Does creation ex nihilo present a problem for the problem of evil. Let’s talk about it on Deeper Waters.
A friend sent me a video from a Mormon on YouTube who goes by the name of Khhaaan1. The video can be found here. I will refer to the producer as Khan from here out. The video is an attempt to show that if you accept creation ex nihilo, you have a problem with the problem of evil.
Khan says at the start that there was no official statement on creation ex nihilo from the church until the 4th Lateran Council in 1215 A.D. This is true, but the reason is why was it mentioned then? It was because of the Albigenses, a sect much like the Manichaean teaching that Augustine dealt with years ago. Matter was seen as the creation of an evil power and spirit was good and the creation of the god of the NT.
Noteworthy at the start is that Khan in this video does not address biblical verses used to support ex nihilo. Perhaps he has done so elsewhere, but in this video there is nothing.
Also, I will state at the start that I have no marriage to creation ex nihilo. It has been a principle I have followed for some time that my Christianity is not dependent on my doctrine of creation but on the essential, the resurrection. I do hold to ex nihilo, but I am open to a better interpretation if one can be found that fits the facts. An eternal universe would not shake my faith. Neither would a multiverse or any scientific discovery like that. I leave that area to the scientists anyway.
Khan goes on to say that the church has been wrong before and uses Galileo as an example. I do not think this is the best example. The church had not entirely closed the door on heliocentrism. Copernicus had had his book on it dedicated to the Pope and the Pope had no problem with it. The problem with Galileo is that Galileo was egotistical, refused to admit any errors, spoke on theology and Scriptural interpretation without being trained in that area and while being asked to not do so, and wanted immediate acceptance of his ideas instead of waiting for more evidence. It didn’t help that he also mocked the Pope, who I think was frankly quite egotistical himself.
I do not doubt the church handled it poorly, but Galileo is really an exception to the normal way the church handled scientific advancement. We can look back and say “They were wrong,” but we must also be frank and admit that the evidence really was not in conclusively yet. A great problem for heliocentrism, Obler’s Paradox, was not even answered until the 19th century. It is easy for us to look back and say they were wrong, but we can be sure some scientists centuries from now will look back on and us and wonder how we missed some truths that they deem to be obvious. We should approach the past with as much charity as we want the future to approach us.
When we start getting to the heart of the matter, Khan to his credit does give a definition of evil. He says evil is an act or event whereby existence would be better if it had not occurred.
I find this troublesome due to the largely subjective nature of the claim. If someone does not want to donate to Deeper Waters for instance, does that mean that is an evil since I think existence would be better if that had occurred? What about all of creation? Would it have been better if God had not created at all, even if the Mormon view was correct and there were spirit children with God? How about eternity? Would Heaven be better if there were one more person in it? If so, then one would have to create an infinite quantity, an impossibility, for there not to be evil there.
For my view, there is no problem, since I think the mistake is that Khan nowhere defined good. There are so many problems you can dispense with at the start if you have a definition of good, such as the so-called Euthyphro dilemma. The good is that at which all things aim.
The good is that at which all things aim said Aristotle, which means that it is something that is desirable. Aquinas took this then and said that something is good insofar as it is an instance of its kind. To be perfect, it must be actual and insofar as it is actual, it is perfect. Since everything desires perfection and that which is the most perfect is the most actual, then we see that goodness and being are the same thing. Goodness just speaks to the thing being desirable. (See Feser’s book “Aquinas” for more.)
Now there is something that must be said about desirable. This does not mean a conscious desire as Aristotle said all things aim for the good, but very few things are conscious in the grand scheme of things. So how do they aim? It is based on their final cause, that is, the end for which they are meant. For Aristotle, this was the most important cause of all. Unfortunately for many of us today, it is the least important cause.
To give an example, a plant has no conscious nature that we know of, but the plant still moves towards water and towards the sun. The plant wishes to be even if it does not realize that or do so consciously. Our cat here often gets scared and will run away when someone he doesn’t know or trust comes over. Why? He naturally wants to live even if he is not consciously thinking “I want to live.” We can also have an end we were made for and actively resist it and try to find it elsewhere. For instance, in Christian thought, we were all made to reflect God and His love and rule with Him forever. Many of us deny this and seek our good in other places like sex, money, power, etc.
As far as I’m concerned, the lack of really establishing a philosophy of good and evil is the Achilles’s heel of Khan’s argument. Note in fact that by my definition, one has an explanation for moral goodness and evil, but also goodness of nature.
So what is evil then? Evil is the privation of that which should be present but is not. If goodness is being, then its opposite, evil, is a kind of non-being, and nothing positive can be said about non-being. We must be clear on this point here. It is not evil that a rock does not have sight, since it is not in the nature of a rock to have sight, but it is an evil that a man has blindness, since it is of the nature of a man to have sight. Blindness is not a positive principle in something, but it is an absence of a good that should be there, the good of sight. It is a name given to a specific absence, but not an existent reality on its own.
I’m also concerned about Khan’s definition of omnipotence. Can God create a square circle is a question He asks. I do not know from his talk if he means this seriously or not, but the answer is no. God cannot do that because that involves a contradiction, and omnipotence has not been historically understood to mean that contradictions can be done. The following lengthy quote from the Summa Theologica, q. 25, article 3, will show Aquinas’s stance.
“It remains therefore, that God is called omnipotent because He can do all things that are possible absolutely; which is the second way of saying a thing is possible. For a thing is said to be possible or impossible absolutely, according to the relation in which the very terms stand to one another, possible if the predicate is not incompatible with the subject, as that Socrates sits; and absolutely impossible when the predicate is altogether incompatible with the subject, as, for instance, that a man is a donkey.
It must, however, be remembered that since every agent produces an effect like itself, to each active power there corresponds a thing possible as its proper object according to the nature of that act on which its active power is founded; for instance, the power of giving warmth is related as to its proper object to the being capable of being warmed. The divine existence, however, upon which the nature of power in God is founded, is infinite, and is not limited to any genus of being; but possesses within itself the perfection of all being. Whence, whatsoever has or can have the nature of being, is numbered among the absolutely possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent. Now nothing is opposed to the idea of being except non-being. Therefore, that which implies being and non-being at the same time is repugnant to the idea of an absolutely possible thing, within the scope of the divine omnipotence. For such cannot come under the divine omnipotence, not because of any defect in the power of God, but because it has not the nature of a feasible or possible thing. Therefore, everything that does not imply a contradiction in terms, is numbered amongst those possible things, in respect of which God is called omnipotent: whereas whatever implies contradiction does not come within the scope of divine omnipotence, because it cannot have the aspect of possibility. Hence it is better to say that such things cannot be done, than that God cannot do them. Nor is this contrary to the word of the angel, saying: “No word shall be impossible with God.” For whatever implies a contradiction cannot be a word, because no intellect can possibly conceive such a thing.”
In essence then, God cannot do a contradiction since that would involve being and non-being both and God can only do that which is possible. As C.S. Lewis said in “The Problem of Pain.”
“His Omnipotence means power to do all that is intrinsically possible, not to do the intrinsically impossible. You may attribute miracles to Him, but not nonsense. There is no limit to His power.
If you choose to say, ‘God can give a creature free will and at the same time withhold free will from it,’ you have not succeeded in saying anything about God: meaningless combinations of words do not suddenly acquire meaning simply because we prifex to them the two other words, ‘God can.’
It remains true that all things are possible with God: the intrinsic impossibilities are not things but nonentities. It is no more possible for God than for the weakest of His creatures to carry out both of two mutually exclusive alternatives; not because His power meets an obstacle, but because nonsense remains nonsense even when we talk it about God.”
This then gets us into the free-will defense. To his credit, Khan does bring up Plantinga, Khan does argue that he does not believe that free-will exists, but will grant it for the sake of argument. I come from the approach that free-will exists and that divine sovereignty exists. How are these two reconciled? Much has been written on that question and I do not expect a clear answer. I just see Scripture teaches both and accept both of them. There are some who have God so sovereign that there is no free-will. I find this much more problematic as it makes God the ultimate cause of evil. There are some who say God is not all-knowing with regards to the future and man has free-will, but I find this to be a limitation on God with no metaphysical basis and not compatible with Scripture.
Khan says God could have created people to be more rational or more sensitive. If they were more of these, they would have made better decisions, but I question the premise. For instance, in order to make a person to be perfectly good in nature entirely and perfectly rational, God would have to make someone else like Him, but He cannot do that. He cannot make another being who has no beginning.
There is no other being that can Have being define its essence. Everything else partakes of God in some way. Each can only be a perfection of its kind. God is not looking to create a being exactly like Him. That’s impossible. He is looking to create a being that reflects Him, albeit imperfectly if one means not a total duplicate, but perfectly if we just mean, insofar as we are able.
Even if we granted other spirit beings, the problem would be the same. Michael the archangel cannot be exactly like God. Only God is goodness itself by nature and love itself by nature and being itself by nature. Everything else has being and is loving and good and existent insofar as it exists. (Even the devil. The devil has will, power, and existence, which are good things, and the devil seeks his own good, which is to say he loves his own good. The problem is that his will is bent morally)
So, if God wants to create beings who are to be good, that goodness is to be a choice for them, just as it was for Michael and the devil. If he creates spirit children supposedly, even those must choose for if love for us is to be a free decision, it cannot be a forced free decision. That is a contradiction.
Khan’s situation is problematic because to say we could be more rational means we are better able to think and know all the information needed, but eventually, one will have to reach omniscience, which we cannot, seeing as we are always going to be finite beings by nature and God alone is infinite.
If we go with spirit beings, we just push the problem back a step and then can just as easily say why God allowed these spirit beings who He knew to be evil to come to Earth and do evil here. Perhaps Khan will point to a greater good, but then I can just as well say “That is why God allows people to choose evil here. He uses their evil for a greater good.”
For the problem of evil to be shown to be a problem, it must be shown that God can have no good reason for doing it this way, and I do not think that that can be shown from Khan, though He is welcome to try. I also think that for a larger perspective on this, he might want to try the work “God and Evil” By Meister and Dew Jr.