Hello again Mr. Evan,
I know it’s probably unusual to have you settle an argument like this but I really need your help. My friend and I had an argument on the existence of God. I appealed to her that God does exist by explaining the Ontological Argument and that good and evil could exist without contradiction. When questioned about why God would allow evil in the first place, I answered it might give way to a greater good or to prevent a worse evil. She disagrees with this reasoning and thinks this is consequentialism.
She also doesn’t believe in the first premise of the OA because she thinks if the GCB does exist, He would choose not to create any creatures for a world without evil is better than a world with one. She also told me that Christianity is contradictory and cannot fit with the OA. In the Bible, Jesus says it is better for one who does not believe to have never been born than commit evil and be judged. The Bible agrees that a world with only God and no other creatures that could commit sin is better. And yet this world exists.
She also gave me other arguments. One of them quite frankly, bothered me. She says that God by definition cannot be explained by anything outside of Himself since this would mean that God can be explained by something external to Him and therefore He would not be God. I agree. After all, God did say “I am.” However, my friend accused this view of circular reasoning. If the explanation for God is Himself, wouldn’t this be a logical fallacy? She thinks that the only logical possible view is that there is always a further explanation. There is an infinite number of answers to an infinite number of questions. This is her view and I honestly find it so sad. A view without God can only lead to nihilism so I’m worried.
We decided to just stop the discussion eventually since things began to get heated. But I feel unsettled leaving things like this. I feel like I have to be able to bring out an answer on the table. Not only for my friend but also for myself. Christianity is the one view where people can achieve eternal joy. I want her to see just how wonderful it is to be with God. I hope you don’t mind lending me your help. Thank you very much.
I hope you have a great day. God bless you, always.
“In the beginning the Universe was created. This has made a lot of people very angry and been widely regarded as a bad move.”
goes the famous line from Douglas Adams’ “A Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy”
. This is not an objection that I am unfamilliar with. I’ve dealt with variations of it when discussing the problem of evil and the doctrine of Hell respectively. So, fortunately, I should be able to help you out.
The Problem Of Evil and The Problem Of Hell
First, we could agree that it’s better for an individual to have never been born than to face the wrath of God in Hell. But for one thing, I don’t think the wicked will be tortured for all eternity. I have three chapters exegetically arguing for annihilationism in my new book “Yahweh’s Inferno: Why Scripture’s Teaching On Hell Doesn’t Impugn The Goodness Of God”. And in that book, I explain from the biblical data that the “Judgment Timeline” of the damned will be (1) biological death, (2) imprisoned in Hades/Tartarus/Sheol, (3) bodily resurrection, and (4) annihilation in the flames of Hell. Hell does not need to be eternal consious torment to be a fate so bad that Jesus could say “It would be better if you had never been born”. The inner conscious turmoil of those in the intermediate state, knowing that their days are numbered and that an execution of both body and soul awaits them (Matthew 10:28), knowing that they’ll experience death a second time (Revelation 21:8) for melinnia would be quite miserable indeed I would think.
I mention this because getting Dante’s fabricated version of Hell out of the picture takes a lot of force out of the argument, as even several atheists have personally told me. The damned will not be suffering forever. The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), a death after death in fact (Revelation 21:8), a death of both body and soul (Matthew 10:28). A fate of being burned up like chaff (Matthew 3:12), which is why Sodom and Gomorrah served as examples of what would happen to the ungodly (2 Peter 2:7, Jude 7). The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah weren’t eternally tortured, they were eternally torched! They were burned to ashes with fire from Heaven! They wouldn’t be a very good example of what will befall the ungodly if the ungodly won’t similarly be burned to ashes, but instead will be kept alive in unremitting suffering.
Now, although it would be worse for any given individual if that individual had never been born, who’s to say that it wouldn’t be better on average if that individual was born? In my paper “Why The Problem Of Evil Is A Failed Argument For Atheism”,
I argue that it may well be the case that any world God could create with free creatures would not
contain any evil in it whatsoever. In any world that God could create, no matter how he arranges the pieces on the chess board (i.e deciding when and where individuals would be born), there would always be at least some who refuse to cooperate with God’s desires and hence, introduce suffering and evil into the creation. I also argue that we have very good reasons to believe that God would want a world of free
creatures instead of a puppet world. In the aforementioned paper, I argue that without free will, true love is possible. And yet God genuinely desires a true love realtionship with us and he wants us to have true love relationships with each other. This is why the two greatest commandments are to love The Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (see Matthew 22:36-40). This is a stake in the heart of the logical version of the problem of evil. And this is bad for your friend’s objection because the logical
version of the problem of evil is the ONLY
version of the problem of evil which could possibly defeat The Modal Ontological Argument. The other version of The Problem Of Evil is The Evidential Problem of Evil which concedes that it’s possible that God and evil could co-exist, but nevertheless argues that it’s highly improbable that they do. The Modal Ontological Argument is utterly immune to The Evidential Version of The Problem Of Evil because The Modal Ontological Argument doesn’t rely on probability
for its premises, but possibility.
If it’s even possible that God exists, then God exists in every possible world including the actual world, Therefore God exists.
The Logical Version of The Problem Of Evil has to maintain that God can create any sort of world that He desires (which may not be true if there are no libertarian free will worlds where all people always freely choose to do the right thing) and it must also maintain that God has no morally sufficient reasons for preferring to actualize a world like ours. If your friend cannot show that it is utterly impossible for God to have morally sufficient reasons for permitting suffering, then The Modal Ontological Argument is intact.
This spills over into discussions on Hell, for it may also be true that God cannot actualize a world where everyone freely responds to the gospel and is saved. In any world of free creatures God could create, there would always be at least some who choose to spurn God’s grace and end up in Hell. The individuals who are redeemed and the individuals who are damned may differ from feasible world to feasible world (e.g there’s a world where Lee Strobel rejects Christ until the day he dies, but Richard Dawkins becomes a Christian Apologist and writes books arguing in defense of Christianity), but there would always be both saved and lost in all feasible worlds. This may be the case for all we know. Is it the case? I’m not in a position to say. But it could be. And that’s all that’s needed to refute an argument against the logical compatibility of an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God and the fact that some will end up damned to Hell.
That was a lot of set up, but now I can get to my point. It may be better on average to have actualized a feasible world where billions of souls get saved even if that means millions get damned. It may not be better for certain individuals, but why should their bad choice force God’s hand? Why should they have some sort of veto power over whether God should actualize a world in which millions of souls get to come into a true love saving relationship with Him? Especially considering that it’s their own fault! God wants all people to be saved (2 Peter 3:9, 1 Timothy 2:4) and He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, Ezekiel 33:11). He therefore, became a man (John 1:14, Philippians 2:5-8) and died on the cross to atone for every individual’s sins (see 1 John 2:2, 1 Timothy 2:6, Hebrews 2:9). He draws all people to Himself (John 12:32) because without that drawing, no one could come to Him (John 6:44, John 6:65). It was up to them where they ended up for eternity. We have a choice. God sets before us life and death and urges us to choose life (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). If we don’t, we have no one to blame but ourselves.
It may be better on average to have actualized a feasible world where billions of souls get saved even if that means millions get damned. Of course, this is just considering worlds that God creates.
But what about a possible world in which the triune God alone exists? Surely that is a better possible world than a possible world like ours, drenched as it is in sin and suffering. Yes. And? Who said that God was obligated to create the best
state of affairs? Perhaps its consistent with God’s nature to create a world which is “very good” on average? A world in which evil always turns around for good, a world in which free creatures get to be in an eternal relationship with their creator, where Jesus dies to make salvation available to all, and where eventually when enough people choose to be with Him, he transforms it all into Eden on Earth (Revelation 21-22). A world where all of God’s intended goals come to pass. Perhaps there’s only one out of quadrillions and quadrillions and quintillions of feasible worlds God could actualize in which all of those things happen. I’m thinking here of the analogy Tim Stratton used using Doctor Strange and the Time Stone. I talk about this in my blog post “Super Hero Theodicies!”
Perhaps God only needs to create a “very good” world like I talked about in the above blog post. Your friend needs to substantiate the presupposition here that God is obligated to create the greatest world conceivable rather than a world that is just really good, or doggone great.
Now, your friend said that your friend rejected “Greater Goods” theodicy. She says that it’s consequentialism. I can see why she would say that, but I don’t think it’s entirely correct. God is not a consequentialist when it comes to moral values and duties. Per The Moral Argument (the topic of my most recent YouTube videos), moral values are grounded in God’s nature and moral duties are grounded in God’s commands. That’s the theistic view of meta ethics. What is good and bad or right and wrong has nothing to do with the outcome of one’s actions.
What I think she’s saying is that God is a consequentialist when it comes to determining whether to permit evil X or intervene to stop it. If X would bring about some or multiple goods in the future, then He would permit X. If not, then He’ll intervene to stop X.
I’m still not certain that this is consequentialism as the consequentialist would understand it. Consequentialism states that if action X leads to good outcomes, then action X was good. If action X leads to bad outcomes, then action X was bad. But although God can use the evil actions of humans and fallen angels to bring about good consequences, He still considers their actions to be morally evil and will judge them for it. And so should we for that matter.
In the Old Testament, God used Babylon to judge Israel for her idolatry and other evil deeds. But he still considered Babylon’s actions to be evil and judged them later. Earlier in history, in Genesis 38-50, we read the story of Jacob’s son Joseph. Despite the actions of Joseph’s brothers leading to Joseph being able to inform Pharaoh on what to do to keep millions of people from dying in the famine, the text still treats the actions of Joseph’s brothers as morally wrong. In Genesis 50:20, Joseph said that they meant it for evil, but God meant it for good. God works all things for good, but that still doesn’t make the things good according to The Bible (see also Romans 6 in which Paul addresses a consequentialist argument about us going on sinning so that God’s grace can abound all the more).
Moreover, the biggest problem I see with consequentialism is that we don’t know what our actions will produce. Some innocuous action may bring about untold harm, while some evil action may bring about good. We are not in the position to judge what kind of outcomes our actions will produce. Even if they do produce good in the short term, they may end up bringing about misery somewhere down the temporal road.
However, God knows everything that could, would, and will happen. The Bible says that He sees the end of history from its beginning (Isaiah 46:10). God, therefore, doesn’t have that problem. He knows perfectly well whether or not intervening or permitting a certain evil would bring about a greater good.
Therefore, I see no problem if God is at least a partial consequentialist Himself. It may be problematic for us to be consequentialists (especially in all things) but it may not be a problem for God to be a consequentialist insofar as it comes to determining which evils to prevent and which ones to permit. However, like I said, given how consequentialism is defined, I doubt that God could be considered a consequentialist.
On God As The Explanation Of Himself
It sounds to me like your friend’s objection sounds like a modal variation of the old “If God made everything, who made God?” argument.
God exists by a necessity of His own nature. I don’t know why this is circular. Why expect God, if He is the sort of thing that exists by a necessity of His own nature, would have a further explanation than that? Does your friend deny that some things are metaphysically necessary? Does she think there has to be an explanation for why 2 and 2 make 4 or would she be satisfied with “2 + 2 = 4 out of metaphysical necessity.”?
The Ontological Argument entails that God is a necessary being. Being necessarily existent is part of what it means to be a Maximally Great Being. It is greater to exist necessarily than contingently. Demanding an explanation for a necessary being is nonsense. If she denies that there even is such a thing as necessary being, then she needs to provide an argument for that. This would be an extremely radical view that no philosopher to my knowledge would embrace. I think, however, that she hasn’t thought this through. The average Joe (or Jane) isn’t really as adept at modal reasoning as the philosopher, and The Ontological Argument is 100% modal logic from beginning to end.
This is why The Ontological Argument doesn’t resonate as much with people like The Kalam Cosmological Argument or The Fine-Tuning Argument does. However, I use it because I think it could be understood by anyone who takes the time and effort to understand it, providing the Christian Apologist/philosopher talking about it does his best to make everything clear.
I hope you show her this blog post and I hope it helps her come at least one step closer to an intellectually fulfilled Christian worldview. I totally understand how you feel about wanting to get her to see the truth about God. He is the one who can indeed bring us eternal joy, and like you, I want her and everyone to know how wonderful it is to be with God. That’s why Cerebral Faith exists.
Feel free to shoot me another e-mail to tell me what her thoughts are, or if you’re not shy about your identity, you can drop a comment in the comment section. God bless you, brother.