Monday, October 21, 2019

The God Problem?

(River Raisin, Monroe)

Philosopher Peter Atterton, in his New York Times article "A God Problem," writes:

"Let’s first consider the attribute of omnipotence.
You’ve probably heard the paradox of the stone before: Can God create a stone that cannot be lifted? If God can create such a stone, then He is not all powerful, since He Himself cannot lift it. On the other hand, if He cannot create a stone that cannot be lifted, then He is not all powerful, since He cannot create the unliftable stone. Either way, God is not all powerful.
The way out of this dilemma is usually to argue, as Saint Thomas Aquinas did, that God cannot do self-contradictory things. Thus, God cannot lift what is by definition “unliftable,” just as He cannot “create a square circle” or get divorced (since He is not married). God can only do that which is logically possible...

[C]an God create a world in which evil does not exist? This does appear to be logically possible. Presumably God could have created such a world without contradiction. It evidently would be a world very different from the one we currently inhabit, but a possible world all the same. Indeed, if God is morally perfect, it is difficult to see why he wouldn’t have created such a world. So why didn’t He?
The standard defense is that evil is necessary for free will. According to the well-known Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga, “To create creatures capable of moral good, [God] must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so.” However, this does not explain so-called physical evil (suffering) caused by nonhuman causes (famines, earthquakes, etc.). Nor does it explain, as Charles Darwin noticed, why there should be so much pain and suffering among the animal kingdom: “A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time?”"
Here Atterton conflates the idea of moral evil and natural evil. 
It is possible (I think, probable) that the existence of moral evil implies moral agents who have libertarian free will; which is, the ability to make a choice that is not fully reducible to antecedent causal conditions.
It is therefore possible (I think, probable) that at least one moral agent in this world will choose what God is opposed too; hence, evil.
Thus, a world with free moral agents and the nonexistence of evil seems unreasonable. William Lane Craig says a world with free moral agents who never choose evil may be logically possible, but it may not be feasible. This is because "creatures, through their own free choices, are co-actualizers of the world. They determine what world will be actual, by their own choices. And it may be that, though logically possible, a world in which there is as much moral good as this world, though with less moral evil, may not be feasible for God." (See here.)
If "evil" is understood as something that only makes sense on the existence of free moral agents, then "natural" evil is incoherent. The tree branch that falls on my head is not choosing to do so; hence, in this case, no evil.
But there is human suffering. Note that Atterton has "changed the goal posts" here. Instead of the original question (Can God create a world where evil does not exist?) Atterton now asks a different question (Why would God create a world where suffering exists?).
Craig says:
"On this the atheist would have to prove that it is either impossible or highly improbable that God could have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the natural evil and suffering in the world, and those kind of probability judgments are simply beyond the scope of our abilities. So this argument lays a burden of proof on the atheist's shoulders that is so heavy that no atheist has ever been able to sustain it."