Philosophy against Misosophy


    Benjamin D. Wiker


Essays by Me

Essays by Others


David Ray Griffin's Ideal for Theodicy, and Mine

"A theodicy should be part of a total theo-logical position that is intended to be more consistent, adequate, and illuminating of our experience than any of the alternative phil-osophical and theo-logical positions of the time.  Such a theodicy cannot merely show that the evils of the world do not neces-sarily contradict belief in God’s perfect good-ness and power.  Nor can such a theodicy resort to encouraging us to believe that there is a God of per-fect goodness and power in spite of the fact that the ap-pearances suggest that some other hypo-thesis is more pro-bable.  Rather, such a theodicy must at-tempt to portray the world so that the hypothesis that the world has been cre-ated by such a God seems more likely than other hypo-theses, so that those who accept this belief can come to perceive the world in these terms.  In such a theodicy the evils of the world should not be an embarrassment to the total theolo-gical position; they should not be that ‘fact’ to which the theology somehow manages to be ‘ade-quate’ but which would fit more com-fortably within some contrary hypothesis.  Rather, the theodicy should ideally be more illuminating of the nature of evil, and the reason for its exis-tence, than other portrayals of reality, including atheistic ones."

 David Ray Griffin, “Creation Out of Chaos and the Problem of Evil”

A letter on the problem of evil from Crisis Magazine, March 2004, followed by Dr. Benjamin D. Wiker's reply.  See left column for David Ray Griffin's ideal for theodicy, which I endorse.



He Would If He Could, But 

He Can’t So He Doesn’t

Anthony Flood


Far from “preparing the ground for the seed of faith,” Benjamin D. Wiker’s "The Problem of Evil" (December 2003) only hardens it with the frost of fallacy and evasion.

Contrary to the impression that Wiker’s essay cre-ates, classical theism is not the best solution to a general problem of evil. Classical theism’s God is an exnihilator-annihilator, a Mr. Erase & Replace who can, unilaterally and at will, substitute any con-ceivable state of affairs for any actual one. Absent such a Being, there is no problem of evil.

“Evil” refers to any loss of value, or the failure to achieve value, or the suffering that attends such loss or failure. Evil must exist in any world of good-seeking agents (from the subatomic to the divine) who either cannot or will not coordinate their quests. Evil is a problem only for a philosophy that posits among those agents, as does classical theism, a Being that can “erase and replace” excessive, non-disciplinary evil but elects not to.

According to Wiker, “distinguishing between things that are actually evil, things that only appear to be evil, and things that are harmful or painful but necessary or beneficial to bring about a larger good would take an omniscient eye.” One would think that such an eye was also needed to distinguish apparent from real goods, yet Wiker is not skeptical of our ability to judge goodness. The existence of any non-disciplinary evil is anomalous if classical theism’s God exists. There is so much of this evil, however, that to suggest that it might be a means to a “larger good” is to entertain a calculus that would nauseate even a Jeremy Bentham.

Unable to solve classical theism’s problem of evil philosophically, Wiker turns, in the end, to Christo-logy. That is, he changes the subject. “What could we say against these depths [of evil] if the answer we received was not an argument but an incarnation?” is a nice rhetorical question. Unfortunately, it sheds no light on how Jesus’ suffering might render intelligible God’s failure to prevent nondisciplinary evil. The con-cept of “Incarnate Son of God” logically nests within a more general concept of God. The former therefore cannot remedy any defects that may hobble the latter. Despite its abuse at the hands of many pop theologians, faith is not a forensic cogency compen-sator.

A moral agent who can prevent nondisciplinary evil is, all things being equal, morally obligated to try to do so.  Should he fail to meet that obligation, he will be, at least to some extent, responsible for the ensuing evil. Now the God of classical theism can prevent innocent children from suffering excruciating pain that serves not only no apparent purpose but no conceivable purpose. For millennia, tens of millions of children have suffered this evil. Therefore classical theism’s God is at least to some extent responsible for it.

To be morally good at least involves being willing to perform one’s moral obligations. One is morally obligated, all things being equal, to relieve the suffering of those who are within range of one’s help. The extent of one’s help will vary with one’s means, other obligations, and the risk to life, health, or property to which risk one’s prospective help might expose those values. While the Good Samaritan may not have been obligated to do all that he did for the man left for dead, those who “passed on the side” were morally culpable. We censure such “refraint.” We praise those who risk all for strangers.

Now classical theism’s God exercises “refraint” even though His intervention to prevent nondisci-plinary evil would risk nothing of value to Him. His knowledge of and proximity to this evil and the power to intervene is absolute. The risk of God’s action to Himself is zero. Therefore, classical theism’s God cannot be morally good in the specified sense. There-fore, if one has independent reasons for affirming the existence of a morally good God, one must conclude that He is not as classical theism conceives Him.

Knowledge of materialism’s difficulties, which Wiker outlines, offers no buffer against the acids of the problem of evil. In reciting them he implies that the only logical alternative to classical theism is materi-alism, which, as he rightly observes, cannot even frame a problem of evil. This is to posit a false alter-native. There are other theisms that are immune to the problem of evil. In them, God is also supreme in goodness, knowledge, and power, but His power lies in His ability to influence, and be influenced by, all other agents, not in a Superman-like ability to push gross matter around. In an alternative theism, every pain and pleasure, every satisfaction and frustration, that every other agent experiences affects God. This experience influences His next choice of aim for each of them. But He does not “absorb” nondisciplinary evil when He could have prevented it. (Wiker’s meta-phor is most inapt: When a sponge absorbs water, it takes the water away. That hardly describes what Wiker’s God does to this evil.)

If classical theism’s God (assuming arguendo that He exists) had always nipped incipient nondiscipli-nary evil in the bud, the present world would be different, but would it be worse? If, for example, God should see a mother who, having picked up her son from school, loses control of her car, He would not watch in horror as it kills her son’s schoolmate in front of his mother (as happened recently near my home). God would do what any adult would do if he could: move the child out of harm’s way or stop the car.

God cannot do that, for He would if He could.  


Benjamin D. Wiker responds:

I thank Mr. Flood for taking my arguments seriously enough to provide such a lengthy criticism.

If I might boil down Flood’s letter to its essentials, it seems that (1) he agrees with me in my overarching point that evil is a problem only with a particular un-derstanding of God, what he calls the God of classical theism, but (2) he chooses another God precisely because he desires immunization from the problem of evil.

As to the point of agreement, Flood rightly sees that evil is a problem only if there exists a God who has the power to “‘erase and replace’ excessive, nondisciplinary evil . . . but elects not to.” But here our agreement ends.

In regard to Flood’s alternative theism, his deity seems to me, if indeed he were to exist, to be a living contradiction. I do not understand how it is that Flood’s deity can be “supreme . . . in power” but have his power limited only to the “ability to influence, and be influenced by, all other agents.” (I am not even clear, I confess, as to what Flood means by “influ-ence.”) If Flood’s deity is supreme in power, then he certainly could “push gross matter around,” and therefore could “move [a] child out of harm’s way or stop [a] car.” Since Flood’s deity “cannot do that, for He would if He could,” then clearly He cannot be “supreme . . . in power.” It is this lack of power that, for Flood, renders evil unproblematic: Flood’s deity simply could not do anything to save the child from being killed.

But there is a second more worrisome and more hidden contradiction, one in regard to the “supreme . . . goodness” of Flood’s deity. Flood asserts that “every pain and pleasure, every satisfaction and frustration that every other agent experiences, affects God. This experience influences His next choice of aim for each of them.” Forgive me if I am being uncharitable, but it seems as if Flood’s deity is an infinitely magnified Jeremy Bentham, calculating good and evil solely in terms of pleasure and pain. If such is the case, then it plainly contradicts the claim that Flood’s deity is both “supreme in goodness” and in “knowledge.” Why?

Flood’s definition of evil appears to rest not on the inherent good or evil of actions but on the desires of the actors. Thus, evil is defined as “any loss of value, or the failure to achieve value, or the suffering that attends such loss or failure.” But people desire all kinds of things, because every manner of thing, from the holy to the profane, gives them pleasure. If we speak merely of “values,” then each has a “value system” based upon the fulfillment of his or her own desires.

But if the deity truly is “supreme in goodness [and] knowledge,” then surely he would not be indiscri-minately affirming whatever happens to please each and every human being, for as Aristotle rightly understood over two millennia ago, the vicious man takes pleasure in vicious actions.

If that is not what Flood means, then we are still not rid of the first contradiction. Flood’s deity would be supremely good and also know what is actually good for each and every human being, but lacking supreme power, he would be limited merely to nudging us in the right direction morally and sympa-thizing with the innocent when they are harmed. Evil would not be problematic because it would be inevitable.

So, the essential difference remains. Flood accepts the evil in the world, from “innocent children . . . suf-fering excruciating pain” to the destruction of a child “in front of his mother,” because ultimately, not even Flood’s deity can do anything about it.

I do not accept these evils as inevitable, and again, Flood understands the reason: I do believe God has the power to prevent them. To make my perplexity even more profound—that is, to make the problem of evil even more mysterious, and hence even more problematic—I also believe that God has chosen to prevent some of these things, just as He has also miraculously cured some of the incurable and raised some of the dead. Since I am a Christian, and hence truly believe that Jesus Christ wept at Lazarus’s death, I also believe that He was no less grieved at the death of the innocent schoolboy.

But even so, I do not know why God did not prevent this particular evil. As a result, I accept Flood’s final assessment that I am unable to solve the problem of evil philosophically, and so I turn, in the end, to Christology. Here again, I do believe God had the power to intervene when His own innocent Son had the flesh and muscle of His back shredded by flagel-lation; when He was spat upon, mocked, and impaled by thorns; when half-dead from loss of blood He was compelled to drag His cross to His own annihilation; and finally, when twisted by excruciating pain, He hung suspended over the earth and cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

God could have prevented this “excessive, nondis-ciplinary evil” but elected to watch in horror as the innocent Lamb was slaughtered. It was not a lack of power that kept the Father from intervening to save the Son but His supreme goodness and wisdom. For this, we praise Him, for as Flood rightly states, “We praise those who risk all for strangers.” And I pray someday to be one of those strangers welcomed into the kingdom, where God will indeed erase every tear shed by and for those who innocently suffer and will replace this fallen world with one beyond our wildest hopes.


See my rebuttal to Dr. Wiker.