Monday, June 26, 2006

Evil and the Problem of Good, cnt'd

About 2 months ago, I posted on the problem of evil in a post I called "Evil and the Problem of Good" . As a result of that post, my good friend Alethia put up the comment:

don't you think though that the reason we feel bad when we hear about someone dying of cancer or getting killed in an accident truly is selfish? i don't think it is consciously that way, but if i had to be honest the real reason that makes me sad is i think, wow what if that was my husband who was killed in that accident or my mom who died of cancer and those are really the thoughts that make me sad. what do you think?

What do I think? I think she's right. But this creates a problem if you follow my argument that anything "good" we do is because God breaks into our lives and causes us to care. If I'm doing justice to Alethia's comment, she is pointing out that, within my framework, it might not be the call of God that breaks our selfish tendencies, but that it might very well be that when humans do "good" they're really just being selfish. In their selfishness they hope that if they help someone in their time of need, someone will help them when they need it.

In this view, it wouldn't really be God who causes the problem of good, but rather what we percieve as "good" is only a by-product of our evolution. In essence, Alethia is pointing out that Richard Dawkins' "Selfish Gene" is more complicated (and at times, altruistic) than I give it credit. As a result, I'm in need of repairing (or reframing) my argument.

For secular evolutionists, like Dawkins, things in the universe evolved by chance. The establishments of physical constants, like the strong nuclear force, gravitational force, speed of light, etc were the product of chance, and all of the self-organization of the universe since the beginning were the product of chance as well. From this vantage point, the characteristics of humans to be altruistic is simply a chance development as a result of natural selection. In the secular view, compassion is an instinct brought about by humanity's desire to survive. Compassion is therefore neither good nor evil - it just a neutral characteristic brought about by random chance.

As a gross generalization, secularists believe like Dawkins, that everything in creation is morally neutral. They believe this because they adhere to a philosophy called reductionism, also known as Methodological Naturalism. Essentially, reductionism means that everything is ultimately explainable by scientific principles. But what makes this true? On what basis can one say that everything is explainable by scientific principles? Can a belief in reductionism then be explained via scientific principles? Or, is reductionism perhaps something people take on faith?

Now let me pause here and say two things. First, fleshing all this out involves getting into a lot of philosophy of science stuff, which is WAY to boring to blog about. That means that I'll leave out chunks of the explanation so as to not bore the 4 people kind enough to read my blog. If you want to know more about philosophy of science and where I come up with these ideas, read a book on it. Second, I personally tend to be quite reductionist, though it is a position I take on faith as much as a non-reductionist takes his (or her) position on faith. I believe that things can be explained through scientific principles, and I believe this because that is what time has taught humanity. For almost everything a person can think of, science has found a mechanism to explain it. It only takes a brief glance through history to find examples of how activity previously assigned to God alone is now readily explained through science.

Yet I also believe that some things are beyond our capability to explain. For instance, why are the physical constants in the universe fine-tuned for the development of life? What is the ultimate purpose (or goal) of creation? Why do I feel this continuous need to grope towards an understanding that is just beyond my grasp? Can scientific principles explain this? Currently, at least, they can't. And scientists who are a lot smarter than me (Hawking among them) believe that we will never be able to answer a good chunk of the "why" questions. Some things are just unknowable.

At least, unknowable in the scientific sense.

Which leads me to the real explanation of evil and the problem of good. Whereas the secularist takes reductionism on faith (I'm oversimplifying my point here), I take on faith the idea that the ultimate origin and goal of the universe comes from God. Within that universe I believe a great many things are explainable scientifically, but I also believe things are that way because God has a goal of drawing all creation to him. All of creation is said to "live and move and exist" (Acts 17:28) in God, and creation finds its meaning (which is something unanswerable via reductionism) as we "grope for Him" (Acts 17:27).

So, going back to Alethia's comment, how do we know that altuism isn't just a byproduct of natural selection? We don't. But I would contend that what we, as Christians, do know is that God created in such a way that creation would grope after Him and find Him. And as I look upon the startling complexity of the universe, and how it has gotten more complex over time, I realize that maybe creation actually is groping towards something. Maybe creation has a goal and a purpose that it is organizing towards. Evolution creates and destroys and turns things into chaos, but I see the face of God as things self-organize out of the chaos, as if creation is reaching towards God. THIS is the good that breaks into the evil of chaos. The default state of things is chaos and anarchy, but strangely all of creation doesn't fall into this, but it organizes steadily into something rational and stable - it organizes into something that can call on God and seek Him. The problem isn't that things want to be chaotic - that's their default state. The problem is that good breaks in and organizes out of the chaos, directing us as we live and move and exist towards our ultimate goal, which is an infinitely good God. Sure, altruism might be a result of evolution, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good thing that occured in humanity as creation groped towards God.

Intestestingly enough, all of this has a connection to free will, or the lack thereof. What if, in humans, creation no longer has to blindly and randomly grope towards God, but it can finally reach towards God in a new way - a way in which humans alone, despite all the other things in creation, are said to be in God's image.

What do you think?

1 comment:

lorri said...

not sure what i think, other than i'm glad i'm not a theology major.