Today I went to a debate where an atheist and a Christian discussed the problem of evil.

In order to head off the free will defence of the problem of evil, the atheist said that he did not believe in free will, and claimed that believing in free will itself was problematic for any number of reasons. Essentially he described a world where people are entirely shaped by the world which we live in.

He then went on to say the actual world which we live in for has all sorts of pain, suffering and evil in it – and by implication God condones this suffering, in apparent contradiction to God being all-loving. He described other possible ways in which God could have “tinkered” with the world so there would be less pain and apparently be more loving.

This for me, as I sat there and watched the debate, seemingly caused all sorts of problems understanding his point of view. He viewed himself, and everyone else, as purely a product of this world, which I thought was fair enough. But in these other, seemingly better worlds he described, he simply wouldn’t exist. None of us would.

So the question arises, what if God loved us? Not just mankind, or something like mankind in one of these alternate worlds, but us as we are. The individuals who actually exist. You. Me. I have no idea why a perfect God would love us, but imagine for a minute that he did. That is surely a wonderfully good thing.

But on his own view, who we are is shaped solely by the of the environment which we live in. So to allow God’s love for us to be expressed he would have to allow us to live, seemingly God also has to allow the environment which does that, which includes pain and suffering.

When I asked him, after the debate, he gave the answer that we could still exist in another world. I am not sure, on his view at least, how that can be so. If who we are is entirely a product of our environment, how can we develop in another environment? It seems to me that we couldn’t. But to be honest, I don’t know. It might be possible. To get the argument to go through, someone would have to show that it is actually the case that the exact same person (whatever that means) can be a product of two entirely different environments. That’s a whole other debate, and one I’m far from convinced about.

PS. I would really like to know if anyone has thoughts about this. I really want to know what’s wrong with it. Is this a long debunked line of reasoning? Is there someone advocating it? What is wrong with it? Comments are welcome. Criticism is encouraged!

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llorar a lágrima viva by nyki_mI’m currently reading Tim Keller’s book, Reason for God, which is surprisingly good. Here is one sermon he gave on the problem of evil and suffering which I found inspiring. I am thinking more and more (after reading NT Wright) that this question can’t be divorced from the resurrection, how much God is willing to suffer for us and the victory that wins over evil.

Thank you to logos-redux for putting me on to this and nikim for the image.

Alpha OmegaYesterday William Lane Craig’s debate appeared on youtube, and he repeated some of this at a lecture in Cambridge. In it he offered a particular picture of how God relates to people, and God’s possible motives for allowing evil in the world. Specifically, he suggested that this world is the one in which most people can come to find God. It is an answer, but is it the right answer?

Alpha and Omega ministries say no. Check it out.