Evangelism Politics Theology

The Apologetic of Evil (Part Three)

This is part three of my Keswick lecture – at least in note form. In this one we look at the difficult question of the purpose of evil – how can it be turned to good?



  1. David, your insight into the problem of Suffering seems to be a continuation of “Thank God for suffering so I can appreciate something that isn’t suffering”. For example, when the Apologist says “Suffering/Evil allows us the opportunity to commit acts of kindness, bravery and other goods.” But this is absurd. It’s simply an outcome of the situation. If there is a blackout, it creates an opportunity for people to help the elderly neighbor next door, or create the opportunity for someone to break into a store to steal something. An Act (“evil” or “good”) is what it is, it simply creates opportunities for people to act. What we call “Good” is not based on God, it’s based on our ability to recognize what we would prefer others would do in the same situation.
    All we are doing is comparing two things: one that we like, one that we don’t. Good vs. Evil.
    How we deal with suffering is different for everyone. People who believe in Jesus, or Krishna will have their own platitudes – none of them need to reflect reality. After all, who cares what a person thinks if it helps them relieve their suffering? But, to claim ones religion is true because it helps one relieve suffering is not rational.
    Let’s be rational.

      1. That is an irrational assertion. There are rational reasons to believe there are no gods. Personally, it think you know, deep down in your “soul” – in the blackest depths of your fears – there is no God and all your machinations are an effort to create a diversion so you don’t have to deal with this reality. Death and the nothingness that follows scares the Hell out of you. It does me too – but I’m not going to make up stories, put on rose-colored glasses and make hopeful assertions based on scared, ancient men’s ideas of what they would like to be true. Mortality is scary. Christianity, and other religions, are packaged by and sold to people too scared to confront that reality. In a way, it’s the cowards way out. It allows a person to talk about everything but the real issues: Life, Death and that we are ultimately alone but for the bonds we can forge. I don’t dispute Christianity can be a salve to scared people, but that doesn’t make it moral or true.

      2. Brent – can I just thank you – I have had a train journey this afternoon and your posts have provided an amusing distraction! Now you know what I really think deep down! Is this how your atheist irrationality operates? If you wish it to be true then eventually it will come true. You will of course find that the reality is different to what you so desperately want to believe. Christians face up to death – atheists either hide from it, run away or deceive themselves as to what it really is. Sadly when you die you will find out exactly what it is – it is appointed to man once to die and after that to face judgement. I pray that you will come to see that before it is too late.

      3. When I die, I will be dead, not alive somewhere with feelings and other functions that living bodies perform. I don’t even think you understand how irrational it is to think that death still means you have functions of a living body.
        Promising your Big Brother is going to sort me out after I have offended your belief in him is a very childish tactic. I’m sure Muslims do the same thing to you – imagine what you feel about them, and you’ll know how I feel about you doing it.

      4. You of course are presupposing that your materialist view of yourself is the only correct view. You have no evidence for this – you just believe it. YOu clearly don’t understand what Christianity teaches. We believe that our body does indeed die, but that we have a living soul….we also believe that that body will be resurrected. God has set eternity in the hearts of men….I have been at many death beds – very few people really believe that it is the end.

      5. 1. I have no evidence for materialism? Did Jesus bleed and die – was he made of material? If not, then what’s the big deal about his death? To assume there is nothing other than material is a very small leap. It’s your burden to prove there is Material Plus.
        2. I understand what Christianity teaches: anything the Christian wants to claim it teaches. Very few people want to believe this is the end. Your argument here is an Argumentum ad Populum – a fallacy. You need to review your Logic 101.

      6. Brent – I think you need to grasp what materialism is. It is not the philosophy that materials exist. It is the philosophy that only materials exist. That is an enormous leap of faith for which you have not one shred of evidence!

        And you need to really grasp what Christianity teaches. Not what any self-proclaimed Christian wants to claim. Christianity is just simply the teaching of Jesus Christ.

        Now what was that you were saying about logic 101….it has been interesting and amusing talking to you but you will forgive me if I don’t respond to all your posts – until you at least evidence some of this logic you keep claiming to have!

      7. David, naturalism/materialism is the philosophy that only material exists. I have given you one important and minimal fact that – at least – requires materialism to be true: matter exists. The next bit of evidence is that nothing else seems to exist outside this framework except in ancient, unverifiable stories.
        Now, as for providing evidence that nothing else exists. Very well, you win that point. Now, please prove that something more than Nature and Supernature doesn’t exist! See how I can play the same game? Can you prove there isn’t a reality beyond your Supernatural belief? Prove there isn’t a Subnatural, or a Hypernatural…. do you see how absurd it is to propose it?
        ONLY nature has been verified. That’s pretty strong evidence it is true. If you have another kind of ‘material” then pony up! Bring it on. Show us. Demonstrate it.

      8. You are most welcome. I know you laugh it off. That’s OK. Also, I really don’t know what you think – but you read my post and that pleases me. However, I don’t think you are human if you haven’t had such thoughts; such crisis of Faith. Only you know the truth of this – and I won’t expect you to say it here: you have an income to protect. Have you ever questioned the existence of God? If not, then how do you know you aren’t simply practicing confirmation bias?
        I disagree that Christians face up to death. Believing their death somehow results in eternal life is not facing up to death. Death is the end. Done. Gone. That is what Christians don’t face. They think Death = Life. That’s delusion.

      9. And again because you deny the omniscience of God, you think you are omniscient! You attribute my motivation to ‘having an income to protect’. I don’t have that materialist motivation – and I would be particularly stupid being a Free Church minister if I did – I get paid the awesome sum of £21,000 per year. Of course I have questioned the existence of God. I have gone through many dark times….however even when emotionally I have felt atheism was right, logically and intellectually it was impossible to accept. Atheism just does not make any rational sense. And in my world rationality trumps emotion. You keep repeating ‘death is the end’ is some vain attempt to avoid reality, as Christians we don’t have that comforting (but dumb) option!

      10. $21,000 for making #%^ up?!?!?! That’s incredible! And I bet you don’t even really need a degree, or even know Hebrew, Greek or Aramaic! All you need to do is keep saying the same things that everyone before you has said – simply regurgitate dogma. The franchise is strong – and it pays pretty well for it’s “cashiers”….

      11. I have two degrees and I do know Hebrew and Greek (the latter better than the former). Take off your prejudices and try to find out what Christianity and the Church is really about – then at least you will know what you are rejecting!

      12. 1. You could have 12 degrees – the point is, you don’t need them to be a religious leader. Jesus didn’t have one, Joesph Smith, I’m not sure about Jim jones or Koresh….
        I spoke to a Franciscan Monk who was bemoaning the fact that to become a monk today, you don’t even need to read the Church Father’s writings, the Apocrypha or other related material – they are so desperate for new members. They’ve lowered their standards. Protestants have even lower standards – you only need a burning in the bosom and a copy of some Josh McDowell pulp.
        2. I think you’ll find I know more about Christinanity than you’d like. It’s fallacious to think if I criticize Christianity that I don’t understand it. I criticize it because I do understand it.

      13. Your last point is contradicted by your first point. You clearly know very little about Christianity….sorry that I can’t help you…I always find that opening up a closed mind takes a lot more power than I have….it needs a miracle!

      14. David, my point is that you don’t need a degree to sell snake oil. And, yes, that is right, I know as much about Christianity as you. This may offend you, but it is true. Christianity isn’t the sole domain of Christians. I can read the Bible too, I can understand mythology. You sound like a Muslim – that I don’t understand it because I’m not all aflutter when i talk about Allah. You think if I don’t love Jesus like you do, I don’t understand Christianity. The Bible is public domain. We can all read it and come to our own conclusion about it. You think it’s an Extreme Book Club – that we need to think it’s the bestest book ever! You are welcome to read my post on Extreme Book Clubs.
        David, seriously, I understand you are passionate about this, but you’ve got to see how this looks from the outside. It’s like you are a teen girl wooing over the latest Tiger Beat star and telling everyone “You just don’t understand me!”

      15. Brent- I agree its a very good idea to look at how things look from the outside! Break free of that funamentalist mindset and you might be able to!

      16. Perhaps some of my impressions of Christianity are from my earlier days of when I was a Christian; taught to me by pastors and priests… You are right, I should break free from that mentality and learn your version, since you are the only one who understands Christianity properly… 😉

  2. >>If we’re able to love, then we have to be able to choose. Love is a choice, and so we have to be allowed to reject it. <>For a Christian, the answer to evil is that we know God is good, and that he knows everything. The minute you let go of one of those, you’ve been defeated. Always hold on to the goodness of God. We know so little in reality.<<

    Now this really is blind faith. If you know so little about God, if his motives are shrouded in mystery because he is so far beyond your comprehension, then it follows that you can know nothing about him or what he wants or what he plans to do.

    Suppose it should suit God's purposes to mislead you about what is good and what is evil, or about what you need to do to be saved, or about whether there is any need to be saved or whether there is even any possibility of being saved? After all, his ways are not your ways, it would be impious arrogance on your part to assume that you can fathom his intentions etc, etc. The problem for you is that if God is incomprehensible in some respects, your grounds for considering him so render him incomprehensible in all respects. This leaves you with no basis for believing anything at all about him or your purpose in his universe – except blind faith.

    1. Not quite grasped the logic of this? God could (and has) revealed himself to us. Logic and reason lead me to faith. The blind faith comes from those who are so arrogant that they think if they cannot comprehend it, it must not exist!

  3. The first part of my comment got lost in the ether, somehow. Here it is again:
    >>If we’re able to love, then we have to be able to choose. Love is a choice, and so we have to be allowed to reject it. <<

    David, you couldn't be more wrong. Love is not a choice. Who chooses to love? Did you "choose" to love your wife? Did she "choose" to love you? That must mean that you could choose to stop loving her. Could you do that? Could she make a choice to stop loving you?

    In fact, real love is characterised by our lack of choice in the matter. Suppose one of your congregation lost his wife. They had been deeply in love so of course, you expect him to be devastated. But not a bit of it. He's out on the town every night having a blast, chatting up women etc. So you ask him – isn't he feeling the loss of his wife? "Oh no," he says. "Since she was dead, I just stopped loving her. She wasn't there any more, so carrying on loving her would have been agony. So I decided not to love her any more. After all, I've got free-will haven't I?" I suggest only two possibilities could explain this scenario:
    1 he was in denial
    2 he never really loved her.

    Love is compelled by feelings which are outside our control. It is manifested by behaviour which is within our control. True love will always be a compulsion and not a choice.

    1. True love is always a compulsion and not a choice? Therein lies the difference between Christianity and naturalism. I did and do choose to love my wife. The fact that you reduce everything to chemistry is sad.

  4. No, what is sad is your cold and sterile view of the human heart. Love is an emotion. We do not choose emotions, we feel them, as anyone who has ever actually been in love will tell you.

    If one of your congregation lost someone they loved and was broken-hearted, would you advise her that she could overcome this grief by the very simple procedure of choosing no longer to love the departed one? If not, why not?

    1. Again thats quite amusing. You think love is a feeling but you also think that that feeling is just chemical. Ultimately therefore love has no meaning. Teh coldness and sterility comes from those who reduce human beings to just a collection of chemicals. Love is, in the words of the prophets ‘Boston’ ‘more than a feeling’. It of course includes feelings. AS regards your widow it is precisely because she chose to love and live with her husband that she will feel loss. Once you make the choice you stick with it (or at least should)…on the other hand in your world because love is just a feeling – you should be able to give her a pill for it and cure her from her grief!

      1. Why should you stick with your choice once made? If you’ve chosen to love someone and they die, or they run off and leave you, why mope? Why shouldn’t you just switch your choice to loving somebody else and achieve instant happiness? If we are all obliged to stick with our choice to love, once made, we presumably would all be obliged to marry our first love. After all, having chosen to love them, we are duty bound to stand by that choice aren’t we?

        If the widow chose to love her husband, why can’t she choose not to love him once he’s gone? And choose not to feel loss, for that matter? Or is it just love that you can choose to feel (or not, as suits you)?

        I do think that love is a feeling, although I would not describe it as “just” a feeling. You seem to hold feelings in very low esteem. Do you not like feelings?

        And why do you imagine that because I think love is “just” a feeling I must believe that it can be cured with a pill? That is a total non sequitur.

      2. Good – now we are getting somewhere. So you admit that love is more than a feeling. What is the more? You stated that love was just a complusion based on feeling. Now you are saying it is something more. Please explain.

        I think you also need to work out the difference between love and lust.

  5. *sigh* No David, I don’t “admit” that love is “more than a feeling”, notwithstanding the gospel according to Boston.

    What I said was that I would not **describe** it as “just a feeling” because in the context you used the term “just a feeling” is dismissive, whereas I think feelings are important. But then again, I am not a cold-hearted Christian like you.

    If you think love is more than a feeling, then you tell me what the more is.

    I have not said a single word to suggest that I am talking about lust rather than love. Far from it. Total and utter straw man. I am the one saying that love is based on emotion. You are trying to reduce it to a rational decision:
    “Today I decided to buy a new pair of shoes and to fall in love with that rather attractive girl I met at the bus stop the other day.”

    You haven’t answered any of my questions:
    Can we chose all our emotions, or is love the only one?
    If we can chose our all our emotions, then why does anyone chose to feel grief or anger or all those negative emotions?
    Could you chose to stop loving your wife, right now, by exercising your free-will? I am not talking about whether you would in fact do so, or what the moral implications of such a choice would be. I am simply asking whether it is even possible.

    1. Indeed – ‘sigh’….so you don’t admit that love is more than a feeling. That means you saying that love is just a feeling.

      From the Christian perspective love includes feelings, actions, words, choices, body, mind and spirit.

      And yes we make choices that effect all our emotions.

      And our emotions like the rest of our lives is affected by our sinfullness.

      Yes I could choose to walk away from my wife – and eventually end up not loving her. I chose not to do so and as a result of that choice our love grows and deepens. On the other hand in your world, if I see a beautiful woman and ‘fall in love’ with her – there is nothing I can do…I just have to go along with my feelings. It is because of such shallowness that the world is in such a mess…

  6. “From the Christian perspective love includes feelings, actions, words, choices, body, mind and spirit.”

    You are confusing different things.
    1. Feelings, which cannot be chosen &
    2. Chosen behaviour/actions which are evidence of those feelings.

    I can choose whether not to eat broccoli. But if I do choose to eat it, I can’t choose whether or not to enjoy the experience.

    You have said that you could choose to walk away from your wife. I don’t doubt that you could (although I don’t doubt that you wouldn’t). But that wasn’t what I asked. I asked if you could choose to stop loving your wife. You might love your wife yet choose to leave her for some reason or you might not love your wife and choose to stay with her. I am just asking whether in either case the emotion of love is chosen.

    The choices, actions and words which are associated with love are not actually love itself. They are the manifestations of love. In the same way that a wish to go and lie down in a darkened room and a disinclination to have sex are manifestations of a headache. But they are not the headache itself. They are not even part of the headache.

    I am not sure what you mean by “I just have to go along with my feelings.” If you mean you would have to have those feelings, then that is true.

    But if you think that I am saying you would have to act on those feelings, then nothing could be further from the truth. How you feel is not a choice. What you do about those feelings is. If you haven’t even understood that much about my position, then you need to go back and read what I’ve actually said.

  7. You have still failed to answer my questions about whether you can choose all your emotions, or whether it is just love.

    “Of course I have questioned the existence of God. I have gone through many dark times….however even when emotionally I have felt atheism was right, logically and intellectually it was impossible to accept. Atheism just does not make any rational sense. And in my world rationality trumps emotion”

    Now this genuinely is interesting. When you emotionally felt atheism was right, was that a choice? Did you think “Hmmmm, let’s see. I could *feel* that atheism is right. Or I could *feel* it was wrong. Of those two feelings, I’m going to choose to feel it is right”?

    Or are feelings about atheism on the list of “feelings we can’t choose”?

    If we can choose our feelings, why did you go through dark times? Why didn’t you just choose to feel optimistic? Choosing to feel all depressed sounds like self-indulgence to me, if you can choose to feel cheerful.

    And I notice that whatever you say about choosing feelings, you seem accept we have no control over another state of mind: belief. You say it was impossible to accept atheism rationally etc. so if it was impossible, presumably you had no free-will on the matter.

    1. If only life was so simple! It is much more complex than that. What we do with our emotions, and what place we give to them in our lives is a choice. Also what we do that affects our emotions is a choice. I of course do not accept that love is just an emotion.

      My impossibility in accepting atheism was not because of an emotion, but because it is so irrational. The only way to be an atheist is to become irrational and choose emotion over truth!

  8. At last we do make some progress! I agree that “what we do with our emotions” (in the sense of whether we indulge them or not by our actions) is a choice.

    We shall have to agree to differ on the question of whether or not it is in possible to choose any emotion. I would only invite anyone still following to ask themselves whether, outside the context of this thread, it would ever have occurred to them that the love they feel for their partner, or the overwhelming love that a parent feels when they see their newborn baby could ever be described as “making a choice.”

    I did not mean to suggest that emotion was responsible for your finding it impossible to accept atheism. My point was that if it was impossible for you to accept because of [your perception of] its irrationality, then you could not have done otherwise than reject it. So your belief in God does not come from your free-will. If it is impossible for you to accept atheism (for whatever reason) then you have no choice. You can only chose between possible options.

    1. No – I could actually have the choice to ignore the evidence and my rationality – and go with my emotion – that is after all what most atheists do!

      1. Ah, but then you would not have believed it, would you? You would have been ignoring the fact that you didn’t believe it to act in accordance with you emotions. Different thing.

        Also, I don’t understand what you mean when you say that you “felt” atheism was right. You didn’t think it was right but you felt it was right? What does that mean? You have said on several occasions that you thought atheism was “cool” but if that’s what you’re referring to that is in no way the same as feeling that it is “right”.

        In any event, do you at least agree that having decided not to go with your mind rather than your heart, you had no free-will as to where your mind led you? If it was “impossible” to accept atheism intellectually and logically, then free will has no place once your intellect and logic are engaged, because nobody can do the impossible.

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