Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Greg Boyd on the Problem of "Natural" Evil


Greg Boyd argues that, if Christian theism is true, then it is rational to believe in Satan and demons.

NOTE: If an atheist or non-Christian asks me to prove that Satan exists I would not do it directly. I need to know:

Do they believe in God?
- If not, then I won’t spend time trying to prove Satan exists. If they don’t already believe in a super-natural being such as God they won’t believe in a non-physical spiritual agent called “Satan,” or in nonphysical agents such as “angels” and “demons.” In fact, on atheism of the "hard" variety, there are no non-physical realities.

If they do believe in God, then I want to know…

Do they identify themselves as a “Christian?”
- There are self-identified Christians who believe in God but not in Satan.
- At this point I could use Boyd’s biblical and theological reasoning.
- Greg writes: “I will argue that there is a class of evils in the world that cannot be explained adequately except by appealing to Satan.”
- This means, for the person who already believes God exists, such evils cannot be explained “naturally.”

- I would also argue from biblical textual evidence that "the satan" (= "the adversary") is best understood as a personal agent. On this see the recent, excellent Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views, eds. Beilby and Eddy. (The four views are those of Walter Wink [the satan is not a personal agent], Greg Boyd, David Powlison, and Peter Wagner [the satan is a personal agent].)

Boyd’s argument (slightly revised): (Satan and the Problem of Evil, 298)

1) “If God is perfectly good, he must do everything he can “properly do” to prevent evil.
2) The only evil God cannot “properly” prevent is evil arising from the willing of a free agent, for preventing this would result in a loss of the greater good of having freedom.
3) “Natural” evil exists.
4) “Natural” evil cannot be attributed to any human agent or to God.
5) Therefore, “natural” evil must be attributable to a perverse nonhuman agent. This is the only possibility that is totally consistent with the belief that God is all-good and all-powerful.

In Satan and the Problem of Evil Greg writes: “So, common sense theism is epistemically committed, not only to the affirmation of free will, but to the existence of a devil as well.” (298)

BUT… An atheist might object by saying: Can’t “natural” evil be better accounted for without adding “God” and “Satan?” On atheism, evil just happens. We don’t need to posit a “Satan” to explain it. But this presumes the truth of atheism. Of course, on atheism, there’s no “Satan.” Note also: on "hard atheism" there's also no evil, at least not objectively so.

At this point someone such as I argue for the truth of theism. My response then becomes:

I believe God does exist.
Which means: I accept the noetic framework of Christian theism as true.
Within Christian theism evil doesn’t “just happen.” It can’t be accounted for in the same way an atheist would account for it. This is precisely because: If God is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful, God would both want to and be able to stop any evil from happening that was not attributable to some agent’s free will.

Therefore I cannot attribute “natural” evil to either God, persons, or chance (it “just happens”). Hence, quoting Boyd: ““Natural” evil must be attributable to a perverse nonhuman agent. This is the only possibility that is totally consistent with the belief that God is all-good and all-powerful.”

FYI and attention Christian theologians - see these reviews for Understanding Spiritual Warfare: Four Views:

Four Views on Spiritual Warfare
"This illuminating book helps readers sort through the plethora of approaches to spiritual warfare. Positions exist in addition to the four explored here, but the range offered is informative and will help the reader sort through why he or she agrees or disagrees on various points. Anyone who wants to understand and hear the case for various positions should start here."
--Craig Keener, Asbury Theological Seminary

"Spiritual warfare--shouldn't all Christians be engaged in it? And if it is indeed warfare, doesn't that mean there's a lot at stake? Or are some versions of spiritual warfare a paganization of the Christian gospel? There are many 'four views' books on the market, but this one on spiritual warfare is one of the few that ably addresses important issues of global Christian theological and practical concern. No seminary education is complete without it."
--Amos Yong, Regent University School of Divinity

"This is a four-views book at its best, a satisfying engagement between the advocates of four very different approaches to spiritual warfare. Each of the representatives has been influential in a particular segment of Christianity, and here is the chance to see them in a respectful-but-sharp dialogue about the key texts and the critical issues."
--Clinton E. Arnold, Talbot School of Theology, Biola University

"Finally we have a theological, biblical, and multidisciplinary assessment of spiritual warfare, a topic which continues to divide and inspire many Christians. Here is a resource that helps put the dominant hermeneutical and spiritual orientations in perspective. The choice of topic and contributors is bold and innovative and the editors' introduction is brilliant. Talk about a dynamic dialogue! Highly recommended."
--Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, Fuller Theological Seminary; University of Helsinki, Finland

"A topic as controversial and divisive as spiritual warfare has long needed a volume like this. Whether or not one wholly embraces any one of the four views presented here (I don't), hardly a text is left unexamined or a question unanswered. The church cannot afford to live in ignorance of such a vital subject, and this excellent treatment goes a long way in bringing us the knowledge we need."
--Sam Storms, Bridgeway Church, Oklahoma City