Ivan Karamazov has posed a difficult question to answer. It is a variation of the argument of the problem of evil (which is the one and only argument against theism, there are many arguments for theism).
This might be kind of cheesy, or it might be a throwback to the philosophers of old, or perhaps it is a cheap imitation of Colbert’s “Formidable Opponent,” but I want to explore this through the means of a made-up conversation. The first conversation, I hope, will reveal what I see as the issue with nearly all of the Christian answers I have heard in response to the problem of evil. The main issue being that they fail to get to the heart of Ivan’s question.
The second conversation will, I hope, reveal the approach that I believe to be best… so here it goes:
"Rebellion? I am sorry you call it that… one can hardly live in rebellion, and I want to live. Tell me yourself, I challenge you - answer. Imagine that you are creating a fabric of human destiny with the object of making men happy in the end, giving them peace and rest at last, but that it was essential and inevitable to torture to death only one tiny creature - that baby beating its breast with its fist, for instance - and to found that edifice on its unavenged tears, would you consent to be the architect on those conditions? Tell me, and tell the truth."
No, I wouldn’t consent. But you are distorting the story. God is bigger than we are, we simply cannot see the whole picture. The distance between my mind and His is greater than the distance between the mind of a flea and my mind. For He is infinite and I am finite. I am not sure why God would create a world in which even one baby must suffer and starve to death, but I am sure that He has a good reason. We don’t have to know the reason and we shouldn’t expect to be able to comprehend the reason.
How can you say that? Can you really believe that there is a good, all-powerful God who would cause even just one person to suffer for some sort of secret reason? What kind of “good” is that?
Well first-off I don’t think God “causes” evil.
Well is he not in control of all things?
He is, but He causes some things and allows others.
Call it what you like, but ultimately he must be responsible for everything whether you say “cause” or “allow.” He could choose to “not allow” but he does allow. If he is the only one that had a choice of whether or not to create a world in which evil would or could exist, then he is responsible. He could have made a world in which people only did good – a world in which there in no opportunity for evil.
But that would have eliminated free choice. He wants us to have free choice because He does not want a bunch of robots that do not have a choice to not love Him.
So, is the secret reason for why God allows suffering that he wants people to have free choice?
Yes, it could be. Don’t you see that the love of a robot is not as real as the love of a person? A person has the ability to love you or not love you, so that makes it all the more meaningful when a person chooses to love you. You cannot really love someone unless you have a choice. Freewill makes all the difference.
I have at least two problems with that. 1) It is inconsistent. Does God love himself? Does the Father love the Son? Does God love the world? Can He choose otherwise? Could God choose to hate Jesus and still be God? What sort of God could be both good and unloving? Can you really maintain that love is meaningful only if choice is present? If so, then human love is superior to divine love. Or else there is no God whose very nature is love. The argument that love must be freely chosen is not one that you should want to advocate. 2) Even if your position was not inconsistent with the rest of your Christian beliefs, I do not see how it is good or right for God to create a world in which a baby must suffer and die in order that he can feel more loved by people. Say I offer you a choice. You can choose to live your life in a house with robots that will have the semblance of loving you. Or, you could choose to live the rest of your life in a house with people that love you, but you must kill a little baby first. In what sense would it ever be right to choose the second option? To choose the second would be cruel, inhumane, unloving, and selfish. Yet, you tell me that God has done this on a much larger scale.
Well no, that is unfair. I am not sure that the reason God allowed evil and suffering is because of man’s freewill. Perhaps it was because He wanted to magnify His glory. Make His name great. If there was no rebellion there could be no Redeemer. If there was no suffering and pain there could be no Savior. We would never get to know God as such. And He is a beautiful Redeemer. Grace and mercy and love are the greatest of the divine attributes. We could not experience these things if there was not sin and suffering in the world.
But again, in what sense would it ever be right to choose these things at the expense of even one little baby?
Well, I don’t know. Maybe it is for none of those reasons that He created a world in which there would one day be evil. The real trouble here is that we are just so finite and cannot understand His ways. Really we don’t have to know. Consider your argument:
1) Any being who is good will prevent evil as best as possible
2) An omnipotent being can do anything
3) If God exists, he would be completely good and omnipotent
4) Evil exists
5) So, God does not exist
Sounds reasonable. But the problem disappears if you add just one phrase to the first premise so that it states that “any being who is good will prevent evil as best as possible unless there is a morally sufficient reason to do otherwise.”
We don’t have to know what the morally sufficient reason is. We just have to know that there is one. That one phrase, “morally sufficient reason,” takes care of the whole logical problem of evil. You can guess any number of things as to what the reason might be, but in the end you just have to know that there is, or at least could be, a morally sufficient reason. So there you have it.
I think that we are back to where we started. Tell me this: what reason could possibly be sufficient to make it alright to allow a little child to be starved and killed? Perhaps you are willing to say that it is alright because you have a distorted conscience. Perhaps you are mad. What sort of moral code allows for the death of an innocent so that some greater good might be accomplished? The idea that the end justifies the means has allowed for all sorts of atrocities throughout history and any decent man sees that such a stance is morally reprehensible. Your answer has done nothing to answer my question. It has simply shown that you hold your god to a low moral standard.
[To be continued…]