Encounter Heading: Skeptic's Guide


The Problem of Evil

Part 1 of a Debate
Between Paul Doland and Dennis Jensen

Lee Strobel has written four books in a series,
The Case for Christ, The Case for Faith, The Case for a Creator, and The Case for the Real Jesus, (Grand Rapids, Mi: Zondervan, 1998, 2000, 2004, 2007 respectively). All four I have found to be very effective in arguing their respective claims. Strobel has interviewed various leading scholars in several different fields to present the strongest arguments available for Christianity. He has taken the time to present opposing arguments and claims within his books, so to a considerable degree he has presented possibly the most important pros and cons one would need to consider. But anyone who is honestly searching and evaluating the various religious and secular claims should look at the more developed critiques of Strobel’s arguments as well. Paul Doland claims to have presented one such critique of Strobel’s The Case for Faith, entitled “The Case Against Faith.”

From 2008 and 2010, Doland and I have carried out a debate following from Doland’s critique. References to Doland’s critique and similar critiques and to Doland’s selections from this debate can be found at the end of this article.
The bulk of the entire debate is now available at this link as a PDF. The following portion of the debate looks at the problem of evil or suffering for belief in God.

When quoting Doland or myself or any other speaker/writer, I have placed a number following the speaker’s name or the quotation. The number “1” will follow Strobel or one of his interviewees. Number “2” will follow Doland’s name for his first response to Strobel’s book. Number “3” will follow my name for my response to Doland’s last statement, etc. This will help the reader follow the sometimes extended line of dialogue. I have also underlined those portions of my statements to which Doland has selected to respond. Some references and links are in bold print indicating that the link has yet to be constructed.

Jensen3: Doland critiques Peter Kreeft’s response to the problem of evil. After submitting the problem in surely the most powerful way it can be presented, through examples from human history, Kreeft responds that “finite humans are not capable of understanding the plans and reasoning of an infinite God” (Doland’s words).

Kreeft originally gave an illustration of a bear caught in a hunter’s trap. The hunter wants to release the bear and has to shoot it with a tranquilizer to do so. The bear thinks such suffering only means the hunter wants to hurt it. Doland responds that Kreeft was arguing that because we have no reason to think God has no good reason for allowing evil that there must be a God who has good reason for allowing evil: there must be a greater good.

Doland in turn responds that though it might be true that an all good God does have reason for allowing such suffering, there is no reason to believe this is true and thus no reason to believe anything other than that God is evil, unjust, lacking power, or nonexistent. I then pointed out that Kreeft never claimed here that there must be a God who has good reason for allowing evil.

Doland’s response greatly misunderstands the argument and the onus of proof. An answer to the problem of evil need only show a fallacy in reasoning; it need not provide evidence in order to work.
We who can reason, unlike the trapped bear in Kreeft’s illustration, should recognize that we have no more or less reason to think that a good God has good reason for allowing this suffering; there may be “no reason to assume that there is a greater good to come from injustice” but likewise there is no reason to assume that it will not.

The problem of evil is an argument against God’s existence or goodness and as such has the onus of proof. If it cannot be shown to be impossible or improbable that there could be a God who has such good reason for allowing any such evil, then the argument from evil fails. That is all that Kreeft’s responding argument attempts. Kreeft does not conclude that “there must be a greater good,” as Doland claims,
he only concludes that the argument from evil has not demonstrated or given evidence against the possibility that God intends and will achieve a greater good.

Doland4: [Responding to the first underlined sentence.] I’ll tell you what. I’ll come over to your house, beat the ____ outa you, kill the rest of your family, steal all of your belongings, etc. Then, I’ll say, hey, you can’t prove it won’t be good for you, so, why are you assuming it is bad? By what basis can you predict the future and know that you won’t be grateful for my actions sometime in the future? Would you buy this? Don’t give me this ____, Jensen.

Jensen5: I’ve never claimed such a state isn’t bad; what I had said was that God can bring good out of such an evil such that it will in the long run be a greater good. For me to suffer like this is an evil and Doland would deserve to face judgment for doing this. But it wasn’t just Doland who had inflicted this pain, it was also God who allowed it. True, but God has the right to allow this or to do this if a greater good may come of it; another human does not unless it is God who directs them to do so. Just because good may come of such evil does not mean one should be grateful to the one who wrongly does it.

Since this supposedly happened to me and since I am a Christian because of my evaluation of the evidence for Christianity, I have reason to believe that a greater good will in fact come of it. I can’t be grateful to Doland for doing this but should I be grateful to God? If we know that God is going to bring a greater good out of it, then yes, if we can bring ourselves to do so, we should be grateful to God for it. But we are very human and we cannot very easily reach that point. Few of us can say with Job, “The Lord gives and the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord.” Few of us can act upon the knowledge that our loved ones who were tragically murdered are likely so happy now that they would not want to come back to be with us. We cannot accept this because we still want to be with them. We know that we will be with them again but we do not want to wait. We don’t want to endure the separation. It is not reason that keeps us from being grateful to God for our suffering, it is our desires. But these are also the desires we should be willing to give up for the sake of our larger desires, if we but think through exactly what we do as Christians desire.

On the other hand, if you think you have good independent evidence that there is no such God, then you will have reason to think that there will be no such compensation and justifying reason for this evil.

Okay, so now we’ve looked at both ends of the spectrum; let’s swing back to the middle, the exact middle. Suppose we start on equal ground with no more reason to believe than to disbelieve in this God. That is, we can only believe that which is given in this particular suffering we have endured. In that case we would have no reason to claim that there is no God who will bring good out of this evil or any other evil. With no evidence or with equal evidence, evil in itself is no evidence against God. Because on the possibility that there is such a God, we can think of good reasons God could allow evil that a greater good might occur. But even if we couldn’t think of such reasons, we shouldn’t really expect to be able to do so. Should we be able to understand God’s mind? It seems pretty obvious that God could have good reasons for allowing evil that we will never have the intelligence to understand.

Our true agnostic (one who thinks there is equal evidence or lack of evidence for theism and atheism) should say, “I don’t really know that there is a God like the Christians claim. If there is, I know such a God will bring good out of this. But until I have reason to believe that, I don’t have reason to think that some greater good will or will not come of this.” Should this person accept Doland statement, “Hey, you can’t prove it won’t be good for you [in the long run], so why are you assuming it is bad”? Well, this statement might be taken to intimate that one should think the outcome will be good. Doland assumes this logic is bogus, and to that degree I agree with him. The problem is that this is not what I had claimed.

I did make a statement above that I think should be slightly reformulated. Assuming we are putting ourselves in the place of a true agnostic, I said that we “should recognize that we have no more or less reason to think that a good God has good reason for allowing this suffering.” If we conjecture that there is a good God, then we should accept that this God would most likely have good reason for allowing suffering. Rather, we should not conjecture that there is or is not such a God until we have evidence. Suffering in the world is not evidence against there being such a God. The mere existence of evil in the world, in whatever degree it exists, is not in itself more compatible with atheism than theism. [Last sentence added 20Mr10.]

True agnostics would still have reason to be angry with the culprit, one who directly causes suffering, but they should (if they are being rational and to the degree that they can be rational at such a time) keep in mind that this may be something of which a greater good will come. They should keep this in mind since they should be aware of the possibility that there is a God like the Christians claim. I don’t think anyone is unaware that there could be a good God who has the power to do something like that (bring some greater good out of some suffering). Some people repress that kind of thinking or eventually, for whatever other reasons, come to think that there is no such God; but I think none of us are quite so closed-minded or set in our beliefs to begin with. Some people are so used to the idea that there is no such God, it is so ingrained in their world view, that Doland’s claims do ring true to them. I think Doland is likely in that same group since he thinks it so obvious that he is right. But we need to remember that if one begins with a tacit assumption that God is not there, then of course it seems unlikely that a greater good might come of most undeserved suffering in the world.

So we should be able to see that Doland’s claims amount to little more than the creation of an emotional image with a couple of expletives added to make it sound as though his views are obviously correct. A little honest and rational thinking cuts through his delusion.

Jensen3: [From the second underlined sentence in Jensen3]: [Kreeft] only concludes that the argument from evil has not demonstrated or given evidence against the possibility that God intends and will achieve a greater good.

Doland4: One wonders exactly what would be evidence against such to Jensen? Again, let me come over to your house and beat the ____ outa you and see if you don’t find that as evidence against my having good intentions.

Jensen5: There are two questions here that have not been asked previously. The second question is, “Do we have reason to think Doland had bad intentions had he done this evil?” Yes we do because we know what humans usually do. We know he probably would have only bad intentions if he were to do this.

We cannot say the same about God. We do not have the same data to compare to produce a probability claim. I’ve presented some arguments to claim that if we and everything else that exists do have a creator, then this creator is more intuitively likely to be good. If we assume that this creator controls all existence, then this God also would have good reason for allowing evil. We cannot say that a good God has no good morally justifying reason for allowing evil, while we can definitely say that, beyond any reasonable doubt, Doland does not have a morally justifying reason to do the evil he has suggested. [Last sentence added 5Jul09. Three sentences removed and other minor revisions 24Fb15.]

What about Doland’s first question, What exactly would count as evidence against God for me? I suppose most importantly, if I were to find myself alive after death and if I were to experience a world, whether a spiritual universe or something like it, devoid of God, that would give me a very strong inclination to disbelieve in God. Now admittedly, not even this would be conclusive. It would certainly falsify important features of my current Christian belief, but it still would not absolutely demonstrate that there could not be a God. A deistic God might exist who has long ago left us on our own. Or a good theistic God might still be there who requires us to live a little longer (in another or other worlds after death) without direct undeniable awareness of this God. If, in this spiritual world, the millennia begin to tick away and I and everyone else I encounter still have no experience of God, then my belief in such a theistic God will, for all practical purposes, become nonexistent.

I think there are other more practical, “in this world,” methods of falsification, though they are far from conclusive. If there were absolutely no evidence for Christianity or even theism, we should not believe it. In principle we could not say that it is definitely false, but we would still be in error to claim that it is true. We would need to wait for the next life to verify belief in either. (This John Hick called eschatological verification. The scenarios suggested in the last paragraph we might call eschatological falsification.)

So if no one had any religious experience of God or any other spiritual entities; if we had no historical evidence of prophecies or miracles; if all of the philosophical arguments for God could fairly easily be refuted; if the best scientific findings pointed most clearly to a natural origin of the universe or a beginningless universe; if science showed us how easily chemical life could originate in our universe or most other possible but different kinds of universes; if no one, or at least only very few with very apparent psychologically unstable personalities, claimed God existed or claimed a desire for God to exist; then I would admit that the case is pretty closed against anyone rightly claiming that God exists. Remember however, this would not give us reason to claim that God does not exist. Many people think the above state, or something close to it, is the way we find our current state of knowledge. Many of these people honestly admit that agnosticism, not atheism, is the proper conclusion, however.

There may be some other related reasons for disbelief or absence of belief I would admit to, but I’m sure Doland has heard enough. My question to Doland would now be very similar: What evidence would he admit to that would persuade him to believe? It seems that if we had God appear to Doland in any form close to God’s actual being, Doland still wouldn’t believe.

Doland2: Arguing that there must be no God because of the suffering in the world is sometimes called an “argument from outrage.” But should one not be “outraged” at the injustice of the world?

Jensen3: Indeed, should we? Do we have any grounds to be “outraged” or even angry if we do not know that there is no reason for this suffering?

Doland thinks that the fact that the poorest people suffer most is significant. Quoting from Corey Washington’s debate with William Lane Craig, Washington claims that Craig says that generally, “the innocent, the weak, and the poor . . . suffer, so the rich can show their colors, can be courageous, and develop themselves into moral beings.”

But as of yet we haven’t actually looked at any real theodicies, any explanations as to why God might allow evil. We have only considered the theistic defense that we do not know that God does not have good reason. This defense says that we don’t need to know what God’s good reason is for allowing this inequitable suffering. Developing courage may have nothing to do with it or it might be but a small and relatively insignificant part.

After having considered Kreeft’s argument for many years, I must confess that I just don’t think it can be answered. (I first heard it from philosophers like Alvin Plantinga and George Mavrodes in the 70’s, though that certainly was not the first time it was argued.)
If God’s intelligence to us is like our intelligence compared to a snail’s, we really shouldn’t expect to know what God’s reason is for allowing evil. We have no way of knowing that this is not the case. We can’t even say that it is probably not the case. As we will see later, this argument which we might call skeptical theism fails only if we consider something like certain extreme views of hell, situations in which it is inconceivable that God could allow a greater good to occur while this evil is allowed.

It is interesting that Pierre Bayle, the great fideistic philosopher who had set out the classical formulation of the argument from the problem of evil, believed the same of his argument against God. Many philosophers throughout history have agreed with Bayle’s view (though I think without sufficient reason). So I think many atheists, possibly including Doland, will find disconcerting, perhaps even astonishing, my claim that Kreeft’s argument is irrefutable.

At this point I should say that I think there are good theodicies that we should consider and that the best ones are found in the Scripture. The first is called the recipient oriented free will theodicy.
The most basic biblical theodicy is found in the first couple of chapters of the book of Job. God allows undeserved suffering because God needs to know if we will hold fast to God or turn against God in the face of suffering. This is, by definition, a God who deserves our highest commitment. So, as long as God does deserve our commitment and is good (and the following conditions are met) it would be evil to reject God for allowing us suffering.

Two conditions must be met for this argument to work: First, God need’s good reason for allowing undeserved suffering. Secondly, God must provide compensation, or, if you will, “redemption” of the evil. The reason God allows these evils is to see whether we will cling to God in the face of the emotional temptation to reject God. We have no rational justification for turning against God at this point; it is only our emotions that drive us to reject God.

As for the “compensation” part, Kreeft’s quotation of Theresa illustrates this: In the next life, the worst pain in this life will seem like a night spent in a bad motel. Or think of St. Paul’s words that the sufferings we now face are not even worth comparing to the joy we will experience in the next life (Romans 8:18). And the pain Paul willingly endured was enormous (see 2 Corinthians 11).

The question applies to the atheist as well as the theist, to the one who seeks God as well as one who hates God, for even the atheist will consider an hypothetical God when facing suffering. The atheist must inevitably face the thought,
“If there is a God and it is not inconceivable that this God has good reason for allowing this suffering, how will I respond to this God?”

A second biblical theodicy says that while there must be undeserved suffering in this life, it needn’t be a bad as it sometimes turns out to be. We are to seek to alleviate suffering when we are able to do so. God needs to know whether we will seek to have God’s heart, to become like God; to care for the persecuted, the dispossessed, the victims. This is the observer oriented free will theodicy.
Jesus went about healing the sick, casting out demons, raising the dead. He said he had come to proclaim freedom to the captives. God’s Kingdom advances when this happens, he said. When an atheist or a Christian gives medicine to the sick, gives food to the hungry, prays for the suffering, shelters or hides the innocent who are oppressed, God’s Kingdom advances.

In both of these theodicies I have said that God needs to know our choices. But it is not simply that God needs to know such things, it is also that we become something different by our choices.
If our choices cannot be made by anyone else, then the only way I can be a good person is by choosing to do something good. For God to simply make me good could never make me good in quite the same way.

We must not underestimate how important it is that we see that the choices we make, whether when we see someone else suffer or when we are suffering ourselves, are among the most important choices we could ever make.

With these two basic theodicies at hand, let’s go on to see how they might apply to the rest of Doland’s critique.

Kreeft uses an example of his daughter suffering a pin prick in order to have the achievement of threading a needle. Doland complains that “a valid explanation for a little pain does not explain extensive, intense, and apparently gratuitous pain.” But Kreeft’s point is simply that because we can see explanations for some pains, it may be that there are good explanations for great pain. Isn’t that to be expected if God’s plans and understanding are almost infinitely beyond our own?

Furthermore, given the theistic view, both the lesser pain in Kreeft’s example and the greater pain Doland is concerned about are gratuitous only from the mistaken viewpoint of the sufferer. The one allowing the pain in both cases knows why it is being allowed. So it begs the question to say that great pain is gratuitous or even apparently gratuitous.
Also, as Paul and Theresa have pointed out (above), our greatest suffering is in the long run more like the child’s pin prick. So a comparison of “extensive, intense” pain to a child’s minute suffering does “explain” the greater pain. It explains it in the sense that we can see the kinds of things that would make it possible that it would have an adequate explanation.

What of Washington’s complaint of the inequity of suffering between the poor and the rich? Well, there is and has always been inequitable, undeserved suffering and not merely between the poor and the wealthy. Nearly all undeserved suffering could be less if we were to fulfill our responsibility to seek to alleviate it. God does not want it to be as bad as we have so often seen it become. But God leaves in our hands the alleviation of much suffering so that we (all people) may have the responsibility of choosing to either create something good out of an evil or letting an evil grow unchecked.

But look how horrible it is, Doland complains, shouldn’t God do something about it if we don’t? “God could solve the problem [a drought in Africa], or at least mitigate it a great deal, by sending more rain. Is this really too much to ask of a compassionate, miracle-working God?”
But if God will provide the compensation for this suffering, that would make it almost as though it had never happened. Also, since God wants us to make moral choices regarding such evils—sometimes very costly choices to ourselves, either as the one enduring the pain or as an observer—then God would have good reason for allowing it. But remember, even with the necessity of such testing, God still does not want it to be as bad as it could be without our intervention.

Doland4: [Responding to the first underlined sentence.] If this is the case [“God’s intelligence to us is like our intelligence compared to a snail’s”], then God should not be surprised that I am like the snail and don’t understand. If God didn’t give me enough intelligence to understand, whose fault is that?

Jensen5: Having the intelligence of a snail is only how our intelligence compares to God’s. Since we are actually reasoning humans, we have enough intelligence that we can understand the status of the argument. We should see that we should not be able to understand what God’s reason is for allowing evil and that we cannot say that God has no good reason for allowing evil. Since we have no good reason for saying that God has no good reason for allowing undeserved evil, the argument from evil fails. This we have sufficient intelligence to understand.

Doland4: [Responding to the second underlined sentence group in Jensen3 above, that God needs to know our choice concerning God in the face of suffering.] Read Job again. God specifically says he got talked into it by Satan. And he was proving Job’s steadfastness to Satan, not to himself. God says, “You have incited me to ruin Job for no reason” [2:3]. GOD HIMSELF says there was no reason for it, other than he got talked into it by Satan.

Jensen5: For God to be incited “to destroy Job without reason” or “without cause” means not that God had no reason for this action but that Job didn’t deserve it. When God brings judgment, it is because we deserve it. That’s the missing “reason” God is talking about here. If there were absolutely no reason for it, Satan would have said, “Hey, why don’t you let me bring Job some real suffering?” and God would have said, “Sure, why not?” It isn’t merely that Satan talked God into it and that was God’s only reason for doing it; it was that Satan gave God a good reason for testing Job and that was the reason God allowed it. So it wasn’t truly without reason, except that Job didn’t deserve it.

Secondly, remember that we have already demonstrated that God could not have known what Job’s responses would have been ahead of time (at least not without them actually occurring). If God knew what the outcome would have been without its occurring, God would have just told Satan, “No, Job won’t fail me; I just know this.” In this case Satan would have known God cannot lie and he would have known that God knows whether this stated fact was true or not; so Satan wouldn’t have been able to go on to pretend that there is any reason to test Job. So neither Satan nor God knew Job’s future actions before they occurred (or without their occurring).

Doland says God was talked into it by Satan. Not necessarily, or at least not entirely. Notice that the reasons Satan brought forward and the reasons God allowed this were to test Job: “Job just serves you because of the good things you’ve given him,” or “he just reveres you because you won’t let any pain touch him.” If Satan talked God into allowing this, it was because God wanted to know if it was true or not. If God didn’t care to know, God would never have conceded to allow this.

Did God think, “I don’t really care to know whether Job will stay faithful to me in the face of suffering, but Satan and most anyone else who can think about it want to know. They all think Job serves and honors me because I prosper him and I don’t let him suffer. So I’ll allow Job suffering just because Satan and everyone else want to know.” No, this is not at all feasible. God would have no reason to allow this suffering just because Satan wants to know something God does not care about.

Now does Doland think God was so stupid as to not be able to think of this without Satan’s help? Wouldn’t God have wondered if it were true? If it was so obvious to Satan and most anyone else that maybe Job is righteous just because of these benefits, wouldn’t God want to know as well? Certainly God searches the depth of the human heart and the deepest human motivation without such testing. But such searching only shows our present motivation and decisions and our motivations in harsher circumstances; it does not show what we will choose in those harsher circumstances, how we will respond to God in the face of pain.

We’re not told Satan had anything to do with God’s decision to test Abraham when God told him to sacrifice his son. In this case, as with Job, God needed to know what his choice would be. Moses said God led the children of Israel in the desert for 40 years in order to test them to know what was in their hearts (Deuteronomy 8:2,16). Psalm 66 (10-12) speaks of God testing the Jewish people with affliction that they might be purified like silver. James said that we should consider it a great joy when we face trials that test our faith (1:3.12) and Peter spoke of our suffering as being a trial or testing (1 Peter 1:6-7). In all of these except Job there is no mention of Satan suggesting this to God. It’s apparent that the idea of testing people as to their choices, and especially with suffering, is found throughout the Scripture without any need of Satan to suggest it to God. It also appears that in the story of Job, though this “adversary” might have actually been there to contend for Job’s testing, Satan is hardly needed. Clearly God was aware of the need for such testing without Satan mentioning it. As so much of the Scripture teaches, this was something God needed to know whether Satan tried to persuade God or not.

So when God told Satan that he incited God to ruin Job without reason, this meant that Job didn’t deserve this suffering. And this is something God needed to know whether Satan said anything or not. God needed to know this in the other examples of testing recounted in the Bible where Satan is not mentioned. Satan was just there in Job to emphasize the point.

Now for the sake of the argument, let’s assume Doland is right and the Bible does not teach that God wants to know our choices regarding God in the face of suffering. In that case I would say first that this theodicy at least fits the biblical data. But secondly, this would be a theodicy that has been accepted and expounded for many centuries even if it is not an obviously biblical theodicy. There are a number of non-biblical theodicies, some of which might be true. Even if this is not a biblical theodicy as I have claimed it to be, this is a most feasible theodicy and Doland has yet to refute it.

Doland4: [Continuing Doland4 above.] Explain this to me: if even GOD can get talked into doing wrong things by Satan, where does he have the moral right to judge us? Satan talks God into allowing the ruining of Job, and that’s just all fine and good. But if Adam and Eve get talked into eating an apple, God doesn’t just punish them, but everybody who ever lives thereafter. You don’t notice a slight problem with this? 

Jensen5: I’ve shown that God has not done any “wrong things” by bringing suffering to Job since God had the right to do this so long as a greater good will come of it. By the same argument I had given, God also has the right to judge us. We will see if Doland has attempted or will attempt to refute my argument. God has the right to allow suffering which we, on our own, would not have the right inflict on others. Adam and Eve were punished for eating the fruit because it was wrong for them to do so because God commanded them not to do so.

I’ve also shown that humanity was not “punished” for Adam and Eve’s sin. They do endure a world that contains suffering and death because of Adam’s sin (though even without the Fall there would still be suffering in the world). That is, they carry in themselves “a part of Adam” as it were. They (we) might be said to be punished for Adam’s sin only in the sense that (in part) we are Adam. But the important point is that whether we are punished for Adam’s sin or whether we are simply born into a world of suffering and death, we are still offered a way of redemption, a way out of it. Our suffering is for a purpose that must be fulfilled and all undeserved suffering will be compensated. So in all, there is not even a “slight problem” with this. [Small additions in this paragraph for clarification 22Fb15.]

While discussing this God-needs-to-know-our-choice theodicy [third underlined sentence group in Jensen3 above], I mentioned that this applies to atheists as well as theists. I said that the atheist must inevitably ask the following question:

Jensen3: If there is a God and it is not inconceivable that this God has good reason for allowing this suffering, how will I respond to this God?

Doland4: What if there is an invisible alligator in your pants? . . . We simply don’t have the time to play “what if” to every possible “if”. . . .

Jensen5: True, we don’t speculate about every hypothetical that we can imagine, especially ones that are unnecessarily highly specified, like Doland’s alligator. But God’s existence is very different from an invisible alligator. It is a very basic question as to whether the material universe has always existed on it’s own or whether it came from something more basic or other than the universe. So the notion of God is very natural to humans. It turns out to be the simpler and more feasible explanation of the universe.

Also, whether or not this is the reason we have an idea of God, we find that everyone does think about God’s existence at some time or other. It might be pushed aside never to be entertained again, but at some time or other, it will be there. Certainly human contemplation of death causes us to consider the possibility of God’s existence more than many of us might do otherwise.

More importantly, I think God does speak to everyone, calling them to seek or to trust in God. God lets us know that we do have an obligation to seek God and to seek to determine whether God exists. It is our response to this prompting that either condemns us or leads us on a path by which we will find God. If God does not call everyone in this way, then God would not condemn those who refuse to seek God.

Doland has attempted to shift the question to that of the feasibility of even considering God’s existence. Since the idea of God’s existence is not that outlandish, we do think about the pain we face and we see others face and we commonly think about why a good God might allow this. The point of my initial comment was this: If we think carefully about this problem, we—atheists and anyone else—should see that there could be a good God who has good, justifying reason for allowing this pain and we must ask ourselves how we will respond to such a God.

So the way atheists and agnostics respond to this hypothetical God, whether in the face of suffering or not, begins to determine their condemnation or salvation. When atheists do face suffering or contemplate the suffering of someone else, they very often will think about God. Often they will do so only to say that there could never be a God who would allow this. But even then, they would be intentionally unreasonable to say this. Obviously God might have reason to allow this that they do not now understand. This is something any reasonable person should be able to see.

Freedom, omnipotence, evil, and logical necessity, continued

I pointed out that God needs to know how we respond to those who are suffering and God needs to know our free choices concerning God as we face of our own suffering. Also, we
become something different by our choices:

Jensen3: [Jensen3 above, fourth underlined sentence group.] If our choices cannot be made by anyone else, then the only way I can be a good person is by choosing to do something good. For God to simply make me good could never make me good in quite the same way.

Doland4: Why not? Isn’t God omnipotent? Why do theists always presume to say what their allegedly omnipotent God can and cannot do?

Jensen5: Because God cannot do the logically impossible. It’s like saying God can make square circles. Once we understand the nature of logical impossibility and logical necessity, we see that it’s just nonsense to say that God can do the logically impossible. Orthodox Christianity has for centuries maintained that this is something God cannot do. Can critics only attack theism by claiming that God should be able to do nonsense? (“He has to be able to, doesn’t he? He’s omnipotent, isn’t he?”)

God’s compensation for undeserved suffering

Jensen3: [Fifth underlined sentence in Jensen3 above, the 2nd Jensen3 from the start.] Also, as Paul and Theresa have pointed out . . . our greatest suffering is in the long run more like the child’s pin prick.

Doland4: This is an assertion without evidence. You (and Paul and Theresa) claim that, but where is your evidence? You have none.

Jensen5: The theist doesn’t need evidence at this point in the discussion. The argument from evil says that if theism is true, we cannot adequately account for evil in the world. Any theistic response says that we can account for evil given theism. So the existence of God is assumed in both cases. Both views simply try to see if something about the world would be expected or unexpected given theism. The theodicy I’m presenting simply says that if God is there and if God is just and good and has good reason for allowing pain in the world, we should expect that God would provide compensation for any such undeserved suffering. Deserved suffering is a different matter. God does not provide compensation for that. So if we assume God’s existence, we can very reasonably assume the kind of equal or greater compensation I have talked about.

Presenting a theodicy does not give any reason to believe in God. That comes at a different point in the discussion. Giving a theodicy merely answers objections for belief.

Another point that might not have been adequately stated is that this overwhelming compensation St. Paul talked about does not apply to everyone. For many people it will only be equal to the undeserved suffering endured. It is those who seek to become children of God, those who seek the God who first seeks them and who seeks to remove their guilt, who will find the one reward that is greater than anything they can imagine.

Doland4: Secondly, again, let me come over to your house, beat the ____ outa you, kill your family, etc., and see if you find it to be akin to a pin prick.

Jensen5: I’m not saying this suffering is nothing more than a pin prick but that in comparison to that which awaits us, or that which we will endure “in the long run,” it is. I don’t want to deny the horror, the reality of pain and evil. But I want to affirm that it will be conquered, overwhelmed in the greatness of that which awaits us.

Jensen3: [Sixth underlined sentence in the 2nd Jensen3 from the start.] But if God will provide the compensation for this suffering, that would make it almost as though it had never happened.

Doland4: You’ll excuse me if I find it rather disgusting that you, while sitting in you air-conditioned house typing on your computer are alleging how important somebody else’s suffering is. I’m sure somebody dying in the street in Iraq or starving in Africa, or dying of AIDS, etc., appreciates how important you find his suffering to be. . . . Why is it so important for them to suffer?

Jensen5: You know nothing about me and yet you know that I am not suffering while much of the world is? There are psychological pains deeper than physical pain. I would gladly bear physical pain if I could be rid of a particular source of the anguish I too have to carry. I seek God continually to cause me to be able to bear this.

The writer of Hebrews said that Jesus bore his suffering because of the glory that awaited him. Doing this, as hard as it was, was worth it to him because of what awaited him. Paul certainly said this of himself. Remember my quotations? Our suffering here is not worth comparing to what awaits us, he said. And look at the list of what he endured. Christians throughout the world (not so much in our isolated little world we call the West) are being persecuted more than they have ever been in our history. Yet they willingly bear it because they know what awaits them. Christians throughout the centuries have endured persecution, illness, natural disaster, famine; some have even sold themselves into slavery in order to share the gospel, all because they knew what awaited them if they would be faithful to the end (Revelation 2:10). So it is hardly a matter of the Christians having it good while we glibly contemplate the suffering of others.

I’m claiming that it is important that some suffering occur in the world, that there is a reason for it, and that good is meant to come of it. Doland will say that we have to have evil in the world too; it’s just a part of how the world is. I offer hope to those who are suffering; all that Doland can do is take his heel and grind it in their faces. Because that is all that Doland really has, a hopeless world of pain that we just have to accept. If I might presume to know as much as Doland assumes to know about me and if I might repeat (and slightly alter) Doland’s own words back to himself: “You’ll excuse me if I find it rather disgusting that you, while sitting in you air-conditioned house typing on your computer, are alleging how ‘hopeless’ somebody else’s suffering is. I’m sure somebody dying in the street in Iraq or starving in Africa, or dying of AIDS” appreciates your enlightened understanding of the necessity of their suffering.

Remember that I also said (in the second theodicy) that the suffering could be far less if we were to fulfill our responsibility, if we become what God wants us to become. If we seek to have God’s heart and compassion, we seek to remove the suffering. There does need to be some pain in the world; it need not be the horror it has so often turned out to be. Any undeserved suffering that we have the power to stop, we should stop. So I do not, as Doland says, find it important that the starving or the wasting AIDS victim must suffer as they do.

Doland2: As I said, I cannot know for certain what greater good might come. But what possible “greater good” can come from massive injustice? What “greater good” to come is there for the African mother’s baby? The baby is dead. What “greater good” can the baby experience?

Jensen3: I have mentioned the kind of good that could come from “massive injustice.” The testing of human choice is perhaps the greatest good, and the end result for the victims (including the baby who died of the drought) is also the same: recompense for any undeserved suffering, perhaps a chance for life again on earth for those whose lives were cut short, even paradise for those whose lives are right with God.

Theodicy 2 cont.: God needs to know if we will stop the suffering

Doland2: If any Christian was there in time to save the child [an African child dying from a drought], surely he would do so, would he not? If a Christian had saved the baby’s life, would he have circumvented the “greater good” that was to come? Kreeft says he purposely let his daughter bleed a little, for the learning experience—the greater good to come. Would he have let the baby die too, in the name of the greater good? The fact that a Christian would save the child if he could implies that Christians don’t really believe that an apparently needless death serves any greater good.

Jensen3: Here our previous stated theodicies will offer an obvious answer. The Christian, like anyone else with any moral awareness, would (or should) certainly seek to save the child’s life. One reason for such suffering is to test us to see whether we will respond and seek to stop the suffering. But if there is no one to respond, the mother is tested as well as to her response to God.

Doland4: This is just wanting to “have your cake and eat it too.” If the child dies, it is good; if the child is saved, it is good. Nothing is ever “bad” in his reasoning. No matter what happens, “God wins” in his the-idiocy. With this being the case, it is fundamentally impossible for me to ever give him something that would count against his belief in God. Everything, no matter what it is, counts as evidence for God.

Jensen5: Notice that Doland does not offer an argument against my claim, he simply complains that it accomplishes too much. It answers both questions. “If the child dies, it is good; if the child is saved, it is good.” Now recall that that is not what I’ve said. If the child suffers and dies, it is not good. The evil will eventually be conquered, but the initial evil is not good. It is good if the Christian or atheist or anyone else gives food to the hungry and stops or prevents this evil. But it is also good that the suffering, if it does occur, will be overcome in the great goodness of God’s compensation. It is only in the long run that both are good, but only because if the evil does occur, God’s good so much outweighs that evil.

So yes, this argument does win either way. But instead of complaining about how much the arguments accomplish, why can’t Doland show how my argument is in error? Isn’t that what the reader is looking for? Isn’t that what matters?

Now I have given some possible means of falsifying my beliefs; so it is not true that I think that it is “fundamentally impossible” for Doland “to ever give something that would count against” my belief in God. It’s simply that using the problem of evil just does not do the job.

It also does not follow from my argument that “everything, no matter what it is, counts as evidence for God.” The answer I’ve given to the problem of evil merely answers an accusation against belief, it does not provide evidence for belief.

Doland2: Kreeft, of course, claims that injustice not rectified in this life will be rectified in the next. . . . In other words, in the grand scheme of eternity, the dead baby’s needless death is “no biggie.” But doesn’t that make this life on Earth rather pointless? The baby, for all intents and purposes, had no human life, having died so young. And this baby is (presumably) doing fine in Heaven. Then what value is life on Earth at all?

Jensen3: I think you are making a good point here, Paul. What is the point of some dying at or prior to birth if they go straight to heaven? Why not just let them go to heaven without even being conceived? And if that’s their fate, why wouldn’t God do that for everyone? Why would we need Christ’s atoning work at all? [Added 24Fb15.]

The value or purpose of life on earth is to face the choice of seeking and finding God or rejecting God. All must make that choice in an environment in which there is neither too much nor too little evidence for God’s existence. If it were too clear that God is there, then those who do not want to believe will have virtually no choice. As it is now, if one does not want to believe, one can do so and feel intellectually honest about doing so, though I think it takes some repression of undesired thoughts (those dangerous religious queries) to do so. The sense of intellectual honesty comes to the one who rejects God only after one has sufficiently repressed the unwanted thoughts or knowledge. Just as God needs to know our choices concerning God in the face of pain, so God needs to know our choice for or against God at other times as well. That is the essential point of our being here in this kind of world.
And the aborted child or the child who has lived too short of a life to face that choice will be given that choice again, either in this world or some other world or environment sufficiently like our own.

All must choose concerning God: the fate of the stillborn

Doland4: [Responding to the above underlined sentence.] Evidence? Any evidence? No? I didn’t think so. By the way, not even the Bible says this. Nowhere. This is pure ad-hoc.

Jensen5: As a Christian I accept all that the Bible teaches. But it doesn’t teach everything that we think we know to be true. Where the Bible does not speak, we are free to speculate and to reason to the most feasible belief. Our new belief must simply not contradict biblical teaching. We don’t need evidence for this view at this point. We are simply resolving claimed biblical difficulties (a potential conflict between what the Bible teaches and what we otherwise know is right or true) by considering possible views that fit the biblical data.

I’ve gone over a number of passages that show the need for God to know our choice in the face of suffering and for us to be creatures who make those choices. It would not be difficult to go through a few of the numerous passages that speak of the need for humans to choose for or against God and God’s will outside of a context in which they must experience pain. From Genesis 2 and 3 where Adam and Eve are given the choice to obey God to the last verses in Revelation where John and the Spirit and the Bride call to the world to take the water of life, this teaching permeates Scripture. God appealed to Cain to choose to conquer his temptation to kill his brother. Joshua asked the people to choose to serve the Lord and affirm the covenant. God’s central message through the prophets, repeated over and over in different ways, was always the same: “return to me.” God revealed to Peter that God was no “respecter of persons”; that anyone who seeks God, whether Jew or Gentile, will be accepted by God. Thus God does not determine how we will choose or who will be accepted by God, it all depends upon our free choice (Acts 10:34-35). Paul claimed that God acted through history to call the Gentiles to seek God (Acts 17). These are only a few examples from Scripture. It is clear that the Bible assumes that we determine our destiny by our choice for or against God and God’s will.

Now the Scripture does not tell us what happens to the children who die before they can make such a decision or the aborted or miscarried fetus (or even the mentally deficient for that matter). Some Calvinists and Fundamentalist Christians will say the answer is very simple and straightforward: if they’re born in sin, they’re eternally damned. Catholics have their doctrines of limbo and baptismal regeneration by which some go to heaven and some don’t (but those who don’t, don’t really have it so bad). Geisler and others (I think W. L. Craig is in this group) say they go straight to heaven. So there is quite a lot of difference of opinion. But this is understandable given the fact that the Bible just doesn’t speak definitely to this question.

The fate of the unborn is one of those doctrines we are free to speculate about. But a little thinking gives us reason to reject some of the above mentioned views. The idea that since they are born in sin they’re damned like any other unrepentant sinner is just too hard to swallow given our overall understanding of Scripture. We know God is just; we know God is merciful. Given either mercy or justice, it is difficult to imagine God allowing such a thing. Given the numerous scriptural teachings (like those mentioned above) that indicate that we do have to choose, it seems clear to me that the unborn must return to this or a similar world in order to do so. Geisler’s view just does not adequately take this need into account. Also, the passages Geisler mentions are simply not conclusive for his view; they can too easily be taken to mean or imply something else. (Also . . . Geisler’s view has the added problem of making abortion physicians and child killers our most effective though unwitting Christian evangelists.)

There are other possibilities. Hugh Ross recognizes this need for all people to face such a decision and says everyone will do so before death. God gives the fetus the ability to make such a choice while still in the womb. Of course this isn’t impossible given a theistic world view but this view is not widely accepted. It is just very difficult to accept that God would force such a decision upon the unborn and deny them at least a minimal context of human life in which to make such a decision. Paul said God’s patience is meant to bring us to repentance (Romans 2:4). Out of mercy God waits and allows us to choose again and again and again. So in all, it seems to me that the view that best fits the biblical data says that God gives the unborn more time; it gives them the chance to choose in another life. I might be wrong, but then to resolve the problem would just involve thinking of a different view that fits the biblical data and better or equally avoids the difficulties mentioned or any other difficulties.

We don’t need evidence until we consider the evidence for Christianity generally. Once we have reason to accept Christianity, we have reason to accept the biblical teachings. Without reason to believe Christianity, we’re just left with something that may be true or may not be true; we just don’t know. We would be left with a belief system that is almost entirely irrelevant because it’s unknowable. (Not entirely irrelevant; just the choice as to whether we would commit ourselves to God through Jesus must be contemplated before or without considering such evidence. The same is true of theism generally.)

Doland2: To postulate that, since we can’t find any evidence of a greater good in this life, it must reside elsewhere, after death, strikes me as an incredibly ad hoc assumption designed to explain away any contrary data.

Jensen3: Why? Why does Doland think this is ad hoc? This is just a logically sufficient explanation and as such it answers the accusation. It certainly does explain the “contrary data” since it shows this isn’t “contrary data” at all when we evaluate the logic of the argument against theism. Now no one has claimed that a greater good for all suffering will only be found in the next life. Rather, we are simply admitting that for some evils there is no sufficiently greater good in this life.

If at the end of our entire discussion we have no evidence for God or Christianity and if this were all the evidence one would ever consider, then one should conclude that one has no reason to believe either way and that agnosticism must be admitted. The evidence for belief is very different from the evidence against belief we find in the problem of evil. The problem of evil as a claim of grounds to disbelieve says there is an inconsistency between the possibility of the existence of God (as Christians and some other theists define God) and other things we know. The theist has no need to prove that an afterlife or any other state or entity exists that would vindicate God’s goodness; we need only show that the claimed inconsistency does not obtain. So if there is an afterlife then there could be a good God. The fact that we have no evidence for this afterlife (at this point in the discussion) means nothing.

If it is the fact that Doland thinks that an afterlife is not empirically verifiable in this life that makes him think that it is ad hoc, then why even go that far? Why even bother about the problem of evil? God is not empirically verifiable in this life either. Why not claim that because of this, the idea of God is ad hoc? It appears that almost any argument Doland disagrees with he thinks he can dismiss by calling it ad hoc. Since he offers no rationale or argument for his claim, it is difficult to take his claim seriously. [Last two sentences added 24Fb15.]

When we later talk about reasons for believing in God, we will discuss other kinds of evidence, though not in-this-life, empirical evidence. (Admittedly, some of the evidence is very close to empirical evidence and some might even claim that the term “empirical” is broad enough to include the kind of evidence we will consider for God’s existence.) If we find that we have good evidence that such a God does exist, then it will not at all be unreasonable to think that this God could also create another world, a heaven, and cause us to live there—even to live there forever. We might consider evidence for an afterlife from specific evidence for Christianity. If Jesus claimed there is such an afterlife and if we find we have good reason to believe Jesus’ teachings, then it also follows that we would have good reason to believe in this afterlife. So in this sense also the idea of an afterlife is not unverifiable.

Perhaps Doland sees the explanation of an afterlife as ad hoc in that it offers no real reason for evil. It’s just that we have evil in the world and heaven is offered as a kind of “eraser” of that evil after it happens. Does God just stick us in a world of pain for no reason and then erase it all? One critic said it’s like an evil father beating his children and then offering them candy to make up. Well, the analogy is too crass; it does not work because candy does not really make up for a beating. We need something that does truly erase or at least virtually erase all that we have endured. But the analogy does help us to see that this explanation for evil isn’t really an explanation. We still don’t know why God allows evil even if God does fully compensate for it. That is why I have said earlier that we need both factors, both the compensation and the good reason. The good reason I had offered earlier was that we would freely make the moral choices that occur in the context of suffering, especially choices concerning God, that would determine what we will truly become. God needs to know what our choices in the face of suffering will be concerning God.

When freedom is needed and the place of speculation

Doland quotes Kreeft:

Kreeft1: Pretend you’re God and try to create a better world in your imagination. Try to create utopia. But you have to think of the consequences of everything you try to improve. Every time you use force to prevent evil, you take away freedom. To take away all evil, you must remove all freedom and reduce people to puppets, which means they would then lack the ability to freely choose love (42).

Jensen3: Kreeft had just previously claimed that for some people, not being able to inflict pain and do evil would be hell. Doland then goes on to question this:

Doland2: If Kreeft believes that an Earth without pain and suffering would be like Hell, what exactly does Kreeft believe Heaven is like? Is there evil in Heaven, or no free will and no love? Do Satan, Hitler, Stalin, etc. run around Heaven causing random acts of pain and suffering so that its inhabitants aren’t bored all of the time? Are people in Heaven mere “puppets,” without the ability to freely choose love? I think that most Christians believe that Heaven has no such requirement for pain, suffering, and evil. But if so, why would life on Earth have such requirements?

Jensen3: My own view is that we will not be free in heaven. I think Kreeft takes a similar view though he disdains to say we will actually lack freedom. At any rate my own view is that freedom is only something we need in this life. Often I will make a choice that will determine all of my future choices. I determine never to make that particular choice again and let my life go on a kind of autopilot concerning that choice. For most of us, the decision not to commit suicide is that kind of choice. Whether I make a choice only once or a million times does not really matter; I’m still responsible for my one choice or my million choices. I’ve not become a puppet since I freely made the choice that would determine all my future choices for this issue. If you insist that I am still a puppet, then it is I (in my one or many past choices that I have made) who am the master of this puppet.

We need freedom in this life to determine whether we will enter heaven or not, whether our moral choices will be responsible choices. In heaven I won’t care that I am unable to choose against God or to do evil, I’ve already made that decision. Why do I need to make it again? We love in heaven because we have already chosen that on earth. There is no boredom in heaven because we are complete as we never could be on earth. We live in relation to the God we were created to know and to love. So in heaven there is no requirement of pain and evil while on earth it is necessary that there is at least the possibility of pain and evil (given Kreeft’s theodicy above). In the theodicies I had presented earlier it is necessary that there be pain in this life and not merely that they be possible. But it is also necessary that we be free to make culpable moral and spiritual decisions. [Last sentence added 24Fb15.]

Earth without pain might be called hell for those who wish to inflict pain, though this would certainly be a far more tolerable form of suffering than the traditional view of hell. Earth without pain would not be hell for those who do not choose to inflict pain.

Doland4: Heaven = good, right?  If no freedom in heaven, that means freedom not good. Once again, Jensen is being purely ad hoc. He needs to have a reason for “free will” on this earth, yet realizes that is inconsistent with what he alleged heaven to be, so must assert that God has this bizarre need to have one environment that is “good” in one way (here) and then another environment (heaven) that is “good” in a completely different way. But God could have no such need, for God is ALL POWERFUL, and can never do anything out of necessity.

Jensen5: Doland has not shown how freedom, when it is no longer needed after this life, is in some way still needed and good. Instead he says my claim is ad hoc. He says, “The definition of ad hoc is ‘. . . [something] you made up because . . . [something else you believe] is so stupid that you gotta make something up to try to hide it.’ ” It seems that for Doland ad hoc means any claim he doesn’t like but to which he cannot provide a rational response. To try to cover up his inability to refute a claim, he simply calls the claim “stupid.” Yes, I do “make up” claims to answer difficulties. This we call speculation. As with the previous issue, the state of the fetus or the child who dies before the age of accountability, we speculate to find an answer that fits the Bible and does not contradict anything else we believe to be right or otherwise have good reason to believe. This simply shows that there is no contradiction or difficulty with the concept presented. There is nothing ad hoc about this approach as the term is traditionally understood. [Paragraph revised 8Mr09, 19Oc14.]

Doland claims that the need to have freedom on earth but not in heaven is “bizarre” but doesn’t tell us why? He claims that God can never do anything out of necessity but he never responds to my argument that even an omnipotent being cannot—of
necessity—achieve certain given desired ends without following certain preconditions.

Doland2: I’ve got absolute proof that my wife exists, and this isn’t a problem. I can still choose whether I want her or not. Why, then, is it necessary for us to lack absolute proof of God’s existence?

Jensen3: Because with the knowledge that God exists comes the obligation to seek God and to moral obedience. We need to be free to choose these without feeling forced to do so. If we had no choice but to believe that God exists, we would be less free to choose against these moral obligations.

Doland2: Satan, when he chose to rebel against God, had absolute proof of God’s existence. And yet he was still free to choose not to follow God.

Jensen3: But this only shows that with enough knowledge one can still choose against God. But would this still be the case for most people (or angels)? Also, we don’t really know enough about angels or demons to speak seriously about them in such detail. We don’t know that Satan didn’t really think he could get away with his rebellion. Had he known he couldn’t get away with it, I doubt that he would have openly rebelled.

Doland2: God is often called our “Heavenly Father.” If somebody’s earthly father moved to another country and left no forwarding address, but left a few clues lying around as to where to find him, would we consider this earthly father worthy of seeking?

Jensen3: No, because an earthly father isn’t worthy of our seeking to this extreme except under the influence of some vague and subjective sense of filial affection. But once we have the notion of God as our creator and Father, there also comes the sense that something is clearly missing in our lives if we do not find this God and that this God deserves to be searched after. Just think, the creator of all things, the source of all worth and good, the one who cared enough about us to make everything about our world to be such that we could live here; doesn’t the very thought instill a desire to seek God?

Certainly there are some who would not very naturally attain to such an idea: like the child who is taken with her family to a concentration camp. But even though many endure such evil, I think that everyone does get this sense of a desire for God at some time or other unless they simply die too young. We can repress the feeling and even reach the point of believing that we never really did feel this way, but I think we’ve all had at least one initial experience like this. I think God’s Holy Spirit gives everyone that awareness.
God does call us, draw us, to seek God. God wants to know if we will let this spark of a desire grow. God may initiate the spark but we have to feed it and blow on it until it flames. It is by our choice that our deepest obligations become our deepest desires.

God does need to know if we will seek and desire God, for this is what God deserves. Some people feel as though they have known God all their lives. Others, even though they might have only the “few clues lying around,” can come to desire and find God as they respond to those few clues and to the drawing and calling of God’s Spirit.

Jensen3: [above] God does call us, draw us, to seek God. God wants to know if we will let this spark of a desire grow.

Doland4: And yet He fails. He’s omniscient, omnipotent, and yet fails. Hmmm. . . .

Jensen5: Yes, such is the nature of free will. It is not that God couldn’t create us without free will, rather God chose to become self-limited by allowing free will.

Jensen5: In Doland’s first general response to the problem of evil he attempts to critique the “free will defense” of God. He attacks the notion of free will given an omnipotent, omniscient creator. He uses a parable he calls “God the Iron Worker.” If God knows and determines how any material will work or what properties it will have, Doland asks, why does God not know or determine what our free choices will be? I would reply that because the nature of free choice is such that God leaves this as an area outside of God’s control. God could create us so that all of our choices are determined. God instead leaves this power up to the individual. God gives this power to us as a gift. God graciously says, this is an area in which I will not interfere. God does foreknow what our free choices will be (given tenseless time) but what God foreknows is the event occurring. So a foreknown free event cannot be altered by the one who foreknows. It is like my watching someone make a choice. I know what choice is made because I see it being made. If the person were to cease to exist before they made the choice, I wouldn’t know what choice would be made. Likewise, God could not foreknow such a choice since there is nothing to know.

We have no choice but to say that this ability to freely choose comes from God, Doland points out. It must “be created and operate under God’s design.” Agreed. God gives us the ability to freely choose. Doland’s logic now becomes difficult to follow. He says, “My current choices are either a deterministic progression from my starting point of my birth, or ’free will’ magically comes from nowhere, evolving by itself.” We have already seen that our free choices do not come from nowhere or evolve. Why does he think that they must be a determined progression from birth? It seems unlikely that a newborn can freely choose but certainly its nature and determined actions or even determined “choices” make up the individual that at some point will be able to
freely choose. Why does Doland think such an individual will not be able to exercise free will or free choice? He says he is writing this paper because it is consistent with his beliefs and personality. Does this mean he thinks he has no choice but to write what he writes? If he does then he is wrong. Even if all of his prior choices and personality and beliefs have been completely determined, he could still be free to choose now if he is given this ability. He asks, “How could the thing ‘free will’ do anything that isn’t prebuilt into it by its design from God?” By simply being the kind of thing that does not have prebuilt into it the necessity of doing any one thing rather than another.

[Reminder: the following responses apply specifically to the portions of the above paragraphs that are underlined.]

Doland6: What, exactly is “outside of the control” of an omniscient, omnipotent entity? . . . The actual answer is, by definition, NOTHING. If there is anything outside of God’s control, he is by definition, not omnipotent.

What, specifically, is not under the control of God’s design?

Jensen5: Doland says that God would know everything that ever happens in this world as well as in every possible world. But God cannot know what is logically impossible to know any more than God can do what is logically impossible to do. Some aspects or portions of all other possible worlds are impossible for God to know because they are logically impossible to know. That God cannot do the logically impossible has long been assumed and expounded in orthodox theology. Doland complains that theists use this as a means to avoid criticism. Perhaps, but there is nothing ad hoc or dishonest about this as Doland claims. It is just a matter of understanding what a theological position claims and seeing that as a result certain accusations do no apply.

Doland6: What you are saying is that there are limits that not even God can bridge. Some things are impossible, period, even for God. But, then what is the source of “logical limits”? Some theists argue that God Himself defines what is and what isn’t possible. That God could decide, for example that square circles can exist because He defines it so. Others, like you, say that logical limits exist and not even God can do anything about it. But, if so, that more or less obviates a need for God to exist at all! If some things are possible and some things are not, and this is true whether or not there is a God, why do you even need a God then?

Jensen7: Think about what is involved in making a square circle. It isn’t that there is a limit to God’s power in his failure to produce such a thing, rather it is just nonsense. And logic is not something that is outside of God that even God is subject to. God is subject to logic or reason because it is part of God’s nature. This is similar to ethics. It can only be if God exists who is the source of good. God does not arbitrarily choose for reason or the good to exist. Since both are a part of God’s being, God is reasonable and good and by creation gives us of this worth and rationality. So if there were no God and if there were a universe, could there be square circles? No, there could not be; reason would still be universal and unavoidable because it is intrinsic to what is. If something could exist without God, whether abstract or concrete entities, reason would still exist and rule over existence. For something to exist, reason must apply to it. But if that were so, then reason would be separate from God (assuming, remember, that something could exist without God). But since God is the source of reason, without God nothing could exist concerning which reason is a part or over which reason rules. All that exists only exist because God is.

Doland asks, “If some things are possible and some things are not, and this is true whether or not there is a God, why do you even need a God then?” But nothing is possible if there is no God. There would be nothing. We need God for anything to exist. We need God for reason to exist.

Doland6: Further, per my free will article, the Bible specifically states that God interferes with free will purely on God’s whim: “So you see God is kind to some just because he wants to be, and he makes some refuse to listen” (Rom. 9:18).

Jensen7: The passage says, “Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden,” thus Doland’s paraphrase somewhat distorts the meaning. I would argue that this and the previous verses are speaking of God’s involvement in history and not to one’s salvation or to any moral choices for which one is responsible. God does often manipulate our choices to a given end if God wants a particular historical event or outcome to occur. The individual making these choices is not morally culpable for such choices. God may use someone who has set his or her heart to evil for God to achieve a particular purpose; thus they will be morally responsible in the process of God working out certain desired historical ends (e.g. Exodus 9:16). So even when God does interfere in our choices to attain desired historical outcomes, this is not merely God’s whim, and this does not affect my claim that we are free and responsible for moral choices.

The reader may think this passage must be speaking of God controlling our moral choices, perhaps even the choices that will determine our salvation, and holding us responsible for those choices, since it speaks of having mercy on individuals. But this can also be seen as fitting God’s historical purposes. The first passage in the Hebrew Scripture that the apostle Paul is citing speaks of God choosing to judge or have mercy on individuals who for their actions deserve judgment (Exodus 32:33, 33:19). The second group of passages alluded to speak of God hardening one who had originally hardened his own heart at least several times (Exodus 8:32, 9:34; cf. 10:1, 20, 27, 11:10, 14:8). As they continue to rebel against God, God eventually gives them up to their desires as Romans 1 explains. So the Romans 9 passage cannot mean that God chooses to have mercy on or to harden innocent people for no reason but God’s whim alone. God could show mercy on those who deserve judgment or God could choose to bring about judgment: that is entirely up to God, Paul is saying. Either way, the judgment or the mercy, whether God kills the Israelites who rebelled during the Exodus or allows them to live, has nothing to do with God’s final judgment. That judgment will be completely just. God will not arbitrarily choose to allow to live some who do not deserve to live. The only mercy there will involve the proffered mercy of Jesus’ sacrifice which can only be accepted or rejected. Our final judgment depends upon our choice, it depends upon our moral and salvific choices God has given us opportunity to make. It is always because of one’s initial choice or choices that God brings judgment or further hardening to then bring judgment.

To claim that God arbitrarily chooses who will be saved and who will be lost (damned) thus overriding or denying any human free choice, as many Calvinists and Muslims claim, contradicts a very foundational teaching of Scripture. Peter had a vision that coordinated with the vision of another person Peter would soon encounter. By this means God initiated the beginning of the spread of Christianity to Gentiles and not only to the Jews. Peter said, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right,” (Acts 10:34-36, TNIV). The King James says God is “no respecter of persons.” This means God depends on human choice and does not otherwise choose—show arbitrary favoritism to determine—those who will be saved. God does not at his own whim alone pick some to be his favorites and condemn the rest. [First and last paragraph revised and second paragraph added 27Mr10.]

. . .

Doland6: You have a God that knows everything that is ever going to happen, and yet somehow “repents” of His own actions! . . . [e.g., Genesis 8:20-21.]

Jensen7: There might be a sense of sadness in God’s promise never again to destroy the earth by flood. God is certainly grieved over the judgment that had to be carried out. This is stated elsewhere in Scripture. God can possess seemingly conflicting emotions just as humans do. But God never said, “I wish I had never done this.” My point was that Doland was claiming regret for causing the flood when the text indicates nothing of the sort. Yet none of this matters anyway since I’ve already admitted God repented of creating humanity in chapter 6 and the issue of repentance or regret is the issue Doland wants to argue is inapplicable to God. And there are other passages that indicate God “regrets” or is sorrowful at having to punish the wicked. God can be sorrowful at having to punish the wicked and be sorrowful at even having created humanity and yet have joy in knowing the enormously greater good that will come through our creation.

Imagine that you are a surgeon and you have a son who has a disability that keeps him from being able to walk. His life is so filled with anguish when he watches other children run and play and he wishes so much he could do the same. You learn of a surgical procedure that can give him back the use of his legs but it is very painful. You do the surgery and your son looks at you as you cause him so much suffering. He is too young to understand why you are doing this and may even think you don’t love him any more. But this is the only way you can heal him. You have great sorrow and anguish at causing him this pain and yet at the same time you have joy knowing the results that will come of this. As your scalpel cuts into your son’s leg you even have a strong desire not to be doing this surgery. Yet another part of you is glad that you are doing this because you know what the outcome will be. As you deal with and seek to reconcile these conflicting emotions and desires you ultimately come to accept that it is for the best and your desire to do the surgery, in fact your joy in doing it, outweighs your desire not to do it. Likewise God has great anguish over the pain God inflicts or allows to be inflicted upon us both when we deserve it and when we do not, but God also has great joy in anticipating the results that will come of this. We can even say that God regretted creating us and inflicting deserved punishment and allowing undeserved suffering while at the same time God rejoiced that these were done because of the great good that will come of them. Like the surgeon, the desire for the greater good causes God to ultimately wish and choose and desire our creation and our needed sufferings. With this analysis I hope Doland understands how God can regret and repent of our creation and sufferings while still desiring them.

Doland6: Further, even if we forget about the omniscience issue, repentance implies making an error, but God is perfect! How can a perfect entity make an error to repent of? And if God Himself can make errors, then by what rationale can He punish people for all eternity? God can make mistakes, but humans aren’t allowed to under threat of eternal damnation? Can I send God to hell for His mistakes? Honestly, it just blows my mind that theists don’t see how utterly preposterous what they propose is!

Jensen7: I have shown that repentance and regret in this case do no indicate making an error. Think of my illustration of the surgeon. Part of him regretted and repented of doing the surgery, part of him rejoiced in doing it. There was no error in his thinking. And people are not condemned for making mistakes, they are condemned for knowingly rejecting God and God’s offer of salvation. So much for Doland’s imagined “utterly preposterous” theistic claims.

Doland8: Humans, being imperfect, can find themselves in situations like the surgeon, that he is forced to make a choice that is overall the best and yet has negative aspects. A PERFECT GOD COULD NEVER BE SO CONSTRAINED! I’ve said this repeatedly.

Jensen9: And I’ve repeatedly argued that this is not true. And Doland has not responded to my argument. It is logically impossible to attain the greater good without allowing suffering. Thus God is constrained.

Doland10: Please demonstrate this alleged logical impossibility.

Jensen11: Okay, I’ll give it again. Let me see if there is some way I can present it a little differently. I think Doland has admitted (or will admit) that we cannot be responsible if we are determined in our choices, either biochemically or any other way. So if we are free in our choices, not determined, we are responsible for our choices. It is a greater good that we freely choose the good, and most significantly, that we choose for God freely, than that we choose God and the good by being determined to do so. It is better that we be responsible or culpable and thus free in our moral/spiritual choices than that we be determined.

It is also a greater good that we freely choose to continue to honor and commit ourselves to the God who deserves our commitment in the face of undeserved suffering that God allows to come to us, than that we be determined to so choose. This is the case even given the possibility that we freely choose against God. So to attain this greater good, there must be human pain and we must be free in our moral choice.

A free choice cannot be determined. A free choice cannot be foreknown since the future is (at present) nonexistent and the agent cannot make a free choice until the time of that choice occurs. Non-free choices can be foreknown since God can simply determine what the choices will be by setting up the necessary causal chain to reach that end. (Given a tenseless or B theory of time, all of time is one and complete. As such, God can foreknow such choices. This is much the same a remembering a free choice made yesterday. The agent was no less free in making the choice even though as we look back at it, it is unalterable.)

So God is constrained by logical necessity that follows from the nature of free will. It is something God cannot control by the very definition of free will and it is something God needs to allow us in order that the greater good occur.

Now the form of the more general argument as Kreeft presented it is more like this: It is logically impossible that the greater good occur without suffering and therefore necessary that there be suffering for the greater good to occur. God desires the greater good to occur. Thus God may be constrained by logical necessity to allow suffering in order to attain the greater good. Here there is no argument for logical necessity or impossibility; rather, since there is undeserved suffering, it must be in some way logically necessary for a greater good to occur which God desires. Why else would God allow it unless God had to in order to attain his desired end? So it is not the case that it is more likely that God is impotent, evil, or non-existent. Rather, it is more likely that God has to do it this way to attain the end God desires and it is only logic that constrains the choices God can make. “If there is a God . . .” does not run into a self-defeating conclusion as critics have said. Rather, there is a very reasonable and likely alternative left.

Doland12: You STILL have not demonstrated why evil is necessary in this. If God wants me to be able to freely choose him, why is it necessary that I also be free to choose to go rape someone? This does not follow. And why is it that my free will to choose to rape someone should be able to override someone else’s free will to not be raped just because I happen to be stronger or quicker than my victim? If God is really into this “free will” thing, He should make it to where any potential victim’s free will is just as important to the outcome of events as the free will of any potential perpetrator.

And what about natural disasters? If I am right about there being no God, then there is no “evil” intent with natural disasters, they just happen. But if you are right, then God premeditatedly put in the ocean a fissure that he knew would eventually create an earthquake and a tsunami that killed roughly a quarter million people. So, if YOU are right, YOUR God commits acts of premeditated evil, with evil intent.

Jensen13: God does premeditatedly allow suffering like tsunamis, but not with evil intent. That is, suffering is needed. It must occur so that the greater good will occur. [Added 27Fb15.]

Let’s not confuse levels of argument. I’ve not proven that there has to be evil in the world for God to able to bring about a greater good; I’ve only given a plausible theodicy that involves a
claim that there is a logical necessity that requires at least certain types of evil (such as undeserved suffering) and free will for the greater good to be done. With a plausible theodicy that involves a claim that a particular logical impossibility is involved or even with merely a plausible theistic defense (Kreeft’s argument) it is demonstrated that an argument against God’s goodness or power or existence does not work. If it is understood that God cannot do the logically impossible and if it seems plausible that it is logically impossible that the greatest good can occur without suffering, then it is clear that a perfect God is constrained to attain God’s desired goal. I haven’t given a syllogism with an undeniable conclusion that follows inexorably from undeniable premises, if that is what you were looking for.

To refute my argument you have to show that one or more of my premises do not work or the conclusion does not follow. You have dwelt on the issue of free will, which is a good tactic if you could demonstrate that free will is not possible or likely. Just show that it is more reasonable to believe that there cannot be free will than that there can be and you would win the argument. But this you have not been able to do. I think you have shown that it is more reasonable to think that there is no free will given naturalism, but you have not done so assuming theism. And since there is otherwise nothing prima facie more likely about naturalism than theism, your argument fails.

First you ask, “If God wants me to be able to freely choose him, why is it necessary that I also be free to choose to go rape someone? This does not follow.” First of all recall that my primary theodicy claimed that the victim has to be able to choose God in the face of undeserved suffering. God deserves our commitment, the suffering will be compensated (to the point that it will seem as though it had not been), and God’s reason for allowing the suffering will be fulfilled (the testing of our choice for God in the midst of suffering which God allows). So God still deserves our commitment, God will give compensation; God just needs to know what our choice will be and we need to be creatures who have as part of their definition: moral agents who freely choose God in the face of suffering. Remember, this is what I called the Jobian theodicy or the recipient or patient oriented theodicy. The important issue is what the recipient of undeserved suffering chooses.

What you bring up (your hypothetical choice to rape someone) relates to the agent oriented theodicy. Why does God allow someone to inflict pain on someone else? The traditional agent oriented free will theodicy responds to this. Here it is claimed that God desires to know what we will freely choose in our choice to do evil or good to others as well as in our choice to accept or reject God. Free choice is important since one’s choice must be free for one to be responsible.. As with the recipient oriented theodicy, by making this choice one becomes a different person one could not become without this choice.

The deficiency in this theodicy, if taken as the only theodicy one would use, is that we can imagine that its purpose could be fulfilled without pain occurring. If we need to freely choose, if God needs to know what our choice might be in choosing the good or the evil, God could allow that without suffering. God could create us in a kind of dream world. We could think about the decision to do evil like raping someone, make the choice, and whatever our choice might be, no one would be hurt. Our victim is just a part of our dream. So the agent oriented theodicy can only be tagged on if the recipient oriented theodicy is already employed. That is, God allows us to be the agents of this suffering, to be free to choose to inflict pain, since there has to be suffering in the world anyway given the recipient oriented theodicy.

And we must not forget that there is also the observer oriented theodicy. Here God asks us what we will do when we see others suffering. Will we seek to stop or mitigate the suffering? Will we seek to have God’s compassion on those who suffer? God seeks to know our choice and by our choice we become beings we couldn’t have been otherwise. Like the agent oriented theodicy, it is not necessary that there be pain in order for the purpose of this theodicy to be fulfilled. God could create us in a kind of dream world in which we seek to have compassion on those we take to be suffering even though they are not actually in pain. However, since pain already has to exist given the recipient oriented theodicy, the purpose of the observer oriented theodicy can be fulfilled in a world of actual pain. [Minor changes last three paragraphs 27Fb15.]

I’m sorry I had to review a long argument that I’ve presented long ago in this debate. I could have omitted discussion of the agent oriented theodicy had you not brought up issues involving that argument. But you speak as if you had never heard my recipient oriented argument before. The recipient oriented theodicy answers the problem of natural evil: the tsunamis, the earthquakes in Haiti, etc., and yet you don’t seem to even recall my argument. I also could have omitted mention of the observer oriented theodicy except that it helps to mitigate the force of your rape example. If observers, friends, relatives, and others in any relationship with the victim and perpetrator had fulfilled their responsibility, the rape might never take place: the mother praying for her son whom she suspects is doing something that is very wrong, the friend who is troubled about his friend’s behavior and thinks about trying to dissuade him (the rapist) from going out that night, the stranger who sees the man grab the woman in the back alley and decides on whether to intervene, etc. It may be necessary that some evil occur, but it need not be as bad as it turns out if we fulfill our responsibility. Think of how different the holocaust would have been had more professed gentile Christians obeyed their Lord’s commands and hid and sheltered the Jews and resisted the Nazis.

So by allowing tsunamis God does not commit “acts of premeditated evil with evil intent,” rather God allows suffering with intent to bring about the good of allowing free agents the choice for or against God in the face of suffering. After it’s all over, for many, a very great good will be produced, the good of becoming ones who have chosen God in the face and midst of suffering. This is a much greater good than could occur without allowing suffering. And don’t tell me it’s not worth the cost. It definitely is if all undeserved suffering is compensated.

[Doland does continue his argument that free will cannot exist and thus that any kind of free will defense of God in response to evil must fail. I think we have covered the core arguments above but the reader may follow the details of his continuing argument in the more complete debate PDF under the headings “Free will, causal determinism, and the problem of evil” and following.]

. . .

Jensen3: [Concerning the Canaanite conquest], because of the wickedness of a tribe or nation, God had decided to judge them by killing all the guilty adults as well as the innocent children.

Doland4: And you call this “just”? . . . What a crock of . . . .

Jensen5: I wasn’t going to respond to this answer since I had done so already in my discussion . . . elsewhere in my last response paper. Doland has not responded to this answer. I would encourage the reader to look over this response again [in the PDF]. . . . It is the reader who must determine who has given the better response. I will summarize my last answer once more:

I admitted killing the innocent involves undeserved suffering. But it is not unjust of God to allow or even dispense such suffering so long as at least equal compensation for the suffering is provided and so long as God has good justifying reason for dispensing this suffering. I have claimed that the justifying reason for most cases of undeserved suffering has been the testing of our faith or the testing of our choice concerning God, and the testing of our choice as to how we respond to others who suffer. In the case of the Canaanite children, the reason has more to do with using this as a means of punishing the adults and causing their linage to cease. Again the victims, the innocent children, lost nothing in the long run. God will give them opportunity to fulfill the reason for their existence; they will have the chance to choose for or against God and all undeserved suffering will be compensated. [Small revisions in this paragraph for clarification, 23Fb15.]

The above can be found in the complete PDF on pages 6-21, 24, 26-41, 49-51, 111-113, 51-53, 97-104, 253-254.


Revisions and alterations were added and noted in brackets within or at the ends of the some of my paragraphs. These were added primarily to add clarification. Any new material Doland has not seen is noted as such and should not be seen as part of the debate proper. They are added merely to give new information relevant to the debate.


Paul Doland’s critique of Strobel’s
The Case for Faith, is entitled “The Case Against Faith.” See also J. P. Holding’s critique of Doland’s article. Paul also has gone under the pseudonym Paul Jacobsen and is addressed in Holding’s critique by that name. At his web site, Doland has other critiques of Strobel’s series the reader might wish to look at. One may also look at Doland’s articles containing portions of this debate (obscenities and all).

Doland’s reporting of the debate

The reader may find it interesting how feasible some of Doland’s arguments appear at first sight when he makes sure most of my responses are not included. Even without my responses, the plausibility of some of his statements will easily be lost once the reader takes the time to think carefully about them. In the reproduction of the full debate, I have edited out some of the excessive repetition found in the original, but I have included all of the arguments. No points Doland had considered important have been omitted.


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