Monday, November 12, 2007

The Problem of Sin

It seems that the Problem of Evil has been kicking around the Catholic blogosphere again, so I planned to do a little Philosophy Karaoke and explain why I think it has more substance than Darwin Catholic or Scott Carson accord it. However, I found that what I had to say had already been addressed by Michael Liccione in a perspicacious essay well worth your time.

I do want to expand, though, on something which Dr. Liccione remarks and which I think others have missed: that the free will of created beings is not a defense against the problem of evil, because we could have been created to freely choose the good. Liccione writes that our free will might have been circumscribed to choose between good alternatives, rather than between good and evil; I assert something stronger- that we could have been equipped with the full range of free will (whatever that is supposed to mean) and yet created such as to always freely choose the good.

If it is logically possible for a being with free will to always choose the good (as Christians generally affirm), and if an omniscient, omnipotent God knows in the act of creation whether a free-willed being will in fact do so, then it is perfectly possible for such a God to create a being who always freely chooses the good (and in fact Catholics believe that their God has done so- ever heard of Mary?). It is thus possible for such a God to create a cosmos full of freely innocent beings, rather than freely fallen beings.

So arguing that God allows moral evil out of respect for free will is a red herring, since respect for free will does not preclude a universe without sin. There are, then, only two viable defenses of the existence of sin. The first is that God might have created, in addition to this universe, every possible universe which is better than ours in that regard; thus He would be absolved of the charge of creating a worse world rather than a better one. But very few Christians seem willing to believe in such an extravagant multiverse.

The second defense is significantly more intriguing: that perhaps an infinitely good God prefers a cosmos of sin and redemption to a cosmos of innocence- even to the extent, if there is a nonempty Hell, of preferring a cosmos with unredeemed sin to one without it. This is the track that Liccione follows in his essay, eventually asserting that such a preference is a mystery; and I think that it is the track that an honest Christianity has to take, however discomfiting it may seem.

As for me, why should I after all care about the philosophical defense of a God I no longer believe in? Well, for one thing, I find the discussion interesting in itself; more importantly, I prefer that people examine their thinking and believe things that make more sense rather than less (so I would rather you subscribe to an old, developed, battle-tested theology than one of the naive hybrids of religion and modern Western culture, but I'd rather have you do the latter than subscribe to a religion hermetically sealed off from the rest of human knowledge). I may be a defective apostate, but I just don't feel the need to scoff.

N.B. I'm indebted to the philosopher J.L. Mackie for the original line of thought (see The Miracle of Theism), although I depart from his analysis with the two possible defenses; in particular, he dismisses the second out of hand for no reason other than its strangeness to him. I should also note that the problem of evil played no significant role in my aversion from the Church, and is only something I thought seriously about thereafter.

P.S. Next up: happiness and noble lies...

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