Monday, September 2, 2019

Challenge to Christianity: The Problem of Evil

Usually when scientists do multiple experiments to test a theory or model, there will be some experiments that seem to be just a little bit outside of the model predictions. There are almost always a few experiments that are in slight conflict or contradiction to the expectations, even when the model is otherwise well established as being accurate. In science these outlying experiments are often simply due to the nature of statistical analysis. For instance, one out of ten experiments is expected to be about three standard deviations from the average. Sometimes an outlier occurs because the measurement is not very accurate, so it appears to be far from the average but is still sensible given the uncertainty. Sometimes we don't have enough data to make definitive conclusions. In any case, it is important to evaluate if contradictory measurements have reasonable explanations or if they are a real problem for the model being tested.

This is the fourth blog post in which I am applying some of the same criteria that scientists use to test whether or not a theory is true to the claims of biblical Christianity in order to gain insight into whether or not Christianity has objective credibility. The first three questions that have been addressed were, (1) Is the data logically self-consistent?, (2) Is there enough evidence to support the hypothesis?, and (3) Is the hypothesis compatible with other known data? In this post we ask the question (4) Is contradictory evidence conclusive? Nothing is known to 100% accuracy, and every theory or model has some evidence that may appear to contradict the theory, those outlying experiments. But an idea that is valid will have reasonable explanations for those deviations so that the model remains credible.

One of the major challenges to Christianity is the problem of evil and suffering: how could a good and omnipotent God allow evil and suffering? I believe this may be the hardest philosophical question to answer, not just from a Christian worldview, but from any worldview.

For instance, in an atheistic worldview there is no objective standard of what is good or evil, right or wrong, so there is a huge problem of evil because evil is subjective. For example, is morality determined by what the majority thinks is right or wrong? If so, then the Nazi holocaust or American slavery were not evil since the majority in that culture approved of those actions. Is morality determined by what is important for our species to survive and to have a civil society? Atheists will often claim that something like that is the basis for morality. But what makes us special and why is our survival or a civil society even important? The world and the universe could get along just fine without humans. We could have true survival of the fittest without a civil society. The only logical position is to conclude that if there is no outside objective moral standard then there is no good or evil. However, I think most people would contend that certain things are right and wrong. Raping children is wrong. Murder is wrong. Within an atheistic worldview, those things become only preferences. Atheism has a much bigger challenge with the problem of evil than does Christianity.

The Christian answer to the problem of evil and suffering is partly that God chose to give humans a meaningful will and the ability to make choices. This may have been because God is love and there is no such thing as forced love. Love requires the ability to make personal choices and to give others the same freedom. Much of the evil and suffering we experience is a result of human choices and human vices, such as greed and selfishness. Humans have chosen, in general, to reject God and their rejection and subsequent sin is arguably the source of most of the evil and suffering in the world. Even the devastation from many natural disasters is often more the result of human choices, rather than the disaster itself. Flooding from storm surges and damage from earthquakes could be significantly mitigated by making wise choices about where and how to build. Tectonic activity and tidal surges are actually necessary components of a planet that can support higher life forms. Consequently, some natural disasters like earthquakes are needed for our existence and the devastation from them is more a result of human choice than of the earthquake itself.

Still, we do know that the innocent suffer. Children contract cancer and die. Good people experience hardship and suffering that seems undeserved. These things often cause our hearts to break and to wonder if a good God exists, and if so, why doesn't he do something about this suffering. Again, the Christian worldview has an answer to these questions. Such suffering also causes God's heart to break and he has done something about it. Christian doctrine declares that the reason Jesus came to earth, died, and rose from the dead is to take care of the consequences of human rebellion and to ultimately take care of the problem of evil. Christian doctrine says that currently God is patient and loving, calling people to repent, to come to him, and to be adopted as children into his family. The Bible states that God will one day create a new heaven and earth in which there is no pain, suffering, or evil, and that the current delay in that coming is an act of kindness as God invites people into his family. The Christian worldview stands unique among the world's religions in its claim that God cares so much about evil and suffering that he has ultimately paid a high price to alleviate it and that one day it will truly be wiped away.

The Bible also says that we can't see the whole big picture, but that God does. At times, parents will make certain decisions that may seem incomprehensible to their children, but serve a larger purpose that the children don't understand. I believe that there is more to the story of pain and suffering from God's perspective that we cannot see, but will one day be revealed to us.

Does the Christian response to the problem of evil give a completely satisfactory explanation that answers all questions and assuages all emotion? For me, not totally. But I do think it answers the questions better than any other worldview. Evil and suffering are real and objective. God gave people the choice to love him and their fellow humans or not. Human choices and rebellion against God are responsible for much of the pain and suffering we endure. God cares deeply about pain and suffering and paid a great price to ultimately remove them completely. God's perspective is much different and broader than ours and one day some mysteries will be revealed to us. I think these answers provide a reasonable solution to the problem of evil. I think they provide a satisfactory explanation to one of the major criticisms and "contradictory evidence" about Christianity. They make the problem of evil a data point that is an outlier but is within the realm of viability, supporting the proposition that Christianity is true.

1 comment:

  1. Excellent and timely for me since Mark Burget's Wednesday men's study is focused around the apologetic, "I'm Glad You Asked Me' and one question is the problem of pain and suffering. One aspect of the "outlier" is that mankind is so rebellious, flawed and corrupt that God has permitted us to act out our condition bringing about the full spectrum of painful and evil outcomes. Often the experiences drive us to total dependence on God and come to full relationship through faith in Jesus and his provision.

    Biblically even Job, the most upright man of his age, was severely tested with God's will permitting
    disease, destruction of family, loss of wealth, betrayal by friends and spouse. To what end... Job's faith and understanding was greatly enhanced, his friends were chastened and theologically corrected and all readers of the text may benefit from his story.

    Thanks for your clear presentation of the issue and the answer.