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Problem of Evil & of Good: Great Dialogue w Agnostic

Problem of Evil & of Good: Great Dialogue w Agnostic June 17, 2021

This began when “axelbeingcivil” started the discussion on my blog, on 7-7-21. His words will be in blue.

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A belief in demons, even the devil, does not mean a belief in Hell or eternal separation from God. God sends malicious and malevolent spirits to serve his purposes at several points in the Bible, and they are described as faithful attendants of his court. When Satan appears in the Book of Job, he is given no reproach or chastisement. If people accept that God sends hardships to test them or for them to struggle against, why not devils to inflict misery and suffering? After all, omnipotence means God intends for the suffering to happen anyway, right?

That’s an extreme form of Calvinism, which is a tiny minority position in historic Christianity. Did you used to be a Christian? If so, what kind? Are you an atheist now?

I admit, I have many negative things to say about Calvin – his conception of what justice, compassion, and mercy look like is nothing but rebranded sadism – but I do think he was one of the rare few people to understand the implications of omniscience and omnipotence as to evil’s presence in the world.

That said, I don’t think this is Calvinism. The notion that Satan acts only and solely as God permits is a part of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. See:

Although Satan may act in the world out of hatred for God and his kingdom in Christ Jesus, and although his action may cause grave injuries – of a spiritual nature and, indirectly, even of a physical nature – to each man and to society, the action is permitted by divine providence which with strength and gentleness guides human and cosmic history. It is a great mystery that providence should permit diabolical activity, but “we know that in everything God works for good with those who love him.”

Paragraph 395 of the Catechism. This notion – that Satan and all his evil are only and solely what God permits, for some ostensible purpose (usually to test people or to allow for God’s own glorification) – is fairly mainstream.

I was Christian, yes. Now, I would call myself an agnostic atheist. Still fond of chatting with my former coreligionists, though.

Yes, of course, God permits evil (His permissive will). It’s not His perfect will. Therefore, He causes no evil; He only permits it.

What kind of Christian were you; what denomination?

If something only occurs because you permit it, what’s the difference between you causing it and not? It feels like, if you were to analyze that through the principle of moral cooperation, it’d be obvious that it is indeed evil.

If I, say, knew that someone was preparing to commit a mass shooting and had evidence of that, and I could prevent it with no fear of harm to myself (or indeed anyone), but chose not to, in what way am I not morally culpable?

(And, yes, I am aware that opens the door to holding ourselves culpable for all kinds of evils-by-tacit-approval. I actually believe that is the case. Humans can’t be said to be at all perfect.)

As for what kind, hard to put a pin in it, but always some kind of Protestant. In my life, I’ve been a part of Anglican, Methodist, and Baptist church communities.

I permit my teenage daughter to go out and party with her friends. If she decides to start taking heroin or to drunk drive, is that therefore my fault? Or is it hers? Did I cause that?

The analogy here doesn’t really work, since you lack perfect knowledge and perfect power and perfect compassion. You also didn’t create heroin or the intoxicating effects of alcohol or any of the fundamental laws of the cosmos, much less a thing like injury and death. Hence, the level of responsibility you bear is very different than someone who did.

Assuming here that the doctrine of Hell is correct for the moment, and the native seat of Satan is a bronze throne at the heart of a lake of fire, lord of his prison-city, the only reason that the infernal powers may have any control or influence over Earth and its inhabitants is divine remit. That is, if God simply declared that those rebellious and emphatically former heavenly princes could not enter Earth’s spheres or have influence over it, they would indeed have no influence. The only reason they have any whatsoever is God’s direct say-so.

Since God also knows whether these infernal powers mean good or ill, what they both intend to do and will do (which may not be the same thing) if allowed to proceed, and that God is perfectly capable of halting them without the slightest issue if so desired… It stands to reason that they only and solely act at God’s discretion. That would make God responsible for their actions, even without having directed them.

Consider, by way of analogy, a parole board. These are people whose job it is to weigh individual convicts on their merits and likelihood of reform, and to approve the release of those who merit the opportunity of being redeemed to society and retaining those who still present a threat.

Imagine if a parole board, in its entirely limited and human capacity, had strong evidence of a convict up for release not merely being a potential threat but actively and openly planning to do harm to someone or likely even many someones. I’m talking about threatening writings, declarations of hatred, detailed plans, etc.

If that parole board decided, in full knowledge, to release that inmate anyway, we would rightly consider them culpable in whatever suffering inevitably followed. Just because their hands weren’t the ones that got dirty doesn’t change that they were in a position of power and authority and, rather than use it to protect the public, they did the opposite.

And that, in turn, is a degree of responsibility we purely demand from mere humans; flawed, frail, feeble things, herein infused with only a modest amount of power. To how much higher standard must be held one in whom all power and all authority is invested?

It doesn’t matter how powerful or knowledgeable God is, as to whether He wants to allow human free will. He allows it, knowing perfectly well all the bad things that will result, because He thinks that is better than the alternative: us being a bunch of robots.

My daughter just came home and said she almost got into an accident on the freeway. So say she had actually gotten killed? Would I then say it was my fault because I allowed her to get a driver’s license? No. It’s understood that with driving comes a risk of getting injured or killed. Almost everyone takes that risk because it’s better than the alternative.

I deny that what God permits, He is responsible for. The very existence of other free wills that exist besides God and His decisions and freedom, means that He is not responsible, just as parents caused their children to come into existence, but are not responsible for every decision they make beyond the age of reason. He allows the evil that results for the sake of this freedom as the better choice of the two.

Most of the bad and evil things that happen, we blame God for. We’re always blame-shifting: between each other, and between us and God. I recently wrote about how we blame God for the Nazi Holocaust, which is ludicrous, seeing that we had every ability to prevent WWII and all that went with it from happening (at least the European part of it), by listening to Churchill’s warnings about Nazi military build-up.

The parole board is a decent argument / analogy. But I think we can defeat it by noting that God and human beings are on entirely different planes. There is, therefore, a sense in which He sets the world and human free will on their courses and then “gets out of it” and says in effect, “okay, have at it. I gave you everything you need to be happy, but also a free will, which includes the possibility of evil. You have to choose which course to take. Don’t blame ME when you make stupid or evil choices (and you will make many of those)”.

But human judges and prisoners are on the same plane, and we have to have a system of justice, just as God has “cosmic justice.” But the latter (most importantly) also includes the afterlife and is not just this life.

And so God sees all the evil we do, and provides the way past it, and the way for anyone to be saved and to have a fulfilled, joyful life (even with suffering). And He gives us the possibility of a blissful eternal life. THAT is where evil is finally controlled and obliterated, and where God’s perfect will (us being fulfilled and pain-free in union with Him) is supreme and in place for all eternity. For some reason He wants to leave it as it is now, before we get to that point. We don’t (and I think, can’t) totally understand that. But, as best I can make out, I think it comes down to what a truly free will entails (contrary choice).

It’s a matter of perspective. Once we are in heaven with God, and the “time” (metaphorically) is a trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion trillion times more than the time we spent on earth, then all the suffering will be seen to be worth it, and God will be known and understood as quite a fair and loving Being after all.

But in atheism you have all the suffering and no cosmic justice (Mao and Hitler and Stalin were no more punished than anyone else) and it’s all meaningless in the end and we are annihilated. That’s the “problem of good” that’s a lot more serious than even the thorny problem of evil. I would certainly be in despair and take the nihilist view if I believed that.

I’ve written about this many times on my Philosophy page (2nd section down). Probably my most extensive single treatment is this paper:

Problem of Evil: Treatise on the Most Serious Objection (Is God Malevolent, Weak, or Non-Existent Because of the Existence of Evil and Suffering?) [2002]

First, let me say that this is a fairly considerable reply, thanks for taking the time!

I do have to start by saying, though, that I think the issue I was raising has become a little muddled with time and analogy; understandably so, but muddled just the same.

This wasn’t about human free will. I find that topic fascinating, and I will respond to what you’ve said, but, first, I want to refocus here and emphasize what the issue was.

This was a discussion about diabolic forces being allowed to act upon humanity. If Satan is truly active in the world, as Catholic doctrine would argue he is, the argument of free will cannot really be made for him, can it? The Architect of Malice cannot be said to be a beneficiary of that same liberty; judgment has been passed, sentence made. His prison has been prepared; its walls raised, its bars set. The key to such a jail rests entirely in the hands of the Almighty.

Hence, while you are making arguments about free will for humans, such arguments cannot be raised for diabolic influences. Malefic powers have no place in that equation, since their choice has already been made, their punishment levied, and any access to our world is solely at the discretion of God. Otherwise, the prison of Hell would be no prison at all.

This is in keeping with the Catechism, as I brought up initially: Any action Satan takes is expressly with God’s permission. Unlike human beings, who exist amongst each other and interact with one another naturally, the unholy princes of the Pit have no such special place to argue for freedom.

So, even if we were to otherwise completely agree on the matter of human free will, I would answer that diabolic powers and wicked spirits still act only and solely at the discretion of the divine.

Now… With that out of the way…

I have to start by saying that I don’t believe in libertarian free will. I don’t think this belief relies solely on materialism (though it is bolstered by it), as is evidenced by plenty of religious authors recognizing that divine omniscience naturally requires predestination, culminating in Calvin’s writings (whom, as I believe I’ve said already, I find clear-sighted on this point but essentially on this point only).

By way of simple proof:

1. Either a given effect is determined by a cause or set of causes, or it is stochastically random. That is, if something happens, it is either caused to happen by something else, or it arises entirely and unpredictably at random, regardless of prior events.

(This is not purely binary; an effect could theoretically have some non-random and some random causes, but the point is that a given individual cause must either be one or the other.)

2. If an effect is the result of random causes, it cannot be said to meaningfully arise from any intent or choice; it is random and is not occurring in relation to anything else, including any theoretical actor’s decision-making.

3. If it is the result of a set of causes, any time those exact same circumstances occur, the same result will follow. That is, if you rewound time, the exact same situation would always recur. In such a case, it is impossible for any actor to change what they would do, because they will always do what they’d do in that specific set of circumstances. While even small variations might change the outcome, an identical set will not.

Hence, the idea that people have free will – that we can be anything but products of causal chains – is not logically sound.

But… For the sake of argument, let’s set even that aside.

I still think it’d be reasonable to argue that free will is not a sufficient answer to the problem of evil within this theological framework, and the evidence of that answer likes in the idea of the World to Come.

It is said that, in the World to Come, there will be no sin, for the Law will be written on the hearts of all its inhabitants. This can be interpreted in one of two ways.

First, humans will exist in some state where they have free will but will somehow be sinless. If that is the case, free will is not incompatible with sinlessness and the problem of evil persists. Evil could be eliminated while retaining free will.

The other way to interpret it is that humans will no longer have free will, but instead be eternally bound to a morally positive state.

Myself, I don’t find terror in either of these situations. Either of them is better than what currently exists. If the price of everyone loving one another is people being unable to choose *not* to love one another… I can’t call that a negative. There are plenty of ways humanity’s will is currently limited already – we can’t fly just by wishing it, or banish undesired emotions, say – so I find no particular problem in accepting some limitations to banish others. It’s just a question of what those limitations are, whom they’re imposed by, etc.

But even if we grant that

You bring up mentions of some of humanity’s worst atrocities, and say that they happened as a result of inaction on the part of good people, and I agree. In doing so, though, you set the very standard you’re trying to deny: That inaction is tantamount to tacit acceptance. As you ay, the world had every opportunity to prevent it, refused, and so was complicit (and I would count Churchill amongst the complicit, for his refusal to put a stop to the march of fascism in Spain by supporting the opposition there, but he saw it as too valuable a buffer against communism). Yet one person’s inaction does not excuse another’s. If we are, at the last judgment, to be held accountable for our own sins, with “But my brother-” never been allowed as an excuse, then surely the standard is the same.

If we hold the Great Powers of Europe responsible for their refusal to stand up and do the right thing, the same standard must surely apply to the Almighty. If inaction is culpability, then so much more the culpability of the most powerful. If we hold tiny mortals, with all their mortal fears and pains to suffer if they choose to risk everything they love in service of the common good, how much more heavy must the moral debt be on one unimpeachably mighty enough to do the job with no threat, no fear, no exhaustion?

I think you might offer a fair answer, for the record, about divine perspective. Perhaps our suffering means little to God; the depths of our agonies and miseries little more than children crying over a scraped knee in the perspective of a being who has seen stars be born and die. I think I could empathize with such a being and, if I stood before it and it acknowledged as such, admit it a benign flaw in the face of the cosmic good it provides.

But it’s still a flaw, and posits a God whose mind is alien to our own; who cannot understand our suffering and pain, and does not think it worthwhile to find a way around it. If we suffer, so what? It builds character. It posits a God who is not quite all-knowing or, if not that, not quite as perfectly compassionate.

I’ll conclude by saying that, once upon a time, I thought the same thing about atheism but, honestly, after ending up in that pool myself, my perspective’s only grown more compassionate? I don’t attribute that to atheism, mind, just… Getting older. I was a very dumb when I was younger, as young people tend to be (and have a right to be), and I am sure I will think myself just as dumb in ten years. Life’s like that.

The truth is… Reality’s awful sometimes. Bad people often do bad things and get away with it, and that’s miserable. But it’s not an excuse not to care, or to try.

I still care about other human beings. I still care about beauty and joy and happiness, and easing pain. I don’t have an objective reason for caring about any of those things, I just do, and those who do not will likely never agree with me on things and there’s nothing I can do to change that. There are things I take on faith still – that humans are, overall, basically good; that things will, on average, keep improving; that people can, through collective action, overcome their failings and improve the world for everyone; that compassion and love are worthwhile, and should be extended at every opportunity – and I don’t feel a particular need to seek objective justification for them, because I don’t think there is any.

There are not atoms of agape or molecules of mercy, but we can still make love real with our kindness and our actions. Maybe it seems dull or boring to an outsider but… They feel the same to me as they do to you. If nothing else, we can agree that compassion is a good thing and build common ground from there.

If you want me to review the rest of your works before commenting further, I’ll happily do so.

Cheers.

I don’t see how Satan and the demons are any different than human beings in this regard. They rebelled and were allowed to wreak havoc. Again, it’s God’s permissive will but not His perfect will. You appear to not make that distinction (which would collapse everything into God’s perfect will). You say they were judged. They were by being kicked out of heaven and out of the ranks of the obedient angels, but they have yet to be finally judged. Their judgment is inevitable because they made their choice against God.

The devil is not yet in hell, according to biblical and Christian theology. He will be sent there at the time of the general judgment / Second Coming (Rev 19:20; 20:10). The Bible, in both Job and Revelation, shows Satan being allowed to do evil, but not totally. He is partially constrained, and he (and demons) can be resisted by human beings:

Job 1:12 (RSV) And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only upon himself do not put forth your hand.”

Job 2:6 And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your power; only spare his life.”

Job 42:10, 12 And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job, . . . [12] And the LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning . . .

Matthew 10:8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.

Mark 3:14-15 And he appointed twelve, to be with him, and to be sent out to preach [15] and have authority to cast out demons:

Mark 6:12-13 So they went out and preached that men should repent. [13] And they cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many that were sick and healed them.

Mark 16:17 And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons . . .

Luke 10:17-20 The seventy returned with joy, saying, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” [18] And he said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. [19] Behold, I have given you authority to tread upon serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy; and nothing shall hurt you. [20] Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you; but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

James 4:7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.

Revelation 20:1-3, 7-10 Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding in his hand the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain. [2] And he seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years, [3] and threw him into the pit, and shut it and sealed it over him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years were ended. After that he must be loosed for a little while. . . . [7] And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be loosed from his prison [8] and will come out to deceive the nations which are at the four corners of the earth, that is, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. [9] And they marched up over the broad earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city; but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, [10] and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulphur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.Any action Satan takes is expressly with God’s permission.

Of course, just as is any action we take. You used exactly the right word: permission; as opposed to His perfect will. Catholic (and most Protestant) doctrine holds that human beings can do absolutely no good thing whatsoever without the prior enabling power of God’s grace. So in that sense, He makes possible all our actions. At the same time we freely cooperate with that grace, and so retain free will. It’s just that every good thing could not have been done without His grace.

The devil and his demons have no such grace, so that is the essential difference there. But they have freedom to tempt and cause evil to occur until Judgment Day, when they will lose even that. One might say they have a “suspended sentence.” :-)

I have to start by saying that I don’t believe in libertarian free will. I don’t think this belief relies solely on materialism (though it is bolstered by it), as is evidenced by plenty of religious authors recognizing that divine omniscience naturally requires predestination, culminating in Calvin’s writings (whom, as I believe I’ve said already, I find clear-sighted on this point but essentially on this point only).

Predestination is not incompatible with free will. Both are held together in a paradoxical relationship. It’s a very deep mystery and barely comprehensible by human minds, but this is mainstream Christian teaching. And how they go together, I explained above: we freely cooperate with God’s grace. It’s not “irresistible grace” (Calvin’s false teaching). And the damned aren’t predestined to hell for all eternity, with their own free will and choices having nothing to do with it (double predestination: another serious error).

My own soteriological view is Congruistic Molinism. It holds that God (being out of time and omniscient) takes onto account how we freely respond to His grace, in His decision to predestine the saved. Catholics do believe in predestination (it’s a dogma) — we have different schools of thought as to how that works — , but we don’t believe it’s inconsistent with free will, and we reject the predestination of the damned, coupled with a denial of their free will to choose heaven or hell. Calvinist doctrine makes God not only the author of evil, but an outright Evil Agent. It turns Him into something I would never choose to serve and worship. I understand that they don’t view it that way, but it is the inevitable logical reduction of their positions. And this is why I was always an Arminian as a Protestant.

I think, like most atheists, you are hyper-rational and can’t see the forest for the trees. You think free will is wiped out and can’t exist with an omniscient God Who predestines, and so you have been brought to despair and atheism. I don’t know your whole story but I know that “dichotomous / either/or” thinking is a central error in Protestantism. The idea of cooperation with God (or merit in Catholicism, when we do it the right way) is the solution to the perceived problem.

At any given point in life we have the prerogative to choose God or to rebel against Him. It’s not all foreordained: not every action we do. God knows what we will do, but it doesn’t follow that He caused everything we do (in the exclusionary sense that we have no causative influence). I always use the example of “knowing” that the sun will rise tomorrow. I don’t cause that at all, but I know with a very high degree of certainty that it will take place.

God ultimately caused it by bringing about the laws of physics, whereby the earth rotates and travels around the sun once a year. The earth secondarily caused this by continuing to rotate according to those laws (God need not “supervise” the laws of science every second). Foreknowledge is simply not the same as “micro-management causality / pan-causality” (to coin a phrase!). We really are free to choose for or against God; for good and not evil. At the same time, God already was the sole cause of a choice for good, through His grace.

God is like the Water Department. It sends me the water I need in my house. It sends the water to the faucet that goes into the hose to fill my backyard pool (where I will be today in a few hours). So one can always say that the Water Department was the cause of that water, for my own use. But we can also say that I caused it (secondary agent) to flow through the faucet by turning it on, and the hose also was a secondary agent, used to direct a bunch of water into my pool, or to my grass and flowers, or my car, as the case may be. Both things are true. The Bible clearly teaches this paradox in several passages:

Mark 16:20 (RSV) And they went forth and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by the signs that attended it. Amen.

1 Corinthians 3:8-9 He who plants and he who waters are equal, and each shall receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.

1 Corinthians 15:10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God which is with me. (cf. 15:58; Gal 5:6, 6:7-9)

Ephesians 2:10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Philippians 2:12-13 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. (cf. Titus 3:5-8)Hence, the idea that people have free will – that we can be anything but products of causal chains – is not logically sound.

This is untrue. One simply has to accept paradox and a “both/and” scenario of primary and secondary, or multiple / complex causation (which we see in life all around us), and to reject a linear, hyper-rationalistic either/or thinking. Chesterton said that the problem with a madman is not that he has no logic at all, but that he has nothing but logic.

First, humans will exist in some state where they have free will but will somehow be sinless. If that is the case, free will is not incompatible with sinlessness and the problem of evil persists. Evil could be eliminated while retaining free will.

Yes, that is true in heaven, because then we are no longer subject to original sin and the world, the flesh, and the devil. That’s the difference. Our free will choices are hampered by these opposing forces (and to see how subtle those are, read Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis). When we are finally redeemed, those forces are removed, so that we can freely always choose to do good and not sin, just as God does.

We could have done so all along, but we chose to rebel, and so God in effect had to “go to Plan B.” Plan B is a lot tougher road than God’s original Plan A would have been, because He has to work around all the evil and stupid choices we make as fallen human beings. But in the end we can be saved, if we will cease our rebellion and decide to follow Him.

If we hold the Great Powers of Europe responsible for their refusal to stand up and do the right thing, the same standard must surely apply to the Almighty.

That gets back to my earlier argument about God and human beings not being on the same plane. He creates us and lets us be truly free, which includes our choosing to rebel against Him, if that is our choice, just as any parent doesn’t say to their child, “you MUST love me!” He or she wants this to be a free, voluntary choice. Then it actually has meaning and depth.

So God created and then allowed us autonomy to do as we please. By the same token He created the universe and the laws of science, which now operate on their own, with minimal intervention from God. He does a miracles now and then, but it’s an exception. In my long paper that I linked to, I get into how God made scientific laws as they are and why He can’t (in a reasonable, predictable, uniformitarian universe) interfere with them every two seconds and do miracles all day long, one after another. I’ve expanded on that argument in other papers, in reply to atheist “demands” for massive miracles all the time from God, failing which they will get mad at Him as “unfair” and then deny His existence.

Perhaps our suffering means little to God; the depths of our agonies and miseries little more than children crying over a scraped knee in the perspective of a being who has seen stars be born and die.

This is not true at all, according to the biblical revelation. You’re talking about a so-called deist “god.” Jesus shows us how God cares about us. He stated:

Matthew 23:37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killing the prophets and stoning those who are sent to you! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!”

Revelation 3:20-21 Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if any one hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. [21] He who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I myself conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne.

Jesus suffered horribly and died. He didn’t remove Himself (as God) from the suffering we go through. He, too, endured it. That’s love, not indifference.

In the end, the joys of heaven make up for anything we go through.

Romans 8:18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.

This fact of a heavenly bliss that never ends changes everything. If you want to criticize Christianity, you have to take all of it into account, and a big part of it is the state of heavenly bliss for all eternity going forward.

It would be like accepting a deal of “if you are willing to endure a slight cut to your finger, I’ll give you an all-expenses-paid trip around the world for three months!” Who would refuse that deal? Heaven compared to our sufferings is infinitely more desirable than my weak analogy. It’s all a matter of perspective. You just have to believe it’s true. You have the opportunity to do just that, right now, as I share these things with you.

And this life isn’t all bad, either. I’ve gone through a lot of suffering in my life (my only brother and sister are both dead, etc.) but I am tremendously happy with my life, as a disciple of Jesus. He’s true to His word. There are many blessings before we get to heaven.

But it’s still a flaw, and posits a God whose mind is alien to our own; who cannot understand our suffering and pain, and does not think it worthwhile to find a way around it. If we suffer, so what? It builds character. It posits a God who is not quite all-knowing or, if not that, not quite as perfectly compassionate.

But He did find a way around it; we just don’t like it, because it’s not perfect bliss. He gave us a way through grace to have joy through suffering, and to have the greatest meaning in our lives. And once we pass this “test” of obedience and allegiance, then we are rewarded with heaven. You seem to think that’s not a worthwhile “transaction.” I think it is the greatest conceivable reward and ultimate solution to our suffering on earth.

But atheism offers . . . nothing . . . no ultimate meaning to life, no solid reason why anyone should even seek to be good and do good; no enduring existence that lasts forever. You yourself freely admit this (you are consistent):

I still care about beauty and joy and happiness, and easing pain. I don’t have an objective reason for caring about any of those things, I just do, . . . I don’t feel a particular need to seek objective justification for them, because I don’t think there is any.

You say: “humans are, overall, basically good.” This drastically undercuts the argument from evil, which always super-emphasizes all the wicked things human beings do to each other. You have to explain why all these bad things keep happening: how human beings commit such horrible evils if in fact they are “basically good”??!!! You have to make out that it’s all conditioning and education and being sheep or what not. But it’s much deeper than that.

I say that only Christianity’s doctrine of human beings capable of both great good and the most depraved evil, explains the actual course of human history. And so the Nazi Holocaust happened because a bunch of people followed their basest evil instincts and went wild with it (the mass genocide of helpless children in the womb is an even worse manifestation of this evil). But the Nazis were defeated because people also had enough good in them and enough of God’s grace to defeat this massive societal evil.

In atheism, we all die and cease to exist: the good and the evil alike. There is no ultimate justice or “cosmic justice.” That’s what atheism offers. Thank God atheism isn’t true. But the despair and futility you think you see in Christianity is actually in your system of belief. That’s what you have to grapple with: how to come to terms with that dreadful reality of a godless, meaningless, horrific, dark, bleak universe. You want to do good (I believe) you because you still have the “fumes” of Christianity and enough grace in you to still desire it. If God didn’t exist, you wouldn’t have these impulses to do good and to love; to care about other human beings.

If there is no God (as you either believe or suspect), then just forget about “Him” (i.e., that issue). Let Christians go on with their “delusions” and “fantasies.” Your problem is how to create some inadequate partial meaning without a God or ultimate purpose.

So that is the Christian counter-reply: God offers heaven as His ultimate solution to our suffering. He offers grace and the power and ability to have great joy and happiness in this life, even alongside great suffering. It all has a purpose. You have no reason or purpose in atheism. You freely admitted it. I didn’t even have to make the argument I am making. You grant and concede it (and you are correct!).

And I think that should give you pause and reconsider just which worldview is 1) true, and 2) offers joy and happiness and meaning. The true illusion or delusion or fantasy is an atheist world in which we somehow work up the gumption for life to have “meaning” even though we know down deep that it has none. That’s not reality. That is pretending that reality is not what it is (granting the premise of atheism), and going on in life as if there is indeed meaning (a la existentialism).

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Photo credit: Matryx (4-19-20) [PixabayPixabay License]

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Summary: Excellent, substantive dialogue with a friendly, non-insulting agnostic on the problem of evil: that thorniest of issues; with my retort regarding the corresponding atheist “problem of good.”

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