Did Philosophers Resolve the “Theodicy Problem” Years Ago?
In the philosophy academy, the “theodicy problem” was considered resolved in the early 1980’s, if I recall the timing. I can no longer remember the names of the authors of the major papers but philosophers moved on to other topics after concluding the theodicy problem addressed. I don’t recall any significant challenges to that resolution at the time but I’ve not researched it in a long while. Perhaps others can address this.
I’m not saying that there are no philosophers today who continue to pose it as a significant issue. I am saying that philosophy is such a broad academic discipline that I’m often amazed at what even some of the most respected philosophers fail to know or recognize outside of their fields of specialization and experience.
So Has the Theodicy Problem Been Solved?
Now I don’t expect the resolution of the theodicy problem among philosopher-specialists to necessarily satisfy everybody else. Yet, their rather common sense resolution of the problem can be quite instructive for all. To put it colloquially and rather simply, the philosophers concluded that if God exists and has the attributes the standard definition assigns to him, then it is impossible for the logician to claim that God could not have valid reasons/justifications for great evil and suffering in his creation due to some higher purpose unknown to us.
Whether one is dealing with a young child or with an adult unfamiliar with medical treatments, it can be very difficult for medical professionals to convey to some patients why they must first endure some significant or even extreme pain before their health condition and comfort can be improved. The pointy needle precedes the protective inoculation. The noxious, painful, and even nausea inducing treatment is a necessary step on the path to much better health and longevity. If human parents and physicians understand this nugget of common sense, surely there is hope for coping with the theodicy problem. That may seem trite but it is also reasonable.
Now, the come-back is typically this: “But God is omniscient and omnipotent. He allegedly can do anything so shouldn’t he be able to bring the benefits or higher purpose or noble goal or whatever it may be without the pain and suffering we see throughout the world?”
Answer: That is a very common misunderstanding of God’s omnipotence. Many assume that the Bible says, “God can do anything! Whatever we can manage to imagine, God is capable of doing that.” But that is not what the Bible says and respected theologians have not defined God’s omnipotence in that way.
The Bible describes God’s omnipotence as God never lacking the necessary capability for doing that which he chooses to do. God will accomplish his purposes. God never resolves to do something and then falls short in executing it because of a lack of power, knowledge, or ability.
Thus, the philosophers who dealt with the theodicy problem realized that God’s omniscience does NOT entail an abandonment of logic. William Lane Craig often cites the traditional example with statements I will paraphrase like this: There are lots of things God can’t do. Yet that doesn’t detract from his omnipotence. For example, God can’t make a married bachelor. Why? Human language includes the capability of describing scenarios and conditions which do not correspond to any meaningful reality. So even though a “married bachelor” can be posed in an English sentence that complies with various grammatical rules, it has no value in describing reality.
I’ve heard some detractors try to spin that as “You are saying that God is not sovereign! You are saying that the power of God is limited by logic and that God himself must submit to the rule of logic.” Not at all. I’m saying that God is real and therefore I fully expect God to be consistent with all that is real, including logic itself. If God were to “function illogically”, how could God exist in reality?
Philosophers considered the “theodicy problem” solved because they found it unnecessary to assume that reality allowed for other “better solutions” or other “reality paths” which could lead to whatever good goal or condition which the present reality of a world of evil, pain, and suffering will eventually conclude. Indeed, my understanding of the God of the Bible tells me that if some other better path to the eventual reality (even one without so much of the evil, pain, and suffering) which God has planned for his people in the New Heaven and the New Earth, I believe God would have exercised his omniscience and omnipotence to bring it about.
The typical counter-argument is to say, “But God can allegedly do anything! Therefore, God should have exercised his omnipotence and omniscience to create a different kind of LOGIC which could have allowed for a better solution path which omitted all of that suffering and pain.” Again, that would be replacing the Biblical and traditional doctrine of Divine Omnipotence with one of our own manufacture. “God can do anything” is not a Biblical claim. It is not a correct definition of omnipotence.
Just as God cannot make a “married bachelor” because that is not a meaningful concept within the reality which exists, I contend that logical reality did not and does not make possible a less-painful, less-evil, less-suffering path to the ultimate conclusion which God in his wisdom has chosen. Thus, the “theodicy problem” is just a more complex version of the tiresome “Can God make a rock so big that even he can’t lift it?”
I’ve had academics who should know better claim that that traditional rock question and the “irresistible-force meets immovable-object” class of problems “disproves the existence of God”. (Not one of them had any academic background in philosophy, needless to say.) The folly of that position should be just as obvious as is the fact that the “married bachelor” challenge to God’s omnipotence is an exercise in bad logic. What is much more difficult to recognize is that theodicy problem is actually in that same class of “problems”—but it was not until recent decades that the philosophy generally made that connection.
Now that’s my humble effort to try and explain that class of problems. No doubt others can do a better job of it. Whether or not any particular individual finds it a satisfying resolution of the theodicy problem is an entirely different matter. (As the old saying goes: Your mileage may differ.) People make decisions about such things for many reasons other than logic. We all do at times.
Whatever the case may be for others, I don’t expect Biologos to solve the theodicy problem because I saw it solved long ago. I’ve moved on to other mysteries which bother me a lot more.