PBS’ Closer To Truth host Robert Lawrence Kuhn interviews Dr. Alvin Plantinga (often named as the most important living philosopher of religion today) about God’s existence and the problem of evil.
Does Evil Disprove God? (2 of 2) (Alvin Plantinga)
Richard Swinburne is the Emeritus Nolloth Professor of the Philosophy of the Christian Religion, University of Oxford. He is one of the leading analytic philosophers of religion and his contributions to Christian philosophy has been enormous. His first three books focused on the existence of God: The Coherence of Theism, The Existence of God, and Faith and Reason. Other books dealt with issues in philosophical theology, including The Christian God, The Problem of Evil, and The Evolution of the Soul.
Here is how Richard describes the traditional view of what God is like in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. It is also the kind of God to which his arguments lead. He states: “God is clearly supposed to be a personal being in the sense of someone with whom we interact. And the person is someone with powers. I’m a person because I can do certain things. God can do certain things but His powers are infinite. So He’s omnipotent, He can do anything. Being a person means that I have certain beliefs about the world. God has beliefs about the world but He has all true beliefs. So He knows everything. He’s omniscient. I can make choices between alternatives. That’s part of what makes me a person. So in that sense, I have a certain amount of freedom but of course, I’m influenced by irrational desires of various kinds and my freedom is limited. He has perfect freedom. He is not influenced by irrational desires or anything outside himself.
So He is a personal being who is omnipotent, omniscient and perfectly free. Anything lasts for a certain amount of time. I last for a certain amount of time. God lasts for an infinite amount of time and I prefer to construe that in saying He’s everlasting, He exists at all moments of past time, exists now and will exist at all moments of future time.
Though there is another way of construing that in a traditional saying that He exists outside of time. But however you construe this, let’s say He’s eternal. From these characteristics of God, omnipotent, omniscience and perfect freedom and eternity, there follow all the other traditional attributes of God.
For example, God is supposed to be perfectly good. Now given that He is omniscient, He will know what things are good and what things are bad and given that He is perfectly free, He will be not influenced to do anything except what He believes to be good and since He’s omniscient, He will have true beliefs about what is good. Recognizing something is good gives you a reason for doing it, and unless you are deterred by irrational desires, you will do it. So God will be perfectly good because He’s not influenced by irrational desires. He sees what is good and He will do it. God is omnipresent, He is present everywhere. And what that means is He is present by his power’s knowledge.
That’s to say, He’s aware of everything that’s happening everywhere and He can make a difference to everything that’s happening everywhere and it follows from His omnipotence that He has the ability to act at places not indirectly by sending a radio signal there, but directly. And it follows from His omniscience that He knows what’s going on everywhere. So He’s omnipresent. If there is a universe, it follows because He is omnipotent that it only exists because He allows it to exist. He is the creator of any universe there is.”
As to the atheistic charge that postulating an ethereal God just moves the problem up one level. Who created God? Richard answers: ” We do move the problem up. We ask why are there all these tables and chairs and so on? And the answer is because they are made of atoms and molecules. And they are the ultimate constituents. We go behind the visible thing to see what are the invisible things which are the ultimate constituents. And we go back in time to find the causes of things.
So looking for causes and constituencies is what science is all about. And it’s no objection to the existence of God. Even if it were the case that he needed explanation and we couldn’t explain him, it wouldn’t be any objection to postulating him. Because all that time, we are postulating causes when we cannot explain those causes. So who created God? The answer is, of course, given the traditional view of God, is that no one created God. If God has the traditional properties, those include God being omnipotent, that He is able to do everything, if there were something which created God, then something would have happened which God was not responsible for.
But if a being is omnipotent, then everything that happens either he allows it to happen or he brings it about. But if something created him, then something would have happened which he didn’t allow or didn’t bring about. So clearly, if there is a God, that’s the end of the explanatory ladder. If there is a God, then that explains everything. Nothing created God. That is the final terminus of the explanation of the universe. People can ask impossible questions but there is no further explanation.
Is Evil Necessary in God’s World? (Richard Swinburne) (Part 2 of 2)
Q: If Being, or God, is the creative source of all energy and thoughts, and thoughts from the ego are a negative form of energy, don’t these negative thoughts originate from Being? In other words, did God create evil?
A: That kind of question has been asked and talked about by many philosophers and it has remained a kind of stumbling block in the Christian religion. So let’s see what the intuitive answer is. In this sense-perceived universe, if you want to use anything here to compare God to, the most appropriate thing would be the sun. The sun is the source of seemingly inexhaustible energy, and the giver of life. The very heat in your body comes from the sun indirectly.
The sun of course is not eternal, but compared to the human life span it can be considered virtually eternal, it’s so much vaster. And it gives freely of itself, millions and millions of years of pouring out energy. Now let’s say the sun is in a process of becoming conscious of itself, because my intuition is the Universe, or rather that which underlies the Universe, or the One behind the many, is in the process of becoming conscious of itself in the dimension of time. The One also exists in the timeless dimension, where there is no past and future.
So God, to use that word for a while, in the timeless, God is already complete and perfect. But it seems that in the realm of time, God is becoming conscious through all these life forms. Now if that were the sun, then in the process of becoming conscious, the sun continuously emits zillions of photons, light particles. Let’s say the individual photon is part of the process of becoming conscious for the sun. Now in that process, the individual photon would undergo a change of consciousness arising. Temporarily, the individual photon, as it becomes together with the sun, as consciousness arises it mis-perceives itself as a separate entity. It no longer realizes its oneness with the sun.
There’s a continuum, it never really loses connection with the sun. So temporarily, as part of the process of becoming conscious, it believes itself to be separate. It’s a temporary thing. While it believes itself to be separate, it creates all kinds of illusions that reflect the basic illusion of separateness. That’s basically where we are at, where humanity is at. The human being is the photon, the sun particle, so to speak. The consciousness within is the consciousness of God, there’s only one consciousness. And that consciousness, in the process of the whole becoming conscious, mis-perceives itself temporarily. And that creates the illusion of separateness in the individual human. That creates the illusion of the identification with form, which is the illusion of separateness. That’s seeing oneself as a separate entity. The stronger that illusion is, the more that gets reflected in its actions outside, which then become deluded. And that’s called evil.
Ultimately in evil, nothing is destroyed. The essence of all life forms is eternal. But on its own level, it’s not pleasant. From the point of view of the larger whole, it’s only a brief dream episode that takes place as the One is becoming conscious. So that is the answer to “Did God create evil?” So the teachings that say that evil ultimately is not real, of course that is correct. But it’s a question of levels. If you look at it from one level, it has a certain reality.
The fact that it ultimately is not real does not mean that on this temporary level it does not appear very real. But it must be recognized as deluded. Evil can be defined as complete identification with form – that is the illusion. The more an entity is identified with form, the more evil the entity seemingly creates, and the more suffering is created. What’s the answer? The answer of course is why we’re here. We are the arising of the answer. The answer is not just the answer, it is the end of the illusion of separateness and the end of so-called evil.