Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Atheism, Christianity and the problem of evil and suffering

In Christian theology, a classical definition of evil is found in the work of Augustine of Hippo. He states that the evil is not a thing itself, and therefore is not brought into being by God. Instead, evil is the privation of right order. Or, to put it more simply, evil is the state of affairs when things are the way they ought not to be. So, if a mugger mugs you and steals your money, that was evil, because humans ought not to do that. And if a tsunami leaves thousands of people homeless, that’s evil, because the world ought not to be like that. (Let’s bracket why God might allow natural evil, such as the latter example, for another post).

The point is that when you talk about evil and suffering, it pre-supposes that the world is not the way it ought to be. But that means that the world ought to be some way. If the world “ought to be” any way other than it is, then that pre-supposes a designer, who had a purpose for the world, i.e. – a way the world ought to be.

But that’s not my point today. My point today is that atheists cannot use the apparently gratuitous evil in the world as a disproof that there is a God until they define what they mean by evil.

It seems to me that there are 2 choices for what evil could be on atheism. What is NOT open to atheists is the solution above, namely, that evil is a departure from the way things ought to be. Because the universe is an accident on atheism – it is purposeless – there is no way the universe ought to be. We are accidents on atheism. There is no way we ought to be.

So evil must mean one of two things on atheism:

  1. Evil means something that the atheist finds personally distasteful. It is a subjective preference that each person decides for themselves. Just as some people don’t like broccoli – some people don’t like murder or tsunamis. It’s up to each person. But that cannot be used as an argument against God, because who says that God’s moral purposes ought to be connected to the personal moral preferences of atheists? It won’t work.
  2. Evil is what society says is counter to the social conventions of a particular time and place. If we decide that murder is against our society’s conventions today, then for that time and place, murder is “evil”. But then, not signaling when you turn right at a stop sign is also “evil”. It’s all just made-up conventions. And again, it is difficult to see why God should be bound by a society’s conception of good and evil, they are just conventions of accidental people, on an accidental planet, in an accidental universe. (Again, we will bracket the problem of deciding what a society is for this discussion).

So, now I am going to ask you atheists. When you say that there is gratuitous evil in the world, (i.e. – a state of affairs that is apparently pointless, apparently without morally sufficient justification for God to permit it), what do you mean by evil? Does not the invocation of a standard of right and wrong that applies to God himself imply an objective morality? (a moral standard that is independent of personal or cultural preferences) And if there is an objective moral standard like this, where does it come from, on your atheistic worldview?

It seems to me that pressing the problem of evil is inconsistent on atheism. There is no moral standard to hold God accountable to in an accidental universe. You have to pre-suppose an objective moral standard, and a designer of the universe who makes that standard and makes it applicable, before you can proceed to hold God accountable to that standard. But then, you have already assumed God in order to argue against him.

Here is a short paper that contains a summary of everything I know about the problem of evil, (deductive/ logical, as well as inductive/ probabilistic). If you can only read one short paper on the problem of evil/ suffering, this is what you need to read. Do not pass this paper up – it is pure wisdom and will make you effective on this issue in the public square better than anything else out there.

Also, to see these arguments in action, check out the debate here, with William Lane Craig and Kai Nielsen.  If you want a book, here is one between William Lane Craig and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, published by Oxford University Press, 2004, (audio of one of their debates here). One of my favorite scholars on this topic is Doug Geivett. If you can listen to the audio from his lecture on evil, that is pure wisdom. It’s up on the Academy of Christian Apologetics, (audio). I love the use of “noseeums” in his examples.

UPDATE:

I was over on triablogue.com, and they were commenting on a post over at Victor Reppert’s blog C.S. Lewis’ Dangerous Idea, on the topic of morality on atheism. Also, there this debate between Douglas Wilson and Christopher Hitchens is fantastic for understanding why morality is irrational on an atheistic worldview.

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33 Responses

  1. shamelesslyatheist says:

    “Evil is things that the atheists finds personally distasteful. It is a subjective preference that each person decides for themselves.”

    And yet we atheists seem largely to agree on what is right and what is wrong, something your black-and-white world view can not explain.

    “Does not the invocation of a standard of right and wrong that is applies to God himself imply an objective morality – a moral standard that is independent of personal or cultural preferences?”

    No. Morals arose in our species through evolution as a social species. Many other species, not just closely related primates, but even vampire bats, rats and mice display morality based on reciprocation. There is nothing special about our heightened sense of morality, which is strongly influenced by culture. There is no absolute morality any more than it is relative. It is not an either/or proposition. See Michael Shermer’s The Science of Good & Evil and Marc Hauser’s Moral Minds for discussions on the state of knowledge in this area.

    ” You have to pre-suppose an objective moral standard, and a designer of the universe who makes that standard and makes it applicable, before you can proceed to hold God accountable to that standard.”

    I do not hold god to any standard. There is no empirical evidence for which I can rationally reject the null hypothesis (i.e., the nonexistence of god(s)). What I do, though is hold other people’s concept of god against whether I consider its supposed acts are right or wrong. It is the acts which must be considered. Whether it is the act of a deity or a human is immaterial. This is one problem Craig can’t seem to understand and defines his god to be good in order to maintain any act of that god is good. He gets it completely backwards.

    “And again, it is difficult to see why God should be bound by a society’s conception o good and evil, since these are accidents of time and place, and are not fixed.”

    To reiterate, I don’t believe in a god. Thus, the statement for us atheists is a non sequitur. But any person or god that would order genocide can not be considered good. Craig even tries to put his god in good light when it ordered the slaughter of Canaanite children:

    …the [Canaanite] children, by being killed are really, in one sense, better off if we believe that children go to heaven, as I do, than they would be allowing them to live on in the circumstances in which they were.

    Tell me – is genocide ever permissible? How about when god orders it? Craig thinks so, and for him I have nothing but contempt. I’ll leave you with a quote from Stephen Weinberg which says it all about such (at best) amoral positions reached when contorting logic to make their god look good:

    With or without religion, good people can behave well and bad people can do evil; but for good people to do evil—that takes religion.

    • Thank you for your comment, it was insightful and gracious! I hope I can be as good in my reply.

      “And yet we atheists seem largely to agree on what is right and what is wrong, something your black-and-white world view can not explain.”

      You agree with us on many moral issues because you are a product of your culture, and the history of that culture is a Christian history. You’ve inherited the values of a culture that was dominated by Christian thought. When you say you are moral, you mean “I conform to this culture’s morality in this time and place”. If you were living in a different culture with rules that are morally abhorrent to us today in this culture, what transcendent anchor (standard of objective morality) would you appeal to?

      Atheists believe in an accidental universe. It does you no good to stand up to us and say “me too” just because you do what everyone else is doing. What you mean by moral is “I share your preference for these customs in this place at this time”. But these customs are arbitrary, on your view. They are the result of evolution, and it does not mean anything that you conform your behavior to an arbitrarily evolved standard. That is not what Christians mean by morality and virtue. You are saying “me too, I prefer that flavor of ice cream that everyone else here likes right now”. We are saying, morality is not made up – it is not ice cream. For us, it is real – it is not an accidentally evolved standard that varies by time and place.

      Please check this essay to understand what I am talking about.

      We are not concerned with whether you imitate the behavior of the majority. We are concerned with this question: on atheism, why is it rational to be moral when it is against my selfish interest to do the right thing?

      “No. Morals arose in our species through evolution as a social species.”

      Questions: 1) Why should I obey this evolved herd morality since the universe, our species, and my birth are all accidents? 2) These morals you describe, are they not an accident of time and space – do they not change over time and in different places? Are they not therefore arbitrary? 3) Do rape and slavery not exist in the animal kingdom? Why is this evolved morality bad compared to our evolved morality? 4) Can you justify a morality of protecting the weak as a result of observing “survival of the fittest” in nature? 5) Atheism is committed to biological determinism. On what grounds do you believe free moral decisions are possible if our actions are determined by evolutionary programming and external inputs? Why should I extend you moral credit for dancing to the music of your selfish genes? 6) If you can escape the consequences from your culture for doing something that pleases you, but that is wrong according to your culture, then why would you not do that, on your view? The answer to 6) can only be that doing the right thing satisfies your conscience. But your conscience is just an illusion from your biological evolution, on atheism. Why care about appeasing that when it is not in your selfish interest to do so? This is not what we Christians mean by morality and virtue.

      “I do not hold god to any standard.”

      Later on, you do, thus contradicting yourself (see below). But if you do not hold God to any standard, then you cannot press the problem of evil. On your view, there is no such thing as objective evil. It is just evolved cultural customs that are accidents, just like we are accidents, on your view. In my view, torture, rape and murder are wrong because they contradict the designer’s nature, and it is rational for us to act inline with that nature in order to achieve eudaimonia. This is especially true for Christians who feel obligated to Jesus for his atoning death on the cross. (We do not do it out of fear, but out of reason (for eudaimonia) and out of love (to appreciate Jesus’ sacrifice).

      On your view, those who sacrifice themselves for the cultural customs of their time and place are irrational. Why deny yourself satisfaction just because the majority in your culture like a different flavor of ice than you? Who is to say that being unfashionable is wrong?

      “But any person or god that would order genocide can not be considered good.”

      Question for you. When you say genocide is wrong, is that 1) your personal opinion, 2) the opinion of those in your culture, or 3) an appeal to an objective moral standard. 1) and 2) are problematic. 3) commits you to a designer of the universe, who makes those moral opinions apply, and who holds us accountable. You cannot say that anything is right or wrong until you explain where the standard you are applying comes from (ontology).

      Please check out this article and this debate before you reply! I appreciate your comment. It was a great one! Please stop by and visit often, I appreciate you. Your differing opinions are welcome here. I apologize if my reply was mean at all, and please don’t be upset or unhappy with me. I will edit it if you sent me an e-mail saying where I was too harsh. These are delicate issues, and I am just a dumb software engineer!

      • jerry says:

        Wintery asked: 1) Why should I obey this evolved herd morality since the universe, our species, and my birth are all accidents?
        A) as a species, humans are weak and slow. We took that evolutionary path was we became societal, no longer would we have to battle one-on-one with a predator, we could gang up on them. You don’t have to obey, but you risk becoming an outcast that would have to defend yourself against predators (to this day, people who live on the outskirts of African villages are eaten by lions) and fend for yourself (you now have to be a farmer/hunter-gatherer while providing for shelter, etc all by yourself). I do not believe the universe is an accident and you have no proof it was – it was the result of very scientific processes we are still in the midst of discovering. Lack of scientific knowledge does not mean deity. Your birth was not an accident, it was the call of nature between a male and a female wanting to pass on their genes to the next generation.

        2) These morals you describe, are they not an accident of time and space – do they not change over time and in different places? Are they not therefore arbitrary?
        A) the minutia does change, like it does in christian societies. I think the Bible supports slavery (Jefferson Davis, the first and only president of the Confederacy, “It (slavery) was established by decree of Almighty God and is sanctioned in the Bible, in both Testaments from Genesis to Revelation4.” In Exodus 21 the guidelines for the buying, selling and treatment of slaves is given. God says in verse 4 that if a male slave marries, his wife and children shall remain with the master when the slave departs because technically speaking they belong to the master.) Try to preach that portion of the bible nowadays – so even your “object morality” changes with time and society.

        3) Do rape and slavery not exist in the animal kingdom? Why is this evolved morality bad compared to our evolved morality?
        Instances of rape in the animal world are exceedingly rare and only known in higher primates, and even then it’s nothing like what is experienced by human females. It is bad because the female is often seriously injured and would often not survive without medical/societal intervention, hence it is not something that would benefit survival of the species. I know of no instances outside of humanity that has slavery – there are symbiotic relationships.

        4) Can you justify a morality of protecting the weak as a result of observing “survival of the fittest” in nature?
        How do you define weak in this case – mortally wounded, so they are weak and dying? Man a is weaker than man b? Old, i.e, weak and feeble? In most of these cases, the answer is yes, and keeping it simple, as a societal species, culling off portions of the population can lead to genetic bottlenecks and other serious problems (loss of experience and knowledge, etc)

        5) Atheism is committed to biological determinism. On what grounds do you believe free moral decisions are possible if our actions are determined by evolutionary programming and external inputs? Why should I extend you moral credit for dancing to the music of your selfish genes?
        A) Atheism is not committed to anything, atheism is the LACK of belief in a deity, nothing else.

        6) If you can escape the consequences from your culture for doing something that pleases you, but that is wrong according to your culture, then why would you not do that, on your view? The answer to 6) can only be that doing the right thing satisfies your conscience.
        A) No, see my response to #1

        But your conscience is just an illusion from your biological evolution, on atheism. Why care about appeasing that when it is not in your selfish interest to do so? This is not what we Christians mean by morality and virtue.
        A) again, see my response to #1 – being an outcast can be far more dangerous and undesirable than fulfilling every desire you do have

        sorry for the long response

        • mystywoods says:

          Many believers think that Atheists do not have a conscience simply because they don’t believe in a deity. Can they not fathom that one can be a person of integrity and empathy toward others without the fear of punishment in some afterlife? This is very telling about their own motives for good behaviour.

        • Paradox says:

          I wish I was here a few years ago! Let me see if I can make mince meat out of this:
          1) An “explanation” of where “morals come from” like evolution does not answer the question. If morality evolved biologically, then it is not an actual standard, it is only an illusion.
          2) No, the Bible does not teach slavery. “Slavery” as present in the Hebrew civilization, was an anti-poverty system, and the “slaves” were treated just as well as freemen. Jefferson Davis was simply wrong, and quoting him is like if I quoted Alfred Wallace as proof of a certain theory of cosmology. The point you tried to make, that even the moral system of the Bible changes, simply fails for factual reasons, as well as for being a non-sequitor (it does not follow that because one religion’s morals change, that morality is not objective).
          3) This seems irrelevant to me.
          4) Culling off bad portions would not be a problem. If they are allowed to propagate, despite overall genetic inferiority, the overall effect is negative. Behavior that allows the genetically inferior to survive most of the time is detrimental to the species gene-pool. It still makes no sense, QED.
          5) The postulate of classical atheism is “God does not exist.” The postulate of modern atheism is “I don’t believe in God.” Can you tell me what the difference is? In this case, they are functionally equivalent. What does atheism entail? If God does not exist, does that require that angles do not exist? It seems that modern atheism assumes that the supernatural in general does not exist, forcing themselves into materialism. Because materialism entails biological determinism, it follows that modern atheism entails biological determinism.
          It follows that you should answer the question, as we have now shown that it is relevant.
          6&7) See my response to you.
          And contemplate this, very carefully: the question is not why would you do something, but why should you do something. Your own logic, whether you like it or not, demands that morality is an illusion, and therefore, there is no “ought”, which is the point of this whole thing. WinteryKnight has you on that point, the others are not important.

          • skeptic says:

            In reference to slavery not being condoned in the Bible you may have over looked Ex. 21:20-22 & 21:4-6.
            “If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.” Then in verses 4-6 we have a slave being branded. How is this being treated as well as a free man?

          • Well, skeptic, what’s wrong with slavery on atheism? You are probably pro-abortion, and that’s even worth than slavery. Atheists can’t ground moral rules objectively, nor can they ground the right to life, or the right to liberty.

  2. The best hypothesis based on evolution for why is there suffering is that the brain regions responsible for suffering act as a neural alarm that force us to pay attention to threats that could terminate our existence. Suffering has survival value, and while pain is unpleasant, people with a congenital insensitivity to pain, for instance, are at great risk for infections and other forms of harm that they pay insufficient attention to because they don’t hurt much.

    The above hypothesis seems pretty solid and self-consistent, though its true that there is not enough evidence about how the pain systems evolved to nail it down 100 percent.

    The theistic hypothesis, by constrast, is pretty mangled. A God who is good creates suffering for reasons we find hard to fathom, perhaps related to a need for freewill (though some religions find no need for a belief in freewill)

    Nothing in life is certain, but the evolutionary hypothesis seems a better bet to me than the theistic hypothesis (though perhaps the theistic hypothesis would be strengthened if we could envision God as amoral, like the gods on Mt. Olympus)

    • Paradox says:

      The theistic hypothesis is not as mangled as one would think. I believe I can give a concise explanation.

      God did not set evil in motion for purposes related to freewill; the world we live in was created good.
      Evil exists because evil intentions both exist and are acted upon, by beings of freewill.
      The theistic hypothesis, as I hope I have made clear, is that God allows evil, but is not its cause.

      Your model for the existence of suffering is interesting, and just as self-consistent as the theistic hypothesis. However, it is now known that animals experience pain, but are not aware that they are the ones experiencing pain. Think of it like blind-sight; you can throw a ball at a person, and they can catch it, they just can’t understand that they can see. Everything simply looks dark to them.
      So here’s my first catch: wouldn’t it make more sense on evolution for us to be like animals in this respect? This “blind-pain” would achieve the same result, and would not require extra novelty to develop like our actual sense of pain.
      Now is my second catch: is suffering evil? If so, the moral argument applies (but defeats my explanation of the theistic hypothesis). If not, the atheist argument is meaningless.

  3. Roger Cooke says:

    The argument atheists are making (at least, in most cases) is that Christianity uses words like “loving” to describe its god. This word has an ordinary human meaning. Yet in your post, you said explicitly that God cannot be held to human standards of morality. If God is the creator of this universe, including the tubercle bacillus, and Mount Vesuvius, then God certainly planned the horrendous, painful death of millions of little children. Whether I find that personally abhorrent or not (I do) is irrelevant. I don’t have to reconcile it with the description of God as “loving.” That, I believe, is the point most atheists are driving at when they make moral objections to the Christian God, who of course, they don’t believe exists. They are merely pointing out an inconsistency within Christianity, the old “problem of evil” that not even the eloquence of CS Lewis could banish.

    • What I said was that since atheists believe in an evolved standard of morality that changes by time and place, they cannot then use that made-up, arbitrary standard to judge God as evil, or to judge the evil in the world as being incompatible with God.

  4. Roger Cooke says:

    I must thank Wintery Knight for providing me with a link to this url when I had lost it. Again, I need to emphasize that atheists are not judging an imaginary god by some standard they have chosen; they are merely pointing out the inconsistencies in the attempt to derive morality from theism. That by no means implies any belief in a morality that changes from place to place. Each person has his/her own standard of morality, and most of us find that we have at least 90% of that in common with everybody else. It was ingrained in us all at age 6 or earlier, not as theists believe by some implantation from a divine source. We nearly all come from the same community in which those standards are recognized, and hence we tend to have a huge amount of agreement about what is good and bad. My own standard of morality doesn’t change from place to place because I live in only one small segment of time and space.

    • Thank you for this comment. I have more to say, (nothing too mean), but the rule here is that you get the last word on your second rebuttal. I will see you on the forum in a few weeks. In the meantime, feel free to look around and leave more comments. Sorry if I a bit mean in some of my posts. I will correct them if they are too snarky.

  5. Chris says:

    “My point today is that atheists cannot use the apparently gratuitous evil in the world as a disproof that there is a God until they define what they mean by evil.”

    Unfortunately, you point today is wide of the mark.

    There is no need for atheists to define evil, when theists have already provided one that is perfectly serviceable for the sake of the argument.

    The problem of evil posits a hypothetical reality where God (and His moral absolutes) exist. The only question that then remains is whether it is immoral (according to Morality TM, copyright: God) to stand idly by and let others suffer when you are able to step in and prevent said suffering at no risk to yourself.

    • Thanks for your comment. If we ever debated, I would make you define evil, and then I would point out that your definition was self-refuting on your view. Also, what I am I to make of atheists constant use of moral judgments against Christianity when you think that morality is basically made-up? You can’t have it both ways.

      There are two possibilities: 1) moral standards exists, and meaningful moral judgments are possible. But these requires a design of the universe and a Designer of the universe. Or 2) Morality is made up nonsense and there is no way humans ought to act as a matter of fact, except for the arbitrary conventions that we evolve that differ from time and place.

      I believe 1). What do you believe? Please pick a number from 1 to 2. And what does it say about you, morally, if you pick 2), and yet continue to insist that atheists can be moral and that God is bad and Christians are bad. Does it not show that atheism is irrational and self-contradictory?

  6. Miles says:

    “But then, you have already assumed God in order to argue against him.”

    This technique of arguing is called ‘reductio ad absurdum’. These are common in philosophy and the judgement of theories. One of the most useful logical tools we have.

    In classical logic it works a bit like this:

    1) Assumption
    2) Conclusion (i) entailed by assumption
    3) Conclusion (ii) entailed by assumption
    (Principle of logic) If (i) and (ii) contradict each other, then (1) must be false.
    4) Therefore: Assumption is false

    • The problem is that you need to define what morality is before you can make any arguments. If you define morality in an objective sense, you have to assume God.

  7. irisguayer says:

    Can I post a comment? Heheh, the last comment is almost two years ago. But anyway I will try:

    My understanding of the atheist’s perspective is that they choose theism’s standard of morality and debate from there. In this way, they are relieve of having to define “evil” first and there is no need to define one since it was already provided by the theist e.g., thou shall not kill.

    But alas, this has something to do that God’s only way of preserving the “chosen” people(Israel in this case) thus providing a way to which the Messiah will be born is the destruction of the Canaanites. This is the favorite target of the atheists in the bible, and you can’t convince the atheists to debate the topic of “evil” in this way. My point in this comment is that the the atheist got it right when to join and start a debate, but they failed to grasp the reason why God need to deal with the ancient Canaanites in order for His people to dwell in the land. The evil of the Canaanites cannot be bear anymore, even children, women and animals needs to be slaughtered. It is up to the atheists to appreciate or believe that the Christian God has the power to do what needs to do in order to preserve life(the seed, Jesus Christ). With Canaanites around, Israel cannot dwell in the land and thus the Messiah to be born will be unlikely and thus the doom of mankind. Of course you cannot use this argument against them to their own peril.

    Other point is, as complex as the problem of suffering is, if the atheist is bold enough to do his own research on this subject, then he needs to delve down more and study Old Testament literature, the evil Canaanites why God eradicated them. I believe Jesus when He said:

    Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.

    We can never find anything until we do the search.

    Regards,

  8. donsevers says:

    Oy.

    An argument does not depend on the views of the speaker. It doesn’t matter whether an atheist, a theist, a maltheist, a misotheist, or a computer is talking. The beliefs of the speaker are irrelevant to the point being discussed.

    So, when atheists accuse God of allowing evil, we are necessarily arguing on theism (since God is required for the discussion), and our personal views are irrelevant.

    When theists turn and say, “Ha, on atheism there is no evil”, they are switching boats midstream. We don’t have to rebut an argument from atheism in the middle of an argument from theism. It’s a distraction.

    Whether evil exists on atheism is a good discussion to have, but it is irrelevant to a discussion of evil and God’s character under theism.

    • Please define what you mean by the word “evil”. If you have to use any objective definition of evil, then you need God as a ground for that objective standard of morality.

      Here’s a quick summary of how this works from Dr. William Lane Craig, who is an expert in the problem of evil:
      http://www.bethinking.org/suffering/advanced/the-problem-of-evil.htm

      Quote:

      Finally, there is one last point which needs to be made which constitutes a defeater of any argument from evil against the existence of God, namely, that moral evil proves that God exists. For in our discussion of the axiological argument for God’s existence, we saw that it is plausible that apart from God objective moral values do not exist. But then we can employ the atheist’s own premise as part of a sound argument for the existence of God:

      13. If God did not exist, then objective moral values would not exist.

      14. Evil exists.

      15. Therefore, objective moral values exist. (from 14 by definition of ‘evil’)

      16. Therefore, God exists. (MT, 13, 15)

      Premise (13) was the key premise of the axiological argument, which is accepted by many theists and non-theists alike. Premise (14) is furnished by the problem of evil itself. (15) follows by definition from (14), for if one grants that some things are truly evil, then one has admitted the objectivity of moral truths. Since objective values cannot exist without God and objective values do exist (as shown by the evil in the world), it follows that God exists. Therefore, evil in the world actually proves that God exists. This argument demonstrates the co-existence of God and evil without attempting to give any explanation at all for why evil exists-‑we, like Job, may be totally ignorant of that‑-but it nonetheless shows that the existence of evil in the world does not call into question, but on the contrary, implies God’s existence.

      • donsevers says:

        When we argue on theism, God and evil are included in the argument from the beginning. So, I suppose in this case we could say evil is “the privation of right order”. Under theism.

        If God had any choice in how he created the world (contra Leibniz), he could have set things up to include less horrendous suffering of innocents. (If he could not, then we’re back to Leibniz’s scenario.)

        And The Fall doesn’t help God. If God had any choice in what would follow from The Fall, he still could have included less horrendous suffering. And it seems he did have some choice. After The Fall, he caused women to suffer and die in childbirth, but he didn’t cause them to explode. In his mercy, he omitted this horror. It seems he could have omitted one more.

        https://www.facebook.com/notes/don-severs/the-lucky-people/10150368609164005

      • donsevers says:

        Even if we accept that morality requires evil, the issue is ‘how much evil does it require?’. If God could have omitted one awful thing, say alcoholism, but did not, he is not maximally loving. Greater good arguments don’t help because God could reach his ends via less painful means, unless he is locked in a la Leibniz.

        And it seems impossible that God could not have done better (included less suffering). We know that the 1918 strain of flu virus failed to ravage humanity until 1918. There is no contradiction in saying God could not have made that date 1919. Or 3019. Or never.

        The heartbreaking realization for Christians is that God simply seems to choose great suffering for us, when he does not have to. So, even for those for whom life is good, we have to ignore the cries of our siblings in the basement. And hope to hell we stay on his good side. Matt 7:21

        • See, you are the one making the claim that God, who decides what purposes the universe will have because he created and designed it, could have achieved his purposes by allowing less creaturely and natural evil. You are making that claim, and that’s YOUR burden of proof. How do you KNOW that? That’s what you have to prove in order to make the argument go through. For a deductive argument, you must prove that your premise is more likely than not, and you’re not in a position to assess those probabilities. And neither am I. Neither is any human being. So the argument can’t be pressed.

          I know a person whose alcoholism was the root cause of his/her return to faith. God allowed that person to choose it SO THAT that person would suffer enough by their own hand to begin to second guess their own moral standards and purposes and conduct an investigation that eventually landed him/her back in the fold.

          • donsevers says:

            That God could have achieved his purposes with less evil seems to follow from his omnipotence. There is no contradiction in it.

            But just to be careful, I can say it like this

            IF God could have omitted one horror from creation and did not, he is not as loving as he could have been.

            Then, if we think it is likely that God could not have done any better, then we can believe that God is as loving as he could be.

            I think it is exceedingly unlikely, given his other traits.

          • Omnipotence doesn’t mean that you can determine what free creatures will do. Determinism and free will are mutually exclusive categories. In order to get a definite set of people to free come to a saving knowledge of God, he may have to permit all of the evil that we see. If you think he can save the same definite set of people while allowing less evil, that is YOUR burden of proof.

          • donsevers says:

            >You aren’t in a position to make that argument and show your calculations.

            This cuts both ways. If we don’t know that God is evil, we don’t know that he is good. We must suspend judgment.

            I fell for the first God I met. My parents introduced us. Later, I googled him. He had a past and I dumped him. Now, I’m spiritually celibate because I can’t find a god worth worshiping. There could be one, and I’m a religious person at heart, but it would be reckless to commit without more information, given the facts on the ground.

            Earth is drenched in blood. It seems any creator God would have something to do with that.

          • donsevers says:

            >I know a person whose alcoholism was the root cause of his/her return to faith.

            Sure, but we know faithful people who found God with less suffering. IF God could have helped this person with less suffering and did not, he is not maximally loving.

  9. donsevers says:

    >‘An atheist errs in accusing God of evil on theism because, on atheism, there is no evil.’

    Our host is in good company. WLC pulls this out in almost every debate I have seen him in. I’ve never seen anyone call him out on it, either.

  10. donsevers says:

    >Omnipotence doesn’t mean that you can determine what free creatures will do.

    God determined natural law, so he set what is possible. We can’t kill with our thoughts, yet we still say we have free will. Here, it seems God blessed us by restricting the mayhem we could cause. There is no contradiction in saying he could have restricted our power a little more, without infringing on our free will. I can wish to kill a billion people, but I can’t do it, and we can thank God for that.

    Even if the horrendous amounts of evil we observe necessarily follow from free will, we still have natural evil. Animal predation comes to mind. Is each instance of being eaten alive necessary? If so, God is not all-powerful. There is no contradiction in God creating a world with less pointless suffering of animals. And if it has a point, then God could have achieved the same point with less suffering. And if he could not, then we’re back to Leibniz’s locked-in, bystander God.

    • Again, these are just assertions. You are not in a position to measure how much God’s purposes are satisfied, then create an exact replica of this universe with less evil that has the same amount of God’s purposes being satisfied. But that’s the burden of proof you have in order to make this argument stick. It has to be more likely than not that God could allow less evil, and still achieve his purposes to the same amount as he is in this universe. You aren’t in a position to make that argument and show your calculations.

  11. [...] (or perhaps more) of a problem for Atheism than for Christianity. For others who are interested, here is one article that attempts to address this. One nice summary of the reason this is a problem for Atheism is [...]

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