“God: The Failed Hypothesis” Review: The Argument From Evil

Hello everyone and welcome back to Deeper Waters where we are diving into the ocean of truth! We’ve lately been going through a couple of books of Victor Stenger. Tonight, we’re going to continue our look at “God: The Failed Hypothesis” as we look at chapter 8, “The Argument From Evil.”

This is the most common argument given against God, and that is understandable, as we tend to think more emotionally than anything else. Stenger in describing this rightly calls the defense of God’s existence in the face of evil as theodicy. However, he then goes on to say:

So far, this attempt has proven unsatisfactory in the judgment of the majority of philosophers and other scholars who have not already committed themselves to God as an act of faith.

First obvious problem; Stenger gives no sources whatsoever for this claim. Who are these philosophers and scholars? Where can I read their writings? I don’t know. Stenger doesn’t tell.

Second, I thought this was about science. Interestingly, Stenger does not refer to scientists but to philosophers and scholars. Now some scholars could include scientists, but if this work is supposed to be about science, then shouldn’t we see arguments from scientists instead?

Third, his statement implies that if the non-believers are not convinced by the arguments of theodicy, then those arguments are not good. Okay. Believers are unconvinced by the arguments of unbelievers. Does it follow that those arguments are invalid? When you look at an argument, a valid appeal to authority can be done based on who believes or doesn’t believe an argument or why, but most important is the argument itself.

Fourth, he poisons the well by saying that some have committed themselves by an act of faith. Implicit in this would be his belief that faith is believing something without evidence. I believe in the existence of God based on evidence so that even if I don’t understand evil in the world, I understand there is primary evidence for God’s existence. For instance, because I might not be able to explain something like the Haitian earthquake, it does not follow that God did not raise Jesus from the dead. Those are separate questions. If God raised Jesus, Christianity is true and even if I can’t think of an answer to the question of the earthquake, I know there is one. Even if I knew of a good reason for the earthquake in reverse, it would not follow that God raised Jesus from the dead. When dealing with this argument, the burden is on the atheist as the one saying this is a defeater and he must prove that there is no good reason to allow an evil.

Stenger tells us that the argument from evil begins with an empirical fact. First, evil exists, which he defines as “bad stuff.”

Very good definition….

I wonder if I could define good as “good stuff.”

Second, he considers the existence of evil a scientific statement.

What is scientific about it? It is a philosophical statement, unless Stenger wants to posit evil as a material reality such as a property of matter or a way of describing relationships between matter qua matter. I agree that evil exists, but that is a metaphysical statement. It is not scientific.

Let’s look at the reasons he gives why people believe in God in the face of evil and how he responds. The first is that evil is a result of human free will. Stenger however says not all evil falls under this category and there is unnecessary suffering as a result of natural disasters.

Unnecessary? Really? Is Stenger going to demonstrate that there is no good reason to allow some suffering? Remember, the burden is on him to prove this. For a look at my answer to natural evil, I recommend this.

The second is that some suffering is necessary to help us develop. Some moral values exist only in response to suffering. Stenger’s answer is “This could be accomplished with a whole lot less suffering than exists in the world.”

To begin with, not all suffering is of this type. However, if Stenger wishes to have this as his viewpoint, then by all means, let’s see it demonstrated.

The third is that good and evil exist as contrast and one cannot exist without the other. This is not a Christian position so it will be skipped. The fourth is like it and will be skipped as well.

The fifth is that perhaps God has different concepts and what we think of as evil is really good.

This is not a view I would put forward and I don’t think Christians should, as God has told us His views. I want to note what Stenger says in the response however.

“Good” and “evil” are our words and they name our concepts. It is confused thinking to suppose that some God’s opinion would make any difference in our concepts.

These are our words, yes, but are the concepts ours? Do the concepts derive from us or from something beyond ourselves? Also, if God exists and is omniscient, which is the view Stenger is arguing against, what sense does it make to speak of God’s opinion? He does not have opinion. He has facts.

The sixth is that perhaps there is some purpose and we don’t know it. Have faith.

This is a straw man. We should not ask people to believe blindly. Believe based on the miracles that have taken place and the evidence of the empty tomb. However, Stenger asks why God would give us a nature that finds His actions so reprehensible? The truth is, He didn’t. The problem lies with our falling from what we were meant to be. Also, despite what Stenger says, we are not to blindly believe there is no good reason. We believe there is good reason because we have independent evidence outside of this that God exists.

The final arguments speak of the devil as the cause of evil or as God being limited somehow. I do not think any of these arguments are plausible and so I will skip them.

Stenger continues to describe God as evil in the Bible. We saw this yesterday so there’s no need to repeat much here. He does bring up Isaiah 45:7 in the RSV saying “I form light and create darkness, I make weal and create woe. I am the Lord, who do all these things.”

Well yes, it says that. The idea is of a parallel. God can bring blessing on a city or judgment. It’s always the same with the problem of evil it seems. People like Stenger complain about why God doesn’t do anything about evil. Then, when He’s done something about it, they accuse Him of genocide.

This chapter is surprisingly short. Stenger has claimed to make a scientific case, but there is nothing scientific in this chapter. That’s fine with me because I don’t believe it’s a problem of science. Stenger may wish to say it’s science, but saying it is doesn’t make it so.

We shall continue tomorrow.

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