Responding to Christian Casuistry: Theodicy and the Fallen World

There are two principal ways that Christian believers dodge legitimate questions about their deity’s inadequate management of the universe—In fact one Benedict Arnold strategy of throwing one’s fellow human under the bus. First, there is free will, which God is powerless to abrogate unless it’s to get that really cute guy on Christian Mingle to fall in love with you. God wants us to love him freely, and we prefer to love orgasms; therefore, tornadoes.

When that seems so obviously implausible that even a Fox News viewing Octogenarian can’t swallow it, there is a second option—fallen world. Fallen world can be blurted out at random, like one with apologetics Tourette’s, in response to any senseless tragedy for which there is no obvious human culprit.     

Why would a good God allow this baby to be a born with no skin? You foolishly ask.

And you are told. “We live in a fallen world. That’s why Jesus came to restore the world, but then he remembered that he had a few more mansions to build so he’ll do it on the second trip.”

Fallen world is presented like a flatulence. It happens; it can’t be helped; the designer of bowels cannot be blamed.

There are two problems with the fallen world argument. They are, not surprisingly, the same problem with most of what believers tell us about God. The first problem, and most problematically, it’s not true. The second problem is, assuming it is true, it gives us good reasons to question the other part of the story, namely, Jesus loves me; this I know.

Only one of the problems needs be addressed with a theist, and the key is to correctly identify the kind of theist you are talking to. Lucky for you, God cannot get his followers on the same page.

There is the sophisticated, open-minded believer who accepts the theory of evolution as long as God gets to tinker a bit, drop a few souls along the way.

When speaking to someone who accepts that life on Earth is billions of years old, your best hope is to focus on the problem of truthiness. They accept the theory of evolution because they understand it’s stupid not to and they are generally inclined to want to be in touch with reality.

Let’s point out that “fallen world” explains nothing because it corresponds to no actual historical event. If life on Earth is many billions of years old, it follows that death and suffering are also billions of years old. Well before there were humans around to piss God off with their desire for knowledge, there were climate changes, earthquakes, mass extinctions, etc. Sentient beings suffered.

There is a great risk that your interlocutor will retort with some bit about the suffering not being “evil” because the beings who suffered had no souls.

This is foolishness. Anyone with a pet realizes that animals experience complex emotions and their suffering is very real. Unfortunately, one will not get very far here. There might be some hope in talking about other members of the Homo genus. Surely, Neanderthals were analogous to being humans. They cooperated in hunting; they made tools; they even buried their dead. Does that not matter?

In addition, we should turn the tables a bit. Where in this process does a fall happen? If the fall had not happened, what would life on Earth actually look without a fall? Having established that there were destructive forces acting in the world before humans, how would humans have fared had they never sinned? Would natural forces like hurricanes be powerless to cause them harm? Would they be the only species immune to attacks from microorganism? Or would the world magically change to be “unfallen” for this newly created favoured species?

Something like this would have to be the case for the fall to be a thing.

Moreover, who were these supposed first humans? As we know, evolution is not apparent as it occurs. Where one draws the line between Homo erectus, archaic Homo sapiens, or modern humans is a judgement call. Thus, there were no first parents. By the time humans made it to the Middle East where they allegedly fell from grace, they had evolved into humans at least 100,000 prior.

At this point, your interlocutor might start accusing you of being a fundamentalist. The fall is allegorical and his experience of God is found in the connection to the transcendent he experiences when he contemplates the miracle of child birth.

Beautiful. Why doesn’t this allegorical fall translate into allegorical menstrual cramps?

Of course, for many believers, the fall is very real. About 6000 years, two human beings ate a fruit and now that justifies thousands of years of evil. In disobeying God, humans unleashed plagues, natural disasters and death into the world.

In response to the second type of believer, we can only appeal to their sense of justice. Most of us have a natural sense of morality that is far superior than the one offered by the Bible. The Bible can confuse our ethical intuition but it usually does not destroy it.

Thus, let’s us point out the mind-boggling injustice proposed by the fall. Even if Adam had committed an offense far graver, like torturing and murdering his wife (For this believer, it is likely that Adam’s sin is the only consequential one; he’s the head of his wife), it would not be sufficient to justify the suffering of so many generation. It is simply not a proportional response.

“How long do you punish your own child when they disobey you?” You might ask.

Your Christian friend might decline to call the fall “a punishment.” It is not a punishment; it’s a consequence. This is nonsense. It is God’s universe. He sets the consequences. He could have created consequences that are proportional to the offense.

“No, no,” she might add. “It’s not that God creates these outcomes. It’s that when humans sin, they become separated from God. The fall is simply the absence of God.”

More nonsense. God can choose to abide with sin. If the source of the world’s fallen state is the absence of God, God can fix that by being present. It would not make him less holy and certainly, not less just. It would make him more magnanimous. And if he cannot do it, if he is simply unable to abide human foibles or even the presence of evil, he is not only not omnipotent, he lacks a virtue so common among human beings that it is unremarkable.