Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 9January 15, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
(Theistic Critiques of Atheism, by William Lane Craig, continued.)
On tap today, Craig’s third and fourth Christian doctrine which, in his opinion, make it more probable that evil and God will coexist.
Third, God’s purpose spills over into eternal life. In the Christian view, this earthly life is but a momentary preparation for immortal life. In the afterlife God will give those who have trusted Him for salvation an eternal life of unspeakable joy. Given the prospect of eternal life, we should not expect to see in this life God’s compensation for every evil we experience. Some may be justified only in light of eternity.
In other words, God has a very long time in which to pay us back for all the things we’ve suffered during our mortal existence. This is actually an appeal to two distinct ideas (or rationalizations): the idea that for every evil there is a greater good which justifies it, and the idea that, because this life is so short relative to eternity, any evil which takes place in this life is of proportionally less significance. It’s an appealing rationalization, but there are some problems, as you might expect.
The first problem is that this is something of a non sequitur. The possibility of an eternity of good has nothing to do with whether or not evil is more likely in the present, since God could just as easily bestow unending goodness upon us even without involving evil. It’s also an appeal to his first argument, the unfortunate proposition that it always necessarily ends up being better for evil to exist, and for evil things to happen, than it would be for evil not to exist at all. As we saw before, this means we ought to do as much evil as we can, since it always results in a greater good. If it didn’t, that would make the evil gratuitous, thus giving atheists the valid argument Craig wants to deny they have.
What he’s really doing here is promising us a “pie in the sky by and by.” He’s appealing to the idea that, after you die, you’ll understand. There’s bound to be an explanation in the next life (because there sure as hell isn’t in this one!). So just blindly trust that what men tell you is true, despite the evidence, because your gullibility will be rewarded after you die. Meanwhile, he’s essentially admitting that what we see here and now is not sufficient to demonstrate any moral justification for evil, otherwise it would not be necessary to appeal to the idea of postponed justification.
And of course, this excuse only applies to the saved. Those who lose their faith because of the counter-theistic evidence of evil are doomed to have no justification for evil’s existence, ever, since they will allegedly pass from a life of unjustified suffering into an eternity of unjustified suffering. When Craig calls this life “a momentary preparation for immortal life,” he’s vastly overstating the significance of mortal time. The proportional relationship between one lifetime and eternity is virtually nil, even if you’re Methuselah. But by diminishing the significance of evil, he’s also diminishing the justification for eternal damnation. How can it possibly be called justice to reward such an insignificant amount of evil with eternal punishment?
But more than that, if our mortal life is so insignificant, what is the need to go through the whole sin and salvation charade? Experiencing evil is of no practical relevance to one’s experience of an eternity free from evil. If our earthly existence is indeed less than an infinitesimal fraction of our eternal existence, why even have a mortal existence in the first place? To make sure that most of mankind ends up eternally damned? If it’s good for some to be saved, wouldn’t it be better to skip the evil bit and save all?
This is not to say that theologians don’t attempt to address such questions elsewhere, but it’s worth pointing out that Craig’s “answer” here only re-raises the questions. This rationalization does not make evil more probable, it merely tries to discount the significance of evil by distracting us with visions of endless future bliss. While endless bliss would be nice, the existence of evil is not a prerequisite for it, and therefore does not make evil more probable.
Fourth, the knowledge of God is an incommensurable good. To know God, the locus of infinite goodness and love, is an incomparable good, the fulfillment of human existence. The sufferings of this life cannot even be compared to it. Thus, the person who knows God, no matter what he suffers, no matter how awful his pain, can still truly say, “God is good to me!”, simply in virtue of the fact that he knows God.
Another distracting non sequitur. Once again, Craig is merely trying to distract our attention from the problem of evil, in hopes that we’ll forget that it’s really a problem. Even if it were true that God were an “incommensurable good,” you’ve still got the problem, that, according to what Jesus taught, most men will never know this good. Most of God’s children, in other words, will be deprived of this good, which is an evil in and of itself, considering it’s a good we were allegedly designed and intended to have.
That’s assuming, of course, that God is really good, which, given the existence of evil, is not necessarily a safe assumption. A big part of the problem of evil is that it casts doubt on whether or not God really is good enough that simply knowing Him would be a good that was incomparably better than any alternative. Craig’s fourth and last argument (under this heading, anyway) is simply a denial of the possibility that evil is really a problem. If it’s not overtly a fallacy of assuming the consequent, it comes pretty close.
These four Christian doctrines increase the probability of the co-existence of God and the evils in the world. They thereby serve to decrease any improbability which these evils might seem to cast upon the existence of God. In order to sustain his argument the atheist will have to show that these doctrines are themselves improbable.
So let’s sum up: Doctrine 1 said that the goal of life is knowing God, not escaping evil. One of the problems with that notion is that God does not show up in real life to be known, leaving us no alternative but to put our faith in the words and speculations of men. It’s also a non sequitur, because if you have to know evil in order to know God, it rather implies that God is at least partly evil, in contradiction to Doctrine 4, that God is good. Doctrine 2 tried to blame evil on man, but this is a post hoc rationalization rather than a demonstration that evil is necessarily more likely given a good God, and one that only compounds the problem of evil, because why does man even have a sin nature in the first place? Doctrines 3 and 4 weren’t really even attempts to show that evil is more probable, but were merely attempts to discount the significance of evil by comparing mortal experience to immeasurably greater things in a way that minimizes the significance of earthly existence.
So, as far as Argument 2 is concerned, that Christianity has doctrines that make evil more probable (or less improbable), I’d have to say that the whole thing is a red herring. None of the doctrines do anything to resolve the true problem of evil, and the doctrines Craig cites only try to muddy the issue and pass the buck.