The Atheist’s Problem of Evil

This is my write-up paper on a project I did for my theology class on the Problem of Evil.

The Problem of Evil has plagued scholars and Christians for centuries, and many attempts have been made to solve the problem in order to explain the existence of God in light of the existence of evil. The Problem of Evil can be stated as follows:

God is omnipotent, omniscient, and moral perfect. Since God is omniscient he knows when evil exists. Since God is morally perfect he should want to do away with evil. Since God is omnipotent, he has the power to do away with evil. Evil does exits. Therefore, either God doesn’t know when evil exists — making him not omniscient — or God does want to do away with evil — making him not morally perfect — or God does not have the power to do away with evil — making him not omnipotent. Therefore, God does not exist.

Since the Problem of Evil is somewhat simple in its form and the arguments in defense are complex in their form, many Christians resort to conclusions of the problem that are insubstantial. What we fail to realize is that the Problem of Evil creates just as great of a problem, if not more of a problem, for the atheist as it does the theist. There is no question as to whether the Christian believes that there is objective morality. However, what will determine the way an atheist must articulate the Problem of Evil will be whether or not they believe in objective morality.

CAN SCIENCE DETERMINE ABSOLUTE VALUES?

And this is the essential question when considering the Problem of Evil: is there objective or absolute truth in regards to morality? In order for a person to use the Problem of Evil as a proof that God does not exist, then they must believe in an objective standard for morality and what is good. If one does not believe in objective morality and that morals are relative and merely preference, they cannot be in the position to call anything evil. The person who holds to this stance can only state that they do not prefer the evil that they are observing, and even still, they cannot call it “evil.”

This is why I appreciate the effort of Sam Harris to make a case for objective moral values as an atheist, however, his method and route to arrive at his conclusion that moral values can be explained by science is lacking in the first step. In his book The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values, Harris says, “I am arguing that science can, in principle, help us understand what we should do and should want—and, therefore, what other people should do and should want in order to live the best lives possible.”[1] What Harris fails to do is state how he knows what the best life possible is, or better yet, why living the best life possible is the standard for which absolute morality should exist as a guide.

In order to make assertions about human flourishing and living the best possible life, Harris hides behind his remarkable ability to appeal to emotion and pity. He frequently uses examples of tremendous human suffering to get his audience to agree that human flourishing is the best scenario versus human suffering and oppression. No one would disagree with Harris that human flourishing is good and human suffering is bad, but by what standard are we to measure human flourishing? The point is that Harris and others leap over the first hurdle to state what should be without giving a definition or standard to measure the way things should be. Science itself can never be a standard for morality since science must use rules and standards to arrive at conclusions. Therefore, science cannot make any claim on the way things ought to be when considering morals and values. If science is the tool that we use to gauge our morality and values, we should expect some very specific outcomes. Why are so many people divided on what is of value and moral? One of the goals of science is to weigh the facts and come to precise conclusions. If science is the tool we are to use to conclude what is moral and of value, then it is an unreliable tool because there is so much disagreement on what is of value. Plus, scientific conclusions are also based on how one interprets facts. A better explanation for the variety of positions on values is to say that there is a standard, but we as humans distort what we ought to do by our sin. Harris has a long up-hill battle if he truly desires all people to use science to determine their values.

MAKING JUDGMENTS ABOUT EVIL PROVES GOD EXISTS

In the atheist’s attempt to disprove God’s existence by using the Problem of Evil, they end up right back where they started by acknowledging that evil is not the way it is supposed to be. There is nothing that can suggest the way things ought to be besides one who ultimately says the way things ought to be. The atheist would have to explain where this feeling or compulsion of “oughtness” comes from. Harris tried to state that science is able to tell us what we ought to do, but once again, he fails to show where the compulsion of “ought” comes from. In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis describes what he calls the “Law of Nature” as being the thing that gives us our sense of right and wrong. It is not so much what we say is right or wrong, but that we say anything is right or wrong. Regardless of what one calls right or wrong, there is still a sense of ought that a person cannot ignore. Even a relativist who would make moral judgments on whether another society’s values are better or worse are comparing the two systems to a standard, and in doing so, they are saying that one system conforms better to that standard than the other. One would not be able to call the values of Nazi Germany evil; they would only be able to call it a difference in preference.

Lewis is also helpful in addressing the objections a person could raise based on the injustice of the universe. A person who uses an argument like the Problem of Evil can’t see how God could exist because of the cruelty and injustice in the world. But, where does a person get the idea of something being unjust? They are comparing an evil event or idea to a standard that demands things to be a certain way. Being the master of analogy, Lewis says, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.”[2] On the other hand, a person would not have anything to say in a situation where there is nothing to compare it to. In an analogy on this idea, Lewis says, “A man feels wet when he falls into water, because a man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet.”[3] If there were no Law of Nature then we would not have anything to say in regards to evil, cruelty, and injustice. We would be like the fish swimming around in the ocean completely unaware of the fact that it is wet. But, we know the fish is wet because we have something to measure its wetness against, much in the same way we can make moral judgments on evil, cruelty, and injustice because we have the Law of Nature to measure it against. A person could say that they aren’t making any judgments based on any law but on their own ideas. If this is the case, Lewis says that their whole argument against God crumbles. On this he says,

“Of course I could have given up on 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 would collapse 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.”[4]

What Lewis does here is drive home the point that the complaint against God in the Problem of Evil could not be made without a law to measure evil by, and in this way, God will be found to be the one who gives the law to measure evil by, and thus, showing that the Problem of Evil makes a case for God’s existence instead of against it.

HOW DO WE ANSWER THE PROBLEM?

There have been many attempts to solve the logical Problem of Evil at a great expense to the character and attributes of God. It is still possible to explain the existence of evil while still maintaining the integrity of God’s attributes. There have been responses made to the problem of evil in complex form by scholars like Alvin Plantinga, William Lane Craig, and others. But for a more simple explanation I will go back to Lewis. He says,

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go either right or wrong. Some people think they can imagine a creature which was free but had no possibility of going wrong; I cannot. If a thing is free to be good it is also free to be bad. And free will is what made evil possible. Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love goodness or joy worth having.”[5]

What this shows is that the existence of evil in the world is compatible with the existence of God. What we realize is that the atheist is sawing off the branch they are sitting on. They need God to exist in order to call anything evil while they are making the argument that he doesn’t exist using the Problem of Evil.

EXPLANATION OF PROJECT

For my project I created a series of photos using a technique called “forced perspective” where the creator uses optical illusions to make objects appear to be out of sync with reality. Often times it is done by scaling objects using different camera angles and vantage points. My desire was to create something where there is no standard or measurement that can be used to orient the reality of the photo. When looking at the photo, a person takes immediate issue with the objects in the photo because they get a sense that it is not supposed to be the way that it appears. When a person looks at the picture long enough, they use the standards for the objects that they already have in their minds to make sense of the picture. This is not a perfect example, but when you take away anything that would orient the objects in the optical illusion, it leaves a person searching for something to give them a frame of reference for how things are supposed to be in the picture. This goes to show that we can only make sense of the picture by bringing in things that we already know in order to orient the objects. In the same way, we can only know values and moral meaning when we bring in something (the Law of Nature) as a standard to orient us to the way that things are supposed to be.

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[1]             Harris, Sam. The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values. New York: Free, 2010. Print. 1.

[2]             Lewis, C. S. The Complete C.S. Lewis Signature Classics. San Francisco, CA: HarperSanFrancisco, 2002. Print. 41.

[3]             Lewis, 41.

[4]             Ibid, 41.

[5]             Ibid, 49.

Who Should I Thank?

Imagine you are sitting in a nice restaurant. It doesn’t matter who is with you if anyone. You have just finished your three-course meal which involved pan-seared brussel sprouts with bacon bits; a main course of grilled salmon, mashed potatoes, and vegetables; and a dessert of apple cobbler with vanilla ice cream. That was me imagining myself there. When the server comes to pick up your plates, he or she sets down the bill and says, “Someone paid for your meal in full already, have a nice evening.” What comes to your mind immediately? You will probably insist that the server tell you who did it. If that’s the case, why would you insist that the server tell you who paid for your meal? It is more than likely because you feel compelled to express gratitude in thanking the person who paid for your nice dinner.

This is, of course, is a hypothetical situation, but we know this kind of thing happens all the time. It’s happened to me multiple times. I know that some might respond differently, but I could safely assume that most would respond the way I described above. I use this example to show the natural impulse in humans to be thankful. Not only do humans have a natural impulse to be thankful, but we have a desire to know what the object is to which our gratitude should be directed. The truth of the matter is that we cannot express gratitude and thankfulness unless there is someone that can receive it.

“there seems to be something innate in humans that gives us the sense that we are undeserving, and that there is a mind and heart behind the things that are given to us that we don’t deserve.”

I don’t want to deduce it down to semantics, but there’s a need to see the difference between being thankful for something and being thankful to someone. In keeping with tradition, there will be many families who go around the table and have each person state what they are thankful for. You can imagine the things that people will express thanks for: job, house, family, etc. If these are things to be thankful for, to whom should the thanks be given? Who can I give thanks to for these things that I do not deserve?

The main thrust of giving thanks comes from the idea in the last question. The Greek word for “thanksgiving” (eucharistia) contains the word for “grace” (charis). The most simplistic definition of grace is to get something that you don’t deserve. When we talk about giving thanks and getting what we don’t deserve, there is an element of being. What I mean by this is that there is a heart and mind behind the granting of such things that we don’t deserve. There’s also a moral thread that we need to be aware of in realizing that we are undeserving. If we felt like we truly deserve what we have, there’s really no sense in being thankful for it. Have you ever met a child are even adult that felt entitled to something? Are they very thankful?

From this, there seems to be something innate in humans that gives us the sense that we are undeserving, and that there is a mind and heart behind the things that are given to us that we don’t deserve. Okay, I’ll stop dancing around it. The reason why we have a sense of being undeserving is because we are. And the mind and heart behind that which is given to us is God. Even those who don’t believe in God or utterly reject him are still beneficiaries of his common grace. What’s interesting is that many people like this will gladly celebrate Thanksgiving without thinking about what they are actually doing.

What does it look like for them to take their worldview to its logical conclusion? I just read an article this morning from Forbes by Ethan Siegel called Be Thankful For the Universe That Created You. In the article, Siegel works his way through all of the things that we should be thankful for that make our existence possible. It is hard to ignore the tone of the article that clearly suggests that it is quite a miracle that we exist at all. The first sentence of the article says, “We all have a lot to be thankful for, but the biggest one we all have in common is that we all exist.” The reason why Siegel says this is because the scenario that he puts forth for our existence suggests that we really shouldn’t exist under it. And yet, here we are, we exist. But, why should we even be thankful we exist? Why is existence a good thing? That’s a topic for another post, but Siegel says we should be thankful for the various things in the universe that our existence is dependent upon, including gravitational forces, nuclear fusion, and molecular clouds. The last sentence of the article says, “Be thankful for the Universe that created you; it’s the one story we all have in common.” Well, I am thankful for the universe and its fine-tuning, but to whom should I be thankful for it? If there is no mind or heart behind my existence, why should I be thankful, especially if my existence is dependent upon randomness and chance?

The way I see it is that I shouldn’t exist, nor do I deserve to exist, and I should be thankful to the One that is the source of my existence. This is the only scenario that being thankful makes sense in. I also realize that I don’t deserve all that I have and that I should be thankful to the One that has granted to me all that I have. This is the only scenario that being thankful today makes sense in. Today means not only am I thankful for the common grace I have received, but also the grace I have received through Christ.

As you are sitting around the table today, think about the object of your gratitude. Giving thanks only makes sense when there is a heart and mind that has granted to you that which you are thankful for. Just like in the example I used in the first paragraph, you wouldn’t ask, “what paid for my meal?” you would ask, “who paid for my meal?” There is always a heart and mind behind a situation like this, and we shouldn’t think it’s any different when we offer thanks for what we have on a day like today. The heart and mind behind all we have is that of a good God who is gracious enough to even allow those who reject and despise him to benefit from his grace. And if God isn’t the object of your gratitude, then I would ask you to ponder who is the object of your gratitude.

We all know that it is important to make sure that people who deserve it are thanked, and that the gratitude goes to the right person. It’s easy to remember how it feels when we aren’t thanked or when someone else gets the gratitude for something we did. Is there anything that gets us more worked up than that? This is why I call to attention the need to be aware of the fact that gratitude, especially today, must be given and that it really matters who gets that gratitude. Lastly, if you are having trouble thinking of something to be thankful for, let me end with a quote from Ethan Siegel, “We all have a lot to be thankful for, but the biggest one we all have in common is that we all exist.”

This is How I Voted and Why

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In case you can’t tell by the lack of posts on my blog, this is my first entry, and what better way to start blog than by ruffling some feathers in talking about the election? This Thanksgiving has the potential to be the most tense and awkward holiday in history for so many Americans. It is likely going to be the first time that friends and family have seen or talked to each other since the circus that was the 2016 presidential election ended. I predict there will be multiple handfuls of stuffing that fly across tables in America on Thursday.

In order to avoid a face full of stuffing, I am going to go ahead and state my piece now so that people have some time to calm down. You may ask, “why should I care how you voted?” I don’t care if you don’t care, but you might like to know that I am part of the reason why there was so much shock and surprise on November 8th. Uh-oh, I may have just shown my hand.

It may also come as a shock to you that I voted for Donald Trump and that I am not a racist, or bigot, or sexist. Also, I didn’t and still don’t support Trump. And if you are still tempted to call me names, let me tell you why I voted the way that I did if you are still reading and still care. I am not so much going to address the candidates themselves as much as what their positions are on certain issues because everyone knows that neither candidate is up for any moral achievement award. There were many issues to consider in this election, but there were two primary issues I had in mind when I voted: Abortion and the Supreme Court.

Why abortion?

The discussion on this particular issue should be reserved for another post, but I see the great holocaust of our time in the form of a search and destroy mission on the unborn. We would rather refer to it in more euphemistic terms like “pro-choice”, “women’s health”, or “reproductive health.” Call it what you like, but we all know what really happens. Those against Trump have cited that he is the first presidential candidate endorsed by the KKK, which is certainly appalling, but I have not yet seen Trump celebrate their endorsement. On the other hand, Hillary Clinton was the first presidential candidate to be endorsed by Planned Parenthood,which is certainly appalling, and we have seen her celebrate their endorsement. You can read the whole transcript from the third presidential debate here, but this is just part of what Clinton said on the issue,

“Well, I strongly support Roe v. Wade which guarantees a constitutional right to a woman to make the most intimate, most difficult in many cases, decisions about her health care that one can imagine. And in this case, it is not only about Roe v. Wade. It is about what is happening right now in America.”

I actually agree with that last sentence, it is about what is happening right now in America. What is going on in America right now on this issue is something that I hope future generations look back on in disgust and horror. Due to the extreme stance that Hillary Clinton has decided to take on the issue of abortion, I could not bring myself to connect the line for the arrow next to her name (that’s how we do it California).

Let me be clear and say that I am not at all impressed by Donald Trump’s position on abortion either.  He claims to be pro-life, but he cited his reasons for being pro-life more so out of disgust for late-term abortion (see transcript). He was also quoted as saying in an interview with Raymond Arroyo for EWTN that he is pro-life because he knows a magnificent person who was almost aborted, which is hardly a convincing reason to be against abortion if at all. What if that person wasn’t a magnificent person? Would it have been okay for them to be aborted? In the end, on the issue of abortion it came down to who would be more likely to protect the lives of the unborn. What helped is Trump’s claim of the type of justice he would likely appoint to the Supreme Court, which brings me to issue number 2.

What about the Supreme Court?

First, Americans on all sides should be worried at how the Supreme Court has functioned in recent years. The latest example is last year’s Obergefell decision. This is not my slip to talk about same-sex marriage, rather, it is to point how the court acted in making the decision.

The Supreme Court functions to ensure that there is a balance of power and striking down laws that are unconstitutional. Justice Kennedy stated that the majority made their decision based on the idea that same-sex couples cannot be denied according to the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The problem with that is, marriage is not mentioned in these clauses, let alone mentioned at all in the Constitution. In the end, the court made their decision based on philosophy of policy rather than law. They ultimately made a decision that the Constitution leaves for the people to decide. That, like I said, should worry Americans on all sides.

We had better start now in learning how to get along because our cultural and political landscape is looking grim for the near future and it will not get any better until we start talking about issues.

If you read the first part of the transcript of the third presidential debate, it is clear what Hillary Clinton intended for the Supreme Court. She stated that she wants justices who will be on the side of the American people, but she said nothing about the justices and what they are supposed to do with the Constitution, which was the question she was supposed to answer. She only mentions the constitutional process of nominating and selecting justices. If she were to have had her way with putting forward progressive liberal justices, we could guarantee that the court would continue to function the same way it has in recent years.

On the other hand, after watching the debate and reading the transcript, I was not entirely impressed with Trump’s take on appointing justices because he babbled mostly about people saying mean things about him. Surprise! But, he finally got to what I had hoped he was going to say about nominating justices, not in the most eloquent fashion,

“They will interpret the constitution the way the founders wanted it interpreted and I believe that’s very important. I don’t think we should have justices appointed that decide what they want to hear. It is all about the constitution of, and it is so important. The constitution the way it was meant to be. And those are the people that I will appoint.”

This would at least be a move in the right direction to get the Supreme Court back to how it is supposed to function, not because I do not agree with many of the progressive liberal ideas being put forward, but because of the way that the court is being used to propagate those ideas. I would have issue if the conservatives tried to do the same. Either way, the candidate who was to win the 2016 presidential election was going to have a significant say in how the Supreme Court was going to function for the next 25 or so years.

In conclusion

At this point, some people may agree with what I have said so far. Some people might be disappointed that I am not giving Trump enough credit for what he accomplished. Frankly, he did not accomplish much, yet. The Democrats are probably the most culpable for how the election turned out, not because Trump ran a magnificent campaign. There also may be some people who are seething if you have read this far and will jump down to the comments to vent. I would encourage you to do so, but just be civil in how you do it. This brings me to my last point.

There was a video put out by Jonathan Pie (Tom Walker) that I came across after the election. I am not going to link it because he says some vulgar things. But, he said exactly what many of us have been feeling for a while, and he is in no way a conservative. Many of the progressives yelled and bullied people into not speaking their minds on the election. If they knew they were going to vote Trump but did not exactly support him, they didn’t want to be called a racist, bigot, and sexist for saying who they were going to vote for. This is why I did not tell anyone who I was voting for until right now. Many of the liberals were saying, “Anyone but Trump.” Many of the conservatives were saying, “Anyone but her.” Both sides have good reasons for taking those stands. What it came down to in this election, at least for me, was not which candidate was better, but the issues that were at stake. And this is where the great divide lies: where do we stand on these issues?

This would be a great opportunity for liberals to practice what they preach: Tolerance. We all have differing opinions and ideas according to our worldview. Just because we disagree does not mean we have to belittle everyone who has a different opinion. The essence of tolerance is to treat people cordially and respectfully despite differences of opinion or ideas. And for you preachers of tolerance– tolerance does not always go with acceptance and affirmation. If you affirm and accept something, there’s no need to be tolerant of it.

In conclusion, for real this time

No doubt there will be temptation to talk about these issues at our Thanksgiving gatherings. Some may enact the policy of no political talk. I would encourage you not to do that. Use it as an opportunity to have meaningful discussion about things that really matter despite the differences that you may have. Don’t focus on how childish the Trump protesters are, or the ones going to Starbucks and telling the barista that their name is “Trump” just so that they have to yell it out when their drink is ready. Seriously, can we stop with this nonsense and have actual conversations? Oh yeah, that was my point. We had better start now in learning how to get along because our cultural and political landscape is looking grim for the near future and it will not get any better until we start talking about issues.

Lastly, make sure you take a few moments this Thanksgiving to be thankful that you live in a country where you can exercise the political freedoms you have, because it’s tough to tell how long they are going to last.