The Most Asinine Christian Argument I've Probably Ever Heard

This argument is touted recently by the Maverick Philosopher which Vic Reppert links to, who merely asks the question of whether or not he's correct. It's used by C.S. Lewis, Norman Geisler, Paul Copan, and others like Steve Hays and David Wood. It concerns the problem of evil and whether or not the atheist can make that argument without an objective standard to know evil. Now I don't usually call Christian arguments asinine, so hear me out...

C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, argues from the start that there can be no evil without absolute goodness (God) to measure it against. "How do you know a line is crooked without having some knowledge of what a straight line is?” In other words, I need some sort of objective moral in order to say something is morally evil. But the word “evil” here is used both as a term describing the fact that there is suffering, and at the same time it’s used as a moral term to describe whether or not such suffering makes the belief in a good God improbable, and that’s an equivocation in the word’s usage. The fact that there is suffering is undeniable. Whether it makes the belief in a good God improbable is the subject for debate. I'm talking about pain...the kind that turns our stomachs. Why is there so much of it when there is a good omnipotent God? I’m arguing that the amount of intense suffering in this world makes the belief in a good God improbable from a theistic perspective, and I may be a relativist, a pantheist, or a witchdoctor and still ask about the internal consistency of what a theist believes.

The dilemma for the theist is to reconcile senseless suffering in the world with his own beliefs (not mine) that all suffering is for a greater good. It’s an internal problem for the theist and the skeptic is merely using the logical tool for assessing arguments called the reductio ad absurdum, which attempts to reduce to absurdity the claims of a person. The technique is to force a claimant to choose between accepting the consequences of what he believes, no matter how absurd it seems, or to reject one or more premises in his argument. The person making this argument does not believe the claimant and is trying to show why her beliefs are misguided and false to some degree, depending on the force of his counter-argument. It’s that simple. If skeptics cannot use this argument here on this issue then we should disallow all reductio ad absurdum type arguments. Just ask yourself if, in order to show Idealism to be implausible by accepting the premises of George Berkeley’s argument, whether you therefore must abandon your view that there is a material world, and you’ll see what I mean.

Christian theists argue that in the natural world nothing can count as evil for the atheist, since everything that happens is part of nature. So, they claim atheists have no objective basis for arguing there is any evil in the natural world that can count against the existence of the Christian God. But this is fallacious reasoning. What counts as evil in my atheist worldview is a separate problem from the Christian problem of evil. They are distinctly separate issues. Christians cannot seek to answer their internal problem by claiming atheists also have a problem with evil. Yet, that’s exactly what they do here, which is an informal fallacy known as a red herring, or skirting the issue. Christians must deal with their internal problem. Atheists must do likewise. I will not skirt my specific problem by claiming Christians have one. I adjure them to do the same.

The fact that many professional philosophers agree with this can be seen in reading through the book, The Evidential Argument From Evil, edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder. Not one scholarly Christian theist attempted to make this argument in that book; not Swinburne, not Plantinga, not Alston, not Wykstra, not Van Inwagen and not Howard-Snyder. I suggest it’s because they know it is not dealing with the problem at all. They recognize it as a bogus argument, and obviously so.

That this is a theistic problem can be settled once and for all by merely reminding the Christian that she would still have to deal with this problem even if I never raised it at all. That is, even if I did not argue that the existence of evil presents a serious problem for the Christian view of God, the Christian would still have to satisfactorily answer the problem for herself. So to turn around and argue that as an atheist I need to have an objective moral standard to make this argument is nonsense. It’s an internal problem that would still demand an answer if no atheist ever argued for it. The problem of evil is one of the reasons why Process Theologians have conceded that God is not omnipotent. It didn’t take atheists to persuade them to abandon God’s omnipotence at all. The problem speaks for itself. There is nothing wrong with a Christian who wishes to evaluate the internal consistency of her own belief system. To say otherwise is to affirm pure fideism.

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