We see that the probabilistic problem of evil fails for our want of omniscience – there is no possible way for any human to rule, with complete authority, that God does not have a purpose for the seemingly gratuitous evils we see in the world. Absent such knowledge, there is no way to know whether any suffering actually is gratuitous, and therefore the main pillar of the argument cannot stand.
An aside: I feel obliged to recount a lesson from The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When Aslan makes his deal with the White Witch and submits to being killed in exchange for Edmund, he says that he must submit because of the “Deep Magic from the Dawn of Time.” This was magic the children did not know about, but the White Witch (having been created at the Dawn of Time) knew it well. And yet it seems a gratuitous exchange – the king of Narnia, dying for a selfish boy. The only hope of Narnia, who could devour the Witch’s army almost at once, given up for the life of a boy who had never carried a sword. It doesn’t make sense.
We come to find out that there is “Deeper Magic from Before the Dawn of Time,” and in this we actually have a better outcome than if Aslan had not made the deal. I propose that the probabilistic problem of evil suffers a weakness like this – it is ignorant of the Deeper Magic.
Before we get to the emotional problem of evil, which Plantinga introduces in quite an interesting way, I’d like to explore the intellectual problem of evil a little bit further.
When we speak of gratuitous evil, we seem to to be speaking in terms of a balance sheet, or counterbalancing scales. Evil on one side (of the ledger, or the scales) and goodness on the other. We then, without being too precise, estimate that the evil in a situation outweighs the good; on the balance sheet, we have a deficit of goodness.
I’ve already said that we are not aware of all of God’s purposes, and so in any given instance of evil, our scales appear weighted toward evil. God’s, however, might be balanced, or favor the goodness of a situation. Very well.
But is this the best rendering of a situation? Even if we could objectively value the “units” of goodness and those of evil and weigh them, do we really grasp the reality of the situation by scales and balance sheets? After all, what is evil?
I want to suggest (and I’m not the first to do so) that evil is not anything. What we call evil is merely an absence of good, just as what we call cold is merely an absence of heat.* In the language of the balance sheets, evil is zero.
Notice what this means – evil is not a negative number. There is no possibility of a negative number. Consider: If you were to remove all the heat from a given space, what would the absolute temperature be? Zero; we call this “absolute zero.” There is no negative temperature.**
Evil, instead, is a deficit of good – it is a lack, a depravity, where some greater measure of good ought to be. It is a failing, a falling short of the goodness which God intended and desires for us, and which he promises to those who will trust him.^
In this sense, the causal relationship arises more clearly. It’s not that God permitted the kidnapper and rapist to do something which results in a net-negative; rather, He permitted a vacuum. The net sum (of goodness) would never be less than zero. In fact, it must always be greater than zero.
When the woman says she could walk through Hell with a smile on her face, she means that she looked into the abyss – the absence of good – and knew she did not have to submit to it. She knew she was something, and that as a matter of fact, she would always be greater than nothing.
Is this not a great good, this simple knowledge? Aren’t these women saintly in their disposition, in their perseverance? In what way have their words and actions been lacking? Are they not, in these things, greater than their abductor and rapist? Are they not, perhaps, greater than you and me in this way?
One other point tends to be glossed over when gratuitous evil is discussed. The naturalists, I have observed, speak as though we are in the only and ultimate realm of reality. They speak this way even as they critique God’s handling of the Universe – they speak out of both sides of their mouths. They seem not to realize (or not care) that they are artificially handicapping God, and the great good that he is.
In other words, God is the infinite good.
This is not a pious expression – I am saying that, whatever is a “unit of good,” God is equal to an infinity of those. You can never count up his goodness. He is an actual infinity of goodness.
In this way we might understand why the sin of Adam and Eve is call “The Fall” – they fell, precipitously, from an inconceivable magnitude of goodness. Heaven, then, is like infinity – further up and further in. The fall from infinity to any other number is an infinite descent, and Christians have always known the gap could not be bridged by finite means.
That woman in Cleveland might never put it in these words; could it be that she not only sees that she is something, but that God is everything? Has she, in this experience, seen that God is so unimaginably greater than any evil (or any good, for that matter) that her faith is strengthened and renewed?
Wouldn’t it be the greatest possible good if God leads her, through this evil, into everlasting life?
*I leave a larger study of this definition of evil for another time.
**Same here – I leave the objection, “But there are negative temperatures!” to another study. For now, it suffices to say that I am speaking of the “absolute” temperatures, which calculate the amount of heat in a space (and I compare this to a calculation of the amount of good in a situation). Our scales in centigrade and Fahrenheit are conventions, which do have their uses.
^The reader will probably recognize this, but I use some of the classical language for evil here. One might – as I once did – simply think of such words as “depraved” to be poetic, even hyperbolic. But depravity is a lack leading to ill-health and ruin, and here we see one way to understand that, mechanically. It’s not poetic, it’s precisely descriptive: When one is depraved, he does not have enough goodness to maintain his health, and he will fall toward zero, the abyss, which is death.