Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Some Christian Replies to the Problem of Evil as Set Forth by Atheists

I reply to the comments of "drunken tune" on the Debunking Christianity blog:

Here's some short answers that most Christians will have trouble with. Us atheists need not answer them because they do not contradict with [sic] atheism,

Well, you have plenty of your own to deal with, so I wouldn't wish more upon you.

but they do with Christianity.

According to you . . .

While atheism may be depressing for some,

It should be for all, but people have a great capacity to make meaning where there should ultimately be none, given their presuppositions. One sees the dichotomy in your own comments.

it's better than following a contradictory lie that makes you feel good.

I agree with the concept expressed here; but deny that it applies to Christianity rather than atheism.

[1] When earthquakes occur, or children are hacked to pieces, where is your god?

Being hacked to pieces and slowly murdered on the cross.

If he's absent, then he's not omnipotent or all-good.

Obviously, He was willing to take on the suffering that many of us have to endure. He is there with any victim who calls out to Him (even if they don't), but it doesn't necessarily follow that He should prevent all suffering.

This is what I delved into, in my long paper on the problem of evil. The atheist casually assumes that God should intervene in every tragic situation and use the miraculous to do so, without stopping to consider what this would entail: what sort of weird world (in terms of the natural order) it would require.

I made the point that atheists are extremely reluctant to allow any divine intervention in matters of nature and will despise even theistic evolutionary attempts to do so in any way, shape, or form, yet if we switch over to this discussion on evil, all of a sudden, if God doesn't do thousands of miracles per second, then He is either bad or not there at all.

I make the argument (too involved to briefly summarize) that there is, therefore, some necessity for the world being the way it is, and that God is bound to the laws of logic, insofar as natural disaster and natural evil occurs. It is unreasonable to assume that He must perform millions of miracles so we never suffer at all. Other evil is clearly a result of man's inhumanity to man, and it is foolish to blame God for it. We have the capacity to eliminate much of that.

[2] Then is it free will? That must be why people act so horribly to each other.

The presence of free will makes it possible that it will be abused, yes. We believe that God thought it better to allow free will and the evil that can result, rather than make robots who can do no other than what they do. God made it possible for you to be so free that He even allows you to believe foolish things like denying that He exists. That's extremely tolerant, isn't it? It would be like me saying, "hey, you can believe whatever you want, even that I don't exist." And He is the one Who created you; without Whom you wouldn't be here at all.

Yet, how much choice does the baby born with Down's Syndrome have?

That is not explained by free will, but rather, by the nature of the natural world, which will (properly examined and thought through) entail such things (in this instance, because genetics is not an absolutely perfect system). C.S. Lewis wrote:

We can, perhaps, conceive of a world in which God corrected the results of this abuse of free will by His creatures at every moment: so that a wooden beam became soft as grass when it was used as a weapon, and the air refused to obey me if I attempted to set up in it the sound waves that carry lies or insults. But such a world would be one in which wrong actions were impossible, and in which, therefore, freedom of the will would be void . . . All matter in the neighbourhood of a wicked man would be liable to undergo unpredictable alterations. That God can and does, on occasions, modify the behaviour of matter and produce what we call miracles, is part of the Christian faith; but the very conception of a common, and therefore, stable, world, demands that these occasions should be extremely rare . . .

. . . fixed laws, consequences unfolding by causal necessity, the whole natural order, are at once the limits within which their common life is confined and also the sole condition under which any such life is possible.

(The Problem of Pain, New York: Macmillan, 1962 [originally 1940], 33-34)
If we're given free will by this being, and I believed in him, I'd pray every day that he'd take our free will away. Anything to stop the powerful from oppressing the weak.

He obviously thought differently, and He (being omniscient) knows better than we do, why the world is the way it is. This was essentially the perspective of the Book of Job. It makes a lot of sense, if one presupposes for the sake of argument, the theistic God. If He does exist and is all-knowing, then who are we to try to second-guess Him, no matter how perplexing we may think the world is?

[3] So then is it that we all 'have a purpose'?

Indeed.

When truly horrible things happen to people that do not deserve to suffer, is your god behind this?

He allows the evil to happen for a higher purpose (often so high we cannot comprehend it). He was certainly behind the crucifixion. That had the utmost purpose, even though the thing itself was horrendous evil. God (the Father) took it and made it the means for the salvation of mankind. He used the intended evil for good.

If that's so, stop revering a monster. If this guy's all-powerful, then he's nothing more than a little boy with a magnifying glass standing over his ant colony.

But you still have to establish your assumed premise that God must necessarily intervene in every tragedy, or cease to be good or all-powerful. You seem to be unable to comprehend how a theistic world could contain suffering or that much suffering could be the result of 1) natural laws of nature, and 2) malicious human free will.

The truly amazing thing to explain is how heroism and goodness and human love, of a selfless character, and good qualities in cultures at large, continue to exist, in such a meaningless universe.

For example, there was a ton of suffering in World War II, yet it could have been prevented if Germany had not been allowed to build up its military and install a fascist regime (ditto for Japan). So that evil (itself caused by man's stupidity and failure of foresight) caused tremendous suffering, yet at the same time there was opportunity for great, wonderful, selfless acts of love, in order to alleviate the suffering brought on by human idiocy and blindness.

And the fact remains that the bad guys were beaten. The world was not entirely meaningless and hopeless. The evil people were beaten and their plans thwarted. I could just as well say that God caused that to happen in His larger plan, rather than irrationally blame God for the origins of that tragic conflict, when it was man's fault for not preventing it. You look at all the bad things and blame God without cause, but one can also look at how God used the evil to bring about good, in many specific instances and overall.

The child that gets run over by a speeding car had a purpose in being violently crushed to death under the wheel of a hummer? I think not.

In and of itself, it does appear meaningless, senseless, and outrageous, I admit. It certainly is in atheism, because this life is all there is. But when there is an eternal life ahead of us, tragic events like this are not the be-all and end-all. God can even use such horrors to bring about good. The parents can be a witness of hope, when all would be looking to them to be crushed under the weight of agony and sorrow. It's not humanly possible to endure such suffering, but it is possible by God's grace. And that can be a witness that can bring about the salvation of many, which would be a wonderful thing brought about by the bad, hence giving it meaning it would not have by itself.

In fact, my wife knows a couple who had a young child who was behind their car, then the father backed up and crushed him to death. I can't even begin to imagine what that would have been like. I could not endure that on my own; I couldn't even start. I would want to kill myself on the spot.

But this poor couple survived and gave the glory to God. They didn't lose faith. They didn't become atheists like so many of you, for far lesser reasons. And that is because we Christians believe there is a purpose and meaning to everything, no matter how incomprehensible to us, and there is another world coming, where all will be made right and just, and suffering will cease.

In any case, Christianity has just devalued life.

Not at all; it is ultimately meaningless atheism which does that. Life has the highest meaning in the Christian worldview, which encompasses suffering and transcends it, even though it is very difficult for us to comprehend.

We're either robots following a master plan, there's a purpose to every horrible thing happening, 


It's not an intrinsic purpose, but a purpose insofar as God can use tragedy brought on by evil or the natural world, to bring about a higher good. I gave two examples above. But the existence of free will of necessity entails suffering, because free beings really can rebel and cause untold misery.

or we've just blamed the baby for bad genes.

Of course we don't blame the baby.

If you believe in god, then anything is then permissible.

Quite the contrary; God is the only sensible ground for a system of absolute ethics; otherwise everything is arbitrary and relativistic. That's why by far the greatest evils have been perpetrated by cultures that rejected Christianity and put man in the driver's seat (Nazi Germany, Maoist China; Leninist and Stalinist Russia, etc.)

Now we slaughter children in their mother's wombs (in America) at a 4000 a day rate. Is that God's fault, too, or a result of human beings playing God? Yet for some reason I hear precious little protest about that in all these ghastly scenarios meant to "disprove" God. You mention a child being run over, but not having its brains sucked out upon emerging from the womb or being torn limb from limb. Is that God's fault, or the "doctor's" who does it, and the society which permits such monstrosities to be legalized and called "good"? Is that a result of Christianity or of secularism and the worship of unbridled sex without responsibility, which involves butchering children that inevitably result from unhindered, amoral sexuality?

John W. Loftus chimed in, with regard to the ubiquitous Hitler connection:

I have a whole section in my book devoted to the question, "What is Life Without God?" that if you really want a detailed answer to this question you should get. What I was arguing for is that if God exists then he did wrong for allowing Hitler to kill and kill and kill.

Hitler is either "allowed" by necessity of human free will or else we have no free will. God obviously thought free will was preferable to being automatons. But in this instance, clearly, we could have prevented what happened.

In the natural world something must be killed so that some other carnivore can eat. This is the world your God set up.

That is the animal world. If you want to directly compare that world with human beings, and make us merely an evolutionary development of it (i.e., in a completely naturalistic sense; I am not condemning theistic evolution), then you have huge problems of your own, since how can you argue that cannibalism is more wrong for human beings than for animals (especially in a eat-anything-to-survive environment, such as the famous Donner party)? Atheists will play games and make out that people are qualitatively different, but this is nonsensical within your paradigm, which has man evolving directly from this same animal kingdom, wherein survival of the fittest is the natural order of things.

Thus, e.g., eugenics was justified by the Nazis and folks like Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood (who got a lot of her racist ideas from the Nazis) on evolutionary grounds. The real difficulties, then, lie on your side. You have to differentiate men from the animals, in order to have any rational system of ethics, but you have no basis to do so. Christianity, on the other hand, can easily make the distinction, based on the notion of a soul, which makes human beings quite different from the animals; also the fact that man is made in God's image. The supernatural, non-material fact of a soul makes the qualitative difference

That makes him worse than Hitler by a long long shot.

Really? I don't see how:

1) God allows free will.

2) Free will entails the possibility of rebellion and evil.

3) Hitler ushered in one such massive societal rebellion against civilization and evil campaign.

4) God is to blame for Hitler's evil because He allowed free will.

5) Man isn't to blame for Hitler's evil, even though he had the capacity to prevent it altogether.
This is irrational. It makes no more sense to blame God for the evil choices of creatures He created free than it does to blame a good parent for sins of a child of his or her own volition, committed after the parent trusted the child to be responsible with its freedom. You can't blame one being for the sins of another; at some point there is individual responsibility. That's why it is ridiculous to blame God for Hitler.

But even if that made any sense, why do you atheists not give God any credit for all the good which comes from free will? If you want to hold Him accountable for all the bad things that men do to each other, or the natural events that can hardly be otherwise in a sensible, orderly universe, then how come you never give Him any credit for anything?

Hitler's Germany was a Christian nation and all you can do is to ask about Hitler from my perspective?

The people may have been, but the regime was not, by any stretch of the imagination. It was a grotesque mixture of corrupted romanticism, paganism, and occultism. The Final Solution was not justified on Christian grounds.

My conclusion (2) is that Hitler did wrong because he killed people, and I value people because I'm a person.

Good for you. It ain't rocket science.

I have sympathy for people who suffer like that under such a dictator. I would've stopped Hitler if I could, but your God did nothing.

If He stopped Hitler by the miraculous and abrogation of his free will, then we would have a world where no one was free, and every bad, evil thing is immediately prevented: precisely the sort of world which is the utter opposite of what atheists argue must be the case in terms of naturalistic science. If you don't allow the slightest intervention of God in the natural world (intelligent design, etc.) then why do you demand it when it comes to the problem of evil?

So in the realm of science, you argue that God can't exist, period, simply because the natural world is what it is (i.e., assumed as a matter of unproven naturalistic dogma), and allows no supernatural, yet in order for God to be "allowed" to exist where suffering abounds, He must intervene constantly and never cease or else you will mock Him as nonexistent or a weakling or a monster, worse than Hitler, etc. And somehow these utterly contradictory scenarios coexist in one brain and one intellectual conglomeration. And we're supposed to be impressed by such literal nonsense?

That makes my moral code better than your God's moral code, because he let Hitler kill and kill and kill.

No; men did that. They allowed it to start up in the first place. Then one can blame German people who refused to stand up against the evil when it came to their country, because it cost them something. We've far surpassed the German people in our sins of omission, because we sit idly by in America today while 4400 children a day are slaughtered. We call it "choice" or "sexual freedom" or "expedience" or "a career."

But how is it any better for that to take place in our abortuaries than it was for Nazi atrocities to occur in concentration camps? Hitler killed six million Jews. Legal child-killing in America has now taken 44 million lives in the most hideous fashion. Again: is that God's fault, or man's, for allowing it to take place while doing nothing? Or is a tiny human life of less value than a grown Jewish person's life? One unfortunate group was murdered because of ethnicity and religion; the other because of the sin of being small, helpless, and yet unborn.

I see no difference. But lots of people do. So spare me your sanctimonious tripe about Hitler and this supposedly having something to do with the morality of God, while most atheists (and some half of Christians also) wink at abortion and pretend it is not the abominable evil and outrage that it is.

You say my moral code is subjectively chosen? Well then, where does your God's moral code come from?

It's eternal. Therefore, it "comes from" nothing. It always existed in God. God is Love. Yours is certainly subjective because you can't create an absolute larger than yourself and applicable to all, no matter how hard you try. That has to come from a Being Who transcends creation and mankind itself.

[ now back to drunken logic, er tune]:

Your god is behind the scenes, tapering with our genetic code, is he not? He's in control of the whole . . . universe! Isn't he there in every cancer cell and every quadriplegic's broken spinal cord? Your god chooses what happens, and knows what will happen. Where is the free will when a baby is shot in the head, or your mother falls down the stairs?

. . . Now your god is allowing these atrocities to happen? How do you know he never intended to control everything? He's all-powerful. He can't just give up his power, otherwise he isn't all-powerful, and is then only semi-powerful. He's practically enabling these diabolical actions to take place. He is nothing more than a demon that allows horrible things to happen to innocent people, and deserves no submission from you or me.

Wow; you're getting awfully angry at a nonexistent thing. I don't spend my time getting into a lather about how unjust the man in the moon made of green cheese is or what a rascally scoundrel Darth Vader or Dracula is. Funny that you would do that with a mere fairy-tale known as "god."

I always say that a radical feminist is someone who hates men yet tries her hardest to be exactly like them in almost all respects. You know: the identifying with the oppressor routine.

It is now clearly the time and place to define the irrationally angry atheist:
One who hates and gets all worked up against the "god" who doesn't exist, and who desires to be the exact opposite of the imaginary being whose imaginary qualities he simultaneously vainly imagines and detests.
Man! Talk about an irrational and absurd complex . . .

There is an answer: Once upon a time we evolved, and through copulation and combination of our genes present in a sperm and an egg, we get small variations in the genes that are passed on. Sometimes an environmental factor such as a virus or germ may change the code, or a subdominant gene may be expressed through chance [about 1/4th of the time]. This repeats for a very, very, very long time. And that's why we have genetic birth defects. The end.

Precisely! This is my argument. Lots of suffering comes from the natural world and what can result from it. It is unreasonable to absolutely demand that God must supersede all such instances in a supernatural way or else we all-wise human beings (not - unlike the imaginary "god" - known for our evil deeds at all) will reject Him and pretend He isn't even there.

It makes much more sense to accept the natural world as it is and accept that things such as mutations and falling off of cliffs and drowning and fever epidemics will occur and that this casts no doubt on God's goodness because there is a sense in which it cannot be otherwise. God made the natural world what it is. The laws of science and logic alike apply to it. Sometimes bad things will happen there. Lots of good stuff happens too. I love sunsets, swimming, mushrooms, and making love to my wife.

All natural stuff; all very good. But every good thing can be corrupted and "evil." If I get too close to that pretty orange-red-peach sunset sun, I'll burn (I mean totally burn, not just get sunburn, but the latter is suffering, too). If I don't watch where my head is, and how long, when I swim, I'll drown. If I eat a poisonous mushroom, it'll kill me. And sex (the same exact physical act) can be rape as well as the most beautiful expression of male-female interpersonal oneness and love. It's all the natural world.

I used to love to play strikeout, where you throw a rubber ball against a brick wall with a strike zone chalked on it and have a one-on-one baseball dual (I still play with my sons, in fact, and I still hit and pitch very good at age 48). That's pretty natural stuff too. Bats are kind of hard, and mafia hit men have used them to kill people. A guy (Ray Chapman) was killed in 1920 after being struck by a pitch in the major leagues. I had loads of fun playing that game. But the natural world being what it is, and kids being what they are (I was 10 or 11), one day I climbed up this place over a set of stairs, at the school where we played strikeout, to get a ball that someone hit up there.

I was about 20 feet off the ground, and had to go up to another level. So I put some little pieces of brick that were laying there, to step on, in order to climb up to the higher part. I was right on the edge, though, and the little pile collapsed, sending me to the concrete sidewalk below. So the same place that provided so much fun now became quite the opposite. Fortunately, I fainted on the way down and they say that is what saved me. I wound up with a concussion and a sprained wrist: not even a broken bone.

Was that God's fault, or was it mine for sheer stupidity? Is God supposed to wipe out every child's curiosity and adventurous spirit and devil-may-care attitude of invulnerabilty and carefree bliss because some will be killed by it? I don't think so, because that is part of what it means to be a child. It's easy to say "God should make every child never do stupid stuff so they won't get hurt." But think of a world like that:

You want to play baseball? Now you can't because some kid may let a bat fly after he swings and hit another kid and crush his skull. Okay; better not play then, and God is evil or ain't there at all because He allows such things. What can God do to make it better? Well, He can make bats mushy and soft. Alright, fine. But how can you hit a ball now? You can't. So it becomes impossible because to eliminate all suffering, God must make stuff soft so no bad thing can ever happen.

So the atheist may say, "naw; God only has to turn the bat to mush if it is about to hit someone and hurt them." Alright, so now if we grant that God must do that to be good and retain His omnipotence and existence and be given lip service by atheists, we have to allow the miraculous. Yet atheists fight tooth and nail against miracles as the most implausible, unprovable thing imaginable. Why, they violate the natural law, and this can never happen! And everyone knows that! But now they must happen all over the place so that God can be a good guy and exist after all?

The sheer absurdity of this ridiculous demand is its own refutation. Therefore I accept the contrary: for the natural world to sensibly exist, and for miracles to be rare rather than mundane and perpetually occurring, there must be the possibility of bad things happening in that same natural world. And when they do, it is not rational (let alone fair) to blame God for such tragedies. Based on the reductio ad absurdum above, I reject such a scenario on entirely logical grounds.

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