Archive for the ‘Essays and Papers’ Category

banner

Planes fly into towers, gunman empty magazines into classrooms, tsunamis wipe out cities, cancers steal our loved ones away, and people hurt us every day. Pain and suffering is everywhere in this world. It strikes without warning, at any time, at anyone, without prejudice. Such is the nature of evil. And yet, some believe that this world is governed by a God that is pure love, all knowing and all powerful. But how can this be? If this God were real why doesn’t He do something? Why does He allow evil to destroy our lives and ravage our hopes? The extent of our personal suffering is enough to lead one to believe God is not who He claims to be. Or worse, God does not exist.

This is particularly the claim atheologians make. The presence of evil in this world has long since been used to show the undeniable lack of God’s existence for centuries. And as far as they’re concerned, the theist is irrational to believe in both a good God and evil. As mathematician and science writer Martin Gardner once summed up, evil “… is probably why most atheists are atheist,” (Gardner 214). In this paper I will present the atheist’s argument of the problem of evil and then thoroughly explore the many responses theists propose to reconcile the problem of evil with God. One noteworthy response is the freewill argument. Other responses seek to clarify exactly who God is to reconcile His existence with evil. And some address evil with a theodicy, which is a proclamation of what God’s reasons are for evil in an effort to argue He is just in permitting evils. In due course, my goal is to show that the theist does have rational grounds for believing in an all-loving and all-powerful God that exists within a world of evil. That is, that the problem of evil is of no problem at all for the theist.

Clarifying Points

Before beginning, I believe there are three important points that should be clarified. First, many of the arguments made here are for the purpose of defending a theistic worldview, not for solving personal conflicts people may have with instances of evil in their lives. As Alvin Plantinga, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at the University of Notre Dame and the inaugural holder of the Jellema Chair in Philosophy at Calvin College, writes, “Neither a defense or a theodicy, of course, gives any hint to what God’s reason is for some specific evil- the death or suffering of someone close to you, for example- might be… neither is to be thought of first of all as pastoral counseling. Probably neither will enable someone to find peace with himself and with God in the face of the evil the world contains. But then, of course, neither is intended for that purpose,” (Plantiga, The Freewill Defense, 338).

The second point to make is that there is no guarantee that the arguments made here address and justify all accounts of suffering. Laura Waddell Eckstrom, a professor of philosophy at the College of William and Mary, believes, “A fully justificatory account of suffering may be unattainable for us,” (Eckstrom, 399). So if you find yourself unsatisfied with the answers found here it does not mean that there is no satisfactory justification for evil. Instead, it just means that this essay was not sufficient in doing so. The purpose of this essay is to provide rational reasoning to defend the notion that a loving and all powerful God and a world of evil can together exist.

The another point to make is clarification of which God exactly will be under the microscope. Many people have different ideas of who God is and what evil is. For the sake of the arguments relevant to this topic, the God in question is the classical God of western theism. That is, the God of the Holy Bible. This is the idea of God that is most thoroughly defended and attacked in western philosophy and most relevant to people in western culture. Therefore, all arguments explored here will be to that end. Other personal conceptions of who God is may be irrelevant.

The last point to settle is the use of the term “evil.” I’ve encountered many people that do not approve of the use of “evil” in this topic of debate because, to them, it assumes that evil exists as a supernatural entity. To clarify, my use of the word evil here is merely to remain consistent with historic usage of the word from both theologians and atheologians alike. Despite not believing in supernatural evils, atheologians often utilize the word in these discussions since the nature of the argument is whether evils are consistent with a loving God. To debate such a topic one must assume the hypothetical situation evils exist first. Lastly, my use of the word evil is used in a fashion that is interchangeable with “pain and suffering,” and ultimately that is the intent of this paper: To explore the arguments for and against the existence of the a loving and omnipotent God in contrast with a world full of pain and suffering.

So… What is the Problem?

There are two problems with the presence of evil. There is the logical form of the problem which postulates that the presence of evil is inconsistent with the existence of a theistic God. The acknowledgment of this contradiction is one that predates Christianity. As the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 BC) pondered, “Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both not able and willing? Whence then is evil?” (as quoted from Pojman& Rea, 276).

In more modern times we see this same skepticism. Oxford University philosopher John L. Mackie (1917-1981) writes, “In its simplest form the problem is this: God is omnipotent, God is wholly good, and yet evil exists. There seems to be some contradiction between these three positions, so that if any two of them were true the third would be false. But at the same time all three are essential parts of most theological positions: the theologian it seems, at once must adhere and cannot consistently adhere to all three,” (Mackie, 299). According to Mackie, if you give up one of the three, the problem of evil is solved. Since evil is an obvious truth one must choose between compromising on God’s goodness or ability to prevent evil (Mackie, 300). The other form of the problem of evil is the evidential problem which argues that the randomness and profusion of evil in the world is better supported by the atheist worldview than the theist’s.

Scottish philosopher David Hume (1711-1776), known for his skepticism of the Judeo-Christian worldview, writes, “… you can never possibly prove, that animal or, at least, human happiness in their life exceeds its misery, you have yet done nothing; for this is not, by any means, what we expect from infinite power, infinite wisdom, and infinite goodness. Why is there any misery at all in the world? Not by chance, surely. Is it from the intention of the Deity? But he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention? But he is almighty,” (Hume, 283).

Whether it is the logical or evidential problem, the atheologian charge is that a God with the attributes that the Judeo-Christian tradition requires could and should prevent the evil we experience in this world. And yet, evil is everywhere, so something is off, which is a fair charge to make. Since we experience so much evil in this world one might be inclined to wonder if God isn’t capable of defeating the evil, doesn’t care, or simply put, doesn’t exist. Obviously, this is no small issue, and no small task to solve.

So the ball is in the theologian’s court to defend their beliefs. Plantinga writes,“… the claim is that the facts of evil constitute a defeater for theistic belief for those who are fully aware of them- and if for the theistic belief, then also for Christian belief… understanding of evil and its place in God’s world is an important goal for Christians, one where philosophers can perhaps be of some help.” (Plantinga, Supralapsarianism, 355).

The Logical Argument

First we should tackle the logical problem of evil. The logical argument is as follows:

1) God exists and is omnipotent, omniscient, and good.

2) Evil exists

The logical argument finds these two statements in contradiction with each other. If two statements are logically inconsistent it is impossible for both of them to be true. What needs to be proven, however, is that the two are inconsistent. So additional statements are needed to be added to the first two premises to make them true, and conversely for the atheist, additional statements are required to display the fallacy. For example:

1) God exists and is omnipotent, omniscient, and good.

2) Evil exists

3) An omniscient and good being will always prevent evil.

Now we have an additional statement to show the fallacy between 1 and 2. But this argument is only successful if premise 3 can be shown to be true. This is where theists object for there are arguably situations where evil occurrences lead to greater goods. For example; a few soldiers may die in battle in order to protect a town full of innocent civilian families. So it would be a fallacy to assert that God would always prevent evil, since some evils may lead to greater goods.

The atheologian can counter argue that an omnipotent God could achieve a good outcome without the need for any evils. But this counter argument depends on definitions of omnipotence and evidential greater goods, topics worthy of examination later. If we revised the argument to instead read:

1) God exists and is omnipotent, omniscient, and good.

2) Evil exists

And

4) A good and omnipotent being prevents evil when there is no evidential occurrence of good that outweighs it.

But alas, this new premise is also flawed because it relies on evidential observations of good outcomes, which is needless to say, impossible. Much more will be covered on this impossibility later, but clearly the logical argument cannot stand on its own. It requires additional premises to prove that evil and God are inconsistent with each other, and these additional premises can each be counter argued, as will be discussed shortly. William L. Rowe, professor emeritus of Philosophy at Purdue University, affirms the weakness of the logical argument, “… it is reasonable to conclude that the logical form of the problem of evil is not much of a problem for theism,” (Rowe, Philosophy of Religion, 117).

The Freewill Defense

The evil of this world is often broken down into two categories: Moral evil; the evil of man, and Natural evil; the plight of disease, natural disasters, etc. To address moral evil, theologians adhere to the Freewill Defense which postulates that the evils committed by man are because of man’s freewill, and God does not override this free will because doing so would override the freedom, thus ending freewill. That is to say, God values a world containing free creatures more so than a world with no free creatures.

Plantinga illustrates why the freewill defense is necessary with an illustration of “other worlds.” God may be omnipotent to create other possible worlds, but in order for such other worlds to be actualized, God would need to suppress people’s freewill in order to provide all possible variability that are opposed to what people freely choose. Since God cannot (or chooses not to) suppress people’s freewill, such possible world’s cannot be actualized. And therefore, God could not create just any world He pleased without suppressing freewill, but since He would not suppress freewill there is only one possible outcome for an actual world: the one in which we have free will to make morally bad decisions. Therefore the existence of evil is an unavoidable inevitability. Plantinga calls this effect Transworld Depravity, (Plantinga, The Free Will Defense, 347). Since everyone is morally free, at some point, in all possible worlds, someone will freely choose to commit a moral evil. Thus there can be no possible world in which there is freewill and no moral evil.

Now, if God created a world in which people only do right, then people are no longer free. Instead suppose God creates a world with free humans, capable of good and evil. In this scenario, any evil the humans act freely on cannot be faulted of God. In other words, there are only two scenarios: No evil or no freewill. So the arguments may be summarized as God, though omnipotent, is incapable of creating a world in which there is no evil and free humans.
Thus the original logical problem can be refuted by adding two additional statements that show that God’s omnipotence and evil are not inconsistent.

1) God exists and is omnipotent, omniscient, and good.

2) God cannot create a world in which humans are free and there is no evil.

3) A world with evil and freedom is better than a world with no freedom and no evil.

4) Evil exists

Bible scholar J.B. Phillips (1906-1982) wrote on this defense, “Evil is inherent in the risky gift of freewill… It is worth noting that the whole point of real Christianity lies not in interference with the human power to choose, but in producing a willing consent to choose good rather than evil,” (Phillips, 88-89).

The Value of Freewill

One strong counter argument to the freewill defense is that of freewill’s value. Atheologans are quick to point out that a world in which there is no freewill and no evil is much greater than a world with both. Freewill causes pain and suffering and lack of freewill does not cause pain and suffering. So a truly loving God would have definitely sacrificed freewill to spare us pain and suffering.

Such an argument is strongly opposed by theologians. Early Christian theologian St. Augustine (354-430) writes of free will’s inherent value, “Such is the generosity of God’s goodness that He has not refrained from creating even that creature which He foreknew would not only sin, but remain in the will to sin. As a runaway horse is better than a stone which does not run away because it lacks self-movement and sense perception, so the creature is more excellent which sins by free will than that which does not sin only because it has no free will,” (St. Augustine, 14-15).

This notion is shared by German mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz (1646-1716) as well, “… in accordance with order and the general good that God allowed to certain creatures the opportunity of exercising their liberty, even when he foresaw that they would turn to evil, but which he could so well rectify, because it was not fitting that, in order to hinder sin, God should always act in an extraordinary manner. To overthrow this objection, therefore, it is sufficient to show that a world with evil might be better than a world without evil…” (Leibniz, 285).

Now one might object that these statements from Augustine and Leibniz are merely opinions. Thus the theist needs a way to show that freewill with evil is better than no freewill and no evil. There are two arguments used to defend the value of freewill. The first is proposed by Plantinga who contends that there is a way to argue that a world with evil is of a higher value than one without. He uses the doctrine of Supralapsarianism, which is the doctrine that God decreed to permit humanity to fall into sin and to save some of the fallen. From a Christian perspective we have a world with good and evil. But this world also has a God of abundant love, grace and mercy, and an incarnate Son who provides atonement for our transgressions and wrongs. In such a world, what amount of evil could even stand to match such a God, and such a redemptive path of salvation?

Such a world is better than a world where everyone is always good and righteous. Plantinga argues that any world with the incarnation and atonement is of greater value than any world with no incarnation and atonement (Plantinga, Supralapsarianism, 359). Thus if God were to create a very good world, one which exceeds the goodness of all others, He would have created a world with atonement and incarnation. And incarnation and atonement is only relevant in the presence of evil.

He writes, “… this gives us a very straight forward and simple response to the question ‘why is there evil in the world?’ The response is that God wanted to create a highly eligible world, wanted to actualize one of the best of all the possible worlds; all those worlds contain atonement, hence they all contain sin and evil,” (Platinga, Supralapsarianism, 359).

The other way to defend freewill’s value is more along the lines of St. Augustine’s opinion; arguing conversely that there is no value in a creation that has no free choice. Such a world may be free of pain and suffering, but it would likewise be devoid of all valuable emotions, and more importantly, choice.

The late and great Christian apologist Paul E. Little explains this view, “But many ask, ‘Why didn’t God make us so we couldn’t sin?’ To be sure, he could have, but let’s remember that if he had done so we would no longer be human beings, we would be machines, mere puppets on a string. How would you like to be married to a mechanical doll? Every morning and every night you could pull the string and get the beautiful words, ‘I love you.’ But who would want that? There would never be any love, either. Love is voluntary. Our choices voluntary… God apparently thought it worth the risk of creating us as we are, and this is the reality we face,” (Little, 133). Little brings up a critical point: If God is loving, and love requires choice, then humans require the ability to choose love in order to engage in loving God. Without freewill humans could not engage in loving God.

So there are essentially two views for arguing the valuable nature of freewill and evil versus no freewill and no evil. One can either argue that the incarnation of God and subsequent atonement are such profound goods that they override all evils, and such an incarnation and atonement are only possible in a world of evil. Or you may argue the value of freewill by identifying the lack of value in not having freewill along with the inconsistency between love and no freewill. Since these positive and negative views do not contradict each other, they can both be maintained simultaneously, surely establishing the value of freewill.

Clarifying Omnipotence

In analyzing the freewill defense a contradiction always seems to appear: The contradiction between God’s omnipotence and inability to control freewill. Omnipotence is casually defined as the ability to do anything and everything. Naturally the, the skeptic begins to wonder why a being with omnipotent capabilities, such as that of the theistic God, does not find ways to solve the problem of evil by controlling freewill. As mentioned earlier, God may allow certain evils to prevail in order to facilitate future greater goods or prevent future greater evils. And surely God values freewill. Yet, to the atheist this seems rather crude or primitive for a being capable of doing anything.
Mackie believes it would be fallacious to say that God requires evil for good, because that would compromise God’s omnipotence by suggesting that he is subject to casual laws in which there are only certain terms by which you can reach certain ends. That is, means which can only be evil. He writes, “Unless a favorable answer can be given to this question, the suggestion that evil is necessary as a means to good solves the problem of evil only by denying one of its constituent propositions, either that God is omnipotent or that ‘omnipotent’ means what it says,” (Mackie, 302).

Mackie asks why God, as an omnipotent being couldn’t have just made humans as creatures that always freely choose good. To which he says, “Clearly, his failure to avail himself of this possibility is inconsistent with his being both omnipotent and wholly good,” (Mackie, 304). He further argues that freewill choices are made from character. So why wouldn’t God instill in us character that chooses right always? So in order for God to escape responsibility for evil, choices must not be based on character but instead on randomness, and if freedom is just randomness, how can we say it is good, or better (Mackie, 305). “… there is a fundamental difficulty with the notion of an omnipotent God creating men with freewill, for if men’s wills are really free this must mean that even God cannot control them, that is, that God is no longer omnipotent,” (Mackie 305).

This is commonly referred to as Mackie’s Paradox of Omnipotence. That is, can an omnipotent being create other beings that he cannot control? If you say “Yes,” then God can make beings He cannot control and he is therefore not omnipotent. If you say “No,” then there is something God cannot do, so he is therefore not omnipotent. But as solid as this paradox seems as an argument against God’s omnipotence, it is very similar to the classical paradox of the stone: Can God create a stone so heavy he cannot lift it? And just as the classical stone paradox has been thoroughly refuted, so is Mackie’s paradox refuted.

The route around Mackie’s Paradox involves a correct definition of omnipotence. Plantinga clarifies, “Most theologians and theistic philosophers who hold that God is omnipotent, do not hold that he can create roundsquares or bring it about He both exists and does not exist. These theologians and philosophers may hold that there are no non-logical limits to what an omnipotent being can do, but they concede that not even an omnipotent being can bring about logically impossible state of affairs or cause necessarily false propositions to be true.” And later, “What the theist typically means when he says that God is omnipotent is not that there are no limits to God’s power, but at most that there are no non-logical limits to what He can do…” (Plantinga, Freewill, 332). Rowe agrees, “So there are many things that God, despite being omnipotent, cannot do. It would be a mistake, however, to conclude from this that God’s power is somehow limited, that there are things he cannot do which, if only his power were greater, he could do,” (Rowe, Philosophy, 7).

Now for many theists this might be a hard concept to swallow, because it is accepting that God is limited in some way. It might seem blasphemous to say God is limited in power and ability. But if you really think about it, this is what we read of God in the Bible. We read that God cannot change or deny himself (James 1:17, 2 Tim 2:13). Aren’t those limitations? What about committing to evil or killing Himself? Aren’t these things that God cannot do because they are contradictory to his nature? Technically speaking, committing evil or killing Himself is contradictory if God is good and eternal. So it is appropriate to say God has limitations in that He can only do what is not a contradiction in terms, or a contradiction of His character.

Granted, not everyone agrees in God having limitations despite scripture, and in this case, if God can do anything, even the logically impossible, then there is no problem of evil because it can simply be explained away as God doing something that is impossible, existing as a loving God amidst a world of evil. So whether you believe in a God with logical omnipotence or illogical omnipotence, one can argue away the problem of evil coexisting with God.
Harry G. Frankfurt, Professor emeritus of philosophy at Princeton University, seems to pull form this notion of God being limitless, writing, “If an omnipotent being can do what is logically impossible then He can not only create situations which He cannot handle but also, since He is not bound by the limits of consistency, He can handle situations which He cannot handle,” (Frankfurt, 92). So if one presupposes a limitless God not bound by consistency, then really no contradictions can be charged against God.

If one counter argues with a claim that God is capable of controlling our freewill, but refrains from doing so, Mackie counters that God should only then control evil wills and refrain from controlling good wills. The only reason for God not to control evil is if he places more value in freedom then what is right and wrong, which would contradict the doctrine of sin, (Mackie, 305). But if we expand on Mackie’s notion that God should have created humans with the freewill that always choose right, then we find ourselves right back at square one, with humans not having freewill. Never opting to choose differently than what is right because God created you to always choose right is not freewill. It would very well contradict freewill. The will is not free unless we are capable of choosing and acting on any choice. Additionally, Mackie’s claim that God placing more emphasis on freedom then right and wrong doesn’t contradict the doctrine of sin. That is merely an opinion. The fore-planned incarnation and atonement of sin through Jesus Christ shows that God values freewill to a very high degree in that He prepared atonement for the very creations He knew would ultimately choose wrong. If God valued right and wrong over freewill He would not have created human beings destined to choose wrong. So whether you believe God created human beings with freewill He cannot control, or created human beings with freewill that He can control, but chooses not to, God creating humans with freewill does not undermine His omnipotence.

The Evidential Problem

With the logical problem satisfied, and the free will defense addressing moral evils, it is necessary to look at natural evils as well, which is highlighted in the evidential problem of evil. The evidential problem does not necessarily argue that evil and God are inconsistent, but instead argues that the randomness and profusion of evil fits the atheist’s world view better than it does the theist’s.

Let us start with the claim that the evil in the world is excessive. Many argue that because there is more evil than good in the world that there must likewise be more evil than good in God, or no God at all as Hume seems to suggest in his works. Philosophers tend to differ in their responses to this issue. Leibniz argues first that the overwhelming goodness in all other animals may compensate for man’s moral evils, and then second that goodness has an immensely greater value than evil so that the goodness of even a few saints can compensate for a vast population of evil. Plantinga argues that Christ’s incarnation and atonement warrants some significant level of evil in the world, as such a ministry and subsequent sacrifice would be over excessive in a world where evil is no more than a person here of there committing a very minor sin. Then again, God’s love is so great, maybe He would endure just suffering for such few and minor mistakes, (Platinga, Supralapsarianism, 364). Additionally, the level of evil may in fact be the counter factual to freedom in a world as good as ours. Who could know? But lastly, and most importantly, how do we gauge the level of evil in this world? By watching TV, and tallying good things and bad things on a table? At what point is evil acceptable and not acceptable and excessive? To suggest we have too much evil in the world is an arbitrary assertion for anyone to make. So it becomes quite the illogical claim to say there is too much evil in this world, more so than to say evil is incompatible with a loving God.

The randomness of evil, on the other hand, seems to be a much greater concern. Under situations where a greater good may be experienced through evil of, let’s say, pain and suffering, there is no issue with theism. Rowe writes, “For as we’ve seen, there are times when experiencing intense suffering is very helpful in that it may cause us to act quickly to remove ourselves from extremely harmful situations. So the capacity to experience intense suffering is helpful to us,” (Rowe, Philosophy, 119-120). But the evidential problem seeks to reference evils in which a greater good is not apparent, thereby excluding itself from evils in which a greater good are achieved.

Since the freewill defense only applies to humans, the freewill defense doesn’t apply to animals since they have no concept of good and evil. Yet animals suffer and experience pain. So it initially seems that animals suffer from pointless evil. An evil that, if God exists, God could have prevented without thereby losing an outweighing good or having to permit an evil equally bad or worse.

Let’s say a rabbit suffers a severe injury from a landslide, the injury kills the animal after a slow and painful few days. It would seem that such an evil is pointless, with the only God-based alternative being an evil God, or a God that doesn’t care, or no God. Yet the theistic notion is that God is omnipotent and good. So why do we see pointless suffering?

The argument then follows:

1 There are pointless evils

2 If God exists there can be no pointless evils.

3 Therefore, God must not exist.

This argument, however, requires two assumptions:
A Humans are capable of determining pointless evils.
B An omnipotent and good God would stop pointless evils.

So a thorough investigation of these assumptions is required in order to determine if the argument for the evidential problem of evil is sufficient.

Skeptical Theism

The position of the skeptical theist is that the first assumption of the evidential argument, that there are pointless evils, has not been proven. Rowe explains using the analogy of a fawn burned in a forest fire that dies after succumbing to days of intense pain and suffering, “… to the skeptical theist, we have no adequate reason to think it is even likely that there is no good that would justify God in permitting either the fawn’s terrible suffering or any other case of suffering of which we are aware… because we cannot think of or even imagine a good that would both outweigh the fawn’s suffering and be such that an all-powerful, all knowing being could not find some way of bringing about that good, or some equal or better good, without having to permit the fawn’s terrible suffering,” (Rowe, Philosophy, 121).

Situations of horrible pain and suffering may seem pointless to us, and at times make no sense, but we’re still limited by what we as humans are capable of observing and knowing. An all-knowing omniscient God, on the other hand, is not limited in such ways. So our inability to grasp any particular good that may emerge from a situation does not mean that there is no good that may emerge from the situation. This leaves us in no position to judge God, or question His existence, in the presence of seemingly pointless evils.

Professor of Philosophy at Calvin College, Stephen Wykstra, illustrates this concept as an empty garage. If you looked into a garage and saw no dog you could conclude there is no dog in the garage. But if we were to look into the garage and see no fleas, it would be incorrect to conclude that there are no fleas in the garage, (Rowe, Philosophy, 122). So just as seeing no fleas in the garage does not mean there are no fleas in the garage, not comprehending any good that can come out of an evil situation does not mean there isn’t any good that can or will come out of an evil situation.

Another valid analogy is the good parent analogy. A good parent disciplines their child, sends them to the dentist, makes them get painful vaccination shots, etc. All these things to the child seem to be evil situations full of pain because the child does not have the knowledge of the parent who knows that discipline will teach their child right from wrong, the dentist will remove harmful cavities, and the vaccination will prevent a crippling infections later in life. These pointless evils to the child are acts of responsibility and love to the parent. Though it can be argued that this analogy cannot apply to evil overall, it is very applicable to many instances of evil, and it serves to prove that just because we are unaware of greater goods achieved or greater evils avoided doesn’t mean that they are not so.

However, just as mentioned prior, this philosophy of greater good and greater evils is not knowingly applicable to all circumstances. So its applicability is slightly limited. Rowe sees this philosophy as limited as well, “It seems quite unlikely that all the instances of intense suffering occurring daily in our world are intimately related to occurrences of greater goods or the prevention of evils at least as bad; and even more unlikely, should they also somehow all be so related, that an omnipotent, omniscient being could not have achieved at least some of those goods (or prevented some of those evils) without permitting the instances of intense suffering that are supposedly related to them,” (Rowe, Inductive, 310).

Additionally, the same logic of our limited awareness goes both ways. Just as the atheist cannot prove that there are pointless evils, the theist can likewise, not prove that all evils lead to greater goods or the prevention of greater evils, since both would require omniscience on behalf of the theist or atheist. Though the notion that there are instances of evil that God could have prevented losing a greater good or permitting a greater evil can never be proven as truth, it can be justified as a rational belief.

God the Pleasure-Maximizer

One of the most critical concepts in need of clarification in the debate over evil and God is God’s character. Just as God’s omnipotence needed clarification, God’s role in providing for humanity should also be explained. Contrary to common opinion, whether by theists, atheists or agnostics, God is not a pleasure-maximizer. God is not a genie whose purpose is to serve us in order to create a paradise-like life for us. Yet, this twisted idea of God is very popular in western culture, and if it were true, of course there would be a huge dilemma between God and evil.

Atheists in particular tend to think God’s aim was to make the world a hedonistic paradise, and since God failed to do this He must not be omnipotent, or again, maybe just doesn’t exist. However, if this is not God’s aim then the contradiction is null and void to a certain degree. Philosopher and theologian John Hick (1922-2012) wrote, “They (atheologians) think of God’s relation to the earth on the model of a human building a cage for a pet animal to dwell in. If he is humane he will naturally make his pet’s quarters as pleasant and healthful as he can,” (Hick, Evil and Soul-Making, 351). Any failure to provide such a cage must be the result of the shortcomings of the owner. Hume makes a similar argument using the analogy of an architect. But if life’s purpose is not to be pampered, we would not expect such a hedonistic paradise of a world.

Hick continues, “… if our general conception of God’s purpose is current, the world is not intended to be a paradise, but rather the scene of a history in which human personality may be formed towards the pattern of Christ. Men are not to be thought of on the analogy animal pets, whose life is to be made as agreeable as possible, but rather on the analogy of human children, who are to grow up to adulthood in an environment whose primary and overriding purposes not immediate pleasure but the realizing of the most valuable potentialities of human personalities,” (Hick, Evil and Soul-Making, 351).

Just as in the Christian worldview we call God our father, as we are His children, a good parent does not provide unrestrained pleasure to his children at the cost of growth. Thus the world should not be judged by the amount of good and evil in it at any particular time, but instead judged by its primary purpose of soul-making. Hick writes, “The good that outshines all ill is not a paradise long since lost but a kingdom which is yet to come in its full glory and permanence,” (Hick, Evil and Soul-Making, 353). Marilyn McCord Adams, a research professor of philosophy at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, agrees, “It does the atheologan no good to argue for the falsity of Christianity on the grounds that the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, pleasure-maximizer is incompatible with a world such as ours, because Christians never believed God was a pleasure-maximizer anyway,” (Adams, 384). So if we make the move away from the idea of a loving God that wants to make our lives pleasing and easy, and instead envision a loving God that wants us to grow and mature, which can often occur at the price of pain and suffering, many of the problems of evil are no longer problems at all.

The Cruelty of Non-Action

Another characteristic of God in need of clarification is that of the consequences of non-action. Some have argued that since a man capable of preventing a crime, who chooses non-action, is therefore an accessory to the crime, then likewise, God not preventing evil is an accessory to evil, or does not exist. This claim is one supported by Mackie, that one eliminates evil as far as they can. Since evil exists, God must not be good, or does not exist.

Granted, instances where greater goods are secured and greater evils eliminated are solutions to this issue, it has already been shown that these circumstances cannot apply to all situations. Plantinga argues another solution. He provides an example in which a friend is stranded on a deserted road freezing to death while you are at home with a car and could very easily go retrieve your friend and save his life. But you don’t know he is stranded, so you don’t go out and save him. Does this mean you’re a bad person? Of course not, because you were unaware. So Mackie’s argument can’t be considered necessarily true, since there may be situations in which no action is taken, and yet, no goodness is lost on the being that took no action.

Now one might revise Mackie’s statement to say that; every good thing always eliminates evil that it knows it can eliminate. But this isn’t necessarily so either, because I could have two friends stranded in opposite directions of each other with only enough time to reach one of them. Despite knowing of the evil, it is logically impossible for me to rescue both simultaneously. So an evil may persist, despite my knowledge of it, and yet my goodness does not come into question.

Likewise it may be logically impossible to eliminate an evil without causing a greater evil, so the original lesser evil is permitted. Either way, Mackie’s premise can’t be necessarily true because there could be logical impossibilities preventing even an omnipotent being from eliminating particular evils. This takes us back to the skeptical theist argument. It would be fallacious to fault God for non-action if we’re not omniscient in knowing all available constraints and possibilities related to a particular instance of evil.

Soul-Making Theodicies

A number of theodicies are also utilized to further address the problems of evil. In particular, Hick presents a theodicy of soul-making. Unlike skeptical theism which questions our ability to comprehend the results of evil scenarios, Hicks instead emphasizes the good that comes out of evil scenarios.

Hick argues that an environment devoid of evil would likewise be devoid of spiritual growth. This is something I believe most of us can all agree on. That is, many trials and tribulations in our past have made us into better individuals today. Hick takes this notion to argue that the absence of evil would leave humans spiritually and morally undeveloped. Little agrees, “Sometimes, in his infinite wisdom, God knows that there are things to be accomplished in our character that can be brought only through human suffering. To shield us from suffering would be to rob us of a greater good,” (Little 135). This is confirmed in scripture in Romans 5:1-4.

A counter argument to Hick’s theodicy is that evil tends to occur randomly and meaninglessly, without even a hint of constructive purpose observable. Hick proposes an insightful response to this argument in that the random and seemingly pointless nature of evil occurrences is in fact what makes it effective as a constructive soul-making experience. If evil followed a just and non-haphazard pattern, people would avoid wrongdoing out of fear rather than duty, and if it were noticeable that good always came out of suffering then misery would no longer evoke a heartfelt sympathy or sacrificial aid from others. Hick writes, “This picture we are working with is thus developed and teleological. Man is in process of becoming the perfected being whom God is seeking to create. However this is not taking place- it is important to add- by a natural and inevitable evolution, but through a hazardous adventure in individual freedom,” (Hicks, Evil and Soul-Making, 350).

Hick concludes: “It seems then, that in a world that is to be the scene of compassionate love and self-giving for others, suffering must fall upon mankind with something of the haphazardness and inequity that we now experience. It must be apparently unmerited, pointless, and incapable of being morally rationalized. For it is precisely this feature of our common human lot that creates sympathy between man and man and evokes the unselfishness, kindness and goodwill which are among the highest values of personal life,” (Hick, Philosophy, 60).

But this soul making theodicy cannot account for all evils like an animal dying slowly from sustained injuries or a child brutally tortured and murdered by a psychopath. A good and omnipotent God capable of preventing such an event should prevent such death. Though one may resort to one of the other defenses, such as that of free will or skeptical theism to solve these issues, the soul making theodicy cannot stand alone. As Rowe concludes, “…it’s reasonably clear that suffering often occurs in a degree far beyond what is required for character development,” (Rowe, Inductive, 311). So although the soul-making theodicy does not apply to all circumstances of evil, it does indeed apply to many instances of evil in one’s life.

Divine Intimacy Theodicies

Another theodicy that looks to address instances of evil in someone’s personal life is the Divine Intimacy Theodicy. This theodicy comes about from philosophers who doubt classical approaches to the problem of evil. Adams, for example, prefers an approach where evils are defeated on a personal level, and each life God grants He grants for a good life in which evils do not happen for no reason. She writes, “… I suggest, to exhibit the logical compossibility of both dimensions of divine goodness with horrendous suffering, it is not necessary to find logically possible reasons why God might permit them,” (Adams, 387).

Adams believes this can be done by understanding the context of the individual’s life, and giving that individual a life that is, overall good. From a Christian point of view, God is an unconceivable greater good of which intimacy with leaves no doubt as to whether any person afflicted by evil believes their life is worth living. The book of Job in the Bible parallels this line of thought. Job is a good servant of God, and yet after losing his family, possessions, and his health you begin to wonder why God would do all these things to Job. Yet, at the end you see that Job enters into a very intimate and profound relationship with God that overshadows all his misfortunes.
Eckstrom similarly believes that through suffering we achieve a more intimate experience of God that we never could have before (Eckstrom, 392). She writes, “Why would the divine agent permit instances of evil? Perhaps a reply applicable to some instances of personal suffering is this: in order to provide occasions in which we can perceive God, understand him to some degree, know him, even meet him directly,” (Eckstrom, 393). Plantinga likewise writes, “An absolutely central part of Christ’s mission is his suffering; it is through this suffering that he atones for human sin and enables human being to achieve union with God. But then if it is a good thing that creatures resemble Christ, it is a good thing that they resemble him in this respect as well,” (Plantiga, Supralapsarianism, 363). In scripture we see similar parallels; Acts 5:41, Philippians 3:10-11, James 5:10-11, and 1 Peter 4:12-14.

Suffering can at times parallel the sufferings of Christ in a way that it becomes a privilege to share in some of His experiences. They can provide a oneness with God. It can also lead to sympathies, as Eckstrom writes, “Shared experiences facilitate dialogue in providing something in common about which to converse, and they make possible understanding that is beyond words, communicated perhaps with understanding looks and gestures… Victims of a similar sort of oppression or injustice understand each other in a way that outsiders to their experience cannot,” (Eckstrom, 395). And later, “Consider how this might work, in particular, for a Christian theist. One in the midst of dealing with deep betrayal of loyalty, for instance, might call to mind the thought, ‘As I have been rejected, Christ was rejected even by his close friend, Peter,’ and take comfort in this sympathetic identification,” (Eckstrom 400).

Does this mean we should welcome suffering to a degree where we would seek out suffering as a means to know God further? Of course not. Such a theodicy is not supporting an agenda of self-endorsed suffering. Though many Christians in the past and in the present will often inflict harm to themselves in order to achieve this. Ultimately, the intimacy with God would needs God’s orchestration as the result of sufferings incurred under His will. One shouldn’t expect such intimacy as the result of self-affliction. On the other hand, it seems to be a common theme, among mature Christians, like the apostle Paul, to welcome the opportunity of suffering. Granted, suffering may not always lead to intimacy with God, but it does often do, and thereby, meaning can often be found in suffering via this theodicy.

Muchausen Syndrome

Muchausen Syndrome is a disorder in which someone seeks medical aid in an effort to seek attention, or the abuse of another in effort to seek attention. Like a father that throws his children into a river so that he may heroically save them. Some atheologians level this charge against God in that He is using people like means and not ends? Such actions are unfair because God uses our suffering to achieve His own ends, ignoring our autonomy. Why would a God of perfect love have me suffer to actualize a good world or a good for anyone other than myself?

Plantinga offers a variety of answers: Perhaps God would ask us if we, on our own freewill choose to suffer for the sake of someone else. And God, with knowledge of how we would respond only subjects us to suffering for others that we would have in retrospect agreed to be subjected to (Plantiga, Supralapsarianism, 366). That if one knew what God knew, and had His foresight, they would willingly choose to suffer. Just as a parent knows best for their child, God knows best for us.

Plantinga writes, “Suppose he (God) therefore actualizes a highly eligible world that includes incarnation and atonement, and in which human beings fall into sin, evil, and consequent suffering. Suppose also that the final condition of human beings, in this world, is better than it is in the worlds in which there is no fall into sin but also no incarnation and redemption; they receive God’s thanks, enjoy greater intimacy with him, are invited to join that charmed circle. Then God’s actualizing the world in question involves suffering for many human beings; his reason for permitting that suffering is not that thereby the suffering individuals will be benefitted (his reason is that he wishes to actualize a highly eligible world, one with great goods of incarnation, atonement, and redemptions). Nevertheless his perfect love perhaps mandates that he actualize a world in which those who suffer are benefitted in such a way that their condition is better than it is in those worlds in which they do not suffer,” (Plantiga, Supralapsarianism, 367).

Then the question naturally follows: Why does a loving God create such a tragic and painful way to get to know Him? Doesn’t the permission of suffering as a way of fostering intimacy suggest a cruel God? We can then go back to the Divine Intimacy Theodicy, which adopts the classical notion that God only allows evil and suffering when it is necessary to bring about a greater good or lesser evil. The theory also does not claim to apply to all instances of suffering. Eckstrom defends the theodicy, “… perhaps, some occasions of suffering are necessary for certain individual’s coming to love of and intimacy with God. The objector may counter that some persons experience God in moments of great joy and beauty. Yet this may be true while it is also true that other persons’ paths to God are paths through suffering,” (Eckstrom, 399). So suffering may not be the only way to achieve intimacy with God. As Eckstrom points out, intimacy may be achieved through joy and beauty. And since pain and suffering is not the only means to reach intimacy with God, and as Plantinga believes, the benefit is to create the most eligibly good world with incarnation and atonement, then the Muchausen Syndrome charge made against God can be dropped.

Natural Evils

As can be seen by these theodicies, the theologian places value in suffering. This value even extends to natural evils in which disasters, famines, and accidents cause pain and suffering but can’t be considered the result of human freewill. Yet, some have suggested that these values could not be secured from moral evils alone. So why are there natural evils if theodicies can’t address them all? So even though God may have a cause for moral evil due to man’s freewill, we still don’t have an all-encompassing answer to why natural evils occur at all.

The traditional answer is that all of creation is fallen because of moral evil as found in Romans 5:12-13, and 8:21-22 . Thus, the natural evil is the result of man’s free decision to choose evil, sin, which brought death into the world. Some theologians and philosophers take this a step further and trace it back to Satan’s doing, since he was Eve’s tempter, and therefore the ultimate source for the evils that would plague humanity from thus forth. Plantinga admits that the answer is not widely popular with scholars, though there doesn’t seem to be evidence argued against the idea. After all, if we are assuming a classical theistic worldview to see if a defense or theodicy can solve the problem of evil, why would we overlook the role of Satan, a major player in the theistic worldview?

Does this mean that an earthquake or thunderstorm is due directly to satanic action? Does that mean these disasters are God’s doing?  What we can deduce from scripture is that originally man was created to have union with God in a state of righteousness which was devoid of pain and suffering. However, when man sinned in his free will, this union was severed, and therefore, man became exposed to a world in which pain and suffering becomes “possible.” It then becomes possible for natural disasters to occur, which man has subsequently dealt with since. This reasoning would conclude that God isn’t the origin of natural disasters, but separation from God leaves us in a world where such disasters are possible.

Another view regarding this issue recognizes the natural component of natural disasters. Earthquakes, tornadoes, hurricanes and floods are a natural occurrence in a world of ever changing weather patterns. To state such weather anomalies didn’t exist prior to man’s first sin requires God to micromanage the weather to prevent extreme anomalies from occurring in the first place. Or that these weather patterns were happening, but the garden of Eden was somehow isolated from such possible occurrences, perhaps because of its “ideal” location. Though the latter notion seems troubling since God’s intent was for man to multiply and flourish, which would inevitably require living beyond the garden of Eden. Either way, removal of God’s “secure” relationship with man then left man exposed to the elements.  With this considered, one should not look for absolute purpose in natural disasters if they’re just a product of living in a world where we’re separated from God because of our sin.

Expanding on this notion of the natural component of natural evils, it is possible to explain why natural evils occur based off a simple acceptance of the laws of physics required for life. That the very laws of physics that make life possible in our universe make natural evils inevitable. As Gardner writes, “If someone loses balance at the edge of a cliff  and topples over, you can’t expect God to suspend gravity in the region and allow the person to float gently down. If a piece of heavy masonry dislodges from the top of a tall building, and is on its way toward the head of someone on the sidewalk, you can’t expect God to divert its path or turn it into feathers,” (Gardner 215).  This view stands apart from the traditional view of God in which He alters the laws of physics and performs miracles to intervene, as is performed in the Bible fairly often. Instead, it is argued that such manipulation of the laws of physics would create catastrophic results elsewhere whether locally or across the universe. Thus, God may be capable of breaking the laws of physics, but does not for these reasons. Or God is not capable of breaking the laws of physics He originally set in place because it would be a contradiction, similar to creating a three sided square. In the later case, God’s omnipotence is not jeopardized since omnipotence is only doing what is logically possible, and breaking the laws of physics is viewed as a contradiction.

Gardner goes on to say that, “Such tragedies are the terrible price we pay for a universe with unalterable laws of velocity and momentum. If God were obliged to prevent all accidents that kill or injure, he would have to be constantly poking his fingers into millions of events around the globe. History would turn into a chaos of endless miracles,” (Gardner 215). Gardner brings up a great point that not only summarizes his position, but also provides an argument that can be applied to the concept of the traditional God that can break the laws of physics. And that is one of endless arbitrary interventions of “endless miracles.”

Consider all the people in the world and all the times we experience the wrong end of the laws of physics, whether as benign as stubbing a toe or as extreme as burning alive in a forest fire. Should we expect God to prevent all of these mishaps? Even stubbing your toe? If not, which situations of natural evils should He permit and which should He prevent? How can we decide where the seemingly arbitrary line is drawn?  Especially when so many of these situations have potential greater goods. Stubbing your toe on the curb conditions you to be more aware of your surroundings that help you avoid more serious injuries in the future, and deaths in wildfires lead to the design and development of protective materials and strategies that have saved the countless other lives of firefighters working to put out wildfires. Thus one might argue:

  1. Natural evils are inevitable given the laws of physics
  2. Certainly not all natural evils would be prevented based off their potential for greater goods and soul making.
  3. Arguments from skeptical theism suggest that we are in no position to determine which natural evils should be and should not be prevented as we do not have omniscience ourselves.
  4. Therefore, one cannot conclude that the existence of natural evils disproves the presence of the traditional concept of God.

So whether one maintains the traditional concept of a God capable of breaking the laws of physics in true miracle form, or a God that cannot break the laws of physics because it would be contradictory, a theist has grounds for maintaining that God is not made inadequate by the presence of natural evils. Especially once the inevitability of natural evils in this world is acknowledged.

 

Unjustified Evils

Now of course our minds may wander to imagine incredibly heinous crimes and horrendous evils. Such crimes and evils seem unjustifiable. Even under the theodicies past mentioned, it appears that not all suffering can be justified?
Russian novelist and philosopher Fyodor Dostoevsk (1821-1881) voiced his doubts in the story Rebellion in which the character Ivan Karamazov struggles with the thought of the torture of children, “All the religions of the world are built on this longing, and I am a believer. But then there are the children, and what am I to do about them? That’s a question I cannot answer. For the hundredth time I repeat, there are numbers of questions, but I’ve only taken the children, because in their case what I mean is so unanswerably clear.” (Dostoevsk, 296). And later, “Imagine you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature- that little child beating its breast with its fist, for instance- and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions?” (Dostevsk, 297).

Adams notes that most solutions to the problem of evil are generic and global (Adams, 385). Generic in that the reasons are general and sought to cover a large variety of evil. Global in that they apply to some underlying feature of the world. She writes, “… God cannot be said to be good or loving to any created persons the positive meaning of whose lives He allows to be engulfed in and/or defeated by evils- that is, individuals within whose lives horrendous evils remains undefeated,” (Adams, 385-386). Adams believes that evils not justified on an individual level cannot be justified by global defenses. For example, does knowledge of God’s creation of freewill allowing evil in anyway ease the pain of the parent whose child was brutally tortured and murdered. If anything such events would only cause the parent to doubt further. Though Plantinga would argue, as I have previously mentioned, that the role of defenses and theodicies is not to ease the personal pain of those who have suffered, but instead to justify the theist worldview as a rational worldview, as I likewise argue.

Adams continues, “Would the fact that God permitted horrors because they were constitutive means to His end of global perfections, or that He tolerated them because He could obtain that global end anyway, make the participant’s life more tolerable, more worth living for him/her?” (Adams, 386). So Adams believes there are no neutral grounds for reconciling horrendous evils and God. The only legitimate solution is found in the Christian worldview of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection, (Adams, 389). As Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us,” -Romans 8:18 (NIV). Which has value coming from a man that was stoned and thought dead, imprisoned, beaten multiple times and shipwrecked out at sea and eventually executed.

Adams believes, like Plantinga, that the only solid answer to this dilemma of horrendous evils and heinous crimes can only be resolved upon reflection of Christ’s life, death and resurrection. As Little once wrote, “The ultimate answer to the problem of evil, at the personal level, is found in the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ,” (Little, 134).

A God Who Suffers

Acknowledgement of the incarnation and atonement of Christ is too many, unsatisfactory. These reasons may be motivated in doubt of Christ’s existence or exact history. Another is a misconception over a key characteristic of God: Suffering. Many theistic scholars believe God suffers over our suffering. This seems to oppose the classical notion that God does not suffer: The doctrine of impassibility. Again, we find ourselves at a crossroads, much like that of the issue over what God’s omnipotence really means. This time the question is whether or not God suffers.

The Bible seems to support the notion that our God is one who suffers: Gen 6:6, Exodus 32:9-10, Psalms 78, 68:19. But does this actually count as proof God suffering? John Calvin believed that God did not suffer, but that in order for Biblical authors to communicate God’s intent and will, such anthropomorphism was allowed. “Since we cannot comprehend [God] as he is, it is necessary that, for our sake, he sould, in a certain sense, transform himself… Certainly God is not sorrowful or sad; but remains forever like himself in his celestial and happy repose; yet because it would otherwise be known how great God’s hatred and detestation of sin, therefore the spirit accommodates himself to our capacity… God was so offended by the atrocious wickedness of men, [he speaks] as if they had wounded his heart with mortal grief,” (As quoted in Owen, 249). However, such an opinion of God’s impassability requires a series of reinterpretations of an otherwise straightforward reading of scripture.

There are, on the other hand, philosophical arguments outside of interpretations of scripture to support the doctrine of a suffering God. One argument is the philosophical notion of love towards a beloved, in which when someone truly loves another, the concerns of the loved one become the other’s concern as well. If your beloved is troubled, you’re likewise troubled. This notion is extended to God. For if He truly loves us so much, then our troubles and concerns are likewise bestowed and shared by God. Though it can be conversely argued that this behavior only applies to human love, not Godly love.

Yet, it does logically make sense. For if one says they love their spouse, yet have no grief, sorrow, or passion at the knowledge of their spouse’s suffering then their claim of love for their spouse comes into question. If God truly loves us then we would expect such passion under circumstances of misery. (Eckstrom, 396).

Some argue that a God who suffers with us is not a God of worship, but a God of pity. Some argue that God may act out love and justice without suffering. Ekstrom argues otherwise, “Noble sorrow at witnessing a tragic occurrence is a good. Hence it would seem that God’s goodness and love include sorrow, as well as joy, over the world. This sorrow is arguably not a defect, but a strength or an asset, a part of being supremely good,” (Eckstrom, 397).

Plantinga agrees with the doctrine of a suffering God, “Some theologians claim that God cannot suffer. I believe they are wrong. God’s capacity for suffering, I believe, is proportional to his greatness; it exceeds our capacity for suffering in the same measure as his capacity for knowledge exceeds ours.” (As quoted in Eckstrom, 395). Little likewise agrees, “No pain or suffering has ever come to us that has not first come through the heart and hand of God. However greatly we may suffer, it is well to remember that God is the great sufferer,” (Little, 139). As it is written in Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin,” (NIV).

Additionally, the doctrine of a suffering God seems to correlate with the divine intimacy theodicy. For if our God is a God that suffers, suffering would thereby be a means to better know God and experience intimacy with Him. This idea would indeed bolster the plausibility of the Divine Intimacy Theodicy.

The Arbitrary End of Evil

A common layman’s critique of God juxtapose to pain and suffering in the world is the frequent questioning of “why didn’t God stop that from happening?” and “why did he allow that to happen?” God’s seemingly lack of action to stop evil is viewed as a failure on God’s part or evidence of non-existence. However, the theological answer to this issue lies in the arbitrary nature of solving these problems of evil. After all, what evils do we expect God to stop and God to allow? We tend to project our own personal standard for what God should have prevented. But this of course varies from person to person. Thus for God to stop particular evils and not others, God would never satisfy everyone’s arbitrary opinion. The only real solution would require God to end all evil. But for God to end all evil comes with quite unfavorable consequence for humans. Ending all evil would literally end “all” evil, which includes all sinning humans. As in, you and I. Naturally we don’t wish for God to end our lives, but instead all the “evils” we personally don’t agree with. But such is not compatible with the Bible’s description of a God of pure justice and righteousness.

The Bible provides two excellent examples of this: Matthew 13:24-30, 36-40, and 2 Peter 3:4-9. Through these verses it is communicated that God’s final judgement extends to all people, both good and bad. But God, in His love, does not wish for anyone to die without being reconciled back to Him. And if God has foreknowledge of who will eventually choose, in their own freewill, to be reconciled back to Him, then God will, out of love, delay this overall ending of life. That is, at least until all who will choose Him, do choose Him. Until this final day occurs, we must instead live in a world where pain and suffering exists. From this perspective, our continued existence in this hard world of suffering is contrasted by the great hope God has placed in us to be reconciled back to Him.

Shifting Perspectives

The last and final way to address the problem of evil is a very clever method known as the G.E. Moore Shift. This argument is named after the former professor of philosophy at the University of Cambridge, George Edward Moore (1873-1958), who proposed an interesting way to negotiate particular arguments. In his argument you begin with the possibility that God exists, and if so, there would be no pointless evils (Rowe, Philosophy, 129). The argument reads as follows:

1 ) God probably exists.

2 ) If God exists there are no pointless evils.

3 ) Thus, probably there are no pointless evils.

This argument may seem too simple, but take a moment to think about it. All that the theist needs is rational grounds to believe God exists for premise 1. If the theist has rational grounds for premise 1, then 3 follows from 1 and 2. And of course, there are indeed many various arguments that lead one to believe God does indeed exist; Cosmological, Design, Origin of Life, Religious Experiences, etc. Any one, or all, of these gives the theist rational grounds for maintaining God exists. And with that, the conclusion that there probably are no pointless evils provides rational grounds for refutation of the evidential problem of evil. Though one could always invert this argument to align with an atheologian’s agenda by restating premise 1 as God probably doesn’t exist. And if this is done the conclusion could conversely read, Thus, probably there are pointless evils. Since the atheologian has rational grounds for believing God does not exist, it can suit their needs as well.

So the shift doesn’t solve the problem of evil completely, but it provides rational grounds to defend the theist’s belief in God amidst the presence of evil. It is thus successful, because the atheist charge is that a loving all powerful God amidst evil is an irrational and contradictory belief, or one better supported by the atheist worldview. But with the G.E. Mooreshift, theists have rational grounds for maintaining God exists, and therefore rational grounds that there are no pointless evils. Ultimately, rational grounds is all that is needed to refute atheist claims that evil is a problem for God.

Final Thoughts on the Problem of Evil

So ultimately theists have a variety of different avenues to utilize in combating skeptical claims against the existence of God in the presence of evil. It can be shown that there is no satisfactory argument for maintaining that there is a contradiction between a loving God in a world full of evil, as is shown by the failure of the logical argument of evil and the omnipotence paradox, and conversely, the applicability of complimentary theodicies such as soul-making and divine intimacy.

As for the evidential argument of evil; the free will argument, soul-making theodicy, divine intimacy theodicy and traditional Christian theology of resonating evils originating from Satan’s fall, all provide a satisfactory explanation for instances of moral and natural evil. But as the evidential argument of evil asks; which worldview better supports the existence of evil in the world? It is now clear that both the atheist and theist worldviews can give an account for evil, but deciding on which one is the most suitable is quite a difficult argument to make. Mostly because such a question will always receive an answer that is most aligned with a person’s strongest presuppositions. The theist with faith in God will always understand evil as better explained within the confines of their worldview. While the atheist who believes in no God and a world of random haphazard pointless events, will conversely adhere to the notion that evil is best explained within their worldview. Just as the G.E. Mooreshift relies on an initial presupposition on whether God exists or not, likewise, the problem of evil will always be addressed by each individual depending on their presupposed worldview on whether or not God exists. The true test of whose worldview is most likely to be true must then extend outward into proofs and arguments for God’s existence, or lack thereof.

In the meantime, evils are sure to continue in this world as horrendous and heinous as the ones prior. Amidst these evils the faith of theists maybe shaken, while the faith of atheists is further entrenched, hopefully it has been successfully argued here that the classical theistic notion of an all-loving and all-powerful God is reconcilable with the evil of this world. It is my hope that after reading this essay the theist’s faith is not plagued with doubt, and the atheist not felt vindicated, the next time tragedy rears its ugly head.

“My comfort in my suffering is this: Your promise preserves my life.” -Psalm 119:50 (NIV)

References:

Adams, M.M., “Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God,” as written in Louis Pojman and Michael Rea’s, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, 6th Edition, (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012).

Dostoevsky, F., “Rebellion,” as written in Louis Pojman and Michael Rea’s, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, 6th Edition, (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012).

Eckstrom, L.W., “Suffering as Religious Experience,” as written in Louis Pojman and Michael Rea’s, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, 6th Edition, (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012).

Frankfurt, H.G., “The Logic of Omnipotence,” as written in Louis Pojman and Michael Rea’s, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, 6th Edition, (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012).

Gardner, M., (2009) When You Were a Tadpole and I Was a Fish, and Other Speculations About This and That, (New York, NY: Hill & Wang)

Hick, J., “Evil and Soul-Making,” as written in Louis Pojman and Michael Rea’s, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, 6th Edition, (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012).

Hick, J., (1994) God and the Universe of Faiths, 2nd Edition, (London: Oneworld)

Hume, D., “The Argument from Evil,” as written in Louis Pojman and Michael Rea’s, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, 6th Edition, (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012).

Leibniz, G., “Theodicy: A Defense of Theism,” as written in Louis Pojman and Michael Rea’s, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, 6th Edition, (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012).

Little, P.E., (2000) Know Why You Believe, 4th Edition, (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press)

Mackie, J.L., “Evil and Omnipotence,” as written in Louis Pojman and Michael Rea’s, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, 6th Edition, (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012).

Owen, J. (ed.), (1979) Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 1, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House)

Phillips, J.B., (1960) God Our Contemporary, (New York, NY: Macmillan)

Plantinga, A., “The Freewill Defense,” as written in Louis Pojman and Michael Rea’s, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, 6th Edition, (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012).

Plantinga, A., “Supralapsarianism, or ‘O Felix Culpa,’” as written in Louis Pojman and Michael Rea’s, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, 6th Edition, (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012).

Pojman, L., & Rea, M., (2012) Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, 6th Edition, (Boston, MA: Wadsworth).

Rowe, W.L., “The Inductive Argument from Evil Against the Existence of God,” as written in Louis Pojman and Michael Rea’s, Philosophy of Religion: An Anthology, 6th Edition, (Boston, MA: Wadsworth, 2012).

Rowe, W.L., (2007) Philosophy of Religion: An Introduction, 4th Edition, (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth)

St. Augustine, The Problem of Free Choice, Volume 22 of Ancient Christian Writers, (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1955)

Advertisements

Radiocarbon dating is a popular dating method the general public is fairly familiar with. Though they may know it as carbon dating or carbon 14 dating, there is an understood notion that when anything old is found, like an ancient artifact, it can be radiocarbon dated to find out exactly how old it is. Yet, as simple and straightforward as this seems, the process of dating objects via radiocarbon is far from simple and straightforward. Here I will present what radiocarbon is, the dating methods, the assumptions that govern them, and the known discrepancies that plague the method. With a thorough understanding of this dating method, it is my opinion that its ingenious fundamentals can be appreciated, yet greatly overshadowed by its limitations.

Radiocarbon

Every day cosmic rays bombard our atmosphere. These cosmic rays release free neutrons which zip around our nitrogen rich atmosphere at high velocities. The neutrons eventually slow down and bond with the nucleus of the nitrogen changing the atomic weight to that of an unstable carbon atom, Carbon 14 (or C14) (Warf, 212 & Taylor, 6). As the Carbon 14 slowly descends into our lower atmosphere it bonds with oxygen becoming the very unpopular CO2 greenhouse gas (Bowman, 10). Though the vast majority of CO2 is comprised of the more common and stable isotope of carbon, carbon 12 (C12), a small fraction of CO2 (one in 765 million), contains C14.

As is common fact, plants photosynthesize and consume CO2, fixing its carbon. Since a small fraction of CO2 contains C14, some of carbon fixed within the plant is that of C14. Animals eat the plants, ingesting the C14 which in turn enters the animal’s tissues (Warf, 212). When an organism dies, it obviously no longer eats, photosynthesizes, etc. There is therefore no way for additional C14 to enter the organism once dead.

This leads to an important fact: Only materials once part of the biosphere (organic) can be dated with radiocarbon (Bowman, 12), with the exception of some non-organic materials which can be dated with radiocarbon if their formation involved C14. For example, when lime absorbs CO2 it creates mortar, so the mortar can be dated via radiocarbon since some CO2 molecules are comprised of C14 (Bowman, 13). But in general, non-organic materials usually cannot be dated via radiocarbon. This is a common misunderstanding the general layman has of radiocarbon dating that is important to clarify.

What makes C14 significant is that it is an unstable atom. Eventually the extra neutron it picked up in the upper atmosphere will break off releasing a high energy beta particle. This beta release allows the atom to turn back into Nitrogen. This is radioactivity, hence the name radiocarbon. This radioactivity occurs at a measurable rate with a half-life of 5,730 years (Warf, 212).  C14 on average emits 15.2 beta particles per minute, or 15.2 disintegrations per minute (dpm), for every gram of carbon (Warf, 213). After one half-life (5,730 years) activity will drop to 7.6 dpm, then 3.8 dpm (Warf, 213). Knowing that C14 degrades into nitrogen at a known rate and organisms do not take in C14 once they’re dead, then it logically follows that the presence of C14 in a dead organism will decrease over time. Therefore, by measuring the amount of C14 in an organism, it can be known how long ago it lived with high C14 remains representing a recent age and lower C14 remains representing an older age.

la_06_16

Methods

So how is radiocarbon measured and dated? There are in essence, two different forms of carbon dating: the original conventional methods and the more recent AMS (Accelerated Mass Spectrometry). Of the conventional dating methods there are three types; Solid Carbon Counting, Gas Counting, and Liquid Scintillation Counting. AMS on the other hand directly counts atoms. The limit for conventional carbon dating is 10 half-lives (57,300 years) (Warf, 213) or within 40,000 to 60,000 years (Taylor, 3).  After that, background radiation and cosmic rays overwhelm the miniscule amount of C14 left. AMS can look back as far as 75,000 years (Warf, 215 & Bowman, 38), though some labs claim it is possible to go as far back as 100,000 years.

Conventional carbon dating involves measuring the beta particles that break free as C14 decays (Bowman, 34). These methods were fraught with dating conflicts, many of which will be discussed later. AMS, developed in the 1980s, which overcomes many of the shortfalls of conventional carbon dating, directly measures C14 atoms relative to C12 and C13 atoms (Bowman, 31). This is the main method utilized today.

Assumptions

As straightforward as radiocarbon seems to be there are actually a large number of underlying assumptions that the entire dating process relies on. As geologist Dr. Andrew Snelling of the Institute of Creation Research writes, “There can be no doubt that this constitutes a very ingenious dating tool, provided of course that the inherent assumptions are valid,” (Snelling, 856). In researching the pivotal assumptions that the methodology relies on I have found quite a range to consider:

Sheridan Bowman of the Department of Scientific Research at the British Museum lists the assumptions as follows:

-The atmosphere has had the same amount of C14, (in terms of production, mixing and transfer rates) in the past as it is now.

-The biosphere has had the same overall concentration of C14.

-C14 concentrations exist in all parts of the biosphere.

-The death of a plant or animal, is the point at which it no longer exchanges C14 with the environment.

-After ceasing exchange, C14 levels are only modified by radio decay. (Bowman, 14).

Dr. R.E. Taylor, professor of anthropology at University of California Los Angeles and University of California Riverside lists the following assumptions:

-The concentration of C14 has been constant over the C14 timescale.

-There has been complete and rapid mixing of C14 throughout the various carbon reservoirs on a worldwide basis.

-Carbon isotope ratios have not been altered except by that of C14 decay.

-The half-life of C14 is accurately known.

-C14 can be measured accurately. (Taylor, 3).

Dr. Snelling lists the following assumptions:

-Cosmic ray influence on the atmosphere is constant.

-C14 concentration in the carbon dioxide cycle is constant.

-The decay rate of C14 is constant.

-There is no contamination of the dated object.

-Carbon dioxide levels in the sea and ocean are constant.

-C14 decay formation and decay rates are in equilibrium (Snelling, 856).

All these assumptions can be summarized as follows:

1) C14 production in the atmosphere is constant.

2) C14 rapidly mixes and is spread evenly throughout the biosphere.

3) Carbon ratios are only altered by C14 decay after an organism dies.

4) The half-life of C14 is accurately known.

5) C14 can be measured accurately.

6) C14 decay rates and formation rates are in equilibrium.

In order for radiocarbon to be effective in dating objects of antiquity, these assumptions must be true. But as you soon shall see, the assumptions are rife with flaws and unquantifiable variables. Many of these problems have been solved in recent years, but many have not.

Response to Assumptions

Assumption 1 C14 production in the atmosphere is constant.

In order for C14 production in the atmosphere to be constant, cosmic ray influence, which creates C14, must be consistent. However, cosmic ray influence is not constant, but varying. One factor that accounts for this variable is earth’s magnetic field. Our magnetic field is generated by earth’s iron and nickel core (Snelling, 873). Variations in the earth’s magnetic field have altered the production of C14. When the field is highly charged more cosmic rays are deflected. When the charge is low, more cosmic rays enter producing more C14 (Bowman, 18). Studies show the earth’s magnetic field decays at 5% a century and that earth’s magnetic field was 40% stronger in 1,000 AD then it is today (Snelling, 873).

The magnetic field is also subject to influence from our sun. Sunspots, which occur on 200 year and 11 year cycles, cause shifts in the earth’s magnetic field and thus alter C14 production. The 11 year cycles can cause as much as 20 years of radiocarbon variation, whereas the 200 year cycles can cause over 100 years’ worth of radiocarbon variation (Bowman, 19). These variations in C14 production in the past can be observed by examining tree ring samples which supposedly go back 8,000 years. In the last 8,000 years cosmic rays have varied as much as 10% (Warf, 213). Beyond this time cosmic rays could have fluctuated more or less, but we have no way of knowing.

Yet, there is one aspect of our magnetic field that poses a problem today just as much as it did in the past. The cosmic ray intensity is five times greater at the genetic poles than it is at the equator because our magnetic field is weaker at higher latitudes (Taylor, 7). The turbulent atmosphere mixes inconsistencies quickly enough that this problem is believed to only offset carbon dating by no more than 40 years. But this is still a factor to heavily consider between objects dated near the equator versus near the poles.

Bowman writes, “… there are some influences that are both global and pertinent to all samples and thus can neither be avoided nor circumvented by careful choice of content or sample: these are the production effects. They are not insignificant in magnitude, having at some periods in the past accounted for a discrepancy of some 900 years between radiocarbon dates and true calendar years” (Bowman, 43).

Human activity has also played a large role in C14 production. Only specimens that lived prior to the advent of nuclear weapons usage can be carbon dated since nuclear blasts created an influx of C14 in our atmosphere (Warf, 213). Fossil fuel consumption also wreaks havoc with the atmospheric ratio between C12 and C14. Because the human-caused burning of large quantities of fossil fuels has altered the atmospheric CO2 concentration, only objects prior to 1950 can be tested accurately (Bowman, 19 & Taylor, 35). Because of this effect, more modern organisms, like wood, appear “dead” with an apparent age much older than they actually are. This is known as the Suess Effect (Taylor, 36). Between 1900 to 1940 C14 levels were steady. After the 1950s, C14 levels shot up over 20% and by the 1970s had increased over 80% (Bowman, 20).

Dendrochronology and the Production Effect Problem:

As mentioned earlier, tree ring samples, which can be radiocarbon dated, can give us insight into the past as to what the historical atmospheric ratios of C12 to C14 were. This was needed because the first radiocarbon dating methods were yielding very inconsistent dates regarding objects of known age. These discrepancies, many of which will be discussed further later, were chalked up to the variable nature of C14 production and C12/C14 ratio in the atmosphere. Thus a “cheat sheet” was needed to provide a template of past C12/C14 concentrations so that dating methods could be calibrated based off the known variables. In the 1960s an 8,000 year old tree ring sequence was established by Wesley Ferguson, which when compared to the radiocarbon dates, revealed large discrepancies. Calibration curves were established in light of these discrepancies and can go back to 2,500 BC (Bowman, 17). As useful as the calibration curves are, they only go back as far as the tree ring chronology. Using live trees and preserved dead trees (mostly bristlecone pine trees) a master tree-ring chronology has been established going as far back as 8,700 years (Snelling, 895).

9a3c4c25-51ae-4350-a994-419e0c50dbbd_overlappingtechnique2_490x330

Tree ring chronology is known as Dendrochronology. And as much of a hero as it seems to be for radiocarbon dating, it isn’t perfect. No items can be accurately dated within the time span of 800 BC to 400 BC because the calibration curve during this time falls flat. In fact, many labs will not date objects believed to have been from this time for that very reason (Bowman, 55). Other issues with dendrochronology lie with the trees themselves. Ring patterns in trees are produced season to season, year to year, and fluctuate depending on temperature and precipitation (Snelling, 895). Trees have been observed to be missing up to 45% of their seasonal rings (Snelling, 895). In other instances trees have been observed to grow multiple growth rings in one season (Snelling, 897). This means that the dendrochronology relies on an additional assumption; that tree rings are a seasonal constant. Since there is no guarantee they are a seasonal constant, we have no way of knowing exactly how far back the tree ring chronology goes.

Chronologies can only be established when comparing the same species of trees in the same location. When there are no overlapping areas between older and younger trees, and thus a gap, a floating chronology is established. If missing links of wood are found radiocarbon is used to piece and the fit the wood into the overall chronology (Snelling, 896). This is troubling because it becomes a circular system; tree ring chronology is used to calibrate radiocarbon dating, yet radiocarbon dating is used to date the tree rings.

So the assumption that C14 production is constant is incorrect. Though dendrochronology has allowed for calibration adjustments accounting for the production variations, the chronology goes back less than 10,000 years and even so, there is no guarantee that the tree rings are as accurate in chronicling the passing of years as many make them out to be. In one way it can be seen as an assumption to rescue another assumption. What is known is that C14 production has varied in the recent past, so it has surely varied greatly in prehistory as well.

Assumption 2 C14 rapidly mixes and is spread evenly throughout the biosphere.

According to Bowman, “Equally fundamental is the need for the method to be globally applicable, it should be valid at all, or a good range of, periods in the past. In the case of radiocarbon this in turn requires a global level of C14 in the atmosphere that has not changed with time; in addition, the biosphere should be in equilibrium with the atmosphere” (Bowman, 14).

Taylor writes, “One of the most important characteristics of the C14 method is its ability to provide comparable age estimates for organic materials on a worldwide basis. For the ability to be realized, C14 must be mixed quickly (within a few years) and completely throughout all of the carbon-containing reservoirs. If such a condition prevailed, the contemporary C14 content of all organic samples would be essentially identical. Early in the history of C14 dating it was determined that in a number of instances, this was not the case,” (Taylor, 34).

As Bowman and Taylor state, the accuracy of radiocarbon dating relies on C14’s equilibrium within the biosphere. Though we have already covered that C14 production has been a historical variable, now we come to the issue of mixing. Atmospheric mixing between the stratosphere and troposphere takes 2 to 4 years (Taylor, 38). However, when C14 production is high, atmospheric mixing is quick. But when production is low, atmospheric mixing slows and C14 is thus not distributed globally quickly.  Furthermore, the biosphere does not absorb C12 and C14 equally (Bowman, 18). Organisms have been proven to ingest more C12 than C13, and more C13 than C14. Regardless of the atmospheric ratio of C12 to C14, organisms will consume a higher ratio of C12 atom per every C14 atom than that of the atmosphere (Bowman, 20). Taylor writes, “During certain natural biochemical processes (e.g. photosynthesis) ‘lighter’ isotopes are preferentially incorporated into sample materials. Because of this, variations in C14/C12 rations can occur that have nothing to do with the passage of time,” (Taylor, 35).

Another problem is that of ice ages. During the ice age(s) the biosphere contained less plant life. Additionally, colder water temperatures globally would have increased the solubility of carbon. Thus, during cold periods like the ice age, which extends into the time ranges of C14 dating, the C14 exchange globally was not the same as today. Bowman writes, “The effect of these interrelated factors on radiocarbon dates has not yet been established” (Bowman, 19). The last ice age is believed to have peaked 20,000 years ago. This cuts right into the age span that radiocarbon dates for. Thus, the lack of vegetation worldwide during this time constitutes a C12/C14 ratio vastly different than what we observe today, which translates into a lack of confidence for radiocarbon to accurately date during this time span.

Marine Effect: The marine effect is an example of a reservoir effect in that the ocean has less C14 concentrations. Though atmospheric and terrestrial biosphere environments can mix C14 quickly, the ocean cannot mix quickly, especially the deeper you go. Ocean mixing is so slow that there are deep areas where radiocarbon dating would reveal radiocarbon ages in excess of a few thousand years. Shallow waters take about 10 years to equalize, but deeper waters are not quantifiable because of unique currents and upwelling effects (Bowman, 24). But in general, exchange between the atmosphere and shallow ocean takes 6 to 10 years and exchange between the shallow ocean and deep ocean can take hundreds of years, possibly 1,000 years (Taylor,  8 &38).

Evidence of the marine effect is obvious when one tries to date sea life. In one example, shells dated in two different locations (but in close proximity) dated centuries apart (Bowman, 25). Marine animals like whales and seals show radiocarbon ages of hundreds of years (Bowman, 25). Bottom feeding fish often exhibit old age because of reservoir effects (Taylor, 131). Even shallow marine life can be affected by the reservoir effect. The Colorado River (before it was drained) would carry large amounts of carbon, from the limestone rock it flowed over, into the Sea of Cortez. This diluted the C12/C14 ratio in the Sea of Cortez , giving marine life a carbon age of 900 years (Taylor, 129). The only way to accurately date sea life is if the reservoir effects and the value of stable carbon isotopes are known (Taylor, 52). Since the ocean mixes much slower and reservoir values vary from region to region, the reservoir effects alone prevent accurate dating, much less the numerous sources of stable carbon in the ocean that alters C12/C14 ratios.

mc10_carbon_dating

Scientists have proposed average correction factors (reservoir age estimates) to introduce to dating marine life, but these factors are far from absolute due to the nature of slow upwelling mixing which can vary from wind, climate, coastline shape, near-shore currents and seafloor topography (Taylor, 129). These variables make it impossible to establish standard global correction since they all differ in magnitude and are subject to change, especially if we’re looking back thousands of years.

Hemisphere Effect: While atmospheric mixing is good within hemispheres, it is not good between them since winds rarely blow between the two. This is further compounded by the southern hemisphere having more ocean surface, and thus, there is more “interface” between ocean and atmosphere (Bowman, 25). This translate into a difference in C12/C14 between our two hemispheres.

Volcano Effect: When volcanoes erupt they release large quantities of CO2 that contain no C14. This dilutes the ratio of C12 to C14 in the atmosphere (Bowman, 26). Plants near volcanoes typically exhibit high ages because of this. Vegetation found on the volcanic island of Santorini often carbon date in excess of thousands of years (Bowman, 27). Carbon dating volcanic debris is wrought with controversy because of this. However, the negative effects volcanic eruptions have on carbon dating isn’t isolated to volcanic debris, but extends to the entire atmosphere it released its CO2 into.

In summary, because of varying C14 production rates, plant life ingesting a ratio of C12/C14 different from that of the atmosphere, reservoir effects, the hemisphere effect, and the volcano effect it is painfully clear that the original assumption, that the  C12/C14  ratio in the atmosphere is equally distributed in the biosphere, is far from accurate.

Assumption 3 Carbon ratios are only altered by C14 decay after an organism dies.

In order for radiocarbon dating to accurately gauge the amount of time that has passed since the organism died, the radio decay of C14 must be the only factor influencing the ratio of C12 to C14 within the organism. Any other factor influencing the ratio other than C14 decay is contamination. Bowman writes, “Any addition of a carbon contaminating material is contamination, and it must be removed before the dating process begins, otherwise a false result can be obtained” (Bowman, 27). This problem of contamination is quite a thorn in the side of radio carbon dating because it is very common.

Hard Water Effect: Hard water often has calcium ions in it from calcium carbonate. This adds additional carbon into the plant or animal that takes it in. Since hard water varies from region to region, especially over large time scales, it is an unquantifiable variable. Other similar unquantifiable variables that contain carbon are soil humus materials and carbon dioxide in soil. Bowman writes, “The hard-water effect is not quantifiable since it is dependent on local factors…” (Bowman, 26). Unfortunately, many incredibly valuable finds, like bones, are easily susceptible to hard water contamination.

Bones are prone to absorb waters in the ground due to their porous nature (Taylor, 54). If the water is rich in carbonates, as ground water often is, the bone becomes contaminated with carbon ratios that make the bones appear much older than they actually are. Taylor writes, “It is clear that it is difficult to generalize concerning the age relationships of the organic and inorganic fraction in bone without detailed geochemical information concerning the depositional environment,” (Taylor, 55). This problem, however, is no longer so devastating to dating bones since the AMS can date portions of the bone that are non-porous, such as an individual amino acid,  to avoid the contamination factor (Warf, 216).

Pretreatment: Samples for dating are often “pretreated” to remove any carbon contaminants. This is usually done with acids. But not all contaminants can be removed, neither can they, at times, be identified for that matter (Bowman, 27-28). Often pretreatment can’t be used because it would destroy the object trying to be dated.

Some objects are so intermingled with their surroundings they can’t be accurately dated. For example, a human body was found in a peat-bog in Cheshire England. The carbon rich bog was united with the carbon rich body. This mixing of carbon proved to be problematic. Two forms of carbon dating were used; conventional gas counting and AMS. AMS dated the man’s death to the first century. The conventional dating placed the man to the fourth and fifth centuries (Bowman 52).

Another source of contamination comes from microorganisms. Microorganisms can contaminate samples causing 1,000 to 2,000 year discrepancies. The longer a sample is exposed to microorganisms the greater the chance of contamination, and subsequently, greater the age discrepancy (Taylor, 51).

The farther one goes back in time, the more severe contamination becomes. Because of the exponential nature of carbon decay, objects older than 30,000 years can have massive discrepancies if there is even 1% contamination of modern carbon (Taylor, 116). For example, objects 50,000 years old will carbon date at 35,000 years old with a 1% contamination. Even objects less than 30,000 years old can be greatly affected by modern carbon contamination. An object 10,000 years old will appear 1,000 years younger with a 5% modern carbon contamination. Introducing 1% of “dead carbon” to a sample will increase it sage by 80 years. Introducing 10% “dead carbon” increases its age by 850 years (Taylor, 119).

Though contamination can be pretreated, and the AMS is so precise it can avoid many contaminants, many other contaminants can slip by unknown if not detected. Some contaminants are so embedded in the sample that they cannot be removed without destroying the sample. Thus, there are many ways to detect and avoid contamination, but it would be fallacious to say that there is any 100% certainty that all contaminants have been removed from any given sample. The assumption cannot be validated with full certainty.

Assumption 4 The half-life of C14 is accurately known.

The decay of carbon is not a prediction, but statistical probability estimation. Taylor writes, “It is assumed that if the decay events are truly random, if no other factors intervene, and one had the time to measure an infinite number of events, the counting data would be identical to a normal distribution,” (Taylor, 103). C14 decays randomly. There is no way of knowing exactly when a C14 nucleus will decay and release a beta particle. Instead, large numbers of C14 atoms are measured over periodic intervals, and overtime there is a normal distribution (Taylor, 103). However, because the decay rate of C14 is a statistical estimate, this makes laboratory error estimation difficult as you will read about in the next assumption. As far as this assumption, we can conclude the half-life is known, and thus the assumption validated, but the nature of the estimation limits error estimation which comes into play in the next assumption.

Assumption 5 C14 can be measured accurately.

The first thing to address here is the misconception that radiocarbon dating provides exact points in time for objects of antiquity. As Taylor explains, “… by definition, a C14 ‘date’ does not indicate a specific point in time. It expresses the time interval within which there is a given probability that the C14 age equivalent of the actual C14 activity of a sample actually lies,” (Taylor, 125). Because of this, there are two ways to gauge the validity of a radiocarbon dates; precision & accuracy. Accuracy is the ability to date an object accurate to archaeological dates. Precision is the range of dates determined (Taylor, 106). For example, an object might be dated to 1,300 B.C. plus or minus 200 years and thus be high in accuracy but low in precision. Or that object might miss the mark completely and be dated at 2,000 B.C. plus or minus 10 years, in which case it wasn’t accurate but had high precision. Due to the amount of variables involved in carbon dating, results can have varying accuracy and precision.

Since radiocarbon dating is a scientific process it is subject to experimental error. And as mentioned in the previous assumption, that the decay of C14 is a statistical probability estimation, it becomes very problematic to derive any concrete error estimations. Bowman writes, “Experimental error, inherent in any operational process, is usually evaluated by replication of the measurement process. In radiocarbon dating, time, cost, and (for conventional radiocarbon) sample size mean this is not a practical proposition. The error term is therefore estimated and then usually treated as if it were known” (Bowman, 38).

Another issue in the process of radiocarbon dating is the range of date estimates. Since not every test will give the same result, not every object will give the same result, and the error factor is a mere estimation, the only way to truly generate accurate results is to date multiple samples multiple times to provide a range of results. Taylor writes, “The accuracy of an individual C14 determination is directly related to the degree to which the assumptions of the C14 method are fulfilled for the carbon-containing materials in a given sample. Unfortunately, it is often difficult to evaluate directly the various factors that could influence the accuracy of a single C14 value. For this reason, little reliance [is] placed on an individual C14 ‘date’ to provide an estimate for a given object, structure, feature, or stratigraphic unit… actual age can be best made with a suite of C14 determinations on multiple samples… Unfortunately, until recently, multiple C14 analyses on different fractions of single samples have not been routinely employed due to limitations on sample size and costs,” (Taylor, 105).

Even the machines themselves are not 100% reliable. The conventional radiocarbon methods have been historically fraught with inconsistencies and can be contaminated by other sources of radiation. Conventional carbon dating also depends on a background count rate, which varies from laboratory to laboratory (Bowman, 37). But these issues are not just limited to the older conventional methods, AMS has issues as well. Often, labs will try to calibrate their AMS with “procedural blanks” or “dead carbon” materials to test for carbon contamination of their equipment. Such materials are Precambrian since nothing that old should have detectable C14. Yet, these materials have continually been known to give off detectable C14 readings (Snelling, 860).

So knowing that radiocarbon dating requires multiple tests on multiple samples in order to ensure accuracy and precision, something not commonly done, in combination with the fact that experimental error is not known, but only estimated, it is reasonable to say that this assumption cannot be validated beyond reasonable doubt. It thus remains an assumption open to inquiry.

Assumption 6 C14 decay rates and formation rates are in equilibrium.

This assumption, unlike the others, is very straight forward. C14 formation and decay must be in constant equilibrium for radiocarbon dating. As we’ve already discussed, production rates in the atmosphere are variables. Currently, the rate at which C14 decays is not in equilibrium with the formation rate. This ratio may swing in either direction depending on variables in C14 production. Either way, this assumption is false.

 

Other Issues

Outside of the assumptions, there are other issues that come into play within the radiocarbon dating process.

Old Wood Problem: As a tree grows and adds rings the outer rings continue to exchange carbon whereas the older internal rings do not. Thus, if one were to date the heartwood vs. the outer sapwood there will be a discrepancy. This is even greater if the tree aged to hundreds of thousands of years (Bowman, 15). This poses a problem for modern artifacts because the only way to accurately date the wood is to know how old the tree was and whether the wood was from the inner heartwood or outer sap wood (Bowman, 16). The only way to date wood with radiocarbon is if the sapwood and heartwood are identifiable. After which, the rings can be dated backwards from the sapwood to the heartwood to calculate the age of the tree. Bowman writes, “Quite often this ‘old-wood’ problem is inadequately considered by those who submit radiocarbon samples” (Bowman, 51).

Object vs. Alteration: This is also known as the Delayed Use problem. An item is used after it “dies,” thus the item can be dated, but not its usage. For example, a carved elephant tusk can be carbon dated to show when the elephant lived but not when the tusk was actually carved.

Re-Use: Items that are generally long lasting, like wood, may be used multiple times. For example, a tree is cut down, its wood is shaped to build a structure, then 100 years later it is scrapped and used for kindling. The wood can be dated, but the intervals of use and re-use are not necessarily datable.

Known Discrepancies

Another popular misconception is that radiocarbon dating is always right. I hope, by now, you’ve realized this isn’t the case. But often the success stories of radiocarbon dating are paraded around in magazines, journals and textbooks while the failures of radiocarbon are conveniently never noted. Additionally, the known dates that carbon dating has accurately verified tend to be recent dates. Whereas, radiocarbon dates prior to 400 BC increasingly “diverge,” (Snelling, 856). Here are just a handful of known situations where radiocarbon dated incorrectly.

-In the 1950’s discrepancies were found between known dates and radiocarbon dates to magnitudes of 600 to 800 years (Taylor, 19).

-Snails living in artesian springs can produce carbon ages of up to 27,000 years (Snelling 857).

-An Egyptian coffin known to be 2,280 years old, carbon dated to 2,190 years old (Warf, 213). Many Egyptian artifacts carbon dated have had discrepancies as well. Something which Bowman states were, “far from insignificant…” (Bowman, 16).

-Archaeological items from 400 BC were providing results 900 years too young. Items from 1,000AD provided results 100 years too old (Bowman, 17).

-A stratified medieval village that existed from 600 to 1200 AD was excavated, its remains carbon dated. There were a total of 5 stratified layers within the 600 year span of the village. Yet the artifacts dated provided 300 to 500 year age ranges in each layer. This can’t be so if the village only existed from 600 to 1200 AD. In fact, one artifact from the latest layer (1200AD) dated at 600 AD, and another artifact from 800 AD layer dated to 400 AD (Taylor, 112).

-Snail shells found in a French Archaeology site yielded radiocarbon dates 300 to 1300 years in excess (Taylor, 52).

-During the 17th century C14 variations throw off radiocarbon ages (Taylor, 35).

Another shocking factor is that items that are most difficult to date accurately are in fact items most likely to be dated with radiocarbon. 80 to 90% of all C14 age estimates are based on wood/charcoal and marine shells, because they are best preserved, and thus are more commonly found (Taylor, 61). Yet the Marine Effect and Old Wood Problem often corrupt the accuracy of radiocarbon dating, and these problems are directly related to the dating of marine shells and wood/charcoal. As discouraging as they may be, there is, however, a more discouraging factor to consider: Radiocarbon often conflicts with established geological dates.

Inconsistencies with the geologic timescale:

-Materials found in earth deposits often don’t date in agreement with the pre-determined dates of the deposits. For example, domesticated wheat and barley where found in deposits in Egypt that were supposedly 17,000 to 18,000 years old, yet the wheat and barley date to no more than 5,000 years old (Taylor, 110-111).

-In another example, fragments of maize were found in 2,000 year old sediment deposits in Illinois, but the maize carbon dated to no more than 1,500 years old in one site, and no more than 600 years old at three other sites nearby (Taylor, 111).

-A limestone rock layer considered hundreds of millions of years old via geologic estimates, carbon dated with an age of 1,600 years (Taylor, 34).

-Radiocarbon has been found in fossilized wood within Tertiary, Mesozoic and upper Paleozoic strata that themselves are dated from 32 to 250 million years old. The wood dated between 20,000 to 45,000 years of carbon (Snelling, 859).

-Coal beds wedged between rock strata dated 300 million years old have been carbon dated to 50,000 years old (Snelling, 847).

-Dating diamonds is significant because there is little chance of contamination. Yet diamonds that are supposedly one to three billion years old have yielded carbon 14 readings. Coal and diamond samples from the US to Africa, believed to be 40 to 350 million years old, have yielded consistent carbon dates of 50,000 years old (Snelling, 861).

It may seem odd that radiocarbon dating would be in conflict with the conventional geological ages, but these ages were established long before radioisotope dating technology was invented.  As Snelling affirms, “By the time the radioisotope ‘dating’ methods had been developed, the geological timescale had already been imposed on the globally-correlated rock sequence,” (Snelling, 838). This leaves us with a conundrum. If we hold radiocarbon dating to be accurate, we then exclude the conventional dating of geological features. And vice versa.  However, the stronger argument is that the conventional geological dates are incorrect because anything millions of years old should have no trace of carbon left that would be picked up by the AMS. For example, if a beginning mass of C14 the size of earth began to decay with a half-life of 5,730 years, over the course of 1 million years (175 half-lives) there wouldn’t be one single carbon 14 atom left (Snelling, 859). So this presents a rather large problem for the dates assigned to geological formations.

These errors overall, however, only account of “known” discrepancies. The vast amount of radiocarbon dating being applied to prehistoric objects, of which there is sometimes no way of confirming their accuracy, cannot be proven wrong. So they remain success stories, innocent until proven guilty. However, based off the numerous known false instances given here, it would be appropriate to understand the radiocarbon dating method as anything but precise and accurate beyond reasonable doubt.

Conclusions

Many of the problems facing the radiocarbon dating of objects can be identified, pretreated, and calibrated for. But there are more significant issues that cannot be quantified and thus cannot be addressed to ensure accurate results. The first two assumptions, production and biosphere equilibrium, remain the most significant problem radiocarbon faces.

Many scholars and scientists have recognized the limitations of radiocarbon dating. Bowman writes, “Rarely is the interpretation of radiocarbon results completely straightforward. Occasionally a sample is dated simply to determine roughly whether an object is modern or of considerable antiquity; in essence, an authenticity test” (Bowman, 57).

Another shortcoming of the practice of radiocarbon dating is lack of data in regards to invalid ages. Submitters of Radiocarbon Journal often list their successful radiocarbon results as “archaeologically acceptable.” However, they do not list their “archaeological unacceptable,” results (Bowman, 62). Many are disappointed at this because it does not allow open divulgence of data for investigating the errors in order to produce more accurate and precise future dating. Additionally, lack of data of failed radiocarbon prevents an overall assessment on just how accurate the dating method is.

When you get down to the bottom line, it is more than evident that radiocarbon dating is extremely limited. Only very particular objects, from very particular places, that have been pretreated, that have been compared to a calibration curve (and only fall within areas of the curve that aren’t flat), and have been dated many times to provide an error range, can be considered somewhat trustworthy findings. That is, if you overlook the shortcomings of the C14 production problem and biosphere equilibrium problem. Accordingly, these evident shortcomings need to be appreciated and a certain degree of skepticism should be maintained when reading of radiocarbon results. All too often one hears of a discovery from antiquity that has been radiocarbon dated, of which the authors conclude they now know the exact date of the finding. Yet such confidence is often unwarranted. Yes, radiocarbon is an ingenious method and noble pursuit to answer questions about our past, but it is far from perfect, and our strong desire to have absolute answers to our biggest questions will not be satisfied from overextending confidence into a constrained method simply because there is no other alternative. But until we can lay our egos aside to be comfortable with the humbling notion that “we don’t know exactly,” radiocarbon dating will remain the absolute say on exactly how old something is.

Sources

 Bowman, S. (1990) Radio Carbon Dating, (Berkley, CA: University of California Press)

Snelling, A.A. (2009) Earth’s Catastrophic Past, Vol. 2, (Dallas, TX: Institute for Creation Research)

Taylor, R.E. (1987) Radio Carbon Dating; An Archaeological Perspective, (London: Academic Press, Inc.)

Warf, J.C. (2004) All Things Nuclear, 2nd Ed., (Los Angeles, CA: Figueroa Press)

Why I Am Pro-Life

Every day 115,000 pregnancies are aborted around the world.[1] Is this wrong or is it right? Should it be legal, or illegal? Abortion is a complex and complicated issue that has been the subject of debate for decades, but perhaps it’s not as complex and complicated as it really seems to be. When we use instrumental agents of logic, science, morality and theology, it is possible to sort through the complexity and find simplicity in the argument. It is my hope that in using these tools, you will see the reality behind this long standing debate, and agree as a final cause, that the only moral, ethical and logical side to maintain in this great debate is the Pro-Life position.

The question we all must address first and foremost is, when does life begin? The opinion of when life starts varies from as early as conception to as late as the actual cutting of the umbilical cord, finalizing the infant as an independent agent. The “life” I speak of is essentially that of a “human life,” since a human is the ultimate product of a pregnancy. Though some argue that just because something is living (let’s take an embryo for example) doesn’t make it human simply because it will eventually develop into a human.

But let’s put this into perspective. Think of a child watching TV with his Grandpa. Who is more human, the Grandpa or the child? The answer is that they’re both equally human, despite the grandpa being older and more developed as a human. So if age and physical development do not determine the degree of which something is human, then how can we argue that an embryo is not human simply because is it less “developed?” This is where science enters the picture.

At fertilization the 23 chromosomes from the father and the 23 chromosomes from the mother combine to create a genetically unique individual known as a zygote. From the moment the zygote is formed it has a unique identity with DNA separate from its mother and father, and begins dividing rapidly into cells creating the child. If we trace ourselves back to the earliest point of our existence as individuals, we must trace it back to when our genetic makeup first established us as whom we are individually from our parents. That point in time is fertilization.

Yes, a zygote may not look like a human with legs, eyes and a cute nose. But regardless of appearances, identity is established genetically. And at a genetic level a zygote and embryo are just as human as you or I, just less developed physically. Like the grandpa and the child mentioned earlier. Your DNA was just as complex, and had the same information as to who you are and will be, then as a zygote or embryo, as it is now as an adult. Countless physicians and medical experts consider fertilization the point at which human life begins. Even the Official Senate report on Senate Bill 158, the “Human Life Bill“, acting as a counseling agent stated: “Physicians, biologists, and other scientists agree that conception marks the beginning of the life of a human being – a being that is alive and a member of the human species. There is overwhelming agreement on this point in countless medical, biological, and scientific writings.”[2] In addition, every step in development after fertilization is not a debatable process from which humanness can be determined. As counseling agent Dr. Tommy Mitchell, a cellular biologist and biochemist, put it; “…at no time in this process is there a scientific point at which the developing individual clearly ‘becomes a person,’ any more than a baby becomes more human when it walks, talks, or is weaned. These milestones in zygote, blastocyst, embryonic, and fetal development are simply descriptions of anatomy, not hurdles met in the test of humanness. From a scientific point of view, the words are arbitrary and purely descriptive.”[3]

 

Using science as a principal agent, we can establish the formal cause of the Pro-Life position in that human life begins at fertilization. Establishing this point of time as that entity being a human, it is therefore subject to human rights. This brings us to the subject of rights in the abortion debate.

Women’s rights play a big role as a preparing agent in the Pro-Choice argument. Pro-Choice advocates maintain that it is the woman’s right to choose what she wants done to her own body. Pro-Life supporters beg the question; what about the rights of the child which has no voice to stand up for it’s right to live? The Pro-Choice objection to this question is that the embryo is not an individual, but a part of the woman’s body, and therefore, the woman has the right to decide for herself whether or not she will have an abortion. The first problem with this argument is that the embryo/fetus has a completely unique genetic identity, as discussed earlier, and is therefore not part of the female’s body, as any part of a woman’s body would have the same genetic code as the woman.

Furthermore, the freedom to choose (in any other situation outside of abortion) is always restricted and prohibited if it entails the harming of an innocent life. So why does it not apply in the event of an unborn child? At what point does the woman have rights and the human life inside of her have none? If we have human rights protecting us from being willingly harmed by others, and human life occurs at fertilization, then abortion is essentially the killing of a human life, and therefore a violation of human rights. One cannot argue they have the right to harm another innocent life. As Ronald Regan once said, “Simple morality dictates that unless and until someone can prove the unborn human is not alive, we must give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it is (alive). And, thus, it should be entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”[4]

Now that it has been established that human life begins at fertilization which entitles that life to rights, we must ask if there are any exceptions. What about the event of rape or deformities of a child. Aren’t these circumstances in which abortion should be legal? These are common objections, and at first they seem valid. But you must consider the following regarding rape cases: First, they are extremely rare, accounting for only 1% of all abortions.[5] Second, think about what rape is. It is an act of violence upon an innocent life. Now think about what abortion is. It too is an act of violence upon an innocent life. The abortion will in no way heal or comfort the woman who has just been raped. It is a situation where we must ask if two wrongs make a right. Violence has already been imposed on one innocent life, why would we impose violence on another innocent life?

In the event of deformities or disabilities discovered in a developing child, we again have another example of infrequency, accounting for only 6% of all abortions.[6] At that, should we really abort a pregnancy because of disabilities? In the UK alone, 9 out of every 10 unborn children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome is aborted.[7] The Pro-Choice argument here is that it is an act of kindness for the child to not live, instead of living with disabilities. But given the choice, what would the unborn child want? Anya Souza is a woman with Down’s syndrome who provides enlightening insight to this question, “I can’t get rid of my Down’s syndrome, but you can’t get rid of my happiness. You can’t get rid of the happiness I give to others either. Its doctors like you that want to test pregnant women and stop people like me from being born. Together with my family and friends I have fought to prevent my separation from normal society. I have fought for my rights…. I may have Down’s Syndrome, but I am a person first.”[8]

 

So if only 1% of abortions are for rape cases and 6% are for disabilities, what are the reasons behind the other 93% of abortions? The other 93% of cases are for social reasons in which the unborn is deemed unwanted or inconvenient.[9] As Mother Teresa once said, “It is a poverty that a “child must die”, so that you may live as you wish.”[10] Clearly, the real formal cause of abortion is a lack of morality in the face of selfishness, not only on the part of the mother, but on anyone who influences the mother as assisting agents to make the life-ending decision.

 

In response, the Pro-Choice objection is the “unwanted child” scenario, that if the parents do not abort the child, they will have an unwanted child, which they will subject to an abusive and unloved lifestyle. This argument is usually accompanied with statistics of child abuse towards unwanted children. But this argument is a logical fallacy of false alternatives, trying to convince people that there are only two options in an unwanted pregnancy; abortion, or an unfair and unloving upbringing of an unwanted child. But there are more choices for children than just these two. Every child is wanted, maybe not by the parents, but there is always someone willing to care for a child, perhaps by the grandparents or adopting parents. In many states, fire stations, police stations and hospitals have a policy that allows anyone to drop off a child within 72 hours of birth, no questions asked, so that the child may receive proper rearing. There are a multitude of choices for an “unwanted” child. In addition, to respond to the statistics of child abuse of unwanted children, child abuse is found mostly with “wanted” children. Child abuse cases have increased since the legalization of abortion. And lastly, is not abortion itself a form of child abuse? “Unwanted” is not the condition of the child, but instead an attitude of the parents. It would be more “unfair” to kill an innocent life on the grounds of curing an attitude of the parents.

As a formal cause of abortion, there are also many health problems concerning abortion procedures. Legalized “safe” abortion still runs an extremely high risk of causing health problems to the woman receiving the abortion. Women who have had abortions are 7 to 11 times more likely to have subsequent infertility, miscarriage, and placenta praevia.[11] 10% of abortions cause a perforated uterus which usually requires an immediate hysterectomy. Altogether, 25-40% of women who have had abortions will have major complications in trying to get pregnant later in life, and will not be able to have children. [12] Another health complication is breast cancer, which medical research shows has a 50% chance of occurring in a woman who has had an aborted pregnancy.[13]

Outside of physical health dangers, there are also emotional dangers with abortion. Pro-Choice advocates often claim that by aborting a pregnancy a woman is relieved of the responsibility of caring for a child, and therefore relieved of stress, which in turn is a mental and psychological benefit. This claim appears to be logical at first, but in reality it is merely a misleading assisting agent to the Pro-Choice cause. Medical research has instead revealed the surprisingly high rate of Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS) found in women who have had abortions. PAS is a form of post-traumatic stress syndrome, with severe symptoms of guilt, anxiety and depression. This psychological affliction is both short term and long term, and has caused such severe depression in woman that, statistically speaking, more women commit suicide after an abortion, than women who have never had one.[14] Pro-Choice advocates will often try to point the finger back to Pro-Life advocates in this scenario, claiming that the guilt and depression onset in PAS is a result of guilt and pressure laid on to women from Pro-Life supporters both at home and in society. But this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The pressure put on women at home and in society is one pro-abortion in nature, as statistics show that 53% of women felt coerced by others to have an abortion, and only 33% actually felt that the abortion was their “free” choice.[15] Isn’t it interesting that the argument for abortion is usually centered around the preparing agent of the woman’s right to choose, yet in the majority of most women that have an abortion, the decision made is one influenced by other people and society in general,.

Now knowing the psychological and physical dangers of abortion, we can proceed to refute another common objection to the Pro-Life argument: The “Back-Alley” argument. This argument persuades that if abortion is made illegal, women will still get abortions, but they will instead be forced into the unsafe and unregulated back alleys to get the procedure done. But the abortion procedure is dangerous regardless of where and how it is done, as is clearly documented and proven. Furthermore, the claim that illegalizing abortion will force women to use rusty clothes hangers to carry out abortions is an incredible exaggeration used as a scare tactic by Pro-Choice advocates. Decades prior to the legalization of abortion, 90% of abortions were done by doctors in their offices. It was a medical procedure then when it was illegal, and it is still a medical practice now being legal. In addition, every country that has ever legalized abortion has experienced little to no change in the rate of criminal abortion.[16] Criminal abortion continues to happen regardless of whether or not it is legal. Lastly, we should also not ignore the moral ramifications of this argument. How can we morally justify legalizing procedures that kill the innocent just to make the killing process less hazardous? How convoluted must our priorities be if we want to find a “safer” way to kill an unborn child? Or care so much for the well being of one life, yet completely disregard the life of another? The “Back-Alley” argument is simply a scare tactic backed with no sound evidence. Multiple studies show a range of 40-85% of women admit that if abortion was illegal, they would not have opted to have one.[17] The only consequence of making abortion illegal would be the saved lives of both children and mothers.

What abortion boils down to as a formal cause is an increasing disinterest in the value of life. It seems that societies worldwide are becoming more and more concerned with comfort and convenience for the self over concerns of the lives of others, in all aspects of life. Regardless of what arguments, beliefs or claimed “rights” Pro-Choice advocates use to jettison away from the moral implications, they can never escape the moral ramifications of devaluing life. Yet as time progresses, more and more people in society are beginning to slip under this spell. The world famous Hippocratic Oath that was for centuries repeated as an oath by all physicians, stated (in its original context); “…I will not give to a woman an abortive remedy. In purity and holiness I will guard my life and my art.”[18] Yet in 1964, this portion of the Hippocratic Oath was removed. This is just one of many examples of the shift in our morality as a society, that continues to erode away and ignore the value of life.

The value of life cannot be ignored, and this is when we must look to the theological perspective as a principal agent of the Pro-Life argument. In a world full of conflicting opinions that are ever changing, we often must look for guidance in a permanent source that never changes. So, what does God have to say about the issue?

In the preparing agent of the Bible we find many passages that clearly show God’s perspective and passion regarding life and its value to Him. Psalm 139:13-16 and Jeremiah 1:4-5 say that God knew us each individually before we even existed in our mother’s wombs. These verses clearly support the Genetic Position, that we are live individuals at conception (and perhaps even live individuals prior to conception on a spiritual level). In Genesis 25:21-23 we read of God referencing Rebekah’s twins as actual people, further indicating that the unborn were considered live individuals. Lastly, in Exodus 21:22-24, God speaks of punishment to anyone who causes a woman to give birth prematurely killing the child. This clearly indicates that causing a woman to lose a child prematurely is wrong. To combine this scripture with science, counseling agent Dr. Tommy Mitchell states, “Since the Bible treats those persons yet unborn as real persons, and since the development of a person is a continuum with a definite beginning at the moment of fertilization, the logical point at which a person begins to be human is at that beginning… Frankly, no other conclusion is possible from Scripture or science.”[19]

In conclusion, if the moment of fertilization brings about a human life, then aborting a pregnancy is killing that human life. And killing a human life is murder. If you believe the murder of an innocent life is wrong, then you must likewise believe abortion is wrong by that same definition. Any other argument raised to justify such an act is merely a diversion to direct you from the simplicity of this inhumane act. At that, it is my hope that I have appropriately explained, as a final cause, that the Pro-Life position is the only morally sound and logical position to hold in the abortion debate.

A human life, no matter how small, no matter how simple, now matter how invisible, is still a human life like you and I. Like it or not, you and I were just as small and fragile at one point in our lives, and though you may disagree with everything I’ve written here, there is one thing we all can agree on: It is a great thing our mothers were Pro-Life while we were inside them. If not, you would not be reading this.


[1] As of 2008, The Guttmacher Institute. (http://www.agi-usa.org)

[2] Report, Subcommittee on Separation of Powers to Senate Judiciary Committee S-158, 97th Congress, 1st Session, 1981, p7. Cited in Pro-life Answers for Pro-Choice Arguments, By Randy Alcorn, (Multnomah Press, OR, USA, 1992), p43

[3] The New Answers Book 2, “When Does Life Begin?” (Master Books: Green Forest, AR 2009) pg. 315.

[6] Ibid

[7] D. Mutton, “Trends in Parental Screening for, and Diagnosis of, Down’s Syndrome: England and Whales, 1989-97,” British Medical Journal, October 3, 1998.

[8] “Ability and Disability or Eugenic Abortion,” Society for the Protection of the Unborn Child, http://www.spruc.org.uk/students/abortion/disability.

[11] “Induced Abortion: A Risk Factor for Placental Praevia.” by Jeffrey M Barrett, MD, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, December 1981, p769

[12] Aborted Women, Reardon, p106

[13] Dr Joel Brind, professor of endocrinology and breast cancer researcher. Journal of the American Medical Association (Nov 1993).

[15] D.C. Reardon, “Women at Risk of Post-Abortion Trauma,” http://www.afterabortion.org/women_a.html.

[16] The Least of These: What Everyone Should Know About Abortion, Curt Young, 1984, Moody Press, Chicago, IL, p215

[17] Aborted Women: Silent No More, by David C Reardon, 1987, Crossway, Westchester, IL p321-322

[19] The New Answers Book 2, “When Does Life Begin?” (Master Books: Green Forest, AR 2009) pg. 323.

Is Christianity Good?

 

            As it is with any religion in the world, Christianity and Biblical doctrine are becoming increasingly viewed as harmful for the American society and the world population. As a result, the popularity of rejecting Christianity, as a catalyst for a healthy society, is growing. But  in analyzing Christianity’s teachings and its effects on the global population in both the past and present, it is evident that Christianity has a final cause of being ultimately healthy as an institution for society as a whole, generating hope and promoting a healthy lifestyle for its followers.

            It is important to first stress that this essay is addressing Christianity as taught from the Bible. Because Christianity is a religion to whom anyone can associate themselves with and self-proclaim themselves to be Christian, allowing what is and what is not Christianity to become obscure. Just as a human claiming they are a dolphin does not in any way make them a dolphin, a man or woman calling themselves a Christian does make them a Christian. Christianity ultimately comes from the principle agent of Jesus Christ as taught from the Bible. So the Bible’s instruction and doctrine is ultimately Christianity’s source, and is the instrumental agent in this investigation.

            Christianity has a formal cause in that it is healthy for society, developing intimate personal relationships on a global scale. The Bible consistently instructs its followers to put others before themselves, to genuinely love strangers, and to treat others with respect and gentleness (Matt. 7:12, 1Corinthians 10:33, Romans 12:9). It’s a concept of selflessness that’s induction can be witnessed as assisting agents today in the over five million full-time missionaries world wide.[1] By these same principles, Christianity promotes equality in society, by instructing followers to put others before themselves, help the poor, do good public deeds, etc. (Philippians 2:4, Psalm 10:12) It should not be overlooked that Christianity was behind the abolition of slavery world wide (sign I), the civil rights movement (sign II), education of the common people (sign III) and the advent of hospitals (sign IV), all of which benefit society as a whole.

            One might object that Christianity, as with other religions, is harmful to society when one considers all the violence and wars waged in the name of religion. Assigned to Christianity, many stamp the Crusades, Hitler, witch hunts and the Spanish Inquisition as examples in history which prove just that. These claims, however, show a lack of knowledge of historical facts. For example, many people believe the Crusades were an attempt by Christians to forcefully spread Christianity into the Middle East. Anyone who knows history accurately will tell you that originally after the collapse of the Roman Empire the Middle East was predominantly Christian. When Islam arrived on the scene in the 7th century, they waged war on the Christians, decimating the Christian population and advanced as far northwest as Italy and into Spain. Muslims also began to turn away, rob and often murder Christian pilgrims trying to visit Jerusalem. The Crusades were essentially Europe’s (Christianity’s) response to these actions.[2] Likewise, Hitler was openly against Christianity, and the witch hunts and Spanish Inquisition casualties were very low, yet shockingly exaggerated by those who use these events in history to affirm religion is harmful. Despite the fact that in more recent history, anti-religious regimes have inflicted much more damage to the human population. For example, the Chinese PRC was responsible for the deaths of over 35 million people from 1949 to 1987. The scientific atheist USSR, which from 1917 to 1987 was responsible for the democide of 61,911,000 people. But the record for the most murderous regime in the history of mankind goes to China’s atheist Mao Zedong regime which is estimated to be responsible for the death of some 70 million people.[3] Anyone who knows their history accurately, knows most wars claimed to be caused by religion are almost always instead the result of politics, greed, territory, and racial differences. In fact, statistics show that only 7 % of wars in world history can accurately be attributed to religion.[4]

            This is not to say that what happened during the witch hunts, crusades, etc, were not horrible and wrong. As said before, the focus of this essay is on Christianity as taught from the Bible. And per Biblical doctrine, Christians are supposed to love their neighbor and their enemy, forgive others, help those in need, etc (Matthew 5:44, Hebrews 10:24, Colossians 4:13). The wrong doing in these historical events are not taught, nor condoned by Jesus Christ as taught in the bible. Therefore, the establishment of Christianity should not be blamed for a person’s wrong doing in the name of the faith. True Christianity, as is taught biblically, is again rather more appropriately witnessed in the millions of missionaries worldwide educating people, building homes, digging fresh water wells, and other inductions. It is more evident as a peace generating cause, not a cause for violence and hate. In Africa, a continent with a long history of violence and poverty, counseling agent Matthew Parris, an atheist and a retired member of Parliament wrote; “I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.” [5]

            Christianity also has a formal cause in that it supports healthy families. The Bible promotes proper treatment of children by parents, and parents by children, and proper spousal treatment (Titus 2:6-7, Exodus 20:12, Ephesians 5:33). Christianity has long since been tied to marriage and families. In fact, marriage and family is considered to be the institution established for the proper care and rearing of children. Christianity is actually credited for introducing exclusive heterosexual monogamous love into marriage for the sole purpose of raising children into the Roman Empire. Christianity taught that family life was the center from which all of life’s most important fulfillments are met. It should also not be overlooked that historically, prior to Christianity, most cultures viewed marriage as arranged partnerships determined by family, as is often still the case in cultures today. Christianity however introduced the notion that marriage is a decision made of love, as the Bible says a man should love his wife as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25),  and that the spousal partner we choose was made for us by God. This indicated that the marriage relationship should be one of long lasting intimate companionship that was destined to be. Christianity therefore exalted love into marriage as no other culture or religion had done previously. Christianity enstrengthened family to be the strong influence that it is in modern society.

            Recently, American society is seeing a change in what is considered a healthy family structure. Our culture becomes more and more open to divorce, homosexual marriage and parenting, and single parent rearing, which do not coincide with the Christian view of a healthy family structure of father, mother, and children. Because Christianity teaches otherwise, it is objected to as being damaging to society. But the statistics from counseling agents say otherwise. Studies and research from the US Dept of Health, the US Dept of Justice, the Urban Institute, and the NARTH association all show dramatically increased levels of drug abuse, sexual promiscuity, violent behavior, criminal behavior, low self esteem, and suicide in children raised in divorced, single parent, and homosexual parent households.[6] It is evident that proper development in children comes from proper parenting that begins with having both a mother and father, which Christianity supports. Not to be overlooked either is Christianity’s opposition to abortion. Much can be argued about abortion, and whether it is ethical or not. But the fact remains that 42 million babies are aborted each year in the world,[7] and there is no way to ethically justify that much loss of life. Placing a high value on life and the treatment of the life of other’s has always been a hallmark of Christianity.

            Christianity has a formal cause in that it promotes healthy lifestyles. Becoming more spiritually active always translates into reduced stress levels. Biblical doctrine also teaches its followers not to do drugs, get drunk, not to be a glutton, not to be sexually promiscuous, etc. These teachings all encompass what is a healthy lifestyle. And it all boils down to one particular verse in the bible, 1 Corinthians 6:19, that our bodies are the Lord’s temple. Therefore, when we do not live healthy lifestyles and damage our bodies we are essentially showing God we do not respect His temple. This motivates Christians to live healthy lifestyles.

            A common objection to Christianity is that it is an obstruction to scientific progress, in which such obstructing would be harmful to society. This misconception comes from Christian disbelief in evolution theory and opposition to some ethically questionable medical research and experimentation. These factors are but a miniscule portion of what could be called the scientific progress of mankind as a whole. This is, once again, another situation in which knowing your history accurately would render this opposition invalid. Johannes Kepler discovered the three laws of planetary motion, and was a Christian. Sir Isaac Newton, co-inventor of calculus, was a Christian. Louis Paseur, the father of microbiology, is a Christian. James Maxwell, who discovered the laws of electricity and magnetism, is a Christian. Raymond Damadian, inventor of the MRI, is a Christian. And that is to name just a handful of the thousands of Christian scientists that have contributed greatly to the scientific progress of mankind. It is evident that Christianity is not obstructing scientific progress, and is therefore not harming the well being of society.

            Morality and ethics is another formal cause of Christianity that is important to society. Teaching that murder, theft, lying, and adultery are wrong, but that charity, sharing, and honesty are right. These teachings are indeed appropriate for a healthy functioning society, though many argue that religion should not be required for such moral and ethical behavior in society. The fact is, that without an abstract and immaterial constant Being (God),the principle agent, to state what is right and wrong, then right and wrong is left up to personal opinion or convention. In other words, right and wrong is subjective and can change as personal experience or cultures progress. What is right and wrong must remain absolute regardless, and that is what we find in the teachings of Christianity as the principle agent of God provides teaching and law that is absolute and timeless. If you believe that religion is not needed to do good, you have to ask yourself, how do you really know what is good? But if a God, who can only do good (Psalm 116:5), instructs you on what is good, then you can be positive as to what is truly right and wrong.

 

            Most importantly as a formal cause, Christianity offers hope and a purpose in life (Hebrews 6:19, Romans 5:4). When the world is full of pain, death, and despair, Christianity offers a hope that transcends the confines of this world, overcoming anything and everything in life, providing eternal life and salvation to all those who follow Jesus as their Lord (Philippians 1:11). Hope is optimism for a better future that’s positive impact on society cannot be disputed. Hope is attributed to overall well-being and health in people, and positively affects physical and mental performance. Hope is unquestionably healthy for society and the world, and Christianity offers a hope like no other.

            It seems to be forgotten that the American society we live in, which provides the freedoms and liberties that give people the right to question religion and its impact on society and the right to choose to abolish it from the public, was founded by Christians. The roots of this country’s economy, law, politics, and morals are so influenced by Christianity that counseling agents, such as Philosopher Jurgen Habermas wrote; “Christianity and nothing else is the ultimate foundation of liberty, conscience, human rights and democracy, the benchmarks of Western civilization. We continue to nourish ourselves from this source.”[8] J. M. Roberts wrote in Triumph of the West, “We could none of us today be what we are if a handful of Jews nearly two thousand years ago had they not believed that they had known a great teacher, seen him crucified, dead, buried, then rise again.”[9] And as Dinesh D’Souza wrote in What’s So Great About Christianity?, “Believer and non-believer alike should respect Christianity as the movement that created our civilization.”[10]

No one can disagree that hope, peace, love, equality, and family are all beneficial to society and the world. Christianity not only encompasses all these factors but brings them together into one lifestyle and faith. It is therefore safe to say as a final cause, that in a world full of hatred, despair, and pain, Christianity is good.


[1] Per Todd M. Johnson, the director of the Center for the Study of Global Christianity, there are 4.19 million missionaries in Christian countries, 1.31 million in non-Christian countries, not including part-time missionaries, as of 2005; http://www.globalchristianity.org.

[2] Antonio Santosuosso, Barbarians, Marauders and Infidels, The Ways of Medieval Warfare (New York: NY, MJF Books, 2004)

[3] Jung Chang and John Halliday, Mao: The Unknown Story (New York: Knopf, 2005).

[4] Charles Phillips and Alan Axelrod, Encyclopedia of Wars (Facts On File, Inc. 2005)

[5] Matthew Parris, As an Atheist, I truly believe that Africa needs God, Dec 27th, 2008 http://www.timesonline.com

[8] Jurgen Habermas, “A Time of Transition.”

[9] J.M. Roberts, The Triumph of the West (Boston: Little, Brown, 1985) pg 37.

[10] Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity (Washington DC, Regnery Publishing, Inc. 2007) pg 45.