would come and defeat sin (his first advent). This fact lends probability to its predictions that Christ will come again (his second advent) and destroy evil. It is not our task here to prove this is true nor to persuade all skeptics that it is so but merely to indicate the probability that rational persons have seen in this kind of verification. The evidence is available for others who want to know both from history and from Christian experience.
The Attainability of a Theistic Answer to EvilSo far we have argued for the possibility of a theistic solution to moral evil on the grounds that there is no apparent contradiction in affirming that this world with evil in it is the best of all possible ways to achieve the best possible world, there is confirmation in human experience that the presence of evil is the occasion for achieving greater moral virtues, and there appears to be no way to disprove our thesis in the strict sense without engaging in a purely a priori type of argument. We then defended the probability of our solution that an evil world is the best way to achieve a perfect world in three ways.
Now we turn briefly to the third and final aspect of our case for a "best way" theodicy—its attainability. Is it really possible to bring good out of evil? In view of the persistence and power of evil down through the centuries, is it possible that evil will ever
- 1. The nature of God as absolutely perfect demands that whatever he undertakes is done perfectly.
- 2. Of the alternatives open to God this present world is the best kind of world to achieve the maximum moral perfection demanded by his nature.
- 3. The final verification of our "best way" will be in the future when a perfect world is achieved.
(p. 357) really be vanquished completely? Even granting that some good can be achieved out of some evil, how can the greatest good be derived from the great evil that has occurred in the history of free moral beings? It seems logistically implausible that every specific act of evil counts for some specific good. Surely much unnecessary and wasteful evil has occurred in the process of achieving this supposed greater good. And further, no explanation is provided via the "best world" hypothesis to anything but moral evil; what about all the evil that does not result from the abuse of human freedom, such is sickness, death, and natural disasters?There are really three separate questions here.
The third question is the subject of the next chapter. The first two will be dealt with here.1. Maximum moral perfection can be achieved.
- How is it logistically possible to achieve the maximum moral good out of the abuse of moral freedom such as our world has experienced?
- How can we account for the moral evil that never brought about any greater good?
- What explanation is offered for the many evils not resulting from the abuse of freedom such as natural disasters?
How God can bring good out of evil is not a serious problem for theism. An omnipotent God can do anything that is not impossible. And the possibility of this solution has already been defended. An all-powerful Being can accomplish anything necessary and an all-loving Being will accomplish it. As a matter of fact, the theistic God is the only kind of God who could possibly solve the problem of evil. As William James put it "The world is all the richer for having a devil in it, so long as we keep our foot upon his neck32." But the only assurance that we really have our foot on his neck is the infinitely powerful God of theism. Hence, the infinite perfection and power of God, which at first appeared to be in the theist's greatest liability, turns out in the end to be the only hope for a solution to the problem of evil. Only an all-powerful Being can guarantee the defeat of evil without destroying freedom. Only an omniscient Being can utilize the various strains of good and evil into the long-range plan for the greatest good. And only an all-loving God would permit creatures the freedom to reject even him.Our argument can be stated briefly as follows:
… 1. It is logically possible for evil to turn out for a greater good.
… 2. An all-powerful God has the ability to bring the greatest good out of evil.
… 3. An all-loving God has the desire to bring the greatest good out of evil.
… 4. An all-knowing God has the wisdom to bring the greatest good out of evil.
… 5. Therefore, the greatest good will be brought out of evil.
Since the antitheist has already granted theism the truth of premises 2, 3, and 4, his only hope lies in showing that it is impossible to use evil as a means of achieving a greater good. And, as we have just seen, there seems to be no way of doing this. Evil does sometimes produce a greater good and there is no reason why it could not always produce a greater good, especially if there is an all perfect, all powerful God to guarantee that it will.2. All moral evil is a necessary condition to achieving a greater good.
Many antitheists will accept the fact that some evils lead to greater good, but the problem for them is explaining the seemingly exorbitant waste of human lives in the pursuit of this supposed greater good. Surely the same goal could be achieved without this much suffering. Does God allow unnecessary moral evil? Certainly he could intervene miraculously and stop just the unnecessary evil without jamming up the mechanism that is working to accomplish this greater good.Here again the theist's answer to the economy of God's use of evil in the plan to achieve the greatest good is that only a theistic God can guarantee to humanity that unnecessary evil will not occur. For only an omniscient God can devise a plan to maximize good and minimize the evil necessary to this greater good. And only an omnibenevolent God can assure us that this world is the best plan to achieve the most good. And only an omnipotent God can make the outcome certain. In brief, only the theistic God can an answer that is both actually adequate achieving the greatest good and is also existentially adequate for those who believe that there is an answer to evil. Theism holds out the only sure hope to solve the problem of moral evil. The achievability of the answer is guaranteed by the infinity of God.The theist need not defend all the specifics of the history of evil as they have unfolded in the universe as the exact acts and the exact amounts of evil necessary to achieve the greatest moral good possible.Many theists do believe that each single evil is somehow part of God's plan. But such a belief is not needed in this context. All that is necessary to an adequate theodicy is this:
… 1. That this kind of world be permitted where free humans actually do evil.
… 2. This will give full assurance that God has not violated the creature's free choice.
… 3. That some evil actually occur—at least enough to provide the occasion the achievement of the greater moral virtues not possible without evil.
… 4. That the total amount of evil that does occur be no more than is necessary to the achievement of the overall plan to obtain the greatest good possible.
Now 1, 2, and 3 are the case with the world we have, and 4 could be known only by an infinite mind. Although the human mind still cannot show how all specific evils contribute to the greater good, it is unnecessary to defend the specific amounts of evil that specific people suffer (sometimes seemingly unnecessarily large amounts) because they can be justified as part of a total amount of evil that is justifiably allowed. We can argue from the whole to the part: Since we accept the whole as necessary, we must believe that all of the particular parts must somehow be necessary (or there would be no totality).Not everyone in the universe has to commit every sin to learn from it. God is recording all the lessons of sin that any free creature has ever learned. And God will make this fund of human experience available to people throughout eternity as a human witness that evil is always wrong. This fund of proven experience with evil will be humanity's own testimony to humanity that true freedom is only the freedom to do good, and that free choice to do evil is really destruction of true freedom. The choices of good and their consequences will be a testimony to the truth of what is good of this truth, and the choices of evil and their consequences will be a witness to what is evil33.But how can theists justify the fact that much evil never does in fact bring this alleged, greater good either in this life or the supposed life to come? Suffering makes some people better but it makes others bitter. Fear occasions courage in some but cowardice in others. Tribulation produces patience in some but frustration in others. And what is even more severe from the point of view of biblical theism is that the world to come does not turn out to be a universally perfect world. There are Saint Pauls, to be sure, but there are also Judases. And did not Jesus say it would have been better for Judas if he had never been born?There are several important things to recognize about a world capable of optimal moral perfection. First, this implies a world of optimal moral freedom, for only a free world is a moral world and only a world of greatest moral freedom is a world of greatest moral perfectibility. Second, only a moral world where evil actually occurs is one where the greatest moral good is achievable. For the highest moral perfection is dependent on the presence of evil obstacles. With this in mind, we can see why the best possible moral world must have both a permanent heaven (where evil will nevermore be done) and a permanent hell (where evil can evermore be done but nevermore spread).(p. 360) First, in the game of life, as in other games, some must win and some must lose34. When people are given the opportunity freely to choose either to do good or to do evil, they must be given the opportunity to follow through with their own choices. For God to coerce humanity to do the good would be both unworthy of his nature and a violation of their freedom. Likewise, for God to snuff out the freedom of all who misuse their freedom would be beneath the dignity of the Divine. It would be tantamount to saying, "If you do not freely choose to love me, I will take away your freedom." No, it is more befitting an absolutely perfect Being that he allow people to freely reject him if they desire. As Lewis pointed out, there are only two kinds of people in the universe: "those who say to God, 'Thy will be done' and those to whom God says, in the end, thy will be done35." The former constitute those in heaven and the latter, those in hell.Here, contrary to what Lewis himself thought, Calvinism constitutes no exception at all, not even in its strong forms. For no one will be in heaven or in hell against his will. Calvinists agree with all Christians that no one will be in hell who would rather bow his knees before Jesus Christ. God's demonstration of his grace and sovereignty would be meaningless if in the end the rebels against him did not have to live with the consequences of their significant choices against God.But what if a person, upon arriving in hell, changes his mind? What if a few more chances here on earth would help persuade a person to change his mind? Again the theist's answer is based in the infinity of God. An all-loving God will surely give every opportunity possible for a human being to choose to submit his will to God's will. If one more chance or a hundred or a
(p. 361) thousand would elicit the decision to do God's will freely, then surely God would give it.On the other hand, an all-knowing God who sees that the choice to do his will will never come, no matter how many more opportunities are given, will not force a person against his will36. God will permit a human the free choice to do his "thing" eternally just as he will permit others to do their "thing" forever. Only those persons will be permitted in heaven who God knows would never change their will; and only those will be pronounced reprobate and eternally separated from God who God knows will never change their will. In brief, the omniscience of God guarantees that the decisions are eternal (Luke 16:26; Heb. 9:27).The finality of the decisions is the only way to guarantee the ultimate perfection of the universe. Sin cannot be allowed to be on the rampage forever. This present world is not the best possible world. And the best possible way to end this world is by a "great divorce." Just as it is true on earth that one partner's irreconcilable unfaithfulness leads to a final separation, even so those who do not will to be married to God must be granted a divorce. Love is perturbing to one who does not desire to be loved by a certain person or to love that person. In fact, there comes a time when the gifts of love and love itself must be finally rejected by the one who is in love with another. And, as Lewis forcefully wrote, "The only place in the world where one is free of the perturbations of love is hell37." Those in love with themselves will be permitted to live forever with this choice; those in love with God will likewise be permanentized in this choice. But up leads up and down leads down and never the twain shall meet (Matt. 25:34, 41; 2 Thess. 1:7-9; Rev. 20:10-15).Secondly, it is better to allow failure, with the opportunity for a greater good, than not to give the opportunity at all. The objection that God should not have created a world with people (like Judas38) who he knew would
(p. 362) choose their own way is not justified for many reasons. First, the door of hell is locked on the inside39. It is locked, to be sure; the decision is final but the decision was free. People may not want to be there but they have willed to be there and will be eternally unwilling to will the conditions of their own release (viz., to will to do God's will). The results of drug addiction are no doubt undesirable but they are chosen. The drunk undoubtedly is displeased with his hangover but becoming drunk is what he decided to do, little by little. Further it is better to offer something better, knowing it will be refused, than not to offer it at all. For instance, it is better to try to transcend racial barriers by love, even if one knows he will be misunderstood in his attempt, than not to love at all. The kind of love which forgives one's enemies is the greatest kind of all. It is better that God loves persons, even if they reject this love, than for God not to love them at all. Love, despite the anticipated rejection, actually magnifies God. It is in this sense that even the wrath of man shall praise God. For no love is more worthy that loves while being rejected. There is a sense in which it is better for freedom to fail to achieve the good than that it be forced to do good. John Stuart Mill said, "It is better to be an unhappy man than a happy pig40." A pig has no moral freedom; a human does. And even if a person does not achieve his own highest good, it is better that he be allowed to live with his own free choice to do evil than to force him to do good. Heaven would be worse than hell for those who do not will to be there. For to force a man to praise forever the one he hates would be worse than allowing the man to curse him. Demanding that a man consent to love God against his will would be a divine rape. It is better that each person be given the free choice to love or not to love God.Third, the world where not all humans love God and do his will is not a failure. It is not less than the best possible moral world. For love succeeds even when it is not received. It succeeds in two ways. First, it succeeds in manifesting its highest expression. Where sin abounds, there grace does much more abound. The true nature of love is more obvious where it is rejected. And God so loved human beings that he gave them the choice to reject his love. Second, it is better to have loved and lost than not to have loved at all. It is better for God to have loved all and lost some than not to have loved at all. It is better, because the only worthy way for love to elicit a response is to elicit it freely. It is unworthy to demand love; one must never love because he has to love but only because he wants to love.For this reason God does not usually miraculously intervene in the basic moral process of the world. Miraculous prevention of evil consequences would not eliminate moral evil; people could still think moral evil. Evil is in
(p. 363) the will not only in actions. Further, destroying all evil action would eliminate the lesson that evil is providing for free creatures. Humans would never really learn anything from their experiment with evil if all the consequences of evil acts were intercepted by God. In short, a world where evil never happened is not logically impossible but it would be morally unproductive.In brief, evil is a necessary condition and a necessary by-product of a maximally perfect moral world. Evil is a necessary condition because without it certain higher moral perfections could never be accomplished and without the experience of evil, humans could never learn for themselves that evil is wrong (and it is a higher good that free humans learn the lesson for themselves). Evil is a necessary by-product of a moral world because in a serious game of life's choice between good and evil some must win and some must lose, and even those that lose do so only by their free choice that, by the rejection of God's way, magnifies the love of God which permits men's rejection of himself.The theistic God is absolutely perfect. Such a God need not create anything, let alone a world with moral beings in it. But if he decides to make a world with free beings, it must be the best he is capable of producing. For doing less than his best would be an evil for God. But an optimally perfect moral world should contain four components:
Now, a world where sin never occurred certainly could not fulfill the requirements for an optimally perfect moral world. In fact, it is difficult to conceive of a world that would better suit these conditions than the world we now live in. And the absolutely perfect and powerful God of theism is both the only hope and the ultimate assurance that the greatest moral perfection will be finally achieved from this present world.
- the process leading to the final achievement of a world where humans are free but never will do any evil;
- a world wherein is permitted the full and final uncoerced exercise of moral freedom;
- a world in which there is permitted the presence of enough evil to provide both the condition for the achievement of higher moral virtues and a comprehensive lesson of the wrongness of evil for free creatures;
- a world where free creatures learn for themselves why evil is wrong.
Footnote 1: Selections from Bayle's Dictionary, ed. E. Beller and Lee. M. Beller, Jr. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1952), pp. 157-83.
Footnote 2: The following summary is derived from Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity (Oxford: Clarendon, 1974), pp. 164-95.
Footnote 6: Keith Yandell, "The Problem of Evil" (paper delivered at the Wheaton Philosophy Conference, October 1980).
Footnote 7: Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity, p. 171.
Footnote 8: Antony Flew, "Divine Omnipotence and Human Freedom," in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, ed. Antony Flew and Alasdair Maclntyre (London: SCM, 1963); J. L. Mackie, "Evil and Omnipotence," in The Philosophy of Religion, ed. Basil Mitchell (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), pp. 91-104.
Footnote 9: John S. Feinberg, Theologies and Evil (Washington, D.C.: University Press of America, 1979).
Footnote 10: Ibid., pp. 57-62.
Footnote 11: Ibid., pp. 119-33.
Footnote 12: See Gordon H. Clark, Religion, Reason and Revelation (Nutley, N.J.: Craig, 1961), pp. 194-241.
Footnote 13: Of course there is another alternative, namely, a world where some (or all) do good (i.e., be saved). However, since this possibility has the same character and will elicit the same response, they will be treated together.
Footnote 14: C. S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters (New York: Macmillan, 1952), p. 46.
Footnote 15: Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1955), p. 160.
Footnote 16: 13. See J. L. Mackie, "Evil and Omnipotence,” and Antony Flew, "Divine Omnipotence and Human Freedom," in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, ed. Antony Flew and Alasdair MacIntyre (London: SCM, 1963).
Footnote 17: See chapter 6 for a theistic defense against a contradiction in the antitheistic argument from evil.
Footnote 18: Leibniz held the "best world" view. See Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, Theodicy, trans. E. M. Huggard (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1966).
Footnote 19: See chapter 9.
Footnote 20: On the need to show how one's beliefs can be verified or falsified, see "Theology and Falsification" in New Essays in Philosophical Theology, ed. Antony Flew and Alasdair Maclntyre (London: SCM, 1963), chap. 6.
Footnote 22: See chapter 9.
Footnote 23: The statement of Jesus that "it would be better" if Judas had never been born does not support the view that no world would have been better than this one. First, we are not talking about a world where all are lost (like Judas) but one where many are saved (where the greater good is achieved). One might rightly question a world where all are lost compared to one in which some or all are saved. Happily, biblical theism knows no such world where all are lost. Second, the statement of Jesus about Judas was meant to be a moral comparison; it was not a comparison of the merits between nonbeing and bad existence. It was probably a hyperbole indicating the severity of Judas's sin. Elsewhere such statements are made to describe the severity of the sin that was in question. In one instance, Jesus simply called Judas's act a "greater sin" than other sinful acts (John 19:11). In parallel thoughts, Jesus used the same type of hyperbole to indicate severe judgment by using the phrases "it would be better … if" and "more tolerable … for" (Luke 17:2; 10:14). Thus, it is safe to say that this statement was not intended to imply that no world is better than the present world. No world is not better morally than the present world, since a nonworld has no moral status. See Norman L. Geisler, The Roots of Evil (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), p. 56.
Footnote 24: Some philosophers have questioned whether such an originally perfect world is possible. See Ninian Smart, "Omnipotence, Evil and Supermen," in Philosophy of Religion (New York: Random, 1970), pp. 485-93; Alvin Plantinga, "The Free Will Defense," God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God, Contemporary Philosophy series (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967), chap. 6.
Footnote 25: Geisler, Roots of Evil, pp. 57, 58.
Footnote 26: Elton Trueblood has some helpful suggestions on what is impossible to God with regard to evil. See his Philosophy of Religion (New York: Harper and Row, 1957), chap. 17.
Footnote 27: For our discussion of freedom see the end of chapter 17.
Footnote 28: Two other possible directions for theism are that this present world is the very best that God can do with fully free beings, and that God is not obligated to produce the best world possible but only a good one. Plantinga defends the former alternative and Aquinas the latter.
Footnote 29: See John H. Hick, "Theology and Verification," in The Existence of God, ed. John H. Hick (New York: Macmillan, 1964), pp. 253-74.
Footnote 30: See Bernard Ramm, Protestant Christian Evidences (Chicago: Moody, 1953); C. S. Lewis, Miracles (New York: Macmillan, 1947).
Footnote 31: See "Morison (Frank) - Who Moved the Stone?" (London: Faber and Faber, 1958).
Footnote 32: William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience (New York: Mentor, New, American Library, 1958), p. 55.
Footnote 33: See Geisler, Roots of Evil, p. 80.
Footnote 34: See C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Macmillan, 1944), P. 106. Just why God did not create a world where all men would ultimately learn from the misuse of their freedom is answerable along the following lines. First, in every game some must lose. The game of life is no exception. Secondly, a world where everyone ultimately turns to God is logically possible, but God by foreknowledge may have seen that it was unachievable. That is, he may have seen that some men would never willingly love him. Thirdly, God could not guarantee such a world against human choice without violating both his own perfect love and man's full freedom, both of which are necessary for a morally perfect universe. Fourthly, a world where it just so happened that every single free creature turned out to freely love God would be morally suspect. Was everyone really loving God freely or had he pulled some invisible puppet strings to accomplish this? Finally, both human freedom and divine love—essential components of a morally perfect world—are magnified when some creatures finally reject God. The fact that God will not force himself on anyone and the fact that he created some men who he knows will never go his way shows just how loving God is. Also, the fact that some men will never change their will indicates just how free man is. Hence, the Christian doctrine of hell that teaches that some men will remain eternally impenitent and reprobate is compatible with a morally perfected universe. Since eternal rejection of God will diminish neither God's love nor man's freedom, neither can it in any way diminish a morally perfect world.
Footnote 35: C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce (New York: Macmillan, 1946), p. 69.
Footnote 36: Jesus' statement that Tyre and Sidon "would have repented" if the mighty miracles he performed elsewhere had been performed there (Matt. 11:21) may be only a hypothetical hyperbole. The parallel phrase says, "It would be more tolerable … for you." Or, Jesus may be referring only to the national existence of these cities and not to the destinies of the individual souls in them.
Footnote 37: C. S. Lewis, The Four Loves (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1960), p. 139.
Footnote 38: Jesus said, "It would have been better for the man [Judas] if he had not been born" (Matt. 26:24). But the word better may mean only "desirable" and surely Judas's judgment was undesirable to him. Even if "better" is taken to mean "beneficial," the context implies only that this would have been better for Judas as an individual, not necessarily better for the whole world. Further, it says only that it would have been better for Judas not to have come into being; it does not say that, once he is in being, it would be better to go into nonbeing. Once he exists as a free creature, it is better that he be given the full choices of his freedom. However, it seems best to take it as a hypothetical hyperbole of severe judgment.
Footnote 39: See Lewis, Problem of Pain, chap. 8.
Footnote 40: John S. Mill, Utilitarianism (1863; New York: Meridian, 1962).
Text Colour Conventions (see disclaimer)
- Blue: Text by me; © Theo Todman, 2018
- Mauve: Text by correspondent(s) or other author(s); © the author(s)