Monday, June 12, 2006

Fudging the cosmic balance sheet

Although I sometimes plan out these posts in advance, I think some of my best posts are the ones I come up with at random on the way to work in the morning. Well that, and an excess of caffeine surely doesn't hurt.

So, I was thinking about one of the most common theodicies there is, at least as far as I have seen them, and something about it struck me as odd. It's often argued that the real problem with balancing out God's goodness with the existence of evil in the world is that it may not be possible (even for a supposedly "omnipotent" deity*) to create a universe that has goodness without also creating evil along with it. Some people have problems with that, perhaps partially due to technicalities inherent within the concept of omnipotence, or perhaps due to simply not accepting this as true. Most people, however, seem to either accept this as true, or suspect that it may possibly be true. I definitely fall into the latter camp.

Well, it's an interesting position to argue from, and while it may have merit from an entirely philosophical point of view, it occurred to me that this is rather more like a deist theodicy than a true Christian theodicy. I fear that it can often be the case for Christians that when one wishes to discuss theology, the larger discussion on an abstract level can lose sight of the more important specifics of the Christian faith. Can a person remain a faithful Christian and argue a theodicy that states as a premise that evil is necessary?

Yes, normally we tend to understand this in terms of free will. If there exist beings (humans particularly) that have the ability to choose freely between actions that may be good or evil, it simply seems to follow that sometimes evil will be chosen. Indeed, that's the premise that Christian understanding of evil rests on: that Original Sin is a sort of disease that spread upon all the face of creation due to an evil choice by a single man. Biblically and doctrinally, that's a given, and a necessary part of our understanding of the nature of evil.

The problem arises when one looks at the Biblical nature of God and the picture of creation as a whole. Sin and evil entered the world by the sin of one man, right? Then does that not suggest that before Adam's sin, the world was entirely without evil? Isn't there a sort of understanding as well that at the end of time, either at Jesus' return or 1,000 years thereafter (depending your eschatological calendar) that God will make all things new and there will be a world without sin, evil and suffering? It may sound nice in practice, but in the scope of our theodicy, there is a problem, isn't there?

If God created the world perfect, why could it not stay perfect? Indeed, if it was perfect, then it is shown that goodness can exist without evil. If it's a matter of free will opening the door for evil, and somehow free will with accompanying evil is a greater good than no evil without free will, then what does that say about the supposedly perfect world that is to come? Does God take away our free will? Even after Original Sin, God is apparently taking away all vestiges of evil. If this is possible, then why wait to do it? Yes, I know there are fairly coherent arguments about God's desire to save as many souls as He can before ending this present phase of existence, but where does that leave our theodicy?

Most likely, I'm missing something that should be obvious. I just don't see it, though, or perhaps I am facing a gross misunderstanding of Biblical eschatology. Anyone want to share thoughts on this?

(* In a thread on the SAB discussion board some time ago (now long-gone), I was discussing the nature of omnipotence, and in the end, decided that the best way to clarify the nature of a reasonable omnipotence was to coin the term "quasiomnipotence". It seemed to many that if God is truly omnipotent, then He would not be limited by logic. I argued that if God is not limited by logic, then truly anything becomes possible, and all discussions of God reduce to nonsense. For instance, God can make Himself not exist, or He can make evil cease to exist while simultaneously allowing it to continue existence, since logic does not constrain Him. Thus, I define a "quasiomnipotent" being as limited, but only by the boundaries of logic. The true nature of "quasiomnipotence" may need much discussion, but it gives a more reasonable starting point.)

No comments: