Questions from an Atheist

A number of months ago, I posted a brief “Discussion of Evil” wherein I attempted to summarize my understanding of the problem of evil.  A while thereafter, an atheist who calls himself “makagutu” responded by asking a series of questions about my argument.  For reasons that I will go into a little bit below, I responded badly to his question and dismissed his post as irrelevant.  As I went over it the other day, I realized how badly I blew it.  His questions were legitimate and answering them will help others to understand what I believe about evil.  Let us go through his questions one at a time.

The Bible clearly says that God alone is good and the Bible clearly tells us that God alone is self-existent. What if these properties were inextricably linked? – “Discussion of Evil”

But the same bible says god looked at his creation and so it was good. What good then was he referring to?  -makagutu

I responded to this question by saying that when God looked over all of his creation and pronounced it “good” he did not mean moral goodness.  Instead he meant that it was “well-made” in a similar manner as the Psalmist’s statement that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).   How can trees and rocks and the other aspects of creation be called “morally good”?  If we were in a restaurant and I told you that Bob and Alice were “short”, I must obviously be talking about their ability to pay for the bill if Bob is 7 feet tall.  (or I could be joking)  The response of “makagutu” was that I could believe that “If I wanted to” as though it was somehow unnatural to interpret that verse such that the word means the same thing for all that God created.  To me, it is the obvious way to interpret that verse and the only people who believe otherwise are young earth creationists who are looking for a verse to tell them that there was no predation or disease before the Fall of Adam.

It was, in fact, this response that angered me and caused me to dismiss the rest of his arguments.  Why?  There is a tendency among those who love to argue and who are committed antagonists to employ what I call the “full court press” intellectual strategy.  Employing this strategy, a person will look for even the tiniest excuse to pretend confusion and ask for clarification knowing that the frustration of dotting every ‘i’ and crossing every ‘t’ will make other people give up in frustration.  If a person is trying to make me give up in frustration, then I am more than glad to accommodate them because I have better things to do.  In this case, however, I blew it because looking over the rest of his post, “makagutu” made some valid points and raised some legitimate questions.  Let us continue.

How does creating us as he wants us to be be contradictory? So he created us as who wants? – makagutu

This question was in response to my assertion that God was not able to create us as he wanted us.  If the goodness of created beings can only be chosen and learned and is not inherent, then God cannot create us with the good moral nature that he wants just as it is impossible to create a car with 50,000 miles on it.  Obviously, this argument depends on the notion that God cannot create us with perfect love which is the topic of his next question.

For the life of me, I don’t understand the correlation between being created and being evil? What does it imply about the person doing the creating? – makagutu

I am going to try to explain this as clearly as I can because many people seem to have a hard time grasping what I mean when I say that God could only create evil beings.

  1. Self-existence requires perfect love and perfect love guarantees self-existence.
  2. If 1 is true, then created beings can only have imperfect love.
  3. Acting in accordance with its own understanding, imperfect love must inevitably result in evil without bound.

The only support for proposition 1 is that both perfect love and self-existence are discussed in the Bible as divine attributes and are not attributed to any other being.  If you think about it, of course, it makes sense that only the one who created me and knows me better than I know myself is capable of loving me perfectly.  How else do you tell when I need to be corrected with discipline or comforted?  How else do you know what form the discipline should take?  Only my creator with perfect knowledge of who and what I am can judge me correctly.  This proposition seems self-evident to me as I consider the painful and erroneous judgments that other people have made concerning me.

Proposition 2 logically follows from proposition 1.

It is proposition 3 where most people have a hard time.  People seem to have a difficult time accepting the idea that imperfect love must inevitably lead to evil without bound.  The only way I can illustrate what I mean here is using a thought experiment.

Let us imagine that you were living with your parents in a small house for a billion years.  Does this proposition seem attractive to you?  Why not?  If it doesn’t seem attractive to you because you would either a) kill yourself or b) kill your parents then you have an intuitive grasp of what I mean.  With the guidance, love and forgiveness of an omnipotent and omniscient love who has a perfect understanding of all things, it might be possible to live with one’s parents in a small house for a billion years.  If it was possible, then I think we can all agree that it would require a miracle.  On the other hand, without the extensive assistance of divine love, I think we can all see that such an existence would not be bearable.

So the answer to makagutu’s question is that imperfect love causes every day frictions that gradually accumulate over time.  As they accumulate these frictions cause us to do evil to one another and this evil will gradually escalate until a breaking point is reached.   Only with divine guidance and assistance can beings of imperfect love live with one another over large time scales.

What is so wrong with being selfish and self centred? We are products of evolution and if you have a problem with that, there is no helping you. Some of us as a result have pursued goals that have been very detrimental but we can’t blame them neither can the rest who haven’t followed suit take any credit!

The command of the Bible to “love thy neighbour as thyself” contains the recognition that self-love is essential to our survival and our personalities, so there is nothing wrong with being selfish and self-centred in this limited sense.  I am allowed to know my needs and to seek to fulfill them within the bounds of recognizing the needs of others and my various obligations.

On the other hand, putting my needs above the needs of others is the cause of horrific evils of all kinds.  Are some allowed to enslave others in order to meet their needs for food or clothing?  Is a man allowed to rape women in order to meet his sexual “needs”?  As created beings, we inevitably sin by elevating our own needs and desires (high priority) over the needs of others (low priority).  How could we not do evil to others when 1) we don’t know what they need and 2) we have no natural inclination to sacrifice our desires or needs that they might obtain their needs?   This is what I mean when I say that created beings with a self-centred nature are inherently evil.

As for the idea that we are products of evolution, I have not seen any evidence that would lead me to believe that random mutation and natural selection are capable of producing the vast library of genetic information we find in the biosphere around us in only a few billion years.

As for the idea that we cannot blame others for their failures, I would agree.  It is written “Judge not lest ye be judged”.  (Matthew 7:1-3)  I am a sinner and I am entirely dependent on the grace of Jesus Christ and I have no right or standing to judge others.  But just because I am incapable of rendering a judgment against the selfishness and evil of others does not mean that God is incapable of judging those whom he has created.  Neither does it mean that I don’t have the responsibility to warn people of coming judgment.

There is a difference between a test and a demonstration. In a test, there is some question as to how the test will turn out. In a demonstration, a certain result is expected. God knew we would fail “the test” but we did not know that. As human beings we think we are good enough on our own and we don’t need God’s help. This error is the entire reason for the pain and suffering of the world. – “A Discussion of Evil”

What demonstration is going on here and how do you know? -makagutu

In the Garden of Eden, God demonstrated that created beings were not capable of even the simplest act of obedience and love possible.  Once God demonstrated that we were incapable of perfect obedience on our own, he then demonstrated the consequences of disobedience by allowing us to fall into the barbarism and savagery that has characterized all of human history since that time.  This is my interpretation of the Bible story and I present it as my best attempt at understanding our situation as human beings in a difficult and painful world.  So I believe the Bible because it makes more sense to me than any other explanation of human origins and I believe this interpretation of the Genesis account because it makes more sense to me than any other interpretation I have seen.

God cannot create perfect companions and he does not need them. God created imperfect companions and helps us to be like him because wants to bless us beyond anything we could ask or think. -A Discussion of Evil

In this sense you admit there must have been a problem with the first draft or why would he need to do any of this if he was satisfied with what he had done? -makagutu

God created human beings as well as he could create them in the Garden of Eden, but we were incapable of even the simplest form of obedience.  Once our inability to obey the simplest possible command was apparent, God then allowed us to fall into barbarism and savagery that we might choose to accept his help and allow the Holy Spirit to dwell within us and help us to love God and one another as we ought.  He was satisfied that we were “well-made” but he was not satisfied with our inherent capacity for love and reconciled himself to our unloving nature and simultaneously offered us the opportunity to be like him through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.

Your explanation on hell will be as varied as another christian’s just as there are several christians and that is expected, it still doesn’t explain hell away. And the same can be applied to your understanding of the bible.

This is true of any complex set of beliefs about anything whatsoever.  A friend of mine named Dave gave me a thousand page book on the war between Nazi Germany and Russia and we then discussed it for almost fifteen hours straight.  He and I both took different things away from the book and interpreted what we had read in a different way.  Reality is multi-faceted and complex and just because two different people interpret the same material in different ways does not mean that either of them are wrong or that there is something wrong with the material.  The reason I interpret hell the way I do is because my interpretation invalidates atheist objections such as yours.

My interpretation of hell is that it is a natural and unavoidable set of consequence of a person’s refusal to accept divine assistance and guidance in loving others in the person of Jesus Christ.  If you do not accept your need of Jesus Christ and his cross, then there is a limit to how much God can bless you.  According to my view of hell, therefore, God blesses you to the maximum extent that you allow him to bless you through your choices, beliefs and behaviours.  Unfortunately, if you refuse to allow God to tell you what is right and wrong and insist that you are allowed to be selfish and self-centred with the excuse that you are a “product of evolution” (see above), then your eternal life will be like the thought experiment we did above.  Could you live with your parents in a house for  a billion years?  If you refuse the salvation offered to you through the cross of Jesus Christ, then you will live forever with people who have a lot less love for you than your parents.

People want to blame God for the starvation and the suffering associated with that Ethiopian famine, but it was actually corrupt human beings who stole the food aid. –  A Discussion of Evil

God could have prevented the famine, the food aid was donated by god either. So which is it, is your god powerful and not willing or willing but not able to prevent suffering? – makagutu

God is powerful and able and willing to prevent suffering, but he allows human action to interfere with his provision.  Why?  Because we as human beings think that we are capable of being good without God’s help and this false belief will prevent us from experiencing the blessings of God that only come through trust and obedience.  God allows the horrific suffering that results from doing things in a selfish and self-centred way, therefore, to help us see our need of his help, love and guidance.  The natural consequences of living without God’s love, forgiveness, guidance and grace include the kind of tragedies that we saw in Ethiopia and continue to see around the world.  The only way to avoid such tragedies is to accept the gospel of Jesus Christ.

About Robert V

Former atheist currently living in Toronto.
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14 Responses to Questions from an Atheist

  1. makagutu says:

    Apology accepted.
    I will however respond to the post later

  2. Allallt says:

    Premise 2 does not follow from premise 1.
    Two things can imply each other without being identical or exclusively related.

    • Thanks for the comment.

      I beg to differ with you. If there are two types of mutually exclusive being (created and self-existent) and two mutually exclusive types of love (perfect and imperfect), then there are four possible combinations. Created being with perfect love, created being with imperfect love, self-existent being with perfect love, self-existent being with imperfect love. Premise 1 says that self-existent and perfectly loving are two sides of the same coin. For this reason, created being with perfect love and self-existent being with imperfect love are not viable options and the only options left are created being with imperfect love and self-existent being with perfect love.

      Now you might argue that I am assuming that human beings are created and this is true. This discussion occurs in the context of an argument that goes like this: 1) An all-powerful and loving God is inconsistent with evil 2) Evil exists 3) Therefore God cannot be all powerful and loving. I am attempting to demonstrate that it is possible to reconcile 1 and 2 and am thereby justified in assuming them for the sake of argument.

    • Rereading your comment, I see what you mean now. I should have stated premise 1 more strongly using a different word instead of “imply”. Any suggestions?

  3. Your three premises seem to imply that a being of perfect love creating other beings that act on their own understanding, must inevitably lead to suffering without bound. Given that, shouldn’t a being of perfect love refrain from creating beings that act on their own understanding?

    • GM,

      This is an excellent question and I don’t have a really good answer for it. I did my best in a post that I entitled “A Crisis of Faith”.

      https://athoughtfulchristian.wordpress.com/2014/11/10/a-cause-for-disbelief/

      Ultimately, one has to trust that God knows what he is doing.

      God Bless,

      rob

    • GM,

      I have given your question additional thought and rewritten my post “The Nature of Hell” to answer your question.

      https://athoughtfulchristian.wordpress.com/2013/03/06/the-nature-of-hell/

      Again, thanks for your comment and God Bless,

      rob

      • Thanks for your candour.

        The problem of hell is tangental to my point I think. There is no need for a literal lake of fire.

        Whether the proximate cause of the suffering is human cruelty, divine punishment or withholding of divine blessings, your premises seem to imply that suffering without bound is inevitable once beings that act on their own understanding are created. Therefore the creation of such beings is the ultimate cause of suffering without bound. Hence the question: Shouldn’t a being of perfect love refrain from creating beings that act on their own understanding?

        Once beings that act on their own understanding are created the particular details of how suffering without bound occurs in practice are beside the point since your premises establish that suffering without bound cannot fail to happen.

        Best

      • I responded to a comment by Makagutu and I would make the same response to your comment.

        Thank you for coming to my site,

        rob

      • I haven’t been able to locate your response. Could you link to it?

      • GM,

        Sorry about that. I thoguht that he had replied on this essay but he had replied on the “Nature of Hell”. I will copy/paste my reply here:

        I have given a great deal of consideration to the existence and necessity of hell. The exact timing of its creation, however, has never seemed to me to be important.

        I hardly think that it is fair to go over my site, see that I have spent an enormous amount of time thinking about hell and characterize this as me “not having a problem with it.” Obviously, I have had an enormous problem with it and I have come to the conclusion that it is not a show stopper problem for my belief in Jesus Christ. Why? Because I have concluded that the only alternatives to hell are 1) allowing created beings who choose to reject love make everyone miserable and 2) God not creating anybody. Why do I think that God chose hell instead of 2? Because I believe that God has given creatures the dignity of choice and free will. I firmly believe that God will give the beings who go to hell the alternative of non-existence, but that these beings will reject annihilation in favour of their own existence. If that is the case, who are you to say that God should not create them?

        Thanks for your comment,

        rob

      • Thanks, I’ll leave it at that then.

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