Uncommon Descent Serving The Intelligent Design Community

Is God Really Good?


The latest issue of the on-line journal Anti-Matters published by the Sri Aurobindo International Center of Education in Pondicherry, India, includes reviews of Wells and Dembski’s “The Design of Life” and Mike Gene’s “The Design Matrix”, as well as my article “Is God Really Good?”. How is this question relevant to ID? The article makes the connection at the beginning:

In debates over the theory of intelligent design, the “problem of evil” is frequently brought up by opponents of design: if we are the products of intelligent design, why is there so much evil and misery in the world? From a purely logical, or scientific, perspective, this problem is easy to deal with: Nature offers evidence of design–the question of what the designer is like is a separate, more philosophical, issue. But for most of us humans, this is a very unsatisfactory response.

In articles on my web page I have outlined the evidence for the belief that living things are designed, and not entirely the result of unintelligent forces such as natural selection of random mutations. This evidence is so overwhelming that I am convinced that opposition to the theory of intelligent design is not primarily due to any shortage of evidence for design in Nature, but to the fact that it is sometimes so hard to see evidence that our Designer cares about us, and many people prefer not to believe in God at all than to believe in a God who doesn’t care.

Michael Behe deals with this problem very briefly in “The Edge of Evolution,” by basically saying (my words, not his), the malaria parasite was designed also, deal with it. This is probably an appropriate answer for a scientific book such as his, but as I stated above, not a very satisfactory response for most of us humans (though of course I strongly recommend the book otherwise).

This issue of Anti-Matters also includes an article “A Response to Granville Sewell: Is God Really Good?”, by Karen Litfin of the University of Washington. Her response is respectful of my opinions, but she begins “Professor Sewell grapples admirably with a question that surely has vexed every thoughtful theist. His answers, however, are not completely satisfactory…” I will certainly agree that they are not completely satisfactory, even to me.

I realize a lot of my posts lately are promoting my own writings. I apologize for that and will try to resist this temptation in the future. Nevertheless….I have done it again, sorry.

If so many ID advocates insist on denying the real history of the Fall and the Flood in Genesis, they will continue to flounder on the question of natural evil. Remember, Darwin's main opponents were not biblical creationists but old-age design theorists — they had already compromised on biblical history. They failed when confronted with the Darwin's grief that a God of love would create a germ that killed his daughter Annie and call his "very good". See for example Annie’s death and the problem of evil from CMI’s response to PBS-TV series Evolution. Jonathan Sarfati
Jerry at 11, 18 Jerry at 11
As a Christian I was taught there is only one real evil and that is the denial of salvation.
I suggest distinguishing between rejecting the solution (to the evil) {i.e. "salvation"} versus recognizing the cause (of evil and suffering) of rebellion against foundational moral law. {with consequent expression of and spread of the evil and suffering that we see.} DLH
DLH, "Suggest distinguishing between rejecting the solution versus recognizing the cause of rebellion against foundational moral law." If I knew what you meant I will try answering it. jerry
magnan, I am well aware of the various definitions of evil. But from a Christian perspective and I understand you are not a Christian, the only real evil is loss of salvation. What happens to anyone in this life is trivial compared to that. But if you do not accept the Christian perspective, then evil in this world gets magnified so that the things you mentioned take on more importance. But for a Christian, they pale compared to the true evil of loss of salvation. Christians have discussed the various forms of evil in this world for centuries. The discussion changed markedly after the earthquake of Lisbon. This event shook up Europe more than any other event in history and led to renewed discussion of the causes of earthly evil and the theodicy problem. But any discussion of earthly evil by a Christian should always be put in perspective of the ultimate evil, loss of salvation. I do not get the feeling that a lot of Christians do that. They seemed more focus on earthly evil when they should be focused on salvation. I personally don't think this site is the place for these discussion but it comes up once a month whether we want it or not. jerry
Jerry at 11
As a Christian I was taught there is only one real evil and that is the denial of salvation.
Suggest distinguishing between rejecting the solution versus recognizing the cause of rebellion against foundational moral law. DLH
Granville, I think most of us that frequent this article enjoy your articles. No apologies needed. Dembskian
Jerry: "What is evil?" To my mind it is innocent suffering. Suffering is the ultimate badness for human beings, and innocent means not a balancing out of suffering inflicted by the person on others. The suffering is either inflicted by other human beings or by effects of the natural world, or a combination. Defined this way, obviously evil exists. There are a lot of rationalizations attempting to reconcile this with various spiritual world views, religions. I find none of them totally satisfactory, but it is clear to me that there still is a spiritual reality. I guess this is a cognitive dissonance with no acceptable resolution. The free will defense is claimed to spiritually rationalize human evil. This has a problem, however, in that it doesn't deal with the injustice of a person suffering so that in principle he/she can have the free will choice to accept or not accept the Creator. The person might well prefer not to have total free will choice in exchange for not being subject to the cruelty of others. The free will defense also doesn't account for "natural evil". Another rationalization is that suffering itself is not really "bad" from the perspective of the soul, and that therefore there really is no problem of suffering. The obvious problem here is that the vast majority of human beings are only aware of themselves as their personalities, memories and physical bodies, not their souls. For their souls to have imposed this on them is as bad as by another human being. A variation on this is that ultimately humans are part of God, God has chosen a way involving some suffering in order to accomplish greater good, and as such, suffering is self chosen and therefore not bad. The same objection applies as above. Another variation on this is that in the reincarnationist frame, the person as their soul actually chose to have a certain possibility or even certainty of experiencing the suffering, so it is self chosen and not evil. The same objection applies as above. magnan
Jerry, says
"What is evil?"
I have a book called "Evil" by Lance Morrow. He lays out in superb essay form the argument for the existence of evil. At the end of the book your head is spinning so much from all of the different was and perspectives one can take at explaining away evil- that you undoubtedly agree that it exists- and more over that it is relatively simple- and mostly has to do with human choice. It s good read for anyone interested in exploring the reality of the concept that the bible makes so clear the existence of- despite the modern liberal way of interpretation. Or should I say denial? Frost122585
How is it that the secular materialist honestly asks this question? His orientation is atheological and only material. He can only complain about suffering and evil if he places himself within the Judeo-Christian context. And when he does his conclusion ultimately must agree with Solzhenitsyn… "If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?” toc
What is evil? Do we have a definition of it? We tend to operate a lot on this site with individual perceptions of various concepts that are quite different from person to person. What is evil in one generation may not have been considered evil by a previous or subsequent ones. For example, abortion. The richer we get and the more technologically sophisticated society gets seems to lead us into classifying more and more things as evil. As a Christian I was taught there is only one real evil and that is the denial of salvation. Suffering by us and others are not really evil in this context as the final objective of each individual is salvation. Suffering is definitely unpleasant and we can probably define a scale to indicate the level of unpleasantness. But is it really evil? And if you think it is, where on the scale does it become evil? Now such a point of view will not go down well with secularists since they do not believe in salvation and are only interested in a heaven on earth. Also this does not mean that we can just stand by and permit suffering because I believe we will be judged by how well we lead our lives and easing the suffering of others is certainly part of it. But the equating the word evil with earthly suffering may be misplaced. jerry
Ulrich Thank you for your thoughtful reviews of Dembski and Wells, and of Mike Gene's works. Thanks too for posting Sewell's article. Per your post here, may I refer you to Ravi Zacharias “Is God the Source of My Suffering?” in “Jesus among other Gods”, (2000) Ch 5 ISBN: 0-8499-1437-2 for a more detailed examination of these issues of 'Is God good?” Zaccharias addresses both Eastern and Western arguments, particularly those from India. Zacharias cites Philip Hallie's Lest Innocent Blood be Shed. (1994) ISBN-10: 0060925175. Hallie found himself hardened by focusing on evil. He was released after looking on the good people of Le Chambon were doing. Per Prof. Litfin's categorization of Sewell's argument as: “First, God may not be fully in control and therefore should not be held fully responsible. . . . The first category denies God’s omnipotence, which for many is unacceptable.” Following are some quick thoughts: It would help here to distinguish between “omnipotence” of being capable of full control, versus an active choice not to do so. For God to choose not intervene does not deny his omnipotence, however Litfin and others may misunderstand that choice. Litfin notes: “The third category, which raises the complex matter of free will, is most persuasive.” She asks: “. . .why God would create a creature capable of such evil . . ?” Has Litfin examined what is essential for “free will”? For God to create a creature like himself, it must be capable of true love in all its dimensions. Can a robot love? No. Thus for a creature to be capable of love, there must be the capability of choice or “free will”. Similarly, has Litfin explored the issue of “evil”? For a creature to be capable of evil, it must first be capable of doing good. Furthermore, it must understand that there is a choice to do good or evil. For this it must know what is right and wrong, and thus there must be an ultimate standard of what is right and wrong. Such a standard is provided by God who is holy, and the essence of what is right and good. By advocating God as “immanent”, Litfin in effect holds that “God is the cosmos” and consequently“I am God”. By so declaring everything that happens is an act of God, does that not absolve a person of wrong and it consequences. Christianity uses a different meaning of “immanent” - of God within and throughout, but separate from creation. He also came down to become “Immanuel” - God with us. Prof. Litfin quotes Sri Aurobindo articulating, “the question is no longer how came God to create for His creatures a suffering and evil of which He is Himself incapable and therefore immune, . . .” Here too, has she explored the depths of suffering incurred by a holy God when the persons he created to be holy like himself, choose to disobey and destroy what he has created? God is not “immune”, but rather experiences moral suffering far greater than any human suffering or physical pain. For God to create persons like himself, he must himself be capable of the greater choice. Accordingly Christians see God choosing to provide a solution to the problem of disobedience – entailing even greater moral suffering than can be imagined. Yet willing to do so for the far greater good that would arise out of that choice and action. Prof. Litfin further objects to “and all the suffering for which humans are not responsible.” Has she considered the possibility of evil agents apart from humans? Has she addressed the problem of a holy God upholding justice with consequences for both evil and good? Finally, has she considered God's promise to recreate all things? There is much to meditate on. Applying such thoughts to ID as a scientific theory, I would consider the capability of humans to "love" as a broad multidimensional category that needs to be accounted for in a generic theory. DLH
Ulrich, You are right that I am assuming the Christian view of a God who is external to this universe. But the Christian does not see God as "immune" from suffering, the Christian view is that--despite any evidence to the contrary--God has showed us that He does care about us by coming to Earth to suffer with us. I guess Karen is assuming the Eastern (Hindu?) view of God as being one with the universe (I am showing my ignorance of Eastern religions, no doubt). Actually, the materialist has an even better explanation for why the universe sometimes doesn't seem to care--because it really doesn't care. The materialist view is, however, perhaps the only metaphysical view that can be proven false scientifically, on other grounds (the Big Bang does that quite conclusively, for one example). I hope you will join us with your comments more often in the future. Granville Granville Sewell
The article above is very good - congrats. It is obviously the central issue concerning the reasoning for the man made philosophical demarcation between theology and science- that there is unfairness, suffering and evil in the world. The way in which I deal with this issue philosophically while keeping God or a Designer in tact with its observable effects in physical reality- is by taking reality as it actually is and understanding from a rational perspective. First I realize that no one knows everything. So there will be questions that cannot be fully answered due to lack of evidence or the ability to reason sufficiently. Second I realize that there will be arguments that are both for Design and against Design-- as long as the world is incomplete such mental constructs seem possible. Third- I make a postulate that "no proof against any Designer or Creator will ever be deduced" (fair enough and it logically fallows reasonably from above) Forth- I then realize that being that there is no proof one way or the other it is up to individuals to have faith one way or the other. Fifth- I realize that in the universe the small movement of atoms and protons are inconsistently predictable- Then I relate that to the human understanding with the postulate that we have some degree of free will 6. I postulate that free will shall never be disproven or proven to exist. 7. Since free will and God are not disprovable or provable one has to decide whether to believe one way or the other or refrain from believing -- (Atheist, Deist, Theist, or Agnostic.) The next question is which conclusion is most likely- Based on the evidence I would say Design and hence deism or theism- but for those who feel the evidence is pointing in a different direction there is another way of dealing with the question of "what to believe?" If your belief system is that God or a designer cannot exist because he would be too evil- then I ask you to take the essence of your argument and apply it to the question at hand of "which belief should you favor based upon your primary concern for Goodness" You see the atheist and to some degree the agnostic- choose to reject the faith hope and love for a creator that they cannot prove or disprove exists. It seems to me that they are acting towards the God or Designer in the exact same evil or unfair way that they perceive that God is acting towards them. In other words to reject faith or evidence for design based upon evil or imperfection is to take part in the very flaw that your are criticizing. This to me results in a self contradiction- because the critic from the perspective of evil says that they put goodness before faith- but what they have really done is put evil before faith themselves. They claim to put goodness above all else but when it comes to their decisions they are only focused on evil - ignoring the good that is done. Frost122585
Granville, Your paper has in a sense become a focus or target for the current issue of AntiMatters, which carries not only Karen's response but also two relevant texts by Sri Aurobindo. In addition the Preface to this issue provides an idea of how the problem presented itself to the Mother, Sri Aurobindo's spiritual collaborator. I agree with Karen's central point: the theological problem of pain assumes the existence of an extra-cosmic God. If, instead, God is immanent, the question is no longer how God came to admit within His creation a suffering and an evil to which He Himself is immune, but how He came to admit these things within Himself. Cruelty to others is one thing; self-infliction of suffering, I being the sole Existence, is quite another. At any rate, it completely changes the problem and perhaps makes it more tractable. Warm regards, Ulrich Managing editor of AntiMatters Ulrich Mohrhoff
Check out nasa’s web page - time zero and mass zero from infinite energy.
This gives me an idea. Someone should start up a web page that permits people to attempt to create their own universe. The first option they would be given would be to choose a "chance" option, in which the initial settings for certain values would be chosen for them according to some random algorithm. The second choice would be to design their own settings. I suppose we could even set it up to mirror Dembki's explanatory filter. Of course, if someone just happens to be aware of the necessary values for our "fin-tuned" universe, wouldn't we detect taht as an instance of design, given that we have an independent specification? Mung
When I consider how intricate and delicate the human eye is, and how careless and destructive most children typically are, I'm amazed that almost of all of us manage to reach maturity with both eyes intact. It's enough to make one believe, not only in intelligent design, but in guardian angels as well. God is good. Gerry Rzeppa
Cornelius Hunter's Darwin's Proof poignantly highlights the "theology" that lies behind evolution. He notes that Darwin himself will at times have recourse to the evil present in the world when cornered by otherwise difficult questions, such as the evolution of the eye. It's very interesting that "Anti-Matter" is the blog where this discussion has taken place since Hunter contends that the kind of "theology" that evolutionists use is Gnosticism, which considers matter evil (Anti-Matterists all). I recommend the book to all. I'll just note that Darwin writes over and over again in OOS things such as, "I believe....", "I have no doubt that....", "Few would disbelieve....", etc., etc,: all different ways of saying that he doesn't have proof, he just simply "believes" his theory is correct. The Origins is then just a belief system, and as far as "Darwin's Proof", his "proof" is this: God couldn't have created parasites; God couldn't have used the same plan in creating all these different species individually;.... This, of course, is theology; not biology. Design has to do with intelligence. Wisdom has to do with judging things good or evil. Isn't that clear to all? Apparently not to a committed Darwinist. PaV
Granville No apologies needed - keep writing on these foundational issues. Darwin's missunderstanding of the "problem of pain" may have been the cause for him to develop his theory of "evolution".
. . . for some, the mere existence of suffering in the world is enough proof for them that there is no God. Many people use it as an argument against belief and for atheism because it seems to present such a difficult problem. For example, Charles Darwin rejected Christianity after the death of his daughter, as one biographer notes, “his daughter’s death destroyed (his) belief in a moral, just universe and in Christianity”. Billionaire Ted Turner says he lost his faith after his sister died, in a New York Times article Turner once said, “I was taught that God was love and God was powerful …I couldn’t understand how someone so innocent should be made or allowed to suffer so.” Lee Dyke
This issue is often raised by Darwinists in objecting to Intelligent Design. When they do so, it is well to respond with compassion and show that their objection is theological or metaphysical, not scientific. Following a couple of resources: C.S. Lewis addressed this issue his classic: "The Problem of Pain". As an atheist he would have given the existence of pain as an argument against God. Then he was struck by the illogic of that argument:
"If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator?
For Christians seeking a larger perspective, John Piper addresses this issue of suffering in: The Suffering of Christ and the Sovereignty of God DLH
Suffering in the world does not disprove God. It only highlights our ignorance of what is involved in making a universe. Try it sometime. Our existance from the big bang is the strongest proof for the existance of God ever known. Check out nasa's web page - time zero and mass zero from infinite energy. http://map.gsfc.nasa.gov/m_mm/mr_age.html To the those that use suffering to argue against the existence of God I would say life is very good, not perfect. In other words, life was worth being created. Sure there is suffering, but life was still worthwhile. Look at the total picture, not just the negatives. I don't see people marching like leemings over a cliff. Most people must believe that life is worth it. Look at the overall progress of humanity. It has achieved many spectacular things in medicine, transportation, art, science, etc. There is good reason to think that the future will be better than the past. Lastly, ask the atheist what portion of the suffering they are concerned with has to do with their lack of faith. Perhaps the suffering they see is merely a projection of their unfulfilled life. Peter
Please write more and promote your writing as often as you wish! GilDodgen

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