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The Problem of Evil and God’s Moral Character
by Steven Dunn
Criticisms over the last decade have been raging in the media from the particularly atheistic side of literature in regards to the moral atrocities caused in the name of religion. A true hallmark of criticism would soon result in a loud secular battle cry from the September 11 attacks when the two twin towers fell due to an act of extreme political and religious terrorism. As R.C. Sproul rightly accounts in his book, ‘When Worlds Collide’ (2002):
Since the September 11 attacks on the United States, there has been much public discussion about the role of God in our lives. (R.C. Sproul, ‘When Worlds Collide’; cp. 2002, p. 12)
A manner of criticism however comes from the neo-atheistic movement often identified as the “New Atheists”. Though as I am sure most of us are familiar, these group of individuals – notoriously associated with the ‘Four Horseman of Atheism‘: Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett – have become widespread in hope of a new age of secularism (or according to the International Academy of Humanism in 2005, “Toward a New Enlightenment”). One area of first importance that I hope will theme this post comes from Richard Dawkins’ famous passage from his book ‘The God Delusion’ (2006), where he writes:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty, ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully. (R. Dawkins, ‘The God Delusion’; cp. 2006, p. 51)
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Surely seems to be a dashing blow to the knees of theism, the struggling Christian may be left to stand tough grounds against the “hermenuetically inclined” skeptic; while in reality however, the Christian has yet to uncover the superfluous rhetoric and sophistry associated with this New Atheist retort. As Paul Copan rightly recognizes in his 2011 book, ‘Is God a Moral Monster?‘, “the Neo-atheists’ arguments against God’s existence are surprisingly flimsy, often resembling the simplistic village atheist far more than the credential academician” (P. Copan; cp. 2011, p. 17). Indeed, as Rodney Stark puts it:
To expect to learn anything about important theological problems from Richard Dawkins or Daniel Dennett is like expecting to learn about medieval history from someone who had only read Robin Hood. (R. Stark, What Americans Really Believe, 120).
In this post I hope to deal with the several accusations against the supposed Christian dilemma of the existence of evil and its inconsistency with the goodness of God. Manifestly, these arguments gain “ammo” from the apparent moral atrocities committed in “the name of God” under the Old Testament record. God, as the argument goes, presents himself as obsessed with “his own superiority over rival gods and with the exclusiveness of his chosen tribe” (Dawkins, The God Delusion; cp. 2006, p. 37).
Of course, I hope to retain a rather negative approach in regards to this kind of attitude towards the problem of evil and the character of God as wrongfully portrayed in the Old Testament (though God in the New and Old Testaments are consistently interchangeable).
Modern Thinkers and Objections
William Rowe in his volume, ‘God and the Problem of Evil’ (2001) has an interesting analysis of various views from philosophers of contradicting traditions in regards to the Problem of Evil. In context of the more logical versions of the argument, Rowe writes:
Two statements are logically inconsistent provided it is logically impossible for both of them to be true. If we can prove that GOD EXISTS and EVIL EXISTS are logically inconsistent, we will have proved that God does not exist, for it is obvious to any rational person that evil exists in the world. But can it be proved that GOD EXISTS and EVIL EXISTS are logically inconsistent? (W. E. Rowe, 75)
This question, which some philosophers have taken the burden of demonstrating to be the case, lies at the center of two given truths: (1) God’s goodness and (2) the existence of evil. The center or foundation between both would be the level of logical consistency we hold them both to be true…
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