Tag Archives: Goodness

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.

New study: frequent Bible reading leads to charity and openness to science

From the leftist Huffington Post.


Franzen speculates the reason so little research has been done on the effects of reading Scripture may be because “the ubiquity of references to the Bible promotes the idea that we all know what it says and, consequently, reading it is simply a habitual and ultimately meaningless activity.”

But that is not true, according to his study using data from Christian respondents to the 2007 wave of the Baylor Religion Survey.

In many cases, Franzen found frequency of Bible reading was one of the most powerful predictors of attitudes on moral and political issues. Consider some of the findings:

  • The likelihood of Christians saying it is important to actively seek social and economic justice to be a good person increased 39 percent with each jump up the ladder of the frequency of reading Scripture, from reading the Bible less than once a year to no more than once a month to about weekly to several times a week or more.
  • Christian respondents overall were 27 percent more likely to say it is important to consume or use fewer goods to be a good person as they became more frequent Bible readers.
  • Reading the Bible more often also was linked to improved attitudes toward science. Respondents were 22 percent less likely to view religion and science as incompatible at each step toward more frequent Bible reading.
  • The issues seemed to matter more than conservative-liberal tags. In the case of another major public policy debate, same-sex unions, nearly half of respondents who read the Bible less than once a year said homosexuals should be allowed to marry, while only 6 percent of people who read the Bible several times a week or more approved of such marriages.

Among other issues, more frequent Bible readers also were more likely to oppose legalized abortion, the death penalty, harsher punishment of criminals and expanding the federal government’s authority to fight terrorism.

[…]But the results are consistent with some past research.

In a 1998 article in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, sociologists Mark Regnerus, Christian Smith and David Sikkink found that data from the 1996 Religious Identity and Influence Survey suggested that, contrary to “conventional wisdom,” conservative Protestants were among the most generous Christians in giving to the poor.

Surprise, surprise – reading the Bible makes people more moral.

I think we need to be open to letting our ideas about goodness, God and science be determined by what research shows, instead of what our feelings are. If science shows that atheists are generally more irrational and more amoral than believers, then we have to go where science leads. Not every atheist is irrational and immoral, but we have to believe what science tells us about atheism.

This study showing how authentic Christians get divorced less often than average is also interesting.

Does atheism rationally ground the capacity for making moral judgments?

In Christian theology, a classical definition of evil is found in the work of Augustine of Hippo. He states that the evil is not a thing itself, and therefore is not brought into being by God. Instead, evil is the privation of right order. Or, to put it more simply, evil is the state of affairs when things are the way they ought not to be. So, if a mugger mugs you and steals your money, that was evil, because humans ought not to do that. And if a tsunami leaves thousands of people homeless, that’s evil, because the world ought not to be like that. (Let’s bracket why God might allow natural evil, such as the latter example, for another post).

The point is that when you talk about evil and suffering, it pre-supposes that the world is not the way it ought to be. But that means that the world ought to be some way. If the world “ought to be” any way other than it is, then that pre-supposes a designer, who had a purpose for the world, i.e. – a way the world ought to be.

So, atheists cannot use the apparently gratuitous evil in the world as a disproof that there is a God until they define what they mean by evil, and explain how this objective standard of good and evil came to exist.

So what is evil on atheism? An answer that is NOT open to atheists is the solution above, namely, that evil is a departure from the way things ought to be. Because the universe is an accident on atheism – it is purposeless – there is no way the universe ought to be. We are accidents on atheism. There is no way we ought to be.

So evil must mean one of two things on atheism:

  1. Evil means something that the atheist finds personally distasteful. It is a subjective preference that each person decides for themselves. Just as some people don’t like broccoli – some people don’t like murder or tsunamis. It’s up to each person. But that cannot be used as an argument against God, because who says that God’s moral purposes ought to be connected to the personal moral preferences of atheists? It won’t work.
  2. Evil is what society says is counter to the social conventions of a particular time and place. If we decide that murder is against our society’s conventions today, then for that time and place, murder is “evil”. But then, not signaling when you turn right at a stop sign is also “evil”. It’s all just made-up conventions. And again, it is difficult to see why God should be bound by a society’s conception of good and evil, they are just conventions of accidental people, on an accidental planet, in an accidental universe. (Again, we will bracket the problem of deciding what a society is for this discussion).

Neither of those options is going to allow an atheist to claim that God is evil. Because their basis for saying so is either going to be their personal preferences or the arbitrary conventions of the culture they happen to live in in arbitrary time and place.

So, it seems to me that pressing the problem of evil is inconsistent on atheism. There is no moral standard that an atheist can use to hold God accountable, in an accidental universe. You have to pre-suppose an objective moral standard, and a designer of the universe who makes that standard and makes it applicable, before you can proceed to hold God accountable to that standard. But then, you have already assumed God in order to argue against him.

To learn more about the difficulties that atheists have in making sense of morality, I really recommend this lecture (MP3) on the problems of evil and suffering by Doug Geivett (hosted by Apologetics 315), and this short 4-page paper on the problem of evil as well.