If we’re going to meaningfully discuss the problem of evil, such a discussion requires establishing categories and grounds to be able to define what is or is not evil.
Bob Seidensticker, an atheist, writes in a blog post titled, “Is God the Good Guy or the Bad Guy?” and tries to answer the question that he’s posing.
His post begins with a very valid question,
When the Christians think that they’re talking to God, how do they know?
As I said, a very valid question. But it assumes a lot of things as his next remark demonstrates,
If there is a supernatural world populated with lots of beings, maybe one of Satan’s little helpers is answering your prayer instead of God, Jesus, or a saint.
As a Sola Scriptura practicing Christian I would like to say that I know how since I have this thing called “the Bible”. If anything this gives you a flavor for how this particular response is going to go.
He asks a few more, somewhat reasonable questions,
Now consider the bigger question: who’s in charge? Is this a good world governed by an all-good god (the Christian view), or is a bad god in charge?
That depends upon how one defines terms. I think that the term “all-good“, much like “all-powerful“, is often either misunderstood or misapplied. As I wrote in this post, the character of God defines how he acts in relation to his rebellious creatures in a fallen world, something atheists often ignore in such discussions.
He begins in the heart of his argument,
Think about the Problem of Evil, why a supposedly good god allows so much evil—tsunamis, childhood diseases and birth defects, millions of people living in abysmal conditions, and so on. Is this really the best that he can do? But drop the assumption that the guy in charge must be good, and things make more sense.
As I said, atheists begin with a false assumption: that they have meaningful grounds to call anything “evil”. Atheistic presuppositions, such as those espoused in Alex Rosenberg’s book, which I outline here, are stuck in a position where there is only what is. Tsunamis happen. Children get sick and die. There’s no such thing as “abysmal conditions” only different conditions. To borrow a line from Douglas Wilson in his discussion with Christopher Hitchens, “There is no God. Shit happens.” Or as Richard Dawkins has said, “In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice (River Out of Eden).”
You now have the Problem of Good—why the evil god in charge wouldn’t make things much worse. This question has potential answers: maybe having things bad but not too bad allows hope to flourish and then be dashed.
That would make sense if that were the case, but then he would have a problem of why would such a being decide to create? Misery loves company?
He gives us a third option,
Or maybe the guy in charge is just a well-meaning but imperfect craftsman—a celestial Homer Simpson or an extraterrestrial middle schooler who got a C+ on the simulation that we call our universe, which he created for a homework assignment.
Yeah, that’s question begging too.
He sets up a little dialogue with an imaginary Christian. Brace yourself.
So is God good?
Of course God is good! The Bible says so.
His “Christian” gives two proof-texts that have nothing to do with God himself (Genesis 1:31 and 1 Timothy 4:4) but deal with the nature of creation, and is engaging in equivocation. Where would I go?
God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. (Psalm 7:11)
For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations. (Psalm 100:5)
But that’s just me. He continues,
But the Bible is a sock puppet that can be made to say almost anything.
Yes, if one ignores things like context and rules of exegesis, which is what he’s about to do.
God not only created good, but he created evil:
I just have to interject here before I allow him to shove any more of his foot into his mouth: God didn’t “create good“; he created things that he called “good”, but not in a moral sense, rather in the sense of completeness or function, or pleasing. Like I said, equivocation.
He quotes 3 passages to demonstrate this, Isaiah 45:7; Lamentations 3:38, and Amos 3:6, then writes,
The Bible isn’t much help to the Christian when it documents what God does when he’s off his meds.
Remember that statement about the Bible being a “sock puppet” that people can manipulate and twist? Yeah, that’s him doing it. I’m just going to guess that if he takes away his kids toys when they misbehave, that he’s “off his meds“. Can we just call it a “bigoted non sequitur” and see what else is said?
He demands human sacrifice and genocide. He supports slavery and polygamy. He drowns the world. These would universally be condemned as evil by anyone who didn’t have an agenda to defend God.
I’d love to hear what grounds he has to say that any of those things are wrong given the necessary presuppositions of his worldview. The only reason that he’s complaining is because those things are recorded in Scripture. People have been dying in floods, wars, and other things for millennia. Unless he can provide some justification to say that there’s something wrong with them he’s just making noise.
The Bible is also full of errors and contradictions, just the kind of clue to suggest that an inept or even evil guy was behind it.
Oh, this assertion deserves its own series of responses. I’ll put it on the list, but here’s a post on contradictions and errors that demonstrates that false nature of the assertion.
His “Christian” says,
God is good by definition. If God did it, that’s “good.” He’s the Creator of Everything! How could it be any other way?
To which he responds,
In the first place, this isn’t how the dictionary defines “good.” There’s no mention of God in the definition of the word.
Typical category error. When the Christian asserts that “God is good, by definition“, what is meant is that God, by his nature, provides the extent by which one can point to call something “good” because he defines the nature of all things that he has created. For example: if I were to make a table, then say that the table could only support 35 pounds (the extent of its nature as to what is “good” in regard to it) you could not be angry if you put a 50 pound weight on it and the table collapsed. Now God does more than that, but that is what is meant.
But see where this takes Christians if the guy in charge is good by definition. There’s no amount of carnage he can do for these Christians to change their evaluation. Natural disasters, disease, individual calamities—it’s all good. If you can’t understand, then you’ll just have to content yourself with God working in mysterious ways.
Working towards what? If God is working, which is the Christian presupposition, then he’s working towards a goal. Romans 1:18 says,
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men….
The means by which God unleashes his wrath, among other things, via natural disasters, disease, and calamity. These are passive actions. God is not obligated to do good to anyone who
…by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
The Christian recognizes that this world is a world in rebellion, actively hostile against its creator. Any good allowed by a holy and righteous “guy in charge” is because he is good and merciful and he wants his people to know him.
This “God” could just as easily be objectively bad. Tricking us into believing that this very imperfect world is actually the best of all possible worlds is just the kind of monkey business that the Dark Lord would do, isn’t it?
Oh man, it’s an argument against Molinism. I’m going to call this a straw man objection against a biblical argument. But let’s run with it: this is not “the best of all possible worlds” rather this world is the world that God created in order to demonstrate the totality of his character, his mercy, his justice, his love, and his wrath. It’s also worth asking the question of what objective standard is he going to appeal to in order to judge the actions of God? Last time I read my Bible, there is nothing higher than God Almighty. There is nothing to point to and say, “God, this is how you ought to act.” However, the God of gods, can and has, just check out Psalm 82.
Imagine Satan in charge. He might do something abominable like convince Christians that the death of an innocent child is an unavoidable part of his greater plan, if you can believe such a thing. And yet grieving Christian parents are told exactly that!
How would he know that? I mean, in his worldview, that dead child is a worthless accident, a cog on the wheel of natural selection, part of the detritus of an undersigned and uncaring universe. That was not, in fact, a child, it was a meaningless speck of protoplasm. He has to use emotional language, make an emotional argument that has no grounds in his worldview. That’s the very definition of hypocrisy. Further, it’s self-refuting because, if God were evil–literally playing the devil’s advocate here–he would be telling them the truth, namely that he does have a plan, it’s just that he’s hiding the end result of the plan from his creatures. The great thing here is that the Christian knows what the plan is: for Christ to present a people to his Father, rescued from their sin and rebellion in holiness and righteousness.
Christians have ceded their ability to distinguish the two. Good or bad, this guy has convinced Christians that we must label every act of his “good.” Christians don’t say that he’s good by evaluating his actions; they say he’s good by default.
Actually, we haven’t “ceded” anything, we can do so only because an all-good God exists. This is the typical, atheist fallacious argument. We say, “God punishes evil.” We point to the men of Noah’s day who had,
[…]filled [the earth] with violence. (Genesis 6:11)
God acted by sending a flood to stop their evil and start something new. He didn’t have to bargain or plead, he doesn’t have to, he just said, “Enough!” And like a potter dissatisfied with how a pot was turning out, he mashed it down and started it over. When you’re God, you get to do things like that, and it’s not because someone tells you that you can. We look at the Garden, where there was one single, simple rule and a clear proclamation of what would happen if it was broken. We see that God is just and merciful, and can conclude, based upon the evidence, that God is good.
Bob’s Christian replies,
But God has his own morality.
Bob then replies,
What’s wrong with him following the same morality as he demands of humans? We were created in his image, after all. But if he has his own moral rules, what are they and how do you know? What rules can we be confident God will follow, or are you determined to apologize for him no matter what rules he breaks?
God’s morality is to be good and just. He made man to be his imagers. Our first duty as such is to image him in justice and mercy towards one another. Bob misses this: God is jealous for his reputation, which is made real and present in those he created to image it, and he is harsh towards those who degrade and despise it in the vessels he created for it to be accomplished. God’s rules are justice, which is why he pours out his wrath so severely. God is so good that he cannot allow evil to go unanswered, and the wonderful thing of it is that he doesn’t have to hurl down lightening bolts to do it because evil will eventually consume itself. If he wants to know God’s rules, maybe he should open God’s word.
I’ve got to start winding this up, so I want to skip down to this weak response made by Bob’s Christian,
Don’t blame God for poor conditions here on Earth, blame Satan.
I feel sickened by this. So, how does Bob respond to this weak-as-water argument?
Here again, the Bible isn’t the Christian’s friend. Satan is said to have killed Job’s servants and his ten children, but that was with God’s approval. And that’s about it.
Actually, the evil committed against Job is presented on two fronts: moral and natural. The fact that we are given a peak behind the curtain, namely an aspersion on the character of Job, that he’s an opportunist, that God defends by allowing the man to be tested. Job’s servants are not killed by Satan, they are killed by thieves, though some are killed in a disaster, and his children die when the house that they’re in collapses in a wind storm. Bob clearly misses the assurance that Job’s story gives: nothing happens without God’s sovereign decree, which includes the end that he intends, which is to demonstrate that he is both just and in control. Job never gets to peak behind the curtain, but we do, and we get to see what Job saw in the end: restoration and reward for believing in his God. Also there is something else missed in Bob’s assertion: God did not cause the evil that Job experienced, but he did respond to Job and would only forgive the men who accused Job of wrongdoing if Job intermediated for them. God used Job’s experience to demonstrate the necessity of a mediator, eventually seen in Christ.
Bob tries to further his case by writing,
Now consider God’s killings, also documented in the Bible. The Dwindling in Unbelief blog estimates five million people dead in 157 incidents plus another twenty million for the global flood.
If you go to the post linked in the article, you will notice something, especially if you go to the larger context of the accounts from which the numbers are drawn (the flood estimate should be immediately dismissed because it’s simply an unjustified and arbitrary assumption and not something confirmable). But let’s say, once we winnow out actual numbers where God acts directly, since many are wars or police actions within the community itself , you notice a common theme: direct, willful, insolent disobedience being punished or God acting to save his people, as any good king would, and completely devastating his enemies. It’s very easy to talk about numbers without establishing a coherent context in which matters are to be understood.
Bob closes his post, saying,
The problem is the Christian refusal to admit that what God does is sometimes evil by any reasonable standard. I can see how this might’ve developed. Imagine a skeptic pressuring a Christian about slavery or genocide in the Bible, with the Christian responding, “Well, uh . . . whatever God does must be good. Yeah, that’s it—God’s actions are always good by definition!” But this unevidenced Band-Aid has consequences.
In closing, Bob has yet to meet his own standard: a coherent grounds by which to judge God’s actions. If he appeals to Scripture as those means then he cuts his own throat because they establish God as a just but harsh king, who does not err in his judgment, is fair in his dealings. He always extends mercy before bringing judgment and his decisions are based upon his unwavering character. If Bob appeals to another standard, he is hung on the horns of being able to demonstrate how it would apply and it would have to be critiqued on its own grounds. Bob simply has no where to stand in order to judge God.
Now, Bob earlier in the blog in a section I didn’t quote, had said that God had changed in the Bible, he confuses “change” with fuller revelation, which is a category error. It would be like the difference between knowing someone at work who acted very stiff and stodgy, but if you met them outside of work they were easygoing and flexible. Has that person actually changed or has the context changed so that you can see another facet of their personality? Obviously the latter.
He says, “Imagine a skeptic pressuring a Christian about slavery or genocide in the Bible…” Well, let him. The consistent, thoughtful, contextually-aware, Bible-believing Christian could equally apply pressure to get him to demonstrate what he means by the terms and provide an internally consistent worldview that could rightfully condemn them apart from the revelation of God in Scripture, then walk through the text of the Bible and demonstrate the fallacious arguments that are being used.
Atheists like Bob want to assume that they have grounds to accuse God of wrongdoing when they need God to provide the necessary preconditions of intelligibility just to have the conversation, proving what Paul wrote in his epistle to the Romans,
For although they [know]God, they [do] not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they [become] futile in their thinking…[and], claiming to be wise, they [become] fools…
Bob’s argument is ultimately based upon unjustified assumptions, as well as emotional and straw man argumentation.