Soft Theism: the Strongest Argument for the Atheist is the Problem of Evil

Soft Theism: the Strongest Argument for the Atheist is the Problem of Evil April 16, 2021

We’re responding to an imaginary dialogue that explores Soft Theism, which is basically Christianity without the unpleasant baggage. Can jettisoning Christianity’s crazy bits make it acceptable? Read part 1 here.

This is post 20 in this series. Soft theism’s toughest problem is the Problem of Evil, why God allows so much evil in our world.

The Problem of Evil

Atheist: If God is such a great intelligence, why did He create such an inefficient and cruel world?

Soft Theist: Yeah, it’s not the way we would have made the world. Uh . . . a possible answer is that He intended an imperfect, seriously challenging world, as the best way for us to develop character.

Cross Examined Blog: Sure, that’s possible. The problem is that anything is possible with an omni-everything god. Not being constrained is good in that it allows your imagination free rein, but it’s bad if you want any credibility for your claims. This is what happens when you disconnect yourself from reality and build on an unfalsifiable hypothesis. Better: follow the evidence where it leads.

But that would not explain the . . . EXCESS of evil, beyond what is necessary for that! You don’t need that much suffering to develop character. You don’t need kids dying to strengthen their parents’ character! And, an animal kingdom where animals have to kill and eat their fellow creatures? That is a fundamentally cruel system!

Yeah, I know. I know. I think the Problem of Evil is the strongest argument against God.

There are lots of candidates for the strongest argument (the Problem of Divine Hiddenness is my favorite), but I agree that the Problem of Evil is a big one.

Then what is this god good for?!

Seems to me this God does not merit worship. Yet you worship this God!

Aha, yes, but not in the way Christians do. Christians have this completely insane idea of God being oh so wonderful. And I say, what fantasy world are you living in!? There are all kinds of natural disasters and diseases. God is not omnibenevolent; He’s a very mixed entity.

I agree with Dan Barker that by any normal standard of morality, we humans are better than God. If WE had the power, we certainly would have stopped the Holocaust. Which of us would ever dream of destroying someone’s home with a hurricane, or giving a child a fatal disease? God’s sins against us, are far greater than ours against Him.

That reminds me of Stephen Fry’s comment in 2015 when asked what he would say if he met God at the gates of heaven.

I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about?

How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain.

Soft theism’s version of worship

So, in what way, then, do you worship God?

OK. Not by liking him, or praising Him, or loving Him in any traditional sense, but . . . by behaving well. I think that is the only thing He really wants of us, to behave well. If I do that, I am properly loving him. I don’t have to like Him.

“Behave well” sounds like a nice guiding principle, though no more objectively fundamental than the advice from Bill and Ted at the end of their adventure: “Be excellent to each other!” Why muddy the conversation by bringing in God?

You figured out the importance of this on your own. There’s no evidence that God put this notion into your mind. If you want to point out precedents, celebrate the people who played important positive roles in your life: family, friends, teachers, coaches, authors, and others. And if you need something ephemeral for what protects us from harm, look to evolution rather than God—that’s why we’re so well adapted to this world.

When I see a dead squirrel by the roadside, I say, “See, God, that’s YOUR fault. YOU made the world this way. It’s not the squirrel’s fault, it’s not the driver’s fault, it’s YOUR fault. You, are the author of this evil, and many other far, far worse ones. You, are . . . a bastard. . . . And I have no qualms expressing that, because—if He exists—He knows it’s true.

I think the traditional ways of worshipping God—praying, praising, beseeching, is NOT worshipping. To me, that’s just . . . groveling.

Agreed. The form of worship God likes is about the same as what Donald Trump likes (more here).

How good is God?

So, you don’t regard your alleged God as omnibenevolent?

We find the idea of a powerful but imperfect being in the Demiurge (“Craftsman”) in Gnosticism. And more familiar examples are the pantheons of Greece, Rome, and other civilizations.

No, clearly He’s not. I see God as omnipotent, and omniscient, but OBVIOUSLY not omnibenevolent. I see Him as only . . . ULTIMATELY benevolent.

I don’t know what “ULTIMATELY benevolent” means. Perhaps it means that God’s definition of benevolence will be what matters in the end?

I’ve heard Christians claim that human happiness is not the goal of life, but rather, knowing God is. And suffering draws you to God. But, that’s totally irrational to me, that a loving God would torture His creatures for the mere satisfaction of compelling them to believe in Him. If you love someone, you don’t make them suffer excessively.

I agree, but humans are motivated in strange ways. Some say that suffering draws you to God. Corrie ten Boom is a famous example. She was a Dutch Christian sent to a German concentration camp for helping Jews, and her experience strengthened her faith.

The flip side of that coin is the brief but eloquent proof that God doesn’t exist that I’ve heard is popular among many Jews: there was a Holocaust, so therefore there’s no God. Stated another way, according to a message into a concentration camp wall, “If there is a God, he will have to beg my forgiveness” (h/t commenter Michael Neville).

Next time: a critique of the final bit of the soft theism dialogue

I was pretty impressed that Jesus fed the masses
from only five loaves and two fishes
until I went to Communion
and saw what He considers a serving size.
— seen on the internet

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Image from Avery Cocozziello (free-use license)
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