I paused to think about Kreeft's point, but he continued before I could reply.
"However," he said, "I certainly don't want to demean Templeton. He's responding in a very honest and heartfelt way to the fact that something counts against God. Only in a world where faith is difficult can faith exist. I don't have faith in two plus two equals four or in the noonday sun. Those are beyond question. But Scripture describes God as a hidden God. You have to make an effort of faith to find him. There are clues you can follow.
"And if that weren't so, if there were something more or less than clues, it's difficult for me to understand how we could really be free to make a choice about him. If we had absolute proof instead of clues, then you could no more deny God than you could deny the sun. If we had no evidence at all, you could never get there. God gives us just enough evidence so that those who want him can have him. Those who want to follow the clues will.
"The Bible says, 'Seek and you shall find." It doesn't say everybody will find him; it doesn't say nobody will find him. Some will find. Who? Those who seek. Those whose hearts are set on finding him and who follow the clues."
I jumped in. "Wait a minute-a moment ago you admitted that 'something counts against God'-that evil and suffering are evidence against him," I pointed out. "Aren't you conceding, therefore, that evil disproves God's existence?" I thumped my hand on his desk. "Case closed!" I declared with a mock air of triumph.
Kreeft recoiled a bit at my outburst. "No, no," he insisted, shaking his head. "First of all, evidence is not necessarily certain or conclusive. I'm saying in this world there is evidence against and evidence for God. Augustine put it very simply: 'If there is no God, why is there so much good? If there is a God, why is there so much evil?'
"There's no question that the existence of evil is one argument against God-but in one of my books I summarize twenty arguments that point persuasively in the other direction, in favor of the existence of God. 10 Atheists must answer all twenty arguments; theists must only answer one. However, each of us gets to cast a vote. Faith is active; it demands a response. Unlike reason, which bows down faithfully to the evidence, faith is prejudiced."
That last word jumped out at me. "What do you mean, 'prejudiced'?"
"Suppose a policeman came into this room and said they just captured my wife in the act of murdering thirteen neighbors by chopping off their heads, and they have witnesses. I would laugh at him. I would say, 'No, this cannot be. You do not know her as I do.' He would say, 'Where's your evidence?' I'd say, 'It's of a different kind than yours. But there is evidence that this could not be.' So I'm prejudiced.
"However, my prejudice is a reasonable prejudice because it's based on the evidence I've gathered in my very real experience. So someone who knows God has evidence-and therefore prejudices based on that evidence-which someone who does not know God does not have."
Kreeft stopped for a few seconds before adding this unexpected and counter-intuitive remark: "Besides, the evidence of evil and suffering can go both ways-it can actually be used in favor of God."
I sat up straight in my chair. "How," I demanded, "is that possible?"
"Consider this," Kreeft said. "If Templeton is right in responding to these events with outrage, that presupposes there really is a difference between good and evil. The fact that he's using the standard of good to judge evil-the fact that he's saying quite rightly that this horrible suffering isn't what ought to be-means that he has a notion of what ought to be; that this notion corresponds to something real; and that there is, therefore, a reality called the Supreme Good. Well, that's another name for God."
That sounded suspiciously like philosophical sleight of hand. Warily, I summarized Kreeft's point to see if I understood it. "You mean that unintentionally Templeton may be testifying to the reality of God because by recognizing evil he's assuming there's an objective standard on which it's based?"
"Right. If I give one student a ninety and another an eighty, that presupposes that one hundred is a real standard. And my point is this: if there is no God, where did we get the standard of goodness by which we judge evil as evil?
"What's more, as C. S. Lewis said, 'If the universe is so bad ... how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator?' In other words, the very presence of these ideas in our minds-that is, the idea of evil, thus of goodness and of God as the origin and standard of goodness-needs to be accounted for."
An interesting counter-punch, I mused. "Are there any other ways in which you believe evil works against atheism?" I asked.
"Yes, there are," he replied. "If there is no Creator and therefore no moment of creation, then everything is the result of evolution. If there was no beginning or first cause, then the universe must have always existed. That means the universe has been evolving for an infinite period of time-and, by now, everything should already be perfect. There would have been plenty of time for evolution to have finished and evil to have been vanquished. But there still is evil and suffering and imperfection and that proves the atheist wrong about the universe."
"Then atheism," I said, "is an inadequate answer to the problem of evil?"
"It's an easy answer-maybe, if I may use the word, a cheap answer," he said. "Atheism is cheap on people, because it snobbishly says nine out of ten people through history have been wrong about God and have had a lie at the core of their hearts.
"Think about that. How is it possible that over ninety percent of all the human beings who have ever lived usually in far more painful circumstances than we-could believe in God? The objective evidence, just looking at the balance of pleasure and suffering in the world, would not seem to justify believing in an absolutely good God. Yet this has been almost universally believed.
"Are they all crazy? Well, I suppose you can believe that if you're a bit of an elitist. But maybe, like Leo Tolstoy, we have to learn from the peasants. In his autobiography, he wrestles with the problem of evil. He saw life had more suffering than pleasure and more evil than good and was therefore apparently meaningless. He was so despairing that he was tempted to kill himself. He said he didn't know how he could endure.
"Then he said, in effect, 'Wait a minute-most people do endure. Most people have a life that's harder than mine and yet they find it wonderful. How can they do that? Not with explanations, but with faith.' He learned from the peasants and found faith and hope. 11
"So atheism treats people cheaply. Also, it robs death of meaning, and if death has no meaning, how can life ultimately have meaning? Atheism cheapens everything it touches-look at the results of communism, the most powerful form of atheism on earth.
"And in the end, when the atheist dies and encounters God instead of the nothingness he had predicted, he'll recognize that atheism was a cheap answer because it refused the only thing that's not cheap-the God of infinite value."
Kreeft had made some interesting initial points, but we had been dancing around the subject a bit. It was time to cut to the core of the issue. Pulling out some notes that I had scrawled on the airplane, I challenged Kreeft with a question that crystallized the controversy.
"Christians believe in five things," I said. "First, God exists. Second, God is all-good. Third, God is all-powerful. Fourth, God is all-wise. And, fifth, evil exists. Now, how can all of those statements be true at the same time?"
An enigmatic smile crept onto Kreeft's face. "It looks like they can't be," he conceded. "I remember a liberal preacher who once tried to dissuade me from taking up with the fundamentalists. He said, 'There's a logical problem here-you can be intelligent, or you can be honest, or you can be a fundamentalist, or any two of the three, but not all three.' And my fundamentalist friend said, 'I'd say, you can be honest, or you can be intelligent, or you can be liberal, or any of the two, but not all three."'
I laughed at the story. "We have the same kind of logical problem here," I said.
"That's right. It seems you have to drop one of those beliefs. If God is all-powerful, he can do anything. If God is all-good, he wants only good. If God is all-wise, he knows what is good. So if all of those beliefs are true and Christians believe they are-then it would seem that the consequence is that no evil can exist."
"But evil does exist," I said. "Therefore, isn't it logical to assume that such a God doesn't exist?"
"No, I'd say one of those beliefs about him must be false, or we must not be understanding it in the right way." It was time to find out. With a sweep of my hand, I invited Kreeft to examine these three divine attributes God being all-powerful, all-good, and all-knowing-one at a time in light of the existence of evil. Attribute #I: God Is All-Powerful
"What does it mean when we say that God is all-powerful?" Kreeft asked, and then he answered his own question: "That means he can do everything that is meaningful, everything that is possible, everything that makes any sense at all. God cannot make himself to cease to exist. He cannot make good evil."
"So," I said, "there are some things he can't do even though he's all-powerful."
"Precisely because he is all powerful, he can't do some things. He can't make mistakes. Only weak and stupid beings make mistakes. One such mistake would be to try to create a self-contradiction, like two plus two equals five or a round square.
"Now, the classic defense of God against the problem of evil is that it's not logically possible to have free will and no possibility of moral evil. In other words, once God chose to create human beings with free will, then it was up to them, rather than to God, as to whether there was sin or not. That's what free will means. Built into the situation of God deciding to create human beings is the chance of evil and, consequently, the suffering that results."
"Then God is the creator of evil."
"No, he created the possibility of evil; people actualized that potentiality. The source of evil is not God's power but mankind's freedom. Even an all-powerful God could not have created a world in which people had genuine freedom and yet there was no potentiality for sin, because our freedom includes the possibility of sin within its own meaning. It's a self-contradiction-a meaningless nothing-to have a world where there's real choice while at the same time no possibility of choosing evil. To ask why God didn't create such a world is like asking why God didn't create colorless color or round squares."
"Then why didn't God create a world without human freedom?"
"Because that would have been a world without humans. Would it have been a place without hate? Yes. A place without suffering? Yes. But it also would have been a world without love, which is the highest value in the universe. That highest good never could have been experienced. Real love-our love of God and our love of each other-must involve a choice. But with the granting of that choice comes the possibility that people would choose instead to hate."
"But look at Genesis," I said. "God did create a world where people were free and yet there was no sin." "That's precisely what he did," Kreeft said. "After creation, he declared that the world was 'good.' People were free to choose to love God or turn away from him. However, such a world is necessarily a place where sin is freely possible-and, indeed, that potentiality for sin was actualized not by God, but by people. The blame, ultimately, lies with us. He did his part perfectly; we're the ones who messed up."
"Rabbi Harold Kushner reaches a different conclusion in his bestseller When Bad Things Happen to Good People," I pointed out. "He says God isn't all-powerful after all-that he would like to help, but he just isn't capable of solving all the problems in the world. He said, 'Even God has a hard time keeping chaos in check."i2
Kreeft raised an eyebrow. "For a rabbi, that's hard to understand, because the distinctively Jewish notion of God is the opposite of that," he said. "Surprisingly-against the evidence, it seems-the Jews insisted that there is a God who is all-powerful and nevertheless all good.
"Now, that doesn't seem as reasonable as paganism, which says if there is evil in the world, then there must be many gods, each of them less than all-powerful, some of them good, some of them evil, or if there's one God, then he's facing forces he can't quite control. Until Judaism's revelation of the true God, that was a very popular philosophy."
"You don't think much of Kushner's God," I said, more as a statement than a question.
"Frankly, that God is hardly worth believing in. Do I have a big brother who's doing what he can but it's not very much? Well, who cares?" he said, shrugging his shoulders. "Practically speaking, that's the same as atheism. Rely on yourself first and then maybe God, maybe not.
"No, the evidence is that God is all-powerful. The point to remember is that creating a world where there's free will and no possibility of sin is a self-contradiction and that opens the door to people choosing evil over God, with suffering being the result. The overwhelming majority of the pain in the world is caused by our choices to kill, to slander, to be selfish, to stray sexually, to break our promises, to be reckless."
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