XFiles: Heartless apologetics

(Book: On Guard, by William Lane Craig. Chapter 7: “What About Suffering?”)

The more I read William Lane Craig, the more respect I have for the sheer deviousness of his approach. We’ve already looked at how he pulls a philosophical bait-and-switch scam in order to substitute the problem of suffering for the far less tractable problem of evil. And now that we’re considering just the limited question of how suffering seems to contradict the Christian idea of a loving God, he pulls another trick on the unsuspecting believers in his audience.

The approach he’s going to take is to claim that suffering is merely an emotional reaction of people who reject God. Many Christians, however, feel the same way. Even though they don’t reject God, they feel that human suffering poses a problem for their Christian faith. So Craig does something psychologically very clever: he begins this part of his book with two long, highly-detailed stories of children suffering horrible, lingering deaths due to natural disasters. He takes great pains to induce a powerful emotional reaction in his readers, and then he begins his argument that the problem of suffering is an emotional problem rather than an intellectual one, while their thoughts are still being overpowered by their emotions.

I’ve got to admit, scruples aside, that is one ingenious approach.

Craig begins his attack on the argument from suffering by insisting that the burden of proof is on the atheist. He wants that clear from the outset: it’s not enough for the atheist to point out how suffering conflicts with Christian teachings on the love of God, he has to prove that God and suffering are mutually exclusive possibilities. This is important, because Christians don’t have a good explanation for suffering, and thus no apologetic good can come of allowing the skeptic to ask for one.

Too often believers allow unbelievers to shift the burden of proof to the believer’s shoulders. “Give me some good explanation for why God permits suffering,” the unbeliever will demand, and then he sits back and plays the skeptic about all the believer’s attempted explanations. The atheist winds up having to prove nothing. This may be clever debating strategy on the atheist’s part, but it’s philosophically illegitimate and intellectually dishonest.

This is William Lane Craig we’re dealing with here, so I trust you all brought your industrial-grade irony meters. But regardless, is he right about the burden of proof? Is it really up to the atheist to pro-actively disprove the existence of God? Remember, when we say “God,” we’re talking about something that does not show up in real life, and about which our only sources of information are the things men say about Him.

In the case of suffering (and to an even greater degree in the case of evil), the things Christians say about their God are rather blatantly inconsistent with conditions we find in the real world. That makes it highly unlikely that what Christians say is really true. We’re not talking about philosophers initiating a discussion about the possibility of God, we’re talking about whether believers have yet met their burden of proof with regards to the claims they make about Him. Based on this and other significant inconsistencies in their story, they have not.

Craig’s solution to this dilemma is to insist that believers do not need to find an answer for this inconsistency, and that it is up to the skeptics to prove, beyond all possible doubt, that there is no way Christians could ever rationalize away the inconsistencies.

Don’t allow the atheist to shirk his intellectual responsibilities. He’s the one who claims that the coexistence of God and suffering is impossible or improbable. So it’s up to him to give us his argument and to support his premises. It’s the Christian’s turn to play the skeptic and question whether the atheist has shown that God cannot have or does not have a good reason for permitting the suffering in the world.

Here’s where the bait and switch comes in. If the Christian were to ask for a good reason why God cannot and/or does not have a good reason for incorporating evil into His grand design for history, that’s a fairly easy task, given a reasonably consistent definition of good and evil and related moral concepts like responsibility and negligence. But Craig nipped that one in the bud before the chapter even started, by selecting the problem of suffering instead of the problem of evil.

Notice, too, how carefully Craig is stacking the deck against the atheist. Not only does the atheist have to meet an impossibly high burden of proof, but the proposition he must prove is that suffering is incompatible with the existence of God. Not that it’s incompatible with God’s alleged love, or compassion, or wisdom, or power, but with God’s very existence. Given the way the definition of God can shift to meet the needs of the moment, that’s a pretty tall order.

Not to put too much of a burden on the unbeliever though, Craig helpfully offers to build our argument for us. He offers two supposedly atheistic arguments against God’s existence: that suffering makes God’s existence impossible, and that it merely makes His existence improbable. We probably won’t have time to cover them both this week, but let’s get started on the first one.

According to the logical version of the problem it’s logically impossible for God and suffering to both exist…

The atheist is claiming that the following two statements are logically inconsistent:

1. An all-loving, all-powerful God exists.
2. Suffering exists.

Now the obvious question is, why think that these two statements are logically inconsistent? There’s no explicit contradiction between them…

Again, a carefully-stacked deck. Craig is leaving out one very important element. The problem is not that God and suffering both exist, the problem is that suffering exists and God does nothing about it. Or more comprehensively, suffering and evil exist without any overt opposition from an allegedly all-good, all-powerful, and all-loving God.

In the famous parable of the Good Samaritan, whose actions are the most like God’s? It’s not the Samaritan, whose compassionate aid was praised by Jesus. It’s the priest and the Levite, who passed by on the other side of the road, leaving the wounded traveler lying in the ditch. God’s response to suffering is the opposite of what Christianity teaches as a “good” reaction. The classic Christian rationalization for this is that God knows more than we do, so “presumably” He is acting for the greater good. But that response falls short for two reasons: first, if we can never know that it’s not better to suffer, then why should we blindly assume that compassion is always the “good” thing to do? But secondly and more significantly, is it even remotely plausible to suppose that, by purest coincidence alone, the “good” thing for God to do would always turn out to be to fail to show up and help?

But this is getting away from what Craig wants to talk about (not surprisingly). Let’s get back to what he calls the atheist’s “logical” argument.

There seem to be two hidden assumptions made by the atheist. They are:

3. If God is all-powerful, He can create any world that He wants.
4. If God is all-loving, He prefers a world without suffering…

In order for this argument to show a logical inconsistency between statements 1 and 2, both of the hidden assumptions made by the atheist must be necessarily true. But are they?

Consider 3, that If God is all-powerful, He can create any world that He wants. Is that necessarily true? Well, not if it’s possible that people have free will! It’s logically impossible to make someone do something freely.

Again, Craig is building a straw-man by making the atheist’s assumption too specific. If you take #3 as being “An all-powerful God could create any world He wanted, within reason,” then clearly there’s no logical reason why He could not make a world in which people simply were not vulnerable to physical or emotional pain. The free will argument is a bit out of place here, since that’s a Christian rationalization for the problem of evil, which Craig is pointedly side-stepping. But suffering is even easier to avoid than evil. With or without free will, an omnipotent God would have the power to create people who were simply impervious to injury and suffering, physical or otherwise. Thus, the possibility of a world without suffering is necessarily valid, given the premise of an omnipotent Creator.

But what about assumption 4, that If God is all-loving, He prefers a world without suffering? Is that necessarily true? It doesn’t seem like it. For God could have some overriding reasons for allowing the suffering in the world. We all know cases in which we permit suffering in order to bring about a greater good (like taking our child to the dentist).

This is the core of Craig’s denial of the problem of suffering, and why he chose to address suffering alone instead of the larger and more significant problem of evil. We all know that sometimes a little suffering now prevents much greater suffering later on, and thus we go to the dentist, and/or take foul-tasting medicines, and/or do tedious, tiring chores, and so on. But hang on—that argument assumes that the lesser suffering is justified by the need to avoid the greater. In other words, it assumes some amount of suffering necessarily exists. But wouldn’t it be preferable not to have any suffering at all, lesser or greater?

Let’s take a moment to rephrase assumption 4 slightly. “If God is all-loving, He prefers a heaven without suffering.” Is that really true? Or should Christians expect to suffer in heaven for all eternity? If a loving God would prefer a heaven in which there is no suffering at all, then why not suppose that the same would be true in the rest of His creation as well? Sure, suffering is supposed to build character, but what does “character” mean? “Character” is your ability to stand up to adversity, i.e. to endure suffering and hardship. But if a loving God wanted to promote strength and courage and loyalty and so on, there are alternatives that don’t require suffering. Maybe He should just sign us all up for soccer instead? Could be a pretty cool game if none of the players ever suffered fatigue or injury…

Craig’s rejection of assumption 4 is merely denial based on his own assumption that suffering is necessary. But is that assumption justified? Let’s see him live up to his own standards of proof for that one. I’d like to hear his logical proof that it’s necessarily true that suffering must be preferable, given an all-loving God. And then it would be interesting to hear him explain why suffering should not be preferable in heaven as well.

It’s rather sad, in a way, to see Craig grasping at straws in his attempts to justify God’s manifest negligence with regards to suffering.

The atheist might insist that an all-powerful being…could bring about the greater good directly, without allowing any suffering. But clearly, given freedom of the will, that may not be possible. Some goods, for example, moral virtues, can be achieved only through the free cooperation of people. It may well be the case that a world with suffering is, on balance, better overall than a world with no suffering. In any case, it is at least possible, and that is sufficient to defeat the atheist’s claim that 4 is necessarily true.

Yeah, phew, eh? Notice the difference in standards of evidence here: the atheist has to prove his point beyond all possible doubt, but the Christian can establish his claims merely by suggesting the possibility that it might be better to have suffering. In other words, there might be some constraint that would prevent God from achieving the greater good without suffering, and therefore the atheist’s argument is refuted. Or so Craig would have us believe.

The question is, where would such a constraint come from? Craig was arguing before that God is the only self-existent, non-contingent being. If there is some constraint that requires suffering in order to achieve good, then it must either be inherent in God’s nature (in which case we should expect as much suffering in heaven as we find on earth), or else it exists by divine decree, in which case we have a new problem, because then the requirement itself is optional, and we have to assume that God just prefers to make suffering mandatory. Some “all-loving” God, eh?

Craig’s final conclusion seems to be this:

God could not have created another world with as much good as, but less suffering than, this world, and God has good reasons for permitting the suffering that exists.

As we’ve already see, though, this is rather a clumsy goof. By substituting the problem of suffering for the greater problem of evil, he’s sabotaged his own apologetic. This argument is based on a response to the problem of evil, as made allegedly necessary by free will. The problem of suffering, however, is trivially resolved by making people immune to pain and injury. To make this argument work, you have to make an additional assumption: either that suffering is a good and preferable thing in and of itself (masochism), or else that good, by itself, is somehow intrinsically flawed and incapable of producing greater good on its own. That would mean that God, being perfectly good, was also perfectly intrinsically flawed and incapable of producing greater good without directly or indirectly inflicting suffering on others. Either way, if suffering is indeed required to produce the minimum acceptable amount of good, then it is wrong to seek to relieve suffering.

Yeah, apologetics can be pretty heartless at times.

40 Responses to “XFiles: Heartless apologetics”

  1. mikespeir Says:

    “Some goods, for example, moral virtues, can be achieved only through the free cooperation of people.”

    Exactly! Similarly, disease is actually a good thing. Why, without it we’d have no need for doctors!


    • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM Says:

      No. No. No. Disease is there so that faith healers can glorify god. The New Testament makes it plain that disease is to be cured by church leaders anointing the victim with oil, laying their hands on him (or her) and praying. Jesus made it plain that seizure disorders were the effects of indwelling evil spirits which must be exorcised before the person can be healed. He also made it clear that palsy and other problems with ambulation were caused by sin that first be forgiven before walking is possible.

      It is a devilish perversion to use secular medicine to diagnose and heal the sick, especially when administered by someone with no faith, or an incorrect faith, in the right god. If god wanted these people to be healed then he is powerful and loving enough to heal them in the right way, is he not? Just imagine what would have happened if the original followers of Jesus had taken their friends and family to be healed by those who healed by courtesy of another god or those who used non-divine methods to effect healing!

      If you think this is sarcasm then you have not read the web pages of devout Christians who argue, with copious references, that this is the only truly biblically based approach and therefore the only one approved by the Christian god. Who are we to argue against the god-based healing that is led by the wisdom of the Holy Spirit?

      Modern evidence-based medicine provides alternative secular viewpoints.

      When faced with a heart attack all but the hopelessly faith-indoctrinated will call the emergency telephone number before praying. That is, most people are medical atheists when their health is in serious jeopardy.

  2. JohnMWhite Says:

    Another thorough analysis, Duncan. I have to disagree a little with the opening though. Where you see a clever gambit by Craig in getting the reader all emotional through his descriptions of the terrible deaths of children, I see another mistake. I would have thought that for most readers, learning of the terrible fates that might befall entirely innocent victims simply because god can’t get his act together and deal with suffering in some way would actually prime them for rejecting rather than accepting the apologetic. Perhaps there is a gulf between theists and sceptics in their reaction to such things, but I can’t help but think that a harrowing description of such suffering would make even believers either angry at a god that allowed it or more ambivalent toward the idea that a god exists. Obviously you feel different, so I’m curious what you see in it that makes it work the other way.

  3. Deacon Duncan Says:

    I think Craig’s main goal there is to try and create the feeling that he’s successfully addressed the Big Problem. Believers’ faith is already being threatened by the harsh contrast between the conditions a loving God would produce and the conditions we actually find in the real world. Dodging the issue would not help.

    In fact, I think Craig is not only trying to encourage believers to keep on believing, he’s also trying to encourage himself. It’s emotionally hard even for him, and as such it’s a palpable threat to his own faith. Therefore his number one priority is to try and create the feeling that he’s confronted this threat and vanquished it. If he came up with an answer that only worked for hangnails and bruised knees, it wouldn’t do the job. He needs the Big Problem up front so he can find some way to overcome it.

    Mind you, I’m not saying he’s successful in achieving this goal. But I really do think it’s a psychological maneuver, and one he’s very likely using on himself—an automatic denial reaction. He’s trying to turn the tables and use the power of the emotion as a reason in and of itself why we should not trust it. “Yes, I realize you have strong feelings about this, and so do I, but we shouldn’t let our emotions color our reason…” etc etc. For believers, it’s an easy way out—a flavor of denial that lets them avoid the unpleasant conclusion that there’s something seriously wrong with God. The sufferings of the innocent are painful for believers, and he’s using that pain to encourage them to reject that evidence.

    • JohnMWhite Says:

      Thanks for that. I definitely see what you mean now. It is certainly a way of upping the ante and demonstrating that his argument is supposed to cover even the worst and most difficult to understand suffering. Now that I understand your point, it really is quite devious. I do have to wonder how much of that is wilful and how much is the purpose of powerfully conditioned psychological barriers within Craig himself.

      • Deacon Duncan Says:

        I’d be inclined to suspect the latter. I don’t think Craig is all that dishonest himself, he’s just forced into duplicitous positions by the falseness of the Gospel he’s trying to defend. He’s smart enough to know it doesn’t add up, but he believes that God is wiser and will vindicate him in the end if he just blindly trusts whatever the Bible says. And unfortunately, that’s thousands of years’ worth of barbaric myth and superstition, under multiple different cultures, so it’s no wonder Craig comes out sounding insane at times.

      • josh Says:

        It’s almost a version of the Big Lie. You start off with a case so big (torture of children, the Holocaust) and dismiss it so quickly that sympathetic readers can’t believe you would be so glib, therefore you must have made a compelling case. Psychologically, the reader thinks ‘no one would bring up such apparently devastating cases unless he had a rock solid explanation’.

  4. Janney Says:

    If God is all-powerful, He can create any world that He wants. Is that necessarily true? Well, not if it’s possible that people have free will! It’s logically impossible to make someone do something freely.

    Again with the free will. Someone correct me if I’m wrong, please, but I’m under the powerful impression that believing in a God who knows the future means believing that the future is determined.

    • Jake Says:

      Just because God knows what you’re going to do doesn’t mean it’s not your free choice.

      For instance, I put a plate of cookies and a plate of beef jerky on a table. Then I watch my wife come into the room. I know she’s going to take a cookie and ignore the beef jerky. Was this her choice, or did I determine the choice by my foreknowledge? And of course, my “knowing” is limited to just a good guess. God knows us so intimately that there is no uncertainty of what we will choose.

      • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM Says:

        If your god knows what you, and everyone else, is going to do then there is no point to intercessory prayer, is there?

        Neuro-psychological studies indicate that a great deal of what humans do is due to automatic learned responses. Your wife, for example, would have to be paying attention if she intended to make a different choice. Once again, if people’s responses are largely a conditioned response to their environment that is dependent on what others (parents, teachers, preachers, peers) have taught them then they really don’t use “free will” to make very many decisions.

        There is also the problem that people’s reactions to religious messages is also determined by their genetics as well as their environment, culture, century, country, and so on. Some people’s genetics make them far more likely to accept the religious messages they are taught by others (women compared with men) or to find them difficult to accept (people who suffer from autism, Asperger’s disorders compared with neuro-typicals; those with a talent for high level investigative work compared with those who assess the truth of things emotionally rather than critically. )

        In other words, people’s ability to act and make decisions about religion is not equal. They are not equally free to come to the same decision. The Christian message assumes that they are.

        The same problem occurs with moral development. Sociopaths have brains that are neurologically different from neuro-typicals. They have impairments of cell type and quantity in areas that are vital for social learning. People with delusional disorders and those with brain injuries that destroy all or part of the frontal lobes (motor vehicle accidents, falls or blows to the head), are likewise not equally able to act in ways that societies characterize as “appropriate”. Their “free will” is restricted to what their impaired brains will allow them to do, perceive or reason.
        That is, the “fruits of the Spirit” are not equally possible for all people.

        The Jewish, Christian and Muslim dogmas assume that everyone is equally free to reason and behave in ways that the religion insists are imperative for “salvation”. If your version of god rewards and punishes people on the basis of what they do and what they believe then your version of god is setting some people up for failure and others for easy success. That is the type of behavior we would expect from those with sadistic and psychopathic personalities. How long do you think you could stand living in close proximity with someone who thinks like this before you concluded that you has already spent an eternity in hell?

  5. pboyfloyd Says:

    “. This may be clever debating strategy on the atheist’s part, but it’s philosophically illegitimate and intellectually dishonest.”

    Jesus died for our sins. If we don’t sin, Jesus will have died for nothing! Oh yea, and Jesus isn’t even dead, we hear!

    Who is being intellectually dishonest if the answer to, “Is Jesus dead?”, is, “Not the way you’re meaning it!”

    • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM Says:

      That conundrum never occurred to me until I started to investigate the claims of my religion. If death is defined as permanent loss of life then a “resurrected” Jesus was not really “dead” in the first place.

      Then there is the odd insistence that a relatively short period of torture (compared with the history of millions of victims of sadists and psychopathic personalities) was sufficient to placate a blood-lusting lover of the smell of burning animal flesh who then no longer feels compelled to torture other humans eternally, just for behaving in line with their imperfect biology. Other humans? Does this mean that only the human part of Jesus was brutally tortured and murdered? Or does it mean that the god part is capable of dying? The theology quickly degenerates into the ludicrous realm from here on.

  6. coconnor1017 Says:

    Well done. I am enjoying this series. When my faith was threatened by critical thinking, I was recommended WLC to read. His obviously pained selling led me to conclude the whole Christian concept seems false.

  7. David Tyler Says:


    Thank you for your deconstructions. I have noticed that Craig is creative in switching the burden of proof. The example of this that I have found most copied is the demand to prove atheism as correct. I look at this as being intellectually dishonest since the atheist position nothing but the null hypothesis and claiming that there are assertions being made is just creating straw men. I would like you comment on this or give me a link if you have already done so. Thank you.

    The Heathen

  8. Wanderin' Weeta Says:

    “It’s logically impossible to make someone do something freely.”

    This is so obviously wrong that it can only be “argued” by parrots.

    Childish analogy: Cats. free will, squared. A cat that lived with me used to come running every time he heard the can opener, no matter where he had been, or what he had been doing. Never failed.

    So I could make him come of his own free will. All that was needed was to make it probable that the payoff would be something he valued (tuna fish) more than anything else.

    Humans are no different; we act when we see the action as providing the best outcome, according to our own personal rating system. Isn’t the all-wise God able to figure this out?

    • Jake Says:

      I guess by that definition Africans freely chose to stay slaves for 350 years in the United States. Because that was the best possible outcome, as opposed to getting caught running away, beaten and/or killed.

      • Wanderin' Weeta Says:

        Choosing the “best outcome” doesn’t necessarily mean a good outcome. It is what seems best to the chooser among the options available. Sometimes the “best” is just what appears to be the least awful.

        So yes, they chose to remain where they were, doing the work demanded of them, as opposed to just lying down and allowing themselves to be beaten to death, or running, with all its dangers. Living free was not on the list of possible choices.

        No-one has unlimited options. But somehow God is supposed to have left open the option of committing violence against our fellow humans and against other life. He is supposed to have even left the possibility of finding pleasure in such violence; He didn’t have to.

  9. jakc Says:

    I think your point on heaven carries the day. If god can create heaven without suffering, than god can certainly create this world without suffering.

  10. josh Says:

    Note that Craig is very bad (or very dishonest) with his logic. After stating his premises 1) and 2) he claims that atheists are ‘hiding’ premises 3) and 4). Of course, that’s disingenuous by itself since many atheists and critics have made very explicit versions of the argument and he isn’t even quoting someone else with an abbreviated version. But 3) and 4) are not the minimal premises for the argument to work. They should be :
    3*) If God is all-powerful, he can create a world with less suffering than the one we find ourselves in.
    4*) If God is all-loving, he would if he could create a world with less suffering than the one we find ourselves in.

    3) and 4) might still be true, Craig doesn’t seem to have offered any serious rebuttal, but 3*) and 4*) are all that is necessary to make the argument he is trying to rebut. That’s the weasel move that lets him go from ‘God allowed the holocaust’ to ‘nyah, nyah! prove that absolutely no suffering in any sense could be allowed in an ideal world.’

  11. Ron Humphrey Says:

    I think one of the most powerful points made in the replies is that if heaven is perfect and god created heaven, then why couldn’t he have created a perfect earth and human society? Heaven seems to demonstrate that god is capable of perfection. So why isn’t earth perfect?

    On another point concerning free will, if there is such a thing as free will then there is no such thing as an omniscient god. If god knows everything, including the future, then our fates are predetermined and any free will is an illusion. Of course god may not be omniscient, in which case I would say that then the being in question isn’t really a god, but just a powerful but limited being.

  12. Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM Says:

    The medical ethic is that doctors shall do no harm. This includes the concept that people should not be made to suffer unless it is necessary to prevent greater suffering or death. To the extent that the doctor is capable (and in capitalist cultures, the doctor is paid for the effort) it is expected that “doing no harm” includes preventing suffering that does not create a better prognosis for the future.

    The problem which Craig does not acknowledge is that his version of god does not prevent any kind of suffering. Under the conditions of the Hippocratic Oath his version of god does harm. This would seem to be why doctors do are far better job of healing the sick and ameliorating needless suffering than Craig’s version of god.

    In other words, Craig glorifies a god who does not prevent the kind of needless suffering that ethical humans aim to prevent where-ever possible. Where there are only good and capable people, needless suffering is prevented or stopped. Where there is only Craig’s version of god, needless suffering is NOT prevented or stopped. That implies that this version of god is either not good and/or not capable, or does not exist. Or it implies that good and capable humans are wrong (or evil) to prevent needless suffering.

    The only other option is to employ some version of Special Pleading that makes it morally right for humans to try or succeed in preventing needless suffering but morally wrong for Craig’s god to do so. This results in humans being unable to determine which aspects of the behavioral model displayed by Craig’s god are to be emulated by humans (because they are good no matter who does them) and which aspects are not to be emulated by humans (because they are only “good” if performed by Craig’s version of god.) History makes it abundantly clear that humans, no matter how devout, are incapable of coming to any kind of consensus on which is which. This nullifies any argument that Craig’s version of god provides a perfect and unambiguous moral compass for humans to follow.

    It is harder for a theist to behave in a humane fashion if they are confused by what is right and what is wrong. It is even harder if their first priority is not to make the lives of humans better, but to please their version of god by doing what they fallibly and unreliably think this god wants.

  13. Jake Says:

    Hi Duncun,
    I fail to see how Dr. Craig’s methods are “devious”. Let’s look at your complaints:

    1. He chooses to attack the problem of suffering instead of the problem of evil.

    I would say that suffering is the bigger problem, since evil causes some suffering. But some suffering is caused just by nature. By addressing the problem of suffering you have also addressed the problem of evil. I hardly see this as devious.

    2. His “claim that suffering is merely an emotional reaction of people who reject God.”

    He makes no claim like this. Christians obviously suffer and actually see it as a virtue (see Jesus).

    3. He argues that the problem of suffering is an emotional problem rather than an intellectual one.

    He indicates that it is an emotion AND a logical one, which is why he offers a logical reply. So I think you are being devious it framing his views as such.

    4. He suggests atheists should actually be asked to prove why the existence of suffering is incompatible with God.

    Why is this devious? It’s your claim, you have to back it up. Maybe your hang up is how you define “proof”. Craig defends against both the “logical” version of the problem and the “probabilistic” version. So he’s not insisting on 100% certainty.

    5. Dr. Craig says that believers do not need an answer to the problem of suffering.

    I think you’re wrong. Why is the rest of the chapter on how to answer the problem of suffering?

    6. Dr. Craig insists on a impossible high burden of proof from atheists.

    Craig defends against both the “logical” version of the problem and the “probabilistic” version (does the amount of suffering in the world make it unlikely an all-loving all-powerful God exits).

    7. Dr. Craig’s definition of God changes

    It doesn’t. But for this particularly argument you quote Craig saying “all-loving, all-powerful God”. And that’s exactly the definition of God that he defends here.

    8. Dr. Craig doesn’t address why suffering exists and God does nothing about it.

    Well, of course, Dr. Craig doesn’t agree with you that God does nothing about suffering.

    9. Dr. Craig mischaracterizes the atheist presumption that “God can create any world that he wants” by leaving off “within reason”.

    No, this is exactly the presumption that Craig says is presumed, which is why Craig’s response is to show a world without suffering would be contradictory (not within reason) to a world with freewill.

    10. Craig offers no evidence that suffering is necessary.

    That’s exactly what he does with the freewill defense.

    So while you may disagree with Dr. Craig, he’s in no way devious.

    • Søren Kongstad Says:

      I think you missed one big point of the post.

      Since Craig claims the god is the only non contingent being, then either suffering (and evil) is inherent in his god, in which case heaven will have suffering and evil too, or he just chose to use suffering and evil in this world, in which case evil is caused by the whimsy of the god.

      • Jake Says:

        Hi Soren,

        Perhaps God’s ultimate goal is to maximize the number of people that would freely enter into a loving relationship with him. There’s no evidence that the lack of suffering would be optimal for this. Surely, you know many non-Christians that have never truly suffered. Perhaps, the mix of suffering and grace we see is the optimal mix. If loving God is the greatest possible good, then God would have morally sufficient reasons to permit suffering to achieve this.

        I would not say that giving someone a choice makes you responsible for their choice. We are given the choice to sin or obey. The choose is ours, as is the consequence. Therefore if God chooses all the obedient servants to join him in heaven, then there need not be sin in heaven.

    • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM Says:

      Ah Jake, you’ve failed to see the gorilla. Stop counting passes for your team and look again.

  14. Janney Says:


    Just because God knows what you’re going to do doesn’t mean it’s not your free choice.

    God knows us so intimately that there is no uncertainty of what we will choose.

    God knows your wife will choose the cookies. God knows every choice she will make for the rest of her life. God knows, not just how she will decide, but what decisions she’ll be presented with. God knows every mental step she will take between now and her death. God knows where she will spend eternity after she dies. Yes?

    Your wife’s future is determined. Sayeth popular Christianity. I’m sure there’s an apologetic way around that, but I haven’t heard it yet.


    • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM Says:

      If your god knows what you, and everyone else, is going to do then there is no point to intercessory prayer, is there?

      • Jake Says:

        Perhaps God already knew what you were going to pray for and that he was going to answer your prayer.

        Or He knows you are not going to pray, and thus receive no response.

      • Jake Says:


        I’m having trouble replying directly to your “Paul” post.

        Some people with perfectly normally functioning brains have trouble telling lies. Others with normally functioning brains lie quote often. Some people claim to be blind and actually are. Sometimes the filing in gaps on memory is a perfectly normal way to make sense of your past. Sometimes people deny that there’s anything wrong with their body, because there’s nothing wrong with their body.

        Wouldn’t you say that the actual appearance of Jesus to Paul on the road to Damascus would also result in “hyper-religiosity and a compelling desire to write about it, again and again and again”?

        Do you teach psychology or something? You seem to only have a hammer in your belt, so every problem looks like a nail.

      • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM Says:

        Jake, you missed the main point – which is that humans are not born or made equal when it comes to behaving in a “moral” manner or when it comes to the ability to believe in a god. This would not happen if the kind of god you believe in actually existed.

        There is always the possibility that Paul actually saw a real supernatural being, but the odds are not very high. Given his history of multiple visions combined with a lot of other symptoms that we see in patients with TLE it is far more likely that what he saw arose from the stimulation of his imagination due to hyper-electrical stimulation. As has been said, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Until this is supplied the more plausible explanations have priority. Occam’s razor and all that. 🙂

        While I happened to provide a lot of information gained from the behavioral and neurological sciences that does not mean that I approach everything from that angle. I have a pretty wide knowledge background. In this case the neurosciences add an interesting dimension to the topic.

        Has it occurred to you that you may be projecting your own problem with the “hammer-nail” phenomena onto others, where it does not fit terribly well. It seems to me that you try to force everything into a supernatural model, even when the odds are against it.

      • Jake Says:

        Hi Rosmary,

        Christianity does not presuppose or depend on the assumption that all people are equally likely to believe in God. The Bible quite clearly indicates certain people’s minds are completely closed to the idea. It also indicates that there are a variety of stumbling blocks to belief. Your claim is that this is inconsistent with an all-loving God. You seem to claim that in a world created by an all-loving God, all kinds of people, in every geographic location, would be equally likely to believe in God. This would require that belief in God would be completely independent of your life experiences. Since the % of Pashtuns who believe in God would be the same as the % of people who live in Dallas, TX and believe in God. It seems absurd that God would create a world which would have no impact on believing in Him.

        However, God has given all the opportunity to believe in Him. As you say, it less likely, but not impossible, that a “critical thinker” would believe in God. Which I think is fair. Our justice systems don’t have a sliding scale on crime depending on how predisposed you were to commit the crime based upon your experiences. Each criminal is considered personally responsible.

      • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM Says:

        A fair person would not create animals/people whose eternal comfort depended on the genetics they were given and the environment they were placed in. If your god created humans AND he intends to punish or reward them at some future date depending on what they are capable and likely to believe, given their assets and disadvantages, then he CANNOT be a fair and just god.

        In my country of origin the legal system does NOT consider all people to be equally responsible for equal crimes. If this is different in your country then you do not have a fair scientifically informed legal system. Perhaps that is why you are unable to see that your version of god is grossly unfair. Sad.

    • Jake Says:

      You must be Calvinist, you’re ignoring the half of the Bible that describes free will. “Believe and repent” Jesus commands. “Love God” and “love your neighbor as yourself”. Sure God knows which one of use will listen and obey, but it’s still our individual choice to do it.

      Look at it this way. You don’t know what God knows. From your perspective, you have a choice. You can submit to his will, or you can ignore it. Either way, God know what you’ll do, but you don’t know it until you do it.

      • Rosmary LYNDALL WEMM Says:

        The sense of choice is often entirely illusionary.

        People with a lesion in a part of the frontal lobes are incapable of telling untruths. People with Asperger’s Syndrome also find it difficult to tell lies.

        On the other hand, people with lesions or dysfunctions in other parts of the brain are compelled to tell lies – but are completely unaware that they are doing so.

        See Korsakov Syndrome (where the person “confabulates” material to fill in the memory gaps that they are completely unaware of). Caused by Vitamin B deficiencies resulting from alcohol poisoning or constant vomiting.

        See Anton’s Syndrome (where a person who is cortically blind insists that they they can see and makes up plausible reasons (at least to them) why it appears to other people that they cannot see.)

        See Anosagnosia, – the denial that anything is wrong with one’s body, perceptual skills or cognitive capacities. This is usually seen when someone has significant acute damage to the right hemisphere of the brain and is loses the ability to move the left side of the body, see in the left visual fields or acknowledge that the left half of the body belongs to them.

        See Prodromal syndromes of left hemisphere Temporal Lobe Epilepsy (partial seizure syndrome). This disorder sporadically over activates the part of the brain responsible for making up stories, over stimulates the sub-cortical areas responsible for feelings of love and ecstasy, turns off an area at the junction of the right parietal and temporal lobes that differentiates self from non-self and deactivates the right hemisphere’s ability to differentiate between internally-generated imagination perception and external reality. The result is overwhelming feelings of being in contact with gods or “oneness of the universe” that persist after the seizure or near-seizure has subsided. The aftermath results in hyper-religiosity and a compelling desire to write about it, again and again and again.
        St. Paul’s visions, including his Damascus Road conversion experience, are consistent with this phenomena. So is his consequent writing and preaching behavior.

  15. Janney Says:


    You must be Calvinist, you’re ignoring the half of the Bible that describes free will.

    You mean, the Bible contradicts what I said? Does the Bible, by any chance, also support what I said? I’ve heard that it’s sometimes inconsistent. I’ve never read it myself.

    From your perspective, you have a choice.

    Yes, this is exactly what I tell people, but this is the first time I’ve heard a Christian claim to be happy with that condition. William Lane Craig, for example, would never concede such a thing in a debate. He would insist that the robustest of robust free will is necessary for genuine moral responsibility, and that the only way to get it is through an omni-omnium deity who knows exactly what you’re going to do for the rest of your life. And thereafter. As if it made the slightest bit of sense to talk that way.

    Has a Christian ever told you that, by your lights, you’re just clockwork unwinding? Matter in motion? The performer of a series of mindless mechanical interactions? That’s what they tell me, when I tell them that “from our perspective, we have a choice.”

    • Jake Says:

      The Bible describes the complete sovereignty of God and the genuine freewill of humans. These concepts, I think, are well reconciled with Molinism. Dr. Craig is a Molinist, so he would agree with me.

      I think you’re wrong that there’s an irreconcilable conflict between these concepts.

  16. Janney Says:


    I think you’re wrong that there’s an irreconcilable conflict between these concepts.

    So did Father Molina, evidently. Which is interesting, if you think about it: why would Craig act like “the atheist view” creates a special problem for atheists, if Molinism exists to give Christians a handle on the same problem? And, if free will and “the complete sovereignty of God” are reconcilable, then why not free will and “antecedent physical causes”?

    When Craig expresses incredulity at the claim that “human choices are morally significant even though they’re determined” (Kagan vs. Craig), the obvious response comes right out of Theopedia: “You believe in a God who knows ‘all necessary and all possible truths,’ ‘every possible combination of causes and effects,’ and ‘all the truths of logic and all moral truths.’ If you can reconcile that with free will—and apparently you can—then you can reconcile anything with free will.”

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