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
“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.
Would If He Could, But
Can’t So He Doesn’t
“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” 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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
to Dr. Wiker.