Posts Tagged ‘Problem of evil’

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Does the Problem of Evil Disprove God?

Monday, June 14th, 2010

It has been noted by some historians that later in his life Albert Einstein expressed the view, based upon his observations of the universe, that there must be a God Who initially set the universe into motion.  However, those same historians go on to point out that Einstein ended up backing away from a Judeo-Christian concept of God and settled for more of a deistic view of God, similar to a watchmaker who creates the watch, winds it up to get it going, but then walks away, never to be heard from again.  Apparently, one of the biggest reasons that drove Einstein to this conclusion was the problem of evil that he observed in the world.  He could not reconcile in his thinking a “good” God Who would allow evil to exist in His creation.  Similarly, historians who have studied the life of Charles Darwin have pointed out that his quest to find a purely naturalistic explanation for everything, without any reference to a Creator, all began with the death of his beloved daughter, Annie.  These, of course, are only two examples out of countless others who have come to the conclusion that since our world is so full of evil and suffering, there either isn’t a God, or if there is, it cannot be the God of the Bible.  But is that the case?  Does it logically follow that the existence of evil either “disproves” God or is inconsistent with the idea of God’s existence?

On more than one occasion, I’ve had someone say to me, “I can’t believe in God because I see a world that is full of evil and suffering.”  I often respond to them by saying, “Correct me if I’m wrong, but it sounds to me as if you’re really saying that when you look around the world, you see a world that is not the way it’s supposed to be- that things are not as they should be.” Of course, such a comment only makes sense if there really IS a way things are supposed to be, referring to some original plan or purpose.  To put it another way, how does one know what evil is unless they know what good is? And how do they know what good is unless there is some objective standard outside of us,  by which to differentiate between the two?  According to C.S. Lewis, this same observation regarding evil was instrumental in leading him out of his atheism.  As he puts it, “(As an atheist) 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?”

So, as it turns out, rather than disproving God, the question of the problem of evil actually requires God’s existence in order to make any sense.  Without Him, our observations and objections to “the problem of evil” become meaningless and irrelevant.

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Posted in Evil | 20 Comments »

Can Atheism Make Sense of the Problem of Evil?

Monday, April 5th, 2010

British philosopher, mathematician, social critic, and atheist Bertrand Russell once commented, “No one can believe in a good God if they’ve sat at the bedside of a dying child.”  Without a doubt, the image that Russell paints with that statement is one that grips all of us emotionally.  It is, of course, one thing to suggest that Christianity cannot adequately explain the problem of evil (which it can, by the way).  It’s quite another thing to offer a better, more plausible explanation based on atheism.  This is a very important point because most people these days act as if Christians are the only ones who have an obligation to respond to the question of evil, but that is not the case at all.  Every one of us has a worldview, and every worldview is equally obligated to address the problem of evil.  Atheism, as a worldview, shares the same responsibility to answer this question or to explain it from their perspective.  In doing so, atheism must be prepared to not only define evil and to explain the origin of evil, but they must also respond to the problem of evil in a way that is consistent with their worldview.

A few years ago, as I was working with some of our high school students, a young lady came up and asked me if there was any scientific evidence that pointed to God’s existence.  As I was responding to her question, another girl disrupted our conversation by coming up to us and saying, “There is no God!  He doesn’t exist!  I believe in science!  I believe in evolution!  I believe in things that I can see and prove!  I don’t believe in some imaginary being called ‘God’!”  She stopped her salvo of comments for a moment, and we just stood there looking at each other in silence.  After a while, she broke her silence by saying something that spoke volumes about why she had come to such a conclusion.  She continued, “A few years ago, my father was sick and I begged God to heal him, but he died anyway.  A couple of years later, my sister was involved in a horrible accident and, once again, I pleaded with God not to let her die, but she died anyway.  That’s when I knew that God was a myth-  He doesn’t exist.  That’s why I believe in evolution instead.”

As I responded to her, I said something that must have shocked her because it was really harsh, but it was intentional because I wanted to make sure that I had her attention-  and I did.  I said to her, “Look, I don’t know why you’re telling me all of this stuff about losing your father and your sister.  I mean, you act as if it’s some big deal or that there’s something actually wrong with what happened to them.  But if what you’re telling me is true- if there is no God, and if evolution is our ‘creator’- it certainly sounds to me as if natural selection did exactly what it’s supposed to do.  After all, isn’t that nature’s job?  Weren’t you about to tell me that natural selection is supposed to ‘weed out’ that which is unfit in order to make room for that which is more fit to survive?  Apparently, neither your father or your sister were fit enough to survive, so nature simply  ‘weeded them out’.”

I waited for a moment to let my words sink in (and prepared to duck, just in case she took a swing at me!)  I then said to her, “To be perfectly honest, I’m actually very, very sorry – deeply sorry- that you lost your father and your sister.  I lost my mother in ‘93 and my father in ‘04 and I still haven’t gotten over it.  I just wanted to make sure that you clearly understood that you cannot have it both ways.  If you’re going to say that there is no God, you cannot say that what happened to your loved ones is ‘bad’, or that it’s ‘wrong’.  You can’t say that it’s ‘tragic’ or that it’s ‘not right’, or ‘unfair’, or ‘unjust’, or that it’s ‘not supposed to happen’, because in a godless universe where evolution is the ultimate reality, that IS what’s supposed to happen.  Death is a good thing- a beneficial thing- because it eliminates the weak, making room for that which is more fit, mentally and physically.  So, in an evolutionary world, there can be so such thing as ‘bad’ or ‘good’ events-  it’s just ‘stuff that happens’.”

That really is the point to all of this.  Given an atheistic worldview, not only is there no objective standard of right or wrong, good or bad, and just or unjust,  it is also devoid of any objective foundation on which to build the idea consistently that life has any real purpose, meaning, or value.  Given that starting point, there can be no significant difference between a natural disaster that wipes out thousands of people, and a guy using heavy equipment to remove an acreage of trees in order to make room for something that is coming along at a later time.  By the way, it’s important to keep in mind that I am NOT claiming that all atheists feel this way.  I’m simply pointing out that, given their atheistic worldview, it would be both hypocritical and inconsistent for them to disagree with my illustration or to object to it.

Atheists such as Bertrand Russell may claim that Christians have nothing worthwhile to say to a dying child.  But then, what would Russell have said to that child under the same circumstances-  Tough luck, kid?  Hey kid, isn’t natural selection great? Too bad for you? That’s just the way it goes?  Life stinks and then you die?  Such answers will never do.  But, like it or not, that is precisely where atheism leads us.

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Posted in Evil | 3 Comments »

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  • In today's world, there is a great deal of confusion when it comes to matters of truth, meaning, morality, our origin, and our destiny. The purpose of Renewed Thoughts is to bring clarity to such issues by examining them in light of a Biblical worldview, using the tools of science, philosophy, and critical thinking.