Wednesday, August 26, 2009

A Critical Review of Gordon H. Clark's "God And Evil: The Problem Solved": Part II

I am in the process of journalling through Gordon H. Clark's "God and Evil: The Problem Solved". Right now I am reading through the first section after the forward, entitled "Historical Exposition".

In the margin the reader is promised that POE will be squarely faced, that it will not be dodged, and that where other views disintegrate under POE, Calvinism (as expressed by the Westminster Confession) offers a satisfactory and logical solution. In order to bring the matter into focus, Clark writes that he will catch us up on the historical conversation.

He begins with Lactantius, an early Christian who reported on the popularity of the discussion about POE in the early days of Christianity. But POE was grappled with even before Christianity, and continues to be grappled with by non-Christians; it is not just a problem for believers, but for all theists.

And not only that, but Clark believes that while atheism might dodge the force of certain versions of POE, philosophical determinism remains a possibility and must be reconciled with responsibility. Therefore, he believes that denying the existence of God won't get one out of POE.

Clark believes POE is a problem for everybody, and it is a very old problem that hasn't been solved. Not even by the great Christian philosopher Augustine.

Clark concludes this section with the resolve to do two things:

1. Eschew an attitude of secrecy, boldly facing POE and being honest about its potency.
2. Build a solution to POE on the Biblical foundation of God's omnipotence.

Here are my honest reactions to this as I read:

• I like Clark's attitude. He seems to have a clear understanding of POE's nature and potency. He seems genuinely interested in completely solving it, and he has faith in God's word to be true and helpful. His pledge to take both POE and God's word seriously is refreshing. I am really interested in getting to his actual argument.

• Not a lot of the information in this section was new to me. That's ok though.

• There wasn't a lot to be critical of in this section. His history lesson seems accurate enough.

• One thing I that did come to my mind, is that Clark doesn't mention Epicurus. I wouldn't care, because Clark seems only to be setting up the reader to understand the nature of POE clearly, and to get a feel for the scope of its influence. And he accomplishes those ends.

But I think there is something important in the earliest documented formulation of POE, which is traditionally attributed to Epicurus (341-270 BC). It goes something like this:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.

Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.

Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?

Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
What I think is relevant about Epicurus' formulation of POE, is that second question and answer pair. If God is able to prevent evil, but not willing, then He is malevolent. As you can see, Epicurus considered an attack on God's omnibenevolence a defeater of theism just as fatal as attacks on God's omnipotence and omniscience. And I think he was right to think so; conceding one divine attribute to POE is just as cheap and heretical as conceding another.

We not only do not believe that any are foreordained to evil by the power of God, but even state with utter abhorrence that if there are those who want to believe so evil a thing, they are anathema.

-Conclusion to the Canons of the Council of Orange (529 AD)

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