Sin


The evidential problem of evil points to the improbability that the amount of evil we see in the world – particularly gratuitous evil – would exist if an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God exists.  The argument usually takes the following form: 

(1)   If God exists, gratuitous evil would not exist
(2)   Gratuitous evil exists
(3)   Therefore God does not exist 

Many theists attempt to undermine this argument by attacking the veracity of premise two.  For example, William Lane Craig and William Alston argue that humans are not in an epistemic place to judge any act of evil as gratuitous since we cannot see the big picture of history.  For all we know, an act of seemingly gratuitous evil will result in a greater good years or even centuries from now, either in the life of the person who experienced the evil or in the life of another person in another country.  Our cognitive limitations should not be used as evidence that gratuitous evil exists.  At best we must remain agnostic on the question.

This is an appeal to the Greater-Good Defense, which argues that God has a morally sufficient reason for permitting all evils—including those that appear gratuitous to us—such as using them to bring about some greater good that could not have been brought about apart from those evils.

In the latest issue of Philosophia Christi, Kirk R. MacGregor provides some reasons for thinking that this response to the evidential problem of evil is misguided.  Just because our cognitive and temporal limitations make it impossible for us to prove that any act of evil is truly gratuitous does not mean that gratuitous evil does not exist.  He argues that the belief that some evils are gratuitous is a properly basic belief.  For example, we do not believe that every time we are bitten by a mosquito or stub our two that these evils have some greater purpose or will be used to accomplish a greater good.  Such things make virtually no difference in our own lives, yet alone on the grand scheme of things.  Given the proper basicality of belief in gratuitous evil, MacGregor says the burden of proof is on those who would deny the existence of gratuitous evils, and to meet their burden of proof they must explain how every instance of gratuitous evil actually results in some greater good.  This is not possible, and thus the person who believes in the existence of gratuitous evil is prima facie justified in maintaining that belief, even given his cognitive and temporal limitations.

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I have a theory about racism.  While I know racism is real, I think a lot of what passes for racism is actually a misdiagnosis of ethnocentrism (the idea that one’s culture is superior to others).

Each culture has its own unique worldview, values, and practices.  Humans tend to be suspicious of worldviews/values/practices that differ from their own.  In some cases, we can even despise all or some aspect of certain cultures (often for illegitimate reasons such as “I had an experience in which a person of X race did me wrong, therefore I don’t like people of X race”).  Many times, the skin color of the people in the culture we despise differs from our own as well.  But is the color of their skin the cause of the animosity?  No, I don’t think so.  The person from culture A with skin color B despises people from culture X with skin color Y, not because he hates skin color Y, but because skin color Y serves to identify the people who belong to the culture who thinks/acts in ways he despises.  In other words, race is incidental to the animosity, not the source.

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People often talk about “struggling” with some particular sin.  What they want you to believe is that they are really trying to stop doing X, but keep being overcome by the sin despite their strong desire to the contrary.  It’s not their fault; sin made them do it!  While there is no question that we genuinely struggle with sinful desires, when we sin, we always sin by choice.  So the next time someone wants to make excuses for their sin by labeling it a struggle, call them on the carpet.  What they are really struggling with is the conviction they feel whenever they choose to sin.  To lessen the guilt they call it a “struggle,” and claim to be sin’s victim rather than its perpetrator.  Do they want to stop sinning?  But if one continues in the same sin, it is probably due to the fact that their desire to keep sinning is stronger than their desire to stop sinning.  None of us is forced to sin.  Paul said God will always provide a way of escape when we are tempted.  We sin by choice.  Let’s not try to kid ourselves or others by continuing in our sin and labeling it a “struggle.”

I’m sure you’ve heard that Christians have the same divorce rate as non-Christians.  I’ve long suspected that this is a myth driven by a poor definition of “Christian.”  Many people are only nominal Christians; i.e. while they profess to be a Christian, there is little evidence from their conduct and beliefs that they are.

It seems my suspicions are correct.  The Pew Forum released a summary of recent reassessments of the data that found a strong correlation between church attendance and divorce rates. Brian Wilcox, director of the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, concluded that “Americans who attend religious services several times a month were about 35 percent less likely to divorce than those with no religious affiliation.”

Switzerland wants to de-criminalize adult, consensual incest.  What do you think of this move?  Do you think incest should be de-criminalized?  All of it, or just certain forms (e.g. de-criminalizing incest between siblings, but keeping father-daughter incest illegal)?  

For Christian readers of this blog who may disagree with it, I would like to know how you reconcile your opposition to incest with examples of incest in the Old Testament.

In May of this year Gallup polled Americans to determine what behaviors they found morally acceptable and unacceptable.  Sixteen behaviors were evaluated, and here are the results:

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One of the objections against studying and using apologetics I often hear from fellow Christians is, “It doesn’t work.”  Why do they think this?  Because they learned a few evidences for the Christian faith, tried them out on unbelievers, and discovered that it didn’t make everyone immediately fall down on their face in repentance.  So, they concluded apologetics do not work.  If by “work” they mean successful 100% of the time in causing conversion, I would agree.  But surely this can’t be the standard by which we judge success.  If it is, then we would also have to deem the simple Gospel presentation a failure as well since the majority of people who hear it do not convert to Christianity.  Even Jesus failed to persuade the vast majority of all those He encountered.

The problem is not with the message/method/evidence, but with the heart of man.  According to Paul, unbelievers suppress the knowledge of God so they can continue in their moral rebellion (Romans 1).  Unbelief is primarily moral and volitional in nature, and only secondarily intellectual.  It should be no surprise, then, that intellectual arguments fail to persuade some people: they do not want to be persuaded.  As Winston Churchill once said, “Men stumble over the truth from time to time, but most pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing happened.”  And yet, rational arguments for the Christian faith can be instrumental in leading the open-hearted to faith in Christ.  Indeed, many former atheists can testify to the fact that apologetics “worked” to bring them to a belief in Jesus Christ.  Apologetics is no magic bullet, but it is a valuable tool in our evangelistic tool box.

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