XFiles: the pieces left overMay 16, 2010 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, Appendix 1.)
At the beginning of their book, Geisler and Turek compared life to a jigsaw puzzle.
Just as the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle are difficult to put together without the picture on the box top, the many diverse pieces of life make no sense without some kind of unifying big picture. The question is, does anyone have the box top to this puzzle we call life?
In their last chapter, they claimed to have found the box top, the big picture that makes life make sense. By a curious coincidence, it happened to be the same as the religion they’re trying to sell us. And yet, when we compare their box top to the pieces on the table in front of us, the two clearly fail to line up.
The box top shows a wise and powerful shepherd who truly cares for his sheep and is able both to lead them to verdant pastures and to drive away any predators before they even approach the sheep. What do we see in the puzzle pieces? Mutton. Scrapie. Rocky, overgrazed pastures. Whole packs of wolves. But no shepherd. None of the pieces we can actually see really match the image of the loving, powerful, and all-wise guardian and caregiver, so lovingly depicted on the box top Geisler and Turek have painted for us.
So hidden away in an appendix (where believers are less likely to read it), in a comic-strip dialog format (which allows the Christian character to make broad claims without having to document them), Geisler and Turek are attempting to be the ones to find the answer believers have been looking for since before Jesus was even born. And, in keeping with long-standing traditions, they’re failing.
Last week, we saw how Geisler and Turek tried to make Mr. Straw (the atheist strawman in this dialog) sound unreasonable and whiny for asking why God is not currently opposing evil the way any good person would reasonably be expected to do. The Christian character, Dr. Geistur (as we’re calling him), even went so far as to imply that we, the victims, are guilty and responsible for causing all the evil that exists in the world—including things we have no control over.
Now it’s Dr. Geistur’s turn to get a little unreasonable, as he twists and turns, trying to think of some justification for God’s decision to serve as an accessory/co-conspirator to evil, continuing to provide it with the means and the opportunity to manifest itself in the world.
GEISTUR: If God wanted to end evil now, he could. But have you thought that maybe God has other goals that he would like to accomplish while evil exists?
STRAW: Like what?
GEISTUR: For starters, he would like to have more people choose heaven before he closes the curtain on this world. Paul seems to indicate that Jesus will come back after “the full number” of people become believers (Rom. 11:25).
Dr. Geistur seems to be a bit unsure as to whether evil is really all that bad. Remember, we’re not just talking about suffering here, we’re talking about sin. Geistur’s argument is that God could oppose evil, but then He wouldn’t be able to do as much. God with evil has more power to do good than God without evil. It’s like a performance-enhancing drug: it gives God super powers that He wouldn’t have otherwise. Sure, it may be wrong, but let’s face it, God is hooked on evil. Without it, He’s useless.
Is this really the argument Christians want to make? If God is truly the creator of everything, did He deliberately create a situation in which He would necessarily be dependent on evil in order to be able to do good? Dr. Geistur seems to have failed to think this through. Perhaps we shouldn’t judge him too harshly, though: the problem of evil is really a tough one because it’s fundamentally inconsistent with Christian beliefs. And that’s giving Dr. Geistur some serious cognitive dissonance.
Notice, for example, how he consistently invokes a kind of tunnel vision by assuming that the only thing God can do to oppose evil is to destroy the entire planet. Why doesn’t God oppose evil? Because He doesn’t want to destroy this world until the “full number” of predestined believers has been saved. It’s either/or: either God can do nothing to oppose evil (thus giving people time to repent), or He can end evil by destroying the entire world, along with all earthly opportunities for salvation. No other options, even for God.
Utter nonsense, of course: there are any number of lesser ways God could oppose evil, even while allowing it to continue to exist in some form. Geistur himself even proposes some of them—as chores we need to undertake. He can see that alternatives exist, but somehow he can’t make the connection between them and God. It’s the psychology of denial: if he could see them, he would be unable to explain why God doesn’t do them. Therefore, he cannot see them, except as things we ought to be doing.
We see another example of this psychological blindness when Mr. Straw (as the atheist cartoon) raises the possibility of God merely helping us when we suffer.
STRAW: That’s nice, but if I were suffering, I’d rather have God help me than you.
GEISTUR: If God prevented pain every time we got into trouble, then we would become the most reckless, self-centered creatures in the universe. And we would never learn from suffering.
STRAW: Learn from suffering! What are you talking about?
GEISTUR: Ah, you’ve just hit on another reason why God doesn’t end evil right now. Can you name me one enduring lesson that you ever learned from pleasure?
Notice how Geistur twisted the original suggestion from the idea that God could help comfort us after we experience pain into some kind of demand that God prevent us from ever experiencing negative consequences from our evil deeds. The reasonable expectation, which Geistur can’t explain or refute, is magically transformed into an unreasonable demand that he can dismiss.
Or can he? Think about it: the lessons we learn from pain are lessons about how to avoid the evil consequences of our evil deeds. But what if evil never existed in the first place? Without evil, there are neither evil deeds to do nor evil consequences to suffer, and thus no value in learning lessons about avoiding evil. No evil = nothing to avoid, and no motive to even want to do anything wrong in the first place!
Or let’s consider the proposition that, without pain (and evil), we would necessarily become the most reckless and self-centered creatures in the universe. Really? Even though we were made in the image of God? Did God become the most reckless and self-centered creature in eternity before the creation of pain and evil? I’ll give you a minute to think about that.
Or how about the idea that we could not learn enduring lessons without evil? Once again, Dr. Geistur twists this into a demand for enduring lessons we learn from pleasure (i.e. not just in the absence of evil). The strawman atheist, of course, can’t think of any, though it’s not hard to do (has Geistur never learned the satisfaction of a job well done, or the rewards of proper hygiene and exercise and nutrition, or the joy of helping others?). There’s lots of things that both make you feel good and teach you valuable lessons, but the psychology of denial prevents Geistur from seeing any of them just now.
Geistur’s dilemma becomes even worse when you try and put the word “enduring” into a Christian context. According to the Gospel, believers are going to spend eternity in heaven, which means that our earthly experiences are going to be a vanishingly small percentage of what our “enduring” experience will be. In order to be a properly enduring lesson, in a Christian context, it needs to be a lesson that will be applicable to the conditions that will allegedly exist eternally in heaven.
So, for example, Geistur argues that “You can’t develop courage unless there is danger.” Is this an enduring lesson, though? In an atheistic, secular sense of “enduring,” sure. But courage is only a virtue when there is a danger to face and an evil to oppose. Is that what conditions are going to be like in heaven for all eternity? What kind of relationship will there be between Jesus Christ and his Bride (i.e. the Church), if being raped and tortured is a valuable and enduring lesson in the Christian sense? What is there about watching your children slowly starve that makes you better prepared for what God has in store for believers in heaven?
Amazingly, Mr. Straw almost points out this problem. Dr. Geistur’s response has to be seen to be believed.
STRAW: But I wouldn’t need all those virtues if God would just quarantine evil right now!
GEISTUR: But since God has reasons for not quarantining evil right now, you need to develop virtues for this life and for the life hereafter. This earth is an uncomfortable home, but it’s a great gymnasium for the hereafter.
STRAW: You Christians always punt to the hereafter…
Yes, God does not quarantine evil, so that we can develop virtues. And we need to develop those virtues because God does not quarantine evil. And anyway, 9-11… er, I mean, the afterlife.
Geistur never does quite explain how exactly we’re better prepared for heaven if we suffer here on earth. Maybe heaven really sucks and so God has to make us suffer in this life so that His “rewards” will seem to be an improvement? Once again, good needs evil in order to have the power to be truly good. Heaven, somehow, is not the kind of place that could be good enough all by itself, without the evil.
Geistur makes one last, feeble attempt to make earthly sufferings sound relevant to heaven, but it takes a bit of careful scripting. Geisler and Turek have to sneak the word “punt” into Mr. Straw’s line so that Geistur can make a neat segue into talking about football as a metaphor of how rewards are sweeter when you really have to work for them. Just imagine what it would feel like to win the Super Bowl!
In fact, Geistur is simply changing the subject: Mr. Straw brought up a good point about how suffering would be irrelevant to a believer’s experience in heaven, and the Christian basically says “Ooo, look a monkey!” Wave your hands, blow some smoke, and how about them Raiders eh? Anything to get off the point. He never quite explains how winning the Super Bowl is like the victory believers experience in heaven, he just claims that they’re alike.
But what’s particularly ironic is that Geistur’s metaphor blows up in his face. Yeah, I bet it feels great to win a Super Bowl, and yeah it’s probably a lot of hard work and grunt time. But here’s the deal: the winning team didn’t need to be raped as little boys in order to prepare them for that tremendous victory. They didn’t have to try and exterminate the Jews to make touchdowns. They still got to experience the strength- and character-building process of striving for glory without the need to resort to evil in order to empower themselves.
God could take a pointer or two from a buncha dumb jocks. Despite Geistur’s frantic hand-waving attempts to make it sound like evil really isn’t so bad, and is in fact a valuable tool for helping us win our own personal spiritual victories, there are non-evil ways to accomplish everything good that Geistur is trying to give evil credit for. And it’s Geistur himself who points out this alternative.
All of Geistur’s excuses for God fail for that simple reason. Not only does God have countless lesser ways that He could be opposing evil, but there’s not even any need for evil to exist to be opposed. Ordinary, uninspired sports fans can come up with alternatives that build character, self-discipline, and moral fiber, without depending on sin to accomplish their goals. And if the God that Geistur preaches were a God that really existed, then He could do that too.
But He doesn’t, so He can’t, and that’s why Geisler and Turek have to hide their discussion of evil in an appendix.