20 January, 2010

A summary for Martin - a fellow seeker for truth in the face of evil, pain and death

I have started an exchange with a former classmate (Martin) from my philosophy days that has been sparked by my postings re: Haiti, evil and the existence of the devil. I spent some time between appointments  typing out the following response to his most recent questions, only to discover that it was too long to be posted as in the comment threads. So, I post it here in the hopes that he will find it and respond - as I hope others will as well. I do not claim that what I am developing is entirely orthodox (I hope it is, but I'm open to being corrected) but I have found that it provides a solid foundation from with to deal with such questions.

I look forward to your comments, pro or con.

Fr. Tim

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Ok Martin...here goes.

1. I introduced the concept of free will into the discussion because I believe it to be the key to rationally understanding the question of the existence of evil and ultimately for the existence of Satan as the penultimate example of such.

First off, you know that it is my contention that God (a spiritual being) exists and that he is directly responsible for our existence.

Next, I believe that what scripture refers to as humans being created in his image and likeness, refers to our capacity to exercise free will in the moral decisions of life. If you will, it is the incomplete fruit of the tree of knowledge by which we judge "good" and "evil". (Lots more to say about this, but for now this will suffice)

Since God granted to us this capacity to act freely in either choosing to follow him or not, he cannot compromise this gift without being unfaithful to himself - something that he cannot do. Nor can God do so without fundamentally changing the human equation, changing our nature into less than what it is now. In effect, changing us from free souls into marionettes that he directs. I think you would agree that this would make a farce of all of history - if none of the advancements, sufferings and insights of human history mattered since he could just change us at will to erase them all.

If God granted us the gift, and cannot compromise it without injury to us or to himself, then we must  permit the consequences of our action to exist as well, irrespective of whether they further or retard our progress towards our ultimate goal (to be with God).

It then follows that freedom of will by its very existence necessitates the existence of both good/grace and evil/sin. To hold to a counter position would necessitate invalidating the initial gift from God (if we can't choose evil, are we really free?)

Next, it is also part of our nature that we are social animals. We share collectively in the blessings and failings of the totality of human experience. Therefore we share in the advancements won by right ordered reason and acts, and we suffer individually and collectively from those acts that are ordered to a different priority ("anti-God" if you will).

Thus evil exists as an essential corollary of the existence of free will. (darkness exists because of light - for its very definition is a negation - the absence of light which cannot exist on its own, at least not yet.)

2. Starting from the premise that it is possible for a spiritual being to exist who is capable of creation and endowing us with free will, so too it is also logical that he could create other beings (in this case non-corporeal or spiritual) to whom he would endow with at least the same gifts as he would give us ie: free will. Just as it is possible for us to choose to follow God or not, so too would these creatures, for what the lesser being can do is surely possible for the greater (I use lesser/greater to mean that we can influence only one sphere of existence - the physical, whereas these spiritual beings seem to be able to have influence in both the physical and spiritual realm). The Church has taught consistently that Satan is one such being: an angel who rejected God (light/grace/goodness) and chose to follow another path (darkness/sin/evil).

If we can hold to the belief that such non-corporeal beings could exist, and if they too are permitted the same freedom of choice as we do, they would similarly share in an existence that it deformed or polluted by the accumulation of their anti-God choices. In their case, the corruption would be all the greater for they KNOW of the existence of God (they see him "face to face" in the spiritual realm) thus the effects of their turning away from God would result for them in the ultimate of darkness. Therefore they embody evil in a much more pure form than can we.

In summary then, we as humans both assist in the progression of grace in this world and impede the same by sin. We suffer the consequences of sin just as we benefit from the effects of grace (grace being at all times at least "sufficient" to achieve its end, provided our cooperation with it).

Therefore if God exists and created us; if he granted us the ultimate power to decide whether to follow his path or not; then evil must also exist or else we do not truly possess the freedom of choice.

It's late for supper and mass and appointments await me so I ask your pardon and understanding if I have not perfectly expressed myself. I have done the best I can on short notice to explain my position that the key to understanding the existence of good and evil is to understand and appreciate the gift of free will.

Thoughts? Improvements? Questions? Comments?

Tim

8 comments:

  1. If there is one God then there can be two or even more.

    If you can't truly tell whether free will exists or not. There's no real difference.

    If there could be two Gods, then some of us created by one could have free will and others, created by another God, might not but if the children of two Gods interact, they must both be the same.

    If you believe Jesus knew he would be tried, crucified and resurrected, there can be no argument in favor of free will, unless there are exeptions.

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  2. Reddog: you write: "If you believe Jesus knew he would be tried, crucified and resurrected, there can be no argument in favor of free will, unless there are exeptions."

    I do not understand the point you are making.

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  3. Functionally, the whole point of Christianity is that Christ was convicted, crucified and died for our sins, then was resurrected and ascended to Heaven.

    If the Pharisees had decided he really wasn't worth the trouble, if Pilate had decided to stay out of Jewish politics or if the people had risen up and said "Give us Jesus", instead of Barrabas, Christianity, if it existed at all, would be a very different thing.

    The deck was stacked. It was predestined to happen, exactly as it did. This negates the concept of free will. It also negates the concept to true evil. Free will cannot be sometimes and there is no sin if there is no choice.

    If you believe in Christianity, then you must believe we are all simply puppets on a string, acting out the script of a perverse deity. The priesthood of the Catholic Church today certainly bears out the idea of the perversity part.

    You have your choice as to whether they are in league with a perverse God, who directs them or just making it up as they go along.

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  4. Hi Tim,

    What I am driving at can be summed up by what is commonly known as Epicurus' Dillemna.

    Epicurus (341-270 bce):

    "Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; Or he can, but does not want to; Or he cannot and does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. But, if God both can and wants to abolish evil, then how come evil is in the world?"

    Tim, these questions have been around for thousands of years for one very good reason - no one (including yourself) has adequately answered them without miring themselves in confused, byzantine, and self-contradictory poraxisms of illogic.

    In truth, I doubt that you and I will sort this one out any time soon.

    Sincere best wishes in your ministry. I have enjoyed poking around on your blog. While we do not see eye to eye on many things, I do find your candour refreshing, and I respect the civility that you show to those of us with differing viewpoints.

    Cheers...Martin

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  5. Martin: There is one other option that you are not considering in pondering Epicurus' dilemma.

    Is there not also a logical space where God wants to abolish evil, provides the means by which it can be abolished and leaves it up to us to choose whether to do so or not?

    I mentioned earlier that I am having fun considering the relationship of E=MC2 to faith. If one removes time from Epicurus' formulation, then the logic of my suggestion would seem to trump its limitations. Let me explain it thusly:

    -if a being were to travel at the speed of light, they would necessarily exist outside of time, for given that the speed of light is a cosmological constant, it follows to that to exist at such a speed, one would be at the beginning and end of time at the same instant - alpha and omega as it were (omnipresent)

    -such a being would exist in a state where the fullness of potentiality would be realized for it would be everywhere at the same time (omnipotent)

    -as corporeal beings, we cannot exist in such a state for being unable to attain such a state, we are trapped in time. However once this existence comes to an end and we no longer exist in a physical form, we escape time and exist in a state of our spirit shares in eternity

    -further, as Farrady discovered, all energy exists within a closed system (nothing can be created or destroyed). Thus if "life" is indeed an energy ie) that which moves us along through this corporeal existence, is it not logical to state that our "soul" (that which gives us life and moves us inexorably from potentiality to actuality) then that which we call our existence (thought, energy, consciousness etc.) cannot be destroyed; it simply "departs time" (eternal)

    I appreciate that this might seem confusing, (just as finally coming to comprehend Einstein's equation was for me) but if you spend some time letting it mull around in your brain, some amazing coincidences between faith and physics begin to crystallize.

    Looking at our existence from this perspective,

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  6. we can see our way through Epicurus' conundrum, for it is little more than attributing to God the one thing that he is not: limited by time.

    (oops.. just noticed an error. The following sentence should read "as corporeal beings, we cannot exist in such a state for being unable to attain such a SPEED, we are trapped in time.)

    Back to time: so in truth our issue with the existence of evil is in fact an expression of our inability to see things from the "divine" (out of time) perspective.

    I appreciate this does nothing for the folks in Haiti, but it does seem to give to us an entry into a place where we can see it in a different light - one that is freed from the restrictions of our limited capacity to conceive of an existence outside of capacities of "knowing"

    OR; perhaps I've been too long in an isolated place and am slowly going insane. If I am, I must admit that I am enjoying the journey.

    Hope to hear from you again. You have reinforced my recollection of you as being both intelligent and kind by the thoughtfulness of your postings.

    Tim

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  7. Hi Tim,

    As I predicted in another of my posts on your blog - it was just a matter of time before you retreated into the idea that we are not able to know the mind of god etc... etc.. You essentially fulfill my prophecy when you write:

    "...so in truth our issue with the existence of evil is in fact an expression of our inability to see things from the "divine" (out of time) perspective."

    Frankly Tim - this is the only refuge for theists when confronted with the conundrum of evil in the world.

    You stated earlier that you believe god and satan are actual spiritual beings (not metaphors for the good and bad sides of our human nature), therefore I presume you also believe in angels and that god still has the power to perform miracles.

    What the earthquake in Haiti, or the Dec 26th Tsumani bring into stark contrast for the believer, is the uncomfortable fact that god is apparently content to allow suffering to be visited upon the innocent on a massive scale.

    Adding insult to injury - god then remains invisible and nowhere to be seen in the relief efforts.

    It is all well and fine to say that we humans are a substitute for god's actions in the world, but this answer still leaves thoughtful folks with a few uncomfortable questions:

    a) Not everyone who helps to bring relief in a disaster is a believer. Many who help are unbelievers. What motivates unbelievers?

    b) Even among those helpers who are believers, could not some of them be mistaken about what truly motivates them? We know that many people are not always aware of their true motives. Even if one believes a motive is true, it is not evidence that the motive is real. It is only evidence that they believe in the motive...a mere opinion.

    c) If god could rain manna from heaven for the Isrealistes, why not a single loaf to the starving until human aid efforts could ramp up?

    d) With legions of angels at his disposal - not to mention Isaac, Jacob, Moses, the countless saints (who are credited with miracles post-resurrection) and the resurrected jesus himself - why is not one glorius miracle evident in Haiti or after the Dec 26th Tsunami?

    How hard would it have been for an omnipotent, omniscient, loving and just god to:

    i) send an archangel or two to hold up the cathedral and prison walls in Port au Prince while the ground shook?
    ii) or instead send a couple of seraphim to prop up the local hospitals or local food markets while the ground quaked?
    iii) or instead render gangreen, typhoid, and other deadly microorganisms inert until medical supplies could reach the injured?
    iv) or spontanteously regenerate the amputated limb of a broken child?
    v) or raise the dead?
    vi) or send Moses to strike his staff upon the barren rocks and command a gentle spring of water to slate the thirst of the afflicted?

    Apparently, god can perform minor, small miracles that render crutches or hearing aids unnecessary - yet when confronted with massive human suffering he remains hidden. Why?

    According to your own belief structure miracles do not offend the doctrine of free will. We are told miracles still happen - why not now?

    The big problem with the doctrine of free will is that it contradicts the alleged omniscience of god. I am not saying I disbelieve in free will - I am simply pointing out the obvious contradiction it poses to a belife in god's omniscience.

    You quoted Fred when you wrote words to the effect that: Reason must take us to the river, and faith helps us to cross it.

    Unfortunately my friend - reason is not even getting me to the river. Faith is a useless boat in which to cross the river if I am nowhere near the river. The boat of faith is a useless burden to drag over the desert sands.

    I am nowhere near the flowing waters with your explanations of evil in a world that is supposedly governed by a loving, just, omnipotent and omniscient god.

    Truth must be consistent with itself. That is a necessary prerequisite for any theology.

    Cheers...Martin

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  8. G'Day Martin: You give me a great deal to ponder in this last post. Thank you. Let me start with a couple of points.

    1. You write: "As I predicted in another of my posts on your blog - it was just a matter of time before you retreated into the idea that we are not able to know the mind of god etc... etc.. You essentially fulfill my prophecy when you write:

    "...so in truth our issue with the existence of evil is in fact an expression of our inability to see things from the "divine" (out of time) perspective."

    Frankly Tim - this is the only refuge for theists when confronted with the conundrum of evil in the world."

    Let me respond by saying that it is in the very nature of faith to step out into the darkness... or to put it another way, to take something on faith is to believe something to be true without being fully able to "know". It's that old saw, "did Jesus have faith that he was God?" the answer to which is "No" for he knew that he was God. To "know" something is to negate faith or belief in the same. We cannot know God beyond that which he reveals through direct or indirect actions. Thus if what you are searching for is to know absolutely that God exists, then you are correct... I cannot offer to you such knowledge. All that I can offer is faith - a belief that something is true. This is why I earlier asked if you still had faith, a question you declined to answer. For how does that old saying go? "For those who have faith, no proof is needed; for those who have none, no proof will suffice."

    However, if I work from the position that you can (or want to ) believe in God, then may I suggest that you are questioning the justice of God and not necessarily his existence.

    Let me think some more on what you have written and I will reply more completely either this weekend or on Monday during my day off at my cottage when I will have more time to devote to this.

    I close by offering my heartfelt thanks to you Martin. You have granted me a great gift by entering into this exchange. To have someone that I can work through these questions with is something that I have longed for over these past 20+ years. I may not be able to bring much water to you in the desert, but you have certainly been a refreshing spring of enjoyment for me.

    I am in your debt.

    Tim

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