Friday, July 7, 2017

How to answer the strongest argument for atheism

The tremendous suffering in the world is widely understood to constitute the strongest argument against the existence of God. In his contribution to The Cambridge Companion to Atheism, Christian philosopher William Lane Craig outlines an approach to answering this argument which I found very helpful.

Craig begins by framing the argument for atheism as follows:

P1: If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
P2: Gratuitous evil exists.
C: Therefore, God does not exist.

[Note that "gratuitous evil" means pointless evil. In other words, gratuitous evil is evil that does not serve to bring about some greater good.]

One of Craig's several responses to this argument is to note that one could construct a parallel argument as follows:

P1: If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
P2*: God exists.
C*: Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.

Note that both the atheist and the theist accept P1. The atheist, however, maintains that P2 is true, while the theist maintains that P2* is true. Who is right? In order to answer that question, one must weigh the arguments for P2 against the arguments for P2*.

There are many strong arguments in favor of P2*. Click here for a list of five.

But what about P2? What arguments can be offered to support this premise? One could of course point to the tremendous amount of seemingly gratuitous evil in the world. But how could one ever demonstrate that such evil really is gratuitous? How could one ever demonstrate that an omniscient God could not have sufficient reason for allowing this evil? Just as a child might not understand why the surgeon is cutting into her, perhaps God's reasons for allowing evil are simply beyond us.

In summary, the theist can produce at least five formal arguments for P2*, but the atheist, as far as I can see, does not have even one formal argument for P2. [By "formal argument," I mean an argument with premises and a conclusion following logically from those premises.] Therefore, until the atheist can produce an argument for P2 that is more powerful than the constellation of arguments for P2*, we should not reject the existence of God. Instead, we should conclude that gratuitous evil does not exist.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I've always argued that suffering exists because as humans we focus entirely too much on the physical. If the God of the Bible exists, then human beings are both physical and spiritual beings. While one may experience physical suffering, there is a greater good work occurring in the spiritual realm.

As fallen creatures, all humans deserve an eternity separate from God. No matter how horrendous the suffering during a human's physical life, it is still a gift compared to an eternity suffering separation from our Creator. Imagine a man with a lifetime supply of raw broccoli as his only food source. Punishment? What if that man is stranded on a desert island? Providence? It's still a man eating nothing but broccoli, but if you ignore his circumstance, it's possible to reach any conclusion.

If all we do is look at the short life in the physical world, then I can see how an argument can be made for either God's indifference or His nonexistence. But that's like looking at a piece of paper and saying it's blank when if you bothered to turn it over you'd see that all the writing is on the other side.