CHAPTERS 16 and 17
In Chapters 16 and 17, Dr. Martin continues with his considerations about the fact of evil and its relation to the viability of belief in God. In the last chapter he began his appraisal of the common theistic attempts to explain the existence of evil by evaluating the Free Will Defense. In Chapter 16, Martin looks at the existence of natural evils and in Chapter 17 he evaluates the "soul Making Theodicy," or the attempt to explain natural evils as being necessary for developing certain desirable character traits.
Summary of Martin’s Claims
In Chapter 16, Martin assesses natural evil, or evil not associated with the free choice and intentions of human beings. He notes that most of the evil of the world is of this kind. It is Martin’s belief that theism cannot account for such evils and, thus, their existence counts as evidence for atheism. To defend this position, he looks at three contemporary theists’ attempts to solve the dilemma.
First, Martin looks at Alvin Plantinga’s claim that natural evil could be the result of the acts of evil beings such as Satan. Note that Dr. Plantinga does not argue that Satan exists, but that it is not improbable that Satan exists and that, because of this, it is a real possibility that he is the reason for natural evil. Martin begins his criticism by pointing out that, while it may not be impossible that Satan exists, that it is not obvious how probable such a claim really is. He answers his apparently rhetorical question by asserting that it is unlikely that consciousness could actually exist in a non-bodily form. Next, he claims that there is no reason to even believe that demons or angels could affect the physical world. After this, he grants the claim and then asks "if Satan is responsible for this evil, why isn’t there more of it?" After this momentary granting of the argument, he returns to his position and notes that even theists, such as Swinburne, believe that such an argument is ad hoc. He proceeds by pointing out that those who believe in Satan tend to be less educated than those who do not believe in him and that science has been more accurate about religious things than the religions have (i.e. age of earth and evolution). Finally, he asks, "if Satan is responsible, why wouldn’t God help the innocent victims?"
Next, Dr. Martin looks at an argument proposed by Richard Swinburne. Swinburne proposes that the amount of evil is the real problem. But this, he says, can be explained by claiming that the amount of evil in the world is necessary to bring about the knowledge (since data is required for knowledge) needed to cause or prevent future evils. And, this would add to the moral freedom and potential for responsibility in people, which are both goods. Martin answers that, if this is His purpose, God has not done a good job. He supports this by pointing to: (1) the existence of rare diseases; (2) the fact that, for some diseases, we have all the necessary information about and, yet, they continue to affect us; (3) the fact that God could have created us with innate knowledge rather than leaving us as suffering tabula rasas; and (4) the notion that inflicting evil without the innocent victim’s consent is repugnant.
Next, Dr. Martin looks at Bruce Reichenbach’s proposed solution. Reichenbach claims that natural evil is the outworking of the natural laws of God’s creation. And these natural laws help humans to be truly free in their choices since, without such order, rational choice would be impossible. Martin answers by proposing that there is no reason to believe that a world that operated by means of constant miracles rather than natural laws wouldn’t be orderly and, thus, the out-workings of these natural laws are not necessary to preserve rationality. Nonetheless, even if He did set the world up in this way, He could have performed miracles to prevent the natural evils from harming people. Further, God could have created the world to operate by statistical laws instead.
In Chapter 17, Martin assesses the theistic answer that naturalistic evil exists in order to develop the character of human beings. He begins by noting that theists often claim that second order goods such as kindness and courage could only be actuated give some first order evils. However, Dr, Martin claims that it is possible to have kindness, generosity, sympathy, or bravery in a world without evils.
He then proceeds to critique what he believes to be the strongest presentation of the "Soul-Making" theodicy, that of John Hick. Hick claims that God has created the world in such a way as to hide His appearance. The result of this is that men live self-centered lives. This also, however, makes available the opportunity for a man to freely worship God. Hick does not have an explanation for the amount of evil but he does offer the idea of an intermediate state that makes right those wrongs that seemed to occur without any possibility for character growth (such as a person being murdered).
Martin begins his critique of Hick by pointing out that excessive evil remains a problem. He continues how some organisms have the desire for avoidance of danger "built in," with no need for pain. Next, he points out that Hick’s idea of epistemic distance is ambiguous and that it can not give a reason for change of belief regarding God, hence it ultimately results in fideism. Next, Martin says that Hick does not justify his claim that man, if in God’s presence, could not sin. He supports this by showing that, if this were true, then all religious believers who had "experienced God" would stop sinning. But they don’t. After this, he shows how the purpose for epistemic distance, freedom to believe as one wishes, is compromised by Hick’s intermediate state. Then he critiques Hick’s notion of freedom since there is a logically possible world where creatures are free and yet do not sin. Finally, he claims that Hick, by writing this book, seems to be working against the distance desired by God.
Agreements and What I Have Learned
As with the other chapters in this second part of Atheism, there were not many opportunities for agreement with Martin. However, I do think that he brought up a few very good points. First, overall, I agree that blaming Satan for natural evil is not the best way to approach the problem of natural evil. But I say this because there are other ways to attack it, not because I have a prior assumption against the existence of such beings. Second, I agree with most of the criticisms leveled at Swinburne, except for the innocent victim one. (Swinburne offers three reasons to doubt it, the second of which—that God as creator has rights over us—being the strongest. Martin’s counter to this is rather weak.) Third, I agree that Hick’s notion of epistemic distance seems to be ambiguous and leads to fideism, that is, as far as it has been accurately presented. Fourth, regarding the criticism of the intermediate state, I believe that Dr. Martin has made a great point. I really appreciate this criticism’s strength. Finally, regarding the compatibility of Hick’s writing this book with his beliefs, I think Martin’s criticism is interesting, but I have a feeling that it may not be charitable.
First, I have many criticisms regarding the section critiquing Dr. Plantinga. First, Martin challenges Plantinga regarding "how probable" Satan’s existence really is. I think that he is asking a question that cannot be answered by a finite mind since it would require applying probability values to events without knowing all the relevant data. Thus, this is no defeater of Plantinga. Second, he claimed that it is unlikely that consciousness could exist in a non-bodily form. Well, this was a nice assertion, but he has not supported it. Beware of such moves by any philosopher or theologian. Third, Martin asks why Satan hasn’t produced more evil if he is the reason for it. But why should there be more? If Satan is free, why can’t he choose where to stop? Need he be as evil as can be? These questions all demonstrate that these responses by Martin do not actually prove anything except that he is inquisitive. Fourth, his claim that theists are less intelligent than naturalists is irrelevant at best and an ad hominen or a grouping fallacy at worst. Further, claiming that people like Plantinga, Swinburne, Bill Craig, J.P. Moreland, Etienne Gilson, Eleonore Stump, etc. are uneducated is a very brave, yet naïve claim. Fifth, the idea that science has been more accurate about religious things confuses the teachings of a religion with the teachings of the religious people. Regarding the age of the earth, there is no clear scriptural claim for young or old—only interpretations by people. Second, evolution has not been proven by any stretch; though it has been made an axiom by many. Sixth, and finally, Martin’s question as to why God hasn’t helped the innocent victims assumes that God doesn’t have reasons unknown to us. We are finite minds, He is not. There is nothing about God that requires that He helps all victims of particular tragedies.
Next, regarding Martin’s criticisms of Reichenbach, I have a couple criticisms of my own. First Martin claimed that there is no reason to believe that a world that operated by means of constant miracles rather than natural laws wouldn’t be orderly. But this doesn’t help us to know things, unless the miracles appear to be results of natural processes and, thus, they deceive us. But this wouldn’t be real knowledge. In the end, we could only have hindsight knowledge, not the power to judge potential outcomes required for free choice. So Martin doesn’t answer the original problem. Second, God has no obligation to always do miracles to prevent evil. Further, it may better for us that he doesn’t. Third, regarding the appeal for statistical laws, there is no reason to suppose that this would be better. God, being omniscient, is perfectly capable of judging which world suits his purposes, we are not.
Overall, I would say that the biggest problem with the critiques submitted in this chapter is that they assume that there are no good reasons for allowing natural calamities. We know that there are natural advantages brought by hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and the like. Thus, these events, taken of themselves, are good events. The fact that they sometimes result in human loss does not make the event evil as much as it highlights a bad relationship between two events—the human’s current state and nature’s current state. There is no reason to suppose that allowing the convergence of such states is necessarily an evil act. Thus, the ’evilness’ of the act must be derived from some other factor other than the simple occurrence of the convergence of events. Furthermore, I think that the language used to describe these events is unjustified for the naturalist. What is an evil? For them, such an event can only be an observed fact. There is no room for moral outrage or a claim that the event ’ought’ to have been other than it was. ’Ought’ implies design or order, which implies a designer or orderer. Thus the atheistic argument can never really get off the ground. So, while we theists may not be able to give a surefire answer to the question "why this evil?" the atheist cannot even ask the question in the first place without presupposing God.
I only have a few criticisms of this chapter, but they seem to undermine Martin’s whole argument. First, Martin asserted that it is possible to have kindness, generosity, sympathy, or bravery in a world without evils. How? First, it would be impossible to be unkind if there were no evil possible, so kindness loses its value. Generosity can only be had where need is present. But wouldn’t a need be considered a privation, i.e. an evil? Sympathy likewise implies loss, which would also be considered as an evil. Finally, bravery would require a true danger, i.e. an evil. Otherwise, it is not bravery but confidence. He attempts to give numerous examples of how he can have these goods without evil, but they all fail. Second, the problems stated in the section on Hick’s theodicy are similar to those addressed elsewhere. Martin’s main problems here are that he presumes to know what God could actually (beyond logically) accomplish and what he should have allowed. Martin needs to face the fact that he is limited as to the information available to him and that such judgments may in fact be unfounded. Third, regarding Martin’s claim that those who have experienced God would have stopped sinning, I believe that Hick sufficiently answers him. I think that Hick’s distinction between a continuous experience and a momentary one solves this problem. By our nature as humans, we know things in a temporal fashion. Thus, when something is not on our mind, it is not going to have its full effect on us. With God, since He is the ultimate good, if we had Him, we would seek nothing else. To willingly go after a lesser good at the expense of a greater good is impossible. Finally, regarding Dr. Martin’s claim that a world where everyone is free and yet no one sins is logically possible, I agree. This world is called heaven. But it may not have been actually possible to achieve such a world without a world such as this