|I suggest you invent a way to put a square peg in a round hole.|
Before the advent of Darwin's evolutionary theory, and the scientific and cultural revolution it inspired, theology was the height of intellectual activity. To be a theologian was to be a noble philosopher, an intimate to God's word and mind, a communicator of the divine nature. More than anything, the theologian reconciled God to humanity.
Today, however, apologists and their followers must perform all sorts of intellectual and emotional gyrations to maintain the integrity of the good-God concept. If you want an all-powerful, all-good god to worship, then you're going to have to squint your eyes just so and contort your body in just the right way. Theologians have almost replaced lexicographers as the harmless drudges of our age, as fewer people take theologians or God very seriously. Unfortunately, the Abrahamic religions maintain a core of government-minded practitioners who would have us all change our infidel ways under threat of sword. Were it not for those who take theology and God too seriously, the theologians could do their work in peace and the rest of the world would move ahead unperturbed.
The real difference between the theologians and the zealots is that the former group are more conflicted in their woo. They see that in the real world, the divinities and the holy books don't live up to the hype. They need to fit a square God into a round reality. Hence, theology. But theology cannot be complete unless and until it formulates a real theodicy, an explanation for the existence of evil if God is all-loving and all-powerful. J.F. Mackie expressed the problem this way:
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 propositions, 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.Uncommon Descent's resident apologist Barry Arrington sheepishly tries to lead the hope-and-faith crowd down the correct path for understanding why God makes (or allows) terrible things happen to earnest believers, casual adherents, and unbelievers alike. God is no moral monster, says Arrington. Neither is the divinity unaware of what will befall any individual.
What is the correct path, the true approach, according to Arrington?
Evil never accomplishes some great cosmic purpose. God hates it, and in no sense does he intend it so that he can use it to accomplish his purposes. God did not intend for Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery. He did not intend for Potipher’s wife falsely to accuse him of rape. He hated the evil visited upon Joseph. It is true that God worked in Joseph’s life to help him overcome the circumstances into which he had been thrust by the evil acts of others. But most emphatically God did not “desire” those evil acts (or, far worse, specifically cause them to happen) to accomplish a greater good. He accomplished the good in spite of those acts, not because of them.Of course! God only does the good stuff! People only do the bad stuff, and God only does the good stuff. Unfortunately, in 1955 Mackie disposed of Arrignton's proposed solution:
I should ask this: if God has made men such that in their free choices they sometimes prefer what is good and sometimes what is evil, why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose the good? If there is no logical impossibility in a man's freely choosing the good on one, or on several, occasions, there cannot be a logical impossibility in his freely choosing the good on every occasion. God was not, then, faced with a choice between making innocent automata and making beings who, in acting freely, would sometimes go wrong: there was open to him the obviously better possibility of making beings who would act freely but always go right. Clearly, his failure to avail himself of this possibility is inconsistent with his being both omnipotent and wholly good.Mackie continues:
If it is replied that this objection is absurd, that the making of some wrong choices is logically necessary for freedom, it would seem that 'freedom' must here mean complete randomness or indeterminacy, including randomness with regard to the alternatives good and evil, in other words that men's choices and consequent actions can be "free " only if they are not determined by their characters. Only on this assumption can God escape the responsibility for men's actions; for if he made them as they are, but did not determine their wrong choices, this can only be because the wrong choices are not determined by men as they are. But then if freedom is randomness, how can it be a characteristic of will? And, still more, how can it be the most important good? What value or merit would there be in free choices if these were random actions which were not determined by the nature of the agent?Arrington's theodicy falls, then, as a matter of logic. The square peg does not fit into the round hole.
I conclude that to make this solution plausible two different senses of 'freedom' must be confused, one sense which will justify the view that freedom is a third order good, more valuable than other goods would be without it, and another sense, sheer randomness, to prevent us from ascribing to God a decision to make men such that they sometimes go wrong when he might have made them such that they would always freely go right.
Yet the most troubling aspect of the whole discussion is the argument that underlies and justifies the practice of theodicy itself. Here, Arrington spouts poetic pleasantries about the kind of idea he wants to worship:
God is powerful enough to combine apparent contradictions in his person. He is three, yet he is only one. He is both immanent and transcendent. He is sovereign, omniscient, omnipotent; yet despite the evil that exists in the universe he created, he is also omni-benevolent. It never ceases to amaze me that skeptics are surprised when they are unable to fit God into neat human categories. But if we could understand God completely, would we not be gods ourselves? I know I am no god, so I am unsurprised to find that I cannot comprehend God in his fullness or understand fully how such contradictions can be combined in him. Nevertheless, I am quite certain they are.Arrington characterizes skeptics as incorrectly as possible. We are not at all surprised that God doesn't fit into categories of evidence, logic, and reason--this is the point we're making!
Arrington's picture of the deity is sweet. It sounds ducky: God is virile and complex, accessible and sublime. He actually is the best of the best. But what real evidence is Arrington's picture based on? Writings of other theologians? Holy writ?
How can the rest of the world know that his picture of the supreme being corresponds to the truth? How can anyone know that Arrington's picture of the creator god is better than that of other apologists and theologians?
We can't know. Ultimately, Arrington is making stuff up based on his personal view of the world. Square peg God doesn't have to fit into round hole reality because square peg God only has to fit into the square hole in Arrington's imagination.