Tag Archives: Good and Evil

Jim Spiegel: the free will theodicy and the soul-making theodicy

Here’s an interesting post about two of the better known defenses to the problem of evil, from philosopher Jim Spiegel.

Here is his introduction:

The evidential problem of evil presents the theist with the burden of explaining why an almighty and all-good God would permit evil. Many such reasons, known as theodicies, have been proposed as solutions to this problem. Two of the more promising among these are the free will theodicy and the soul-making theodicy. While each of these approaches has strong proponents, rare are those who advocate the use of bothin response to the problem of evil. In fact, it is often the case that defenders of one are strong critics of the other. Given that theists, and more specifically Christian apologists, share the conviction that the evidential objection from evil fails and that theism is quite reasonable despite the reality of evil, it is curious that there isn’t more interest in embracing both of these theodicies as helpful responses to the problem. In what follows I want to offer a comparative analysis of these two theodicies in hopes of both understanding the divide between their proponents and making the case that the two are best used in tandem when dealing with the problem of evil. Towards the latter end I hope to show that these theodicies have more in common than has been traditionally thought and that their differences have more to do with their divergent aims than their relative merits as potential solutions to the problem of evil.

I am not going to be able to summarize his entire case in this post, but I at least wanted everyone to know what the two theodicies were. In the case of the free will theodicy, evil is permitted because without it we could not have free will. And free will is necessary in order to achieve certain higher moral goods.

Dr. Spiegel explains:

First, this theodicy places the blame for moral evil entirely on human beings. God did nothing wrong in creating us with the capacity to sin, however much he might have anticipated our rebellion. Second, notice the high premium that is placed on self-determination. Proponents of the free will theodicy typically assume that personal autonomy is so valuable that it makes the risk of moral evil worthwhile. But it is not really self-determination itself that is of ultimate value. The ultimate good for which such autonomy is a critical means is genuine loving relationships between persons, whether between humans or between God and humans.

And here is his explanation of the soul-making theodicy:

Defenders of the soul-making theodicy point out that there are numerous moral virtues that cannot be achieved except by struggling against or in the midst of evil. These “second order” goods include patience, courage, sympathy, forgiveness, mercy, perseverance, overcoming temptation, and much greater versions of faith, hope, love, and friendship. What sense could be made of the trait of courage in a world in which there was no danger and nothing to fear? How could one show sympathy if there were no sorrow or affliction with which to sympathize? How might one forgive where there has been no offense? And how can one be said to “persevere” through perfectly pleasant circumstances? These characteristics-courage, sympathy, forgiveness, perseverance-are not just good traits. They are, among the greatest of all character traits. And, according to Hick and other proponents of the soul-making theodicy, it is worth God’s permitting evil in order to realize these goods.

I’m going to confess my ignorance and say that I always used both of these when discussing the problems of evil and suffering. It never occurred to me that they would be in conflict. So I enjoyed reading the rest of the paper where Dr. Spiegel argues that far from being in conflict, the two are actually dependent on each other! The discussion of the two kinds of theodicies is actually really good for understanding the details of them. I think it’s going to be worth for me to read it over a few times and then explain it to someone else, so that I really get it straight. I just have to find a willing victim to listen while I work it through.

Can atheists distinguish between right and wrong actions?

Take a look at two atheists who try to affirm that morality is simultaneously objective and subjective.

Atheists deny that there is any design for the universe – they think there is no Designer. That means there is no way that the universe ought to be, objectively speaking. I.e. – when there were no humans around, there was no way the universe ought to have been. When humans appear, they evolve arbitrary customs and conventions in order to live together more peaceably. These are not real in any sense – they are just aids to survival and group cohesion. Different groups in different times and places evolve different rules, and no set of rules is any better than any other, because there is no way we ought to be. We call this atheistic/evolutionary form of morality “moral relativism”. It stands in contrast with the theistic view of morality, which is called “moral objectivism”.

In their view, slavery is not really right or wrong, it’s just a matter of opinion decided by majority rule in different social groups living in different places and times. Some groups in certain places and times think it’s right, and some groups in some places and times think it’s wrong. In our view (theism), God creates the universe, and he designs it to be a certain way. There is a certain way we ought to be. So if God thinks slavery is wrong, then it really is wrong, and his opinion of right and wrong becomes a duty for us.

What’s wrong with moral relativism?

I found this list of the seven flaws of moral relativism at the Australian site Faith Interface.

Here’s the summary:

  1. Moral relativists can’t accuse others of wrongdoing.
  2. Relativists can’t complain about the problem of evil.
  3. Relativists can’t place blame or accept praise.
  4. Relativists can’t make charges of unfairness or injustice.
  5. Relativists can’t improve their morality.
  6. Relativists can’t hold meaningful moral discussions.
  7. Relativists can’t promote the obligation of tolerance.

Here’s my favorite flaw of relativism (#6):

Relativists can’t hold meaningful moral discussions. What’s there to talk about? If morals are entirely relative and all views are equal, then no way of thinking is better than another. No moral position can be judged as adequate or deficient, unreasonable, acceptable, or even barbaric. If ethical disputes make sense only when morals are objective, then relativism can only be consistently lived out in silence. For this reason, it is rare to meet a rational and consistent relativist, as most are quick to impose their own moral rules like “It’s wrong to push your own morality on others”. This puts relativists in an untenable position – if they speak up about moral issues, they surrender their relativism; if they do not speak up, they surrender their humanity. If the notion of moral discourse makes sense intuitively, then moral relativism is false.

I sometimes get a lot of flack from atheists who complain that I don’t let them make any moral statements without asking first them to ground morality on their worldview. And that’s because on atheism morality IS NOT rationally grounded, so they can’t answer. In an accidental universe, you can only describe people’s personal preferences or social customs, that vary by time and place. It’s all arbitrary – like having discussions about what food is best or what clothing is best. The answer is always going to be “it depends”. It depends on the person who is speaking because it’s a subjective claim, not an objective claim. There is no objective way we ought to behave, on atheism. What atheists are really talking about when they say that something is right or that something is wrong is that in our group, we have evolved these beliefs that this behavior is good or this behavior is bad – we have these group preferences.

The horror of atheism, then, is that they reduce murder and slaver to being matters of opinion. And these majority opinions are arbitrary and can be different in different times and places. When you are talking to an atheist, you are talking to a person who literally thinks that the decision to rape or not rape is the same as the decision to drive on the left side of the road or the right side of the road. In both cases, it’s just something that groups decide one way or another arbitrarily, depending on how they evolved in different places and at different times.

All Christians should be able to draw out the moral relativism of atheists and challenge them on it, because once they are forced to affirm objective morality, they have to affirm God as the moral lawgiver. Take some time and read the linked article, then ask your atheistic friends to justify their talk about right and wrong. What do they mean by right and wrong? Why would they sacrifice their own self-interest in order to do “right”? Is the only reason that atheists have to be “good” far of being caught and punished by their group for breaking these arbitrary rules that vary by place and time? Do atheists only do the “right” thing when others are watching?

Is moral relativism compatible with Christianity?

Article from the American Thinker.


There are many doctrinal differences among the denominations, and good people could debate them ad nauseam and still not settle every one. Yet if anything is central to Christianity, it’s the belief that Truth is spelled with a capital “T” — that it is absolute, universal, and eternal. And also central is a corollary of this belief: that there is an absolute, universal, and eternal answer to every moral question; that right and wrong are not a matter of opinion, and that they don’t change from time to time and place to place (although the perception of them certainly can. Ergo, swords lopping off heads.).

In fact, understand that moral relativism does nothing less than render the foundational act of Christianity, the sacrifice on the cross, incomprehensible. Why? Simply because Jesus died for our sins, and this presupposes that sin exists. However, if what we call morality is simply opinion, then there can be no such thing as sin.

[…]Now we come to why this piece isn’t just for Christians. The concept of Absolute Truth lies at the heart of Judaism, Islam, and, in fact, philosophy itself. Why philosophy? Because, properly defined, philosophy is the search for Truth. Now, some — including many philosophy professors — would dispute this, but they not only are babies in philosophy, but they also have adopted the endeavor of a madman: searching while claiming there is nothing to find.

If there is no Truth and only opinion, then there are no answers to be found. But then why ask questions?

[…]Of course, it’s tempting to embrace religious-equivalency doctrine in a multi-religious society because it’s thought that it enables us to get along. Like two little boys in a schoolyard who each agree to relinquish any claim that his daddy can beat up the other’s, we make the following unwritten pact: “I won’t say my faith is better than yours if you don’t say your faith is better than mine. Deal?” And it does work. Only then there is not only no reason to fight about religion, there is no reason to even discuss it. There is, in fact, no reason to even adopt it. That is, unless it somehow makes you feel good. But adherence to the principle “Do whatever feels good” is a pathway to something. It’s called sin.

Through his embrace of relativism, modern man has made Christianity incomprehensible. He has made philosophy incomprehensible. He has, in fact, made civilization itself incomprehensible. For if there is no right or wrong, then civilization can be no better than barbarism.

Something to think about when you feel pressured to say that morality is relative and truth is relative.