3: False Argument 1: “God can't exist because there is suffering”
Have you heard this one? The general logical structure of the argument is:
1) God is “all good” and “all powerful”
2) We see lots of suffering in the world
3) God does not exist.
The fatal flaw, if we treat this as a logical argument, is that line 1) is a false statement of God's character in relation to line 2) So the conclusion line 3) is false.
Of course as a piece of lying propaganda it is quite effective. But let's rise above propaganda and look for truth.
To say God is “all powerful” without qualification, particularly applied to the state of this world is false.
1. There are things God cannot do. Obviously not the logically contradictory like making a square triangle, but I mean even things even we humans can and frequently do do.
God says he can never tell a lie. God says he can never break a promise. So God's power is inseparable from his perfect moral character. Which is why the “absolute power corrupts absolutely” saying which is so true of humans is not true of God – his moral character is incorruptible!
However within the limits of logical possibility and God's own character, he is never prevented from doing anything he chooses to do by lack of power.
2. God's power in relation to observed suffering in the world.
Split suffering into two types: Man made; and Natural.
Man made suffering is the result of human decisions. Some are decisions to do evil things, some are bad decisions based on incomplete information about the universe, some are negligent or just plain careless decisions.
How would you have God exert his power to eliminate all these? The only logical way would be to remove human freedom of choice: to make us robots rather than free spirits.
This God will not do. He will not take away our basic freedom.
He made us as moral beings: we must take responsibility for our own moral choices, even though some of those choices will cause suffering.
He gave us creativity: we get to invent, dream, plan, even though this involves us making choices and some of these choices will cause suffering. Human authors can choose to write a book like “Uncle Tom's Cabin” that helps abolish slavery, or one like “Mien Kampf” which helps cause the deaths of millions of people.
Lastly, but perhaps most profoundly, God created us humans to enjoy a friendship with him as free beings. We get to chose whether to love him or to reject his friendship. That is a sine qua non of friendship between free beings.
For very good reasons God will not make us robots or mindless slaves, or even make us give him the pre-programmed love exhibited by our pet dog. He wants humans who love him freely.
Natural suffering is a bit more problematic. Personally I have no difficulty accepting the current scientific explanation of how the universe, this planet, and life on earth developed. The question science can never answer is why. The real “why” is because God said: “Let there be ...”.
Modern scientific theory looks for the “how” but can only see the effects after God had set the ball rolling so to speak. That scientists find compelling evidence that things developed over many millions of years does not cause me any problem.
I would think it quite consistent with what we know of God that he might start with the scientists' postulated “big Bang” then let things develop over billions of years according to the processes that we call natural laws, which he had built in to the system. I realise that many devout Christians believe otherwise, but since I am making this argument, I will do it for the scenario I believe most likely.
On my view, that science is probably right about how the planet evolved into a habitable biosphere, we see that God set up the system pretty effectively. It works.
So you don't like earthquakes and tsunami's. True, but are they not unavoidable consequences of the earth's basic geology? Of course when we do unwise things like building cities over geological fault lines part of the suffering is due to human choices again.
So we don't like droughts and floods. That's being a bit picky isn't it? We have a natural system that keeps large areas of the earth supplied with life giving water, the variations are part and parcel of that system. Then again, the floods that we find destroy things we have made, were for ages the very mechanism that kept valley soils in places like the Nile fertile and so allowed human civilisation to develop. So the same events can be good or bad for humans depending on what we are trying to do. Again at least some part of the problem comes back to unwise human choices that ignore the fact of drought and flood.
For instance one Australian pastoralist in (I think) the late 1800's noted that after a run of good years there was always a drought. So he limited his stocking levels to what the land could carry in a drought. So while his neighbours who stocked for the good years had cattle die in the inevitable drought his all survived.
You see my point: God set up a universe that in time developed a habitable biosphere on Earth. The human race has certainly survived and developed in it. Lots of humans (as well as animals) live in it. I'd call that a success!
Evolution seems to have been a stunning success. It is rough on the individual though. It does involve a lot of suffering. Being eaten by the next predator up the food chain is not very nice. But as a means of keeping the system in balance, and as part of facilitating “the survival of the fittest” it works.
Evolution, survival of the fittest, and self balancing systems dependant on a 'food chain of animals preying on and eating other animals evidently work. So you don't like the suffering inherent in this system. Have you got a better idea? Actually God has, its called heaven! But for now let's stick to this world. Can you justly criticise God if he used this system to bring about life as we know it on earth?
Before you say “Yes we can!” consider this: the motor car. Most of us have one, they are very utile, they also increase the amount of suffering in the world.
Just think of the huge numbers of people who are killed or injured around the world in motor vehicle accidents. But we keep driving. Obviously, even if we don't say it out aloud, we think somehow the benefit outweighs the suffering. Well, maybe God wanted a planet with plant and animal systems that ran themselves without him micro-managing them, and this was the best way to do it despite the fact that it caused suffering.
In Genesis he says this world is suited to its purpose and in that respect pronounces is “good”. But Genesis also describes in detail what flowed from the first human disobedience of God's commands. God would not micro-manage the natural order to make it function perfectly.
As a result of Humans disobeying God, nature had to limp along with self regulating and self balancing systems. So the cruelty of the food chain. So drought and flood, so earthquake and wild-fire. We cannot honestly “blame” God for not micro managing nature for our benefit when as humans we rejected him and his plans and chose to try to play the role of gods ourselves.
Of course this universe is not God's last word.
One purpose of the world, which it achieves despite our rejection of God's management of it, is this:
Producing people who choose to love God: people he will have live with him forever in heaven.
That might indeed be its main purpose. It certainly achieves that effectively regardless of the suffering caused by human choices or disease or natural disasters. The Bible, ever since the first human rebellion against God, has described this world as broken. God has promised the people who choose him that he plans for them to enjoy one “where there is no more crying or death or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
One day this planet will be destroyed. Those who have chosen to love God will get to inhabit a world which is managed to prevent suffering. Heaven, God's new creation is the real expression of his goodness and power.
NEXT WEEK : False Argument 2: God cannot exist because there is evil in the world.