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Q&A: A Friend Who Keeps Responding To The Solutions To The Problem Of Evil

Hi Mr. Minton.

I’ve been following your blog since earlier this year. I discovered it during my lurking hours in the internet while this whole pandemic was going on. I really like reading your posts and I learned a lot from it like the cosmic temple view, new view of hell, etc. 
 
For my first email for you, I want to ask something that I’ve been worried about for months now. I have this college friend who is skeptical. She knows I’m a Christian and knows a thing or two about defending my faith but she always has something to say about them. There’s this one objection she made that’s been scaring me.
 
If someone asks me why God allows evil if he is good, I’d answer using the free will defense. God wants us to choose him freely, and he logically can’t stop people from freely choosing to do evil without hindering their free will. I also usually answer that the evil and suffering in this world will lead to a greater good like having the most number of people who can have eternal life with God.
 
However my friend thinks that there are many possible ways for God to get everyone to heaven without there being evil and suffering in the world. She said it is possible for God to stop every single evil deed before it’s done without controlling the person’s consciousness. Or maybe God could take away people and send them to heaven before they could commit sin. If the environment and everyone else is good, then surely no one will be evil. I told her that even if things were that way, perhaps that won’t stop people from harboring any evil emotions. No matter how good everything around a person is, it is possible for that person to start having desires that would soon go past what is acceptable or good. 
 
But even to that, she had an answer. She said, couldn’t God just snap his fingers and take those feelings away? If God could give “a new heart” to his believers, why can’t he do that in this possible world then? Some Christians also believe that God could take their evil desires away like addiction to alcohol or sex ,etc, so why can’t God just do that? She also suggested that God could have just erased people’s memories of certain things that might influence them to have evil desires. That way people can always remain good and pure. My friend thinks all the evil in this world is unnecessary.
 
Every time I gave her an alternative, she always had an answer and now I’m feeling a bit hopeless. Her words keep repeating in my head, “There are plenty of ways the world could have been without any evil or suffering. But the fact that there is evil in this world says your god isn’t all-loving. He lacks benevolence. Wouldn’t that also mean your arguments for god fail? It’s impossible for there to be god.”
 
It all feels so unbearable now. I get so sad just thinking about our conversation and I have to wonder if her words are really true. How would you answer my friend if she gave you the same objections, Mr. Minton?
 
Much love,
Nika
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I appreciate your question, Nika. Your skeptical friend reminds me of some of my past conversations with skeptics. With every solution I offer, there always seems to be an infinite number of “Well, God could have…” objections. And like hydra heads, when I cut one down, another pops up. 
 
Let’s look at these various proposals.
 

Proposal 1

\\”However my friend thinks that there are many possible ways for God to get everyone to heaven without there being evil and suffering in the world.”\\ — I hope you and your friend realize the difference between possible and feasible. There are certainly many logically possible worlds God could create in which everyone always freely chooses to do the right thing all the time, never does evil, no one ever hurts, etc. However, is it the case that such a world is available for God to create? Not necessarily. For all we know, in any world God could create with liberarian free creatures, there would always be some who go wrong and some who end up in Hell. Now, when it comes to Hell, the list of elect and non-elect could be different depending on when and where God decides to create individuals, and even who He decides to actualize (God didn’t have to create Richard Dawkins or Evan Minton at all), but it may be the case that all feasible worlds have elect and non-elect. No feasible world has 100% saved individuals. Likewise, when it comes to the problem of evil, there may be no feasible world God could actualize in which every person refrains from causing harm to another. 
 
Dr. Tim Stratton of FreeThinking Ministries uses the movies Avengers: Infinity War and Avengers: Endgame give good illustrations of this.
 
In Avengers Infinity War, before Iron Man, Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, and Star-Lord fight Thanos, Doctor Strange uses The Time Stone (one of the infinity stones Thanos was after) to look into time and evaluate over 14,000,000 “alternate futures”. 
 

Stratton writes “Doctor Strange used the time stone to not merely look forward into the future to see what WILL happen, but to evaluate over 14,000,000 “alternate futures” (otherwise known as ‘possible worlds’) to see what “WOULD happen IF.” Doctor Strange is doing this because although it is not logically impossible for the Avengers to defeat Thanos… he wants to see if there is a possible world that could be actualized (what philosophers and theologians describe as a ‘feasible world’) in which the Avengers actually would defeat Thanos!

Doctor Strange explains that he examined over 14 million possible alternate futures, but out of the multi-millions of possible worlds surveyed, he knows of only one in which the good guys actually defeat Thanos in the end.”1

Most people think those are horrible odds. And I felt like I was punched in the gut at the end of the film, for rather than defeat Thanos, Thanos got all 6 of the Infinity Stones and used them to literally snap half of all life out of existence, including many of the super heroes that had fought against him! From my vantage point, it seemed as evil had won. But Dr. Stratton was more observant than I, for he wrote ““[M]y guess was that these ‘alternate futures’ are not merely based on chance alone, and that Doctor Strange gained knowledge of how all of these super heroes and villains would freely choose in each of the millions and millions of possible worlds he examined. Possessing this knowledge of how these free super-powered persons would freely choose in each of these possible futures (similar to what theologians refer to as ‘middle knowledge’), I would venture that Strange freely chose himself — and did everything in his power — to make the possible world in which the good guys would win the actual world in which the good guys will win.”2

And it turns out that Stratton was right! In Avengers Endgame, the Avengers travel back in time to obtain the infinity stones (because Thanos had destroyed them immediately after using them), and used them to undo Thanos’ “snappening”, bringing everyone back to life. Thanos came through a portal they had opened in time from the past, and in the most epic battle in Super Hero cinematic history, The Avengers fought Thanos once again. Iron Man used the Infinity Stones to destroy Thanos and his entire army at the cost of his own life. 

Strange actualized a world with terrible suffering for 5 years, but it was the only one where Thanos was eventually defeated and everyone was resurrected. There were a whole host of logically possible scenarios in which the Avengers beat Thanos. There’s no shortage of memes and comic strips showing various ways Thanos could have met his end (yes, including the memes where Antman shrinks, crawls up his butt, and then grows back to normal size). But there was only one in which the free choices of everyone involved would end up in Thanos’ defeat. I also talk about this in my blog post “Was The Snappening Star Lord’s Fault?” 

So, we need not disagree with your friend that “there are many possible ways for God to get everyone to heaven without there being evil and suffering in the world.” The disagreement would come over whether these possibilities are actualizable. 

Proposal 2

\\“She said it is possible for God to stop every single evil deed before it’s done without controlling the person’s consciousness.”\\ – I’m inferring she means something like striking people down before they can commit murder or something like that. But to this, I would respond with the skeptical theistic response that God knows if or whether a greater good Y would come about from evil X, and whether stopping evil X would prohibit greater good Y from coming about. Every event that occurs sends ripples through history as any time travel enthusiast will tell you. We have no idea whether or not many of the evils we see may be justly permitted because of the goods they bring about in human history.
 
God could have stopped the Romans from killing His Son, but if He had, we would have no atonement for our sins (see Matthew 26:53-54). God could have stopped Joseph’s brothers from selling him into slavery. But if He had done that, the events that lead up to Joseph interpreting the Pharoah’s dream which resulted in the saving of many lives wouldn’t have come to pass (Genesis 37-50). Your friend bares the burden of proof to point to some instance of evil and prove that God could not possibly bring any good from it (if she’s defending the logical version of The Problem of Evil) or that it’s extremely improbable that He could (if she’s running the evidential version of The Problem Of Evil).
 
I have not found atheists’ attempts at either to be the least bit successful. The claim that God cannot even possibly have a morally justified reason for permitting some instance of suffering is an extremely strong claim, one that most contemporary atheist philosophers don’t make. And to claim that God probably doesn’t have a good reason requires one to know every single event that would or would not come about from some present event, which would in effect make one omniscient if they possessed such knowledge. The fact is, the only person who can make such probability judgments is God Himself!
 

Proposal 3

\\”If the environment is good, and everything else is good, then surely no one will be evil.”\\ — Although I’m all for giving theodicies, since The Problem of Evil is really an argument FOR atheism, the atheist bares a lot of the burden of proof. Of course, if he tries to meet that burden, we have a burden to respond. How one determines burden of proof is based on who make an affirmative claim. In this case, your friend is claiming that if environmental conditions were just right, then no one would ever choose evil. But how does she know that? How did she come to that conclusion? Ask her to support this claim. 

I myself am rather skeptical of the claim. I’ve heard of people who turned to a life of crime even though they had loving parents who spent time with them, they had a good education, a happy childhood, sometimes more than you and I probably have combined, yet they still turn bad. Although, I anticipate that the rebuttal to this would be that the person went bad because their circumstances changed. 

From a biblical perspective, I think this is false, though. Satan and a third of all the angels fell despite being in PERFECT circumstances. They were in the very presence of God! Satan didn’t even have the disadvantage of having some external agent tempt him like Adam and Eve did in Genesis 3. Now, I realize your friend doesn’t believe The Bible, but I don’t think that matters. The Problem of Evil is an argument that there’s an inconsistency between what Christianity teaches and reality, and ergo the former can’t be a part of the latter. When one critiques Christianity from The Problem Of Evil, the doctrine of Hell, the Canaanite Conquest, et. al, they’re essentially stepping into the Christian worldview and pretending that it’s true for the sake of argument. 

Proposal 4

\\“Couldn’t God just snap his fingers and take those feelings away? If God could give ‘a new heart’ to his believers, why can’t he do that in this possible world then? Some Christians also believe that God could take their evil desires away like addiction to alcohol or sex ,etc, so why can’t God just do that?”\\ — 

I think C.S Lewis said it best; 

“We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free wil by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound-waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void; nay, if the principle were carried out to its logical conclusion, evil thoughts would be impossible, for the cerebral matter which we use in thinking would refuse its task when we attempted to frame them. All matter in the neighbourhood of a wicked man would be liable to undergo unpredictable alterations. That God can and does, onoccasions, modify the behaviour of matter and produce what we call miracles, is a part of Christian faith; but the very conception of a common, and therefore stable, world, demands that these occasions should be extremely rare.”3

In other words, what your friend is proposing is that God remove human free will altogether, which as I’m sure you’re aware is problematic. What your friend is proposing doesn’t interfere with free will in the same sense as taking over peoples’ minds and controlling them like puppets, but this is a distinction without a real meaningful difference.

She compares her idea with God regenerating believers and removing addictions, but this is a disanalogy. A person can resist The Holy Spirit and thus not ever be given “a new heart” (see Acts 7:51). And as for overcoming addictions, these are always freely given up by the person who prayed for God to take them away. And, moreover, they could always return to their addiction. 

Actually, removal of addiction is MORE freeing. As being addicted means you cannot do anything but indulge in your addiction. I have the ability to (A) Smoke cigarettes, or (Non-A) Not smoke cigarettes. This is because I’m not addicted to nicotine. But a person who is addicted has no choice. They need either miraculous deliverance or slow rehabilitation. They can’t just up and choose to stop. A person addicted cannot choose between indulging in the thing they’re addicted to and refraining from indulging. The person freed from addiction can. So this is a really bad analogy. 

Conclusion 

I hope this helped eased your mind and I hope you share this blog post with your friend. 


NOTES 

1: “Avengers: Endgame, Middle Knowledge, & the Destruction of the Problem of Evil” – Dr. Tim Stratton (The FreeThinking Theist) | April 28, 2019 — https://freethinkingministries.com/avengers-endgame-middle-knowledge-the-destruction-of-the-problem-of-evil/ 

2: “Avengers: Infinity War & Possible Worlds” — Dr. Tim Stratton (The FreeThinking Theist) | April 28, 2018 — https://freethinkingministries.com/avengers-infinity-war-possible-worlds/ 

3: C.S Lewis, from “The Problem Of Pain” as quoted in the article “The Problem Of Pain: C.S Lewis’ Venture Into Theodicy” –> https://bigthink.com/the-problem-of-pain-cs-lewis-venture-into-theodicy

If you have any questions about Christian theology or apologetics, send Mr. Minton an E-mail at CerebralFaith@Gmail.com. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a Christian or Non-Christian, whether your question is about doubts you’re having or about something you read in The Bible that confused you. Send your question in, whatever it may be, and Mr. Minton will respond in a blog post just like this one.

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