A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

Social media and the internet allow ample opportunities to discuss the truth claims of historic Christianity. A while ago I interacted with a skeptic who had some questions about an article I wrote, “The Historic Alliance of Christianity and Science,” in RTB’s former magazine Facts & Faith (vol. 12, no. 3).1

The skeptic viewed belief in God as nonsense in light of the problem of evil, and he thought atheism and scientism (science is the best or only reliable way of knowing) should replace religion. While the skeptic’s remarks covered a lot of ground, I summarize his specific objection below.

Skeptic’s Objection

You say that the creation, reflecting the rational nature of the Creator, was therefore orderly and uniform and that humankind was created in God’s image. If this is so, how do you explain events like natural disasters that cause mass destruction, millions of deaths, and indiscernible suffering throughout the entire history of the world? If this is orderly and uniform, what do you think would be disorderly?

My Response

I believe the skeptic may have misunderstood the point I was making in the article. When I said that the creation reflects the orderliness and uniformity that God gave it, I meant that the fundamental laws of nature (for example, the laws of physics) operate in an orderly and uniform fashion. I concur with the skeptic that certain natural phenomena (earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc.) can wreak havoc on Earth and on humankind, but even these so-called disasters obey the fundamental laws of nature. Scientists study these natural phenomena and confirm that they follow the laws of physics. In fact, science is possible only if the laws of nature are both orderly and uniform. Thus my claim that the creation exhibits order and uniformity is not contradicted by the skeptic’s appeal to particular natural disasters. Even natural disasters demonstrate the fundamental orderliness of nature’s laws.

Furthermore, the skeptic’s conviction that the existence of evil and suffering in the world rules out God as a rational option is, in my view, flawed. Let me explain why. The skeptic seems rightly troubled by the suffering that natural disasters can cause—however, this idea appears to be inconsistent with his atheistic viewpoint. If God does not exist and the universe is merely the product of blind, natural processes, then there is no true evil in the world. There is only matter in motion (so to speak) that helps some and hurts others. On atheism, the unfolding of purely natural and accidental events does not carry moral objectivity. But since the skeptic is obviously and rightly troubled by the suffering natural disasters cause, he seems to appeal—even without consciously knowing it—to an ultimate standard of goodness that transcends the physical world. Evil can exist only if there is a standard of goodness from which it transgresses. The existence of evil, therefore, far from disproving God, can be marshaled as an argument in favor of the existence of God as the standard of goodness.

So why does a good God allow natural disasters? First, it must be understood that natural disasters such as earthquakes and tsunamis are not all bad. For example, these extraordinarily powerful events provide positive impacts on the earth’s environment.2 Natural disasters carry both negative and positive aspects. They involve trade-offs.

Second, much of the suffering caused by natural disasters could be prevented if human beings would act prudently in the presence of nature’s awesome power. If humankind as a whole would cooperate and act altruistically, much of the heartache that results from nature’s fury could be avoided. Also, according to Scripture, nature itself has been cursed by the fall of humanity (the result of man’s misuse of freedom); therefore, Scripture confirms that nature can indeed at times be inhospitable to humans (see Genesis 3:17–19).

As an atheist, naturalist, and an advocate of science, I hope that this particular skeptic, and others who may hold the same views, will reflect on the poignant questions that I raised in a previous article:

  • “How can a world that is the product of blind, nonpurposeful processes account for and justify the crucial conditions that make the scientific enterprise even possible?
  • How does naturalism justify the inductive method, assumptions about the uniformity of nature, and the existence of abstract, nonempirical entities such as numbers, propositions, and the laws of logic if the world is the product of a mindless accident?”3

In my opinion, atheistic naturalism does not satisfactorily ground and justify reason and human rationality. Why? Because if our mind is the product of an accident, how could we ever trust it? How can rationality even be possible if the mind has been caused accidentally? The skeptic claimed that God doesn’t make sense, but in an atheistic world, how does one make sense of sense itself?4

Summary

In my brief dialogue with this skeptic, I tried to show that the problem of evil does not present a logical defeater for the Christian worldview. I also noted that natural disasters can be understood in a way that does not make them all bad. Lastly, I pointed out that the enterprise of science is dependent upon philosophical assumptions that seem to better fit with belief in a theistic God. I hope these thoughts help bolster your case when you engage skeptics of the faith. I’ll address another challenge in next week’s blog.

Endnotes
  1. Republished as Kenneth R. Samples, “The Historic Alliance of Christianity and Science,” Reflections (blog), Reasons to Believe, June 21, 2011, https:www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/reflections/read/reflections/2011/06/21/the-historic-alliance-of-christianity-and-science.
  2. Here are two articles that demonstrate some of the benefits of natural disasters: Hugh Ross, “Designed to Shake,” Connections, April 1, 2007, https://www.reasons.org/explore/publications/connections/read/connections/2007/04/01/designed-to-shake; Fazale Rana, “Are Tsunamis Natural or Moral Evil?” Today’s New Reason to Believe (blog), Reasons to Believe, September 9, 2014, https://www.reasons.org/explore/blogs/todays-new-reason-to-believe/read/tnrtb/2014/09/09/are-tsunamis-natural-or-moral-evil.
  3. Samples, “The Historic Alliance.”
  4. I develop this common apologetics argument (the argument from reason) in my book, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test, 210–13.
Check out more from Dr. Kenneth Samples @Reasons.org

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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