A “Tummy Ache” –Really?
Over at First Things, Joe Carter is addressing the problem of evil –not, in my view, very successfully. It seems he’s treating it as if it’s a trivial philosophical problem, something that mature Christians with appropriate training in analytic philosophy grow out of intellectually, a problem to be dealt with by appropriate pastoral care for those bothered by the remaining emotional issues.
I’m actually not sure of where he’s coming from philosophically. He’s running together ontic evil and moral evil. I’m not sure the distinction holds any more, if it ever did, given what we are learning about the way one’s capacity to act morally is affected by social context and brain chemistry. Still, I think they raise different problems. And while I heartily proclaim my colleague Alvin Plantinga’s brilliance, I am not sure that all of philosophy (and philosophical theology) is kneeling at his feet for having laid the problem of evil to rest once and for all. (For one thing, that’s not how philosophers, analytic or otherwise, behave. For another, I think that would have made the Notre Dame webpage!)
The intensity of evil matters. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, as they say. But what kills you, kills you. A tummy ache doesn’t kill you. The plague–AIDS, or bubonic–does. And the snuffing out of an individual life-or the life of a family –or the life of a whole community–through disaster, disease, or mayhem–raises questions about divine goodness and power in ways that passing illness does not.
I am sure of this: trivializing the problem of evil, both ontic and moral, is not likely to be an effective strategy, on an intellectual or pastoral level, in evangelizing those who are grappling with far more than a tummy ache.