Tuesday, February 10, 2015
So, as long as I'm writing, a recap:
The theodicy problem is: how can evil exist in the face of an all-powerful all-loving God? The stock answer to this is that God gave us humans free will, and we choose to use that free will to create evil. Moreover, we are somehow compelled to do this by virtue of some sort of Lamarckian inheritance of Adam and Eve's original sin of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
That's the story. Let us leave aside the fact that this story is at odds with what it says in the Bible, and the question of how Adam and Eve could have had moral agency if they were not created with the knowledge of good an evil, and focus instead on the question of how do we actually know that there is evil in the world?
On its face it seems like an absurd question. The existence of evil is just manifestly obvious, isn't it? I mean, just look at all the suffering, the starvation, the genocides...
But there are two obvious problems with this line of thought, at least for Christians. The first is that a lot of the suffering in the world is caused by things that are clearly not subject to man's free will. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. Droughts. Cancer. Malaria . And the second is that a lot of things that seem evil to modern sensibilities, like genocide and slavery, are actually condoned by the Bible, at least in the Old Testament.
So maybe these things aren't actually evil. Maybe our moral intuitions are so broken that we actually cannot reliably distinguish between good and evil. Maybe genocide and slavery really are good, at least under certain circumstances.
I don't normally raise this line of argument because most people consider it a straw man (and an offensive one at that) so I am supremely grateful to have a new commenter, wrf3, a living breathing intellectually honest Calvinist who is actually willing to stand up and admit that, on his worldview, one cannot rule out the possibility that Adolf Hitler was doing the work of God. I have no idea how many Christians share this point of view, but I've had a face-to-face conversation with another Christian who admitted that he could not rule out the possibility that the 9-11 terrorists were doing the work of God, so wrf3 is not alone.
Now, my original argument was intended to side-step this entire issue by re-framing the problem in a way that didn't depend on the definition of "evil" but hinged merely on "salvation", which I am given to understand that Christians consider to be an axiomatically good thing. My claim is that unsaved souls are logically impossible in the face of an omnipotent all-loving God. And no one has refuted that yet, or even tackled it (because, well, it's a pretty strong argument).
But this question of what happens if you take seriously the possibility that your moral intuitions might be completely wrong is actually much more interesting, but not in a good way. It is interesting the way playing with matches is interesting. It leads to some very dark places from which it is very hard to escape. Because you can't refute an assumption.
If our moral intuitions are not to be trusted at all, then we have to take seriously the possibility that we are wrong about everything. Maybe our modern moral abhorrence of genocide is just a mistake, like our modern acceptance of extra-marital sex is (according to some Christians) a mistake. Maybe the inquisition was a good thing. Maybe slavery is a good thing. Maybe racial integration really is a mortal sin. (And, if we're going to go down this rabbit hole, maybe the Bible has been corrupted by man, as Muslims claim. Or maybe it was written by Loki.)
I can't refute any of this. It is not refutable. The reasoning that leads to these conclusions is correct. That is the whole point.
But (and this is crucial) just because the reasoning is correct does not mean that the conclusions are correct. There are two ways to reason to false conclusions: bad reasoning (not the case here) and bad assumptions. It is my fervent hope that enough people will decide that genocide is in fact evil that they will reject any premise that leads to the conclusion that it might not be. If you accept suffering and killing and sickness and death as God's will, there is probably nothing I can say to dissuade you, because the distinction between good and evil is ultimately a choice. All I can say is that I don't think you have chosen wisely.
 Fundamentalists actually argue that these things are caused by man's rebellion against God, but since I don't have any fundamentalists participating in the conversation yet I'm going to set this aside. But if you are a fundamentalist, I would love to have you weight in on this. The more the merrier.