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
- If God exists, God is supremely good and powerful.
- A good being eliminates all meaningless pain so far as it can without surrendering a greater good.
- 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.
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