1. Loftus: “The problem of evil is as clear of an empirical refutation of the existence of the Christian God as we get.”
Loftus then goes on to quote James Sennett in support of his argument, although Sennett doesn’t say anything new. However, this is simply false and we have already answered Loftus on this in our prior rebuttal (see: Part #5 Point 9). It has long since become apparent to me that Loftus fails to actually separate arguments out and instead repeats the same things he’s argued previously under different headings. That makes his work seem to be rather sloppy and disorganized. However, we also saw that for that atheist to argue from “the problem of evil” actually undermines atheism itself since it implies a transcendent objective moral standard that is impossible on atheism. In other words the atheist must steal from the Christian worldview (a worldview that grounds objective morality & moral experience) in order to argue against it.
Secondly, and as I have already noted before in this series, Loftus is making a claim to knowledge that is simply impossible to meet. William Craig explains that the problem here is that “the atheist presupposes that God cannot have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil in the world. But this assumption is not necessarily true. So long as it is even possible that God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil, it follows that God and evil are logically consistent. And, certainly, this does seem at least logically possible. Therefore, I’m very pleased to be able to report that it is widely agreed among contemporary philosophers that the logical problem of evil has been dissolved” (1).
In order for Loftus’ argument to follow to its logical conclusion he has to know that God has no morally sufficient reasons for permitting suffering in the world. Not only that, but we’ve also seen that suffering is an integral part to the Christian story of salvation that culminates in Jesus’ crucifixion. Suffering is therefore hardly antithetical to the Christian worldview, as it is with atheism.
2. Loftus: “If God is perfectly good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, then the issue of why there is so much suffering in the world requires an explanation.”
Indeed it does, and explanations have been given throughout the centuries by leading Christian thinkers. However, Loftus is also merely skimming over the Bible’s own explanation on the reality of suffering as a result of mankind’s fall, and I’d recommend Loftus starts there. Then I’d like to ask Loftus to provide an explanation as to how he can make any moral judgments whatsoever on a worldview that undermines objective morality. I would put money on it that Loftus would almost certainly retreat into the realms of moral relativism, a position atheism demands him to adopt (although he likes to think that his moral judgments have intrinsic value). Further, if Loftus does adopt moral relativism then I would wonder what the problem is, because ultimately unsubstantiated subjective opinion doesn’t matter in the quest for truth.
3. Loftus: “A perfectly good God would oppose it, an all-powerful God could eliminate it, and an all-knowing God would know what to do about it. For the theist, the extent of intense suffering in the world implies that either God is not powerful enough to eliminate it, God does not care enough to eliminate it, or God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it. If God exists, the reality of intense suffering is a stubborn fact indicating that something is wrong with God’s ability, goodness, or knowledge.”
Indeed the biblical God does oppose suffering as God himself tells us that he takes “no pleasure in the death [and suffering] of anyone” (Ezekiel 18:32). God does not wish for his creation to suffer. However, God has not chosen to eliminate suffering as of now but has promised to do so at the end of history (Revelation 21:4). At this moment events in the world are playing out according to his sovereign plan (Romans 8:28) with Jesus’ death at the very center of it (2 Cor. 5:21). So, that God does not choose to eliminate suffering, although he could, necessitates that God has a plan in motion.
Secondly, suffering is often a necessary experience. In fact, many millions of Christians could inform us that it was suffering that brought them to God (see the well-known Christian evangelist Ravi Zacharias’ testimony, for example). Suffering makes us aware of and dependent on God (Ps. 68:19, 2 Cor. 12:9), refines and strengthens us as people (Ps. 66:8-9, Hebrews 2:10), teaches humility (2 Cor. 12:7), keeps one’s mind on Jesus (Phil. 2:1-11), helps us to be Christlike (2 Cor. 4:8-10, Romans 8:28-29), helps us produce discernment & knowledge (Ps. 119:66-67, 71), as well as strengthens and allows us to comfort others who are weak (2 Cor. 1:3-11), produces faith (Jer. 29:11) and so on. So, suffering is certainly not nice thing to go through but it is often necessary and also grows us as people.
Thirdly, suffering is often a product of man’s freewill. Should God do away with all the suffering in the world then he may as well do away with our freewill especially since it plays such an integral part in the predicaments we face as people. But I can’t help by wonder if that would be at all beneficial to us? Surely not for then we would be mere automatons without the gift of freewill.
If these very brief answers I have given are at least possible then it well suggests that there is no incompatibility with an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent God who allows suffering in the world. So, is God powerful enough to eliminate suffering? Yes (which would come at the expense of our freewill). Does God care about the suffering of his creatures? Yes. Will God end suffering? Yes, at a point in the future once his plan is fully complete. Also, quite to the contrary of what Loftus writes that “God is just not smart enough to know what to do about it,” I actually think the antithesis is true. I think that in the context of a fallen world the smartest thing for God to do is to actually allow suffering (for the abovementioned reasons). Enduring suffering that in the end brings a non-believer to Jesus is far more important & valuable than living a life of comfort that ultimately produces nothing.
4. Loftus: “Christians believe that God freed the Israelites from slavery, yet allowed multitudes to be born into slavery and die as slaves in the antebellum American South. They believe that God parted the Red Sea, but refrained from holding back the waters when an Indonesian tsunami killed a quarter of a million people in 2004. God provided manna from Heaven, so the story goes, but does nothing to prevent the deaths of over 40,000 people around the world who starve every single day, nor anything to alleviate the hunger pains and malnutrition that the starving face throughout their short lives. God is said to have made an axe head to float, yet allowed the Titanic to sink. He is said to have added 15 years to King Hezekiah’s life, but does nothing for children whose lives are cut short by leukemia. God allegedly restored sanity to Nebuchadnezzar, but does nothing for those suffering from schizophrenia and dementia today. While alive Jesus is said to have healed the sick, but does nothing today to stop pandemics which have destroyed whole populations of people. The handicapped and those born with birth defects are untouched by divine healing. As God sat idly by, well over 100 million people were slaughtered in the 20th century due to genocide and war. Well over 100 million animals are slaughtered every year for American consumption alone, while other animals continue to viciously prey on each other.
Many of the events Loftus provides here are products of man’s freewill, events such as slavery in the South, the starvation of many (since there are enough resources to feed almost everyone, however these resources are squandered due to massive misuse & exploitation by those in power who only seek power and money), the slaughter of countless animals for American consumption, and genocide, to name just a few. These are the result of man’s freewill that we have already answered above and that we needn’t return to. On the other hand Loftus mentions things that are the products of natural evil, events such as tsunamis, pandemics, cancers & other diseases and defects.
However, I strongly suggest to Loftus that these consequences of natural evil are products of a fallen world and universe in which we live. These are not realities that God intended for his good creation (Gen. 1:31) but are the ramifications of man’s fall from God’s ideal creation. The Apostle Paul tells us that “the whole creation groans and suffers” (Romans 8:22) as a result of Adam’s sin that entered the world (Romans 5:12). Paul further tells us that “creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” (Romans 8:19-21). In other words, Christian theology affirms that sin is the ultimate cause of natural disasters just as it is the cause of death, disease, and suffering. However, as we have already touched on, God promises us that all suffering will come to an end upon the return of Jesus himself.
Now, what about Loftus’ argument that God chooses to help some (for example, the freedom of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt, and other biblical personal) and not others (the starving children today, or people with cancer etc.)?
My first response is that God is under no such obligation to help anyone, in fact, we couldn’t complain if God chose to help no-one since the consequence of sin is ultimately death (Rom. 6:23). However, God has in fact helped everyone by providing the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for our sins which without we would be doomed. That should be grace enough just as it was grace enough for one of God’s most faithful followers: the Apostle Paul even though he underwent arguably the most suffering for Jesus’ message of salvation.
Secondly, it is simply not the case that if one is to become a Christian then his life will become easier, in fact, if one becomes a true follower of Jesus the his life may well become a good deal worse via suffering (see John 15:18, Mat. 24:9, Acts 14:12, 1 John 3:13). This is exactly why Jesus instructs us to take up our crosses and to follow his example (Mat. 16:24, Mark 8:34; Luke 9:23). So, we ought not to be disillusioned by the belief that if we become a Christian life will then become easier.
Thirdly, that God would supernaturally intervene into history and free his people (the Israelites) from Egypt and not prevent the Holocaust ultimately comes down to his plan for the redemption of the world. The Holocaust played no part in God’s plan for the redemption of the world through the death of Jesus Christ as did the freeing of the Israelites from Egypt (it was through these people that Jesus would come into the world, see: Mat. 1, Luke 3: 23-38). Also, God does in fact intervene in miraculous ways even today (See Part #6 Point 4). There is ample evidence and testimony to how God has miraculously healed people through the power of prayer of his followers. However, God is the ultimate judge of whom he will heal, for example, that God “restored sanity to Nebuchadnezzar” and not to someone’s grandmother suffering from dementia is ultimately up to him to decide. That is part and parcel of what it means to be God: that out of infinite knowledge he can choose a course of action. In fact, this all reminds me of a story that my pastor once told our congregation. This pastor recalled a story about God’s instant healing of one sick man in a hospital bed after prayer. However, this same pastor had a devout Christian friend who was in the exact same ward as the sick man who was healed, but despite the prayer efforts of him and others his Christian friend still died. Well, why did God choose to heal the one and not the other? I don’t know. Why does God restore sanity to Nebuchadnezzar but not to Johnny’s grandmother? I don’t know. However, what I well know is that God does intervene in his creation today for specific purposes, however, how God chooses to intervene or what he ultimately desires to do is certainly beyond our comprehension (Isaiah 55:8).
5. Loftus: “Stephen Wykstra argues that it’s possible that we cannot see the good reasons why an omniscient, omnipotent, and perfectly good God allows so much suffering. Because God is omniscient while our knowledge is limited, we are told, we can’t understand God’s purposes, and thus can’t begin to grasp why there is so much evil in the world if God exists. But if God is omniscient as claimed, then he should know how to create a better world, especially since we do have a good idea how God could’ve created differently. The most probable reason that we find so much apparently gratuitous suffering in the world is that there simply is no perfectly good, all-powerful, and omniscient God of Christian theology.”
That Loftus says that it is possible that God could exist and allow suffering (although he views it as unlikely) is a pleasant confirmation for what I have already argued above. I initially wrote in point 3 above that “If these very brief answers I have given are at least possible then it well suggests that there is no incompatibility with an omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent God who allows suffering in the world.” So ultimately, as Loftus himself seems to hint at (although he differs in other places), there is no internal inconsistency of the existence of a good God and the reality of suffering in the world.
Further, Loftus then writes that an all-knowing God “should know how to create a better world.” However, I wish to point Loftus back to point 3 where I argued that suffering is often a necessary component of reality, and perhaps a world with suffering may be better than a world without suffering in many regards. Also, God did initially create a good world (Gen. 1:31), however, it was stained by man’s fall into sin (Gen. 3). So, I don’t think God is ultimately to blame for the world that we currently find ourselves in.
I think we have now seen that Loftus’ conclusion that as a result of all this suffering “there simply is no perfectly good, all-powerful, and omniscient God of Christian theology” is simply false. That suffering (which implies objective evil) is evident in the world not only undermines the atheistic worldview of which Loftus is arguing from, but also God’s existence is not logically incoherent with the suffering in the world.
To be continued…
1. Craig, W. The Problem of Suffering. Available.