John Kerry and the Problem of Evil -- Why I Posted It

Last time I posted (which was a while ago -- sorry, I got busy), I posted a piece from the Wall Street Journal's Best of the Web page entiteld John Kerry and the Problem of Evil. I posted it without commenting as to why I was posting it on this Christian apologetics page. A couple of people took offense at what I was writing and thought that I was posting it to bash John Kerry. While I certainly don't think John Kerry would have made a good president for many reasons, I didn't post it to simply bash him. I had a point to make, and now that I have a few moments, allow me to clarify what I was thinking.

The use of the argument that there is no God based on the existence of evil is very similar to the way the argument is being used by the WSJ. The WSJ suggests that John Kerry is making a claim to be able to end the war in Israel based on a comment that if he were Commander in Chief, it wouldn't be happening. Taking this comment (and others like it), they attribute to him a desire to see all evil in the world end, the power to make it end, but the unwillingness to do so. On that basis, they assert that Kerry either lacks the desire to end evil, the power to end evil or his very existence. We all know that in reality Kerry lacks the power to end evil (despite his suggestions during the election that if he were President everything would be right with the world) which is why his claims can be seen as comical by the WSJ.

The argument against the existence of God from evil is used in much the same way. According to the standard argument from evil, God is certainly a loving God who has a great deal of power (more than John Kerry, even) and who has said through the prophets that he hates evil, and therefore God is either not all good, not all powerful or doesn't even exist. But, as with John Kerry, the argument assumes too much. God can still hate evil by allowing it to exist if there is a strong reason to do so.

The Bible is clear on several points. The Bible teaches that God loves humanity (even though we are undeserving of that love) and hates evil. Yet, humanity engages in evil acts. This puts God in a strange situation: if he decides to wipe out all evil, then he must wipe out all humanity. History shows that it doesn’t suffice to wipe out only the evil people because the children of good people often become evil themselves, so the evil will continue if humanity is not entirely wiped out. Yet, the story of Noah shows that God does not desire that all humanity be wiped out. God loves humanity despite our failings, and has as a higher priority than the destruction of evil the salvation of as much of humanity as possible.

Thus, the WSJ article is funny because it’s obvious that John Kerry lacks the power to wipe out evil and we all know it. But it is instructive in the way it assumes that John Kerry is making a claim that he doesn’t make based upon a stretching of the things he and John Edwards said during the last election. The problem of evil does the same thing in a different way: it assumes that because God does have the power and because He does hate evil, that destroying evil is the highest priority that God would hold and His failure or refusal to exercise that power to eradicate evil shows that he is either not good, not powerful or non-existent. However, those assumptions are ill-founded and unconvincing if the true state of the situation (as is Biblically supportable) is that God hates evil, desires it be destroyed, and has the power to destroy it but is waiting to destroy it because of a higher goal.


SteveiT1D said…
Thanks BK, but I don’t think you have to justify your post just because a couple people get their feelings hurt. This is mainly an apologetics blog; however, it’s also an outlet for you to communicate whatever you want. As long as you throw some of those good apologetic blogs here and there, go ahead and post on politics, family, muscle cars, midgets, or whatever floats your boat :-).

Either way, I truly appreciate the content you and Layman have been giving here.
BK said…
Thanks, BF, but I do think I had to at least explain why it was on an Christian apologetics blog which is a group blog. If this were my own personal blog, I'd agree with you, but it's not. There are upwards of 60 members in the CADRE and while I only speak for myself, the blog is for the express purpose of apologetics.

But definitely, thanks for the compliment. I equally enjoy ProTheism (just wish I had more time to spend reading all of the good stuff so many people are putting out).
Steven Carr said…
Would God have to kill the Pope as well, if he wanted to wipe out all evil?
Steven Carr said…
Can an omniscient being not think of any way to persuade people not to do evil things than killing them?

Still, now we know that Heaven will be full of corpses, as there will be no evil there.
BK said…

I am not certain of all the details of Roman Catholic theology, but as I understand it they believe the Pope is infallible when speaking on matters for God, but they don't think he is without sin. So, yes, everyone would have to go, Pope included.

Second, I expect that you are more knowledgable about Christian teaching as it relates to your second post. Why are you playing ignorant? Is it that you don't understand the Christian position or you are just saying things to try to incite a reaction?
Siamang said…
I still don't get it.

I just can't figure out the analogy. John Kerry is not all powerful. He may or may not have been able to prevent the current violence if he had been elected, but even if he could have, he would be doing it through normal means just as available to President Bush.

Kerry is a man without ultimate power, who wishes to have prevented the current hostilities but who may and probably would have failed to do so even if he were president.

God is a being with supposed ultimate power, who cannot fail in anything He supposedly attempts.

If Kerry fails at a task, we can assume it wasn't within his ability.

If God does not perform a task, we must assume that it is not His will.

Kerry's hubristic comment leads me to suspect that the Wall St. Journal thinks Kerry sees the presidency as conferring omnipotence. I highly doubt it. It seems like a cute and clever exaggeration made by a political commentator.

To take it as a theological argument is to take the cute analogy too far. Kerry has an "out" that negates the problem of evil being applied to him: he's not omnipotent.

I think that's the nature of the Wall St. Journal's snipe, it's political.
Tenax said…
Again, I'm posting late.

I was one of the piffed, BK, (if that's a word) as I'm sure my snotty comment showed. But then it was the first day of school and I was commenting, rushed, from my office. My tone could have been better. The first day of school does strange things to the human beings called teachers.

And yes, your clarification does clarify.

I was reacting, of course, to what seemed to be an offhand slam of my particular political party. Not that I thought Kerry was the best choice in the world, but I'm still a liberal Democrat. If it means anything, I agree with you: this is an apologetics blog; at least that's what I come here for. And good apologetics is needed. The skeptical web commnity is large, strong, and often bright.

Peace, brother.

BK said…

Understood. While I tend to back Republicans because I tend to agree more with their stand on a couple of issues (if only they would carry out those stands when in office . . .), I am not into making this a bash the other political party blog. Nevertheless, since it is apparent that it may come through occasionally which party I back, then I guess I can only apologize in advance.
BK said…

I am not saying it wasn't a political dig at Kerry the way it was originally posted. I think, however, it does have something to say about the argument against the existence of God due to the existence of evil. As you say, "If God does not perform a task, we must assume that it is not His will." That is exactly right, but probably not in the way you intended. What I am saying is that God could wipe out evil, but he doesn't do so for other reasons he finds to be more important.
BK said…

P.S. I haven't forgotten that I need to respond to your take on the morality argument. I have just been very busy lately and what you wrote is pretty good and I am not going to post lightly on it. I want to give it some thought and respond clearly and concisely. I apologize for the delay, but I will get to it (eventually).
Jason Pratt said…

While I agree with what you're saying about the existence of evil being God's will, I also agree with Bruce: the analogy with Kerry's comment simply doesn't work. Taken at face value (which is how it is presented), Kerry's complaint was that he would have stopped or prevented an evil if he had had the power.

Whether the power is supposed to be considered inherent, or given, or whatever, the point is that Kerry _wasn't_ complaining that he would have stopped an evil _but_ he himself chose not to do it (for whatever hopefully good reason).

The analogy was broken from the outset, which is why Bruce was critting it. (And me, too, in my comment on it. {s})

Also, as annoying and trollish as Steven can be, what he was poinking at in his flame-baiting way was a real logical inconsistency in your presentation. i.e., you leaned so hard on "if God decides to wipe out all evil, then he must wipe out all humanity", that you left yourself no logical room for God's salvation of persons from evil. Obviously, if God succeeds in redeeming a person, thus wiping out the evil of the person, He must be doing so in a way that _doesn't_ involve simply wiping out the person.

You can't logically have it both ways. Either God can succeed in wiping out evil _without_ wiping out the person; or else He can't. If the latter, you've completely abandoned the doctrine of salvation. If the former, then you can't use that as an element in a theodicy and/or defence.

Restructure, and re-present. {s}

BK said…

I agree with you from one angle, but disagree with you from another. The point wasn't the basis of why Kerry wouldn't stop the evil (and why God wouldn't stop the evil) but the assumption that his failure to do so shows that he either lacked the power, lacked the goodness or didn't exist. In both cases, there may be perfectly legitimate reasons for not exercising the power despite those three possibilities. In other words, I am saying that the problem of evil is a false trilemma, and I thought that the Kerry discussion illustrated that (still do). If you don't agree, well, that's fine. I see it pretty clearly. :)
Jason Pratt said…

{{The point wasn't the basis of why Kerry wouldn't stop the evil (and why God wouldn't stop the evil) but the assumption that [Kerry's] failure to do so shows that [Kerry] either lacked the power, lacked the goodness or didn't exist.}}

Um... But Kerry _does_ quite certainly lack the power, and (so far as I can tell) was explicitly complaining (and claiming) that he would have prevented it if he had had the power.

I grant, Kerry's example _could_ have been an illustration of false trilemma, if the lack-of-power option wasn't already patently obvious, both as a metaphysical truth and as a historical fact, attested to by Kerry himself as the central ground of his complaint.

For the analogy to work, we'd have to be in the same position regarding God, with complaints by Him to the effect that He would stop an evil if He had the power to do so except He doesn't (for whatever reason). Even then, though, it wouldn't be representative of a false trilemma. (Well, except in the trivially true sense that it's false as a trilemma because one of the trilemma "horns" is clearly settled to be true by the terms of the example. {g})

Put another way, there may be (I agree there _are_) perfectly legitimate reasons for God not exercising the power aside from those three possibilities. But there are _not_ perfectly legitimate reasons for John Kerry (per his explicit example) not exercising power to stop the Mid-East crisis aside from those three possibilities; because we know for a fact that one of those possibilities does obtain in his case. (As he himself was complaining: not pres, therefore no power to stop crisis, but he thinks he could and would have, if he _did_ have presidential power.)

More shortly again: if one of the trilemma possibilities is confirmed to be true, per the terms of the example, then the example is _not_ exemplifying possibilies _other than_ the trilemma options.

Which is why I was complaining that the analogy is broken. {s}

Siamang said…
Not to confuse matters, but as a political argument and an apologetics argument it makes much more sense if George Bush is used instead of Kerry.

George Bush WAS president during the crisis. He did not stop or even intervene forcefully during it. In fact he stepped back waiting for events to play out, in the hope that things would play out better for Israel.

So to make the analogy, President Bush failed to act to stop the war earlier with the stated desire for a more positive outcome in the long term.

That's the more correct analogy from the point of view of the Wall St. Journal's opinion page, and the more correct analogy to apologetics PRESUMING that you accept that this President is somewhere near infallible, and that he did the right thing for the right reasons with the right outcome with regard to this conflict.

President Bush COULD have intervined in the conflict, but didn't.

Senator Kerry couldn't have interviened in this conflict, whether he wanted to or not.

In this way, the Senator is no different from you and me. There's no reason to use Kerry as an example, since all of us have things we would wish to be the case but lack the power to bring them about.
Jason Pratt said…
Good point. I'd thought of putting that in myself, but felt my comment was running too long as it was. {g}

We'd also have to presume, however, that Bush did in fact have the power to stop it even though he didn't use that power. (He had the power to do _something_, of course, which is more than Kerry does, but not necessarily more than Kerry would have had.)

Since I'm dubious that any President of the US could have had the power to actually prevent the crisis from happening, though, I would still be inclined to call a false analogy. (Though admittedly still a better one than Kerry's situation allows.)

Moral: when we're talking about situations involving characteristics unique to God, trying to illustrate by analogical comparison either has to be massively qualified (at risk of ruining the illustration), or else the comparison must be considered automatically void.
Siamang said…
We can illustrate this nevertheless by assuming the verb "take action" rather than the verb "stop the war."

We'll assume that anything God takes action to do will succeed. Much less so mere mortals.

God does not take action intended to immediately eliminate all ills.
The President did not take action intended to immediately end the war.

That's about as far as I can take that analogy, as the other two horns suffer from the comparison as well.

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