Daily Archives: May 18, 2008

Theodicy: God is Good

In an article entitled “Good God?“, atheist Peter Singer addresses some usual answers that Christians forward when faced with the question of why evil exists if God is good.  His answers reveal much about the shallow reasoning that atheists display when pondering the tough questions.   I will discuss his answers.

Singer starts by reasoning the following: “If God is all-knowing, he knows how much suffering there is. If he is all-powerful, he could have created a world without so much of it – and he would have done so if he were all good.”  I agree with the first point.  The next two points are asserted without evidence.

Perhaps God could have created a world without as much suffering.  Perhaps not.  But we fail to overlook what the Bible teaches:  God created the through and for Christ–not for us.  Therefore, the amount of human suffering is a completely irrelevant factor in determining the sort of world God would create.  His criteria remain unrevealed to us.

To assert that “if” He was good He “would” have created a world with less suffering is ludicrous. As finite beings, we don’t know and cannot fathom all of the possibilities.  With His criteria for actualizing possible worlds unrevealed, the burden of proof lies squarely on Singer to show why a world with less suffering is better than this one.

The first actual reply that Singer deals with is “. . . God bestowed on us the gift of free will, and hence is not responsible for the evil we do. But this reply fails to deal with the suffering of those who drown in floods, are burned alive in forest fires caused by lightning, or die of hunger or thirst during a drought.”  He continues:

Christians sometimes attempt to explain this suffering by saying that all humans are sinners, and so deserve their fate, even if it is a horrible one. But infants and small children are just as likely to suffer and die in natural disasters as adults, and it seems impossible that they could deserve to suffer and die.

This is argument by outrage.  God, who is all-knowing, knows what the fate of those children will be with or without a natural disaster.  The burden of proof goes to Singer to show that being drown at an early age is a greater evil than whatever would have happened to that child in the future.

Further, the Bible makes no distinction between adults, infants, and children when it says that all have sinned (Rom 3:23).  As humans, our very nature is sinful.  This is important to remember when Singer goes on:

Once again, some Christians say that we have all inherited the original sin committed by Eve, who defied God’s decree against eating from the tree of knowledge. This is a triply repellent idea, for it implies that knowledge is bad, disobeying God’s will is the greatest sin of all, and children inherit the sins of their ancestors, and may justly be punished for them.

Even if were to accept all this, the problem remains unresolved. For animals also suffer from floods, fires, and droughts, and, since they are not descended from Adam and Eve, they cannot have inherited original sin.

First of all, it was Adam who sinned, not Eve.  Second, it was the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Knowing that once man knows of evil he will choose evil, God decreed that it was a sin to eat of that tree.  It is not knowledge itself that is evil.  All sin, at its root, is disobedience to God, so Singer is right in a sense to conclude that the greatest sin of all is disobedience.  Finally, Romans 5 makes it clear that we do, indeed, inherit the sin of our father, Adam: “Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous” (Rom 5:18-19, emphasis added).

Assuming that Singer accepts all of that, he still doesn’t see a solution to the problem because animals suffer too.  He is still wrong–all creation is now under the curse of sin, animals included (Rom 8:20-23).

Singer, apparently unaware of that, philosophizes on animals for a couple of paragraphs.  I’ll skip to the next section, where he says ” I debated the existence of God with the conservative commentator Dinesh D’Souza. In recent months, D’Souza has made a point of debating prominent atheists, but he, too, struggled to find a convincing answer to the problem I outlined above.”  He then continues:

He first said that, because humans can live forever in heaven, the suffering of this world is less important than it would be if our life in this world were the only life we had. That still fails to explain why an all-powerful and all-good god would permit it.  Relatively insignificant as this suffering may be from the perspective of eternity, the world would be better without it, or at least without most of it. (Some say that we need to have some suffering to appreciate what it is like to be happy. Maybe, but we surely don’t need as much as we have.)

Again, I point out that this is mere assertion with no evidence.  It is Singer’s responsibility to show, from all of the possible worlds God could have created, that another world would have been better because it contained less suffering and still met God’s criteria for His plan.  Since the criteria is unrevealed in Scripture, I wish Singer the best of luck in proving just that point.

Next, D’Souza argued that since God gave us life, we are not in a position to complain if our life is not perfect. He used the example of a child born with one limb missing. If life itself is a gift, he said, we are not wronged by being given less than we might want. In response I pointed out that we condemn mothers who cause harm to their babies by using alcohol or cocaine when pregnant. Yet since they have given life to their children, it seems that, on D’Souza’s view, there is nothing wrong with what they have done.

The hole in Singer’s reasoning, of course, is that a mother doesn’t give life to her children in the same way as God gives life to a person.  The Bible teaches that everything was created by Him and for Him, and in Him all things consist (Col 1:16-17).  After birth, the child doesn’t absolutely require his mother, but all of creation requires God to hold together.  It is a different situation all together.

Singer says, “Finally, D’Souza fell back, as many Christians do when pressed, on the claim that we should not expect to understand God’s reasons for creating the world as it is. . . .  But once we abdicate our powers of reason in this way, we may as well believe anything at all.”  Neither D’Souza nor I, nor any Christian, nor God Himself, would ever ask a person to abdicate his power of reason.  D’Souza is actually incorrect in his statement.  God chooses not to reveal His reasons.  Perhaps we wouldn’t understand them, perhaps we would.  But this isn’t a request to abdicate all reason, this is an appeal to have faith in Him.  That He, who is all-knowing and all-powerful, knows better than we do.

Singer concludes “The evidence of our own eyes makes it more plausible to believe that the world was not created by any god at all. If, however, we insist on believing in divine creation, we are forced to admit that the God who made the world cannot be all-powerful and all good. He must be either evil or a bungler.”  This conclusion presupposes that the evolutionary view of the evidence is correct and that how things are now are how they always were.  Neither of these presuppositions are correct in a Biblical worldview.

Paul asserted that the evidence for divine creation is so plain that men are “without excuse” (Rom 1:20) for knowing that God exists.  Why do atheists look at things differently?  Because they have no foundation in Genesis–most believe that book is a piece of bad fiction.  However, that book is the foundation of all Christian doctrine and must be literal history.  If it isn’t, all of the Bible is a lie.

When God created the world, everything is not as it is now.  It was all “very good,” as God states when he finishes with creation.  The creation that we observe now is the creation that is under a curse, nothing in the world now is “very good.”  As Paul stated, “For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom 8:22, emphasis added).  That is the result of the curse.

In all, Singer’s arguments show the usual bankruptcy that atheistic arguments usually show.  These are easily answered by considering all of Scripture, especially the foundations in Genesis.