I’m going to interrupt my little series on the problem of God’s jealousy and whay that matters to the local church because I’m about to review a book here on apologetics, and that review will, undoubtedly, start the inevitable attraction of internet atheists to this site.
I’m sure everyone will be glad for them to have finally made it here.
Anyway, one of the great points in Jim Seigel’s book is that atheists make much of the problem of “evil”. What I think Jim sells a little short is that many atheists may use “problem of evil” as shorthand for something which they are defining differently than the Christian must, so we should spend a little time on that matter before we engage anyone.
A fellow named John Loftus wrote a book (which I’m not going to link to; sorry John) about his journey into atheism, and he dedicated no less than two chapters (!) to the problem of evil. Let’s go to his book and listen to him for a minute:
I’ll be arguing here against the theistic conception of God, who is believed to be all-powerful, or omnipotent, perfectly good, or omnibenevolent and all-knowing, or omniscient. The problem of evil (or suffering) is an internal one to these three theistic beliefs, which is expressed in both deductive and evidentialist arguments concerning both moral and natural evil. So let’s think about something here: Loftus is of course reproaching the problem that if someone suffers and God does nothing about it — if God walks by it, like me stepping over a hobo to whom I could have given help to — God cannot be God because He is either not good, not aware, or can’t do anything about it.
Fair enough — we will get back to that eventually.
I want to look at Loftus’ definition for a minute, however, because it is clever enough that most people will probably not really grasp what he is doing. First, He is making the problem of evil one which only God has to deal with. That is, it’s only a problem “internal to theistic beliefs”, and not a problem for anyone else. It’s a problem about consistency for the theist, not an existential problem.
Unfortunately for Loftus, when he frames the problem, he uses existential examples. He leads the chapter with Eli Wiesel describing what brought him to a loss of faith — which is wholly an existential problem of what Wiesel calls “silence” in the face of great evil. Wiesel saw evil being done, and it didn’t stop when he wanted it to stop, so Wiesel took what he experienced to be true over any other option and concluded what he concluded.
And Wiesel is an interesting example to lead with, because the irony here is that Wiesel recognizes that the problem of evil is not resolved by eliminating God from your metaphysical puzzle. Wiesel, in spite of the rampant atheist citations of Night, is a theist who does not reject the existence of God on account of evil.
Now, many people I respect — like Doug Wilson for example — would point out that there’s actually no problem of evil if there is no God because anything goes. But Loftus’ definition of the problem really avoids that criticism well — because he doesn’t put a moral value on evil. He resorts to an empirical definition instead, because frankly everyone knows when they suffer. Pain is a stake in the ground for him, and I say good for him for recognizing it.
The problem is what to do about pain. See: the common argument here — which Loftus plainly uses to dismiss God — is that all pain ought to be stopped whenever possible. A universe with suffering in it precludes the Christian God (he says), so the onus is now on John or anyone else who sees pain to stop pain.
Right? If that’s what we ought to expect from God to the place where we are ready to dismiss God from our philosophy, we have to at least hold ourselves up to that standard. We want an omnipotent God to preclude our suffering, so we should at least think we can use our own limited means to stop the suffering of those we meet.
So we should do something about pain and suffering. I think I agree with John Loftus.
I think we should start with a $700 billion government-funded bail-out of the automotive industry.
I’ll have more to say about that next time.