Does Evil Make a World Better?

Plantinga has argued publicly that perhaps one of the reasons God has for permitting evils like the holocaust, or the social experiment of Marxist communism, or any other evils you might think of, is because of the intrinsic goodness of something like atonement. The idea being reflected in St. Augustine, and in the Mass, that, as the saying goes, Felix Culpa. When God sits back before the creation of the world and tries to decide what kind of world to make, obviously he wants a good world, but (we might ask) in light of what exactly does a world qualify as good? What kind of features add to a world’s maximal or ideal goodness. Of course, strictly speaking we might think that creaturely pleasure should be a good, but first this feature of a world (like many others) cannot be maximal, and isn’t necessarily an ideal which takes precedence over other more significant ideals which might make it dispensable.

Maybe one of the great goods, Plantinga suggests, is the good of an atonement, an incarnation, a redemption, and, in short, a world in which God actualizes something like the Christian story (Plantinga doesn’t quite go so far as to make this claim, but I’m extrapolating, I think, fairly). Such worlds would either need to contain evil, or else at least need to be able in principle to contain evil. Moreover, no evil is in principle too evil to be permitted so long as that evil does or can in principle give opportunity for God to illustrate his love that much more. As Jesus of Nazareth once said:

‘A certain creditor had two debtors; one owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. When they could not pay, he cancelled the debts for both of them. Now which of them will love him more?’ Simon answered, ‘I suppose the one for whom he cancelled the greater debt.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘You have judged rightly.’
~Luke 7:41-43

So long as no evil is too evil to be forgiven/redeemed, any evil, however horrendous, can in principle be an occasion for a greater illustration of God’s love in redemption.

Thus, on this apology, Christianity comes with a ready-made defeater for the problem of evil. Notice that this may be adapted appropriately to work for the moral, natural, metaphysical and epistemic problems of evil (where it may not work for the metaphysical problem of evil, other solutions offer themselves pretty readily).

Perhaps Theism in general does have a genuine problem of evil, to which Christianity offers a solution, but Christian Theism in particular seems invincible against the problem(s) of evil. On Christianity one isn’t or shouldn’t be surprised to find all the evils we find, or even the extent of evils we find, in the world. Now, of course, if evil alone were a great-making property of worlds we could imagine a worse (or, to nerd out and quote an oft cited meme, ‘worse, or better?‘) world. However, the point is that the world is supposed to have evil for the sake of a greater good which could not be obtained without evil in principle. Theism in general can at best speculate on what the greater good might be, but on Christianity the answer is given: the world is supposed to exemplify atonement and redemption.

Moreover, Christianity is not the kind of thing which a Theist would be likely to think up as a response to the problem of evil (historically Christianity does not arise as a response to the wider problems of evil), and so it certainly isn’t gerrymandered to be a response to the problem of evil. It’s answer is surprisingly not ad hoc.

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About tylerjourneaux

I am an aspiring Catholic theologian and philosopher, and I have a keen interest in apologetics. I am creating this blog both in order to practice and improve my writing and memory retention as I publish my thoughts, and in order to give evidence of my ability to understand and communicate thoughts on topics pertinent to Theology, Philosophy, philosophical theology, Catholic (Christian) Apologetics, philosophy of religion and textual criticism.
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2 Responses to Does Evil Make a World Better?

  1. “Maybe one of the great goods, Plantinga suggests, is the good of an atonement, an incarnation, a redemption…”
    If incarnation is so good, why isn’t there more of it? Probably because few incarnations serve a greater good than more.

    “Moreover, no evil is in principle too evil to be permitted so long as that evil does or can in principle gives opportunity for God to illustrate his love that much more.”
    This gives us reason to be happy for the holocaust, since it gives opportunity for God to illustrate his love. Skeptical Theism.

    “On Christianity one isn’t or shouldn’t be surprised to find all the evils we find, or even the extent of evils we find, in the world.”
    Should you not be surprised because Christian theory is compatible with every observable state of affairs, or do you think Christian theory can predict/retrodict the extent of evils?

    “(historically Christianity does not arise as a response to the wider problems of evil), and so it certainly isn’t gerrymandered to be a response to the problem of evil. It’s answer is surprisingly not ad hoc.”
    You may be right on that, but I it seems like the OT is largely written in the context of an evolving theodicy–like adam and eve; the rituals; sins accounting for hardships; the story of Job.

    • Well, God I’m inclined to think that God would only incarnate himself once for the same reason he’s only make one actual world.

      “This gives us reason to be happy for the holocaust, since it gives opportunity for God to illustrate his love. Skeptical Theism.”

      “What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound? By no means!” ~Roman 6:1-2 One has not occasion for celebration, but only occasion for hope. The Christian can hope that the Holocaust can be redemptive, the Atheist cannot (or so I suggest).

      “Should you not be surprised because Christian theory is compatible with every observable state of affairs, or do you think Christian theory can predict/retrodict the extent of evils?”

      Christianity is difficult to falsify, but notice that Theism in general, and Atheism, are compatible, it seems, with every state of affairs as well. In fact, I can think of more defeaters for Christianity then I can think of defeaters for Naturalism. The point is that Christianity tells a story which coheres surprisingly well with the state of affairs in the world. Naturalism and Christianity are both consistent, strictly speaking, with the sate of affairs (I’m granting this only for the sake of argument; at the end of the day I don’t think Naturalism is consistent with any state of affairs, much less the actual state of affairs), but Christianity coheres better with the human experience et al. What is surprising, then, is that Christianity does tell us a story which provides a stunning answer to the problem of evil, without having been developed with any such problem in view. It’s like a happy by-product, and it does, I think, increase the probability/plausibility that Christianity is true.

      Also, you might think naturalism makes more predictions than Christianity, but this is a little too slick. Notice that the naturalist may think that given our preferred physics we will not witness ‘X’ where X is some event which, if it did occur, would qualify as either recalcitrant evidence or clear falsification given some theory T. However, theories are overturned all the time in the sciences, so what predictions can naturalism concretely make? You may say ‘that miracles will not occur’ but you can’t mean by that that paranormal activities won’t occur if paranormal activities just are X’s. You also can’t say that evil is more likely on Naturalism than on Theism, since Evil isn’t more likely on Naturalism than on Christianity (we can imagine one wild sci-fi naturalistic scenario after another, involving transhumanism and time travel, which would eliminate the evils of the world, and which collectively make it practically impossible to calculate the comparative odds of evil on Naturalism vs Christian Theism).
      You may also say, as I know you have, that Naturalism isn’t an explanatory theory. In whatever sense that is likely to be true, it seems to be true of Theism as well. Theism, and in particular Christian Theism has only the advantage that it is less of a stretch away from common sense intuition(s), and that is an advantage of a kind.

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