Tag Archives: Suffering

Why does God let people suffer? Why is there so much evil in the world?

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

I just wanted to draw your attention to this 4 page essay by Joe Manzari, which is the best darn summary of the state of the art on the problems of evil and suffering I have seen. The problem of evil is an objection to the existence of God based on the presence of evil or suffering in the world. The arguments basically infer that if God is all-good and all-powerful, then there should not be any evil or suffering.

There are two kinds of problem of evil.

The Logical/Deductive Problem of Evil:

The first kind is called “the deductive problem of evil” or “the logical problem of evil”. An exampel of evil would be Saddam Hussein murdering some journalist who told the truth about him. This version of the problem of evil tries to introduce a logical contradiction between the attributes of God and the presence of evil, like this:

(1) God exists.
(2) God is omnipotent.
(3) God is omniscient.
(4) God is omni-benevolent.
(5) Evil exists.
(6) A good being always eliminates evil as far as it can.
(7) There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do.

In order to avoid a contradiction, we need to explain how there could still be evil, since the conclusion of this argument is that there should not be any evil!So how are we going to get out of this mess? The solution is to attack premises 6 and 7.

Premise 6 is false because in order to eliminate human evil, you would have to eliminate free will. But eliminating free will is worse than allowing it, because good things like love are impossible without free will.

It is in response to this proposition that the Free Will Theodicy of G. W. Leibniz applies. God, valuing man’s freedom, decided to provide him with a will that was free to choose good over evil, rather than constraining his will, allowing him to choose only good.

Premise 7 is false because there are limits on what an omnipotent being can do. God cannot perform contradictory things, because contradictory things are impossible. God cannot make a married bachelor. Similarly, God cannot force free creatures to do his will.

In the same manner that God cannot create a square circle, he cannot make someone freely choose to do something. Thus, if God grants people genuine freedom, then it is impossible for him to determine what they will do. All that God can do is create the circumstances in which a person can make free choices and then stand back and let them make the choices.

One last point. In order to solve the problem of natural evil for this argument, you can point out that free will requires predictable and regular natural laws in order to make free will meaningful. Natural laws mean that individuals can predict what will happen when they act, allowing for moral responsibility. More on that next time.

Inductive/Probabilistic Problem of Evil

There is a second version of the problem of evil, though, which is more dangerous than the first. This is the one you see being argued in debates, whereas the first version is not used because it has been defused as seen above. Here is the second one:

(1) If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
(2) Gratuitous evil exists.
(3) Therefore, God does not exist.

This argument tries to argue that while God may have some reason for allowing free will, there are other evils in the world that are not the result of human action that God has no reason for permitting. Theists usually like to argue that God has morally-sufficient reasons for allowing some evil in the world, in order for the character of humans to develop through suffering and endurance. But what about gratuitous evil, which doesn’t have any point?

Consider the case of a fawn running in the forest, who falls and breaks his leg. Ouch! Then a forest fire starts and the poor fawn suffocates to death in the smoke. Why would God allow this poor small animal suffer like that? And notice that there is no morally sufficient reason for allowing it, because no human knows about this and so no human’s character or relationship with God is impacted by it.

The solution to this problem is to deny premise 2. (You can also deny 1 if you want). The problem with premise 2 is that the atheist is claiming to know that some instance of evil really is gratuitous. But since they are making the claim to know, they have to be able to show that God’s permission of that evil achieves nothing. But how do they know 2 is true?

The problem with 2 is that the atheist is not in a position to know that the permission of some evil X really doesn’t achieve anything. This is because the atheist cannot look forward into the future, or see into other places, in order to know for certain that there is no morally sufficient reason for allowing God’s allowing evil X to occur. But since the atheist argues based on premise 2, he must be able to show that premise 2 is more probable than not.

Manzari’s article also argues why apparently gratuitous evil is less problematic for Christians in particular, because of certain Christian doctrines. He lists four doctrines that make the apparently gratuitous evil that we observe more compatible with an all-good, all-powerful God.

  1. The chief purpose of life is not happiness, but the knowledge of God.
    Some of the things that we experience may wreck our feelings of contentment, but we need to remember that God may be permitting those troubles in order to remind us not to get too comfortable with life on earth, and to think ahead to the after-life. And remember, even Jesus learned endurance through suffering. His suffering was not pointless and neither is ours.
  2. Mankind is in a state of rebellion against God and God’s purposes.
    We humans seem to be on a dead run away from God, trying to keep our autonomy by knowing as little about him as possible. Part of knowing God is knowing what he designed us to do – to love him and to love others. And so, the less we know about God, the more we stray from his design for our lives.
  3. God’s purpose is not restricted to this life but spills over beyond the grave into eternity.
    Sometimes it seems as if our sufferings really are catastrophic, but when you realize that you are offered eternal life without any suffering after you die, the sufferings of this life are a lot less upsetting than they would be if this life was all we had.
  4. The knowledge of God is an incommensurable good.
    This one is the biggest for me. Knowing God and knowing his actual character by studying the historical Jesus is a wonderful counterbalance for all the problems and sufferings of this life. A little bit of historical study reveals that Jesus was not spared the worst kind of suffering in his life, making it is a lot easier for us to bear with whatever God allows us to face.

In section 3, Manzari shows how you can also argue against this version of the problem by supplying evidence for God, such as from the big bang, the fine-tuning, the origin of life, the origin of free will, the origin of the first living organism, the origin of the mind, the sudden emergence of phyla in the fossil record, molecular machines, irreducible complexity, the resurrection miracle, and the objective morality argument.

The argument goes like this:

(1) If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
(2) God exists.
(3) Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.

Just support 2 with some evidence, and you win, especially when they can’t support their claim to know that gratuitous evil exists.

The Argument for God from Evil

In the paper, Manzari actually makes an argument for God from evil. That’s right. Far from disproving God, the presence of evil (a departure from the way things out to be), actually affirms God’s existence. How?

(1) If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
(2) Evil exists.
(3) Therefore, objective moral values do exist.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

That’s right. If evil exists in any sense such that it is not a personal or cultural preference, then objective morality exists. If objective morality exists, then there is an objective moral lawgiver. Game over. If the atheist backtracks and says that the existence of evil is just his opinion or his cultural preference, then this standard does not apply to God, and you win again. Game over again.

So, although the problems of evil look pretty tough, they are actually easy. The toughest part of evil and suffering is the emotional problem. I could tell you stories about what I’ve been through… but then, that’s why the arguments matter. You can hold your position under tremendous fire when you have the arguments and evidence to ground you.

Making sense of evil and suffering within a Christian worldview

A long journey through the night
A long journey through the night

One thing I’ve noticed in talking to atheists who grew up in Christian homes is that they often leave their Christian worldview behind because of a disappointment with God. For some reason, they get this idea that God is our cosmic butler. We can do whatever we want in order to be happy, and if we want any help in this, then we just ring for him. When we encounter disappointment, our tendency is to just leave God behind.

Paul Copan explains the high points of the problems of evil and suffering in 17 minutes. (H/T Apologetics 315)

The MP3 file is here.

The video is here:

Topics:

  • the question itself reveals that we are moral beings
  • the problem of evil is the great interrupter of human well-being
  • every philosophy of life has to address this question
  • is God required to give us a life that is easy and comfortable?
  • evil is a departure from good, i.e. – the way things ought to be
  • a way things ought to be implies a plan for what ought to be
  • human evil implies a plan for the way we ought to be
  • free creatures have the ability to deviate from the plan
  • where does this plan for the universe and us come from?
  • how can there be a way we ought to be come from?
  • evil is the flip side of good so where does good come from?
  • God’s own moral nature is the standard of good and evil
  • where does evil from natural disasters come from?
  • how dangerous natural phenomena preserve Earth’s habitability
  • there is a benefit from tectonic activity
  • similarly, God lets humans freely choose knowing harm may result
  • people are free to try to find meaning in something other than God
  • God is able to use negative things to bring about positive results
  • e.g. – when good people suffer, they can comfort and care for others
  • can people be good enough on their own without God?

I do think it’s worth thinking about whether the New Testament portrays God as our cosmic butler, just waiting on us hand and foot so that we can be happy. Personally, I think you’d have to be crazy to get that impression of God from the Bible. Especially from the life of Jesus, who suffers in order to do the will of his Father. Wouldn’t it be funny if atheists were disbelieving in a God of their own making? Suffering in the pursuit of goodness has always been the center of the Christian life. I’m not sure where people get this idea that God’s job is to make us happy, according to our own desires. Seems kind of shallow. Certainly not Biblical. Do people even read the Bible any more to find out what God is really like? Maybe that’s the problem.

William Lane Craig debates Austin Dacey: Does God Exist?

Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!
Two tough rams butt heads, and may the best ram win!

Here is the video and summary of a debate between Christian theist William Lane Craig and Austin Dacey at Purdue University in 2004 about the existence of God.

The debaters:

The video: (2 hours)

The video shows the speakers and powerpoint slides of their arguments. Austin Dacey is one of the top atheist debaters, and I would put him second to Peter Millican alone, with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong in third place. This is the debate to show people who are new to apologetics. The debate with Peter Millican is better for advanced students, and that’s no surprise since he teaches at Oxford University and is familiar with all of Dr. Craig’s work. The Craig-Dacey debate is the one that I give to my co-workers.

By the way, you can get the DVDs and CDs for the first Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Dacey debate and the second Craig-Sinnott-Armstrong debate. The Peter Millican debate is not available on DVD, but the link above (Peter Millican) has the video and my summary.

Dr. Dacey’s 5 arguments below are all good arguments that you find in the academic literature. He is also an effective and engaging speaker, This is a great debate to watch!

SUMMARY of the opening speeches:

Dr. Craig’s opening statement:

Dr. Craig will present six reasons why God exists:

  1. (Contingency argument) God is the best explanation of why something exists rather than nothing
  2. (Cosmological argument)  God’s existence is implied by the origin of the universe
  3. (Fine-tuning argument) The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life points to a designer of the cosmos
  4. (Moral argument) God is the best explanation for the existence of objective moral values and objective moral duties
  5. (Miracles argument) The historical facts surrounding the life, death and resurrection of Jesus
  6. (Religious experience) God’s existence is directly knowable even apart from arguments

Dr. Dacey’s opening argument:

There are two ways to disprove God’s existence, by showing that the concept of God is self-contradictory, or by showing that certain facts about ourselves and the world are incompatible with what we would expect to be true if God did exist. Dr. Dacey will focus on the second kind of argument.

  1. The hiddenness of God
  2. The success of science in explaining nature without needing a supernatural agency
  3. The dependence of mind on physical processes in the brain
  4. Naturalistic evolution
  5. The existence of gratuitous / pointless evil and suffering

One final point:

One thing that I have to point out is that Dr. Dacey quotes Brian Greene during the debate to counter Dr. Craig’s cosmological argument. Dr. Craig could not respond because he can’t see the context of the quote. However, Dr. Craig had a rematch with Dr. Dacey where was able to read the context of the quote and defuse Dr. Dacey’s objection. This is what he wrote in his August 2005 newsletter after the re-match:

The following week, I was off an another three-day trip, this time to California State University at Fresno. As part of a week of campus outreach the Veritas Forum scheduled a debate on the existence of God between me and Austin Dacey, whom I had debated last spring at Purdue University. In preparation for the rematch I adopted two strategies: (1) Since Dacey had come to the Purdue debate with prepared speeches, I decided to throw him for a loop by offering a different set of arguments for God, so that his canned objections wouldn’t apply. I chose to focus on the cosmological argument, giving four separate arguments for the beginning of the universe, and on the evidence for Jesus’ resurrection. (2) I reviewed our previous debate carefully, preparing critiques of his five atheistic arguments. In the process I found that he had seriously misunderstood or misrepresented a statement by a scientist on the Big Bang; so I brought along the book itself in case Dacey quoted this source again. I figured he might change his arguments just as I was doing; but I wanted to be ready in case he used his old arguments again.

[…]The auditorium was packed that night for the debate, and I later learned that there were overflow rooms, too. To my surprise Dr. Dacey gave the very same case he had presented at Purdue; so he really got clobbered on those arguments. Because he wasn’t prepared for my new arguments, he didn’t even respond to two of my arguments for the beginning of the universe, though he did a credible job responding to the others. I was pleased when he attacked the Big Bang by quoting the same scientist as before, because I then held up the book, specified the page number, and proceeded to quote the context to show what the scientist really meant.

Dr. Craig is always prepared!

If you accept Jesus and become a Christian, will God make you happy?

I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery
I have a key that will unlock a puzzling mystery

This is a wonderful, wonderful post from Amy Hall, who writes for the Stand to Reason blog.

She writes:

I had a brief interaction with an atheist on Twitter a couple of weeks ago that unexpectedly turned to the issue of suffering when she said:

You clearly never had a time you were hurt. I don’t mean sick. I don’t mean heart broken. I mean literally a near death experience or rape or abusive relationship…. You can keep floating on a [expletive] cloud thinking Jesus will do everything for you but it’s a lie. What makes you so special?

That surprised me at first because it didn’t seem to have anything to do with the tweet she was responding to, and I was confused as to why she would assume I’d never been through anything traumatic. But then in subsequent tweets, when she revealed she had been raped, it became clear that her trauma had played a central role in her becoming an outspoken, obviously angry “antitheist.” She’s a self-described antitheist now because she thinks Christianity teaches Jesus “will do everything for you” to give you a perfect life, and now she knows that’s a lie. The rape proved her understanding of Christianity false.

So it made sense for her to reason that since I believe Christianity is true, I must still be under the delusion that Jesus is making my life special, which means I obviously never encountered any evil or suffering to shake that delusion.

All right, readers. I don’t want any of you to be thinking that if you become a Christian that these things should be expected to happen:

  • you will feel happy all the time
  • you will be able to sense God’s secret plan for your life through your feelings
  • God’s secret plan for your life will automatically work, even though it’s crazy
  • God will give you a perfect spouse and lots of money without you having to study anything hard, or do any hard work
  • you get permission to do things that that make you happy, even if they are expressly forbidden by the Bible
  • you don’t have to do anything that makes you feel bad (e.g. – talk to non-Christians about Christian truth claims), because God wants you to be happy

No! Where do people get this idea that if they convert to Christianity, then God will become their cosmic butler?

Amy has the answer: (emphasis mine)

Hear me, everyone: This is a failure of the church.

A friend of mine who was deeply suffering once said to me that many Christians are in for “an epic letdown” when they realize their preconceived notions about what God is expected to do for us are false. Pastors who preach a life-improvement Jesus are leading people down this precarious path to disillusionment.

If suffering disproves your Christianity, you’ve missed Christianity. The Bible is filled with the suffering of those whom God loves. The central event of the Bible is one of suffering. Love involves suffering. “We know love by this, that He laid down His life for us; and we ought to lay down our lives for the brethren.” That means suffering.

It’s the church. It’s the focus on happy things and having of happy feelings and happy songs and preaching designed to make us feel good. I would say the comforting devotional reading doesn’t help to make us any tougher or more practical, either. That happy-clappy stuff just gives you a false sense of safety about your precarious situation. God’s job is not to prevent you from suffering. In fact, even if you make really smart, practical decisions, you can expect to get creamed anyway.

Please take 15 minutes and read the book of 1 Peter in the New Testament.

Here’s a summary from GotQuestions.org:

Purpose of Writing: 1 Peter is a letter from Peter to the believers who had been dispersed throughout the ancient world and were under intense persecution. If anyone understood persecution, it was Peter. He was beaten, threatened, punished and jailed for preaching the Word of God. He knew what it took to endure without bitterness, without losing hope and in great faith living an obedient, victorious life. This knowledge of living hope in Jesus was the message and Christ’s example was the one to follow.

Brief Summary: Though this time of persecution was desperate, Peter reveals that it was actually a time to rejoice. He says to count it a privilege to suffer for the sake of Christ, as their Savior suffered for them. This letter makes reference to Peter’s personal experiences with Jesus and his sermons from the book of Acts. Peter confirms Satan as the great enemy of every Christian but the assurance of Christ’s future return gives the incentive of hope.

Practical Application: The assurance of eternal life is given to all Christians. One way to identify with Christ is to share in His suffering. To us that would be to endure insults and slurs from those who call us “goodie two shoes” or “holier than thou.” This is so minor compared to what Christ suffered for us on the Cross. Stand up for what you know and believe is right and rejoice when the world and Satan aim to hurt you.

Recently, I blogged about how suffering is compatible with an all-powerful God, so you might want to read that too if you missed it.

Peter J. Williams debates Bart Ehrman on his book “Misquoting Jesus”

Dr. Peter J. Williams, an expert on New Testament reliability
Dr. Peter J. Williams, an expert on New Testament reliability

I have to re-post this debate between Bart Ehrman and Peter J. Williams, because Dr. Williams just followed me on Twitter. I noticed that he had re-tweeted one of the two senators I follow on Twitter, so I re-tweeted him. I like Tom Cotton and Josh Hawley, and he re-tweeted Senator Hawley talking about free speech.

Bart Ehrman posted the debate audio on YouTube:

Details:

Bart Ehrman is the US author of the bestselling book “Misquoting Jesus” (In the UK “Whose word is it?”).  He calls into question the authority of the New Testament as scribal changes over time have changed the documents.

So can we trust the scripture? Bible scholar Peter Williams believes in the reliability of the New Testament and that Bart’s prognosis is far too pessimistic.

This post is a re-post from 2011. I have been listening to this lecture by Peter J. Williams on “Misquoting Jesus” this week, and it reminded me to re-post this debate. (I checked to make sure the MP3 link is still good, and it is)

Summary of the Williams-Ehrman debate:

Note: this summary is snarky. If you want an accurate view of the debate, then listen to it. My summary is meant to be humorous.

Ehrman:

  • I had a mystical experience in childhood and became an evangelical Christian
  • I went to Moody Bible Institute, and they told me that the Bible was inerrant
  • For a while, I was committed to the view that there are no mistakes in the Bible
  • At Princeton, I was taught and graded by professors who did not accept inerrancy
  • By a strange coincidence, I began to see that the Bible did have errors after all!
  • We don’t have the original documents written by the original authors, we only have thousands of copies
  • if the words of the Bible are not completely inerrant, then none of it is historical
  • if all of the words in all the copies of the Bible are not identical, then none of it is historical

Williams:

  • I would say the New and Old testaments are the Word of God
  • We don’t need to have the original Greek writings in order to believe in the authority of the Bible
  • I believe in inerrancy, but doesn’t mean there are no problems
  • the doctrine of inerrancy has always referred to the original Greek copies, not the translations

Moderator:

  • what are the main points of Misquoting Jesus?

Ehrman:

  • we don’t have the originals of any of the books of the New Testament
  • we have copies that are much later, sometimes even centuries later!!1!
  • the copies we have all differ from one another – they were changed by scribes!!1!
  • we have 5000 manuscripts in the original Greek language
  • there are hundreds of thousands of differences!!1!
  • most of the differences don’t matter
  • some differences are significant for meaning or doctrine
  • errors are propagated because the next scribe inherits the mistake of their source copy
  • a large gap between the time of writing and the first extant copy means more errors have crept in

Williams:

  • the reason we have so many variants is because the number of manuscripts is large

Angry Jesus or compassionate Jesus in Mark

Ehrman:

  • most manuscripts say that Jesus was compassionate when healing a leper, but one says he was angry
  • it makes a huge huge huge really really big difference if Jesus is compassionate or angry
  • the whole Bible needs to be thrown out because of this one word between different in one manuscript

Williams:

  • this variant is important for understanding the passage, but it has no great meaning
  • the change is probably just an accident – the two words are very similar visually in Greek
  • it’s just an accident – it emerged in one manuscript, and it impacted a few more
  • the tiny number of manuscripts that have the error are geographically isolated
  • I’m pretty sure that WK prefers the angry Jesus anyway – so who cares?

Ehrman:

  • no! someone changed it deliberately! it’s a conspiracy! you should buy my book! it’s a *big deal*!!!!!1!!1!one!!eleventy-one!

The woman caught in adultery in John

Ehrman:

  • it is isn’t in any of the earliest manuscripts
  • this is an apocryphical story that some scribe deliberately inserted into the text
  • most people don’t even know about this! it’s a cover-up! you need to buy my scandalous book!

Williams:

  • that’s right, it’s a late addition by some overzealous scribe
  • and it’s clearly marked as such in every modern Bible translation
  • the only people who don’t know about this are people who don’t read footnotes in their Bible
  • and in any case, this isn’t a loss of the original words of the New Testament – it’s an addition

Grace of God or apart from God in Hebrews

Ehrman:

  • well this is just a one word difference, but it makes a huge huge really really big difference!
  • the words are very similar, so it’s could be an accident I guess
  • but it wasn’t! this was a deliberate change! it’s a conspiracy! it’s a cover-up! scandal!
  • buy my book! It’s almost as good as Dan Brown!

Moderator:

  • hmmmn…. I kind of like “apart from God” – why is this such a big scandal again?

Ehrman:

  • you don’t care? how can you not care? it has to be inerrant! or the whole thing is false!
  • Moody Bible Institute says!

Williams:

  • yeah Bart is always saying that every change is deliberate but it’s just an accident
  • the words are very similar, just a few letters are different, this is clearly an accident
  • I have no problem with apart from God, or by the Grace of God
  • please move on and stop screaming and running around and knocking things over

Moderator:

  • but what if pastors try to use this passage in a sermon?

Williams:

  • well, one word doesn’t make a big different, the meaning that appears is fine for preaching
  • it’s only a problem for people who treat the Bible as a magic book with magical incantations
  • they get mad because if one word is out of place then the whole thing doesn’t work for their spell
  • then they try to cast happiness spells but the spells don’t work and they experience suffering
  • the suffering surprises them since they think that fundamentalism should guarantee them happiness
  • then they become apostates and get on TV where they look wide-eyed and talk crazy

Ehrman:

  • hey! are you talking about me? a lot of people buy my books! i am a big success!
  • it is very important that people don’t feel bad about their sinning you know!

Is Misquoting Jesus an attack?

Williams:

  • it’s rhetorically imbalanced and misleading
  • it tries to highlight change and instability and ignore the majority of the text that is stable
  • he makes a big deal out of 5 or so verses that are different from the mainstream text
  • he says that scribes deliberately changed the scriptures, but he doesn’t prove that
  • it’s just as likely that the differences are just scribal errors made by accident

Ehrman:

  • well, maybe the variants aren’t a big deal, but what about one angel vs. two angels?
  • that’s a significant issue! significant enough for me to become an apostate – a rich apostate
  • if one word is different because of an accident, then the whole Bible cannot be trusted
  • it has to be completely inerrant, so a one word difference means the whole thing is unreliable
  • we don’t even know if Jesus was even named Jesus, because of one angel vs two angels!!!1!
  • buy my book! you don’t have to read it, just put it on your shelf, then you’ll feel better about not having a relationships with God – because who’s to say what God really wants from you? Not the Bible!