Theistic Critiques of Atheism, Part 10January 17, 2009 — Deacon Duncan
(Theistic Critiques of Atheism, by William Lane Craig, continued.)
Today we look at Dr. Craig’s third and final attempt to deal with the problem of how evil can coexist with an omnipotent and righteous deity.
3. There is better warrant for believing that God exists than that the evil in the world is really gratuitous. It has been said that one man’s modus ponens is another man’s modus tollens. The atheist’s own argument may thus be turned against him:
1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
2*. God exists.
3*. Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.
Thus, if God exists, then the evil in the world is not really gratuitous.
I would submit that Craig is not really turning the atheist’s argument against him here, because a better way to phrase the skeptical case would be to say that evil contradicts what Christians teach about God, thus discrediting them as authorities on the subject of theology. That is, it’s not that the existence of evil implies the non-existence of God, it’s that the existence of evil implies the non-existence of God as Christians claim He exists.
Craig’s attempt to turn the tables on atheists doesn’t really turn them so much as it redefines them in terms more suited for Christian propaganda. It assumes that if God exists, gratuitous evil does not, i.e. that God and gratuitous evil are mutually exclusive possibilities. Such is not the case, however: it could just as easily be true that God exists, and is not omnipotent and/or not good. Despite Craig’s earlier claim that Christianity had some doctrines that made evil more probable in the context of God, other religions have far less problem with evil than Christianity (and its ideological siblings, Judaism and Islam). Dualism, for example, has evil built-in, and polytheism at least has no particular reason for evil not to exist. Even Satanism does better in this regard.
But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the term “God” refers only to the specific, omnipotent, all-good monotheistic Creator worshipped by Jesus. Can we say that Craig’s Premise #1 is valid? Yes, if we assume that God and gratuitous evil are mutually exclusive possibilities. But if gratuitous evil does not exist, what does that imply for the Gospel?
If gratuitous evil does not exist, then every evil thing that happens is no more than what is strictly necessary. In other words, every evil deed that men commit is necessarily the minimum amount of evil they could have done, since any more would have been superfluous and thus gratuitous. That means that God Himself, in the same circumstances, would not have been able to think of a course of action that would have been morally more righteous. Every man who has ever lived, therefore, has lived the most morally excellent life possible, equal in righteousness to what God’s own conduct would have to be under the same circumstances. Even Adolph Hitler and Osama bin Ladin must necessarily have lived up to the same standard of righteousness as God Himself would have done in their boots.
Clearly, then, God has no grounds for condemning anyone as “sinful,” since it is not even possible for any man, woman, or child to fall short of the standard of pursuing the absolute minimum amount of evil necessary. There is no act we can commit about which anyone could say, “You should not have done that,” because any evil which should not have happened is a gratuitous evil, which cannot exist if God does. It is therefore perfectly legitimate, and possibly even obligatory, for Christians to try to sin as much as possible, since any evil they successfully commit is, by definition, necessary.
Craig tries to wrap up his argument by saying it all boils down to which you believe really exists: God, or gratuitous evil. In Craig’s view, there is better warrant for believing in God’s existence than for believing in the existence of gratuitous evil. But the Gospel itself teaches that men do more evil than the absolute minimum necessary, and are therefore in need of salvation from the guilt of their evil deeds. If gratuitous evil does not exist, then the Gospel is false and Christians are still wrong about God.
This concludes Craig’s argument in support of his claim that there is no valid argument for atheism. He considered three candidates (presumption of atheism, incoherence of omnipotence, and the problem of evil), offered some questionable rationalizations for rejecting them, and then dismissed them. Call me a stickler, but I don’t think contradicting 3 atheistic arguments is enough of a sample set to claim to have proven that all atheistic arguments are invalid. I don’t think he even adequately addressed the arguments he did tackle.
More than that, I think he has some serious problems with the Problem of Evil. There are worse things than admitting that the Christian view of God is incorrect, and the view that all evil is morally justified and necessary is a prime example. Granted, from a strictly logical point of view this sounds a lot like the fallacy of undesirable consequences, but from a theological perspective this is a classic reductio ad absurdum, since it flies in the face of everything the Bible says about sin, the Fall, and redemption. Craig’s answer cures the headache by chopping off the head.
But that’s what happens when you try and push a “truth” that isn’t consistent with real-world truth. God does not show up in real life, and all the philosophizing and rationalizing and story-building of all the best minds in Christian thinking, cannot create Him where He does not exist. The truest thing Craig wrote was this:
Rather than submit to and worship God, people have freely rebelled against God and go their own way and so find themselves alienated from God, morally guilty before Him, and groping in spiritual darkness, pursuing false gods of their own making.
His only mistake is failing to recognize that the real God is Alethea.