CHAPTER 18, CONCLUSION, and APPENDIX
In this final section of Dr. Martin’s book he critiques some lesser advocated theodicies, concludes his entire argument, and offers an appendix. I really enjoyed this final section and gleaned a lot of good insights from it. Overall, I have been satisfied with the way that this endeavor has turned out and I am confident that I have shown Martin’s case, while he has made some strong points that should be addressed by theists, is not sufficient to destroy the rational foundations for theism. I hope those of you who have had the patience to bear with me through this long series have been edified.
Summary of Martin’s Claims
Martin’s final chapter of his argument for positive atheism continues and completes his section based on the problem of evil. Since he has already evaluated the strongest theistic positions, he chooses to at least make mention and critique of some lesser known theodicies. He states that these are less compelling and usually used by those who are not theologians or philosophers of religion.
He begins with the "Finite God Theodicy." As an example of this, Martin presents Rabbi Kushner’s position that God is not all powerful and, thus, cannot prevent all evil. Kushner believes that some evil is the result of chaos that God has been trying to get in order; other evils are the result of natural law. Martin critiques Kushner’s finite view by pointing out that: (1) Kushner has given no examples of evils resulting from uncaused events; (2) there is no evidence that some natural laws are newer than others, which would be the case if God was getting the chaos in order; (3) Kushner doesn’t explain why a god powerful enough to establish laws didn’t make them with fewer possibilities for evil; and (4) Kushner doesn’t explain why God doesn’t help some people. In response to four, Martin notes, some argue that God is preoccupied with preventing greater evils. But he answers that, if God could create the entire universe simultaneously, then why can’t he attend to all parts of it simultaneously.
Next, Martin assesses "The Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy." This attempt to answer the problem of evil claims that the evil in this world is necessary since this is the best of all possible worlds. Martin offers two primary challenges to this answer. First, he says, it is improbable that this world could not be made better. Second, the notion of the best of all possible worlds is incoherent. In support of this second criticism, Martin offers arguments from Alvin Plantinga and Patrick Grim. Alvin Plantinga relates such a concept as "the best of all possible worlds" to "the greatest number." It seems to him that whatever object you conceive of can be upped one. Thus the concept is incoherent. Grim, on the other hand, claims that all possible worlds are equally good. He says that, since God is morally perfect, He could not create any worlds inferior to others. Thus all the possible worlds are morally equal. Now, if Grim is right, then there are many difficult implications—e.g., (1) this world would be as perfect as God Himself; (2) ethical fatalism; (3) counterfactual problems. Thus this theodicy also fails.
The next theodicy that Martin looks at is the "Original Sin Theodicy." This is the Judeo-Christian answer regarding the fall from grace (Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden). Martin objects to it saying that: (1) science shows that death and disaster came before human sin; (2) it is unjust, since to punish the descendants because of their parents’ sins is unjust; and (3) it is incoherent that perfect creatures in a perfect world could sin. This amounts to creating evil ex nihilo.
The fourth theodicy offered by Martin is the "Ultimate Harmony Theodicy." This answer claims that what seems like evil is not really evil from God’s perspective; or it is evil but has good consequences and, thus, it is justified. Martin offers four criticisms of this view: (1) if evil is an illusion, then moral fatalism results; (2) It seems to imply that God has a different morality than us. Then how can He be an object of worship or a moral guidance to us? (3) If God is omnipotent, then why not limit the evil and still have good consequences? Or, even if the amount is necessary, is it really worth the price? And (4) Heaven as a compensation for suffering cannot solve the problem since compensation doesn’t make the action right.
Finally, Martin offers four lesser known theodicies. The first is "The Degree of Desirability of a Conscious State Theodicy." This is a complex theodicy that I will not explain here. The second is the "Reincarnation Theodicy. He offers four criticisms to this view: (1) the implications are absurd and morally appalling; (2) it is morally empty; (3) it contradicts the scientific discovery that life began a finite time ago; and (4) it still doesn’t explain why God allowed the evil in the first place. Next Martin presents the "Contrast Theodicy," which claims that evil is allowed to make the good more appreciable. Martin offers two criticisms: (1) why then is it experienced rather than simply seen? And (2) this doesn’t explain the extent of evil. Finally, Martin offers the "Warning Theodicy," which is a proposed solution to the problem of natural evil that views pain and disaster as warnings. To this solution, he asks "couldn’t God warn human beings without causing them harm?"
Next, Martin moves on to his Conclusion. Here, he gives a short summary of what he has claimed and then proceeds to expound what he believes would happen if disbelief in God became prevalent. He says that if disbelief in God became the prevalent belief, moral standards would not necessarily change. He also says that people would still join religious groups for the social benefit or aesthetic value. Further, it is conceivable that religious freedom could still reign. He then gives a list of things that would change, including: (1) the religious right would lose much of its power and moral education and legislation would change; (2) there would be fewer wars; and (3) the birthrate would drop. He concludes with his belief that such changes are not likely since people are tempted to believe in the transcendental.
Lastly, Martin gives us an Appendix where he makes distinctions between positive and negative, broad and narrow, and atheism and alienated theism. Then he gives the differences between atheism and agnosticism, skepticism, naturalism, rationalism, positivism, humanism, communism, the Freethought Movement, and the Ethical Culture Movement.
Agreements and What I Have Learned
I had many agreements and appreciations for this section of Martin’s book. First, I agree with Martin’s overall assessment of the "Finite God Theodicy," though there are a couple points of disagreement that I will note in my critique. Second, I agree with Martin’s rejection of the "Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy," and I have only one disagreement which I will mention later. Third, I will grant Martin’s critique of "The Degree of Desirability of a Conscious State Theodicy," and will add that I reject the idea that God is obligated to any creatures. I don’t think this is so regardless of their degree of desirability. Fourth, I agree with each point of the "Reincarnation Theodicy." Fifth, regarding the "Contrast Theodicy," I agree with Martin. I will add that a contrast is not needed if one realizes that evil is not a thing to be compared but a privation. On this understanding, the "Contrast Theodicy" would seem to be saying that it is easier to appreciate an imperfect thing than a perfect thing, which seems silly. Sixth, I think that Martin’s Appendix was extremely helpful and should be read by all theists and atheists alike.
Now for my final critique. First, I have two criticisms from Martin’s critique of Kushner. (1) Martin complains that Kushner doesn’t explain why a God powerful enough to establish laws didn’t make them with fewer possibilities for evil. But I would like to ask Martin: "Why should God be obligated to do this?" If He wouldn’t be, then there is no problem. If He would be, then Martin needs to show how. (2) Martin then faults Kushner’s God for not helping some people. But how does Martin know that He doesn’t? Second, I have a single critique from the section on "The Best of all Possible Worlds Theodicy." Martin quotes Patrick Grim who claims that, since God is morally perfect, He could not create any worlds inferior to others. Thus all the possible worlds are morally equal. But this assumes that God is a moral being. Further, it seems to be ambiguous as to what is meant by "possible." A distinction between "logically possible" and "actually possible" needs to be made to clarify what he is saying.
My most extensive critique relates to Martin’s criticism of the "Original Sin Theodicy," which I wholly disagreed with. First, Martin claims that science shows that death and disaster came before human sin. But I ask, "Death and disaster of what?" There is no science that says that human death came before human sin. And since humans are the only known moral creatures, then there is no problem with the kind of death that occurred beforehand. Further, there is no evidence that disaster had any affect on humans who did not sin. Thus this argument fails. Second, Martin claims that it is unjust to punish the descendants because of their parents’ sins. But this is implying that God is actively punishing His creation. This is false. What He has done is allow the human race to choose to live outside of His grace. The blame is not on God in any way, but on humanity. Furthermore, He has not been content to just let things be, but He has made a way back into His grace, through Jesus Christ. So not only is God not responsible for the effects of humanity’s choice to separate itself from Him, but He has gracefully given us a way back if we admit our fault. Third, Martin claims that it is incoherent that perfect creatures in a perfect world could sin since this amounts to evil being created ex nihilo. But this is a confused concept of evil. Evil is not a thing to be created. It is a privation in a good thing. Thus evil can exist only in virtue of a good thing existing.
Next, I have a few criticisms of the "Ultimate Harmony Theodicy." First, one of Martin’s criticisms was that it seems to imply that God has a different morality than us. So he asks, "How can He be an object of worship or a moral guidance to us?" I answer that God doesn’t have a morality. He is worshipped in virtue of His ontology, i.e., what He is. Finally, He is not a moral guidance for us. He is the lawmaker, not its greatest keeper. Second, Martin asks "If God is omnipotent, then why not limit the evil and still have good consequences? Or, even if the amount is necessary, is it really worth the price?" But these arguments presume that the accuser knows more than God. If God is all knowing and all powerful, He has taken all possibilities into account and there is nothing to question here. Third, Martin critiques the picture of Heaven as a compensation for suffering since compensation doesn’t make the affliction right. But Heaven is not compensation, it is a gift. Further, God doesn’t inflict the evils, He allows them.
Next, I have a couple of criticisms regarding Martin’s handling of the "Warning Theodicy." Martin asks, "Couldn’t God warn human beings without causing them harm?" Maybe this would not be effective. Pain makes the warning existentially relevant. Other messages, due to our limitations, may not appear as relevant. Overall, the other criticisms offered in this section by Martin are unfounded because they assume that God has an obligation to warn people in a better way. In fact, God has no obligation to warn us in the first place. It is an act of grace when He does.
Finally, I have a few criticisms of Martin’s conclusion. First, Martin claims that, if disbelief in God became the prevalent belief, moral standards would not necessarily change. But they would if people lived consistently with their beliefs. I know that I would act way differently if I believed that God did not exist. I would act as I did before I became a Christian, if not worse. Second, Martin claims that the religious right would lose much of its power and moral education and legislation would change. I say that if people were consistent, moral education and legislation would end. Third, Martin claims that there would be fewer wars. But contrary to the popular assumption, most wars have no religious significance. They are political and economic in nature. Further, this assumes that religious beliefs are not active deterrents to war. This assumption needs to be demonstrated. Finally, Martin says that such changes are not likely since people are tempted to believe in the transcendental. I would add to this that they are likely due to the fact that the arguments of this book are insufficient for demonstrating that God does not exist. In fact, in light of the criticisms raised here, I think that it is safe to say that theism remains the most rationally defensible position.