Sunday, November 18, 2012

William Lane Craig's Failed Defense: Suffering Helps People Know God

One defense William Lane Crag gives against the problem of evil is that a world suffused with suffering somehow helps people come to know and love God. One might think a world suffused with suffering would have the opposite effect; after all, a popular reason why some people become atheists is the argument from evil. Still, one can find multiple places where Craig makes the aforementioned theodicy. In William Lane Craig’s second rebuttal with his debate against Stephen Law:
Particularly, when we keep in mind the Christian concept of God and the Christian purpose of suffering—it is not to produce happiness in this life—it is rather to provide a context in which people may freely respond to God and his offer of eternal life and forgiveness and come to know him. And it may be that only in a world that is suffused with suffering of a natural and moral sort that the maximum number of people would freely come to know God and his eternal life.
Another tidbit from William Lane Craig:
Much of the suffering in the world may be utterly pointless, utterly unnecessary, if you think that the goal of life is human happiness. But it may not be unnecessary if God’s goal is to build His kingdom and to draw men and women freely into an eternal relationship with Himself. In fact, we saw, when you read contemporary books on missiology, that it is precisely in those nations of the world that are suffering the greatest deprivation and war and famine and poverty that the growth in the rates of evangelical Christianity is the highest, whereas, in the indulgent Western world (Western Europe and North America), the growth rates are almost flat by comparison. I think it is not at all improbable that it is only in a world suffused with natural and moral evil that the optimal number of persons would come freely to know God and His salvation.

One reason this defense fails is that there’s no reason to think that an omnipotent God couldn’t replace this morally questionable approach with a better way for people to come to know and love him. On Craig’s Christian worldview, God loves us deeply to the point of incarnating himself into a human (Jesus) and dying a painful death for us. So if Craig’s worldview were right, one better way for God to have us come to know and love him seems clear: flood people with knowledge of what God is, God’s love, and what he’s done for them. Christians like William Lane Craig believe God is the locus of moral value, something akin to morality incarnate (we ought to love morality above all else, hence we ought to love God). Having everyone know what God is, the depths of his love and his willingness to incarnate himself into a human being to die for us would certainly be much more effective in drawing people to him than inflicting suffering upon the population—not to mention letting people know of the happiness that they would receive from knowing and loving God (especially in heaven).

Moreover, if suffering great “deprivation and war and famine and poverty” really lead to a greater good of knowing God, we should welcome such suffering, not fight against it. Perhaps deep down Christians tend to know this is bunk, for many such Christians establish charities to fight against these very things.