Transforming Little Heretics

“God is like a three-headed dragon,” offered one high school student.  “I think God is like a Transformer,” blurted out a junior higher in the front row.  I had just asked students at this summer camp to give a brief definition of the Trinity.  They reached for all sorts of analogies to explain God’s nature.  Heresy soon followed (Disclaimer:  no heretical students were burned at the stake). 

Next, I asked for biblical justification.  “What Scripture tells us that God is a trinity?  Where in the Bible do we find the word?”  Students began thumbing through their Bibles, searching for the elusive verses.  A few went straight to their concordances.  Several minutes passed.  No verses were offered.  Finally, a female underclassman ventured a guess.  “There is no Bible verse that uses the word Trinity, right?” 

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The Problem of Evil Solved: Thank You Alvin Plantinga

As I mentioned before, the logical or deductive form of the argument from evil attempts to demonstrate a contradiction in the theist's beliefs that an omnibenevolent, omnipotent God and evil exist at the same time.  The logical challenge can and has been answered decisively, starting with Alvin Plantinga in his famous book, God, Freedom, and Evil

Keep in mind atheist J.L. Mackie's argument from my earlier post, which can be outlined this way: 

  1. God exists and is omnipotent and perfectly good.
  2. A perfectly good being always eliminates evil as far as it can.
  3. There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do.
  4. Evil exists.
  5. Therefore, God does not exist. 
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The Problem of Evil: Presupposing Good?

In an earlier post, I mentioned the importance of making distinctions when approaching the problem of evil, one being the distinction between the logical problem and the evidential problem.  This distinction informs our response to each, helping us to see what's "in play" and what's not.  And when it comes to the logical argument we discover that the theist cannot respond by accusing the atheist of presupposing some objective standard of goodness by which to measure evil

Let me explain.

When making the logical argument the atheist is trying to point out a logical contradiction within the theist's worldview.  If he succeeds in demonstrating the contradiction then one or more or the propositions in question, again within the theist's worldview, is false.  But notice, this does not commit the atheist to the actual existence of the things in question (e.g. evil, an omnibenevolent God).  The atheist is standing outside of our worldview so to speak, looking in on it, and examining it.  He sees two or more contradictory propositions and so he points them out:  "Hey, you theists believe an all-good, all-powerful God exists but you also believe that evil exists--that's a contradiction.  It's like saying 2 + 2 = 4 and 2 + 2 = 5 at the same time."

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The Logical Problem of Evil

As I mentioned before, the logical problem of evil purports to show a logical inconsistency between the existence of God and the existence of evil.  Prominent atheist J.L. Mackie formulated the argument like this:

"In its simplest form the problem is this:  God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; yet evil exists.  There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true the third would be false.  But at the same time all three are essential parts of most theological positions; the theologian, it seems, at once must adhere and cannot consistently adhere to all three."

Given the three propositions here the contradiction is not quite explicit, so Mackie continues: 

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Thinking Carefully About the Problem of Evil: Important Distinctions

When approaching the problem of evil it is important to begin by making some key distinctions.  Distinctions help us to define the issues more precisely, which leads to greater clarity of the problem as well as the solution.  This is just one reason philosophy is an indisensable tool for believers.  Here are some of the key distinctions:

First, it is important to distinguish between the intellectual problem and the existential problem.  The intellectual problem requires a tough-minded philosophical response while the existential problem requires a tender-hearted pastoral response.  If you attempt to answer the existential problem merely with philosophical abstractions or Christian cliches, you may as well keep your mouth shut.

This distinction needs to be considered on a personal level as well.  You may have answered the intellectual problem with careful philosophical analysis but another question remains:  Is your soul prepared for suffering?  This question haunts me a bit, particularly since my wife and I have had children.  Sometimes I ponder how I would respond to God if something tragic were to befall one of my kids and I must confess, I am a little pessimistic about my own response.  I think it reveals my ever-present need to cultivate greater virtue and not just philosophical acumen.

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C.S. Lewis on the Problem of Evil

In 1940, C.S. Lewis penned The Problem of Pain, addressing the intellectual issues surrounding evil.  A little more than 20 years later, Lewis wrote A Grief Observed, journaling his experience of pain and suffering after the death of his wife, Joy.  In the first half of the latter book, Lewis seems to indicate that his intellectual reasons offered no help with his existential struggles:

"Not that I am (I think) in much danger of ceasing to believe in God.  The real danger is of coming to believe such dreadful things about Him.  The conclusion I dread is not 'So there's no God after all,' but 'So this is what God's really like...it's easy enough to say that God seems absent at our greatest need because He is absent--non-existent...she was in God's hands all the time, and I have seen what they did to her here.  Do they suddenly become gentler to us the moment we are out of the body?  And if so, why?  If God's goodness is inconsistent with his hurting us, then either God is not good or there is no God: for in the only life we know He hurts us beyond our worst fears and beyond all we can imagine.  If it is consistent with hurting us, then He may hurt us after death as unendurably as before it."

Some have cited Lewis' experience as evidence that our intellectual reasons are unhelpful and therefore, not needed in the existential struggle of pain, suffering, and evil.  I have three responses. 

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The Problem of Evil is a Problem for Atheists Too

In conversations with atheists in Berkeley last week, they often raised the problem of evil and suffering as a problem for Christians.  It's not likely, they argued, that God exists given the amount of pain and suffering in the world (actually, several were trying to push the logical problem of evil).  . 

However, the problem of evil is a problem for atheists as well.  Last week, we (New Covenant Community Church's college group and I) spent some time dialoguing with U.C. Berkeley's student atheist club, called S.A.N.E.  In this video, one atheist student attempts to explain what suffering amounts to in an atheistic universe and what he would say to a young girl who is suffering:  

"
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The Berkeley Mission: Hangin' Out With Phillip Johnson

I just returned from my most recent Berkeley Mission, with New Covenant Community Church.  It's hands-on philosophical and apologetic training.  Our classroom is real life. 

On our second day, we had the absolute privilege of spending time with Dr. Phillip Johnson, Godfather of the Intelligent Design movement, chatting in his living room.  His arguments are just as relevant as ever:

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Welcome to College

We know that many Christians walk away from Christ during college.  And many parents and students are desperate for guidance and wisdom on how to navigate this perilous part of life's journey.  That’s why Jonathan Morrow’s new book, Welcome to College, is a must-have resource. 

If a parent or student asked me for a single book to read before or during college, I’d give them Morrow’s book.  He has written a comprehensive guide broken into 42 manageable, “bite-sized” chapters, yet it is remarkably in-depth.  It’s definitely not your typical dumbed-down Christianity-lite. 

And Morrow deals with both head and heart.  Chapter 2 really frames the book, as he unpacks what it means to “Think Christianly.”  Next, he lays a vital foundation, clarifying issues Christians are profoundly confused about, like theology, faith and knowledge.  Then he offers clear-thinking yet gracious apologetics for the contemporary challenges a college student will be sure to face from peers and professors. 

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How Some Postmodern Kids Used Logic in Berkeley

“Religion is capable of driving people to such dangerous folly that faith seems to me to qualify as a kind of mental illness.”  So says Richard Dawkins, author of the God Delusion and godfather to the New Atheists.  This recent breed of atheist is no longer satisfied to pronounce religion as mistaken.  Believers aren't merely wrong, they're irrational.  And to such a degree that they very likely suffer psychological disorders.

But is it the believer who is irrational?  I don’t think so.

In February, I took the high schoolers of Crossline Community Church in Mission Viejo on their first Berkeley mission trip.  For students and staff, it was a rational test of Christianity’s truth claims.  It was also an occasion to humbly yet confidently demonstrate the utter irrationality of atheism. 

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About
Brett Kunkle is the Student Impact Director at Stand to Reason. He is a huge fan of his wife and 5 kids, surfing the Point in Newport Beach, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, in that order.