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.
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?
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
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.