Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Chapter 1: Since evil and suffering exist, a loving God cannot

Chapter 1: Since evil and suffering exist, a loving god cannot.

Interviewee: Peter John Kreeft, Ph. D.

I was partly surprised that in the introduction he does interview Templeton, who is an agnostic former Christian. I’ve never read Templeton’s book, though Strobel paints it as a hateful diatribe against Christianity. It may be an interesting next read.

Anyway, this chapter is supposed to answer Templeton’s objections that the suffering in the world disproves the existence of God. Strobel interviews Peter Kreft about this problem of evil. Kreft shows some good thoughts in the interview, makes some nonsensical statements about atheism, and also gives a few arguments about how the existence of evil is not incompatible with the existence of God.

I’ll start with his arguments.

A bear, a trap, a hunter, and God.

In this analogy, a hunter finds a bear in agony in a trap, has pity on it, and tries to set it free. The bear, naturally, can not comprehend and resists the hunter. In the analogy, a suffering human is the bear, the merciful hunter is God. Interesting point to make is that, in all likelihood the bear has every reason in the world to mistrust the hunter. And who placed the trap to begin with? Maybe it’s just a bad analogy, at least if the bear is held responsible for misunderstanding the intentions of the hunter. Another point of breakdown in this analogy is that the hunter has reason to fear the bear—an angry wounded bear is a force to be reckoned with! The hunter is putting his life in danger, while on the other hand God would be totally shielded from any harm.

Faith and Prejudice

Here it gets interesting.

Kreft says: “The Bible says, ‘Seek and you will find.’ It doesn’t say everybody will find him; it doesn’t say nobody will find him. Some will find. Who? Those who seek. Those whose hearts are set on finding him and following the clues.”

No skeptics allowed? Skeptical seeking wouldn’t count here as true seeking, because in order for this to work you must have already decided what you will find before you start. This negates any reason to search anyway, if you’ve predetermined “who” you will find. No thanks.

Kreft confirms my suspicion that belief is a prerequisite for this search with a later statement:

“Unlike reason, which bows down faithfully to evidence, faith is prejudiced.”

As an example of what he means by prejudice, he says that he wouldn’t believe a policeman who said that his wife had been caught chopping people’s heads off. Because he is prejudiced; because he knows she is not likely to do something like that. Sorry Kreft, that’s not faith. That is reason based on past experience. This is another bad analogy.

On a side note, how can someone who has not had previous experience with a person (or God) be expected to trust them unreservedly from the start? Trust is something that is gained though experience.

Supreme Good

Next he gives that classic argument that if Templeton is upset over injustice, then he must have in mind some standard of justice. Kreft calls this standard the “Supreme Good” and then says that this is also called God. This is begging the question. For one thing, any notion we may have of a supreme good is a human construct; it does not come from outside of us. Everyone has a notion of what the words ‘good’ and ‘evil’ mean, but not everyone mean exactly the same things by the words. It is like ‘hot’ and ‘cold’—though everyone has similar notions of these terms, they often don’t refer to the exact same temperatures as hot or cold. One person may feel perfectly comfortable in a room, while to another person it will be uncomfortably warm. Everyone’s view of exactly what the “supreme good” looks like is different. People, unless they are psychopaths, empathize with the sufferings of other people and feel that is wrong for people to suffer, and unjust if that person could not have possibly done something to deserve it. And there are certain issues that are in definite dispute as to their moral status. Take killing for example: I’ve never spoken to a person who thinks that cold-blooded murder is moral. But what about killing in self-defense, or to protect one’s family? Or abortion, the death penalty, or wartime killing? Many who believe some of these are moral hold others to be immoral. Where is the “objective moral standard” here?

Besides, “Supreme Good” is an abstract concept. I seriously don’t think Kreft or Strobal really that believe their God is an abstract concept . . .

Free Will Argument

Next he gives the standard Free Will argument, which says that it is really humans’ fault that there is suffering, not God’s. This world of suffering is what humanity chose. But he says that if there is no free will, and no possibility of moral evil, there can be no choice except to obey--and therefore no love. Later he talks about heaven as being the place where we will be compensated for all our sufferings. I wonder if he thinks there will be no free will, and therefore no love, in heaven. No sin is allowed in heaven. It will be perfect, right?

Good from Evil

He claims that good comes from suffering, and uses the sacrificial death of Jesus as an example. Generally, this is only an example that works for conservative Christians, and as I’m not, I’ll not bother going into more detail here.

The Suffering of the Innocent

He then asks the question of why a loving god would watch while an innocent child is hit by a truck. Judging from the example he choose to explain, he seems to says it was allowed to teach the child some lesson though suffering. The analogy he gives is of his daughter pricking her fingers with a pin trying to sew a Girl Scout badge. Of course she finally succeeds and is proud and elated that she did it all by herself, forgetting about the pain. He doesn’t say what sort of lesson or character development was learned by the child who was hit by the truck in the original question.

The Suffering God

This one says that God feels all our sufferings. Every tear is his tear. This one I just don’t buy. If I had cancer and were suffering terrible pain, I doubt it would do me any good whatsoever to know that my father was—even by his own choice—feeling that pain as well. I’d be a whole lot more interested in relief than in the knowledge that someone else “feels my pain.”

There is a bit more to the chapter, but this about sums up the arguments. The best appeals are the emotional ones, talking about how God has shaped his life though painful experiences, etc. I’ll not say anything to attempt to invalidate the personal experiences of the author and his interviewee, though personal anecdotes don’t prove anything.

He also made a couple of comments about atheism (and evolution) that showed a total misunderstanding of the whole issue from that view. He actually tried to argue that the existence of evil in the world proves the existence of God because if the atheists were right about there being no moment of creation (i.e. if the universe is eternal), then it must have been evolving for an infinite amount of time and should be perfect by now. But evolution does not tend toward some human ideal of perfection! Dr. Kreft is here only displaying his ignorance of evolutionary theory.

Next, he says that atheism robs death of meaning, and therefore robs life of meaning. Oddly, that’s exactly the opposite of anything I’ve heard from an atheist. Death is the final end of life—and the finiteness of life makes every moment all that more precious to the atheist! This guy has obviously not seriously considered the atheist’s point of view. And neither has Strobel, apparently, though he is supposed to know all about how an atheist thinks. Well meaning Christians who read this book should know that atheism is not equivalent with nihilism, as it is all too often characterized in Christian propaganda.


Not convinced. For one thing, I’ve heard rebuttals to all the arguments that he has presented, and most of his analogies are bad. The free will argument is the most convincing argument in the chapter, though it still has problems. What about natural disasters? Did evil human will bring on the tsunami, for instance? My point being that there is suffering that occurs that has nothing to do with human choice. So the argument by free will is not sufficient to explain suffering.

The problem of evil is one that has mainly only supported my atheism after the fact. When I believed in God, I could believe that somehow he had reasons for all the suffering that were beyond my understanding. Why would I worship a God that wasn’t so far above me that I could never figure out his thoughts and reasons? This is the stance I took as a believer. But it works if, and only if, one is convinced that God (the Christian God, specifically) actually exists. And at this point I’m far from being convinced of that.

I think that the best reason that the problem of evil points to the non-existence of God is that the suffering in the world, natural disasters and all, is totally consistant with a universe that is unaware that we exist and indifferent to us. The wrongs done to humans against each other are a result of people taking care of their own interests without regard to others. This is why any decent civilization has laws against robbery, and insider trading. Postulating a creator God who is all-loving, all-knowing, and all-powerful makes the whole thing so much more complicated than it has to be.


kAgE said...

Hi there,

i'm just a random blogger, and i thought i might add in a comment or two. Interesting post, but i guess it was a bit too long for me so i skimmed through it. Hopefully i won't be saying anything that might be already rebuttaled etc

So you mention natural disasters and freedom of choice... well.... as i believe... God did curse the ground in Genesis. He cursed the ground due to Adam and Eve disobeying God's command to not eat the fruit from a particular tree.

I also read a bit about the suffering bit. I guess, in this world there is a lot of suffering.... and suffering isn't ALWAYS to teach you that there's something better. It depends, the thing is...... God is in control of everything but the reason why there is suffering sometimes is because God's gonna get some glory out of things that happen.

In the bible, Job goes through suffering to the point where he loses absolutely everything, family, kids, wealth, health etc, and yet he still praises God and turns to him. You learn that God permits Satan to do all this to Job because He wants to prove to Satan that Job's an awesome man of God. And God knows it =) God gives back everything to Job, 100 fold.

I'd better get back to my studying/reading.... nice to take a break =)

Anonymous said...

Hi kage,

Let's say your best friend decides to test your friendship and loyalty by burning down your house and killing your family. He says to himself, "If kage still remains my friend after this, why I'm going to surprise him by giving him a new house, a million bucks, and help set him up with a new wife!" Would you still think your friend is a great person?

And about suffering happening sometimes because "God's gonna get some glory out of things that happen" - what do you mean? That God sets up bad things so he can fly in like Superman, save the day and get all the glory? Isn't that extremely vain? Why would the creator of all existence feel the need for such petty actions? Talk about low self-esteem!

kAgE said...

Ah but who are we to say what's right and what's wrong? We're his creation remember. We're doing things and judging based on our own account. Let's take creation for us in terms of a mother and a child.

You have a child and you obviously love them. You'd do a lot of things for them but not everything. When they do something bad/wrong, rather than just leave you to think about it yourself all the time, you'd probably punish your child for doing it because sometimes you do need a lesson or so, but in the same way you love your child that's why you're punishing them, so that they may learn etc.

On a bigger scale, instead of mere little things that a child might do, like hit another child, or say bad things, there's heaps of things that we do bad/wrong. And the thing that is considered a 'sin' is basically turning away from God.

In the situation you described, i think that the friend has no right in doing that. It's because in the bible God says that we shouldn't judge, for eveyrone will be judged accordingly when the time comes.

When i mean, God's gonna get some glory out of things, what i mean is..... sometimes God works on a different time scale to us. In the bible there's this occassion where one of Jesus' good friends Lazarus becomes ill, and Jesus didn't worry about it and he said everything's gonna be fine etc, and he kept on doing what he was doing and deliberately took his time before going to see Lazarus.

By the time he got to Lazarus' residence, Lazarus had died. But the thing is, if Jesus went straight away he could have made it to his house and healed him. Rather, if he even stood somewhere else and commanded it, Lazarus would even be healed just by his command (as he had done previously).

Now, the thing is, God's doing something pretty powerful here. It's just that his mindset and our mindset is different. He wants to show us people, humans, how powerful and mighty He is. We're still blind and we never seem to have our focus in the right direction, and that's why Jesus says to his disciples before he goes to see Lazarus "Lazarus is dead, and for your sake i am glad i was not there, so that you may believe.."

Suffering builds character, and sure, God could just heal this person, heal that person, cause winds not to blow down houses, keep all the peace, everything's fine and ok...... but is that beneficial? Won't we then think that we're God and WE have everything under control?

I think faith is the key here because, God wants us to build up our faith in Him. For He is in control and we shouldn't worry. And that's why sometimes there's suffering

Mikayla Starstuff said...

I see your point kage, and I see that you have put a lot of thought into it. But can you give me one good rational reason why we should believe that this God you are talking about is real? (Not just some generic idea of a god like a first cause or something.) Because without that, your argument is worthless.

kAgE said...

Mikel =) I guess i can only answer that with the simple words 'faith' =)

You've probably heard this before but it's like believing in the wind. You can't see it, you can't hear the wind, you can't taste it, nor hold it, but you can feel it. You can see the effects that wind has. When the wind passes through the leaves, the trees etc. It's not what the eye sees but it's the courage to believe in what you don't see =)

Mikayla Starstuff said...

Good answer, 'faith' . . .
That is what it comes down to, isn't it?

Though I could question the wind analogy . . . it is, at least, accesible to one of the natural senses--touch. Even if it can't been seen.

I've thought that a better analogy is radio waves. They are totally beyond our ability to sense--but you can prove they are their if you have the right equipment.

I guess if God is real, he is not broadcasting on a frequency I can pick up.

kAgE said...

maybe you haven't placed ur antenna up :)

dun worry it's all good

Mikayla Starstuff said...

Actually, I was reading though a website of a fellow atheist, and I think he had an even better analogy:

"You also say "You can't see the wind yet it is there." I may not be able to see the wind, but I can feel it. In fact, it recently knocked the chairs over in my backyard. I can wave my hand in front my face to create wind. There is no mystery about wind. A better analogy is to compare God with an idea. Ideas exist, they affect people's lives, but they have no physical substance. You can't see or touch an idea, only its manifestation. Why does this analogy work so well? Because God IS an idea."