Monday, April 12, 2010

The Problems of Theodicy (I)

From time to time this blog has examined religious claims, as well as their underpinnings. In this two-part series I want to do this from the viewpoint of theodicy – which is the argument (or counter-argument) that the nature of evil in the world leaves open the nature of a hypothetical God in terms of the cosmos as it is. Note that in some cases atheists have argued that theodicy and the encounter of evil in the world (natural or human) is so formidable that it excludes the existence of a deity. I don’t want to go that far and will explain why in subsequent instalments. For now I will only say that it's feasible to "square the circle" regarding God, the attributes of God and evil - so long as one loosens the conditions for the divine attributes!

First, let’s examine the naturalist-atheist’s premise, which can basically be summed up thusly:

If pervasive evil (natural or human) exists in the world and:

is allowed to continue unabated despite a claim for an “infinite God” then either:

a) God is powerless to stop it, in which case God is not omnipotent or infinite, or
b) God chooses not to stop or limit it, in which case God is a sadist or evil himself

Some religionists in order to counter one or both points have tried to interject “free will” but this doesn’t work for the following reason: if one person’s (e.g. victim’s will) is not operative, then it is only a one-sided will, so what was done to help the person of passive will or incapacity of will?

For example, several years ago a report emerged of a ninety year old invalid woman in a nursing home raped by one of its attendants. The woman was cerebrally and physically incapacitated so had NO free will. She was, in essence, preyed upon by a person whose job it was to assist her. This is human evil in its most malignant form.

Now, a truly beneficent deity would not allow this to occur, but would act (according to Kai Neilsson, ‘Ethics Without God’) at least to the minimal standard of a decent human parent. Thus, if a human parent were to observe (e.g. using a remote monitor) a baby sitter about to assault his or her baby, he or she would intervene forthwith – not wait for the baby to “make up its mind” whether it wanted to be assaulted or not! In like manner, a true beneficent or just deity would intervene to prevent the elderly woman’s rape in a nursing home. Perhaps by causing the perpetrator to stumble and break a leg, or whatever. Anything but inaction!

Yet, in the world as it is, all we see is inaction when even the most vulnerable are predated.

I once had occasion to bring this up in an argument on theodicy to a Christian friend in Barbados, some three years ago. The example was the case of an 11-year old Florida girl who had been abducted by a known sex offender, then repeatedly raped and buried alive. I asked my friend how or why any truly just and merciful deity would countenance such an evil act- by standing by and doing nothing.

He was intelligent enough to grasp that the “free will” argument wouldn’t cut it- since the girl was snatched at a mall, bound and gagged with rope and duct tape and effectively had no free will. However, the response he gave remains to this day one of the most bizarre and cruel I’ve ever heard- for a Christian to attempt to escape the logical vice imposed by his own theodicy.

He said (and I copied this word for word):

“God, since he is all –knowing, could probably see in advance to what she would become in ten years. Perhaps he saw that she would become a prostitute and go to Hell. So, in his wisdom He intervened and allowed her to be killed while still young and before her sexuality developed. So from our limited vantage point it was a horrific crime, but for her it meant dying in innocence and seeing God!”

Of course, I raked him over the coals for this vicious answer, first noting he'd just given the perfect excuse (intentional or not) to kill for any child predator! Second, the maniac didn’t just “kill” her. According to then press reports he defiled-raped her repeatedly before burying her ALIVE. If my Christian friend’s answer had any remote ring of plausibility then her predator would have simply killed her, full stop. No raping or burying alive! Third, it begs the question and confects a hypothetical FUTURE evil (becoming a prostitute) – to justify God’s inaction in the present to spare the girl a REAL evil! There is no proof, after all, the girl would have mutated into a prostitute, so the justification for God passively allowing her murder and torture in the present is the far worse evil. Thus, God plays the role of an evil, diabolical parent.

Now, this begins even more serious and severe problems for the theist. For example, if God is indeed all-knowing, He had to know before all time what would happen to this girl. He foresaw the evil deed, and yet – despite this foreknowledge (which few earthly parents have the benefit of) he allowed it to unfold. Allowed the girl to be abducted, then taken away by this sex predator to be defiled and killed in a brutal, horrifying manner.

But let’s go beyond even this, to the nature of an alleged “designer” who could even fashion (or enable to be fashioned, or “created”) such horrific people as the sex offender, or for that matter Pol Pot, Attila the Hun, Hitler or Charles Manson and Jeffrey Dahmer. Note here again that “free will” can’t be the universal answer since it begs the question.

We know from genetics studies, for example, that a certain chromosomal type or genotype (XYY) is much more prone to criminality. We also know that certain individuals are already born with brain damage and deformities which affect critical regions of the brain – such as the amygdala- which propel vicious and criminal behavior. We also know that certain tumors growing in key regions of the brain can incept such horrific behavior. For example, the Texas shooter – Charles Whitney – who shot and killed more than a dozen people from the tower at the University of Texas-Austin in 1966. It was later found a brain tumor likely drove his homicidal urges.

Now, if a proposed designer could manufacture (create) human beings with such deformed brains, and also know it – know their deformity will lead to evil acts – is he not also responsible? After all, we are holding the Toyota car makers fully accountable for evidently making cars that don’t respond to the brake pedal, and just suddenly accelerate – posing a hazard on the highways. Should not God also be held accountable – IF we posit he has the capability of a “maker” and Designer?

One would think so!

Next: Distinguishing Human evil and natural evil

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