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Natural disasters, teleology and the God of love(3)

By Douglas Anele
The  Jewish  philosopher, Baruch Spinoza posited a theory of evil very similar to the view of the stoics. He avers that there is one substance which is divine, eternal and infinite. This substance can be referred to as God or Nature.

It has many attributes, but we can know only two of them, namely matter and spirit. According to Spinoza, all things, all events, all actions in the universe are the self-expression or modifications of God. Spinoza’s metaphysical system is pantheistic and deterministic. In it everything is governed by absolute logical necessity. Since everything comes from God, there is no evil in the world.

Spinoza argued that the idea of evil is the result of inadequate knowledge. If human beings really know that everything is part of the self projection of God, they would realise that belief in evil is an illusion.

Therefore, Spinoza encourages us to see things sub specie aeternitatis, that is, from the perspective of eternity. Spinoza lived a very admirable moral and simple life. But his doctrine on evil is subject to the same criticisms we marshalled against the stoics, Plotinus and St. Augustine. Besides, his recommendation that if we see things from the periscope of eternity the problem of evil will disappear cannot be actualised.

How can finite and fallible creatures like us ever learn to see things sub specie aeternitatis? No human being, including Spinoza himself, can achieve that impossible feat. Gottfried Leibniz, a German thinker, says that there are three types of evil, viz, metaphysical evil, physical evil and moral evil. Metaphysical is integral to the finitude or imperfections of creatures.

To avoid this type of evil, God could have created perfect creatures, but doing so would have meant creating other Gods like himself, which is impossible.

Physical evils, like earthquakes, floods etc are inevitable because they are part of the cosmic architectonic and contribute to the order and harmony in the system. Like St. Augustine, Leibniz sees moral evil as the product of man’s misuse of his freedom.

We have already criticised the doctrines which tend to suggest that, because some good can come out of evil sometimes or that  natural disasters can be interpreted as  part of cosmic harmony, therefore what was evil was no longer evil.

The argument that moral evil is due to man’s abuse of his free will raises the question of how a ubiquitous divine being with the attributes of knowledge, holiness, and power to the highest degree possible could manage to create a being that can abuse its freedom.

Was it beyond God’s power to create a being that can combine moral perfection with freedom? Moreover, if God created us in his image, as Leibniz and other christians believe, why then should we be blamed for misusing our freedom? Perhaps abuse of freedom is also part of the  image which we inherited from God?

The truth is that believers cannot have it both ways: either they accept that God cannot create a being that is both free and morally perfect, in which case he is not omnipotent, or that God, having created humans in his own image, inadvertently passed to us the capacity to misuse our freedom, in which case God is neither perfectly holy nor perfectly moral.

The French Jesuit priest, paleontologist and evolutionary philosopher, Teilhard de Chardin, wrote a remarkable book, The Phenomenon of Man, in which he suggested that the universe is subject to the laws of evolution, as it undergoes the  long and tedious process of unfolding its potentials.

Evil connotes disorder, and as long as the universe is undergoing the evolutionary process of creation and recreation, evil and suffering will contionue as part of the process. The world is evolving towards what de Chardin called the Omega Point, at which stage it would attain perfection. The Omega Point also marks the end of both evolution and evil.

The problem of evil exists for those who see the world as a completed project, not for those who see it as an evolving entity in which disorder has to be overcome for perfect order to prevail. The theory of evil proposed by de Chardin is based on a frank admission that we are living in an imperfect world.

But even if it is true that the world is evolving towards perfection, it still does not follow that chronic poverty, serious (and sometimes fatal) genetic abnormalities, painful incurable diseases and so on are not evil. At any rate, the idea that the world is evolving towards perfection is an unproven assumption which conflicts with the current scientific theory about our solar system and, ultimately, the universe.

Although cosmologists and astronomers have  not reached a consensus about how the universe would end, there is some agreement that the sun, by far the dominant object in our solar system on which our home planet, the earth, depends, will burn out all its energy in about 5 – 10 billion years, first by becoming a red gaint and then collapsing into a small, incredibly dense white dwarf.

What our fate would be at this point is uncertain. Therefore, I maintain that there is no solid evidence to support the claim that the world is evolving towards perfection. de Chardin merely disguised his christian belief in heaven with a veneer of evolutionary philosophy.


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