Monday, October 28, 2013

Why did God create Satan?

This is the final post in a series of five questions a skeptic might (and does) ask. I hope it has been a help to some of you. Please feel free to leave comments below!

Why was Satan created? Why would God create some personage that he infallibly knew would not only rebel against him, but also successfully influence mankind to fall as well? That doesn’t seem like a great plan to us.

Interestingly, Christian theology has it that Satan was created as an angel, and, as all things God creates, he was created good. The angels, though not image-bearers of God, were nonetheless afforded the opportunity to be moral agents, and hence were given free will. Lucifer (the angel who becomes Satan) was full of pride, and led a rebellion of some sorts against God. For this sin he was cast out, and he became the devil.

"If God had not created Satan, it would be the case that man would not have sinned," someone might claim. Maybe, maybe not. That claim will have to be proven by the objector (since it's their objection in the first place), and I don't know of any way short of guessing or sheer speculation to show that is true. In fact, we have some reason to affirm it is false. Any moral agent who is not the standard of good is not morally perfect (for moral perfection is not the same as mere moral goodness or moral innocence). Whatever is not morally perfect is imperfect (even if it is morally innocent). Whatever is morally imperfect will eventually sin. So, even if no moral agents prior to man had been created, plausibly man would have sinned. And, for all we know, only in a world with a devil could such drastic distinctions be drawn between good and evil. That last line, we have no way to verify. But then, neither do we need to do so. All we need is for it to be possible, and for that, the objector will need to show that it is impossible!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What About the Tree in the Garden of Eden?

Continuing the discussion on God and evil, from a popular and/or layman’s perspective, is very important. Recently, I have answered a series of five questions discerned from a skeptic of Christianity. I hope these issues will at least open up the plausibility of the Christian worldview from the popular perspective. Today, the topic is:

Why did God create the tree in the Garden of Eden?

The objection runs like this: If God is all-knowing, then He knew that by creating the tree, and prescribing a commandment not to eat of it, that Adam and Eve would freely sin against God, thereby introducing moral evil into the world. So why would He do this?
As hinted at in other answers, a love relationship requires a free moral agent. If that is the case, then by definition the free moral agent must be free either to sin or to obey the command of God. If there is no command given, then while they are still an inherently moral agent, they've not functionally achieved this. In short, they cannot truly love what they do not obey. Thus, a command was placed in the Garden. The tree was not infused with magical properties; instead, the idea is that by disobeying the command (eating the fruit), one would become "wise" (e.g., knowing) with respect to the difference between good and evil. That difference can only be known by experience for moral agents (moral creatures who are not themselves the standard of moral goodness). They could know only the good by obeying, but the experiential knowledge referred to of evil and its difference from good could only come from eating the fruit.

Now God knew they would disobey. Plausibly, any moral non-divine creature will do so. So why did He plant the tree and give the command? Because man needed to be tested in order to be a true moral agent. He failed the test. But never fear: God so ordered the world that He would bring in His only Son, to die on the cross--He also did that out of love! The Christian worldview not only accounts for justice, but also love, in its reconciliation of the world to Christ and abolishment of evil. Can your worldview say the same?

Friday, October 25, 2013

Why Does God Allow Evil?

          Why does God allow evil?

          So we've covered that evil isn't an actually existing thing, and we've covered that the reason evil is around is due to the free choice of moral agents. But another question presents itself: Why does God give any agents free will in the first place, given that he knows that they will sin?

          There are a couple of answers to that. First, God is essentially loving. This means he is not only in a disposition to love (character-wise) but actually loving of all. The reason God created moral agents is because that love relationship can only be reciprocal in the case that the object is also capable of love. But only moral agents are capable of love (because love is an objective moral value). Think of it like a parent: you know that, before conceiving a child, that the child will do things contrary to you, and even break your heart. But that doesn't overcome or outweigh the potential for love. The same basic reasoning applies. God knows precisely what will happen, but he also knows the only way there can be creatures in his image is for them to be moral agents. They must be free in order to be moral agents (a causally determined agent may follow all the rules, but he isn't commended for doing so, anymore than a GI Joe is truly commendable when a child pretends he has destroyed the bad guy's headquarters).

          The next answer as to why God allows evil is found in this five-word answer, given to me by Dr. Tim McGrew: God knows something you don't. Given that only free creatures can be loving, moral agents, there are going to be a lot of truths concerning how actions affect, directly and (mostly) indirectly, other events in the world. Since God cannot force someone to freely do something, it's a logical truism that God cannot avoid a world with evil, if free creatures are going to rebel (which, plausibly, any non-divine moral agent, given enough time and opportunity, will rebel against God). But why should that constrain God not to create? Why should the joys of this world be overturned by evil?

          Now I would agree that, were there to be no ultimate and final reckoning of evil, that perhaps God should not have created. But God has provided a mechanism for dealing with evil ultimately and finally. That mechanism has as its ontological basis the death, burial, and Resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the Son of God, sent from Heaven to Earth to live as a man. He lived a sinless life, a life without any evil whatsoever, as only a divine person could do. He was executed on a Roman cross at the behest of some of the Jewish leaders who were not too thrilled about his message. This execution, though unjust by its very nature, was counted by God as a sacrifice for sins; it was the perfect paying for unrighteousness by death on behalf of those who could never do this, even in principle. By raising him from the dead, God validated the message of Jesus (since, plausibly, God would not raise a blaspheming heretic from the dead). On Christian theology, evil finally will be dealt with at the "end of the age," where evil will be eternally abolished and those who have not rejected but accepted Christ will be with him forever.

          Now ask: why does evil exist on any other worldview? Every worldview has to deal with the reality of the negation of moral goods. Someone might just say there are no moral values, but then he loses his justification for moral outrage at God for allowing evil. Any view that explains away, rather than explains, evil, we should cast a wary eye toward. Christianity not only accounts for the existence of evil, but its abolishment as well!

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Did God Create Evil?

          Following the last post, I am continuing on in a series of five questions that many have concerning Christian theology. These are usually conceived as internal, rather than external, critiques (I may go into detail in a later post about the difference). Essentially, it is a critique that examines whether or not Christianity lives up to its own principles. We shall see.

          Did God create evil?

          Christian theology generally answers "no" to this question. This is because, following Augustine, evil is what is called a "privation of the good." Evil is the absence of good (incidentally, this is why James can write that if you know to do good and don't do it, you've committed a sin, even if you've done nothing!). Evil is not a thing in itself; it is purely in terms of negating the good. Certainly, acts done against the moral standard are things, but they are only evil inasmuch as they are negations of standards. It's important to recognize Christianity affirms this, because this question is what is called an "internal critique." An external critique of a view states that some view conflicts with some other truth of the world; an internal critique assumes the truth of the worldview and points out an inconsistency with itself. The reason it's important to know that God's creating (or not creating) of evil is an internal critique is because then it just won't matter if someone disagrees with evil's ontological significance (that is, whether or not it is a true thing in its own right or just negations of goods).

          So, why does moral evil exist (here, I'm using "exist" in a normal, colloquial sense. We can easily interpret the question as "why do moral agents violate the good?")? Because of free will. It's a truth of logic that one cannot force someone to freely do something; it's logically incoherent, or a contradiction in the meaning of the terms. This means that God cannot force someone to freely do something. Notice that it is possible that God forces someone to do something. It's just not possible that God forces someone to freely do that thing. It's logically impossible, and it doesn't glorify God, as the ground of all truth, to ascribe falsehood to him. So what does this mean? It means that free creatures have the genuine option to rebel against God. And rebel freely they have!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Are We Here to Make God Feel Good About Himself?

          The next five posts will be posts about which I have received questions in the past. They don't reference any names, but they are real questions or objections people have about the idea of God and the Christian worldview in particular. I hope these provoke thought and discussion!

          Is the only reason we exist to worship God? Very plausibly, no. We certainly do exist to worship God, and that is our primary function, but angels do that. No, the Bible teaches that man was made "in the image of God," (Gen. 1:26) and that this image is not physical, but instead in "righteousness and true holiness" (Eph. 4:24), which is to say moral goodness. We have rational faculties, free will, and we were created with moral innocence. We not only were created to worship God, but we were created to love God, and to be with him in fellowship (close relationship); we were also created for God to love us! Several of these concepts will surely be interrelated, but these are identifiable biblically, theologically, and philosophically as purposes of God with respect to creating humans. So, no, we do not have only one purpose, though each of our sub-purposes is plausibly worship of God (though not identical to it).

          I sense another question coming on the heels of this, though, that probably led to his discussion of evil. That question is, "Is God worthy of worship at all?" That question can be answered by appealing to what is known as Perfect Being Theology (PBT). PBT states that God is the greatest conceivable being, he is the most perfect being there is, or could ever be (even in principle). As such, he has perfect attributes, such as moral perfection as the standard for morality, holiness, righteousness, omnipotence, omniscience, etc. These attributes make him worthy of worship since it is not the case that God simply conforms to all of the objective moral norms; on Christian theology, rather, he just is the foundation of these objective moral norms. We could not worship someone who simply met the standard (although that is morally praiseworthy); we can only worship someone who is that standard.

          Now he will want to say that the Christian God doesn't match up, but unless he has something new to say with respect to the question of man's purpose and God's worship, he has to grant, at least in principle, that this objection is overcome.