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How William Lane Craig thrashed Sam Harris like a naughty puppy

Since I was fortunate enough to have some time free yesterday, I was able to watch, live, the Craig-Harris debate on whether God is the foundation of moral goodness. I live blogged this on Twitter, along with with several other apologists—including @MaxeoA and @bossmanham—and a couple of skeptics—including our own village atheist @OpenParachute. (Click here for the full archive; the hashtag is #GodDebateII.)

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“Bad things shouldn’t happen to good people”—why this argument fails against Christianity

Continuing a discussion with ‘Upandatom’ in a previous thread, I’d like to address his argument that:

Bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. And it would not be hard at all for god to create a world where everyone gets what they deserve.

Upandatom: I think I can accept your statement that “bad things shouldn’t happen to good people” at face value. That seems intuitively obvious. But there are a few problems with trying to use this as a reason to think God doesn’t exist.

1. Maximum good seems logically impossible without evil

Do you think there’s a corresponding principle that “good things should happen to good people”? If so, we can easily imagine a situation where God wants something exceptionally good to happen to a good person, but where it’s logically impossible for that good thing to happen (or happen “properly”) without something bad happening first.

For example, imagine God wanted to give you unending happiness. Do you think you’d appreciate that more if you knew first-hand what it was like to be miserable? I know I would. We tend to take things for granted if we don’t know what life is like without them. It’s a basic truth about human beings that we value things far more highly, and enjoy them far more, when to get them in the first place we have to work hard, make sacrifices, experience loss. Marriage seems much better if you’ve been lonely before; a good meal tastes better when you’re ravenous.

It seems clear that without suffering, joy is diluted. So on this principle alone, isn’t it pretty plausible that God would allow bad things to happen to good people, precisely because he wants them to experience good things afterwards in the fullest way possible?

Remember also: God is capable of taking away any residual suffering we may experience as a result of evil. People with post-traumatic stress disorder in this life won’t have PTSD in heaven. So it’s not as if the evil we experience has a lasting effect. It’s just a temporary means for us to experience a greater good.

2. People are not good

It’s a core supposition of your argument that people are good—but the Bible is exceptionally clear that people are actually evil. See, for example, Romans 3:9 and onward. Christianity holds that people are naturally inclined to do evil, rather than good—that’s what it means to be a sinner. So although I agree, in a general sense, that “bad things shouldn’t happen to good people”, it’s not a relevant consideration in this case.

After all, you seem to be trying to show that God wouldn’t do something that Christianity says he would, to prove that therefore Christianity is false. But to do that, you have to stick to what Christianity says. You can’t say “the God of Christianity wouldn’t allow evil to happen to good people; bad things do happen to good people; therefore Christianity is false”…if in fact Christianity holds that people are not good. That would be a strawman, because under Christianity, bad things don’t happen to good people.

3. The statement “bad things shouldn’t happen to good people” either presupposes that God exists, or it’s just an opinion with no force

On the other hand, maybe you’re not trying to make the argument I think you’re making. Maybe you’re just saying that you believe people are good, that you believe bad things shouldn’t happen to them, and you believe God wouldn’t allow it.

But in that case, your argument doesn’t have any force. Your own opinion about what the Christian God would or wouldn’t do, etc, has no necessary bearing on what he’d actually do, right? Just like your opinion about what I would or wouldn’t do might not necessarily be accurate. It’s not like your opinion about God trumps his opinion about himself!

If you’re just trying to convince us that God allowing evil would be immoral of him, without using Christian morality to prove it, then you’re just begging the question: relying on the assumption that God doesn’t exist in order to supposedly prove he doesn’t exist. Because obviously if he did exist, it wouldn’t be immoral for him to cause suffering!

The problem here is: you apparently do believe that bad things shouldn’t happen to good people. You seem to think this is a universal law; something that is true regardless of what other people believe (even God!) But where would such a truth come from, if not from God himself? So your argument, while seeming on the face of it to offer evidence against God’s existence, on closer examination seems to support it.

I’d welcome your thoughts in the comments below.

Book Review: Who Made God?

Posted on behalf of Michael Drake.

Who Made God? is a witty, stimulating and very readable explanation of the discoveries of modern science, exhibiting the marvels of God’s creation and exposing the inconsistency of attempts to explain the universe in terms of atheism and evolution.

More than making important and obtuse concepts of modern science delightfully comprehensible in memorable imagery of daily life, Edgar Andrews silences on its own terms the challenge of atheistic scepticism and points readers to the truth and sufficiency of the Bible and faith in Christ as a framework – the only adequate framework – in which to think.

Here is a readable and informative response by an internationally respected scientist to claims that atheistic science can explain everything.  Emeritus Professor of Materials at the University of London, Andrews outlines with clarity and humour significant scientific constructs that describe how our universe functions.  As he does that, he shows their usefulness and consistency with observable data, while exposing their inconsistencies and inadequacies in explaining the totality of everything.  In particular Andrews renders in stark clarity the failure of the “New Atheists” (Dawkins, Dennett, et al) to explain the order and origins of the material and immaterial universe.

Against that he sets out what he calls the “hypothesis of God”.  One of new-atheism’s fallacies of debating the existence of God is its failure to define its terms.  Andrews shows that when the Bible’s definition of God as creator and sustainer of the universe is used, the observable data fits, and does so with a consistency and comprehensiveness that evolutionary atheism can never sustain.

Andrews’ last chapter highlights the inevitable and necessary conclusion to the data examined: God must exist, and does exist as the unmade maker and sustainer of everything.   But more than this, the moral argument for God exposes our inescapable need of God and his redemption in Christ.  So he closes with a personal affirmation of the grace he has found in the Saviour, and commendation of the Gospel of John as the next thing readers should turn to.

That last chapter aside, the first six chapters may be the most important contemporary writing anyone can be encouraged to read.  Neither those nor the latter chapters are always easy reading.  From the start Andrews warns that some of the science is challenging.  He encourages readers to persevere: it may be necessary to read some sections two or three times, but that is worth the effort.  Yet it is not so much how those first chapters induct readers into the theories of modern science, but how they introduce readers to a methodology of thinking about anything.  These chapters, taken on their own, are an accessible and engaging introduction to biblical epistemology.

The book is well printed, well presented and well bound: it can be given to others without apology and will keep its shape and appearance through many readings.  Each chapter is introduced with a short summary and vocabulary that, much like a road-map, helps navigate through the detail that might otherwise distract or discourage.  The summaries would make great starters for family, class or group discussion.  Who Made God? is possibly the most useful introduction to modern science a non-scientist could read, and because of the inter-disciplinary breadth of theory and experimental science canvassed, any well informed scientist will also likely profit from reading it.

My only criticism is that in making a passing comment to his reconciling the “big bang theory” with what he asserts is the Genesis 1 record of “genuine history” in an “epic poem”[1] with “clearly historical” intent (p106), Andrews unnecessarily introduces potential for doubt about Genesis.  He explains briefly that he considers Genesis 1:1 as describing the creation of the heavens and the earth in an unspecified period of time, with the following verses providing the subsequent geo-centric creative work of God.  This brief comment may cause more confusion than need be: it might have been better to have left it out or to have given it more explanation.  In both Who Made God? and his earlier From Nothing to Nature he stresses commitment to the historicity and accuracy of Genesis 1.  In From Nothing to Nature he commits to creation in six days each having a morning and an evening, while at the same time expressing belief in the very long periods of time the “big bang” presupposes.[2] Confused?  Unfortunately, that is where this brief discussion can leave the reader; yet in the context of so much excellence this should not discourage the reading of Who Made God?

I had to be persuaded to read Who Made God? I found neither the title nor the prospect of reading another pedantic, ill-informed point-scoring and petty discussion of the creation-evolution debate at all enticing.  I could not have been more mistaken.  Before I had finished the first chapter I found myself enjoying a book that informed, stimulated and challenged, and in which neither the science nor the theology is superficial or dull.  I have been passing out copies to friends and colleagues, commending to them what I believe will prove to be a lasting work in popular science, biblical theology, and devotional Christianity.

Feminist writer Fay Weldon describes it as “thoughtful, readable, witty, [and] wise.”  David Kim of Redeemer Presbyterian Church in New York says Andrews writes a “nuanced and compelling argument that maintains the integrity of both science and theology.”  Those comments are true but understated.  This is a great book.

Michael Drake is the principal of Carey College in Panmure and a pastor at Tamaki Reformed Baptist Church. He has been involved in advocacy for Christian schools throughout New Zealand and in raising issues about race, education, and Christianity before Parliament. He is also an Associate Chaplain at the Manukau Institute of Technology. Recently, Michael participated at our Thinking Matters Forum at Auckland University.


Notes

[1] But Genesis 1 is Hebrew narrative and bears none of the marks of Hebrew poetry (cf Robert Alter The Art of Biblical Poetry Basic Books 1985 p117).

[2] In From Nothing to Nature Andrews unequivocally asserts that “Genesis is a history book” and that “the Bible is true and can be trusted in all matters.” (p105f)   He reads Genesis 1:1 as describing a “first” day of creation (which “lasted much longer than the other six days of creation, because, unlike them, this day was not measured as the time between morning and evening).  In that first day God made the heavens and the earth before beginning the subsequent six days of creative work with regard to the already created earth.  For example, having made the moon and sun in the first day one, “He could still have put them in the sky on day four.” (p109) As to those days having morning and evening, and therefore being clearly days, he argues that possible natural explanations could include such things as the earth rotating at a much slower speed than at present.   Andrews acknowledges that this special pleading enables him to integrate the “big bang” with a literal (sort of) interpretation of Genesis.  He is however quick to point out that it is valid to interpret the Genesis days as 24 hour periods, albeit such an interpretation cannot accommodate the “big bang”.  In Who Made God? Andrews insists on a rigorous consistency in extrapolating scientific theory from observable data; a similar rigour in examining the literature of the biblical text would suggest that a) accommodation of the “big bang” to the Genesis text is neither necessary nor sufficient, and b) the inducement to such an accommodation arises not internally from the text but from external sources unrelated to the text.  In any case, the literary form of Genesis makes the most natural interpretation of verse 1 an introduction that is developed and explained in the following verses, meaning that the entire creation process took place within the six days Andrews agrees are truly days.   (cf Edward J Young Studies in Genesis One Baker, Grand Rapids 1973)