XFiles: The surprise endingJune 20, 2010 — Deacon Duncan
(Book: I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, by Geisler and Turek, Appendix 1.)
We’re just about done with Geisler and Turek’s attempt to deal with the existence of evil and the problems this poses for their allegedly all-good, all-wise and all-powerful god. And, in a bit of a surprise twist at the end, it turns out that the unbeliever actually wins this one. The Christian runs out of answers, admits that his “explanations” don’t really do the job, and ends up encouraging the atheist to just have faith. Great way to end a book called I Don’t Have Enough FAITH to Be an ATHEIST, eh?
Remember last week, when Dr. Geistur (the Christian) argued at some length that there were five possibilities regarding the creation of the world, and that there was some reason why God had no choice but to create a world that would end up full of sin and evil? Yeah. Turns out that was all a sham. This world is not the world that an all-wise, all-powerful and all-good God would make, and Geistur knows it.
GEISTUR: God can’t force free creatures not to sin. Forced freedom is a contradiction.
STRAW: But this world could be better if there were one less murder or one less rape. So God failed because he didn’t create the best possible world.
GEISTUR: Hold on. While I will admit that this world is not the best possible world, it may be the best way to get to the best possible world.
Geistur has been caught out, so he tries to quickly change the subject, which we’ll get to in a moment. But let’s notice first that Straw’s point is exactly right. Not all attempts to sin are successful. Sometimes you try to blow up a plane, and only set your undies on fire (ouch!). This world we live in already contains the possibility that sin can be thwarted, despite the free choice of the would-be perpetrator. Even if you insist that God is too pro-choice to deprive us of our free will, He still has plenty of opportunity to intervene to prevent actual harm from being done between the time sin occurs in the heart and the time the villain’s evil intention is carried out.
What’s more, when Person A plans to murder Person B, A’s free will has implications for B’s free will, since murder interferes with B’s ability to freely choose what they will do with their life. Even if God is constrained to minimize infringements on free will, it’s a wash. Somebody‘s free will is going to be harmed, so why does the evil person get his way and the good person doesn’t? Straw’s point doesn’t go far enough (naturally, since he’s only a straw man atheist). It’s not just that God failed to create the best possible world, it’s that He fails every day to do what He can to make it better.
Oops, the atheist is right, time to wave hands and try and distract the audience. You gotta love the choice of words here. Geistur can’t come right out and claim that this world is the best way to bring about the best possible world, because then he’d have to show how it’s the best possible way. He says it “may be” the best possible way. Faced with a solid, substantial, real-world problem raised by the atheist, the Christian backpedals and offers only empty speculation.
The problem is that Geistur doesn’t really have an answer for this one, or for the problem of evil in general. The best he can offer is some hand-waving and the hope that somehow, some way some mysterious and inscrutable answer might be out there somewhere. He assumes that it probably builds character or something.
GEISTUR: God may have permitted evil in order to defeat it. As I’ve already said, if evil is not allowed, then the higher virtues cannot be attained. People who are redeemed have stronger character than people who have not been tested. Soul-building requires some pain.
So if men, being made in God’s image, are devoid of the higher virtues and cannot obtain them without allowing and participating in evil, then it stands to reason that God must also be devoid of the higher virtues, and unable to obtain them, since there’s nobody available to redeem Him from His sins. Geistur’s argument also implies that God must have a weaker character, for the same reason. Otherwise it would be possible to have a strong character without sinning, and then we could have a world in which evil did not play such a vital role.
Let’s remember, too, that we’re only talking about the speculation that the present world may be ONE means of arriving at a better world. It’s not the only way to do so, and it’s certainly not the best. As we’ve mentioned before, Geistur’s own Super Bowl illustration gives us one model that a wise and good God could have used to build a world that builds character through competition. If God were smarter than His worshippers, He ought to be able to think of lots more. (Hey, as long as we’re indulging in empty speculations anyway, right?)
Unfortunately for Geistur’s rosy and shapeless daydream, Straw spoils the mood by asking why God would create people knowing they were going to choose hell. Geistur’s answer, rather astonishingly, is to suggest that it’s like parents choosing to have children, knowing that some day they would disobey! No, seriously, he tries to make it sound like an omniscient God, knowing full well the endless agonies to be suffered by the damned in Hell, would be no more put off by it than a parent would be at the thought of a child choosing to go his own way. Geistur even brings in his Super Bowl illustration again to try and sell the point.
GEISTUR: I was willing to take the risk of loss in order to experience the joy of love. The same is true of every Super Bowl. Both teams know that one will lose, yet both are willing to play the game despite that risk.
Can’t you just see God sitting up in heaven, in His comfy armchair, TV remote in one hand, cold beer in the other, saying, “Yeah, I knew that billions would end up screaming and sobbing in ceaseless torture just so I could have a few worshipers, but that’s a risk that I was willing to take. You have to take risks to get the most out of life, you know.”
Nice guy. And this is Geistur, the Christian, painting us this cozy picture of his God deliberately creating sinners to go to Hell because the rewards to Him outweighed the risks to us—at least as far as He was concerned. Not a sparrow falls to earth without God’s knowledge, Jesus tells us. It’s just that God doesn’t care. Sweet.
Let’s just give each player a chance for one final quote:
STRAW: I must admit that your intellectual answers make some sense, but evil still bothers me.
GEISTUR: It bothers me too, and it should.
That’s a good closing line. It should bother him, because his straw man’s praise notwithstanding, his intellectual answers only show the tremendous inconsistencies in his Gospel. The rest of Geistur’s lines are all about having faith in some invisible Comforter Who, in some indefinable, subjective, imaginary way, will “help” us to endure the evil that his bastard God has benevolently prescribed for us, as “good” medicine to help us build some kind of “higher character.” Oh yes, and Jesus died on the cross, so He knows all about what it means to have to endure the consequences of sin. Well, except for the part about eternal suffering in Hell, of course. But that’s a risk He was willing to take, so He could get a few worshippers.
I think we can see now why Geistur’s very first priority in this discussion was to demand that we assume that God exists. Under no circumstances is any of this evidence allowed to be applied to the central question of the book, i.e. whether or not real-world evidence reflects the existence of a Gospel-style deity. It might seem like the most fundamental obvious question an apologist ought to have to deal with, but it’s off-limits. And now we know why: the real-world evidence is not consistent with the existence of a God that matches Geistur’s description.
God does not show up in real life. The only source of information we have about God is what we can obtain from the thoughts, words, and feelings of men. Not only is evidence of God absent from the real world, but the evidence which does exist is deeply and fundamentally inconsistent with the evidence that would result from such a God existing and creating us.
Geisler and Turek are right about one thing, though: they don’t have enough faith. When you believe what men tell you, just because men tell you, despite seeing how inconsistent it is with the real world, that’s not faith. It’s gullibility.
And we’re done! There are two more appendices, but they’re primarily aimed at refuting liberal Christianity, and I’m not terribly interested in pursuing that. Maybe some day. But I think we’ve pretty much finished our consideration of what Geisler and Turek think of as the primary evidence for God’s existence. It’s a weird combination of superstition, denial, double standards, and (of course) plain old gullibility, but it’s not what I’d call really good evidence.
So much for that then.