The Problem of Evil is Everyone's Problem

The Japan tsunami inevitably raises profound questions about God and evil.  But in this discussion, it is important to realize every worldview, not just Christianity, must explain evil.  Christians are often on the defense with regards to this objection, yet the tables can be turned on the atheist, with his naturalistic worldview in tow.  Given naturalism, what is evil and how does the atheist make sense of it?



Famous British philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell once commented, "No one can believe in a good God if they've sat at the bedside of a dying child."  Now, I agree that sitting at the bedside of a dying child is a heart-wrenching situation not to be treated simplistically or in a cavalier manner.  Providing pat answers and quoting Romans 8:28 over and over will not suffice.  But what of Russell'sresponse?  What can the atheist say to the dying child?  Or to the Japanese parents whose child disappeared in the flood waters?

  •  "In the grand scheme of the universe your suffering is utterly meaningless--life and all that comes with it has no transcendent meaning or value."
  •  "Your suffering is completely pointless since there is no purpose to any of this anyway."
  •  "Fortunately, you will soon die and return to dust."
  • "Take heart, you will soon pop out of existence forever and your suffering will be over."
  • "Stuff like tsunamis just happen."
  • "Bummer."
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The Glee of “Grilled Cheesus”

First the admission – then the issue.

Admission – I watch Glee.  I could make a litany of excuses, but suffice to say, I once played Sky Masterson in Guys and Dolls, have seen more than a few dozen (like 5 dozen or so) musicals/operas, am constantly amazed by the vocal ability of the actors on the show, and just plain like a good song sung well.  I could do without the plots and dialogue and questionable moral choices, etc., etc., etc. – but I do like the voices and Lea Michelle is about as good as they come.

If you missed it, and you might have missed it, last week Glee did a show called “Grilled Cheesus” where one of the main characters cooks up a tasty grilled cheese (I like those too, with our without a song) and sees the image of Jesus burned into the bread.  From there the plot unfolds and so do the offensive, dare I say blasphemous (praying over an image of Christ in the hope of fondling a girl’s chest), depictions of Christ and Christianity.  If you want the full details you can go to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grilled_Cheesus , or you can just trust me that the show went there and brought the atheist anti-dumb Christian perspective along for the ride.

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Hitchens' Presumption of Meaning

Even though I don't agree with his ideas, I must admit Christopher Hitchens is a talented writer.  Here he writes an interesting account of his battle with cancer

What I find highly interesting, and inconsistent, is Hitchens' presumption of meaning.  Hitchens is an atheist.  In his worldview, any objective transcendent meaning to life or its events is utterly illusory.  No purpose here.  Just a random collision of atoms in this cold dark universe we call home.  Hitchens implies as much:  "To the dumb question 'Why me?' the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply:  Why not?"  "Why me?' is indeed a dumb question when there's nothing or no one to answer.

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Why Won't God Heal Amputees?

“Why won’t God heal amputees?”  The question caught me by surprise.

I had just finished my “Why I Am a Christian” talk at Calvary Chapel Chino Valley’s youth conference in April.  After talking with a few students and leaders, a young man approached.  He challenged me with this question, explaining his atheist friend had asked it earlier in the week. And he had no answer for his friend.

Apparently, it’s a question atheists make a big deal about. There is even an entire website dedicated to it (www.whywontgodhealamputees.com).  The website claims “this is one of the most important questions we can ask about God.”  Sometime, somewhere I had heard the objection but had never given it much attention.  Now it was staring me right in the face.  Immediate attention was required.

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Advice for Atheists Who Want to Engage Theists

Atheists recognize that taking a strong position--absolutely, positively, there is no god--comes across as dogmatic and intolerant.  Although many atheists espouse the strong position, the leaders of the atheism movement prefer the weak definition--there is no credible evidence showing that God exists--not only  because the strong position appears intolerant, but also because "it does sound rather untenable."  They acknowledge that the most persistent objection to the strong position of atheism is that it sounds dogmatic and unscientific.  Advancing the strong position in public debate forces all atheists (both strong-position and weak-position) to prove the nonexistence of God, invoking the burden of proof. 

Atheists are quick to acknowledge that the strong position has disadvantages in public discussions at the popular level because it is easy to portray as dogmatic, unreasonable, and thus unscientific. To avoid public relations and marketing embarrassments, the atheism movement tries to show that the strong position of atheism, far from being the only form of atheism, is the rarest among atheistic positions.  Instead, they advance the weak position of atheism.  From this perspective, they shift the burden of proof to the theists.  Here is how Positive Atheism magazine describes the ideal sequence when an atheist talks to a theist about the existence of God.

  • It must be realized that we are dealing entirely with claims -- claims that various deities exist.
  • In discussing such claims, it is always the person making the claim [the theist] who is responsible for providing evidence and strong argument. 
  • The person listening to the claim [the atheist] need not make any argument at all. 
  • The listener [the atheist] does not need to disprove a claim in order to reject it. 
  • If the person making the claim [the theist] fails to make a convincing case, the listener rightly rejects the claim as falsehood (or suspends judgment, based upon the strength of the claim).   In either event, the listener ends up lacking a belief in the object of the claim.
  • It is never the negative [weak-position] atheist's responsibility to prove or disprove anything. That job belongs to the person making the claim, which is the theist.
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I am an Aatheist

The following Associate Press article appeared in my hometown newspaper, The Staten Island Advance, on Sunday, May 24, 2009. I thought it was great and expressed my impressions every time I hear folks like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, et al interviewed or read from their respective books.

For the record, I don't believe in atheists. I don't believe they actually exist. To be so angry at something requires that one believes it exists. Atheists are too angry at God to actually believe He doesn't exist. 

I think that makes me an Aatheist. 

- Christy 

Atheists: No God, no reason, just whining

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An Atheism Primer

A recent op-ed piece by Charlotte Allen in the Los Angeles Times, "Atheists: No God, No Reason, Just Whining," prompted a flurry of reactions from the atheist community.  The most clever response came from Hermant Mehta, who basically said that atheists should be protected from outrageous claims such as those made by Allen (that atheists are basically boring).  Mehta even compared atheists to Jews, perhaps implying that such claims are tantamount to hate speech.

Exhanges like these, especially in the blogosphere, don't really serve much of a purpose, except to reinforce pre-existing stereotypes.  We need more productive conversations, such as the debate that occurred between William Lane Craig and Christopher Hitchens on the campus of Biola University.

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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: A New Kind of Mission Trip

Here's an idea.  First, let's get a group of Christian high school students together, many of whom have grown up in the safety of the church, a Christian home or a Christian school.  Next, we'll put them in front of atheists, skeptics, gay rights activists, Unitarian pastors, college students and whoever else we can find, to talk to them about evils of religion and the irrationality of Christian belief.  A recipe for disaster, right?  

Wrong.  

In fact, I've already done it.  For 4 years now, with Stand to Reason.  And it's the most effective training I've ever done with youth.  In 2006, spurred on by my good friend Jim Wallace, founder of PleaseConvinceMe.com and pastor of The Rising Tide church, I developed an "apologetic mission trip" to Berkeley.  Here's a series of blog posts I did about that very first trip.  

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