Atheology and the Problem of Evil

What kind of God should deal with evil? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

In yesterday’s post, I wrote about a certain idea of God that many evangelistic atheists have. We could describe this as a functional god. This god is meant to explain the universe. This god is meant to be a presence to me in suffering.

When it looks like the universe works scientifically on its own and that there is no emotional presence, then atheism seems rational to these people. Let’s consider another aspect of this. What about evil?

Too often, we theists have been on the defensive end in this area. It is up to us to explain why a good God allows evil. What never seems to go answered is “Why should God be obligated to deal with evil at all, let alone in XYZ manner?” To say that God has to deal with evil is to assume that God has an obligation to us.

Note I am not saying that God will not deal with evil. I am questioning the why He will and the how and when of His doing so. If an atheist says that God needs to deal with evil, they have in mind a certain theology of the God that they think should defeat it, but what is this God like? We need to know.

For instance, why should God have to deal with what we deem to be a problem on our terms? Why should He have to deal with it as a being with unlimited resources in a way that we think is amenable to our limited resources? You need more of an answer than “I want Him to” or “If He really loved us, He would do it this way.” Why?

Could it be that evil really became a problem when we thought the universe was meant to be a place that was just to make us happy and that it was all about us? I get that people have talked about suffering and wondered about it for awhile, but at the same time, they didn’t jump to atheism. Job and his friends never doubted the reality of the deity, but just debated what He was like.

The problem of evil is in many ways asking a question about justice. Will there be any justice in the universe? We often have the saying of justice delayed is not justice denied, and it is true. Just because justice isn’t happening immediately doesn’t mean it’s not happening at all.

A Christian specifically views this world as intentional and while this world is not all about our happiness, it is meant for us to live in. We were made for this place. In a sense, this is our home. Someone else like Richard Dawkins will instead look at the world and say in River Out of Eden.

“In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

Yet if this is the way the universe is, then why do we have this longing for justice? Why do we cling to ideas of good and evil? Does Dawkins? Not at all. Look at any moral crusade Dawkins goes on, whether he’s right or wrong in it, he certainly thinks he’s going out for something good. He certainly thinks science is a good worth pursuing. He certainly thinks Christianity is damaging to young people.

And this is what we really need to be asking atheists. What is this idea of good that you hold to? What is this idea of evil? We use these terms and speak about them as if we all know what they mean when they really don’t. I, as a classical theist, ask atheists to tell me what they mean by good. If good boils down to what you want and evil to what you don’t want, then you are saying that the universe should bow to your desires and that if God were real, He would do the same. Not much of a god then.

Then, we need to go beyond that and ask what their idea of God is like. Yes. Atheists have an idea of what God would be like if He existed. One such seems to be He would deal with evil in such and such a way in such and such a time. They also think that this is an obligation on His part.

There is another point I would like to make on this and this is in the question of suffering, but that is for another day.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)

Atheism And The Search For Purpose

Is Atheism looking for meaning? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.

I am reading through a book for a class now called Bulwarks of Unbelief. I am finding it quite good and the main question being asked is “What made atheism a strong enough possibility that many people now embrace it?” Now some might go the route of Richard Dawkins and say it was Darwin who made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist. Is that it? Is it really that we found a scientific explanation for something and then God was out of a job?

That doesn’t really fit since in the medieval period science was being done and none of it was thought to be the end of God. If anything, it was thought to be explaining and upholding God. If anyone was filling in the gaps of our scientific knowledge, it was the Christians. Yet nowhere in this do you see them saying “Does this put God out of a job?”

The writer of the book, Joseph Minich, brings up Marx and how Marx thought man felt alienated from his labor. Now I oppose Marxism through and through, but while I don’t care for the man, that doesn’t mean he was wrong on everything. Could there be a sense of alienation Marx was right to find, but that he had the wrong solution and explanation for?

Consider this as an example. Before I came here to the seminary, I worked at a Wal-Mart in Tennessee. Now when the time came that I left to come here, what happened? Did the store shut down because I was gone and obviously, no one could do the work that I did and so that was it?

Nope. Hire someone else. I was entirely replaceable. This can be in contrast to a time when a son learned his father’s trade and the business was passed on from generation to generation and there was an investment in one’s labor.

Not only this, but while I was there, did I really care about my job? Nope. I hated it. I liked some of the people that I worked with, but I hated the work that I did. I knew I was expendable and that I was underutilized and that my skills were not being used to the best of their ability.

So yes, I do think the alienation is real.

Minich thinks the main culprit here is technology. We have made the world more and more impersonal. As the world becomes more impersonal, we have a harder time seeing a person behind it all. The world seems to function like a machine.

As a divorced man, I do think there is something to the disconnect from society. I notice when I come home, I go to my apartment building and there are several other apartments. Truth be told, I hardly know anyone in my own building. I have hardly ever had guests over to do anything with me. I also suspect that I am not alone in this. Many of you probably know your Facebook friends better than people you see every day.

As a gamer, I also miss a certain time in life. That was the time of what is now known as couch gaming. Yes, I can play games online with several people and that’s fine, but really, nothing beats getting together and playing Goldeneye, Street Fighter, Smash Brothers, and other multi-player games together in person. Now I can play a game with people I know nothing about and have no investment in other than a desire to win.

Now I think technology could be a part of it, but I also think there is something even bigger looming in the background. If there is a sense of alienation from one’s work and then from the society as a whole, what if there is also that sense from the world entire? What if it seems like we have a world that because we have fostered the natural/supernatural divide, seems to work on its own?

What does this give us but a world without purpose? I find this especially interesting since in my study into game theology, I am noting that purpose is something we all long for. When we think we have a quest, a battle, a goal, we can come alive.

Now this post is a sort of thinking out loud, but it does explain to me not just atheism in that sense, but a certain kind of atheism. You probably know the type. Let’s be clear this is not all atheists as I suspect some atheist readers of this blog will be able to hear the description and say “Yes. I know someone like that. I agree with their atheism, but I don’t agree with their other beliefs about it.”

For sake of discussion, let’s refer to these as a sort of evangelistic atheist. These are atheists who think that they have been delivered from the shackles of irrationality and superstition by being embracing atheism. They now think that all theists they meet are ignorant fools who stay cloistered away from anything that goes against them, believe anything without evidence (Constantly thinking faith is belief without evidence), hate science, are sexual prudes entirely, always vote Republican, and that Christianity has done nothing but harm for the world.

These are the people you find in Facebook groups who seem to do nothing all day long but argue against Christians and other theists. I consider it something akin to many that I see on the left who have what is called Trump-Derangement Syndrome. Whatever you think of him, these are people who seem to have their lives more dominated by Trump than any conservatives that I know. As many of my fellow conservatives say, he lives rent-free in their heads.

If you are an atheist who says “I don’t think God exists, but I know that there are many Christians who do and many of them are smart people and have good reasons for what they believe”, then you are not one of the people I am speaking of. You can also say “I do agree that Christianity has done a lot of good for the world and many people are better for being Christians.” You will debate with Christians, but it is never about who is smarter than the other based on worldviews alone.

When I have seen these evangelistic atheists in the past, I have been confused by it. If you really thought this was the way the world was, why are you wasting your time here? Go on vacation regularly and hit the beach. if you think there is ultimate wrong and right, why not just go out every night sleeping around?

If I am correct, the answer now is obvious. These people are still wanting to find some sort of reading, something that they can do in the world, and they have decided they will be evangelists for atheism to set people free from the shackles of theism into the glorious light of science and reason. Dare I say it, this could be considered a cultic form of atheism.

When I have met atheists like this, they are amazingly like the idea of Christians that they always go against. They refuse to read anything that disagrees with them. They have the entire side painted in an us vs. them battle and the other side is just ignorant of the real truth out there. They alone are the sole bearers of freedom and they must deliver the good news. They will often go about their personal experiences of how they were once Christians. They will not investigate any other ideas contrary to what they believe. They also love the fellowship of other like-minded atheists and seem to have a mutual admiration society going on.

When it comes to the Bible, it must always be interpreted literalistically. They will believe anything whatsoever provided it agrees with them without researching it. If anything could make the other side look bad, it is automatically true. If anything makes it look good or at least is neutral to it, it is automatically false.

I suppose I could go on if need be, but I suspect you get the idea. So, why they do it then is they do it to at least give themselves some sense of purpose. They can think that they are accomplishing something. If work doesn’t give fulfillment and pleasure doesn’t, you have to go somewhere else to get ultimate fulfillment.

Part of my study into gaming theology has been that we have a need for quests in order to find fulfillment. We want to be part of a grand story. If my theory is true, why should that be just the case for Christians? It will be just as true for atheists or any other position. Evangelistic atheists get some fulfillment then out of what they do in spreading their gospel of atheism.

This is a theory that for me is just in its opening stages. This post is a sort of thinking out loud. i do invite your opinions on the matter and especially if you are an atheist that would be not an evangelistic atheist and can say “I know some of the atheists you talk about and yes, this does seem to describe them.”

I look forward to hearing from you.

In Christ,
Nick Peters
(And I affirm the virgin birth)