Saturday, October 24, 2009

Correcting a misleading Reppert quote in Loftus

John Loftus includes this statement in his widely posted review of John Beversluis's new edition of C. S. Lewis and the Search for Rational Religion.

In the book The Problem of Pain, coming at the heels of WWII, Lewis deals head-on with the Problem of Evil. How Beversluis tackles Lewis’ argument is probably best summed up by Christian philosopher Victor Reppert, who wrote: “If the word ‘good’ must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If, on the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that ‘good’ in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards.” (dangerousidea.blogspot.com)

Now Loftus' use of my statement is a tad misleading, because what I was doing was summarizing Beversluis's argument from his 1985 edition, not endorsing it. I have defended Lewis's treatment of the problem of evil in response to the first Beversluis edition, both in the context of The Problem of Pain and A Grief Observed, in my essay "The Ecumenical Apologist", in the four-volume Lewis encyclopedia that came out a couple of years ago from Praeger Press.


I am just mentioning this to set the record straight.

4 comments:

John W. Loftus said...

Yes, you are correct. I liked your summary very much.

8 said...

“If the word ‘good’ must mean approximately the same thing when we apply it to God as what it means when we apply it to human beings, then the fact of suffering provides a clear empirical refutation of the existence of a being who is both omnipotent and perfectly good. If, on the other hand, we are prepared to give up the idea that ‘good’ in reference to God means anything like what it means when we refer to humans as good, then the problem of evil can be sidestepped, but any hope of a rational defense of the Christian God goes by the boards.”


Sound and valid. About as eloquent writing Reppert ever produced. Gott ist Tot!

Blue Devil Knight said...

Victor I assume you agree with the disjunct but not the consequences he draws out? That is, 'Either we use the same concept of 'good' for gods/people, or we do not.'

That is a nice way to put it. Excellent, I hadn't heard it before put this way.

Victor Reppert said...

Well, there has to be a sufficient similarity. There is the doctrine of analogy, whereby our conception of goodness in God can is similar, but not identical, to the concept of goodness as we apply it to human persons.

I think you can just get rid of the problem of evil if you make the kind of move that Calvinists make here, namely that alongside an obligation to alleviate suffering there is an obligation not to let sin go unpunished. Therefore, since we are all sinners (if for no other reason than being descended from our federal head, Adam), God has, for any instance of suffering, no undefeated reason not to permit it or even to inflict it.

The concept of goodness, according to Calvinists, is rooted in God's nature, but rightness is rooted in God's commands. This isn't strictly speaking voluntarism, since God's nature determines his commands; he can't just command anything. However, goodness is defined, as I understand it, on God's glory, which involves the expression of all of his attributes. He exercises the attribute of mercy in sending his son to die for the sins of the elect, and in giving irresistible grace to the elect so that they can repent and believe. He also exercises his attribute of justice by inflicting just punishment on those who oppose his will. Both of these are good outcomes from God's perspective, even though they are bad outcomes for the damned.

What I think this does is actually eliminate the problem of evil. If you can make the step of believing that the the just punishment of sin is an intrinsic and not a remedial good, then not only can you accept the idea that God is justified in predestining people for hell, but you can also justify the claim that whatever humans suffer while on earth, they had it coming and shouldn't complain to God.

We are not commanded to mirror God's nature in every respect; so we have obligations to alleviate suffering that God lacks, though a Calvinist would say that we have obligations to inflict retribution is some cases ourselves. But the limitation on our obligation to punish is not shared by God.

It seems to me that this is a dissolution rather than a solution to the problem of evil. One doesn't try to find explanations why a God who loves everyone permits so much pain even though he has everyone's best interest as heart. God doesn't have everyone's best interests at heart, God has his own glory at heart, which coincides with our interests only if we are among the elect.

I have trouble seeing the punishment of sin as an intrisic good; I see it as a sort of plan B; a remedial good in response to that which God removes from his control by providing us with libertarian free will.

But the purpose of this is not engage the Calvinist debate, it is rather intended to exposit what I take the Calvinist position to be.