XFiles: The Source of EvilMay 9, 2010 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, Appendix 1.)
We’re looking at Geisler and Turek’s attempt to rationalize away the problem of evil, as presented in a dialog between two characters we’ve named Mr. Straw (the Atheist), and Dr. Geistur (the Christian). The dialog started with one honest and reasonable question from Mr. Straw, which immediately provoked Dr. Geistur to change the subject, to deny that he had changed the subject, to insist that the rest of the discussion must be based on the assumption that God exists, and then to smugly insinuate that, because Mr. Straw granted this assumption for the sake of argument, he was “making progress.”
You’d think, after such an inauspicious beginning, that the quality and character of Dr. Geistur’s argument could only improve, but…
STRAW: So why doesn’t your so-called “all-powerful” God stop evil?
GEISTUR: Do you really want him to?
STRAW: Of course!
GEISTUR: Suppose he starts with you?
STRAW: Be serious.
GEISTUR: No, really. We always talk about God stopping evil, but we forget that if he did, he would have to stop us also. We all do evil.
And of course none of us—including Christians—would want God interfering in our ability to do evil, right? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say-n’more, knowwhutimean, eh?
Mr. Straw’s retort is that he’s talking about Hitler-calibre evil, not common everyday faults. But Geistur is ready for him.
GEISTUR: My point is not the degree of evil, but the source of evil. The source of evil is our free choice. If God were to do away with evil, then he would have to do away with free choice. And if he did away with our free choice, we would no longer have the ability to love or do good. This would no longer be a moral world.
Any time a Christian tries to feed you this particular brimming bowl of bull, your very next question ought to be, “And has God always had free will?” Unless He has been at least partially evil from all eternity, God cannot have free will, and thus cannot love or do good. Alternately, we could admit that it is possible for free will to exist in the absence of evil, but that means that we, being made in the image of God, could also possess free will without the need for evil. Because if we couldn’t, then there would need to be evil in heaven, so that the Redeemed would retain their free will and remain capable of loving and doing good in their eternal reward.
Sadly, Mr. Straw is unable to come up with this particular line of discussion, since he’s an empty sock puppet on the fist of his apologetic masters. The best he can do is to point out that not all evil is the result of free choices. Natural disasters, birth defects, infant mortality, and so on, are all evils that happen quite apart from human choice. But Dr. Geistur has an equally muddled answer for that one as well (otherwise Straw wouldn’t have thought of it).
GEISTUR: The Bible traces it all back to the fall of man. No one is really innocent because we all sinned in Adam (Rom. 5:12) and as a consequence deserve death (Rom. 6:23). Natural disasters and premature deaths are a direct result of the curse on creation because of the fall of humankind (Genesis 3: Romans 8).
This is the old con game of “Blame the Pigeon.” Sometimes, when you’re trying to con someone, the victim (aka “the pigeon”) will notice that the stuff you’re selling doesn’t actually work. When that happens, the clever con man will immediately blame the failure of his merchandise on the pigeon himself. This does two things: it rationalizes away the failure, and it makes the pigeon feel responsible for the problem, and thus less likely to complain about it. In the worst case, where victim rejects the blame, the con man can still use this excuse to discredit the pigeon, so that he can at least continue selling his snake oil to other gullible saps.
Notice, too, how Geistur’s blame game neatly avoids answering Mr. Straw’s actual question. The question is not, “Why does evil exist?” but “Why doesn’t an allegedly all-good and all-powerful deity intervene against evil?” Accusing us of causing evil still doesn’t explain why God would not intervene to limit or negate the evil consequences. If your child is being electrocuted, you don’t say “Well, that’s the consequences of his decision to stick his fingers into the electrical socket,” you grab something non-conducting and knock his hand away from the socket. That’s the good and loving way to respond when someone you love makes unwise and harmful choices.
Obviously, God does not do that. What’s more, Geistur tiptoes around the question of whether God is, in fact, directly responsible for starting the natural disasters, diseases, deaths, and so on. Though he tries to pin the blame on man for provoking “the curse on creation,” curses don’t cast themselves. If creation has been cursed, then someone (or Someone) had to do the cursing.
As we all learned in kindergarten, two wrongs don’t make a right. Supposing that Adam and Eve actually did exist, and actually did sin against God. That might arguably be called evil, but so is putting curses on people, particularly when the people you’re cursing are not the people that actually sinned against you. Geistur tries to pin the blame on all of us by accusing us all of having sinned, but again, this is merely a blame game, since the offenses that allegedly justify the curse do not occur until after we’ve been cursed. And even if that were a valid justification for cursing us, why curse the entire creation as well?
In recent years, Christians (with the exception of Fred Phelps types) have cooled off a bit on the kind of might-makes-right theology that says God is right no matter what He does. There are those who would defend God by arguing that God was merely revealing the curse, not imposing it. According to this “kinder, gentler” theology, the curse on creation was imposed by someone else, rather than by God. Since God gave man dominion over the earth, man had the power to turn that dominion over to, say, Satan, should he choose to rebel against God and abdicate his divinely-ordained rulership through an act of direct disobedience.
The problem with this non-damning God is that it makes it even less reasonable to suggest that He would fail to intervene to mediate and/or remove the curse. Even supposing that the suffering and death were Satan’s will for creation rather than God’s will, God is not off the hook, morally speaking. As the Bible itself says, if you know the right thing to do, and do not do it, it is a sin. By giving Satan free reign to impose his will on Creation, God is effectively doing Satan’s will rather than vice versa. It’s no use trying to blame Man for God’s behavior. By providing Satan with the means and the opportunity to do evil, God necessarily makes Himself an accessory to sin, if not a co-conspirator.
The dialog avoids confronting this difficulty by having Mr. Straw begin to whine and complain about the idea that Jesus will make everything all right at the Second Coming.
STRAW: I’m not interested in the future. I want pain and suffering to end now! Why won’t God end it?
GEISTUR: He will end it, but just not on your timetable. Just because God hasn’t ended all evil yet doesn’t mean that he never will end it.
At which point we’ll all lose our free will and become completely unable to love and do good, right? Oh wait, that was two arguments ago, and thus completely unrelated to what Geistur is saying in this sentence. Silly me, I was looking for coherence.
The point of this argument is to show how totally unreasonable and selfish atheists are. I mean, stomping his little foot and demanding, “I want pain and suffering to end right now!” Isn’t that childish? Isn’t that selfish? I mean, can you imagine a loving (heavenly) father looking down on his children writhing in agony, and saying, “I want that to stop immediately”?
It’s easy to see the priorities here. Mr. Straw’s priority is the well-being of others, specifically those in need and in suffering. Dr. Geistur’s priority is making sure we all understand that suffering continues because God is not ready to end it yet, and that’s ok! It’s all a matter of perspective. To the altar boy bending over, helpless, terrified, humiliated and gasping in pain, Geistur offers the justification that someday, in some unseen, distant future, probably after you are dead, this kindly old priest will no longer be fucking you up the ass. So it’s ok.
Like I said, perspective.
Needless to say, this particular “answer” doesn’t even come close to justifying the lack of response on God’s part now. Future promises of improved behavior do not justify present sins. If it did, we would need no Savior, because we could just stand before the Judgment Seat of God and say, “Yes, Lord, I have done wrong, but none of that should count against me any more than it does against You, because ultimately there will come a time when I’m no longer behaving that way, just as You too will someday cease giving evil the means and opportunity to manifest itself.”
As I mentioned last week, this is Geisler and Turek’s own script. They can make the discussion go however they like. They even get to pick what the atheist says. And it’s still going very badly for them. They’re making excuses, they’re trying to shift the blame, they’re dancing all around the point, and their attempts to justify God only end up making Him look even worse. Not only is God callous and uncaring regarding the sufferings of His children, but (if we’re going to buy the “free will” argument) He necessarily becomes the source of an eternal Evil Himself.
As feeble and corrupt as Geistur’s “answer” is, though, it at least moves us a bit closer to the main rationalization he uses to try and excuse God for His failure to openly oppose the “works of Satan.” As I mentioned at the end of my last post, it’s a combination of arguing that the end justifies the means and denying that evil is really all that bad. Didn’t quite get there this week, but we’re almost there, so stay tuned.