XFiles: Too many holesJune 6, 2010 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, Appendix 1.)
I remember watching a cartoon, long ago, where the rabbit was visiting Holland, and happened to spot a hole in the dike. Naturally, he stuck his finger in it to plug it. Well, you can guess the rest. No sooner does he plug one hole than the dike springs another leak. Soon he’s plastered himself to the wall, using fingers, toes, and even his long rabbit ears to plug all the leaks, and then even more leaks break out. He can’t plug the new ones without taking his fingers out of the old ones. You just know this isn’t going to end well for the poor rabbit!
I don’t know what sort of expression was on the faces of Geisler and Turek as they wrote their appendix on the problem of evil, but the more I read it, the more I think they must have had the same intense look of inventive desperation as that cartoon rabbit had. Every time they turn around, their rationalizations have new holes, and they’re running out of fingers to try and plug them all with. The best solution—replace the shoddy structure with a sound and solid one—isn’t available to them. Instead of taking a consistent, cohesive approach, they must resort to an erratic and hyperactive succession of sound-bite rationalizations, hoping to save the day by jumping from leak to leak fast enough to stop the flow of disaster. It doesn’t actually work, but at least they can feel good about how busy they are.
Today’s installment starts with Mr. Straw (the atheist) reminding Dr. Geistur (the Christian) that his excuses thus far have failed to explain why God does not intervene to warn us about preventable disasters like 9/11.
STRAW: If you knew [9/11] was going to happen and had the power to stop it, wouldn’t you have stopped it?
STRAW: So you are better than God!
GEISTUR: No, by stopping 9/11, I would be preventing evil. But God, who has an unlimited, eternal perspective, allows evil choices knowing that he can redeem them in the end. We can’t redeem such choices, so we try to stop every one.
What Geistur fails to consider here is that God, in this scenario, is not merely permitting evil choices, He is making an evil choice of His own, by deliberately withholding information that could have been used to thwart the attacks. That, you may remember, is the exact crime that Moussaoui was sentenced to life in prison for: knowing about the attacks in time to warn people, and not informing the authorities. And God is guilty of the same crime, at least according to Geistur’s theology.
Nor does it excuse the evil of God’s own choices to promise that in some unexplained way we might hope for the possibility that God’s unlimited power might find a way to “redeem” this evil choice later on. A perfectly good God would not need to make up for His evil choices later on, since He would not make evil choices in the first place. Geistur thinks he has plugged the new hole, but all he’s really done is take his finger out of the old one, by putting God in the role of a sinner Who needs forgiveness Himself. And this isn’t the only hole Geistur opens up, as Mr. Straw also notices.
STRAW: Yes, but by your own Christian doctrine, God doesn’t redeem all evil choices in the end. After all, some people go to hell!
GEISTUR: Yes, but that’s because God can bring eternal good only to those who will accept it. Some people ignore the facts or simply choose to play the game in a way that brings them defeat. Since God cannot force them to freely choose to play the game the right way, ultimate good only comes to those who choose it.
Notice how each answer not only fails to solve the original problem, it creates additional problems as well? The problem with 9/11 is that God made the evil choice to withhold the vital, lifesaving information. Geistur attempts to plug this leak by saying God should be excused because He will redeem this evil choice later. When pressed, however, he admits that this isn’t really true, and that God will not redeem them, and in fact cannot redeem them, except for what Jesus called a “few” people. So this answer fails more often than it succeeds.
Geistur doesn’t notice this, though, because in true ADHD fashion he’s already shifted to a completely different compartment in his thinking: the notion that people only go to Hell because they obstinately refuse to go anywhere else. From Geistur’s point of view, God obviously cannot have any flaws, and therefore all these unanswerable problems must be man’s fault, somehow. The problem of God’s evil choice simply pops behind one of Geistur’s magic blinkers, where he can’t see it, and his attention is focused solely on how evil people are.
The problem with this excuse is that people are supposed to be made in God’s image. Geistur is assuming that, left to their own free will, most people will become progressively more evil until they are so opposed to good that they will cause their own harm rather than allow themselves to experience God’s eternal good. They’re made in the image of God, and therefore they naturally become progressively more evil as time goes on. This isn’t just misanthropic, it’s blasphemous!
Nor does it help to say that some kind of “sin nature” is preventing us from valuing and pursuing godliness. If a sin nature is some kind of external influence—that is, if it’s something that’s not an inherent part of human nature as created by God in His own image—then God could solve that problem by purging us of that sin nature (as the Cross is supposed to enable Him to do). Then our free will would be truly free, and we could pursue the good that, being made in God’s image, we ought to innately desire. If He can’t do that because our free will (created in His image) actually prefers the sin nature, then what does that tell us about the image we’re supposedly made in?
And remember, this situation is all supposed to be part of God’s plan, which He foreordained before the foundation of the world. If God today finds Himself in a situation where He has no choice but to make evil choices, which He will usually fail to redeem later on, because He has allowed us to acquire the kind of sin nature that prevents us from pursuing the innate desire for good which ought to come from being made in His image—well, if that’s the way things are, it’s only because that’s the way He always intended for things to be. Even when you try to excuse God due to “circumstances beyond His control,” Christian doctrine teaches us that He and He alone is ultimately responsible for creating and directing those circumstances, according to His own will. His behavior, thus, is inexcusable. He is, and must be, responsible for His own actions, or He is not truly God (at least as the Bible describes Him).
Interestingly, after floundering around for a while trying to make it sound like people should be glad that God allows them to go to Hell, Geistur seems to get an inkling of this same problem. If the situation today is such a mess, why would God create it this way in the first place? That should be interesting, though I’m not too hopeful of any truly profound insights from the good Dr. Geistur. I don’t think we’ll have room for it all in this post, though, so let’s break here and pick this up again next week. Cheers.