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Thursday, April 25, 2013

The Problem With the Problem of Suffering

The most persistent, and probably the strongest, argument against the existence of the Christian God is the argument from evil (or pain). The first major formulation of the argument is the logical problem of evil. This argument seeks to prove that the existence of evil (or pain in some formulations) and the existence of the Christian conception of God are contradictory. It can be stated as follows (first as a simple modus tollens, then as more complex series of syllogisms):

#1 If God exists, then there would be no suffering.
#2 It is not the case that there is no suffering.
#3 Therefore, God does not exists

Or more complexly,

#1 God exists
#2 God is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good
#3 A perfectly good being would want to prevent all evils.
#4 An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence.
#5 An omnipotent being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
#6 A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
#7 If there exists an omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good being, then no evil exists.
#8 Evil exists (logical contradiction)

The second formulation, the Evidential problem of evil, while not insisting that evil and God are contradictory, does seek to show that the existence of evil makes the existence of God highly suspect if not entirely untenable. Two major formulations are by William Rowe and Paul Draper. They are:

#1 There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
#2 An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
#3 (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

#1 Gratuitous evils exist.
#2 The hypothesis of indifference, i.e., that if there are supernatural beings they are indifferent to gratuitous evils, is a better explanation for (1) than theism.
#3 Therefore, evidence prefers that no god, as commonly understood by theists, exists.

Yet one more can be added. So I do not appear to be setting up a straw man, I believe that the atheist has an even better argument that they often do not even consider using because to assume it, is to intentionally borrow a Christian doctrine. What better example of suffering is there than eternal damnation in the fires of hell? The existence of hell cannot be attributed to human free will, even if humans being sent there may be. God created hell.

So what can we say to this? What is a proper response? Let me first say that I do not intend to respond to this pastorally. I would never use this line of reasoning to comfort the afflicted or to show kindness to the widow who just lost a spouse to seemingly senseless tragedy. So if this comes across as cold and logical, that's what I intend. I believe that the answer to this logical dilemma is actually surprisingly quite easy. The basic answer is that the problem is a false dilemma.

How so?

The question of evil presupposes God in order to deny his existence. It is like the small child who must crawl onto his father’s lap in order to slap his father’s cheek.

The problem of evil is only a potential problem in a theistic universe. In an atheistic universe, there can be no basis for absolutely morality other than something like “social contract” or “herd preservation.” Yet these are not absolute foundations for morality but are expressions of Darwinian necessity. For the strong to survive, the strong must cooperate so to speak. This then makes a moral fiction. There is no real morality only a kind of social code that we ascribe to. So if a man decides to forcibly take another man’s wife, he is not actually breaking an absolute moral law, but rather is creating his own social contract, albeit and unpopular one. We do not say that the lion is immoral for eating the sick and aged in the herd, we say it is survival. Thus, the atheist, no matter how much they attempt to find an absolute basis for a relative morality, can never find one.

So when an atheist points to suffering and calls it “evil” he is actually borrowing a truth from the theistic worldview. But if the theistic worldview is necessarily correct in order to make the argument, he must either relinquish his insistence on the argument as a false dilemma, or give up his atheism as a false worldview. Either God exists and his denial of God is in error, or God does not exist and the problem of evil is invalid.

Yet who would look at a child suffering from seemingly meaningless starvation and think, “oh that’s only the appearance of evil.” Who would be a victim to brutal assault or rape or attempted murder and then turn to the nurse and say, “I don’t mind, there is no such thing as real evil. That man was just acting out of his own moral system that happens to be different from mine.”

We all know that there is such a thing as real, absolute evil, but the question is “Why?!”

The answer however, is not to deny the existence of God as incompatible with the pain. The answer is to realize that evil points to us that this is not how the world is meant to be, and that one day God will make things right again. God is not oblivious to our suffering and he sent his own Son to take our suffering onto himself so that one day we would enter his rest where there will be no more pain or sickness or suffering.

So the next time an atheist tries to use pain and suffering and evil to discredit the existence of God, don’t be afraid to show him that he is borrowing our worldview. Don’t let him.

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