I Reject Christianity Because It’s Not True, Part II
The second objection posed to Anderson is the problem of evil:
In his Pulitzer Prize-winning play J.B., Archibald MacLeish nails it when his character Nickles declares: "If God is God, he is not good; if God is good, he is not God." How can you believe in a God who would allow so much senseless evil and suffering in the world?
Nickles gets it exactly backwards. God is by nature good; if God isn't good, he isn't really God. Or to be more precise: if there's no good God, there's no God at all.
I agree that there's horrific evil and suffering in the world, which can strain our faith in God to the limits, but as a Christian I have to reject the assumption that it's senseless. It may appear senseless to us, but we don't have God's comprehensive perspective on events.
Recall Anderson’s point from Part I that “everyone has their own perspective on the truth, but it doesn't follow that all perspectives are equally valid or valuable.” Of course, if the Christian god is merely imaginary, then really we’re dealing with the perspective of the believer himself. After all, we learn about the Christian god from other human beings, not from the god itself. Unlike Saul the persecutor, we do not get a personal visit from the risen Jesus knocking us to the ground in a glorious explosion of light. (The late D. James Kennedy said that this omnipotent Jesus could not do this for everyone; see here.) Rather, we learn about the Christian god, its nature, its demands on our lives and income, etc., from other human beings, people James Anderson, who have promoted themselves to the world as mouthpieces for a god for which we still have no alternative but to imagine.
So Anderson rejects the view that the evil in the world is senseless. Another word for ‘senseless’ is “pointless.” And according to The Free Dictionary, antonyms for ‘senseless’ include “wise, sensible, rational, useful, reasonable, intelligent, valid, worthwhile, meaningful.” So apparently Anderson wants to think of the evil in the world as having any or all of these antonymous qualities to senselessness.
So just to be clear: when Andrea Yates murders her five children, or Tim McVeigh blows up the Fred P. Murrah Building, or when Al Qaeda terrorists hijack airlines and fly them into the World Trade Center and the Pentegon, when a college student kills 32 people at Virginia Tech, or when an abortion doctor removes an unborn child from its mother’s womb and disposes of it in the waste basket, none of this, on Anderson’s view, is “senseless.” Hitler’s death squads throwing Jews into gas chambers is not “senseless,” according to Anderson. On the contrary, Anderson says that these things are only “apparently senseless” (just as the doctrine of “the Trinity” is only “apparently contradictory”). And this all boils ultimately down to Anderson’s own perspective on this – for him, it’s only “apparently senseless,” not really senseless. In fact, according to Anderson, since “we don’t have God’s comprehensive perspective on events,” we don’t see the bigger picture and thus are deprived of the perspective that allows us to see how wonderfully glorious these acts of evil are.
Of course, if actions are not senseless, if they are "wise," "sensible," "rational," "useful," "reasonable," "intelligent," "valid," "worthwhile," and/or "meaningful," why oppose them in the first place? Why would they be contrary to what we normally consider good?
If there is an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God, then he must have good reasons for permitting the evil and suffering that exists [sic]—whether or not we ourselves can discern those reasons. The Bible gives us some insight into God's reasons for permitting evil and suffering, even if it doesn't answer all our questions.
Consider what the concept ‘good’ must mean as Christianity informs it, to say that the (unidentified) “reasons for permitting the evil and suffering that exists” are “good reasons,” as Anderson baldly asserts. Such a concept could not be so distinguished from evil as to imply any opposition or incompatibility between the two. In Christianity, good and evil can co-exist. Accordingly, the good can tolerate the evil, the good can accommodate the evil, and as the gospel story of Jesus’ sacrifice clearly models, the good can appease the evil by sacrificing itself to the evil.
This is what happens when concepts are divorced from facts that we discover in the world by looking outward - i.e., when concepts are divorced from objective content and are instead contrived deliberately in allegiance to some imagined paradigm. In religion, looking inward and consulting one’s own imagination, wishing and emotions hold epistemological primacy over looking outward at the facts we discover in the world through perception. The history of philosophy, taking a sharp turn for the worst with Kant, is full of examples of what Rand called rationalism - i.e., deduction without reference to reality. Observe for example the impact that Kant has had on physics (I refer readers to Jan Irvin’s interview with David Harriman (Part 2) for some mind-blowing insight on this point particularly).
This is not a caricature of Christianity. We saw in my previous installment that, for the believer “truth fundamentally is whatever conforms to the mind of God” (Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 163). How can one know what “conforms to the mind of God”? We do not find a god when we look outward at reality and examine the facts we discover there. On the contrary, we would have to look inward and consider what we imagine this god to be and what its mind supposedly contains. As one Christian apologist put it,
We conceive of how reality must be in light of how God is (in cases where the Bible doesn’t describe how a certain part of reality is. It’s all systematic in nature, which is appropriate for a worldview.).(Details on this can be found here)
Additionally we are told (Greg Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 165n.33) that
In God’s thinking, there are not facts that are newly discovered or contingent (or, as Van Til sometimes put it earlier in his career, God’s knowledge is exclusively analytical, not synthetical). This is because God is the Creator of all facts, and the facts are what they are in terms of God’s sovereign plan; thus, to know something “outside” Himself, God need only “analyze” or consult His own mind.
On this view, truth is not based on facts which obtain independently of consciousness. On the Christian view, there is no such thing as a fact which obtains independently of consciousness to begin with. As James White puts it, “Any fact, that is a fact, is a fact because God made it that way” (The Dividing Line Broadcast aomin.org, quoted in The Portable Presuppositionalist, p. 215). Van Til concurs with this analysis (Introduction to Systematic Theology, 10, 236; quoted in Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 230n.165):
God is completely self-comprehensive. God is absolute rationality. He was and is the only self-contained whole, the system of absolute truth. God’s knowledge is, therefore, exclusively analytic, that is, self-dependent. There never were any facts existing independent of God which he had to investigate.
objectivity in the Christian worldview is not a matter of having no presuppositions… but a matter of having the right presuppositions – that is, having the divine point of view gained through revelation.
It is impossible and useless to seek to vindicate Christianity as a historical religion by a discussion of the facts only.
All men do their thining on the basis of a position accepted by faith.
The final point of reference in all predication must ultimately rest in some mind, divine or human.
So according to Christianity, instead of looking outward at the world and going by the facts that we discover in it, we are to look inward and consult our imaginations, our feelings, our wishes, perhaps even our dreams (!) in order to gain “the divine point of view… through revelation.” (Of course, appealing to “revelation” is insurmountably problematic, as I demonstrate in my blog The Futility of the Apologetic Appeal to “Revelation”.)
The result of all this mess is to divorce concepts from reality and force them to serve an imaginary construct in place of reality, giving us the horrid nightmare we find in Christianity: a man can open fire on a university campus, killing himself along with 32 other individuals, and this is ultimately deemed “good” since “God has a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists” and the “reasons” it is said to have “for permitting the evil and suffering that exists” are said to be “good reasons.”
When it is affirmed on top of this that “God controls whatsoever comes to pass” (Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 160), or as Bahnsen confirms this when he writes ( Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings & Analysis, p. 489n.44):
God controls all events and outcomes (even those that come about by human choice and activity).
In the Christian’s hands, then, the concept ‘good’ becomes an anti-concept. Ayn Rand explains what an anti-concept is as follows (“Credibility and Polarization,” The Ayn Rand Letter, I, 1, 1):
An anti-concept is an unnecessary and rationally unusable term designed to replace and obliterate some legitimate concept. The use of anti-concepts gives the listeners a sense of approximate understanding. But in the realm of cognition, nothing is as bad as the approximate.
Also, by saying that their god has “a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists,” Christians are in effect saying that their god does not have a morally sufficient reason to oppose and destroy all evil, or to have prevented all evil in the first place. Wouldn’t an “all-good God” that is both omniscient and omnipotent be able to cook up some “good reasons” to take a firm and unflinching stand against evil? Well, since it is their god and their imaginations are ultimately what determines its god’s perspective on things, we have to take their word for it. In the end, their worship of such a being tells us something about their character as human beings.
But there’s still more. Anderson premise his notion of “good reasons for permitting the evil and suffering that exists” on the notion of an “an all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful God.” What does it mean, then, to say that this god is “good”? John Frame provides us with an answer here (“Divine Aseity and Apologetics,” Revelation and Reason: New Essays in Reformed Apologetics, p. 116):
God’s goodness is not a standard above him, to which he conforms. Rather, his goodness is everything he is and does.
Thus the assertion that the Christian god’s “goodness is everything he is and does,” coupled with the view that “God controls whatsoever comes to pass,” can only mean that, in the final analysis, there is no distinction between good and evil to begin with. Thus the destruction of moral concepts such as ‘good’ and ‘evil’ (along with others, such as ‘culpability’, ‘responsibility’, etc.) is accomplished in full given the doctrinal commitments which Christians find themselves needing to affirm in defense of their god-belief. They say their god is a “personal being.” But what could be more impersonal than a being which is said to have “good reasons for permitting the evil and suffering that exists”? What could be more impersonal than a worldview which so effectively erases the distinction between good and evil?
Anderson actually thinks the problem of evil points to the existence of a god which has “good reasons for permitting the evil and suffering that exists.” He writes:
In the end, the reality of evil and suffering actually reinforces my belief in God, for if there were no God there would be no ultimate basis for distinguishing between good and evil.
So it is not the Objectivist worldview, for example, that is blurring the distinction between good and evil. Objectivism has the moral code of life which teaches us to distinguish between that which is pro-life and that which is anti-life. And that which is anti-life is never good; and that which is pro-life is not anti-life. On an objective - i.e, fact-based - understanding of good, there can be no such thing as a “good reason… for permitting the evil and suffering that exists,” just as on an objective understanding of morality, there can be no such thing as “a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists.” Morality is governing choices according to rationally determined values. Evil is that which threatens and/or destroys values. The notion of “a morally sufficient reason for the evil which exists” would mean a morally sufficient reason to destroy that which morality is all about protecting. Similarly the notion of a “good reason” for “permitting evil” would mean a “good reason” for destroying the good. Both are self-destructive notions, and yet they’re the best that Christians can produce in reaction to the problem of evil. I’m glad these aren’t my problems!
The alternative to the moral code of life is some form of the code of death; for example, one which says that a god which directs all of human history according to some inscrutable “plan” has “good reasons for permitting the evil and suffering that exists” and ultimately calls all evil acts “good” since they were planned by an “all-good” god all along.
Does Anderson offer an argument for his claim that “if there were no God there would be no ultimate basis for distinguishing between good and evil”? No, he only issues questions:
How could anything be literally evil in a godless, purposeless, ultimately meaningless universe? If humans are just one of the many accidental products of mindless natural processes, why would our experiences have any special significance?
Anderson concludes the section with the following:
The universe neither knows nor cares—but God does.
It doesn’t stop there. Even though we’re told that the Christian god “cares,” it would still be fully justified in snuffing out your life in an instant by any means it desires, since according to this caring worldview, you were conceived in sin and judged a “sinner” long before you were even conceived. It is so “caring” that it did not stop the “curse” of sin and death before you were conceived. It is so “caring” that it allowed the “curse” of sin and death to afflict the human race to begin with. It is so “caring” that it planned that the”curse” of sin and death would infect the entire human race from the very beginning. It “cared” so much that, instead of coming down and showing itself to Noah’s contemporaries, and teaching them in a loving, parental manner, it chose to drown them all in a sudden, violent, worldwide flood that wiped them all out. Now, between a “universe that neither knows nor cares” and the Christian god that “cares” in this fashion, what exactly is the difference? Surely, we can imagine that this “caring” god will one day vanquish evil, but so long as it is a “good” god, given Christianity’s mangled notion of “good,” on what basis, even within Christianity, can one entertain the notion that it will not always have “good reasons for permitting the evil and suffering that exists”?
Christian apologists have invented this theodicy – i.e., the claim that the Christian god has “good reasons for permitting the evil and suffering that exists” – since previous attempts to resolve the problem of evil were themselves theologically problematic (e.g., they denied the Christian god’s “all-goodness,” its omnipotence, or some other attribute which Christians ascribe to their god that they do not want to give up). But as can be seen here, the theodicy which Anderson champions only serves in destroying the distinction between good and evil and consequently the Christian worldview cannot distinguish the god its believers imagine from an evil god or a god which is simply willing to compromise good with evil. These problems are not the creation of non-believers. On the contrary, they are the result of attempting to build a worldview on a fantasy that has no basis in reality, to affirm as “truths” notions which have no basis in facts. This can only guarantee that such a worldview’s notions will have no relevance to reality. But notice how the problem of evil does arise when trying to cohere theism with facts that we cannot avoid in reality, such as the fact that there is indeed evil in the world. So there’s evil in the world, and yet Christians imagine that the world was created by an all-good, all-powerful god. These are the points which typically figure in apologetic attempts to unravel the problem of evil.
But they seem to have forgotten one, namely the claim that the Christian god is also perfect. Since their god is supposed to be a creator and also perfect, then the Christian god is supposed to be a perfect creator. A perfect creator would not create anything that is imperfect; if it created something that was imperfect, it could not be considered a perfect creator. And yet, the world is full of imperfections, evil among them. So how could one rightly say that the world was created by a perfect creator? The “logic” of apologetic attempts to deal with this problem will baffle any mind seeking non-contradictory answers. I refer readers to my blog Was Adam Created Perfect? for more discussion of this problem. Readers may also enjoy my own interaction with Greg Bahnsen’s attempt to resolve the problem of evil in my blog Greg Bahnsen on the Problem of Evil.
The conclusion here is inescapable: the predicament which Christianity finds itself in is irresolvable. The insistence that Christianity is true can only mean that something must go. Since Christians do not want to give up their fantasy-god, and since denying the fact that evil occurs in the world would be obviously nonsensical, Christians choose to sacrifice the concept of good by throwing it under the bus. Consequently the Christian worldview has no conceptual basis for any moral pronouncements.
by Dawson Bethrick