Thursday, May 31, 2012

Peter Singer, Suffering, and the Problem of Evil

Should we reject the existence of God because we cannot completely understand Him? Philosopher Peter Singer argues that we should. In his debate with Dinesh D’Souza, Singer argued that if God is completely good, knowing and powerful, He wouldn’t allow suffering or evil. However, this world is filled with disease, death and suffering. Therefore – according to Singer – such a God cannot exist. However, this argument is built upon several shaky presuppositions.

  1. Pain and suffering are somehow incompatible with an all-good and powerful God.

There are many explanations for suffering. It humbles, it deepens, it sensitizes, it causes us to not take things and relationships for granted, and it even seems necessary for perpetuation of love and community. However, admittedly, we cannot explain every catastrophe, tsunami, or avalanche in terms of its divine benefits. However, we don’t have exhaustive knowledge about anything. Does this mean that we must reject the little knowledge that we do have by virtue of its incompleteness?

  1. There can’t possibly be a good and loving purpose for suffering.

This is an arrogant statement which assumes that the speaker has exhaustive knowledge of both the physical world and the God who designed it.

  1. Any bit of the “bad” cancels out the “goodness” we enjoy in life.

It seems that if we are going to approach this question honestly, we should weight all of the evidence – not just the evidence of suffering. If it is true that people vote with their feet – and it is – then the feet of most people vote that life is worth living, that it is a gift worth keeping. Few of us willingly reject this gift.

I think that we tend to take the divine harmonies of life for granted. We thirst and God has provided water; we hunger, and He has provided food; we tire, and we have been given sleep… These must also find a place in our equations.

  1. We can make absolute moral judgments about “evil” and “good” and use them to reject God. For instance, because of the existence of “evil,” an all good and powerful God can’t exist because such a God wouldn’t allow it.

If there is no unchanging God, then there is no basis for unchanging absolute moral judgments. Consequently, we lack any solid basis to even regard something as “evil” or “bad.” We cannot use God to disprove God.

  1. Our failure to completely understand the God of the Bible – and reconcile His self-revelation - means that He cannot exist.

To demonstrate the absurdity of this presupposition, let’s just apply it to science. “Failure to completely understand science and its observations means that science must be rejected.”

Science and its attempt to understand this physical world have revealed more mysteries than solutions or proofs. The very nature of the fundamentals - time, space, and matter – continues to elude us. If we are willing to accept that this physical world contains many imponderables, then we should not reject its Creator because of the imponderables. He is greater than His creation as the cause(s) is always greater than the effect.

We don’t reject science or rationality. However, we reject God for insubstantial rational reasons. Perhaps we do so for reasons of the heart.

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