Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The C. S. Lewis Defense

The C. S. Lewis Defense
C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain is Lewis’s first full-dress book of Christian apologetics. Since it does include the claim that God uses pain as a “megaphone” to rouse a deaf world, and since he also makes the claim that God uses pain to shatter our illusions, it might be valuable to see if Beversluis can successfully make the charge that in making these statements he lapses from a Platonistic to an Ockhamistic view of the relation between God and goodness.
The problem of evil has been discussed extensively in the last 40 years, and one of critical distinction is the distinction between a defense and a theodicy. A defense attempts to rebut arguments from evil and did not necessarily attempt to provide a true explanation as to why suffering is permitted. A theodicy tries to account for suffering, giving the true explanations for why creatures suffer. A defense gives a possible explanation for the existence of suffering, showing that argument that God and suffering are incompatible is unsuccessful.
Alvin Plantinga developed the Free Will Defense to deal with the argument from evil. Atheist philosophers like Antony Flew and J. L. Mackie had argued that the existence of evil was logically inconsistent with the existence of God, that anyone who believed in God and also accepted the existence of suffering in the world was contradicting himself. However Plantinga argued that the at least some evil, namely, the evil that results from human action, is compatible with the existence of God, in that the freedom to act against the good was itself a good, but in creating that good God would have to open the possibility that the choices thus made were the wrong choices. However, Plantinga had to consider the fact that at least some evil is not the result of evil actions on the part of human creatures. The Asian tsumani in 2004 and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, for example, look to have not been caused by humans.
But Plantinga responded to this by saying that it was at least possible that all the suffering in the world was caused by the actions of rebellious free agents, either human or demonic. Thus, for example, it is at least possible that while humans cause evils like murder, perhaps Satan and his minions might have caused Katrina to occur in the way that it did, in order to inflict pain and suffering on the human race. Now, if you objected that, even if possible, this wasn’t very likely, Plantinga would argue that insofar as the atheist had begun by arguing that the theist was committed to a contradictory position in accepting the existence of both God and evil, the atheist would now be shifting ground, retreating to the probabilistic or evidential problem of evil rather than the logical problem of evil. The logic of each new variation in the argument from evil must be examined. For example, if the argument is a probabilistic argument from evil, how is probability theory being used? In Plantinga’s writings on the argument from evil, the emphasis is always on showing that the arguments from evil don’t work, and apart from an appeal to free will he really does little to explain exactly why evils are permitted. This approach I will call the defense strategy. It is a strategy grounded on our expected lack of understanding of the purposes behind God’s permitting suffering.27
Other thinkers have gone farther in attempting to explain why God permits suffering. This strategy is called a theodicy. The idea here is that even if we are able to show that there is something wrong with every version of the argument from evil, we would like to know, as best we can, why God permits suffering. Without some explanations as to why God permits suffering, some have argued that this puts the theist at a disadvantage relative to the atheist, who argues that as a matter of course his own view would allow us to anticipate the mixed bag of good and evils that we see in the world.
It is often thought that Lewis’s The Problem of Pain is a theodicy in the classical sense. But is it? Lewis begins the book by noting the fact that people do not typically believe in God’s goodness because they infer the goodness of God from the goodness of creation; they instead believe in God’s goodness for other reasons. A sense of what Rudolf Otto called the Numinous, our sense of moral obligation and moral failure, the combination of those two elements to make a moralist religion amongst the Jews, and the claims of Christ are all things that, amongst real people, cause belief in a good God. So if for independent reasons we think that God is good, how do we account for evil in a way that makes sense? That is how Lewis construes the problem of pain.
Thomas Talbott argues that the crux of Lewis’s response to the problem of evil can be found in the second chapter, entitled “Divine Omnipotence,” and says that everything else in the book is ancillary. By this he means that “even if his arguments in these subsequent chapters were substantially mistaken, his basic reply to the argument he set out to refute, the reply developed in chapter 2, would stand. If Talbott is correct, however, this would be a successful defense of theism against the argument from evil, but it would not be a theodicy.
Lewis’s defense against the argument from evil has three steps to it. The first step is to point out that even an omnipotent being can do the “intrinsically impossible,” that is, anything that involves a contradiction. An omnipotent being cannot make 2 + 2 =5, or make it the case that the Apostle Paul freely repents of his sin. Lewis says, “You may attribute miracles to him, but not nonsense.” Alvin Plantinga, in his Free Will Defense, argued that there were possible worlds that God did not have the power to actualize, because these world’s actuality depends upon people freely choosing X who in fact chose Y.
The second step is to argue that we are not in a position to know for sure what is and is not logically possible. Is it logically possible to go backward in time? Some people think that it is, others do not. Thus, we may think that things are logically possible when they are not, or think that they are logically impossible, when they are logically possible.
Third, the complexities involved in creating a world of free creatures who can freely choose to obey or disobey God is a good deal more complex than it looks. Thus Lewis says:
There is no reason to suppose that self-consciousness, the recognition of a creature by itself as a 'self', can exist except in contrast with an 'other', a something which is not the self. It is against an environment and preferably a social environment, an environment of other selves, that the awareness of Myself stands out.
Hence a society of free souls seems on its face to require a relatively independent and “inexorable” Nature, a Nature containing objects which could be used for mutual benefit if parties cooperate, and which can be used to harm one another if parties oppose one another. Thus, in creating a world of free persons, Lewis suggests that God may have had not choice but to open up the possibility of pain and suffering.
Lewis suggests the possibility that God might, through miracles, correct the effects of the abuse of free will, but he says that would effectively nullify the freedom of the will. He writes:
We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of the abuse of free will by his creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void .
Imagine, for example, a world in which all virtuous actions were rewarded in short order and all vicious actions punished in short order. In such a world there would be no effective free will, because no one in their right might would be so much as tempted to do the wrong thing. Everyone would do the right thing out of self-interest.
But Lewis doesn’t claim that he knows, or that anyone knows, what God could have done and what God could not have done.
As I said before, this account of the intrinsic necessities of a world is meant merely as a specimen of what they might be. What they really are, only Omniscience has the data and the wisdom to see: but they are not likely to be less complicated than I have suggested.
So, Talbott argues, Lewis’s defense of theism works not by showing that some better would be impossible, but by showing that since we don’t what worlds are and are not possible, and if they would really better worlds or whether they would not be better worlds, the argument from evil falls before the C. S. Lewis Defense.


Steven Carr said...

'Alvin Plantinga, in his Free Will Defense, argued that there were possible worlds that God did not have the power to actualize, because these world’s actuality depends upon people freely choosing X who in fact chose Y.'

Plantinga showed nothing of the sort.


Anonymous said...

Hi bro: I enjoy reading your blogs; esp on Lewis. I wonder about Lewis on the Kingdom of God. Please let me know if there is any Lewis on the Kingdom.

JimC said...

I find htis disscussion of the problem of evil very engaging.
I do not have a defined opinion myself but I think aobut it alot scince I got leukemia.
I would like to email you some thoughts or i could post them on you blog.

JimC said...

After I found out I had Leukemia, I read the book of Job.
This is from my journal.

My suffering is so little, really.
I have many friends, good, beautiful friends.
I’m warm and fed.
I’m being treated by the best medical teams in the world, for free!
Yes, I am in pain a lot, I can’t think much between blood transfusions, yet I feel I’m only being inconvenienced.
Whatever I have to endure is nothing, really; yet when I’m in pain it can seem overwhelming and I just want God to end it.
I think that there are so many people in pain around the world, why do I deserve to be rescued?
Almost the opposite – let’s say one in a million manages to get what I have; well then, why shouldn’t it be me?
I’m in a good position surrounded by love.
How would it be to get this and be in Africa, or even America where my family would go into debt trying to get me treatment?
How would I be if I were suffering all alone?
The pain of living and not knowing you were loved would be so much worse.

Job seems holier than I am, yet his suffering is much worse in every way. Now I don’t know all about the Old Testament, but I can’t imagine they had the same assurance of salvation that we have in Christ, and yet he still has hope in God.
He also seems to ask my question: Why get your friends to pray when God will do whatever He wants, anyway?
All I can think is how lucky I am. I’m lucky that I have Jesus, and I can turn to Him without hesitation.
At the end of the book of Job there is no answer.
I still can’t see any real answer to the problem of pain.
I’m often confronted in prayer by an image in The Brothers Karamazov of the little five-year-old girl tortured by her parents, and each night she turns to God in tears….
…and I pray
…because I know that she is real
…I have met her and her brother.
And yet even what I have seen is so little of the pain out there.
You can’t begin to imagine without breaking your heart.
…And I don’t understand why.
Why does God allow it?
The answer that people give who don’t know any better has something to do with ‘free will’; that God allows this so people can know good and evil, know the consequences, and learn to value the good…and freely choose to love.
I still have to agree with Ivan that “the whole world of knowledge is not worth that child’s prayer” – any child’s prayer!