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Do Evil and Suffering Disprove God?

April 2000

William Lane Craig vs. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong

Minnesota, United States - April 1, 2000


I’d like to introduce our two guests tonight. It’s my privilege first to introduce Dr. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong who is a Professor of Philosophy at Dartmouth College. He’s the author and/or editor of eight books and dozens of articles. He has special interests in ethics and philosophy of law. We had some interesting conversations on the law system in Australia, which is a special area of interest. He studies theory of knowledge and informal logic. He enjoys golf (which is a very good thing) and racquetball. He enjoys his children (another good thing), travel, and eating, not necessarily in that order. He says that he’d like to say hi to his kids, and we’ll probably let him do that. He lives with his wife and two children in Hanover, New Hampshire.

The other guest representing Christian Theism is Dr. William Lane Craig. Bill is a Research Professor of Philosophy at Talbot Theological Seminary in Los Angeles, although he actually lives in Marietta, Georgia with his wife Jan and two friends, two children, also friends, Charity and John. I think they can be both, right? Both are not mutually exclusive categories. Bill is the author of fourteen books and also numerous articles. I have copies of the two resumes of these gentlemen, and we had to cut down a small grove in order to create the paper to put down all the wonderful things that these men have written. Bill has special interests in philosophy of religion, the subject of God and time (one of those really difficult and perennial questions), evidence for the existence of God, and also has written about the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And as I say, he is now living in Marietta, Georgia, though he has spent thirteen years living in Europe in four different countries so he has had a good bit of international experience.

It’s my privilege to welcome both Walter and Bill to Wooddale Church this evening.

And now we’re going to begin our topic: Do evil and suffering disprove God? And we will begin first with the opening statement by Walter and then proceed directly from that to the opening statement by Bill.

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong

Well hi, I’m very glad to be here and thank you for inviting me. I must admit that I feel somewhat like a Christian in the Roman Coliseum. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a church this big, but I assume you didn’t come to see me eaten by lions, at least I hope not. I hope that you came for an exchange of ideas, and I think it’s great that Wooddale Church puts on this series of events which should stimulate your thinking and I hope will lead to thinking well beyond this event and lead you to talk to each other about these issues in the coming weeks. So thanks very much for coming.

I want to make it clear from the start why I’m here. I’m a teacher and so I take it that my job is to educate and, of course, also to learn because you can’t educate without learning. So I want to make this debate an educational experience for all of us including myself. I’m not here to win some kind of high school debate competition. I think a debate is a funny kind of thing. I hope this will be a discussion. I’m also not here to turn people away from religion. I think there are many wonderful things about religion. There are lots of different types of religion. Many people need religion in their lives in order to face difficulties. It often brings communities together. I don’t want to undermine any of that. However, religion can play its positive roles without all of the fancy doctrines that theologians try to get you to accept. Moreover some special doctrines about God are almost incoherent or at least very implausible, and its those and only those doctrines that I want to argue against tonight.

Because my target is so limited I think we have to start by saying what type of God were talking about - there should be a little slide that comes on at this point; there we go, good. We’re talking about a traditional Christian God as God has been conceived since the Middle Ages, which means that God is all-good. God always does the best that he can, and he’s all-powerful so he can do anything that’s logically possible. He’s not limited by the circumstances or even by the laws of nature. And God is all-knowing. He knows everything that is true. Now those top three are the three I’m going to focus on, but I mentioned the other three in case they come up in discussion. God is supposed to be eternal, outside of time, he’s effective, he can bring about changes in time. And he’s personal: he makes choices, his will, and so on. I want to argue that nothing has all of these features. There might be something that has most of these features, but there is nothing that has all of them.I should also say a quick word about proofs since that in the title of the debate as well. [1] I don’t see how you can have an absolutely conclusive proof about any of these views about God, and so I’m not even going to try to give you an absolutely conclusive proof. What I’m going to try to do instead is give you adequate evidence against the existence of a traditional God of the sort that was defined.

And my argument is very simple, it’s very old, there’s nothing new about it. I make no claim for originality. In its most powerful form, my argument focuses on examples, so here’s one. A friend of mine had a child who was born with a horrible disease. Many doctors tried to save this child’s life but they couldn’t. The baby lived for a short time in terrible pain and then died. The parents were devastated. They separated from each other shortly thereafter, and they’ve really never recovered from the event. Now suppose that a doctor could have cured that child and enabled it to live a normal, happy life, with a simple operation that would not have cost much or harmed anybody or deprived other patients of needed care. But nonetheless, the doctor chose not to save the baby. Why? Maybe the doctor didn’t feel like operating that day. I would consider such a doctor to be a moral monster, just to let that child die under those circumstances. And I assume that most of you would agree with me on that. Now apply these standards to God. On the traditional conception, God is omnipotent so God can save my friends' child. Moreover, God could have cured the child with no harm to other people. God could have reached in, changed the genetic structure so that this horrible genetic disease did not occur, and the child would not have gone through all that pain and death. Did God have an adequate reason to let this baby suffer and die? Well, I don’t see why he did. And I bet you can’t see any good reason for God to let that happen either. It just doesn’t make sense that an all-powerful, all-good God would let such evil happen. That’s why this bit of evil is evidence against the existence of the traditional God. And notice that one bit of evil that’s unjustified would be enough to refute an all-powerful, all-good God. But it’s worth mentioning that there’s lots of evil like this in the world. My friend’s baby was not the only one who dies of such diseases. There are also earthquakes, and tornadoes, and floods. People die for many different reasons in many different places and in each case God could stop it. We would certainly stop it if we could. So the question is why doesn’t He? That’s the basic idea.

Now my argument can be presented more formally, and that’s the next slide. If there were an all-powerful and all-good God, then there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.

1) There is some evil in the world.

2) Some of that evil is not logically necessary for any adequately compensating good.

3) Therefore, there can’t be a God who is all-powerful and all-good.

That’s it. Pretty simple argument, but it does contain a few terms that I think I need to explain to get it clear.

The first crucial term is evil because that’s what we’re talking about. By evil, I mean anything that all rational people avoid for themselves unless they have some adequate reason to want that evil. And on this list then things that meet that test would be pain, disability, ignorance, death. All of those things are something nobody wants for themselves without an adequate reason unless they’re irrational or mentally ill in some way.

Still, of course it’s not always irrational to seek these things for oneself when one does have an adequate reason, and sometimes one does. Here’s an example: I used to wonder about why I would pay someone to drill on my teeth. Because it’s excruciatingly painful and extremely uncomfortable to me, but of course the reason is clear. If I don’t put up with that short-term evil, in the longer term I’m going to suffer even more pain and disability. So some evil seems to be justified. When is it justified? Evil is justified when there is no other way to avoid it or no better way to avoid it - some greater evil like tooth decay in the future or no better way to get a greater good in the future. If I could prevent tooth decay simply by taking a pill that tastes good and has no side effects, then it would be just crazy to go to the dentist and have him drill on my teeth. [2] I take it that’s all common sense. Morality enters the story when evil is caused not just to myself, but to other people as well. It’s morally wrong to cause evil to other people. It’s morally good to prevent evils for other people. And of course we have to add, unless there is an adequate reason, again. Sometimes we do have a reason: self-defense in war, we might kill someone in self-defense. A doctor might amputate a person’s leg producing a disability in order to save a life. But if there’s no reason like that to cut off somebody’s leg when there is not an adequate reason like that, would be morally bad. The problem of evil arises because God is more skilled than any human doctor. God can prevent tooth decay with no pain. God can save any patient's life without amputation, and God can save my friends' baby from the suffering and death that it faced. It might seem that even God cannot do this because it would violate the laws of nature. But remember that God is omnipotent and can do anything logically possible. God can do miracles. He can intervene in nature and even change the laws of nature; that is, if he exists. Consequently, the only evils that God is justified in allowing are those that are logically necessary in order to promote some adequately compensating good. And that’s what the premise of my argument claimed.

I hope this makes my argument clear enough. As I said, the argument is very old so of course Christian theologians throughout the ages have provided many possible responses to it. But I don’t think any of those responses are any good. I can’t go through every possible response at this point, or ever for that matter, but I will mention a few. And others might come up in discussions so this will be a chance for you to raise responses that impress you.

One traditional response is that evil is imposed by God as a punishment for sin. The first problem with that response is that it doesn’t seem that evil is distributed in accordance with sin. There is no reason to believe that someone who’s struck by lightning has sinned more than someone who is not struck by lightning. Moreover, even babies suffer. But babies have not sinned yet so there’s nothing to punish them for. That’s why, in my example, I use babies. Now some theologians respond that babies are punished for original sin, but if you think about it, that’s just grossly unfair. Long ago, governments did punish whole families for the sins of one member of that family. But today we view that as barbaric. So original sin can’t be a good reason for God to allow babies to suffer and die.

Another common response is that the child who suffers in this life is repaid in heaven. But just think about it for a minute; which is better: for the child to suffer in this life and then go to heaven. Well that’s better than suffering in this life and not going to heaven. But is it better than another option, number two, going straight to heaven and not having to go through all that suffering. God could send that child straight to heaven without going through all of that. If it were my child, that’s what I’d want to do. And I assume you would think the same. So why doesn’t God pick number two, straight to heaven, instead of number one, go through all that suffering and then go to heaven? It’s hard to see any reason.

Probably the most popular response to the problem of evil is that free will is so valuable that God let us have it even though he knew that we would, sometimes at least, misuse it and cause evil. And sure enough a lot of evil in the world is caused by human actions. The point is often supported in an analogy to parents. You wouldn’t want a robot for a child would you? Well, I wouldn’t want a robot for a child, although I must admit, there are days when I wish my children would be more obedient (and that’s for Miranda and Nick(. Anyway, I’ll grant for now that free will is very valuable. Still there’s much evil that cannot be justified in this way. And that’s because it’s natural evil. That means evil that is not brought about as a result of human actions, but rather through natural processes. This includes diseases. It includes earthquakes, lightning, and so on. And all of the anguish and pain and death caused by those natural disasters is something that cannot be explained by the need to have free will because they don’t occur because of free will. [3] That’s why I use natural evil in my examples, and that means that free will cannot provide God with a good reason to let people suffer and die as much as they do. Another response refers to a different compensating good. Evil builds character. The child suffers and dies, but the parents become more courageous and observers become more compassionate. Again, just think about it. God is omnipotent. God can make these people compassionate by showing them movies or making them dream about evil and learn things in other ways. You don’t have to have people actually going through it. Also, it’s unfair to make this child suffer so that somebody else will learn something. We would certainly not praise a parent who let their child die in a horrible way just to teach that child’s sibling some kind of lesson because it wouldn’t be fair to the child who suffered. And that means God is not fair if he’s doing the same thing.

The same point about fairness applies to another response that Bill Craig sometimes uses: that evil is used by God to maximize the number of people who know God and glorify God. If you think about it, it seems awfully narcissistic. If God allows babies to suffer so that other people will glorify him, then it seems horribly unfair to those children. If a father told us that he doesn’t care whether his children suffer - he’s going to let them suffer so they will need him and turn to him for help - then we would think he was some kind of egomaniac. Besides God could people to Him in lots of other ways that don’t involve as much evil.

Another common response is that God has a reason but we can’t see it. The problem here is, think about your neighbor again. Always think about your neighbor. Suppose your neighbor let’s his children starve. He has plenty of food that he could give to them. But he doesn’t give them that. So we think that he’s bad. And then someone says, “Maybe he has some reason not to share that food with them. Maybe he’s going to use it for some better purpose later on.” But we wouldn’t think that that was a good reason to think that he does have some reason to use it later on. We would think that we have evidence to believe that our neighbor is a bad person if we don’t see the reason because we have to use the standards that we have.

I see I’m out of time so I’m quickly just going to mention the overriding response, which is the last one on my list. The theist sometimes says that evil gives us some reason not to believe in the traditional God. But they insist that this evidence is overwridden by other arguments for the existence of God. But the problem here is that I don’t think any of these arguments work, but even if they do work (because that’s a controversial claim), it's hard to see how the arguments for, say a creator, could show that the creator is all-powerful and all-good. Very powerful and very good maybe but not all-powerful and all-good. So those arguments for a creator of some sort can’t undermine my argument about evil.

So in conclusion, it seems to me that theists have a choice. They can say that God is not all-powerful or they can say that God is not all-good. What they can’t do is face the evidence of evil in this world and still believe in the traditional Christian God who’s both all-powerful and all-good. And that is the only God that we’re arguing about today. So my argument showed that there’s no God of the relevant kind. Thank you.

Dr. Craig

The problem of evil and suffering is undoubtedly the greatest obstacle to belief in God. But despite the undeniable, emotional impact of this problem, I’m persuaded that as a strictly intellectual problem, the problem of evil does not constitute a disproof of the existence of God. Let me explain why I think this way.

Walter’s argument can be summarized in three simple steps.

1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist. By gratuitous evil I mean evil, which is morally unjustified. Evil which God would have no morally sufficient reason to permit. Walter’s argument is not that evil itself is incompatible with God. Rather, he is talking about a very special kind of evil, namely pointless unnecessary evil. It’s this kind of evil which is said to be incompatible with God. [4]

2. Gratuitous evil exists.

3. Therefore, God does not exist.

The most controversial premise in this argument is step two. Everybody admits that there is apparently gratuitous evil. We’re often unable to discern the reason why harm befalls us. But that doesn’t imply that these evils are really gratuitous. The atheist seems to think that if God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evils that occur, these reasons must be evident to us. But there’s absolutely no grounds for that assumption. On the contrary, given our limits in time and space, intelligence, and insight, we shouldn’t expect to see the reasons why God permits every evil.

Take for example our being historically limited. Evils, which might appear gratuitous within our limited frame of reference, might be seen to be justly permitted within God’s wider frame of reference. Thus the murder of an innocent man or a child’s dying from leukemia could send a ripple effect through history such that God’s morally sufficient reason for permitting it might not emerge until centuries later or maybe in another country. When you think about God’s providence over the whole of human history, I think you can see how hopeless it is to speculate about whether any particular evil has a morally sufficient reason.

So the first point I want to make is that due to our cognitive limitations we simply have no way of knowing that premise (2) is true.

The second point I’d like to make is that if certain Christian doctrines are true, they increase the probability that evils would appear to be gratuitous even though they’re not. This makes it all the harder for Walter to justifiably infer from the appearance of gratuitous evil to the fact of gratuitous evil. What are some of these doctrines? Well let me mention three.

1. The purpose of life is not human happiness as such, but knowing God. One reason that the evil in the world seems so pointless is that we naturally assume that if God exists then the goal of human life is happiness in this world. God’s role is to provide a comfortable environment for his human pets. But in the Christian view, this is false. We are not God’s pets. And the end of life is not happiness as such, but rather knowing God which in the end will bring true and everlasting fulfillment. Many evils occur in life which are utterly gratuitous with respect to producing human happiness in this life. But they may not be gratuitous with respect to producing the knowledge of God. It may well be the case that only in a world involving natural and moral evils that the maximum number of persons would freely come to know God and His salvation. So to carry his point, Walter would have to show that it is feasible for God to create a world which has the same amount of the knowledge of God and His Salvation as the actual world but with less evil. And this is sheer speculation.

2. Mankind is in a state of rebellion against God and his purpose. Rather than submit to and worship God, people rebel against God and go their own way. And so find themselves alienated from God, morally guilty before him and groping in spiritual darkness. The terrible human evils in the world are testimony to man's depravity in this state of spiritual alienation. The Christian is not surprised at the terrible human evil in the world. On the contrary, he expects it. The Bible says that God has given mankind over to the evil it has chosen. He does not intervene to stop it. He lets human depravity run its course. This only serves to heighten mankind’s moral responsibility before God as well as our own wickedness and our need of moral forgiveness and moral cleansing.

3. God’s purpose spills over into eternal life. In the Christian view, this life is not all there is. Jesus promised eternal life to all who would place their trust in Him as their Savior and Lord. In the afterlife, God will reward those who have born their suffering in courage and trust in Him with an eternal life of unspeakable joy. [5] The apostle Paul who lived a life of incredible suffering, wrote the following words:

We do not lose heart, (though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed every day). For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, because we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen; for the things that are seen are transient but the things that are unseen are eternal. [6]

Paul imagines as it were a scale in which on one side all the sufferings of this life are placed and on the other side is placed the glory that God will bestow upon his children in heaven. And the weight of glory is so heavy that the sufferings of this life are not even worth being compared to it. Moreover, the longer we spend in eternity, the more the sufferings of this life shrink by comparison to an infinitesimal moment. And that’s why Paul can call them a slight momentary affliction. They were simply overwhelmed by the ocean of divine eternity and joy, which God lavishes upon his children in heaven.

Given the prospect of eternal life, we shouldn’t expect to see in this life God’s reasons for permitting every evil. Some may be justified only in light of eternity. So given these three doctrines, we should expect much of the evil in the world to appear gratuitous. In order to show that they really are gratuitous, Walter would have to refute these three doctrines, which he hasn’t even tried to do.

Finally, my third point is that in weighing whether the evils in the world really are gratuitous the most important factor will be ironically, whether God exists. That is to say, Walter’s own argument shows that if God exists then the evil in the world is not gratuitous. Thus we may turn the tables by arguing as follows.

1. If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist. This is Walter’s own premise.

2*. God exists. This is what the Christian holds.

It follows that:

3*. Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.

Thus, if God exists, then the apparently gratuitous evil in the world is not really gratuitous. Thus the issue down comes to which is true: (2) or (2*).

Let me share three reasons why I think premise (2*) is true.

1. The origin of the universe makes God’s existence highly probable. Have you ever asked yourself why anything at all exists? Where everything came from? Typically atheist have said that the universe is just eternal and uncaused. But discoveries in astronomy and astrophysics during the last 70 years have rendered this improbable. According to the big bang model of the universe, all matter and energy, indeed physical space and time themselves, came into being at a point about fifteen billion years ago. Prior to that point, the universe simply did not exist. For as Anthony Kenny of Oxford University points out, “This tends to be very awkward for the atheist.” Kenny says, “A proponent of the big bang theory, at least if he is an atheist, must believe that the universe came from nothing and by nothing.” [7] No such difficulty confronts the Christian theist. Since the big bang theory only confirms what he has always believed, namely, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.

2. The fine-tuning of the universe for intelligent life makes God’s existence highly probable. During the last thirty years or so, scientist have discovered that the existence of intelligent life, like ours, depends upon a complex and delicate balance of initial conditions simply given in the big bang itself. Scientists once believed that whatever the initial conditions of the universe, eventually intelligent life might evolve. But we now know that our existence is balanced on a razor’s edge. The existence of intelligent life depends upon a conspiracy of initial conditions which must be fined-tuned to an accuracy and degree that is literally incomprehensible and incalculable. To give just one example, P. C. W Davies has calculated that a change in the strength of gravity or of the weak force by only one part in ten to the one-hundredth power would have prevented a life-permitting universe. There are around fifty such constants and quantities in the big bang which must be fine-tuned in this way if the universe is to permit life. [8] There is no physical reason why these constants and quantities should possess the values they do. Cambridge astronomer Fred Hoyle remarks, “A common sense interpretation of the facts suggests that a super intellect has monkeyed with physics.” [9] So once again the view that Christian theists have always held, that there is an intelligent designer of the universe, seems to make much more sense than the atheistic view that the universe, when it popped into being uncaused out of nothing, just happened to be, by chance, fined-tuned for an incomprehensible precision for the existence of intelligent life.

3. Objective moral values make God’s existence highly probable. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist. By objective values, I mean values which hold whether anybody believes in them or not. If there is no God then as many atheists and theists agree, moral values are merely subjective. They are either the culturally relative byproduct of socio-biological evolution, or else they’re just expressions of personal taste. Without a transcendent God to anchor them, there is no absolute right and wrong. But the problem is that objective moral values do exist and deep down we all know it. There’s no more reason to deny the objective reality of moral values than the objective reality of the physical world. As the philosopher of science Michael Ruse has admitted, “The man who says that it is alright to rape little children is just as wrong as the man who says 2+2=5.” [10] But if objective values cannot exist without God and objective values do exist then it follows logically and inescapably that God exists.

In fact this third reason for God’s existence furnishes us with an argument for God from evil, as paradoxical as that might sound. It goes like this:

1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.

2. Evil exists. This is the premise supplied by the atheist. It therefore follows that:

3. Therefore, objective moral values exists; namely, some things are evil. Thus we can conclude:

4. Therefore God exists.

So although superficially evil seems to call into question God’s existence, at a more fundamental level it actually proves God’s existence. Since without God, evil as such would not exist. Now these three arguments are just part of the evidence that God exists. But if God exists, then as I’ve explained, we have good reason for thinking that the evils in the world are not really gratuitous. Accordingly, Walter’s argument fails.

So in summary, we’ve seen three reasons which undercount Walter’s claim that gratuitous evil exists.

1. We’re not in a position to justifiably claim that if God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil, these reasons should be evident to us.

2. Certain Christian doctrines increase the probability of the coexistence of God and apparently gratuitous evil.

3. We have good reasons to think that God exists which in turn implies that evil is not really gratuitous. Now all of this has been said in response to Walter’s premise (2). But premise (1) is not obvious either, and some thinkers have denied it. Perhaps there has to be a certain amount of gratuitous evil in the world. If that’s the case, then Walter’s argument is doubly fallacious. In conclusion then, as an intellectual problem, the problem of evil I think does not disprove God. Of course, the problem of how to deal emotionally with evil still remains and perhaps we can talk about that more as the evening unfolds.

Moderated Dialogue - Q&A

Moderator: [some logistics information is disseminated]

Now for the rest of the evening what we’re going to do is to have a time now for conversation with the three of us on the platform.

First we will give Walter and then Bill an opportunity to give a response to the other person’s presentation and then we will participate in a dialogue and discussion here on the platform. Then after we’ve done that for a time, we will turn to your questions and we will ask each of our guests to respond to those. So at this point, we’re going to begin with Walter and give him an opportunity to respond, just from his chair here to what Bill has said for four or five minutes and then we’ll allow Bill to respond briefly to what Walter has said.

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: I was somewhat surprised to hear you say that a hadn’t responded to those arguments because it seemed to me that I responded to all of them in the course of my remarks, such as the fact that even if there is a God who is a creator, He doesn’t have to be all-powerful and all-good and that’s the kind of God we’re talking about. So we can talk about that, but I just have to say something at the beginning. Atheist do not believe that it’s okay to rape young children. I don’t know where people get the idea that if you’re an atheist then morality is out the window. I mean I know where they get it; they get it from Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, but there’s not reason you have to follow them. I suggested a very good reason I think why it’s wrong to rape little children, because it hurts them. It causes evil in their lives and there’s no compensating benefit and it’s wrong to cause evil with no compensating benefit. And little children are no exception to that. So I don’t get this argument from moral values, objective moral values because I think there are objective moral values and atheist should agree with that as well as theists.

Dr. Craig: There were two points that I thought of in listening to your opening speech. And by the way when I said you hadn’t responded to those, that was specifically with regard to those three Christian doctrines. Certainly, many of the other points you did anticipate in your opening speech which I hadn’t obviously heard so I was only speaking of those three Christian doctrines.

But, Walter, I want to ask a question here, and this is quite sincere and not to score a debater’s point or anything, but it seemed to me that in many cases the way you would refute solutions to the problem of evil would be to say this solution doesn’t solve that kind of evil, and this solution doesn’t solve that kind of evil, and this solution doesn’t solve this other kind of evil. But it seems to me very obvious that one thing the theist can say is that when you have a combination of solutions, they cover all the bases. For example, take the example of the God who allows some child to die because he knows that ultimately this will result in a greater knowledge of God, say on the part of those around him, or even the ripple effect through history, and you said this is unfair to the children who died and suffered. [11] But it seems to me that what the theist could say there would be that the knowledge of God is good for those who receive it, and then my point about the eternal compensation would apply to the infant. So there would be a different solution to the infant suffering.

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: That’s exactly what I responded to. With the infant, the eternal life is not an adequate compensation because the infant could have gone straight to heaven without that. And if we need to know that there’s suffering in the world in order to make us know God in our own vulnerability, we got plenty of it. We don’t need this other child to die from this horrendous disease in order to convince us that there is suffering in the world and we are vulnerable.

Dr. Craig: But you don’t know that and I think that you . . .

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: I don’t know what? I know there’s suffering in the world.

Dr. Craig: You don’t know that that evil was unnecessary for perhaps that relative or that friend or even somebody fifty or one hundred years from now to come to know God because of what happen. But my point was . . . I think you missed my point. See, you did exactly what I said. The justification, the morally sufficient reason for the infant dying, might be that some person would come to know God, and the way that you respond to that is that, “Well, the infant himself could have gone to heaven without having to suffer.” Right, but that’s not the solution that I’m proposing. The infant’s own suffering, for that one, that would be the other solution of the eternal compensation, you see? So that what you’re doing is you’re showing that no one solution covers all the bases. But it seems to me that the theist could have a combination of solutions and together they would cover all the bases.

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: I meant to be showing that no solution, even any combination of solution, works in that case because it doesn’t seem to me that it could possibly be fair to make this infant suffer horrendously so that someone fifty years from now will come to know God. God has other ways of making us know Him. God doesn’t have to make little children suffer in intense pain in order for people to know that He exists. You think that there are proofs for the existence of God already. Why can’t we know that, through the proofs? You don’t have to have kids in pain.

Dr. Craig: Well, some people do come to know God through proofs but I think relatively few do. Whereas, it’s just a sociological fact, I think, that many, many people have come to faith through going through intense suffering. And in the case of the infant itself . . .

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: But that doesn’t show that that was the only way for them to come to faith.

Dr. Craig: No, but who bears the burden of proof there?

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: I think that they did come to faith that way doesn’t show that God couldn’t have brought them to faith in some other way that involved less suffering.

Dr. Craig: That’s your burden of proof to show though, right?

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: I don’t know who has the burden of proof here. It seems to me that you can always say, “Well, it might lead to knowledge fifty years from now. There’s some possibility that it could send a ripple throughout history.” But I see no reason to believe that that would happen. You can always defend a doctrine by saying might, might, might, might, but I see no reason in this case to think that someone fifty years from now will come to knowledge of God by this child’s suffering.

Moderator: This has been an excellent interchange, and thank you for doing that. Let’s focus a little bit on this idea of apparent suffering, or apparently pointless suffering. And that seems to be a point of contention here. Is it enough to say, “I don’t know that there is a point to this suffering?” Is it adequate on the side of the theist to say, “Here’s a possible answer.”

Question: Are you required and is the theist required to show exactly what the purpose for a particular suffering is? This is a question of burden of proof.

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: I think burden of proof is a very difficult thing to make sense of, but I can’t explain it now. Compare your neighbor. I think always we should think about it, if we want to have standards of goodness, are we going to judge that someone is a good person. [12] Think about your neighbor. If your neighbor had a child who was suffering horrendously, and they could save that child but they didn’t, and you had to decide is that neighbor a good person or not? Maybe it’ll send a ripple through history, but if you have no reason to believe that it will, then you have to work with the evidence that you have. And the evidence that you have is that this person is not a good person. And it seems to me it’s the same with God. We have to work from the evidence that we have. We can’t always be saying might, might, might, might or we could believe anything.

Question: Do we have any reason to believe?

Dr. Craig: Well, I think that this is a wonderful illustration that actually supports my point because, you see, when we make that judgment of the negligent neighbor, it is precisely because the neighbor lacks omniscience and is not all-knowing, that that person could be indicted for not preventing that evil. But when you’re dealing with a God who is provident and sovereign over the whole of human history, who sees the end from the beginning, then you simply have no way of knowing that that being does not have a morally sufficient reason for this evil simply because you don’t see it with your limited lifetime, your limited insight, and intelligence.

Let me just give an example.

Suppose God, in his providence, wanted to bring it about that the American Congress would freely enact the lend-lease policy prior to America’s entry into World War II. Think of the enumerable incalculable contingencies in history that would have to be engineered in order for those circumstances to come about where those free agents would be freely elected to that legislative body, would freely adopt that policy, and so forth. It might well involve all kinds of evils along the way that we couldn’t even comprehend in order to bring about just one single event in history. And so when you’re dealing with a provident God, he’s totally unlike the negligent neighbor.

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: Well, I think the negligent neighbor might in fact know a lot more about his family, his children, than I do. And so if I think that this person might have a reason for allowing their child to suffer, or for beating them as a punishment for not cleaning up their room, or whatever, then I go to the neighbor and I ask, “What is your reason?” I haven’t been given any reason other than speculation about what might be the case as to why this particular child would be allowed to suffer. So I ask God, the question is, if God has a such a reason why doesn’t God tell me?

Dr. Craig: Do you really think though that that is a reasonable demand, that for every single thing that goes wrong in our lives, that we would have this sort of hotline to God where God would tell us this is why this has been permitted in your life. I mean to me, that turns the universe into a haunted house. I think what God has done is He has given us sufficient evidence for his existence and his love and says trust me through this as you go through this, but you’re not going to know for every single thing that goes wrong why it happens. It’s useless torturing yourself trying to figure that out.

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: Well, I’m not torturing myself trying to figure it out.

Dr. Craig: No, I understand.

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: If God is omnipotent and omniscient and omnibenevolent then my ignorance would be an evil that he should try to minimize, and I would like to see it happen.

Moderator: Let’s turn our attention to the question of moral values. Both of you raised these issues. If there is evil in the world that suggests there’s some way to detect good and evil and some ultimate reason for why this is good and that’s evil.

Question: Bill, you think that evil and good require some kind of moral principle, and that moral principle requires the existence of God. Why would you say that?

Dr. Craig: Yes, well, I think that it’s very hard on atheism or naturalism to get some kind of normativity or any kind of normativity of the way things ought to be or that something else ought not to be. On the atheistic or naturalistic view, we are just animals. We are advanced primates. And when you look at the animal kingdom, actions that look very much like rape go on all the time and animals are injurious to each other. They hurt each other. [13] And yet these are not immoral. When a lion kills a zebra, it kills it but it doesn’t murder it because these things are not against any kind of . . . they’re not moral agents. Similarly, with rape that goes on in the animal kingdom. So it’s very hard for me to understand why these strange moral properties suddenly accrued to Homo sapiens on an atheistic view, and that these actions, which are natural and normal in the animal world, would suddenly become forbidden for us in the absence of any moral lawgiver.

Question: So the question for you would be: is it really adequate to say that “it hurts” counts as a round or a basis for these moral values?

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: No, not by itself. When a rock falls off a cliff and hits me in the head, I don’t hold it morally responsible. Why not? Because it doesn’t have free will, and I don’t think animals do either, and so we don’t make moral judgments of the animals for that very reason. But that doesn’t mean that the atheists can’t say that moral judgments are made with creatures with free will when they cause harm to other creatures for no adequate reason.

Dr. Craig: You told me in Dartmouth, when we had a dialogue there, that you didn’t believe in free will for human beings.

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: No, I did not say that at Dartmouth.

Dr. Craig: Well, how can you, as a naturalist, and I assume a materialist, hold that there is freedom of the will if there is no immaterial self? Isn’t everything that we do just determined by our genetic make-up and our sensory stimuli so that everything we do is determined; otherwise, where does this free agent come from?

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: I don’t know whether this is . . . I’m not sure how this fits into the debate but . . . I happen to be a compatibilist about free will. I think that we are, in fact, determined to act in the ways that we do, but nonetheless we can have free will because the two are compatible if you think about it. It all depends on how you’re determined. If I’m determined by someone pushing me, and I fall into you, then I’m not responsible for harming you because I was pushed. I had no control over it. But if I run into you because I chose to, and had a desire to because I wanted to hurt you, then I did it of my own free will. I would be the first to admit that there are a lot of tricky cases in the middle. What do you do about mental illness? What do you do about extreme passion? And so on. That’s a very difficult issue. But I don’t see why an atheist can’t believe in determinism and also free will of some sort that needs to be defined more precisely.

Moderator: Okay. Let’s take a final question here and then we have some questions that have come from the Internet and from the audience and so we’re going to pose those to each of you and give you an opportunity to respond to those. But a final question in this question and dialogue time, which I think has been really good, I think, is this:

Question: Let’s suppose that we have a person who has suffered significantly through this person’s life and at the end of her life, she is now facing death. From your worldview, what kind of opportunity would you give to her or what kind of advice or what kind of consolation, a sort of practical benefit, would you provide for that person, based on your worldview? And I want to ask both you that question. Walter, why don’t you go ahead.

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: What would I say to her to make her feel better about the fact that she’s dying?

Moderator: The question is what kind of advice or response would you give her in this situation?

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: I would tell her that she has done a lot of good things in her life, I would assume. If she’s a friend of mine, that’ll be true. And that she should be thankful for all the experiences that she has had, all the people that she has been able to love and help and all the people who have loved her and the effects they’ve had on her life. And that that’s the most we can expect. And that that’s enough. That’s a lot to help other people.

Dr. Craig: I would try to assure her of God’s unfailing love for her, that as she goes through these deep waters, that God will be with her. That He will guide her through death to the other side and that there awaits for her, if she will trust in God and His grace through Jesus Christ, a glorious life of unspeakable joy that awaits her. And that this transition from this physical life here to everlasting life is but a transition from a cramp and narrow foyer into a great banquet hall of God’s eternity and therefore she can face this with courage and with hope. That she is not alone.

Moderator: Thank you for that. Now we are going to turn to some questions that have come from you and from those who are on the Internet and from other sources. We will ask the questions alternatively to our two guests and give them an opportunity to respond. First of all, Bill, a question for you from a questioner on the Internet who posed it this way:

Question: So where was God during the drought in Africa when thousands of people starved to death? How does a loving God allow that to happen?

Dr. Craig: Well, it’s very interesting. This is one of these cases where human moral evil gets inextricably intertwined with natural evils. Those famines in Ethiopia that were brought to our attention a few years ago so poignantly on television are not the result of natural disasters. That is the result of the dictatorial regime in Ethiopia and in the Sudan that is carrying out a terrible war against the peoples of the south. And they were using food as a weapon. They were literally starving those people to death. So in that case, again, it’s not God who is to blame. It’s human beings themselves who have brought these atrocities on the world.

If there were a world in which everyone were to obey the teachings of the Sermon on the Mount, although there could still occur natural evils, they would be tremendously reduced. There would be aid and help for people who go through natural evils. The world would be transformed in ways that we can scarcely imagine. And it’s also very interesting to note, just as a sociological fact, that it is precisely in Ethiopia and other countries like this where the growth of evangelical Christianity is proceeding at unprecedented rates. Millions are turning to Christ in the midst of poverty, war, and suffering, and finding hope. So I think God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evils that occur. That’s not to say they’re not evil. They are unspeakable and we should do everything as a nation to try to stop them but we mustn’t lay the blame for this at God’s doorstep. It lies squarely on our own.

Moderator: Walter, here’s a question for you. Also from the Internet. It’s asking this question:

Question: If evil existed prior to the emergence of human beings(I take it means through the evolutionary process, which you would hold to, I assume), what would be an example of this evil, and how would you account for evil existing prior to the emergence of human beings?

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong:v I think that evils existed. There was pain, there was disability, there was death among animals. But it was not moral evil because the animals didn’t have free will as I said before. So I’m not sure that more needs to be said about that. But can I say something about the Ethiopian famine?

Moderator: Okay

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: Because I completely agree, by the way, about the Ethiopian famine being due mainly to moral evil, by people. Amartya Sen, who was the first philosopher in a long time to win a Nobel prize, has shown that famines arise largely from lack of information and political instability and so on.

But the fact that it arises from people doing those evil things doesn’t show that God is not also responsible. If I see someone beating my child, sure enough they’re responsible because they’re doing it. But if I stand by and let them do it when I could stop them, then I’m responsible as well. And so the fact that some people are guilty through their own free will doesn’t mean that God is not responsible. Because God, after all, could stop those things from happening without taking away those peoples’ free will. They can still choose to do it, but he can make them ineffective. He can make them fail in their plan, and then they keep their free will without causing so much harm. And it’s not clear to me why God wouldn’t have done that in the Ethiopian case and many others.

Moderator: You want a brief response?

Dr. Craig: Well, yeah, I would say that that plan of action on God’s part would make moral choices trivial in this world. If he were to make all of our bad choices ineffective, this would be like turning the terrorists’ bullets into rubber before they hit their target. Or when somebody drinks and goes out and drives drunk that there would never be any negative repercussions of that. It would ultimately lead to moral irresponsibility and irrational behavior because there would never be any deleterious consequences from bad choices. So I think God, for better or for worse, allows the consequences of human freedom to run their course, and of course this isn’t without compensation though for those who suffer and trust Him. [14]

Moderator: Alright, here’s another question for you, Bill. This person has asked:

Question: What does gratuitous mean?

Moderator: And I can even answer that one.

Dr. Craig: Well, I defined it briefly in my first speech. I said it would be morally unjustified evil. It would be evil which is pointless and unnecessary.

Moderator: And then to follow up on that:

Follow Up: Why does God choose to heal some people, or why are some people healed by God, when other people apparently are not. How does God choose whether to act or not in terms of alleviating suffering?

Dr. Craig: I would say from a Christian point of view that it fits into the providential plan of God for human history. I think that the teaching of the New Testament is that nothing happens in the world that escapes God’s attention. Jesus said that the very hairs of your head are numbered, that the tiniest sparrow doesn’t fall to the ground without God’s knowledge of it. So God’s providential plan encompasses all of the smallest things, and he knows which prayers to grant, which prayers to deny, with the view toward his ultimate purposes in human history being achieved. And those will reach far, far into the future, perhaps millennia from now. We have no idea how the choices and the prayers that we offer now might impact human history in the future.

Moderator: Walter, there’s a question for you now and that has to do with, since we’re being very fair here, which is a morally good thing . . .

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: I agree.

Moderator: Good, I’m glad you agree on that.

Question: On what basis would you respond to the evidence for Jesus Christ (that Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday)? That might have some relevance to the issue of problem of evil. Would you disregard the evidence for the resurrection of Jesus How do you respond to that?

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: Well, I don’t think there is any good evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. There’s some historical evidence that some people reported that the grave was empty after three days, but any psychologist will tell you that when witnesses start recovering things decades after the fact when they are surrounded by peer pressure that points them in a certain direction, and lots of cues, that that’s exactly when eyewitness testimony is not reliable. So we would certainly never accept that kind of evidence in a court of law.

But even if the grave were empty, that doesn’t show that Jesus Christ ascended into heaven. That’s like saying that if I have a pint of my favorite type of ice cream, which by the way happens to be coconut almond fudge chip by Ben & Jerry’s, in the freezer, and I’m dying to eat it when I get home. And I come home and it’s not there, and my daughter Miranda says “I didn’t take it” and my son Nick says “I didn’t take it” and my wife Liz says “I didn’t take it” that I conclude that the ice cream ascended into heaven and sitting at the right hand of Ben and Jerry.

Moderator: Okay. Interesting analogy. Bill. You know this fudge ripple ice cream thing has really got me going. I’d like to pursue that for another half hour.

Question: Bill, why wouldn’t God comfort us by letting us know the reasons He has for allowing evil?

Dr. Craig: Well, I’m not sure the answer to that question except that I think it would sort of turn the universe into a haunted house. If every time I stubbed my toe, every time something bad went wrong, every time there was evil, there was this telepathic message from God telling me this is why this is going on. I mean that would be so strange a universe. It would, I think, be like living in a sort of haunted building or something. So it seems to me that what God does is He gives us good reasons to trust Him through the suffering without necessarily telling us why. Maybe it wouldn’t be a comfort.

I mean, maybe the reasons would be so complicated or maybe they would, by giving us the reasons in some case, it might be a sufficient condition to prevent the reasons from coming about. For example, suppose God were to say to me, “I’m going to allow for this to happen in your life because this is going to happen.” And I think, “Oh, well, I don’t want that to happen” so as a result I do something else and foul up the plan. It could very well be that God could not communicate these things to us without the providential plan going awry. In fact, I think that’s probably very plausible now that I think about it because that would be a quite different world then. The minute that he communicated to us his providential plan, that alters the plan. It would be a totally different world. So I’m not sure that would even be possible for Him to do that with free agents when you think about it. Sort of like telling somebody predictions about what’s going to happen in the future when you know that if they know that, then it won’t happen. You see it’s a self-refuting situation. [15]

Moderator: So it sounds like you’re creating some good thoughts right on the spot here in response to this issue.

Dr. Craig: Well, yeah, I’m just thinking about it while you asked.

Moderator: That’s a sign of a good question. Walter, here’s a question for you:

Question: If your child was in an accident, is there anything or anyone to whom you would turn for some help in this situation?

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: Doctors. I would turn to doctors to help me. I would turn to friends to help me with my own psychological situation. I would turn to my daughter if she was still conscious and able. I’m not sure which accident you’re talking about, but if she’s still conscious, I would talk to her. It seems to me that instead of depending on God, we ought to depend on each other. Instead of expecting God to help us, we ought to be helping each other. And I think that we should be talking to each other more to help each other through these bad times rather than necessarily depending on someone else.

Moderator: Okay. We’ve talked a little bit about the difference between evil that’s caused by human freedom and evil that is natural evil. You mentioned . . . I think we know that things like famines are often attributed to human behavior.

Question: But what about truly natural evils? How do you respond to those kinds of things, Bill?

Dr. Craig: Well, I think that the points that I made all apply to natural, as well as moral, evil. We’re not, first, in a position to judge whether or not any natural evil is truly gratuitous - whether or not this hurricane or tornado might not have historical repercussions that we cannot anticipate.

A good analogy here would be from chaos theory. Chaos theorists have shown that certain macroscopic systems are highly unstable to the tiniest perturbations so that even the flutter of a butterfly’s wings in a West African jungle can set in motion forces that will cause a hurricane over the Atlantic Ocean. Yet nobody looking at the little butterfly, even in principle, could predict such an outcome. And it’s the same for natural evils as well.

My second point about the Christian doctrines I think would also apply. The purpose of life is not happiness as such but the knowledge of God and often we can come to know God or others come to know God through natural evil. And then the good reasons that God exists would outweigh any improbability that natural evil might be thought to throw upon God. Even the free will defense is relevant here because it might be only in a world involving natural evils that the maximum number of people would freely come to place their faith in God and come to know him. So natural evils form a context in which free agents act and react; so freedom of the will is relevant even in a case of natural evil.

Moderator: Okay

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: Can I say something about the butterfly?

Moderator: The butterfly?

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: Yes

Moderator: The butterfly effect, yes.

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: I think that’s true. The butterfly might cause storms in the Atlantic. Me waving my hand might cause storms in the Atlantic. That’s what these theories say. That doesn’t mean that I have any reason to believe that I just caused a storm in the Atlantic. I have every reason to believe that that is not going to cause a storm in the Atlantic. It’s a mere possibility that that might cause a storm in the Atlantic with no reason to believe that it will. So what chaos theory says about butterflies, wings and so on, it doesn’t seem to me is an adequate response to the claim that the evidence overwhelmingly is against it. Because it simply shows maybe all the evidence is wrong and in fact it does have this long-term ripple affect.

Dr. Craig: I don’t think that’s right. It’s not just saying maybe or this is possible, but it’s saying that certain macroscopic systems are unstable to these little tiny perturbations and therefore no one can say with confidence that this event has no repercussions. That this event can be assessed purely in terms of itself without looking at the wider context. And it is the atheists here, again I insist, who is bearing the burden of proof, who says that this evil is unjustified, that God probably does not have a morally sufficient reason for permitting it. And so I don’t have to prove that God does have a morally sufficient reason. It’s the atheist who’s claiming that God does not or cannot. [16]

Moderator: We’re going to ask a final question to both of you, and give you both a chance to answer the same question. Then we’ll go to the closing statements.

Question: Walter, what happens to a person when that person dies? Is there a soul, and what happens to the soul?

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: No, I don’t think there’s any soul. That’s a short answer. I don’t think that that person’s mental functions or soul continue after death. And I think that’s something we have to learn to live with because that’s the way life is.

Follow Up: So if you were to think that there is a sufficient reason for evil given your worldview, it would have to be in this life?

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: Yes, it would have to be in this life for helping other people in this life. Exactly. Because I think that there’s no reason to think that anything happens after this life is over.

Question: Bill, what happens to a person when a person dies? Is there a soul and how is that relevant to this issue?

Dr. Craig: I think there is a soul or mind or immaterial aspect of our being, that we’re not just a brain and this body. And I think that’s evident because of free will. The fact that we have free will, I think, requires that there is an immaterial soul because otherwise all of our choices are determined by our genetic makeup and external stimuli that we receive through our five senses. So there isn’t really any freedom of the will. We’re not significant moral agents in the absence of an immaterial self who can act on the body as well as be passively acted upon by the sensory stimuli we receive. And so I think we got good grounds for believing there is a soul.

On the Christian view, the soul survives the death of the body because it is an immaterial entity, and ultimately the Christian hope is for a reunification of the body and soul in the resurrection state in life everlasting where God will wipe away every tear, evil will be vanquished forever, physical deformity and pain will be gone, and there will be eternal life in God’s new creation. That’s the hope to which Christians look forward.

Moderator: Well, at this point we’ve had some good interchange and good dialogue back and forth and good questions and a little sparring. And we’d like to give each of our guests an opportunity to make a final summary statement. Walter, we will begin with you. If you would go to the podium, you can make your final statement. And then without introduction we’ll ask Bill to do the same.

Dr. Sinnot-Armstrong: I said that this was one of those issues that there’s no conclusive proof one way or the other. Guess what, I was right. My argument was simple that if God is all-good and all-powerful then there wouldn’t be unjustified evil in the world because He wouldn’t let it happen. But there is unjustified evil in the world or at least there is certainly evil in the world and I don’t see any reason. And as far as I can tell, no one has shown that there is any reason. Although we can always speculate about there possibly, maybe, sometime, in someway, being some reason that we don’t have any reason to believe in.

Now, Bill gave several responses. One is that we’re just not in a position to know that there’s no reason. I agree that we’re not in a position to know conclusively but I don’t think I just caused a hurricane. Maybe I did but I don’t think I did and I don’t think you’d have any reason to believe that I did. So even if there’s a possibility, that doesn’t show that the evidence is on his side. He also referred to the three Christian doctrines as showing that in fact there would be some reason for this evil, but I actually talked about each of those in my opening statement and afterwards, if I’m keeping track of them properly, as I hope I am. One of them had to do with the afterlife. And it still seems to me that God could take my friends’ child and send them straight to heaven without having to go through all that suffering. Or at least, send them after only ten minutes of suffering instead of ten days of intense suffering. And I just don’t see any reason for that. Finally, Bill’s point was the proofs for the existence of God. Well, I haven’t been able to go through those one by one but I think that the point I made in my opening statement still holds that even if there are proofs for some kind of creator, that doesn’t show that the creator is all-powerful and all-good, and that’s what you would need to undermine the argument from evil. [17] So I think I’ve refuted each of those.

I have to admit that maybe there’s some reason, but I just don’t see it and I don’t think we have any reason to believe that there is one. So in the end, I think that the problem of evil is something that’s insoluble. But I want to emphasize that that doesn’t mean you have to give up all belief in God. It means you have to give up belief in this particular doctrine about God. That God is all-good and all-powerful. You can still believe in lots of different types of gods. You can create a different theology that is more consonant with the facts of the world in which we live. And I don’t want to undermine other types of religious beliefs that might serve purposes in your own personal lives.

It might be worth closing with a statement about how Christian theology got into this mess. In my understanding, the New Testament doesn’t say that God is all-powerful and all-good. That was a doctrine that came in later under Greek influence, and it’s when you take the early Christian church doctrines and mix them with the Greek doctrines that you get a doctrine that doesn’t make sense in light of the world that we live in. Now there are a variety of responses to that. One of them would be to get rid of the Greek doctrines and go back to original Christianity as it was in the New Testament. It seems to me that would solve the problem of evil, but it would not be a defense of the type of God that I was arguing against, namely one that’s all-powerful and all-good. So I think in terms of that traditional God, it seems to me that it still has yet to provide any response to the problem of evil, and so I have to conclude that it doesn’t exist. Thank you.

Dr. Craig: In my closing statement, I’d like to summarize the points I made tonight. First I argued that we don’t really know that evils in the world are gratuitous because we’re not in a position to judge the probability that God has a morally sufficient reason for the evils that occurs. Remember my example of the adoption of the lend-lease policy: the innumerable contingencies that would be involved in planning that single event. When you think of God’s providence over the whole of human history, it is simply beyond our cognitive capacity to access the probabilities that any evil we see would have some morally sufficient reason.

Secondly I indicated three Christian doctrines that increase the probability that God and apparently gratuitous evil would exist, that the purpose of life is not happiness as such, but knowing God. And I don’t think anyone could prove that it is possible for God to create a world involving this much knowledge of God and his salvation, but with less evil. That is pure speculation. I also indicated that much of the evil is due to man’s rebellion against God, and that there is eternal life which will reward those who trust God in courage and faith that will more than compensate for what they endure.

And finally, I said there are good reasons that God exists, and that implies that evil is not gratuitous. The creation of the universe, the fine-tuning of the universe, and the existence of moral values. Walter said, well those arguments, even if successful, don’t prove God is all-powerful and all-good. Well the moral argument does prove that he’s all-good, and the argument from the origin to the universe comes pretty close to omnipotence since it would almost seem to take omnipotence to bring something into existence out of nothing in the way that God did in creating the world. And the biblical conception is of an all-powerful and all-good God. One of the biblical names of God is El Shaddai, which means all-powerful. So I don’t think we’ve seen any good reason to think that the evils in the world are gratuitous or that they outweigh the evidence for the existence of God.

I want to close by sharing with you a letter that I received this past year from a fellow named John Madiche who is from Long Beach, California. I often get letters of this sort, reflecting philosophically on problems. And this was John’s reflection on the problem of evil and the fourth point struck me. He said,

We must consider the possibility that we are exaggerating our perception of evil due to our status as temporal human beings. If there is no God, then many things would be very important to us. Naturally, we would consider the death of a good man or a good woman as an absolute tragedy because they had so much to contribute to this world. After all, this life would be all there is. But let’s assume for a moment God’s perspective. He might say something like this, if I might be so bold: “Death, what about it? So your baby daughter died before she was born. Guess what? She’s with me. I didn’t lose her in outer space. Eventually you’re going to die too. I know it hurts, and because I, the Lord, love you so much, I’ll move the heaven and earth if necessary to bring you the healing you need so much. And if you stay with me you and your daughter will be reunited. And after about a million years or so you’ll look at each other and scratch your heads wondering what all the tears were about. But for now, see things from my perspective.” [18] Then he concluded his letter,Well Dr. Craig, that’s my analysis for why God allows evil. Granted I’m no theologian scholar or minister. I’m just a Christian with a logical mind that is satisfied with logical answers. Call me cruel, clinical, or even Mr. Spock, but I can talk since the baby daughter lost in point four belonged to my wife and me. We lost her in November in 1995. I’m no stranger to suffering. I’m also no stranger to logic, and I believe this is the root of the problem of evil. When evil strikes us, we get emotional and we expect emotional answers and philosophers are no different. Whether their name is Kant, Nietzsche, Comte or Sartre. When they suffer, they don’t want an equation that two plus two equals four. They want to know why. When tragedy struck our home, the Lord suspended my pain long enough for me to see these points. My wife has understandably suffered more than I but she understands these reasons as well. And with God’s touch, she too is walking right alongside me. Maybe my argument won’t make it into your next book, but someday it might help you or a friend in time of trouble. Sincerely, John Mediche. PS: We now have a little boy who turned two in January.

I think John is absolutely right. The problem of evil is, in root, emotional and I think God is the ultimate solution to the problem of evil. If God does not exist, we are locked without hope in a world filled with gratuitous and unredeemed suffering. But if God exists, he is the solution for the problem of evil for he invites us into the fellowship of an incommensurable good, everlasting life with himself.

Moderator: I hope that you’ve enjoyed this interchange as much as I have to see two sparkling minds talking back and forth and even thinking on the spot about some questions that you have offered. It has been a great opportunity. Obviously we’re interested in what’s true because we want to live our lives according to what’s true and so seeking for truth is an important thing. We also want to emphasize that you have the opportunity to continue the dialogue and discussion by joining a group for conversation. And if you would take the half of the card that you have retained and check one of those boxes and put it in the box on the way out the door, you certainly will have opportunity to continue the conversation. I want to alert you that the five most frequently asked questions on the Internet to Walter and the five most frequently asked questions to Bill plus the answers will be posted on the website within a week. And so if you would place your cards in the boxes as you leave, that would be great. Also remember that you may visit the Wooddale café and you may visit the community bookstore as well. And then the most important announcement of all, if you have small children, please pick them up. Since we believe in objective moral values, I will say that mercy upon the childcare workers demands that you do that right away. And now I think this has been a great event, and I think we should one more time say thank you to Bill and to Walter for being with us. [19]

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    2 Corinthians 4:16-18

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    Anthony Kenny, The Five Ways: St. Thomas Aquinas’ Proofs of God’s Existence (New York: Schocken Books, 1969), 66.

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    Fred Hoyle, “The Universe: Past and Present Reflections,” Engineering and Science, November 1981.

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    Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended (London: Addison-Wesley, 1982), p. 275.

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    Total Running Time: 1:24:15