Is evil a problem? (3)

Sorry for the long silence here. I love my new job, and it has kept me busy; I also do not have internet access in my temp housing (which is a bizarre turn of events), which means I am pretty much composing off-line and without my normal aids of internet resources. It’s very taxing, I can tell you.

Anyway, this is where we left off last time: All flavors of atheism leave man philosophically unequipped to resolve the problem of evil. Now, that’s strong stuff – and it’s a presuppositional complaint to be sure – but most Bahnsenian presups would reproach this from the place where the atheist can’t really define what is good or what is evil because there’s not objective standard.

But here’s the thing: as we said last time, the really wily atheist will respond, “hey: ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are your problem, not mine. Don’t try to fit me in your theistic box. I’m moving beyond good and evil.” And to that we should say “fair enough.”

What we can’t do, however, is let the atheist walk away as if he has pushed God into the gully of unintelligibility – because the atheist now has an existential problem of his own making. See: he (in this case, Loftus) has brought up the point that people are suffering. Existentially, people are in pain right now – starving babies, AIDS victims, people getting raped and murdered, readers of John Loftus’ blog – and this brute fact doesn’t change because we extract the idea of God from the picture of the universe.

In Loftus’ view, pain demands some action. You know: when you put your hand on a hot stove, there’s pain, and the action is to draw your hand back and (at least in Presbyterian households) cuss. Your pain causes you to do something – and this isn’t an ethical dilemma. Pain is a state which nobody but the most twisted person likes, and everyone will take action to cause pain (his own pain) to end.

Pain exists, and one has to do something about it – and this is where Loftus’ existential problem shows up. Any person can tell you, “it’s normal to want pain to stop,” and most people (in the 99%+ range) will tell you, ”It’s normal to want the pain of other people to stop.” Right? Any human being will feel empathy toward those who are suffering – so much so that we will even feel empathy for people who are being punished for wrong-doing, and even those who suffer because they brought a painful consequence on themselves.

And I for one would agree: it’s normal for a person to have empathy, and it is normal to seek to end the pain of another person when they are suffering. The problem of “evil” – which we have translated into the “problem of suffering” by Loftus’ definition – exists for the atheist because he has empathy for those who suffer. See: he has to figure out what to do with his existential motive of “end the other person’s pain” – given that it seems apparent that doing nothing about it is not a reasonable choice.

In a universe without God, pain is still the urgent question. Nobody can ignore pain.

Or can they?

We’ll talk about that the next time.