As stated in the previous installment, I will be approaching the problem of evil. For me, the problem of evil was elephant in the room for theism. When I was younger, my grandmother was battling cancer. She fought it for nine years. I would go with her to her chemo treatments and other appointments while my mother and father were working very hard to put food on the table.
When I was six years old she passed away. I was very close with my grandmother and still have a heavy heart thinking about her eighteen years later. This coupled with me witnessing some other pretty awful things lead me to believe that god did not care about creation. He was not good. I thought he did not have to be good if he did not want to, but we needed to stop calling him good. Through much research and time spent with professors arguing with them, I came to see how we could call God good.
The Problem of Evil Disclaimer
As I said earlier in the first part of this series, I really do not see how the problem of evil disproves the existence of a god. Many atheists, such as Dan Barker, would assent to a god who is all-powerful and all-knowing, so long as we did not insist on his being all-good. You can see Dan Barker argue his point fully in this YouTube debate between himself and Catholic Answers apologist Trent Horn.
It seems contradictory to call God by those three attributes because, if he were all-powerful and all-knowing, he would stop bad things from happening. He could know that the bad event was going to occur, have the power to stop it, but not care enough to stop it. That is why he could have the first two attributes but not the last.
I will give the same disclaimer that Dr. Michael Augros gives in his book Who Designed the Designer: “None of what I am about to say is intended as counsel or consolation for anyone who is suffering some pain or loss. I am only responding to the argument” (p. 171). I will also add my own: I do not claim to have the best answer for the problem of evil. I do not even claim a complete answer. But to answer this question, one only needs one plausible reason.
The Problem of Evil
When speaking with people about God, frequently they seem to want to put God on trial. They will say something such as, “God is supposed to be all-good, yet there is evil. He does not seem like he is doing any good!” I used this same argument as a deist. Then I read The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil by Brian Davies. He asked a question that I had not thought of, “Why should we suppose that God’s goodness is moral goodness” (p. 87)?
Brian Davies argues that God is not a moral agent. What do I mean by a moral agent? A moral agent is a person whose actions can be judged as either good or bad. As Brian Davies says, “The idea that God is good because he manages, in spite of alternatives open to him, always to be well behaved,” (p. 86). As Davies says, “I am not denying that God (whether you believe him or not) commands what is morally good. Indeed, the opposite seems true” (p. 88).
God is incapable of acting within the reference of right and wrong. Without getting into the history, at some point in time people started to compare God’s actions alongside with human actions. We started judging God as a human being. God by his personhood, i.e. God as a divine person, is not the type of being whose actions could be judged. God’s person is not human.
I know the objection will come up: “What about the incarnation, you ignorant swine!?” Well, it is true that God assumed human nature and that Jesus is both fully human and divine. What we do not say, though, is that Jesus is a human person. He is a divine person. God assumed the human nature. In further articles, I will take this question on its own.
What do I mean, then, by God is a being whose actions can be judged? I say this because God is the creator of the universe. I will explain further by using the argument from contingency.
Contingency And Moral Agency
If I were to die today, everything else’s existence would continue. If my two cats died, everything else’s existence would continue. We are what philosophers call contingent. Nothing within the universe is necessary for everything else’s existence, even the basic chemicals. Our solar system, or our universe within the multiverse (the way Stephen Barr describes the multiverse) could cease to exist. However, even if our universe ceased to exist, there is still something that exists.
If there cannot be an infinite regress of causes then there must be something that is the First Cause. Now, if everything else in the universe is a created thing whose existence is not necessary then it would follow that there must be a thing that is necessary for everything else to exist. We seem to be created because if we ceased to exist, then everything else continues to exist. We would be referred to as items within the universe. We are amongst other contingent beings.
What would it be to be the Necessary Being then? A Necessary Being would have to have the ability to create items (and entire universes) out of nothing so we could say that he is all-powerful. A Necessary Being would know what it is doing, and what its creation is doing including when a sparrow falls or when we lose a single hair (Matthew 10:29-30). We could say he would be all-knowing. A Necessary Being would also have to fulfill his own purpose because nothing outside of himself makes him any better or worse. This, folks, is what the Church’s tradition calls all-good.
One could use either Aquinas’ first way, which argues God as the first cause, or his third way from contingency to show that God is not an item within the universe. This would mean that God is uncreated. God’s life is not given to Him by any other being. Remember the burning bush when God says, “I AM WHO AM” (Exodus 3:14 DRA)? God was saying that He is Being itself and that He is the source of all existence.
Goodness and Moral Agency
What, then, does it mean for God to be good? When we call someone good (or well-behaved to use Davies terms) we say that they are following the rules of life. They are not killing and stealing; they are working honestly. Why do we care if other people are well-behaved? While many in the modern world will not say this, it is because we do not want others to get in the way of us fulfilling our life’s purpose: to be in union with God.
Our purpose is external to us. When you make a shelf for your spouse to use in your house, there is a purpose to that shelf: you want that shelf to hold your books or decorative items. When you make a car, you want it to go from point A to point B multiple times for years. Analogously, a relationship with God is our purpose because He created us this way.
God, because He is Creator, does not have an external purpose. Every action he commits is fulfilling His purpose because His purpose is not external to Him but it is Himself. When we say that God is good, we are saying that God is acting to fulfill His purpose and that He perfectly does so because He cannot do otherwise.
Thus, we cannot judge God’s goodness in the same way we judge a human being’s goodness. It would be like asking a tree to play fetch.
Natural vs. Moral Evil
When we see evil occur then, we can make a distinction between natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil, for example, could be a wildfire that ends up killing 10 people. The trees were doing the tree thing, the lightning was doing the lightning thing, and the people were doing the people thing. They were all acting in accord with their nature, so even though it may be devastating and heart-wrenching, it is not a moral evil, even on God’s part. His creative act is one action, so God keeps all things in existence at all times by continually creating it in one action. Again, there is no moral evil here because everything is doing what it is supposed to do. All these things were fulfilling their end by doing what they were supposed to be doing before the fire occurred. If it is not a moral evil, then no one is ultimately responsible for this occurring; including God. (Unless someone started the fire, of course.)
Moral evil can only be committed by persons. There must be the ability to choose; not by instinct but rather by an actual choice. Even though God is continually creating you, He does not make you choose what you choose to do. You still have free will; therefore God is not responsible for the actions that you commit. In the case of the forest fire, the person who started the fire would have the moral responsibility but God would not be accountable.
When I first found out about this reasoning behind why the problem of evil was not a problem at all, I was completely blown away. I spent months mulling this over in my mind until it finally made sense. This ultimately made me a Theist. Many New Atheists point out that the problem of evil is only a problem for Theists, and they are right. I think though that the problem has been solved.
I understand that some of my readers will not be satisfied with the answers I have provided for why I went from being a deist to a theist. I have given book suggestions for answering the problems I encountered and I encourage you to read them for more details. I hoped in writing this to not only explain why I believe what I believe but also to maybe help some people move towards the right direction if they are feeling lost in all the ways this could be answered.
I still struggle to wrap my mind around God being personal. The struggle is not over. This is probably why I like C.S Lewis so much. I know he struggled with the arguments of not only the existence of God but also his personalism. We are all called to bear our crosses; I know this is mine that I wrestle with daily. I still keep to what Socrates said: “Follow the argument wherever it leads.” I am constantly looking at arguments because this is no small matter. This has eternal consequences, whether positive or negative.
Suggested Reading List
On the problem of evil: Dr. Michael Augros, Who Designed the Designer; Brian Davies, The Reality of God and the Problem of Evil.