This is from a series of posts which was copied with permission from Jordan Apodaca’s blog, “Thoughts & Anti-Thoughts,” which can be accessed here: https://jordanapodaca.wordpress.com/
This particular post, which allows comments, can be accessed here: https://jordanapodaca.wordpress.com/2017/03/10/acceptingrejecting-calvinism-pt-7a-william-lane-craig/
It was freshman year, near the end of the Fall semester, I was wrestling with the problem of evil, but I wasn’t able to make any headway. Then, one day, my roommate, Tony, quite randomly showed me a video of a Christian apologist named William Lane Craig, and he was answering random objections to atheism. I enjoyed the video, but thought little of it at the time.
My Past with Apologetics
When I was in early high school, I read an introduction or two to apologetics, and I greatly enjoyed them. I can’t say I read those books very critically or thoughtfully at the time. I also didn’t feel like I needed them; Christianity seemed reasonable enough for me to continue believing. I simply found them enjoyable reads. And I understood the basic set of arguments for God’s existence (arguments from the beginning of the universe, from moral objectivity, from the fine-tuning of the universe for life, etc.) as well as the usual defenses against the problem of evil. As I said before (the following is copied and pasted): The “problem of evil” is typically thought of as the problem that arises in our minds when we consider two truths in conjunction: 1. God exists. 2. Evil exists. And the problem is that it seems like if God (who is perfectly good and perfectly powerful and all-knowing) really did exist, he wouldn’t allow evil to exist. But evil does exist. So either God doesn’t exist or evil doesn’t exist. So which is more likely? Well, clearly, we have empirical evidence before our eyes every day that evil exists. So God must not exist. In short:
- If God exists, evil would not exist.
- Evil exists.
- Therefore God does not exist
My Attempts to Respond to these Arguments
This problem haunted my mind, and I saw four potential ways to try to answer it: one was direct, and three indirect. Beginning with the indirect:
1. The Appeal to Religious Experience
This was what I had relied on for the majority of my life whenever I had doubts: I knew, beyond a shadow of doubt, that I had met Jesus — in prayer, in reading the Bible, in corporate worship and preaching. I knew God existed because he had changed me, he had impacted me, he had brought me to tears at the mere thought of his love for me on the cross. There is hardly anything more wonderful than thinking through all the major times in my life that God has revealed himself powerfully to me.
Analysis: is this a good argument? Yes! And it is biblical. In Romans 8:17, Paul says that “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God.” Humans have spirits, which is something inside of us that the Spirit of God is able to speak to, and in a very direct way assure us that God has saved us. And, if God has saved us, it follows that God exists. Furthermore, it seems like in 1 John this is the primary way we know the truth of Christianity:
- 1 John 3:24 Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
- 1 John 4:13 By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
- 1 John 5:6 This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.
Furthermore, it is logical. If someone offers a logical argument to the effect that I don’t exist, I don’t have to refute his argument that I don’t exist in order to keep believing I exist — I have more reason to believe the proposition “I exist” than I do to think that my friend’s argument is sound. I am at liberty to continue believing I exist, because experience my existing, and simply assume that my friend’s argument is wrong in some way. And I don’t have to even know how it is wrong; it’s enough to know via an alternative route that his conclusion is wrong. That’s what this argument (as well as #3) attempts to do.
But: I was far from God during this period of my life, so, unfortunately, my religious experience of God was sadly weak, so this didn’t help me very much.
2. The Argument from Evil’s Meaninglessness Given Atheism
This argument attempts to answer the problem by clarifying terms.
Essentially, this argument claims that it makes no sense for the atheist to argument from evil to God’s non-existence, because evil is an incoherent view without God. The central idea of the argument is that for anything to be objectively evil, there must be an objective standard of morality, namely, a perfectly good God. So it makes no sense for an atheist to say “I know God can’t exist because there is objective evil in the world!” How on earth can there be objective evil if there is no God? The atheist can only say there are things in the world that he doesn’t like, but not liking the world doesn’t seem like a reason to not believe in God.
Analysis: this argument has a weakness, and it’s as simple as this: the atheist can simply respond to the Christian, “Sure, I know that I don’t think there’s any objective evil in the world. But you do! You are the one who is putting forward the two propositions that are mutually exclusive: 1. God exists, 2. Evil exists.” The central idea to the atheist’s response is that it is the Christian’s view that is internally incoherent. The atheist doesn’t have to believe in objective evil himself to point out that there is a seeming conflict between objective evil’s real existence and God’s existence, both of which the Christian affirms.
But there is a value to this argument: it forces everyone to make a choice. Is it true that God and evil both exist, or is it true that neither God and evil exist? Which is more likely? Is it more probable that 1. Evil is ultimately subjective, or 2. That, somehow, God’s existence and evil’s existence aren’t mutually exclusive? Understood this way, this is actually a decent answer.
But: unfortunately, I didn’t see the value of this argument at all during my season of doubt. I agreed with the atheist that the problem of evil is an internal problem, and I failed to see the second-level value I described in the previous paragraph.
3. Arguments for God’s Existence
Like the first argument, this one tries to give positive reasons for believing God exists that are strong enough that one doesn’t even need to give an answer to the problem of evil. I’ll try to give a concise play-by-play of how I came up short in this area as well. Here were the two sides of my mind going at it:
- Apologist: First, I’ll start with the cosmological argument. We can know logically that God exists because the universe can’t explain its own existence.
- Skeptic: Why not?
- Apologist: Because the universe needs something to explain it! It can’t just be here on its own!
- Skeptic: I see what you’re saying, but, what about God? What explains him?
- Apologist: He exists eternally and necessarily. If you try to work back in your mind through all the causes and effects that have ever taken place, you eventually work back before creation, and you find God behind it all. He simply exists.
- Skeptic: But how does God exist?
- Apologist: He simply does! It’s just a brute fact: he exists. He has to, in order to explain everything else.
- Skeptic: But how do you decide how far to go back in your explanations? You and I need explanations, sure. We came from our parents, and they came from their parents, etc. But why does the universe need an explanation? Why can’t the universe be the brute fact, the place we stop looking for explanations, instead of God?
- Apologist: But where did the universe come from?
- Skeptic: The same place God came from — nowhere! It doesn’t need an explanation; it simply exists. This is what Aristotle believed: the universe is eternal.
- Apologist: But isn’t the idea of an eternal existence, in which we continue in successive moments, impossible?
- Skeptic: Do you really know that it’s impossible? How could you possibly know that?
- Apologist: Okay, but how about the moral argument… (the rest of the arguments had similar inner dialogues)
Analysis: If any of you have read much in apologetics, you should be able to see at least two giant mistakes in this argument. Really quickly: the first problem is that I didn’t get the details of the argument right. The premise isn’t that “everything that exists needs a cause to explain it,” but “everything that began to exist needs a cause to explain it.” The second issue has to do with burden of proof and what actually makes a successful argument, and I’ll get to that later.
4. Direct Response to the Problem of Evil
Thus far, three indirect attempts to answer the problem of evil, and I failed in all of them. So what about direct responses? What idea can explain how God and evil can exist together? Well, in this post I outlined a lot of answers that I had heard from Calvinists, and which I also tried to use, but ultimately to no avail.
Did I ever try to appeal to free will, like an Arminian might? I honestly didn’t think Arminianism was true, so I spent very little time thinking about the problem of evil through an Arminian perspective. But I tried a few times: I reasoned that God gave us free will in order to do good, but we used it for evil. But I couldn’t understand why God would give us free will if he knew we would sin and a giant portion of us would end up in hell. Why would God care so much about free will? It doesn’t make any sense. I mean, God doesn’t need the possibility of doing evil in order to be perfectly good. And when we one day reach heaven, we’ll all be unable to sin! Why didn’t God just make us like that from the get-go?
So, I had four potential ways out of the problem of evil, and I fell short in all four! And it was into this pathetic situation that I stumbled upon William Lane Craig’s work.
And, once again, I lied. This post has gotten long enough on its own, and I really want to do justice to what I learned from William Lane Craig without skipping over the details, yet I’m already to nearly 2,000 words. I’ll get the next post sometime tonight or this weekend.