Top Ten Arguments against God: #10 (Jeff Cook)

This is the first in a series of ten brief posts by Jeff Cook, listing the top ten arguments against/for God.

Top 10 – Arguments Against God’s Existence #10-8 (Jeff Cook)

Socrates said, “Philosophy begins with wonder” and nearly all human beings at all times have looked at the world around them and, given its beauties, powers, and complexities, asked if what they saw was designed by a mind for a purpose.

I think it is vitally important to think hard about God. Whether or not you are a committed atheist, a believer in God, or something quite different—knowing why you come down where you do is a mark of a good character, of a thoughtful soul, of a person who cares about what reality is like.

I love Top 10 lists. Movies, sports stars, events—I will watch “The Top 10 Doily-Knitters of All Time” if its on. This post begins a set of two Top 10 lists: for and against God-belief. I write these lists as a theist, as one who believes in God (though that may change by the end), and the arguments below are the ones from which I feel the most pull and seem to capture the rationality for rejecting God belief best.

What I’d like to hear in response is: Are there good responses that I don’t include? Which of these arguments do you find the most compelling? Which one’s give you pause, or have actually swayed your thinking? Do I pitch the arguments well, or could you state these arguments in a more compelling way? And of course the real question—Did I get the list right?

One final word about “God.” For the purposes here let’s define “God” as the instigator of our world who is supremely good, powerful, and wise. The arguments below will give reasons for thinking “God” does not exist.

#10 – The Logical Problem of Pain

  1. If God exists, God is supremely good and powerful.
  2. A good being eliminates all meaningless pain so far as it can without surrendering a greater good.
  3. There’s at least one meaningless pain that has been experienced that could have been prevented by a supremely powerful being without surrendering a greater good.

Therefore, there is no God.

What!? Number 10?! This is the most popular argument for rejecting God ever!

True. This is an emotionally compelling argument for sure, but philosophically it is too easy to sidestep in too many places. Peter Van Inwagen—a well-regarded expert in the field—reports that there are no professional philosopher who defend the logical problem of pain and evil any longer (See God and the Problem of Evil, 203), for there are too many possible outs: contemporary versions of the free will defense being the most popular (here).

One reason I think the logical problem of pain problematic is because the argument rests of the idea of “meaningless pain,” but how can you prove that each and every pain is meaningless? It maybe that in God’s future all our pains are seen in a new and soul-transforming light. We simply cannot “know”. It may be that brain cancer, tsunamis, and tragic accidents, in God’s future, will be seen as deeply meaningful events for each and every person. In fact, to call such tragedies “meaningless” now, may not only be short-sighted but may be deeply offensive to someone who, in looking back on their lives from God’s future, sees their pain as deeply valuable. Again, no one could possibly “know”; Premise 3 rests on a value judgment that cannot perceive all the necessary facts, and therefore the argument is not decisive in my mind.

JEFF COOK teaches philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado and is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). He pastors Atlas Church in Greeley, Colorado. www.everythingnew.org

 

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://Whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog Andrew Wilson

    I’m on tenterhooks for the other nine! Great idea for a series. Thanks, Jeff.

  • Jim

    Very interesting. This may be a series I print off and contemplate.

    Question: You said, “I write these lists as a theist, as one who believes in God (though that may change by the end), and the arguments below are the ones from which I feel the most pull and seem to capture the rationality for rejecting God belief best.”

    Is there a distinction between being a “theist” and a “believer”?

    I think I understand what you are driving at, that you are open to having your mind changed. Right? However, do you treat that as a philosophical argument or do you treat your theism as a commitment?

    Something about that strikes me as a commitment to an intellectual position but not necessarily a whole person commitment. Or, am I misreading you?

  • Alex

    “1. If God exists, God is supremely good and powerful.”

    There’s the first red flag – Humans deciding what God is like.

  • zw

    Hi, is there a reason you don’t have a button to link to google+? Thanks

  • Eric Speece

    I would refer to David Bentley Hart’s book, “The Doors of the Sea.” He argues against the idea that evil (whether natural or human) really can have any meaning in the God’s providence. Not that God doesn’t bring good out of evil and disasters, but that’s different than saying that God uses evil or that evil has any necessary role to play in God’s economy. In fact, Hart takes the stand that Ivan Karamazov was right to protest against a God whose purposes must included something like the suffering of innocent children. Hart believes that that kind of god is a Gnostic god. Whereas the God of the New Testament is a God who specifically calls evil ‘an enemy’ and one who overcomes evil. All of that to say, in Hart’s view, and I tend to side with him, is that the Reformed view that all suffering ultimately has some kind of meaning and is necessary for God to bring about His purposes, completely misses the point (perhaps unwittingly) of the fact that God defeated evil and death by the cross and resurrection.

  • Andy W.

    Eric @5

    I agree, “The Doors of the Sea” is one of the best books that I’ve read on this issue.

  • EricG

    Agreed on Doors of the Sea (at least I really like what Hart has to say on this point).

    I think normal folks — and even those crazy philosophers — distinguish between (1) the argument that God *cannot* exist because of this problem and (2) the far harder question, which is that this argument is at least strong *evidence* that a loving God does not exist. The post appears to only be dealing with (1). Jeff, from reading your book, I’m assuming that you’d agree that (2) is a much more open and difficult question.

    And on that question, I don’t think the question can be put any better than the way Ivan does in the Bros. Karasamov, when he details the horrors faced by several actual tortured children, and then gives his take on it (I’d recommend that everyone read it — Hart’s version is necessarily too abbreviated). Maybe we can’t say that we can’t *rule out* a loving God, because we just don’t understand enough. But the very serious suffering of a vary large number of children and others throughout the ages — both that inflicted by us humans and by natural problems — is also a weighty problem for Christians attempting to argue for a loving God. (I probably won’t be able to respond later, as I am going into one of my own forms of suffering, some nasty chemo).

  • John I.

    Even before Hart wrote his book and expressed so much more eloquently what I believed, it was my belief that all evil was meaningless and gratuitous. Evil is anti-God. God never does evil to accomplish good. All evil originates in/ is opposition to God-who-is-love.

    To me, it never seemed that there was any specific good that justified any specific evil. Furthermore, if evil is not a positive thing, but a negation, then how could it be meaningful per se, or in some ontological sense. The only thing that could make sense of evil, for me anyway, is a generic reason that does not allow for or relate to specific evils. This generic reason would be something like freewill, or moral responsibility (which I thought were true, and then believed in more strongly after reading Plantinga), or (in my later thinking) love–because only love lasts forever and only love existed before these other things and because love is more basic. True relational love with a contingent being necessitates the contingent possibility of evil. But such a reason is not specific to any particular evil, and so does not allow for the positing of particular goods that offset particular evils.

    I reject premise 2, because I reject the possibility of meaningful or nongratuitous evil (i.e., all evil is meaningless and gratuitous).

    So the problem of evil was never a problem for me. What was a problem for me was other Christians, because Christ said that he would be evident in the love of his followers (no love in followers, no Jesus and Holy Spirit).

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Jim (2) You wrote, “Is there a distinction between being a “theist” and a “believer”?

    This is a good distinction. I think a believer must be a theist but a theist need not be a “believer”, for in my mind believer means one who trusts God. You can believe in God but be one who trusts.

    You wrote, “I think I understand what you are driving at, that you are open to having your mind changed. Right? However, do you treat that as a philosophical argument or do you treat your theism as a commitment?”

    Both. A commitment to Christ is a matter of mind and soul and body, but each requires different avenues to commitment. The mind must think through the issues of course, but if it excludes the body and soul it will not experience a holistic encounter with the God who is real. Thinking about God is necessary, but it is not sufficient for a robust commitment.

    See some posts I did on this here: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jesuscreed/2012/07/30/jeff-cook-wanting-god-to-exist-is-more-important-than/

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Alex (3) . You wrote, ““1. If God exists, God is supremely good and powerful.” There’s the first red flag – Humans deciding what God is like.”

    If we are going to speak about God at all, our use of the term God must have meaning. If you suggest that the term “God” lacks meaning then of course you must show why. The logical positivists sought to make this case and I believe they fail (but you are welcome to recast their arguments).

    Now, you do use the term “God” in your post, suggesting that “God” is a being that cannot be defined by human beings. If your comment has meaning, what do you mean when you use the term God, OR are you simply using a term without meaning, and therefore posting a comment that lacks meaning? That is, in order for your post to have substance there must be a reference point or a target that the language you are employing seeks to characterize. So what do you mean by “God”?

    Note, if you say “God” is the “unknowable one” (as your post seems to suggest) that position is self-refuting, for you are suggesting that you know that God is unknowable.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Eric (5) You wrote, “The God of the New Testament is a God who specifically calls evil ‘an enemy’ and one who overcomes evil … the Reformed view that all suffering ultimately has some kind of meaning and is necessary for God to bring about His purposes, completely misses the point (perhaps unwittingly) of the fact that God defeated evil and death by the cross and resurrection.”

    Good post, Eric. I think this answer fails to address the problem of evil sufficiently, for the question remains “why has an exceedingly good and powerful God not stopped genocide, child abuse, and justin bieber yet?” It may be that there was a defeat on the cross and in the resurrection, but the problem remains — why is there *still* suffering and death? If suffering and death lack utility, why does God keep them around?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Eric G (7). Yep. I may that distinction as well and will be commenting on the “evidential” problem of pain and evil soon. Good clarification!

    You wrote, “Maybe we can’t say that we can’t *rule out* a loving God, because we just don’t understand enough. But the very serious suffering of a vary large number of children and others throughout the ages — both that inflicted by us humans and by natural problems — is also a weighty problem for Christians attempting to argue for a loving God. (I probably won’t be able to respond later, as I am going into one of my own forms of suffering, some nasty chemo).”

    I do put forward an argument about that on which I would love thoughts. I suggest all evil and pain experienced in our world may be seen in the future as meaningful. Any reason to doubt that or suggest it does not answer the question sufficiently?

    Peace and healing for you brother!!
    Jeff

  • CGC

    Hi Everyone,
    1. No pain, no gain.
    2. Life is a battle, test, struggle, wrestling match. If it is valuable, it is hard and difficult.
    3. Evil or pain in a front to our personal autonomy and happiness but is this what life is really about?
    4. Yes Jeff, pain can be redemptive, even the worst kind if its used by what someone has gone through to help others go through the same thing or bring some kind of healing.
    5. Evil done by others has a way of distorting or breaking people to not respond to good or possible healing. How we respond to these terrible situations is the real issue but many will not respond well.
    6. If evil or pain proves God does not exist, then does good or beauty or joy prove God exists? The issue is more about how people “use” these things rather than any one of them being definitive in itself.

  • RJS

    Good to hear from you Eric G – We’ll be praying.

  • Jim

    @9: Thanks, Jeff. I look forward to the posts.

  • EricG

    Jeff – thanks for the response. I think your response to the logical problem is right. I’m not sure if you are suggesting this, but I personally don’t see it as helping much on the evidential question to say that there may be explanations we don’t understand, but that sounds like an issue for another post. I’m looking forward to the series.

  • EricG

    Thanks RJS – I hope all is well with you.

  • http://LostCodex.com DRT

    Eric G, you inspire me.

    As to this post, I think the general idea of “meaningless” is the key, as you said.

    I am reminded of a saying, no idea who said it though… What is the worst thing that could possibly happen to a man? That he dies before he gets what he has always wanted. And the other worst thing that can possibly happen to a man is to get what he always wanted before he dies.

    I don’t think most people (except Trekkies) spend the time to think about what life would be like without struggle. To take that approach, if one realizes that all they have to do is take their own life and they will be out of their misery and they chose not to do that then they have made the most important decision that they can make and all other decisions are in light of that one.

  • Eric Speece

    @Jeff Cook. Yep, you’re right, that is THE question. If I knew the correct answer, I’d write a book and retire! But I can only respond in this way:

    First: I’d be hesitant to say that it’s God who ‘keeps them around.’ That would imply that they have existence in themselves (as opposed to the idea that evil is parasitic upon the good – thank you Augustine) and that God really is keeping and using them for a purpose (contra my invocation of Hart).

    But why does evil and suffering still have a say? 2 Peter 3 comes to mind invoking both eschatology: that we’re still in the “now, but not yet” of the coming kingdom. And soteriology: in that the Lord’s tarrying is for salvation and God is giving all people time to repent and turn to Him. Until then – enter Free Will Defense – humans are still making a mess of things and because of that, creation is still groaning (as is the pop music charts!).

    Just thinking out loud, but I think that’s one way to answer the question without attributing evil and suffering to God as either the primary or even secondary causality.

  • http://www.everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Good thoughts all.
    I will post tonight on your thoughts.
    Peace!

  • Adam

    @Jeff
    I think there’s more to that term “meaningless pain”. It seems you are using it in a negative sense. There is pain and it has no meaning or purpose. But doesn’t the word meaningless also imply “of no impact”?

    Therefore a good being doesn’t need to remove “meaningless pain” because it’s “meaningless”; it doesn’t influence anything. For example, should humans place bumpers and cushions on all furniture to avoid the pain of stubbed toes? Are we evil for not doing something about this pain? Or is the pain of a stubbed toe insignificant?

    So, why would something like genocide be a significant pain and something like a stubbed toe be an insignificant pain? Both pains at a surface level have no meaning and strictly on the level of the question both should be railed against.

    Next, where in this question is room for resurrection? Can a pain like genocide become insignificant when viewed from the Resurrection? This isn’t to justify evil, but to point out that perspective changes how impactful an event is. And we humans are limited in our perspective. Our limited perspective makes us see death as the great enemy, but if Resurrection is true (I will assume a universal resurrection for this argument) then might not death be a minor enemy and deformity of character the great enemy? This argument certainly assumes a presupposition (death = greatest evil) and perhaps that presupposition is wrong to begin with.

    I think this plays into Paul’s statement that “[christians] are to be the most pitied, if Jesus did not rise from the dead”. Meaning that the Resurrection changes the rules of the game.

    So, enough rambling, and the short version is “Is the Resurrection a part of this equation?”

    Adam

  • Caleb Gates

    I’m curious what Jeff’s take is on Anthony Flew and John Beversluis’ formulations of the problem of evil. It seems the argument could be more strongly articulated as
    1. If God exists, God is all-good and all-powerful.
    2. An all-powerful, all-good God cannot allow gratuitous evil.
    3. Gratuitous evil exists.

    If G then Ga
    If Ga then not-Ev
    Ev
    Therefore not-G

    Certainly we may quibble about the word “meaningful.” So instead I use the word “gratuitous”: unwarranted, lacking good reason. Certainly good can come from evil, but the deeper question is, “Are some events/actions so evil that no good ends coming from such evil could justify their use/existence?” The holocaust is an overused, but effective foil for this question. Certainly good things could have come out of the Holocaust, but can this justify the murder of millions of Jews and others? If a parent physically abused his child, would the judge let the parent go free because the parent explained the good that came out of that abuse? Also, what about the suffering of higher animals? What meaning would come out of that?

    I have used the free-will argument in the past, and philosophically one can make that case, but I do not see Scripture really making this case. Bart Ehrman’s book God’s Problem outlines some of the different answers that Scripture gives to the problem of evil. The main answers in Scripture given for the problem of evil are: 1. Human sin (Prophets), 2. Life is just like that (Ecclesiastes), 3. Evil spiritual forces (Daniel and NT). Several skeptics have asked the question: “Will there be free will in heaven?” Their point is that if God can create a possible world in the future in which their is no evil and free-will, why can he not now?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Caleb (22). This is the post I’ve been waiting for. A few thoughts.

    You wrote, “I’m curious what Jeff’s take is on Anthony Flew and John Beversluis’ formulations of the problem of evil. It seems the argument could be more strongly articulated as:
    1. If God exists, God is all-good and all-powerful. 2. An all-powerful, all-good God cannot allow gratuitous evil. 3. Gratuitous evil exists. Certainly we may quibble about the word “meaningful.” So instead I use the word “gratuitous”: unwarranted, lacking good reason. Certainly good can come from evil, but the deeper question is, “Are some events/actions so evil that no good ends coming from such evil could justify their use/existence?” ”

    All of the above statements: “meaningless”, “gratuitous”, “unwarranted”, “evil”, and “good” are value judgements. The quibble remains.

    It seems to me the reason “evil” is so repulsive is it lacks value/meaning. There’s a start for ya. I’ll comment on the rest later. Peace.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Caleb (22). You wrote, “Certainly good things could have come out of the Holocaust, but can this justify the murder of millions of Jews and others? If a parent physically abused his child, would the judge let the parent go free because the parent explained the good that came out of that abuse?”

    Counter question: can you adequately judge another person’s pain as meaningless?

    You wrote, “Also, what about the suffering of higher animals? What meaning would come out of that?”

    Difficult. Couple of skeptical notes. One, we do not *know* that “higher animals” are conscious in the same way humans are. Second, it may be better that suffering animals have the opportunity to exist (despite some pain) than for them to have not existed at all (and let’s assume that this is the only world God has actualized since we know of no others). It could be that some instances of animal pain are specifically ugly, but it may be that this world as a whole is better than all the others God could have actualized. (But I do think animal pain is one of the most difficult aspects of the problem of evil.)

    You wrote, “I have used the free-will argument in the past, and philosophically one can make that case, but I do not see Scripture really making this case. Bart Ehrman’s book God’s Problem outlines some of the different answers that Scripture gives to the problem of evil. The main answers in Scripture given for the problem of evil are: 1. Human sin (Prophets), 2. Life is just like that (Ecclesiastes), 3. Evil spiritual forces (Daniel and NT).”

    Job: God is creating you. Paul: In all things God works for the good of those who love him. Jesus: soul-making-allowing the wheat to become full grown. I think scripture (at its best) pitches a soul-making theodicy.

    You wrote, “Several skeptics have asked the question: “Will there be free will in heaven?” Their point is that if God can create a possible world in the future in which their is no evil and free-will, why can he not now?”

    Answer: your choice to be in Christ is using your freedom to ask God to heal the places you abuse your freedom. That choice to become a son and daughter is essential. Initially being created in a glorified state means you have not chosen to be a son or daughter (see my “Everything New” chapter 5). The road we are offered is better.

    Good stuff. Keep up the dialogue.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Eric S (19). You wrote, “But why does evil and suffering still have a say? 2 Peter 3 comes to mind invoking both eschatology: that we’re still in the “now, but not yet” of the coming kingdom. And soteriology: in that the Lord’s tarrying is for salvation and God is giving all people time to repent and turn to Him. Until then – enter Free Will Defense – humans are still making a mess of things and because of that, creation is still groaning (as is the pop music charts!).”

    The problem for this answer would be with God’s “inability” to inaugurate the kingdom, or give people time, in a way that lacks the suffering we experience, and it seems to me that would showcase a lack of power. Am I wrong? Peace.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Adam (21). You wrote, “Why would something like genocide be a significant pain and something like a stubbed toe be an insignificant pain? Both pains at a surface level have no meaning and strictly on the level of the question both should be railed against.”

    They may have meaning. You would have to ask those experiencing such pain ya?

    You wrote, “Where in this question is room for resurrection? … if Resurrection is true (I will assume a universal resurrection for this argument) then might not death be a minor enemy and deformity of character the great enemy?”

    I think that is true. If you are an immortal soul than of course death loses its top-dog status and now who you are becoming takes center stage. Good thoughts.

  • http://www.christylambertson.com Christy

    “Why has an exceedingly good and powerful God not stopped genocide, child abuse, and justin bieber yet?”

    Flippant statements like that make me think that this particular question is not one that keeps you up at night. There’s a reason that the problem of evil is the big one. Pain is not a problem of logic. Evil is not an abstract puzzle to solve.

    I hear your answer as, “Well, God has an ultimate plan, and it will all make sense and have meaning eventually.”, which is essentially a repeat of “God works in mysterious ways.” This may be an answer, but it is certainly not a satisfying explanation. I can’t tell anyone else what meaning their pain does or doesn’t have, but dead kids have a way of trumping philosophical arguments.

    I spent a decade and a half in the child abuse field and working with at-risk kids, and I’ve been asked, “Why would God let my parents beat me or rape me or abandon me? Why did God let my friend get shot? If God is so intent on saving me, what’s he waiting for?” The only intellectually and emotionally honest answer I was ever able to come up with was, “I don’t know.”

  • Adam

    Another question.

    What is the reason that Item 2 “A good being eliminates all meaningless pain so far as it can without surrendering a greater good” is an adequate basis for this argument?

    Why is the elimination of pain a prerequisite for being good?

  • Kelly Cook

    What if the pain has not meaning to the sufferer? If there is no “God” and therefore no “God’s future but there is suffering how can pain have meaning in “God’s future” … for example- an infant is born with a painful disability, suffers, dies and is gone. That suffering is meaningless, but real and the infant will have no way to process the “meaning”. The parent may become a better person, or serve others, but the infant only suffered.

    There can only be meaningful suffering in “God’s future” but that does not mean there is a God, or that suffering has meaning. (?)

    Also- love you honey.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Christy (27). Good thoughts! You wrote, “I hear your answer as, “Well, God has an ultimate plan, and it will all make sense and have meaning eventually.”, which is essentially a repeat of “God works in mysterious ways.”

    Not at all. The logical problem of pain is a strongly stated claim that God cannot possibly exist. In order to defeat the problem one must simply tell a story that is not known to be false as a counter-example. My argument suggests you cannot possibly know whether or not all pain is meaningless. I haven’t said anything about how God works.

    You wrote, “This may be an answer, but it is certainly not a satisfying explanation. I can’t tell anyone else what meaning their pain does or doesn’t have, but dead kids have a way of trumping philosophical arguments.”

    Your not offering a refutation here. I understand you find the suffering of children difficult to stomach (as do I), but you have not shown that my counter argument fails. *However* Let’s flip the terms of the problem taking into account your examples. Let’s assume God *doesn’t* exist, Question: how meaningful is the suffering of the kids you worked with? How meaningful is the suffering of the 9,000 children that will die today for stupid, preventable reasons?

    At least if we believe in God, we can find avenues for meaning. The materialist view has none.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Adam (28) You wrote,”Why is the elimination of pain a prerequisite for being good?”

    Show me an example of a good being allowing meaningless pain to continue that it has the power to stop.

  • JamesB

    I’m still wondering why this is true: “I think it is vitally important to think hard about God.”

    I would answer, “Not to someone who doesn’t believe God exists.”

    When I became an atheist, I no longer had to concern myself with things like “meaning” behind pain because there is none, at least not on some cosmic scale. It’s rather freeing.

  • Caleb Gates

    The death of an infant, genocide, and child abuse do seem to be good candidates for meaningless. One could look back on these circumstances and see “good” come out of them, but can any “good” that comes out of them be good enough to justify these original evil actions? I don’t know.

    Just last week my wife gave birth to our first child, a daughter. She is healthy, beautiful, and I am thankful. But I know other parents who have lost an infant, or whose children are ravaged by genetic defects. Or take the story on NPR last night about lead poisoning of children in Nigeria. (http://www.npr.org/blogs/health/2012/10/03/161908669/in-the-wake-of-high-gold-prices-lead-poisons-thousands-of-children) Hundreds of children have died, thousands have been poisoned.

    Unlike SIDS or genetic birth defects, the lead poisoning comes about because of the actions of people. But why doesn’t God stop it? If an adult has knowledge of child abuse, s/he is legally and morally obligated to report it. If an adult does not report this, s/he is legally at fault for failing to act to protect the child. How would an all-knowing, all-loving God, all-powerful God not be culpable for failing to act? Is God not responsible for his actions or in this case, failure of action? Or is God totally free from any moral sense of right and wrong? Some might respond, “God gave us free will.” Why could not God actualize a world in which we had free will, but were still prevented from perpetuating horrific evils on children?

    I’m also curious what Jeff thinks about Stephen Law’s “Evil-God Hypothesis.”

    I post these question, not from a desire to be provocative, but from an intensely personal struggle.

  • John Inglis

    “Why could not God actualize a world in which we had free will, but were still prevented from perpetuating horrific evils on children?”

    Because it is impossible for him to do so, just as it is impossible for him to lie.

    That is, any possible world that God could create would have evil as a result of free will, and none of those possible worlds with free will creates has a lesser “amount” of evil, or lesser amount of horrendous evils ((speaking simply, as evil cannot actually be quantified with a common unit, or, if it can be, then according to some sort of quantity such as that used by Plantinga).

  • John Inglis

    “When I became an atheist, I no longer had to concern myself with things like “meaning” behind pain because there is none, at least not on some cosmic scale. It’s rather freeing.”

    Most would not agree that making the world a meaningless place, and one’s life a meaningless life is an improvement. In addition, whether it is freeing depends on what one means by free. Not all freedoms are the same, or as valuable. Christians find freedom in being in Christ, and slavery without him. Even Bertrand Russell recognized that freedom from God has disappointing results in that one is left to live one’s life on “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.”

    Writers and artists have for thousands of years reflected on existence and noted that life is depressing without ultimate meaning and that humans have an innate drive to find meaning for their lives and for the universe. For example, in Camus’ novel “The Stranger” he has the hero search for meaning only to find that because there is no god, there is no meaning. Most atheists seem to agree that some meaning for life is required, and so they argue that limited, non-ultimate meaning should be sufficient.

    Eliminating meaning and purpose also has negative effects on morality, as observed by the atheist philosopher Kai Nelson who, after investigating morality without God, noted that “the picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me.”

  • Adam

    @Jeff (31)

    I think we humans do it all the time. There are plenty of situations where pain exists and we humans have the power to stop it and don’t, and for the most part, we still consider each other “good”. If you need a specific example, the UN estimates it’s $30 billion a year to end world hunger. It’s doable. We don’t do it. Since this discussion is elevating us to some kind of judgement seat, what judgement should we proclaim over humanity, or America, or the UN for “being evil” or failing to deal with world hunger?

    Before we start accusing God or the gods for failing to act, must we not accuse ourselves first for failing to act? I do not see many humans doing this so I assume that failure to act is not necessarily a disqualification of being good.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    James (32) You wrote, “I’m still wondering why this is true: “I think it is vitally important to think hard about God.” … When I became an atheist, I no longer had to concern myself with things like “meaning” behind pain because there is none, at least not on some cosmic scale. It’s rather freeing.”

    I think this is a double-edge sword. If you are willing to bite the bullet and say there is no meaning at all, that nothing you do matters, that nothing anyone else does matters–it seems to me you are surrendering quite a bit. Though this is consistent.

    I will be saying a good deal more about why I think it is vital to think about God in a month or so, but to preempt those posts: it seems to me that if God does not exist there are real problems with the ontological nature of love, personal identity, meaning in life and pain (as you said), the nature of language (as the postmoderns have shown), and human freedom. If there is not a significantly powerful being that cares for you and I, then I think all these realities (we generally take for granted) are illusions.

    What say you?

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Ran across a Steve Jobs quote that applied: “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Caleb (33). Well put and glad your wrestling with us.

    So, I wrote in the post (And its my response to your thoughts), “how can you prove that each and every pain is meaningless? It maybe that in God’s future all our pains are seen in a new and soul-transforming light. We simply cannot “know”.”

    This is my initial response to your comments. Logically I think it defeats the problem. Emotionally the problem obviously remains for us both, but we are not dealing with how things make us feel. Do you have thoughts on this? (There will be 2 more arguments that bring in pain and suffering down the list, just as a heads up).

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    Adam (36) YOu wrote, “I think we humans do it all the time. There are plenty of situations where pain exists and we humans have the power to stop it and don’t, and for the most part, we still consider each other “good”. If you need a specific example, the UN estimates it’s $30 billion a year to end world hunger. It’s doable. We don’t do it. Since this discussion is elevating us to some kind of judgement seat, what judgement should we proclaim over humanity, or America, or the UN for “being evil” or failing to deal with world hunger?”

    I think its deeply questionable whether we are good given this stat and given the fact that defense spending is over 1 trillion dollars a year. And yes, starvation in other countries becomes a moral failure on our part, not simply a natural evil. So – I think my line holds for comment (31). Peace!

  • http://Pa5t0rd.com Don

    I’ve understood pain as an indicator that things are not the way they should be…an alarm system if you will. Now we are an individualistic society so we only think of self so the suffering and pain of another seems arbitrary. If we behaved as a collective organism (all creation together) then these ‘pains’ would alert us to improprieties that need immediate attention in order to be ‘healed’ or ‘alleviated’ so that creation can return to functioning properly. Maintaining our right of free will and a good and loving G-d that allows our freedom of decision with a warning system of when it becomes corrupted.

    Great Post

  • JamesB

    Jeff (37),

    The simplest answer is that we create our own meaning. The further I get from my Christianity the more I realize that a belief in some higher purpose was a bigger hindrance than a help. I have made more strides towards a positive, healthy life and marriage in the last year than I ever did seeking for some external meaning to life.

    And you’re putting words in my mouth. I didn’t say there is no meaning and nothing matters. If anything, everything matters even more knowing this is the only shot I get. The idea of a supreme being just complicates matters in my opinion.

  • http://trinitariantheodicy.wordpress.com Trin

    I have a problem with premise 2. Who says?

    God has fully revealed himself both in Christ and as love. Christ declared and lived, that he came to bind up, to free, to release, to comfort, to provide for – to change ashes into crowns of beauty (Is.61).

    While God surely can prevent we see neither him nor Christ declaring a required demonstration of His love to be prevention.

    I don’t see Christ declaring or living as the ‘great preventer.’ I see Christ declaring and living only what he saw his Father doing – redeeming. From Genesis through Revelation we see God repeatedly moving to redeem. God declares and demonstrates through Christ that he loves to bind up and redeem that which is broken – as a demonstration of what love looks like, what love does, what love is – it is what Christ taught to be the kingdom of God – it is what Christ calls us to in the Jesus creed. And it is in redemptive love that evil, which DBHart so ably demonstrates exists, is conquered.

  • http://everythingnew.org Jeff Cook

    James (42). You wrote, “We create our own meaning. The further I get from my Christianity the more I realize that a belief in some higher purpose was a bigger hindrance than a help. I have made more strides towards a positive, healthy life and marriage in the last year than I ever did seeking for some external meaning to life.”

    Beautiful. I strongly affirm such steps.

    You wrote, “And you’re putting words in my mouth. I didn’t say there is no meaning and nothing matters. If anything, everything matters even more knowing this is the only shot I get. The idea of a supreme being just complicates matters in my opinion.”

    Ontologically, I think this is false. The meaning you create will die with you (and with everyone else), but it doesn’t stop there. I see no way out of thinking that the power of death works backwards and erases all the meaning we paint now. Nothing you do “matters.” The things you do may give you pleasure, but they do not “matter.” Unfortunately hedonism is pathetic and so if we travel the godless road we eventually end with despair.

    I’m very sorry you had a bad experience with Christians. Peace. I enjoy your thoughts a great deal.

  • http://trinitariantheodicy.wordpress.com Trin

    Jeff @12 “I suggest all evil and pain experienced in our world may be seen in the future as meaningful. Any reason to doubt that or suggest it does not answer the question sufficiently?” It may or it may not – who knows the future? Surely none of us (beyond one or two major details). Regardless, it falls short – it “does not answer the question sufficiently” – for it does not commence its theodical pondering rooted from and within who God is. It’s a side trip – a rabbit trail – like the soul making theodicy, the greater good theodicy and all the rest that theists and non-theists find abhorrently short of satisfactory, meaningful or acceptable.

    Caleb @22 “. . . 2. An all-powerful, all-good God cannot allow gratuitous evil.” Why not?

    Jeff @25 “The problem for this answer would be with God’s “inability” to inaugurate the kingdom, or give people time, in a way that lacks the suffering we experience, and it seems to me that would showcase a lack of power. Am I wrong?” Yes. An all-powerful being can choose to limit their power, and the exercise of that power must be done in accordance with their nature. The triune God is an eternal, perichoretic relationship of love; he cannot act contrary to who he is – love.

    JamesB @32 “When I became an atheist, I no longer had to concern myself with things like “meaning” behind pain because there is none, at least not on some cosmic scale.” Perhaps there’s not. May be you’re right. In the cosmos there certainly appears to exist an element of ‘life just happens’ (Ecclesiastes). Regardless – God does demonstrate his love in his redemption of the pain that does exist.

    Caleb @33 “Some might respond, “God gave us free will.” Why could not God actualize a world in which we had free will, but were still prevented from perpetuating horrific evils on children?”

    1. Define horrific. Define “child” while you’re at it. No matter where you draw the line, the new worst evil on the list will become the new ‘horrific,’ demanding another re-drawing of the line ad nauseum until no evil and with it no free will and no love are possible either.

    2. Because in that world free will wouldn’t exist (for at least some) – and since God IS love, he must love ALL, and free will MUST exist (it wasn’t a decision God had to make) for us to be able to respond to his love.

  • Trish

    It seems to me there is an answer in Ann Jackson’s article The Slow and Inefficient Work of God (http://www.relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/slow-and-inefficient-work-god). At least for those willing to consider God exist, and even has a purpose for what He does or doesn’t do.

  • JamesB

    Jeff (39),

    The meaning I create will live on in those I touch and in whatever else I give to the world. Of course it won’t last forever, but so what? Nothing does.

    And where are you getting the idea that I had a bad experience with Christians?

    Can you please define what you mean by hedonism in this sense and how it applies to me? I don’t want to infer something you aren’t actually saying because, taken a certain way, it sounds very pejorative. It also seems rather presumptuous to say that the godless road leads to despair. How do you know this?

    The fact that you see no way out doesn’t mean none exists or that all the alternatives are dereft of hope.

  • JamesB

    Addendum: On further thought, hedonism as you seem to be defining it does lead to despair. The real question is what to do with that and how to cope. That’s the metanarrative here. You and others would say a God-belief is the only way to cope. I disagree. In leaving my belief behind I did initially engage in hedonism of a form as an immediate reaction, but I soon realized it was harming those closest to me and I had a choice: I could continue in it and make my life and those around me miserable or find ways through it that didn’t involve some sort of ultimate meaning. Whether or not that choice leads to ultimate despair (on my deathbed, in eternity, etc.) is a matter of opinion.

  • Bob

    Hi
    The book “Pain the gift nobody wants” by Dr Paul Brand and Philip Yancey gives an interesting perspective on “pain” in life.

    Imagine for a moment being unable to feel physical pain? How about no positive emotions because if you don’t have negative ones…

    Check it out.

  • Sandi

    In my younger days this would have outraged me, but I face spiritual opposition head on because I know my GOD! With that said pain of all kinds in the world that seems senseless, but because the people who say that they are GOD’s people are not reading, and obeying His word there is pain. Pain meaning disease, suffering, and all the rest that makes us hurt. In our spoiled selfishness we fail to understand that being in a relationship with GOD is to give up our vision and take His into our spirits (See Romans 12:-2).

    The Bible (I believe its truths whole heatedly) gives clear and precise instructions for blessings, and cursing. If we, His people would follow the directions you’d see a whole different world (See 2 Chronicles 7:14).

    I have believed just by my faith, in GOD all my life. Not just that there is a god, but the only GOD! My heart knew He was real from my very first encounter as a young child. Very much like the prophet Samuel. No one, or any doctrine caused me to believe, I couldn’t help but believe. I have seen and endured a great deal of pain in my life, but my faith remains strong that there is certainly a GOD!

  • Searchingon

    “What was a problem for me was other Christians, because Christ said that he would be evident in the love of his followers (no love in followers, no Jesus and Holy Spirit).”

    Scriptures teach that there would be many false “Christs”. We would be able to recognize the real deal by their fruits.
    In the parable of the sower, the enemy sows weeds (tares) among the wheat
    Matt 24 Then Jesus used another story to teach them. Jesus said, “God’s kingdom is like a man who planted good seed in his field. 25 That night, while everyone was asleep, the man’s enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and then left. 26 Later, the wheat grew, and heads of grain grew on the plants. But at the same time the weeds also grew. 27 Then the man’s servants came to him and said, ‘You planted good seed in your field. Where did the weeds come from?’

    28 “The man answered, ‘An enemy planted weeds.’

    “The servants asked, ‘Do you want us to go and pull up the weeds?’

    29 “He answered, ‘No, because when you pull up the weeds, you might also pull up the wheat. 30 Let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest time. At the harvest time I will tell the workers this: First, gather the weeds and tie them together to be burned. Then gather the wheat and bring it to my barn.”

    In Phillipians 1 Paul said something that settled my mind somewhat about this:

    15 Some people are telling the message about Christ because they are jealous and bitter. Others do it because they want to help. 16 They are doing it out of love. They know that God gave me the work of defending the Good News. 17 But those others tell about Christ because of their selfish ambition. Their reason for doing it is wrong. They only do it because they think it will make trouble for me in prison. 18 But that doesn’t matter. What is important is that they are telling people about Christ, whether they are sincere or not. So I am glad they are doing it.

    http://www.biblegateway.com Easy-To-Read Version

  • Fred H

    God made man to govern earth, for Him to step in and take control over pain would mean He would have to take control over everything. In so doing He will have to put all humanity into hell, because there is none that is rightous that is 100% human not 1. For all have sinned and fall short of the Glory of God. There is only 1 who can make an abomination rightous. He is 100%God and 100% Human. He is the great I Am, He is the true vine and when we abide in Him we are whole. Without Him we can do no good. He is Christ the King of Kings. To Know God is for God to first seek us. It is impossible for us as humanbeings to want to know God on our own we are too selfish. God initiates the relatinship. We then seek Him and accept Jesus as our savior and at this point we are filled with the Holy Spirit and this how we know God exists.

    The truth of the Bible is pure foolishness to those that are lost and only the fool says in his heart there is no God. For the fear of the Lord is the begining of wisdom. For it is God who has the Power, Glory, and Mercy to save us through Grace.
    But if we choose not to believe after we have heard the gospel then we choose pain and suffering for all eternity.

    I believe that when we see Jesus face to face we will know as we are known. He knows us completely and that means we will know completely. There is a reason for all things rather it be pain,suffering,joy,fear,death,birth. There is a reason for it all that is why My God sent His only begotten Son, that whoever will believe in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life.

    He was Born of a virgin, preached to the masses did more miracles than all the profits of old and was scorned and rejected by the very ones that had called Him Lord . He took My sin Your sin and the sins of any human throughout all of history and in the future on his account for He is the only one who lived without sin and then he took my cross. And three days later he rose again. He experienced the ultimate pain and there was a very good reason, to save every person who will call on His name. Then He ascended to the right Hand of God the Father.

  • Joel Heidbreder

    Look at Science, look at nature, look at your own body, look at biology and the intricate ways that we are made…each cell and then say there was not design.

    God did not make us for our pleasure and purpose, but His own. He has a plan. He sent His own Son to make a path and relationship that we and those before Him could follow.

    To say that this is an accident denies truth and reality.

    Get off the point about “if” and start to pursue “why”

    I get bored and agravated that anyone can question the existence of a superior being. All of this is an “accident”???

    So the real next logical question is why. Because He has a perfect plan. Theologians need to search to understand what that is. To question that He is, is missing the point completely.

    Everyone is a theologian, some lazier than others…. but the point remains that we must ask. So you say, “why ask” because there is a light at the end that we all will see one way or the other.

    If you want to “know” this supreme being, then you must ask Him. He has always promised to answer that prayer. In fact, He sent his only Son to bridge that gap of understanding. He always answers those who seek Him. He is perfect in every way and will Always answer a sincere heart.

    So I don’t care much for the conversation, because it always ends up in disbelief and insincere thoughts and conversation. In fact, most who do not believe are either lazy or don’t want to know the truth.

    If you want to follow a “Perfect God”…at least take the time to have a sincere heart. Otherwise, go pursue nothingness…in other words keep on just “living”.

  • Dan

    Jeff…the gist of your article called to mind for me Shel Silverstein’s “A Boy Named Sue”. Have no other comments, really, but did enjoy the piece, as well as many of the thought-provoking comments that followed it.

  • http://x Elizabeth

    Your answer lacks the perspective of the condition of man and the world before original sin. When God created the world and man, the bible says it was GOOD. God IS goodness, perfection and love. Man walked in perfect communion with God. Adam and Eve brought sin into the world by their disobedience to God thereby creating a separation with the One who IS goodness, perfection and love. That’s when pain, suffering, injustice and all forms of evil entered God’s perfect creation.
    Before original sin, when Adam stepped on a rock, did it hurt? If he were pricked by a thorn did he bleed? Of course! After original sin, they no longer had perfect communion with their source of goodness, the tendency became to question God, doubt God and even curse God for their suffering. There became a separation between them and god that will only be bridged again with the second coming of Christ.
    We only really KNOW this life. We Never knew what the world was like when God and man had a perfect relationship. The explanation for pain and suffering has its root in US not God.
    God didn’t create evil nor does he use it in the sense that he “lets it happen for a divine purpose”. Evil exists here, in the natural world. Perfection exists only on the supernatural world.
    “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life”. That really DOES mean something!

  • Fred H

    Just a thought, how can the government and the media support abortion and a lot of people justify it being the right of the mother what about the rights of the child life begins at conception. And the suffering no ever hears about there are many women who were misled and aborted thier child and the post tramatic stress from that has led to clinical depression and suicide. But these tragedies could have been avoided if we as a people would stand up
    for the inocent. Instead of letting a few pass laws that cater to the murder of the unborn.

  • k

    I am completely disturbed at the lack of rational discourse above. It is quite obvious that myths are not solely held within the ranks of modern believers. I hear arguments of merit appealing to moral virtues and relating to concepts of good and evil. I read words like innocent, suffering, and truth. An atheist cannot and must not use any argument relating to the above mentioned if he is to be taken seriously. Atheism cannot appeal to morality to disprove God. Morality is essentially religious and arguments made from this perspective immediately become religious in themselves. You cannot have a hybrid evolutionary religious discourse and be taken seriously.

  • Samuel

    If God is supremely good, and supremely powerful then would he not be good and powerful enough to instill meaning or to carry out his will without causing pain in the first place? Why is the pain needed? Pain (and suffering) are a major problem for theists believing in an intervening god. Either God is not powerful enough to rid the world of pain, or he isn’t good enough to do it.

  • Laura Gonsalves

    Pain and suffering was caused by the first humans wanting to think independently and decide for themselves what is good or bad for them. They wanted to think and chose anyhow they wished without taking their creator’s opinion into consideration. They were given everything good, a beautiful planet to live on, yet they let that spoil them. We are their children, born from these disobedient and unthankful parents who ignored the person who made them or GOD, and who chose instead to associate with someone who spoke badly about him . They listened to this vile, jealous person’s lies. God had warned them that they would die ( otherwise his plan was for them to never die, to live without death to put an end to their lives), if they betrayed him. They did betray him, so really the suffering this has caused is not his fault but ours. Each person now living can prove to think either like our first parents, or unlike them. DONT BLAME GOD….HE CREATED LIFE TO BE THE MOST WONDERFUL THING FOR US. DOnt ever question his character. Remain humble and thankful and search for him. He has that same beautiful plan he had at the beginning for us, if we rely on him and prove who we are. A world without pain suffering and death is around the bend. The 1000 year plan to restore mankind to perfection under his own government or kingdom is almost here. Right now, humans are giving the evidence that we really cannot do without God’s opinion and guidance. Look at the mess this world is in….its deplorable and really really messy! No one can unscramble the mess we have created and its going to get worse as we stubbornily stick to our own thoughts and ideas without searching for God’s.

  • http://misoriented.blogspot.com Mike Blyth

    I think it’s pretty clear from this conversation that we don’t have anything like proof in this matter. For me, the simple fact is that theism would be much more coherent were it not for the problem of suffering. That the best answer many good thinkers have is “I don’t know” counts as a negative, not a positive, when it comes to plausibility.

  • R.E.

    #60. Proof is hard to come by in *any* perspective, except for, perhaps, math…..
    There is a choice to be made, however.

  • jeff gideon

    Whatever we can’t handle “ourselves” leads us to seek relief from another. God is allowing us another means of recognizing our need for Him. Seek and you will find, ask and it will be given to you. Motivation comes of need, does it not?

  • emily taylor

    if god created a wonderful world without pain how would we know what pain is. also how would we know it is wonderful because if your never sad how can you be happy


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