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July 17, 2019 | Andrew Hurst

W. Paul Franks, PhD.
W. Paul Franks, Ph.D.

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary describes evil as “morally reprehensible.” Considering the wide range of religious views and beliefs held by members of society, this definition presents a predicament. Morals vary and what one individual defines as immoral may seem innocuous to the next.

In response to this complication, Dr. W. Paul Franks , Associate Professor of Philosophy at Tyndale University , sought a platform in which open dialogue and debate amongst scholars on the subject could be shared with the public. His book, “ Explaining Evil: Four Views ” was published this past January and has already received glowing reviews and positive feedback amongst readers.

“It is a way for us (readers) to be able to read and see for ourselves what others believe, to see their thinking and to assess for ourselves the plausibility of their accounts or worldviews,” he says.

Explaining Evil asks four prominent philosophers-two atheists and two Christians, to provide an account of their understanding of evil and how it fits into their overall theistic or atheistic worldviews. Even amongst the two sets of philosophers with the same theistic and atheistic beliefs, there are some key differentiators. The two Christian philosophers differ in their leanings towards Calvinism versus Arminianism and there is a clear distinction between the two atheists on the subject of objective morality and the extent of its societal impact.

Dr. Franks clarifies that the book is not intended exclusively for philosophers but all readers who are simply interested in the subject matter. It is presented in a “position and response” format allowing one philosopher the opportunity to provide his account followed by the others’ responses. There are four chapters covering four distinct approaches to the question: Theistic Libertarianism , Theistic Compatibilism , Atheistic Moral Realism , and Atheistic Moral Non-Realism .

“For me, I think it was also important to have more literature on these topics of evil from an atheistic perspective,” said Dr. Franks. “I study Christian apologetics a lot and look at different arguments but one thing that I noticed was that when it comes to the topic of evil, Christian apologists will often have to piece together what they think atheists might say about the presence of evil. There are just not a lot of atheists who talk about evil unless they are referring to religion or the clear separation between good and evil as it pertains to religion.”

As a Christian philosopher, Dr. Franks believes that a key component of Christian apologetics is being fair to opposition and opposing views. “One way to make sure that they are being represented accurately is to let them represent themselves!”

“I think it’s easy for Christians to say that atheists don’t have an account of evil or they can’t have an account of evil but I don’t think that’s fair to their views. I think it’s good for Christian readers to be exposed to what they do believe and I think that this book can help equip readers to have more meaningful discussions rather than just assuming.”

Dr. Franks’ interest in the subject traces back to his days pursuing his undergraduate studies at his alma mater, Southwestern Assemblies of God University (SAGU) . As a Church Ministries major, he remembers engaging in discussions over the topic of evil during a course on the book of Job with Dr. Jeff Magruder, a Professor of Bible and Theology.

“That discussion is what really got me thinking about this issue. He (Dr. Magruder) was so influential in my life,” he said. “When I first got to Southwestern I had a very pragmatic view on education meaning-I needed a diploma on a wall so someone will hire me.’ I had a few courses with Dr. Magruder and it really made me see that my education was one aspect of what God had for me at Southwestern.”

Dr. Franks with his family
Dr. Franks with his family

His interest in the topic would follow him to his doctoral studies at the University of Oklahoma where he completed his dissertation on “A Rational Problem of Evil: The Coherence of Christian Doctrine and the Free Will Defense.” Since then, Dr. Franks has spent over 10 years practicing in philosophy and his understanding and interest in the subject matter has continued to grow.

Since its publication, “Explaining Evil” has received numerous reports of positive feedback. According to Dr. Franks, many published book reviews have not yet been released but he has been very pleased with the response and the conversations that have been initiated as a result of “Explaining Evil.”

“If there is just one thing I would hope people would take away from the book, it’s being open to the possibility of engaging in a serious debate about a really important topic with people who have diametrically opposing views. We can do it in a way where people exercise charity and respect without name-calling. I think in today’s society, it’s so easy to ignore people’s views and to downplay their perspective. I would love if people read the book and thought, ‘wow, here are four people who all have different answers about a really important topic and are engaging one another with respect.’ I want people to glean that from the book, that you can have these kinds of discussions.”

To learn more about the book and to purchase a copy of “Explaining Evil”, click here .

Dr. W. Paul Franks has also co-hosted apologetics seminars with Dr. Jeff Magruder at SAGU. To access his session on “New Atheism and Religious Pluralism”, click here . To access his session on “The Importance of Renewing Your Mind,” click here .

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