007: Why? The Question that never goes away! An Interview with Jamie Dew on Evil

The Problem of Evil

Life is a maze.    There is an amazing phenomena of nature called an “Ant Mill.” where ants walk in circles until something incredible happens.  Most ants navigate by using eyesight and some other senses, but when many get disorientated they follow the ant in front of them, it’s a survival instinct. But if that lead ant does not know where it is going– it follows the ant in front of it, and they march in circles until they die of exhaustion and starvation. It is one of the strangest sights in nature.  We are in this secular age like these ants, following after the next fad or new spiritual guru on TV, walking in spiritual darkness…finding not spiritual salvation but spiritual starvation instead.

How can we find our way without a leader? Are the leaders we do have blind? How can we know without a reference point beyond ourselves? 

 

David Hume, Epicurus and J.L. Mackie and Dawkins would have disagreed that evil is our fault. They lay the problem at the throne of God himself. They are the most famous articulators of the famous logical problem of evil.

1. If God is all Powerful. Omnipotent –he could stop all evil globally.

2.If God is all knowing, Omniscient, he would know when and how to stop it.

3. If God is all Good –Omni Beneficent, then he would want to eliminate evil

4. But evil exists and grows…

    4. Therefore, God does not exist  

But does atheism really provide a better answer? If we eliminate God what are we left with? I found that atheism cheapens life. Man is as Shakespear said “Full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”  Degrass Tyson, said it well….we are insignificant” according then.  How according to atheism can you even have an objective evil to object to?

According to Richard Dawkins, we all all advanced DNA, and all we can do is dance to its music!

However, according to the majority of philosophers in my profession, all the theist must do is show how it is possible for a good God to exist and evil to exist too. Great philosophers like Aquinas, Augustine and most recently, world class Philosophers like Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga argued well that that the freewill defense shows that even for God it is logically impossible to create free people who must always choose good as much as it is impossible to create square circles or married bachelors. Evil is a necessary by byproduct of the power of love and choice. We must be able to choose to love or hate. If we do not have that power then we are not free. Since God choose to create free people, he cannot thus make them choose to love him and others. If he did then they would not be free. Also there is another way to address this. Thomas Aquinas wrote in his Suma Theologica quoting Augustine that, “Since God is the Highest Good, He would not allow any evil to exist in His works, unless His Omnipotence and Goodness were such as to bring good even out of evil.” –Saint Augustine of Hippo, Enchiridion

Today on our podcast, I interview my friend, Jamie Dew on this universal issue of evil.

Jamie Dew, is Dean of the College at Southeastern where he teaches Philosophy and the History of Ideas.  He earned his PhD in Theological Studies from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and pastored in NC for 10 years. Currently, he is working on a second PhD in Philosophy from the University of Birmingham in England pertaining to what it means to be a human being.

He is the author of Science and Theology: An Assessment of Alister McGrath’s Critical Realist Perspective (Wipf & Stock, 2010), co-author of How Do We Know?: An Introduction to Epistemology (IVP, 2013), and co-editor of God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain (IVP, 2013). He also has several books in the works!

More importantly he is married to the sweet and beautiful Tara Dew and together, they have two sets of twins!

Also mentioned in this past case was Rabbi Kushner’s book, Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.

 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Looking forward to your feedback!

  • Piet Van Assche

    Khaldoun,

    Many thanks. A very good podcast. I learned a lot by listening to Jamie’s and your arguments. Especially the distinction between the intellectual and the existential “problem” of evil was enlightening. Jamie’s categorisation into the Free Will, Molinism, Open and Sceptical Theism., etc. was also a very good synopsis of the theistic defence of the coherence of the Christian theology in view of the problem of pain.

    Assuming that the theistic God exists, then, in my mind, it is plausible and coherent, that for God it might not be logically possible to exclude evil from the physical world.
    My argument builds on the “free will” defence of inter alia Richard Swinburne and Alvin Plantinga as follows:-

    1) To allow for the physical world to generate itself out of the basic laws, it might have been unavoidable for God to introduce probability in physics (until now not proven wrong and as per our perception of the probabilistic nature of Quantum Mechanics).

    2) God is good, and thus God has “designed” the physical laws sustaining the physical world such that events God considers (based on God’s knowledge of absolute morality) as good will happen marginally more often than events he considers as bad. This is similar to the proportion of antimatter and matter in the original universe. The infinitesimal surplus of matter resulted in the final baryon composition of our universe filled with almost only matter. Thus, even when our perception indicates that there seems to be almost as much evil as goodness in the world, God has willed that good events will (even by an infinitesimal small margin) be more likely than bad ones, and that there is a positive hope towards the good direction for all possible states of reality. However, nature will have many destructive events or seemingly senseless suffering caused or experienced by non-self-conscious beings.

    3) When self-conscious beings evolve in such “free reality” with an almost 50/50 change of good and bad events, then such beings will be faced with the challenge of making moral decisions in a reality with both bad and good events. When they start understanding the Absolute, then they also can experience Absolute Evil. To aid such beings (hopefully we can consider humans to belongs to this category) in making the choices for the good, God would logically reveal God’s nature and the ultimate state of goodness (which God knows and has willed deterministically)

    Thus, God could avoid evil but the price would be that the physical would remain restricted to fundamental laws (in full harmony with God) with a he mere potential to generate physical worlds without actually generating them. God is as it were logically bound by the probabilistic nature of the physical world he made possible and sustains. God deterministically knows that in the end good has to prevail because he willed events in line with his nature to occur more frequently than evil events but he logically cannot control day to day events in a probabilistic reality.

    God can only be glorified by a free reality; thus, reality has to be free. In Christian terms humans carry an “original” sin because we are part of the physical world.

    In conclusion, without limiting any of the attributes of the theistic God and maintaining God’s plan for a final state of goodness (known deterministically by God) in line with God’s nature, it is maybe logically impossible for an omnipotent and omniscient God to exclude perceived evil on a day-to-day basis from a non-static, free probabilistic reality able to glorify God.

    This of course does not answer the existential problem of evil. Maybe the best solution for this, as Jamie suggested, is to get of your backside and start living as a Christian or any other true religion.

    • Thank you Piet For a wonderful analysis of our conversation. Yes, if an agent is not free, how then can they be good? If one does not have an option to do evil, can he really be called ethical? That does seem to be the case. But we are thrown for a loop because God is the supreme being, who is incapable of doing evil. So then how is he free? That opens the door to a different conversation about the nature of God and man and of goodness itself!