The Problem of Evil (Part 6)

So far, we have looked at several forms of the PE, and have provided responses to demonstrate that they do not accomplish their goal (i.e. discrediting the rationality of Christian theism). This has been a defense of the coherence of theism, and primarily a negative apologetic (with the goal of removing road-blocks to Christian faith). Now I turn to an offensive apologetic, one that seeks to question the validity of the challenger’s position.

As we examine the charges against Christian theism, we can now ask if the unbeliever’s outrage at the evil in this world is an expression of personal distaste or whether the recent Virginia Tech shootings were objectively evil. If they object to this line of questioning, or deny that there exists objective ethical laws (laws which Cho Seung Hui violated) the Christian may respond, ”what has become of your original objection?” If evil does not exist, then it cannot be marshaled against the Christian conception of God.

Recall that in every form of the PE presented above, in some fashion it was posed that the existence of evil disproves the existence of the Christian God. The goal has been to show that this is not the case. Here we are faced with a linguistic problem for the non-Christian. We are left to ask, exactly what constitutes evil in a non-Christian framework? Without the infinite-personal God of the Bible, how do we define it? In fact, we are only left with two alternatives: either the non-Christian appeals to:

1) an individual subjectivist response, and

2) a collective subjectivist response.

For the sake of handling the various possible replies I have distinguished the alternatives. However, as we will soon see, both alternatives reduce to subjectivism and skepticism.

Individual subjectivist responses. If the non-Christian claims moral justification is found in what one chooses to do, we are left with no standard by which we can condemn the worst types of behavior. Pedophilia, rape, incest, bestiality, and murder, and all morally acceptable. Why? Because for those that commit such acts, they were the products of active volition.

Collective subjectivist responses. The term “collective subjectivist” may strike some as paradoxical at best and oxymoronic at worst, yet such a title is fitting for “society says” moral relativism. According to this position, morality is, in a weak sense, objective in that the individual is not free to create moral norms from scratch. They are to live within the ethical structure of societal consensus. Such an ethical standard is collective. Yet, on the other hand, it nevertheless remains a subjectivist position on meta-ethics. What makes the collective approach ultimately subjectivist and indeed relativist is that each society determines it’s own moral norms, and accordingly, one culture (or sub-culture) cannot condemn the actions of another.

The problems for this approach are equally evident. If indeed no supra-cultural definition of evil (or good) exists, how can two or more cultures or sub-cultures with different standards of ethics co-exists. Consistently applied, the collectivist subjectivist model prohibits us form labeling the crimes committed at Auschwitz evil. In fact, it becomes even more problematic because not all German citizens would have approved of the war crimes and genocide of the Nazis. So, what we are left with is at least two moral sub-cultures in WWII Germany, those that would call the Nazi actions evil, and those who participated in those actions and condoned them. But any system that strips us of the ability to make moral distinctions is highly counter-intuitive. A paradigm that seeks to explain our “moral motions” must respect the moral outrage we feel at events such as the holocaust.

Next we’ll look at the problem with these approaches…


Posted on September 10, 2007, in Problem of Evil. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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