RE: "Professing to be wise, they became fools..."

Jeff Zents (
Sat, 6 Mar 1999 20:55:10 -0600

Tom Pearson's reply to Bill was almost perfect. I agree with just about
everything that he said except the following item. While he is correct in
that many Christian responses to philosophical problems like the one of evil
are sloppy, I am not sure that the students are going to be better off
listening to the average analytical philosopher. The average analytical
atheist philosopher is not much better in his/her attacks than the sloppy
Christian responses so rightly deplored by Dr. Pearson. Often the writings
of contemporary analytical atheists are no more rigorous than their
Christian counter parts. And when they are rigorous it is just where it is
not needed. I think that a thoughtful person/student can do wonders in this
area if they are just put in contact with a thoughtful discussion of the
classic authors in this area. Those are the ones they need to listen to.


Jeff Zen's

> At 11:49 PM 03/05/1999 -0600, Bill Payne wrote:
> >I received this from a high school senior, and thought the edu's might
> >want to get a heads up on what's coming. :-)
> Bill,
> I'm one of those philosophy professors, and I do this sort
> of thing in the
> classroom all the time. Only I'm an orthodox Christian, not an atheist,
> and I'm fairly brazen about it. (I'm extremely fortunate to work in a
> public institution that honors my Christian commitment, and recognizes its
> centrality to my teaching and research). Such things as the Problem of
> Evil are serious philosophical issues, provoked by genuine human
> experience
> and the reflection that accompanies that experience. Most of my students
> don't need me to rub their noses in the anomalies of evil; they are well
> acquainted with sin and pain and death, and come with their own religious
> doubts and perplexities. So send these glib and gifted students right
> along to my class. Their classmates will engage them in quite a sober
> conversation.
> <snipping much interesting dialogue>
> >("The Christian" says): "Wrong again, sir. You see, immorality is merely
> the absence of morality.
> >Is there such thing as injustice? No. Injustice is the absence of
> >justice. Is there such a thing as evil?" The Christian pauses. "Isn't
> >evil the absence of good?"
> This is, of course, the argument first made by Augustine, who wanted to
> show that evil was no real thing, but simply a privation (Being = good,
> Non-Being = evil). But this argument, clever though it is, can't lay a
> glove on the Problem of Evil. Why would God -- all-good, all-knowing,
> all-powerful -- create a world so rich in privation? And if evil is just
> an absence, we can phrase the question in its familiar form: why would God
> create a world so rich in evil?
> >"You are working on the premise of duality," the Christian explains.
> >"That, for example, there is life and then there's death; a good God and
> >a bad God.
> Fair enough. It's not clear that the hypothetical professor has actually
> articulated any kind of dualist position, but perhaps he is working from
> "the premise of duality."
> >The Christian continues. "If there is evil in the world, professor, and
> >we all agree there is, then God, if he exists, must be accomplishing a
> >work through the agency of evil. What is that work, God is accomplishing?
> >The Bible tells us it is to see if each one of us will, of our own free
> >will, choose good over evil."
> Now here's duality for you. The universe is divided into "good" and
> "evil," and we must choose either one or the other. This is a reprise of
> the ancient heresy of Manicheism, against which Augustine (among others)
> fought tooth and nail. It was, in fact, in writing in opposition to this
> point of view that Augustine develops his notion of evil as
> privation. How
> can "The Christian" in this little dialogue hold that evil is simply a
> privation, an absence, not a really existing thing, and at the same time
> claim that evil does exist and that we choose between it and good? "The
> Christian" here has subverted his own position. Where does "the
> Bible tell
> us" such self-refuting heresy?
> I suspect that students are frequently better off listening to their
> professors.
> Tom Pearson
> ___________________________________________________
> ___________________________________________________
> Thomas D. Pearson
> Department of History & Philosophy
> The University of Texas-Pan American
> Edinburg, Texas
> e-mail: