Saturday, January 01, 2005

Theodicy

After something as terrible as the recent tsunami, the question is inevitably asked, for instance here and here. Why would a just God let this happen? The Problem of Evil is thrown in our faces once again.

If the question is forever repeated, then so are attempts to answer it. Wading into the philosophical waters with a mix of zeal and trepidation, I here make such an attempt. Though my prose is original, the ideas therein are certainly not, given how old the question is. The ideas merit repetition.

The short answer is that we deserve as bad as we get. Without elaboration, this answer isn't satisfactory, because it does not explain the distribution of evil, let alone justify it. I do not accept the premise of the question "Why do bad things happen to good people?" because no one is innocent. Yet, some people are more evil than others, and (as far as I know) this tsunami didn't respect that distinction. It does not suffice to say that all will be made right in the afterlife or upon some apocalyptic judgement day, for if God is perfectly just, then he is just always and everywhere; whence, there must be a just reason for the present distribution of evil.

At this point, I find myself making an argument similar to the Anthropic Principle. I generally like to avoid this type of argument, but I find it better than no argument. If the Problem of Evil is a mystery, then my forthcoming argument is a reduction of one mystery to another: why was the universe, including us, created? (On a smaller scale, why am I here?) That's something I am much more comfortable leaving a mystery for a while.

Man, being evil, is justly not living in paradise. We live in a place where, among many other evils, there are tsunamis that kill indiscriminately. It's a matter of physics. Is it also unjust group punishment? If God's imposition of physics on us is unjust, then our very creation is unjust, for who and what we are is intrinsically tied to our physical existence. That's the reduction. What did God have in mind creating us rather than nothing or some blameless alternative creatures fit for paradise? I don't know; this mystery is irreducible to me, and I appeal to faith.

For those unwilling to appeal to faith when facing a question as hard as why the universe exists, all that remains is a declaration of ignorance (and, for some, indifference). The choice is yours to make, but don't get smug if someone fails to solve the Problem of Evil to your satisfaction; you don't have all the answers either.

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