Understanding the arguments in God’s not Dead: Part III of III

 Reblogged from CHRISTIAN APOLOGETICS ALLIANCE

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In part one we looked at Professor Radisson’s arguments in detail, and in part two we dug into Josh’s first and second lectures to his class.  In the final part we will discuss the final talk, and the importance of Philosophy for Christians.

Josh’s third lesson begins with the problem of evil and suffering.  This is one of the most difficult questions for the Christian to answer.  However, I do not think we are without anything meaningful to say on this subject.

The most basic form of the objection to God’s existence based on evil is this:

1. If God is all powerful, then He can prevent evil from happening.

2. If God is all loving, then He would want to stop evil from happening

Therefore, since evil exists, an all powerful and all loving God must not exist.

This, at least at first glance, seems to be a pretty good reason to believe that God does not exist, especially since it seems to be the case that if the premises (statements one and two) are true, then the conclusion does seem valid.  So what can the Christian say at this point?
Many Christian Philosophers have taken issue with the second statement.  Since God is all loving He may therefore prefer no suffering, yet God might still have good and moral reasons for allowing suffering to happen.  In other words, is it possible that God knows something you do not?

Take for example, a young child that goes to the doctor to get vaccinated.  The mother brings the child in to a strange place, sets him on a strange seat, and then allows strange people to crowd around him and jab him with needles.  The baby cries out for Mom in all this pain and confusion, but Mom does nothing.  Instead she lets it happen, seemingly with approval.  The child has no idea why Mom lets such things happen, but the mother knows that the pain is worth it.  Though she had the power, and even the desire, to avoid causing her child suffering, the mother knows the child is better off going through this pain.

Another answer to the problem of why God allows suffering is the one Josh put forward in his classroom.  It is called the free-will defense, and goes at least as far back as the 4th century philosopher St. Augustine.  The free-will defense is the idea that most of the evil in the world today is due to creatures with free-will freely choosing to do what is wrong and harmful to themselves and others.  This puts the blame squarely on us, and not on God.  We are responsible for the evil in the world.

Why, then, would God give us freedom if He knew it would lead to such misery?  The answer is that true love, true respect, and true worship require choices.  If I program my computer to tell me that I am great, what meaning does that really have?  I forced it to say that.  God similarly wants us to follow Him, love Him, and worship Him because we want to, not because we are forced to like robots.

While these are good answers to the problem of evil intellectually, they are not a lot of help for those who are suffering.  Many times pointing the person who is suffering to the person of Christ and helping them to realize that Jesus suffered in many ways and can empathize with us is a good practice.  And sometimes they just need a hug.  However, later on, the intellectual questions may surface, and that is when we need to be prepared for questions about God and the problem of evil.  For a little more information on the problem and answers to it, see this article also by William Lane Craig: http://www.reasonablefaith.org/the-problem-of-evil

In the film, the conversation quickly jumps from the problem of evil to what is known as the moral argument for the existence of God.  The heart of this argument is the existence of objective morals and values.  Essentially if there are any actions that are actually wrong, not just that they feel wrong to you, or that one culture believes it is wrong, but they are wrong for anyone to do, then there must be something that makes that action legitimately wrong.  If some things are just plain wrong, why is that the case?

Some people object to there being any standard of right or wrong outside of the individual or culture.  However, the claim is often made by people who have simply assume this is the case without ever actually looking into the validity of the idea for themselves.  One thing a Christian can do at this point is to get the other person to realize that they do in fact think some things are just plain wrong.  This is usually done through what is known as an argumentum ad absurdum, or taking the opponents viewpoint to its logical end using an extreme example.  Josh asks his Professor if it would be wrong if he cheated on his test.  It seemed to at least quiet the professor down, though Professor Radisson could have responded by saying cheating violates the rules of the college, and so is wrong.  Cheating is a good example, but better examples exist, such as causing harm to infants or genocide.  If someone believes they as an individual have their own standard of morality and everyone else also has their own individual standard of right and wrong, then to be consistent they would have to agree with and support someone who says, “I wouldn’t kill 6 million Jews, but if that is what you feel is right, then you should be out killing Jews.”  Thankfully a person that agrees with that statement will be hard to come by, but that is exactly the point.  Most people will admit they believe there are some actions that are just wrong, the Atheists being among those people, however, the Atheist has no reason to hold such morals.

At this point, many Atheists will object that they can act morally, as Professor Radisson did in fact object.  This is a common misconception about the moral argument, and so I am glad the movie brought it up.  The moral argument does not say Atheists can’t act morally, only that they have no real reason to act morally.  In essence they are writing checks, but do not have money in their account to cover them.  Since there is no money to back their check, it is essentially meaningless.  So also, if no outside objective standard exists for morality, then our moral actions really have no backing and are ultimately meaningless.  The Atheist could do good deeds all day long, by why should he?

So what is it that makes something right or wrong?  Some will say the right thing to do is whatever brings the most amount of good to the most amount of people.  This idea is called Utilitarianism. Utilitarianism has a few problems with it, but one of importance here is the trouble with defining good.  What does it mean for something to be good?  One answer could be pleasure is good and pain is bad, but what makes pleasure good?  Are there not times when pain is good, or more often when pleasure is bad, as in the case of rape, for example?  This definition of good does not seem to work.  So how does one define good?

Josh puts forward a standard of good: God.  The very character and nature of God is good.  God is not just a good God, God is goodness itself.  God is an unchanging and ultimate standard of good.  This allows us to derive certain principals from His character, and eventually guidelines for conduct.  For instance, lying is wrong because we have a principal of honesty which comes from the nature of God, who is the Truth.  For more on this idea see the book Right from Wrong by Josh McDowell and Bob Hostetler, especially chapter 6.

In the end it seems without God there is no standard of true right and wrong, so when we get down to it we are left with a choice between three options: bite the bullet and say whatever anyone wants to do, no matter how bad it may be, it is the right thing to do, admit there are some things that are just plain wrong yet have no rational backing, or accept the existence of God.  Many Atheists will take the second option, believing they have found some rational reason for holding morals without God.  In this case, it is good to be able to walk someone through their own ideas, and ask them questions about it in order to get them to see they have no true moral standard, or that the way they define good is arbitrary.

This leads to my last point.  Doing as I have just suggested may take some training, yes, even philosophical and apologetic training.  Most people will have one of three reactions to the movieGod’s not Dead: The person may say, “That was a good movie, but it’s not real life, don’t worry about arguments.”  Others will say, “Avoid philosophy, it will only lead to trouble.”  But still others will say, “I need to start looking into the philosophical, historical, and scientific evidence for my Christian faith.”  I encourage you to take the final option.  Though it may seem a daunting task, I think there are simple tasks we can all do in the Christian community in order to carry out what God asks us to do in rationally defending our faith as Josh did in the movie (I Peter 3:15).

First, if you have the opportunity, take a Philosophy class.  If you are a college student, or are going to be one, be sure that at least one class you take is a philosophy class, preferably an introduction class or a critical thinking course.  Though it may seem a little scary, Philosophy itself is not evil.  I went all the way through my undergrad and Masters in Philosophy without much difficulty in my faith.  Yes, some things did challenge my beliefs, but I learned from them and my faith has grown stronger through the arguments I found.  Now, that is not to say there are not any angry and outspoken Atheist professors in Philosophy, or any other discipline for that matter, but most are not as outspoken Professor Radisson and will be fair to the students even if they disagree with them.  I can say from experience, myself being a Philosophy instructor for 4 years at secular institutions, I read plenty of papers that I disagreed with from my Christian perspective; you can bet those students received many more counter arguments on their papers when they were handed back, but I graded them based on the quality of their work, as I feel most instructors would.

Now, what should one do if one were to run into a professor like the one in the movie?  Learn from them.  Learn why they believe what they believe.  See it as a chance to get insider information on the opposing view.  Ask pointed questions, not to the point of being disruptive, but that you might politely show the rest of the class that there is another rational side to this argument.  For more on carrying out this task in a proper way, see the book Tactics by Greg Koukl.

However, one must not only have tactics, but be armed with the truth, or at the very least, know where to find answers to what has been brought up in the classroom.

There are several options a person can check out.  First, if you are a student and are blessed enough to have a chapter of the student group called Ratio Christi at your university, start attending meetings.  This group is devoted to giving reasons and evidence for the Christian faith.  If you are not a student, see if a Ratio Christi chapter directors, or other apologetics speakers, are nearby which can provide someone to speak at your local church on these subjects.  Another option is to start a Sunday school class with an apologetic curriculum.  The True U series from Focus on the Family and materials put out by the group Stand to Reason are wonderful.  Pick up some books with information on apologetics and defending the faith.  I would start with something like The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel.  It is a pleasure to read and easy to digest.  Another book that is a good starting point is On Guard by William Lane Craig.  Craig also has a website filled with articles and podcasts at www.reasonablefaith.org  Another great website full of resources is apologetics315.com where a person could spend hours listening to debates and lectures.

It is my hope that the movie God’s not Dead will spark a revival of intellectual Christians.  Our faith has a long and rich intellectual tradition that is both powerful and beautiful.  Will you join with those who are already contending for the hearts and minds of those in the university and beyond?  The famed author C.S. Lewis, whom Josh quoted in the movie, once said, “Good philosophy must exist, if for no other reason, because bad philosophy needs to be answered.”[1]  Begin the journey of understanding why you believe what you believe; may it begin today!

Jonathan Meyer received a B.A. in Philosophy from Grand Valley State University and an M.A. in Philosophy from Western Michigan University.  He is currently working as a research assistant on a grant focusing on Special Divine Action and is also the Assistant Director for the Ratio Christi group at Western Michigan University.

 

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