“Why would a loving God allow suffering?”
When I was an atheist, my arguments against God’s existence were often based on specific assumptions. For example, I can remember asking rhetorically, “Why would a loving God allow suffering?” My assumption, of course, was that if we can’t answer this question, then we shouldn’t believe in God.
Of course, Christians will readily concede that we cannot answer such a question. As the Book of Job makes clear, we cannot possibly understand God’s wisdom. Therefore, the more important issue is, why would we conclude that because we cannot answer a question, there must not be an answer at all? Is that how it works for anything else in life? If I don’t understand calculus, do I conclude that calculus must not exist? Do I doubt the existence of engineers and math teachers who do understand calculus? If I don’t understand the technology behind such devices as lasers and computers, do I jump to the conclusion that such machines must not be real?
We have little problem in everyday life knowing that there are things we do not understand but that other people do. Why, then, does the atheist insist that if we are unable to grasp the motivations of a Being infinitely smarter and more knowledgeable than ourselves, then somehow we are justified in ruling out the existence of such a Being?
“There’s no proof that God is real.”
The atheist operates on a similar unquestioned assumption when it comes to the line, “There’s no proof that God is real.” This assumes we must not believe in anything without ironclad proof.
Interestingly enough, the very word “proof” is not as clear as some would think. Can we prove God’s existence by way of immediate observation? Of course not. Next question: Don’t we routinely believe in facts that are established without such direct proof?
Most of our knowledge base comes from secondary sources. Our understanding of history, science, and current events is largely based on what other people have told us. We trust the general accuracy of textbooks, educational institutions, teachers, journalists, scientists, etc. And we don’t regard ourselves as especially gullible for doing so. And yet, tell an atheist that you trust the credibility of the Bible, and you will often be treated as though you are foolish.
The truth is, the atheist has no real answer to that question.
Different Standards of Proof
Court proceedings in the United States use differing standards of proof. Criminal cases use “proof beyond a reasonable doubt,” which means the state must prove the defendant’s guilt to a near certainty, leaving little room for doubt or error. It is considered the highest burden of proof.
But most civil cases– monetary lawsuits, child custody disputes, and many other important proceedings– only require proof “by a preponderance of the evidence.” This means the plaintiff must prove that his or her allegations are more likely true than not. Only a likely probability of truth, rather than a near certainty, is necessary to win the case.
When atheists imply that no one should believe in God without the equivalent of proof beyond a reasonable doubt of God’s existence, they have framed the debate in a way that inevitably leads to atheism. Obviously we cannot provide proof beyond a reasonable doubt that God exists, and furthermore, what meaningful value would faith be if there were such ironclad proof?
When we allow this assumption– that no one should believe in God without proof to a near certainty– to go unchallenged, we have let the atheist back us into a corner.
In fact, God’s existence is more likely true than not, and if we were to address the question using the preponderance standard, we can see how the case for God can be made. We easily observe around us an intricately ordered universe. The predictable laws of nature, the variety of plant and animal life, and the mystery of how purely physical brain tissue can somehow generate a sentient being capable of subjective (nonphysical) experience. All of these phenomena strongly suggest that the universe itself is the product of deliberate design.
This leads to two likely conclusions:
1) The universe was created by a very smart, very powerful being who is nonetheless not God;
2) The universe was created by God.
If the first conclusion is true, then we are left with the unanswered question of how that creator came to be. After all, it makes just as little sense to think that such a creator came from nothing as it does to think that the universe came from nothing. It is only when we get to the second conclusion that we can hypothesize, citing St. Anselm’s definition of God, the greatest possible being that can exist.
If the universe was created by God, then it was created by the greatest possible being: a being who is the greatest in all directions and in all ways. Greatest in power, greatest in wisdom, in knowledge, and in goodness/love. Infinite and morally perfect.
Such a Being would not need a cause for its existence because an entity whose existence needed to be caused by something else could not, by definition, be the greatest possible being. Thus, only God would require no precondition or explanation for His existence. Any lesser being would.
Therefore, it is more reasonable to conclude that the universe was created by God.
Note: The author welcomes any comments or questions about his faith and journey. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org