Thursday, January 04, 2018

Moving goal post

Here's another village atheist question I'll respond to:

Why are there so many starving people in our world? 

Doesn’t God answer their prayers? God has received uncountably many prayers both from the desperate people in the world and from healthy Westerners who are concerned about strangers in need.

There are different ways of responding:

1. People starve for a variety of reasons. They may live in a part of the world that lacks the natural resources to sustain that population density. Or they may live in a famine prone region. Or they live under an oppressive regime. And so on and  so forth.

2. It's not always a bad thing for people to starve to death. Depends on the people. If ISIS fighters were starving to death, good riddance! 

Of course, that's an extreme example, but I say it to make a point of principle.

3. Suppose God miraculously fed everyone. Would atheists who pose this accusatory question recant and become devout believers?

4. The basic problem with a question like this is that even if starvation was taken off the table, a militant atheist would then point to something else. Why does God allow natural disasters? Why does God allow people to die in house fires? Why does God allow people to die of cancer? Why does God allow people to die in traffic accidents? And so on and so forth. Every time you kick the football through the goalpost, the very same atheist will move the goalpost. 

So the problem with a question like this is where to draw the line. Short of a perfect, ouchless painless world, won't an atheist complain about any remaining evil–or perceived evil?

But in that event, this is really about the problem of evil in general. If God exists, why isn't the current world free of moral and natural evils?

Yet if that's the question behind the question, then Christians don't need to run down a checklist of every kind of evil, offering a specific explanation for each and every kind evil. Rather, there are preexisting theodicies that cover that ground in general. And it's possible to combine two or more stock theodicies to give greater coverage.  

We don't need to give separate explanations for every kind of evil. By providing a theological justification for certain kinds of evil, a theodicy already deals with all the particular evils in kind. 

It's not so much a question of why God makes a world containing a variety of evils, but why God makes a world containing any evils. If you have theodicy that can justify evil at all, or paradigm evils, then it isn't necessary to give independent answers for every instance. So long as those are representative examples, the theodicy already provides a general rationale. Different samples don't change the explanation.  

5. However, the larger point our atheist is laboring to make is that there's one economical explanation for the existence of all these different kinds of evils: God doesn't exist! But there are two basic problem with that alternative:

i) A Christian doesn't need to "cobble together individual reasons for each of these questions" if it only takes a few theodicies to cover all the bases. We just classify objections by category. Theodicies offer categorical explanations. There's a common type of explanation for a common type of objection.

ii) It's deceptively simple to say God's nonexistence explains them all, for God's existence has enormous explanatory power. God's existence is a unifying principle. An atheist has to cobble together individual reasons to replace the explanatory power of one God.  

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