Most of you are familiar with the Problem of evil — an ancient theological question of how to reconcile the existence of evil with that of a deity who is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.
We’ve written about it a few times, but our favorite is Charles Darwin, Francisco Ayala, and the Problem of Evil, in which we wrote about Francisco Ayala, the former Dominican priest who is now a biology professor, who says that Darwin’s theory explains the existence of evil and takes God off the hook, so “Natural selection is Darwin’s gift to science, his gift to religion,”
Today we found a totally new discussion of the issue in the Deseret News, which is owned by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It’s published in Salt Lake City, the capital of Utah. Their headline is The existence of evil as evidence for God. This should be interesting.
It was written by Daniel Peterson, “a professor of Islamic studies and Arabic at BYU [Brigham Young University].” The newspaper has an active comments section. Here are some excerpts from the article, with bold font added by us for emphasis:
For many unbelievers — both those who regret their inability to believe and those who celebrate their lack of faith as a liberation — the problem of evil, as it is called, is the most powerful reason to reject God. After all, they argue, if unjustifiable evil exists (as it surely seems to), then either God is unable to stop it or he chooses not to stop it. In other words, he’s either not all-powerful or he’s not all-good.
Yes, that’s the problem. Peterson says:
[Instead of presenting the Mormon view] I intend to introduce an argument advanced by the Protestant philosopher Stephen Davis, of Claremont Graduate University. With considerable cheekiness and an implied reference to the problem of evil at its very worst, Davis labels his case “the genocide argument for the existence of God.” In other words, he seeks to turn the anti-theistic argument from evil into a pointer toward the divine.
That’s a complete flip-flop. Is it possible? Peterson tells us:
As he formulates it in his 2016 book Rational Faith: A Philosopher’s Defense of Christianity (Veritas Books), Davis’ argument presumes that certain things (such as compassion, keeping promises and telling the truth) are objectively right, while certain other things (e.g., lying, cruelty, murder and certainly genocide) are morally wrong. They’re not mere matters of personal taste, comparable to liking or not liking broccoli.
Apparently, Davis says right and wrong are objectively determinable. That contrasts with the preaching of people like Hambo, who say we can’t know such things without reference to the bible. Peterson continues:
Here’s how Davis’ argument goes, in his own words:
1. Genocide is a departure from the way that things ought to be.
2. If genocide is a departure from the way that things ought to be, then there is a way that things ought to be.
3. If there is a way that things ought to be, then there is a design plan for things.
4. If there is a design plan for things, then there is an author of the plan, a designer.
5. This designer we can call God.
Your Curmudgeon never studied theology, but that seems a bit feeble. Let’s read on:
Davis admits upfront that this argument doesn’t even attempt to demonstrate everything that Christians believe about God. … Still, within its limits, it’s an argument worth serious consideration. As Davis observes, “there can be no such thing as an authorless design plan, a plan for how things ought to be that follows merely from how things are.”
Would it be a trivial response to say that because we observe how gravity works, it naturally follows that we ought not get drunk and dance on the edge of the roof? Ah, Peterson has a response to that:
Science is a powerful tool for discovering how the world works and what it is. But nothing that science can discover about how the world is or how it works tells us anything about how the world ought to be. Science can split the atom, but it cannot, as science, tell us whether to build a bomb with that knowledge or to construct a nuclear reactor to light a city.
Huh? Do we need a divine plan to tell us whether to construct a nuclear power station? Skipping to the end, Peterson says:
The problem of evil, in other words, points both ways. It can cast doubt on God, but it may also imply his existence.
That was interesting. Did you find it persuasive, dear reader?
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