A Short Review of God and the Problem of Evil: Five Views

God and the Problem of Evil, edited by Meister and Dew, is collection of essays which presents five different responses to the problem of evil (“if God exists, why does evil exist?”) GodAndTheProblemOfEvilIn the first section, each author contributes a 20-page essay on their approach to the problem of evil. In the second section, each author responds to the other authors’ positions.

Pros:
– Excellent format. One lesson that my reading has taught me is that people can get away with a lot when they’re monologuing. Having more than one perspective keeps everyone honest.

– Briefly, the positions were as follows:

  • Phillip Cary (Augustinian view): God could eliminate all evil. Although his reasons for allowing any particular evil are often hidden, his overarching reason is the display of his glory in forgiving and redeeming sinners through Jesus.
  • William Lane Craig (Molinist view): God could not eliminate evil without eliminating human freedom. God creates the best possible world given the constraints of human freedom in which the greatest number of people are saved eternally.
  • William Hasker (Open theist view): A complex, multilevel world containing free moral agents subject to natural laws is a great good. God allows evil so that the goodness of the natural order and human freedom are preserved.
  • Thomas Jay Oord (Essential kenosis view): By necessity, God is uncontrolling love. Therefore, God cannot intervene to suspend the natural order.
  • Stephen Wykstra (Skeptical theist view): God’s knowledge is so much greater than ours that we should be skeptical that evils which we perceive to be purposeless are actually purposeless from God’s perspective

– Generally good contributions. I liked Cary’s ‘classic’ Augustinian view the best, but I thought Wykstra did an excellent job as well. His writing was humorous, touching, and illuminating

– The criticisms lodged against each perspective were interesting. Everyone posed the grounding objection to Molinism. Both open theists insisted that Molinism makes God just as responsible for sin as Calvinism. All the non-Calvinists thought Calvinism was intuitively false.

Cons:
– Surprisingly, few of the authors connected their responses to their underlying theology . For example, Craig’s appeals to soul-making or the interconnectedness of events are just as relevant to Augustinians as to Molinists, something which Wykstra pointed out. Similarly, Hasker’s “general policy” response seems independent of his open theism. This overlap isn’t a problem, but it seems a little odd to talk about a ‘Molinist’ or ‘open theist’ response when the response is independent of these systems.

– Oort’s “esssential kenosis” view was abysmal. He says bluntly that God “cannot totally control lesser entities or interrupt law-like regularities and thereby prevent genuine evil” (p. 90). It is not merely that God chooses not to interrupt the laws of nature, but that this inability is essential to his divine nature. This “uncontrolling love of God” prevents God’s interference not just with human beings, but with any of the “law-like regularities of existence” (p. 91).

– Astonishingly, Oort says that this view is compatible with the Bible once we realize that the “uncontrolling love of God arises as [its] main and overriding theme” (p. 95). Craig rightly dismisses this view in his response as “not Christianity” but “deism of a radical sort” and “manifestly unbiblical” (p. 145). I would also add that it’s just ridiculous. On Oort’s view, God has substantially less power than human beings, who intervene to prevent evil precisely because of (and in proportion to) their love for others.

– Since I’m picking on Oort, I thought his response article contained several basic errors of comprehension. I was not a fan of Oort.

– Hasker’s open theism didn’t seem to solve much of anything. As both Craig and Oort noted, it’s unclear why -if open theism is true- God doesn’t do more to prevent evil. Saying that God can’t predict the future or doesn’t want to interfere “excessively” is insufficient. Human beings alone could prevent large amounts evil with minimal guidance that could be delivered with minimal invasiveness (say, through dreams portending disasters or by tweaking physical laws in imperceptible ways).

– Craig should retire his metaphor about God needing to “play with the hand he has been dealt” (p. 38). Not only is this statement triggering to Calvinists, even one of the open theists asked “who is the one dealing the hand?”

Summary:
Phenomenal book. I think it would have been more helpful if the essays had been categorized by type of theodicy (i.e. explanation of why evil exits) rather than by underlying theology. Also, I would have like one final round of essays for authors to respond to others’ questions. Still, definitely worth a read.


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