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Last time I proffered the idea that pain is a problem for the atheist because he has to figure out what to do about said pain - and some of you took that at face value, but I think some of you are rightfully scratching your heads.

“Frank - big thinkin’ and everything,” you ought to be saying, “but why is having to do something about pain a problem for the atheist? If I have a hand on a hot stove, I pull it off and the problem is solved. If my hand still hurts, I get a doctor to give me medicine, and again, problem solved. Why is taking action toward pain a problem for the atheist?”

That’s a great question - and it goes back to our example of the $700 billion bail-out of the auto or banking industry. I mean: $700 billion. Unless the government is essentially printing money (and I’d be willing to listen to someone who says that they are ...), $700 billion has to come from someplace. And in real terms, $700 billion equals about $2400 for every person who is a citizen of the USA today. That means, for example, my house just paid $9600 to the banking industry - and I don’t know about you, but $9600 isn’t chump change for me. That hurts.

But when we look at the bail-out problem, that hurts, too. See: if the banking industry tanks and $700 billion in bad debt gets foreclosed and turns out to be worth about $450 billion is real value, we’re talking about $250 billion in cash assets disappearing from the US economy. To scale that for you, that’s like all of WAL*MART suddenly being vaporized; that’s like all pro sports plus all college sports revenues times one hundred suddenly burned up in a fire.

And it’s the money that really does drive, for example, your company’s ability to buy a new capitalized machine, or build a new building, or in some cases manage to pay payroll while your customers enjoy 45 or 60 or 90 day terms on the stuff you just “sold” them.

So on the one hand, we can do nothing and allow something like $250 billion in investment capital to evaporate from the US economy - causing a significant impairment to any kind of industrial growth - or on the other hand, we can strap every man, woman and child with $2400 in long-term debt which they may or may not ever pay off. In other words, we can choose between one kind of pain and another kind of pain - but either way, we are going to hurt.

To be sure, speaking existentially - that is, not drawing some larger moral or ethical conclusion here, but measuring the situation and the events strictly from what we have experienced, are experiencing, or are about to experience — this is what the problem of pain usually looks like. That is, we are choosing between one kind of pain and another kind of pain. We are choosing between “having the appendix taken out” or “suffering through the pain until we either die or we get better”. We are choosing between “letting the dentist drill the tooth or extracting it” and “letting it rot out under its own power”. We are choosing between one kind of pain and another kind of pain.

And this is specifically where atheism becomes incoherent and completely unhelpful - this is the place where, as I have said, all flavors of atheism leave man philosophically unequipped to resolve the problem of evil. If the atheist is confronted with the problem that all conceivable choices cause pain, and pain is to be avoided, the atheist has to confess something: in order to act, he’s going to have to ignore the matter of pain as a consequence in order to choose a course of action.

It is in that way which we arrive at all kinds of mad conclusions – like the conclusion that it is better to kill someone rather than let them suffer, because “no pain but no life” is allegedly more desirable to them than “significant pain but life”.

Atheism doesn’t deal with the problem of pain, the problem of evil: it ignores the problem of pain/evil after it allegedly uses it to reproach God. It does not consider that the problem has to be resolved and not merely pointed out.

But I think it’s worse for the atheist still — because there are no atheists stuck in a panic of indecision. They themselves will choose some action when they experience or perceive pain. That is, they will choose to do something even if one of the options is more painful than the one they are experiencing. Think about this: to combat theism, and religion in general, some atheists have actually proposed that children be removed from homes where parents will bring them up with religious beliefs. That’s not a scare argument: that’s merely to point out that given the choice between the pain of affording religious beliefs free expression and the pain of separating children from their parents, plainly the atheist is willing to take the harder choice in order to achieve what he sees as the more-beneficial end.

You know: as if somehow some suffering ultimately has a therapeutic or, if we dare say it, redemptive purpose.

“This has all been very nice, I am sure,” intones the patient atheist who has been reading with us so far, “but my view — and John Loftus’ view — is that God ought to be good enough and powerful enough and intelligent enough to create a world where these crappy choices ought not to have to be made. We would agree with you that real people have to make hard choices all the time — we would say rather that God should have found a way to make things in order that we didn’t have to make those hard choices.”

It’s an interesting redirection of the question, but it is where we turn the bend from exposing the atheist short-comings to actually advancing the Christian faith.

We’ll do that after my review of Jim Speigel’s book, later this week.

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