Here is a thoughtful challenge by someone a friend is in conversation with:
I’ll jump into this message by addressing the assertion that suffering is related to sin. I understand that this is what the Bible says, and during the infancy of the human species, when religion was our first attempt at making sense of the world, it might have made sense to attribute suffering to violating the will of a god. However, to make such an assertion in 2016 seems rather ridiculous. Nine million children die every year before they reach 5 years old. Remember that tsunami in 2004 that killed 250,000 people? Imagine one of those every ten days, only killing children under the age of five. We’re talking about a thousand dead children per hour, or about 17 every minute. This means that before you reach the end of this paragraph, some few children will likely have died in terror and agony somewhere in the world. The parents of these children almost certainly believe in God, and are praying at this very moment for their children to be spared. You and I both know that these prayers will go unanswered. The classic position taken by nonbelievers is that any god who would allow children by the millions to suffer and die in this way, and their parents to suffer and grieve in this way, either can do nothing to help them, or doesn’t care to. This conception of a deity is therefore either evil or impotent.
The very first thing that pops into my mind is the idea Dr. Clouser pulls from many positions taken by people who profess to “think well,”
The program of rejecting logic in order to accept mutually contradictory beliefs is not, however, just a harmless, whimsical hope that somehow logically incompatible beliefs can both be true…it results in nothing less than the destruction of any and every concept we could possess. Even the concept of rejecting the law of non-contradiction depends on assuming and using that law, since without it the concept of rejecting it could neither be thought nor stated.
Roy A. Clouser, The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories (Notre Dame, IN: Notre Dame Press, 2005), 178.
(More can be see in this regard in my intro chapter to my book, here)
We will venture into how this challenge is void of “thoughtfulness” — which is why I italicized this word in the first sentence at the top of this post. The main laws of logic will show that if the skeptics viewpoint is “true,” then “truth” does not exist. But I digress ingress.
Numbers 1 and 2 taken together do, of course, entail 3. Therefore, the propositions from our original theistic set that now make up 1 are logically consistent with the existence of evil. The only relevant question regarding 2 is whether it is possibly true. Obviously it is since it is not logically false. Therefore, the theistic set is logically consistent from which follows the impossibility of anyone’s ever demonstrating that it is not.
So we see that by using logic found in philosophical principles that the challenger alluded to, especially in his last sentence, saying “This conception of a deity is therefore either evil or impotent,” that the challenge is defeated.
Not only that however, is, HOW does the challenger come to a conclusion that he can judge something to be wrong, outside of his personal opinion that is. In other words, he is saying that an action or inaction constitutes evil. He uses this moral presupposition bound up in “evil” to insert into a syllogistic formula to disprove God (at least God in the Judeo-Christian sense… for “evil” being negative is absent from every other religious viewpoint).
He, the challenger, is saying that I, that my neighbor, someone in Bangledesh, or Papua New Guinea [etc.] should see this formula, understand what “evil” action or inaction is, and agree with him. He is – in other words – inserting an absolute principle in the formulation. This is where I want to challenge such an idea.
CS Lewis once reflected on himself doing the same thing as an atheist when he said:
My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too–for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist–in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless -I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality–namely my idea of justice–was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (San Francisco, CA: Harper San Francisco, 1952), 38-39.
To further draw out this idea, Ravi Zacharias responded to a questioner at Harvard where a moral principle was inserted into the premise of the question:
You see… when an absolute is brought into the equation, the challenger ceases being an atheist or skeptic. UNLESS they pause and explain to others why they should accept what they consider to be an “evil” act. ~These presuppositions also assume a goal or end to life, inserting meaning and purpose that the skeptic EXPECTS others to see and agree with.~ Let us see a little about what atheists consider to be “evil.” Again, these are people bringing their worldview to their logical ends (for references, see, 26 Brutally Honest Atheist Quotes Worth A Read):
“When one gives up Christian belief one thereby deprives oneself of the right to Christian morality. For the latter is not self—evident. . . Christianity is a system.” ~ Friedrich Nietzsche
“…to say that something is wrong because… it is forbidden by God, is… perfectly understandable to anyone who believes in a law-giving God. But to say that something is wrong… even though no God exists to forbid it, is not understandable….” “The concept of moral obligation [is] unintelligible apart from the idea of God. The words remain but their meaning is gone.” ~ Richard Taylor
“There is no objective moral standard. We are responsible for our own actions….” | “The hard answer is it [moral decisions] is a matter of opinion.” ~ David Silverman
“There is no purpose to life, and we should not want there to be a purpose to life because if there was that would cheapen life.” ~ Dan Barker
Here is my “AFTERTHOUGHT” to two examples proffered by myself in regards to a meme floating around the internet:
Just as an afterthought. A skeptic who rejects God and accepts naturalism cannot say rape is wrong like the theist can say this:
theism: evil, wrong at all times and places in the universe — absolutely;
atheism: taboo, it was used in our species in the past for the survival of the fittest, and is thus a vestige of evolutionary progress… and so may once again become a tool for survival — it is in every corner of nature;
pantheism: illusion, all morals and ethical actions and positions are actually an illusion (Hinduism – maya; Buddhism – sunyata). In order to reach some state of Nirvana one must retract from this world in their thinking on moral matters, such as love and hate, good and bad. Not only that, but often times the person being raped has built up bad karma and thus is the main driver for his or her state of affairs (thus, in one sense it is “right” that rape happens).
In other words they have to BORROW FROM ethics the worldview that they are trying to disprove (again referencing CS Lewis and Ravi Zacharias’ work above).
For more on this, see my post noting many more atheist/evolutionary (philosophical naturalism) positions followed to their logical conclusions here:
Here we see the logical consequences of the “God Is Dead” movement and Nietzsche’s prophecy concerning the outcome:
Nihilism can take more than one form. There is, for instance, passive nihilism, a pessimistic acquiescence in the absence of values and in the purposelessness of existence. But there is also active nihilism which seeks to destroy that in which it no longer believes. And Nietzsche prophesies the advent of an active nihilism, showing itself in world-shaking ideological wars. “There will be wars such as there have never been on earth before. Only from my time on will there be on earth politics on the grand scale.
The advent of nihilism is in Nietzsche’s opinion inevitable. And it will mean the final overthrow of the decadent Christian civilization of Europe. At the same time it will clear the way for a new dawn, for the transvaluation of values, for the emergence of a higher type of man. For this reason “this most gruesome of all guests”, who stands at the door, is to be welcomed.
Frederick Copleston, S.J., A History of Philosophy, Volume VII (New York, NY: Image Books, 1994), 405-405.
And so, the Twentieth Century was indeed the bloodiest ever. In fact, non-God [atheistic] governments killed more people in 100-years than all religion did the previous nineteen. See my “Religious Wars” post for more.
Again, even truth is called into question, as the many quotes in the above link show, if God is extant from our discussion about reality.
“If the solar system was brought about by an accidental collision, then the appearance of organic life on this planet was also an accident, and the whole evolution of Man was an accident too. If so, then all our thought processes are mere accidents – the accidental by-product of the movement of atoms. And this holds for the materialists and astronomers as well as for anyone else’s. But if their thoughts — i.e. of Materialism and — are merely accidental by-products, why should we believe them to be true? I see no reason for believing that one accident should be able to give a correct account of all the other accidents. It’s like expecting that the accidental shape taken by the splash when you upset a milk-jug should give you a correct account of how the jug was made and why it was upset.”
C. S. Lewis, God In the Dock (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1970), pp. 52–53.
Do you see? If atheism is true, then these absolute statements entwined in these skeptical position vanish. In fact, “consciousness” is a problem for this discussion:
Atheist Daniel Dennett, for example, asserts that consciousness is an illusion. (One wonders if Dennett was conscious when he said that!) His claim is not only superstitious, it’s logically indefensible. In order to detect an illusion, you’d have to be able to see what’s real. Just like you need to wake up to know that a dream is only a dream, Daniel Dennett would need to wake up with some kind of superconsciousness to know that the ordinary consciousness the rest of us mortals have is just an illusion. In other words, he’d have to be someone like God in order to know that.
Dennett’s assertion that consciousness is an illusion is not the result of an unbiased evaluation of the evidence. Indeed, there is no such thing as “unbiased evaluation” in a materialist world because the laws of physics determine everything anyone thinks, including everything Dennett thinks. Dennett is just assuming the ideology of materialism is true and applying its implications to consciousness. In doing so, he makes the same mistake we’ve seen so many other atheists make. He is exempting himself from his own theory. Dennett says consciousness is an illusion, but he treats his own consciousness as not an illusion. He certainly doesn’t think the ideas in his book are an illusion. He acts like he’s really telling the truth about reality.
When atheists have to call common sense “an illusion” and make self-defeating assertions to defend atheism, then no one should call the atheistic worldview “reasonable.” Superstitious is much more accurate.
These are meta-narratives just assumed by the skeptic with no regard to how they arrived there. I liken it to an analogy of driving a car. The atheist thinks he has gotten in his car, backed out of the drive-way, and is a few turns into his trip to the market of reason. I am merely pointing out that the car is not starting when the key is turned. One may wish to go through another post of mine entitled, “Is Evil Proof Against God? Where Does It Come From?“
Remember, always ask yourself if the question or challenge is a proper one to begin with…
Mortimer J. Adler rightly points out that while many Christians are quick in responding to the conclusions in an argument often times the Christian is unaware that the point of departure is not in the conclusion, but in the starting premise, the foundational assumptions.
Norman L. Geisler & Peter Bocchino, Unshakable Foundations: Contemporary Answers to Crucial Questions About the Christian Faith (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2001), 20-21.
Classic Syllogism – Simple Change
This is how it is often presented:
★ If God is all-powerful, He can prevent evil.
★ If God is good, He would want to prevent evil.
★ Evil exists.
★ Therefore, there is no God. (Or: God is either not all-powerful, or He is not good.)
All that is really being done is this simple change, and it is sound:
★ If God is all-powerful, He can prevent evil.
★ If God is good, He would want to prevent evil.
★ Evil exists.
★ Therefore, the world contains evil.
The conclusion that the world contains evil has no explanatory power on why it does or even if this impacts the existence of God in any way.