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Posts Tagged ‘Enlightenment’

 david hume

“Is [God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both willing and able? Whence then is evil?” 

These are the words of the 18th Century Scottish philosopher, David Hume. Men and women have echoed his sentiments many times over the past centuries since he first expressed them. Known as the Philosophical ‘Problem of Evil’,  it as been recited as the reason to not believe the Bible and in the God it presents by students, professionals, and all other types of people. It does seem to speak to the human experience in a way other arguments do not. One thing is certain, whether one believes in God or not, evil is a very real problem for us all. Dr. Bahnsen takes Hume’s problem head on. The following is a brief handout I created for my audience during a talk on Bahnsen’s critique of Hume and his Problem of Evil. Much of the information here can be found in ‘Always Ready’ by Dr. Greg Bahnsen. It is critical for Christians to begin to learn how to engage unbelief and especially those arguments that have convinced so many for centuries. As Dr. Bahnsen demonstrates, the key to seeing Hume’s misunderstanding is found in the Scriptures and the revelation of God’s character and nature that they alone provide.

David Hume’s Challenge 

  1. If God is not able to stop evil then he is not all powerful.
  2. If God is able to stop evil but does not, he is not good.
  3. Evil exists. Therefore God is either not all powerful or he is not omnipotent. The Christian view of God is logically inconsistent.

“Briefly the problem of evil is this: If God knows there is evil but cannot prevent it, he is not omnipotent. If God knows there is evil and can prevent it but desires not to, he is not omnibenevolent. If, as the Christian claims, God is all-knowing and all-powerful, we must conclude that God is not good. The existence of evil in the universe excludes this possibility.” George H. Smith

Defining “Good”

In order to make the claim that there is evil in the world, one must have a presupposition that defines for them what exactly they mean by making a judgment as to what is or is not good.

Some popular definitions in culture and philosophy:

  1. Good is whatever evokes public approval. It is defined by the majority.
  2. Good is whatever evokes the approval of the individual.
  3. Good is whatever achieves a certain consequence. Such as the greatest happiness of the greatest number.

These ways of defining what is or isn’t good and therefore right or wrong just do not add up when trying to apply them to reality. For example, the only way we can know if something achieves the greatest happiness is to be able to record and test the feelings, opinions and consequences of every person in every instance, impossible even for computers. Also, we are still left with finding an agreed upon standard of what happiness and goodness are and if they are both necessary for the other….

We see all the time that the majority of a certain community may all agree that something is good, but it turns out to be very un-good. Making happiness about the individual’s subjective approval is clearly unsound. Some individuals approve of abusing children or murdering their loved ones. Also, this would mean there can never be a real discussion regarding what is good because every individual would have differing definitions (subjectivism).

The Christian worldview defines “good” as God’s character and person as revealed in the Bible. It is an objective absolute definition. We believe God is good because he himself is the source and standard of “good”.

 

“Philosophically speaking, the problem of evil turns out to be, therefore, a problem for the unbeliever himself. In order to use the argument from evil against the Christian worldview, he must first be able to show that his judgments about the existence of evil are meaningful-which is precisely what his unbelieving worldview is unable to do.” Greg Bahnsen (Christian philosopher, apologist and theologian)

Hume cannot answer his own problem. Evil is still happening and existing and it becomes an even bigger problem when it cannot be explained, or even worse, resisted and defeated. The Bible has more to say about God than Hume lets on. The Bible does affirm the goodness and power of God as well as the existence of evil. Hume however, fails to take into account the whole counsel of God as laid out in Scripture. This could be perhaps due to oversight, or maybe out of convenience but it still stands that Hume’s argument does not accurately represent the God of Scripture, whom he is claiming to disprove. God is omnibenevolent, omnipotent and it is revealed that the infinite God of Scripture is also mysterious. Bahnsen restates the problem in light of this missing premise:

Bahsen’s 4 premise argument for the existence of God in a world where Evil happens

  1. God is good.
  2. God is all-powerful (Omnipotent)
  3. Evil exists (happens)
  4. God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists. (Though the reason is not revealed to us)

When all four of these premises are maintained there is no logical inconsistency within the Christian worldview. Indeed it is a natural thing for the Christian to grow in as a matter of their maturing in Christ.

“All things work together for good to those who love God and are the called according to HIS purpose.” Romans 8:28

“Shall not the Judge of the Earth do what is right?” Genesis 18:25

There is a real disdain in the modern world for mystery. This might be due to the claim by the Age of Enlightenment that human reason (science, rational thinking, ect.) is the solution to the problems of the world and the idea of a mystery means there are things beyond human reason. The truth is there is much we as finite beings can never understand. God does not reveal his reason(s) for allowing evil, and he doesn’t have to. He is a God who keeps his word (Psalm 12) he is a God who loves justice, Isaiah 61:8.

“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, Nor are your ways My ways,” declares the LORD. “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, So are My ways higher than your ways And My thoughts than your thoughts.”” Isaiah 55:8&9

“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?” Job 11:7

Hume and atheists since him, have confidently charged Christianity with logical inconsistency. Bahnsen has demonstrated that this is not at all the case. God does not have to deal with evil as his creatures would like him to in order for him to be just. Hume may not like that God has his own mysterious reasons for dealing with evil, but he cannot any longer claim inconsistency. The problem of evil is not a logical one, it is psychological. The Atheist has issue with God’s sovereignty and authority as God and King over all the earth and humanity, not with his logic.

“The problem of evil comes down to the question of whether a person should have faith in God and his word or rather place faith in [their] own human thinking and values.” Greg Bahnsen

God of Justice

“For I, the Lord, love justice.” Isaiah 61:8

“For the Lord is righteous, he loves justice. The upright will see his face.” Psalm 11:7

“The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love.” Psalm 33:5

We may not like how God is doing it, but Scripture is clear that God IS indeed the God of Justice. He has sent his Son, Jesus and his Spirit into the world in order to expose, judge and defeat evil, John 16. The non-believing worldview still has to answer the problem of evil. Their best attempts are to reduce evil to nothing more than “progress” or nature or mere inconvenience, which is no answer at all. Only the Christian worldview offers a solution while taking evil very seriously. So the Problem of Evil rather than disprove the existence of God, actually serves to bring us to Him and to choose whether to obey him and his word, or continue to walk in our own preferences and desires.

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pulpitLiving out a limited Gospel is practical atheism. The Enlightenment thinkers set in place rules prohibiting the Christian worldview from being expressed or having any say in culture and the public square. Relegating the gospel to the realm of “private religious experience” it has been effectively silenced. Finally after years and generations of struggle by the Christian Church to see a Gospel movement in America, the state of our society indicates a grim reality, we have given up. Not that we have given up “believing in Jesus” or our hope in heaven, an afterlife that promises a longed for escape and reprieve from the pains and miseries of this world. We have given up good sound doctrine concerning what the Gospel is and what it encompasses. We live as if the Gospel is primarily about our plight and condition. To us, the Gospel is about us, and what we do with it in secret is noble, worthy and good enough. We pick some causes that we deem as a violation of Gods Laws and fight fervently while ignoring other violations, agreeing with the Secularism that has boxed us in, “something is better than nothing”.

Today is a day to come back to right doctrine. God’s perfect standard expressed in his Law and his justice and power demonstrated through the victory of his unique Son whom he has established as King of the nations requires us to change. Indeed the Gospel is not a message of how to obtain a ticket to heaven, as though heaven was a realm way out in space completely distinct from us and the only way we will get there is through our deaths. The Gospel is the message that Jesus is King and that his Kingdom is here. Heaven has come to this broken world, and we are to pray “thy will be done” because the death and resurrection of Jesus is the means through which he has defeated all powers, both earthly and spiritual.

This Gospel is more than a philosophical idea to be discussed at a distance by scholars in lofty towers, it is more than a private joy to be kept secret, locked away in church buildings. It is the message of power that brings “the lofty down from their thrones”, Luke 1:51. It gets results instead of just wishing things would change. The Kingdom of God calls the people of God to action, and it calls us to hold this message dear as our explanatory framework. The Gospel is hope and a solution for all that pains this place. There is not one area of life and existence that does not find itself well within the reign of Christ. Our social ills even systemic racism, worldwide hunger, poverty, violence and all other evils can never be solved and eradicated through secularism. The Enlightenment has lied to us all. Human reason is itself inconsistent and flawed, we cannot reason our way out of the cave. After hundreds of years, the Age of Reason has proven to be the Dark Ages. Its time for the Spirit filled people of God to let their light shine.

When we live a limited Gospel that is about us and our plight, the result is a society that does not know the Gospel. This type of Gospel religion looks the exact same as Atheism in a practical sense. May we cease living as Atheism would have us live, as if the reign of Jesus is a figurative or imaginary one. He is King active in his rule now. He has brought the world as we knew it to an end. The New Age of God’s salvation has come. May we be people who live in this new age, living out the full Gospel, heralding the Great King who’s Kingdom will know no end.

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