More on theodicy

From my earlier post Signs of the True Religion:

The true religion should have a problem with theodicy.  It should not be contradicted by the existence of evil, but it should not provide an explanation that makes evil a natural or expected thing.  Evil should be an unexpected anomaly in this religion, because that is what evil is in reality.  It is an anomaly; it should not exist.  A creed that explains evil too easily should be regarded as morally suspect.

8 Responses

  1. At the risk of contradicting Boland above, the problem of evil in an immediate, personal context is hard – and certainly hard to bear – but the problem of evil in an objective, metaphysical context should not be. I find quite typically that the anti-religious arguments based on theodicy – the kind that point to a contradiction between the Divine Goodness, the Divine Power and the presence of worldly evil – to be so poorly stated regarding their assumptions upon the Divine Nature that it is surprising that they should have posed problem for faith. In answer, let me present a short garland of quotes from Frithjof Schuon, who has particularly helpful things to say on this topic and who says them better than I could hope to. I introduce each passage with a brief summation.

    Evil as inherent in both the world as separated from God and in the extension of Divine possibility into the created order:

    “Manifestation is not the Principle, the effect is not the cause; that which is ‘other than God’ could not possess the perfections of God, hence in the final analysis and within the general imperfection of the created, there results that privative and subversive phenomenon which we call evil. This is to say that the cosmogonic ray, by plunging as it were into ‘nothingness,’ ends by manifesting ‘the possibility of the impossible’; the ‘absurd’ cannot but be produced somewhere in the economy of the divine Possibility, otherwise the Infinite would not be the Infinite. But strictly speaking, evil or the devil cannot oppose the Divinity, who has no opposite; it opposes man who is the mirror of God and the movement towards the divine.”
    [“The Play of Masks,” ‘Man in the Cosmogonic Projection’]

    Evil in consequence of the Infinitude inherent in the Divine Nature, which It opposes in consequence of Its Goodness and Perfection:

    “Infinitude, which is an aspect of the Divine Nature, implies unlimited Possibility and consequently Relativity, Manifestation, the world. To speak of the world is to speak of separation from the Principle, and to speak of separation is to speak of the possibility – and necessity – of evil; seen from this angle, what we term evil is thus indirectly a result of Infinitude, hence of the Divine Nature; in this respect, God cannot wish to suppress it; likewise, in this respect – and only in this respect – evil ceases to be evil, being no more than an indirect and distant manifestation of a mysterious aspect of the Divine Nature, precisely that of Infinitude or of All-Possibility. …However, the Divine Will opposes evil inasmuch as it is contrary to the Divine Nature, which is Goodness or Perfection; in this relationship of opposition – and in this alone – evil is intrinsically evil. God fights this evil perfectly since, on all planes, it is the good that is finally victorious; evil is never more than a fragment or a transition, whether we are in a position to see this or not.”
    [“Form and Substance in the Religions,” ‘The Question of Theodicies’]

    Evil as strictly subordinated to the Good, which is characteristic at once of Being and of the Absolute:

    “Evil cannot be absolute, it always depends upon some good which it misuses or perverts; the quality of Absoluteness can belong to good alone. To say ‘good’ is therefore to say ‘absolute,’ and conversely: for good results from Being itself, which it reflects and whose potentialities it unfolds.”
    [“In the Face of the Absolute,” ‘Islam and Consciousness of the Absolute’]

    Evil as fragmentary, in contrast to the totality characteristic of the Good:

    “Now, if we start out from the idea that, metaphysically speaking, there is no ‘evil’ properly so called and that all is simply a question of function or aspect, we shall then have to specify on the following lines: an evil being is a necessary fragment of a good – or an equilibrium – which exceeds that being incommensurably, whereas a good being is a good in itself, so that any evil in the latter is but fragmentary. Evil, then, is the fragment of a good and the good is a totality including some evil and neutralizing it by its very quality of totality.”
    [“Treasures of Buddhism,” ‘Cosmological and Eschatological Viewpoints’]

    The proper human measure of evil not in terms of suffering, but in terms of the return to God:

    “From the spiritual point of view, which alone takes account of the true cause of our calamities, evil is not by definition what causes us to suffer, it is that which – even when accompanied by a maximum of comfort or of ease, or of ‘justice’ so-called – thwarts a maximum of souls as regards their final end.”
    [“The Transfiguration of Man,” ‘The Impossible Convergence’]

    Evil, viewed sub specie aeternitatis, in the context of the greater Good:

    “With the intention of resolving the problem of evil, some have maintained that evil does not exist for God, and consequently that for Him everything is a good, which is inadmissible and ill-sounding. What ought to be said is that God sees the privative manifestations only in connection with the positive manifestations that compensate for them; thus evil is a provisional factor in view of a greater good, of a ‘victory of the Truth’; vincit omnia Veritas.”
    [“The Play of Masks,” ‘Ex Nihilo, In Deo’]

  2. If you believe that God exists, that God is omnipotent, that God is perfect, that God loves us, and that in the beginning, God created heaven and earth, then you must reconcile the world that exists with your conception of God. Is the world that we experience the handiwork of an omnipotent and and perfectly loving God?

    At first glance, it does not seem so. In fact, the world we experience seems to contain far more evil than good. Every living thing suffers and dies. There is no justice, no mercy, and no apparent purpose.

    The challenge for Christian apologetics is to explain how a perfect God could have created such an imperfect world. Christians who think they can ignore the “problem of evil”, yet still be effective witnesses for Christ, are fooling themselves.

  3. Unfortunately, the response above completely fails to address the metaphysical understanding situating the “problem” of evil developed in detail in the various quotes included in the first comment.

    That aside, let us take another approach and inquire whether it is true that there is no significant evidence of Divine generosity and mercy active in the created order, or whether this may in fact be more a condition of our own limitative perspective, necessarily well short of that sub specie aeternitatis. Curiously, despite the predominant role that science has played in the “disenchantment” of the modern worldview, in fact a number of scientific discoveries and understandings work to open up vistas regarding characteristics of the natural world that render our own highly contingent presence possible.

    These include: the most fundamental contingency of being itself, that there is something and not nothing; the contingency of universal ordering principles – physical laws – mysteriously embedded in, but also outside the manifest world, rendering this world a cosmos, rather than a chaos; the universal contingency of broad cosmological characteristics governing fundamental physical laws making life possible; more specific contingencies having to do with the nature of our galaxy, sun, solar system, moon and earth; contingencies of our natural environment, including the presence of critical elements for life, as well as the critical terrestrial cycles that regulate them; basic contingencies of life itself, including the nonreducible, but immensely complex and elegant structures and mechanisms of the cell; contingencies of cellular organization and specialization, leading to functional organs; contingencies of comprehensive interrelation in the systems of the body addressing all immediate survival needs that render possible the continuance of our own very particular biological life; the profoundly mysterious contingency of consciousness, the organization of this consciousness in the form of unitive identity and rational competence; the contingency of language, which is not abstracted from experience, but mysteriously embedded within human consciousness itself; the contingency of rational access to types of absolute certainty and truth, such as mathematics, and the coordination of these rationally perceived truths with the experienced world.

    All of these various scientific details, taken in whole, offer at once a “baptism of the scientific imagination” (modified from Tolkien & Lewis) as well as a tremendous extension of our normally quite prosaic vision of the Divine generosity. Far from the modern characterization of a vast and dead cosmos in which we are so much trivial and minute flotsam, our understanding of our situation is radically transformed into one of a miraculous contingency supported upon an all-encompassing Divine generosity, munificence and mercy. The message this understanding yields is the very same at that of Edgar to his blinded and despairing father in King Lear, “Thy life’s a miracle. Speak yet again.”

  4. Existence may be a miracle. The universe may indeed be the creation of an intelligent designer. But if so, the more pertinent questions are: what is the nature of that creator, and what is our relationship to Him?

    It is quite a leap to go from intelligent design to Christianity, or any other specific religious tradition. Even faith itself requires, if not physical proof, at least some internal consistency.

    The existence of evil seems to be an obvious contradiction to the traditional Christian concept of God. Should Christians do as Bonald advises and ignore that contradiction? Or should Christians attempt to reconcile theology with reality?

  5. The problem is that we do not assume God is good for evidential reasons. We know God is good, for necessary metaphysical ones; He could not be otherwise. Theodicy is not an attempt to salvage faith but to reconcile the existential fact of evil with the metaphysical necessity of God’s goodness.

    At any rate, the problem of evil has been addressed here and in the earlier post constantly. Evil is a privation of good: goodness and being are convertible: and so the world, which is not God, will necessarily be less than perfectly good. This may not be the most perfect explanation but it is at least one, and the fact that there is at least one is evidence that the problem of evil is not insurmountable. What more needs to be said?

  6. In response to the first reply to my second posting above, this would seem to doubly misconstrue the nature of what is being discussed. To address the problem of theodicy – with whatever adequacy – is to negate – to whatever degree – an argument against God. It is not, in itself, to posit an argument for God – that is, a rational argument in favor of the existence of God, such as are found in Aquinas’ Five Ways, for example. Further, no philosophic argument for God can effectively argue specifically for the God historically understood by Christianity, or even more narrowly by, say, Protestantism. As Peter Kreeft has stated the matter, such arguments can at best hope to prove a “narrow slice” of God – specifically, the God of classical philosophical theism (in this regard, I might recommend David Conway’s “The Rediscovery of Wisdom: From Here to Antiquity in Quest of Sophia” and Mark Anderson’s “PURE: Modernity, Philosophy, and the One”; one might well add Edward Feser’s “The Last Superstition” and “Aquinas”). Another way of putting the matter – say, in specifically Christian terms – is to state that if Christ had never been born man, neither philosophy nor science would, alone, yield Christianity. This, however, is simply to state the obvious.

  7. I love watching animal life documentaries, especially those made of the plains of Africa where so much happens everyday. I especially love studying Lions. Are lions “good” or evil’. It is not a silly question because they are way too intelligent to be deserving of the safe harbor of “innocence”. By the way, have any of you paid close attention to how lions make their living? Even if your sanctified human soul were to be put into the mind and body of a lion how would you inspire this chimera to behave in order to do good and avoid evil? Only eat old animals with no families?? Cause no pain in the killing? But what if your cubs are starving and the available prey cannot be taken without ruthless technique. Could you really do anything to make lions more moral even if they were given souls? If you say they should just go extinct from trying to survive on grass you would be wrong. Lions EXIST and Lions are BEAUTIFUL and those are signs the devine… This is not the whole argument but it is a good part of it.

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