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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Keith Ward interview

Listened to a 2008 interview with Keith Ward at Washington National Cathedral on "The Big Questions for Science and Religion" (text and audio here). Professor Ward is asked a number of questions in the interview, two of which were about the problem of evil. I found his answer to the second question especially interesting ....

* Question #1 (Lloyd):
Now, I want you to solve some mysteries for us, one after another. Number one: If there is a God of love behind the universe, why is there suffering?

Well, I think the best approach to this is to look at what science tells you about universe. And I will take a person, Steven Weinberg, a Nobel Prize–winning physicist, who’s not a theist, who feels his problem very intensely, but who also has to answer it, thought he doesn’t see it himself. And the answer is that the universe, to produce intelligent life forms like us, we’re made of carbon, which has been developed in certain ways in this environment with oxygen, etc. So, we belong in this universe, we’re a [central] part of this universe. Beings like us would only exist in a universe with laws like ours. So the universe and its structure are necessary to our existence. And I think that’s an approach that I find very helpful.

So, why is there suffering? Why is there frustration? Because these are necessary consequences of there being laws of nature. Laws of nature make it necessary that there would be earthquakes and tornadoes, because these are necessary to sustain the balance of the planet. Without them the planet would not exist. So, of course, we don’t like them; they’re not good for us. But they’re necessary for us to exist. So it’s a hard universe.

It’s a very hard truth.


Who is it that put it this way? If God is God, he is not good—because we see what’s happened around. Or is God is good, he is not God—which means he could have stopped it. So it’s the classic theodicy argument. How can you put together a God of love and a universe that’s filled with tragedy, Holocaust, genocide, the terrible individual tragedies of human life. How do you put those together?

Well, first of all, obviously a lot it, and you mention the Holocaust, is human evil. And that is people that God has permitted to do things which is in opposition to everything that God wants them to do. So a lot of that is human evil, and that’s permitted because, in general, it is good to be free. It is good to be free to love. And if you weren’t free to love and, therefore, free to hate, you wouldn’t be free. You would be a robot. You’ll be a programmed machine. So that’s part of it.

And then the natural evil, well that just follows. You know, we wouldn’t have carbon atoms. Carbon is formed in the supernova of stars where the lighter atoms, hydrogen and helium, fuse into carbon atoms. So that vast destructive force—the explosions of stars—is necessary for us to begin to exist.

So it’s necessity and freedom; those are the two factors, which I think a good God could indeed say, these are going to be things which are going to happen, which are intensely tragic. Perhaps a good God would say two things (I say this as a Christian): first, “I will share in that tragedy”; that’s the message of the cross. Secondly, “I will turn it to good”; that for every sentient being who suffers, there will be the possibility of an eternity of bliss, which couldn’t have existed without the world in which they were born.

Given those two things, I believe without reservation that a good God could create a universe like this, and has done.

... (snip) ...

Question #2 (from the sudience): The other day, I got the results back from some medical tests, and they were very good. I got home that night, and a construction worker at a project next door had been killed, leaving behind thirteen children in Guatemala. So I asked myself, why did I with no young children get a good report from a doctor, and the man next door with thirteen children was killed? So my larger question is not, why is there pain and injustice in the world? but rather, Why are those things distributed so unequally or unfairly, it seems to me?

Thank you. Well, I think that it would not be a universe that was the sort of universe we would want to live in if everything happened justly and fairly.

Now that may sound odd, but if you think about what that sort of universe would be like, a universe in which all the good people got rewarded and all the bad people got punished, and justice totally reigned in that sense, then we would know who the good people were and who the bad people were.

The good people would live in the big houses and have the nice cars. The bad people would be the poor people and, of course, they would deserve what they got.

I don’t want to live in a universe where I know that the poor deserve to be poor and the rich deserved to be rich. I want to live in a lottery universe to some extent, where you say, they’re poor but it’s not their fault. They’re ill, but that’s just the way things are.

It is our job as Christians to make that situation fairer. Justice is something we have to do, but the universe itself in neutral as between the good and the bad.

God makes it rain on the just and on the unjust because that’s the condition of having the universe where people can’t turn around and judge other people and say, You’re poor because you’re bad. So I don’t want a universe where somebody does something wrong and gets punished for it.

I want a universe where we’re all bound together in a community where lots of things that happen to us are good or bad luck, and it’s up to us to make it fair.


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