Until now, I have avoided debate with John Perkins and his atheism-themed column, “A Rational View.” I find limited value in debating.
However, in his column of January 30, John addressed the problem of evil, which I also have been wanting to address. How could a good God allow so much suffering and death in the world that he created? Recent events–such as the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut–have brought this discussion to the surface once again.
There are two major ways in which we must grapple with the existence of evil: intellectually and personally. The answers appropriate to the one are completely inappropriate to the other.
Those who are suffering and asking “God, why?” do not need to hear a logical analysis; they need support and prayers during their time of need. Similarly, those who are seeking logical consistency in their beliefs will be unsatisfied by statements such as “I don’t know why these things happen, but I know that God loves you.”
Perkins ridiculed the “intellectual somersaults” of Christian apologists, then used the majority of his column to quote a Christian website as a supposed example of such attempts. In my view, the example he quoted is closer to the personal approach described above than an intellectual argument. If you’re going to engage Christian apologists, then I recommend Alvin Plantinga and his “free will defense,” not quoting someone’s blog.
The free will defense is the most common intellectual answer to how an all-powerful, good God could allow evil in the world. If God made people so that they could not make poor choices or inflict suffering on others, then we would not truly be free. So although God is all-powerful, he could not create a world with free people but no evil for the same reason he cannot create a square circle. They are both logically impossible concepts.
Some have criticized this approach in that it doesn’t answer why God would allow “natural evil” – the suffering inherent in natural disasters, animals that must prey on one another to survive, and the like.
However, Scripture extends the evil that entered the world through human sin to the natural world: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:17-19).
There are limits to the intellectual approach. While I do not agree with John that “there is no harmony between religion and science,” they are different endeavours. Faith will always include elements foreign to science: a divinely inspired book (the Bible), and personal relationship with an invisible God. One cannot arrive at those kind of beliefs by the scientific method.
Furthermore, people who are suffering are unlikely to be comforted by logical arguments. We need the comfort of a friend, the love of family, and faith in a God who helps us through the storms of life but doesn’t always quiet them. Although we do not understand perfectly the purposes of God, he helps us on our journey through this crazy world. And isn’t that what faith is for anyway?