Thursday, October 7, 2010

Theodicy and Inerrancy.

In Early Christian Thought class today, we discussed the primary text of St. Basil's which we are currently reading entitled On the Human Condition. Our professor distributes an outline of the lecture before every class. During this class period, we specifically reflected upon Basil's "Homily Explaining that God is Not the Cause of Evil." Due to the title and the content of this homily, my professor outlined the nature and history of theodicy. My professor's outline states that theodicy is a Greek word, created by the German philosopher Leibniz, meaning "the justice/justification of God." The outline goes on to say that such justification is sought in light of the reality of evil. Human beings throughout the centuries have tried to reconcile the "existence" of evil with the following three propositions:

1. There is one God, creator of all
2. That God is good
3. That God is all-powerful

My professor writes that "a commitment to the previous three tenets is often said to lead to a 'normative ontology' whereby whatever
exists must be good (since the one, good, omnipotent God created it such)."

I found this very interesting. Since God is the author of creation, the previous quote assumes that there is some sort of necessary identity between an omniscient, omnipresent, omnibenevolent God and said creation. In short, creation should have the same attributes of the creator, including goodness and an absence of evil. Since the world obviously includes evil and suffering, many philosophers have concluded that the one who has created the universe (aka God) must either not be all-good, or He doesn't exist.

It seems to me that the same sort of assumption (at least loosely) is present in the evangelical doctrine of inerrancy. In the Chicago Statement of Inerrancy, Articles VI-VIII affirm the divine inspiration of
every book and word within the canon. It then states in Article IX, "we affirm that inspiration, though not conferring omniscience, guaranteed true and trustworthy utterance on all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write." It seems that the authors of this statement are making the argument that since the Bible is inspired by God (though they also rightly affirm that human authors were definitely active in the process), it must necessarily reflect the identity of God in guaranteeing truth and trustworthiness in "all matters of which the Biblical authors were moved to speak and write."

Unless I'm entirely misunderstanding the classic objections to Christianity based on the problem of evil (most notably set forth by David Hume) and the Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy, I'd say that these two camps share one major thing in common - if God is the author of something - either creation or the Bible - those creations must reflect his character of goodness, truth, and perfection. Otherwise, the conclusions are that either God didn't inspire the Bible and it can't be trusted (the inerrantists), or God is either not all-good or He doesn't exist (those stating that the existence of evil is incompatible with God's being).

While I'm not quite prepared to formally and publicly deny biblical inerrancy, might there be some sort of expectation here that is unwarranted? Why do Christians say that the creation of God does not necessarily need to reflect His character in order for it to serve as revelation but the Bible does?

Some biblical inerrantists might reply that the doctrine of biblical inerrancy is not merely an abstraction but rather based upon what the Bible says about itself (though I find this a bit interesting considering the statement only cites two small biblical phrases, 1 Peter 1:21 and 2 Tim. 3:15, both of which are NOT within the articles themselves nor are any other biblical passages present). The passage most often quoted in support of biblical inerrancy is 2 Tim. 3:16 which affirms that "all Scripture is God-breathed." But I often wonder if that truth, the doctrine of divine inspiration, necessarily entails biblical inerrancy. Furthermore, I question if such an assumption is the same that is made by men like David Hume who were skeptical about the existence of God in light of the existence of evil.

I'm completely open to being corrected. I'd appreciate any thoughts you might offer, dear reader!