Monday, February 18, 2013

Book Snap:Chad Meister and James Dew's "God and Evil"

For this one we turn the reins over to Nick Peters again, as it's his specialty subject and not mine.


I’ll state something important right at the start. I’ve never really been frustrated by the problem of evil. It is true that suffering has bothered me in the past and will in the future. It is true that I know this is something that needs to be explained. It’s just that I have never seen this as a defeater for the faith. As long as we have the resurrection of Jesus I think Christianity is true. With that, evil is an anomaly, but we have the essential question answered in the resurrection. Why trade an essential for a peripheral?

            Also, this is not because I am unfamiliar with suffering. Right before I turned sixteen, I had scoliosis surgery to correct a curvature in my spine. While other boys were working on driving, I was working on walking. I spent a year in great pain recovering. I also have Asperger’s and went through a time of great depression and anxiety with panic attacks. Today, I am unemployed as I write this. My wife, also with Asperger’s, struggles with a number of other conditions. Therefore, I am not a stranger to suffering.

            Despite this, I know other people are. I have often told people that I teach in apologetics that if you are ever a pastor and a young mother comes to you crying because her son just died in a car accident, you’d better not be an apologist at that moment. What she needs then is a pastor/counselor. There will be time to discuss the questions later, but for now, let her work through the emotional pain. 

            A lot of people unfortunately hold on to such emotional pain and that is one reason the problem of evil is so gripping. All of us have this sense that something is not right with the world. For some people, like myself, this creates a drive to seek to go out and make the world a better place. For others, this blocks them from fully getting to experience their life and in such a case, the problem of evil needs to be answered.

            Enter God and Evil (G&E from now on) edited by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. Readers of this book will be pleased to see a number of known people in the field commenting such as Greg Ganssle, Paul Copan, William Lane Craig, Gary Habermas, William Dembski, and Francis Collins. Some names will surprise such readers. We might wonder why the natural sciences are getting involved, except for the fact that evolution is part of this as well. Does it answer the problem of evil or is it a problem that needs to be explained?

            That’s another benefit of this book. Which side does it take in the question of evolution? Both. There is an essay by Dembski first critiquing the views of someone like Karl Giberson in thinking that evolution is an answer to the problem of natural evil and bad design. Then, the next essay you read is Giberson himself writing with Francis Collins. Thus, the book does not just have one view, but speaks with several views so that anyone reading can find something.

            There are essays on most every aspect of the problem of evil. An essay like Gary Habermas’s is an excellent one for pastoral situations. People who have followed his ministry closely know plenty about his usage of cognitive-behavioral therapy in helping people overcome emotional doubt. In my opinion, if this essay could be grasped, then most of the other essays would not be needed.

            Paul Copan’s essays give an excellent look at biblical material, including passages that make it look like God is the source of evil. He also does not rehash what he did in “Is God A Moral Monster?” Copan’s essays in G&E instead take a look at original sin and how Christians have interpreted it and what the relationship is between God and evil.

            Greg Ganssle has an excellent essay on evil as evidence for Christianity. As he points out, it is hard to see how the problem of evil could be a problem for Christianity when Christianity itself assumes that there is great evil. Evil is so much of a problem that it takes the death of the Son of God in order to make things right in the world. This will be one of the most helpful essays to read.

            Some essays I didn’t think really delivered. Surprisingly, I had a major disappointment with Bill Craig’s essay. In it, he dealt with universalism and the problem of hell using his molinistic theory. Now I have a problem with the theory as well seeing as I think it doesn’t work to say every person who would not believe was born where they would not hear, particularly since what each person is in part also depends on their parents, but the biggest problem I had with this one was that there were no footnotes. I have no references to the universalists that Craig is dealing with or the works of philosophers who will support his beliefs. I realize Craig’s is a big name in apologetics, but I would hope it is not so big that we are reaching the point where it is just Craig’s say so on a matter. In this, I mean no disrespect to Craig. I am pleased he is on our side and I think he’s an excellent debater. It is just the statement that I wish I knew his sources on this material.

            I thought a chapter on Hell that left room open for post-mortem evangelism was problematic as well seeing as not once was Hebrews 9:27 discussed that I can remember. Some readers who hold to a view of post-mortem evangelism might think that they have an answer to that. If so, that’s fine, but if you are presenting a paper to convince someone of your position, it doesn’t help to ignore a verse that most people would strongly think mitigates against your view.

            While I would be more prone to side with Dembski in his argument, I found his essay less convincing than Giberson and Collins’s. Yet in their essay, I found the problem that they thought there would be no proof either way on the debate over the existence of God. I think Dembski has a great point that is shown in his book “The End of Christianity”, but I also think that Giberson and Collins have an interesting argument on how if theistic evolution is true, it does help deal with the problem of natural evil.

            Readers will also be pleased that in the end of this book is a transcript of a debate between Bill Craig and Michael Tooley. I believe Craig did quite well in the debate, but that might not be saying much since Tooley did so terribly, including lack of study in biblical arguments. It boils down to “God does stuff I don’t like, therefore He’s wrong.” There is no looking at the Amalekite culture, or the fact that the Egyptians were enslaving Israel, or could it be that Jesus did not mean what Tooley thinks he meant by his second coming? (Note, he never calls it the second coming. As an orthodox Preterist, I see it as something different) Note also Tooley kept saying that the majority of people would go to Hell. I do not find any biblical basis for this.

            One criticism I have with G&E is that as in too many other books, good and evil I did not see defined. It is treated as if we know what they are instinctively, and yet nowadays when I debate evil and morality with non-Christians, I always try to start us off with defining what goodness is. If we can do that, and I do so with a good Thomistic metaphysic, it can really deal with a lot of objections, including the joke one Tooley uses of Stephen Law’s “evil god” argument. 

            Despite that criticism, my overall response to the book is quite positive. There is much in here for someone to learn and I believe much of it is accessible to the layman. G&E will help to prepare the Christian for the discussion of the problem of evil, but let us hope that more than that, that Christians who read this will go out and deal with the problem of evil directly, starting with the evil in their own selves by modeling good Christlikeness.

            Therefore, I conclude that this book is one for those interested in this topic to put on their list. There are a number of highly educated minds who have shared much for you to learn from.