"I firmly declare," averred the pious Dr. M, "that the existence of horrendous suffering does not count in the slightest against the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, and infinitely benevolent God."
"How do you figure?" replied the skeptical Dr. X. "Think of all of the horrible things in the world we try our utmost to prevent, from murder to cancer. If any human being had the power to rid of us these things, but refused to use that power, we would not hesitate to question his morality. If God exists, surely He has the requisite power, yet clearly He fails to use it. Doesn't that give us at least some reason to believe that He is not perfectly good?"
"It gives us not even the faintest whisper of a reason," responded Dr. M.
"How do you figure?" repeated Dr. X, frowning.
"My dear Dr. X," said Dr. M, "you do admit that there are certain goods that one cannot have unless they are prefaced with suffering? For instance, it hurts to get an immunization shot, but it is needed for good health, correct?"
"Quite so," said Dr. X.
"And does the child receiving the immunization understand why it is needed, or does the child only dread the pain?"
"He only dreads the pain."
"Will a benevolent parent, then, spare the child the pain, or will he do what is needed to ensure the health of the child, even at the expense of the pain of a shot, which the child cannot understand?"
"He will protect the health of the child, of course."
"Think, then," said Dr. M, "about how we stand in relation to God. God's knowledge is infinite, whereas ours is finite. We are, therefore, like children before God. How do we know, then, that there is no greater good of which God is aware and we are not, that is made possible only by our suffering? How do we know that rape and murder and torture and cancer are not all like immunizations administered by a loving doctor? The fact that God permits suffering cannot be evidence against his goodness unless we could rightly expect any greater purpose behind our suffering to be evident to us. But because of the infinite gulf between our knowledge and God's, we should not expect such a purpose to be evident to us. Thus, no amount of suffering could possibly constitute any evidence against the goodness of God."
"Hmm," mused Dr. X, "I'm not convinced."
"That's unfortunate," said Dr. M. "for the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, and then, of course, it will be too late to become a Christian."
A few years passed, and then the day of the Lord came, like a thief in the night. Dr. M certainly felt the greatest regret that Dr. X, who had still not become a Christian, would be consigned to Hell, but as for himself, he looked forward to receiving his prize.
What a shock, then, when he stood before the Throne of Judgment, and, instead of welcoming him to eternal paradise, God stepped down from the Throne, wielding a wicked, blood-encrusted flail, and began to flog Dr. M mercilessly, cackling with lunatic delight. Hours later, when Dr. M was lying practically insensible on the ground, nearly every one of his bones broken, and the very skin flayed from his flesh, God gave Dr. M a solid kick, and sent him tumbling into the lake of fire. Dr. M landed next to the equally broken Dr. X, who, trying to make the best of a bad situation, was making an effort to smoke his pipe, which itself was in flames.
"Well, hello, Dr. M," said Dr. X. "Quite extraordinary if you look around: your infinitely benevolent God has dumped everyone in here, Christian and non-Christian alike, and after such horrible torture, too. What do you think of Him now?"
"On the contrary," said Dr. M, "none of this counts in the faintest against the goodness of God. We are still finite, and He is still infinite. We still cannot know that there is not some greater good which requires all of this."
Dr. X raised his eyebrows, and replied, reflectively, "Hmm."
A thousand years passed in the lake of fire, with some new, grotesque violation visited daily upon all of the inhabitants by a gleeful God, and Dr. X once again asked the question of Dr. M.
"Do you think you have sufficient evidence now?"
"No," said Dr. M. "This doesn't serve as even the most minute particle of evidence against the goodness of God. There is still an eternity of time left. The time that has passed has been finite. It is still possible that there is some greater good that requires us to suffer horribly for a thousand years, and which requires God to act as though he is enjoying torturing us. We can't expect that we would understand this reason, since our minds are like the minds of children compared to His."
"Hmm," replied Dr. X, puffing on his pipe.
One hundred thousand billion eons later, nothing had changed.
"Well," said Dr. X, "the logic is still the same. Do you still think there's no evidence against the infinite goodness of God?"
"No," sighed Dr. M. "He's a jerk."
"Yes," said Dr. X, "I realized it from the start."
If you worry that I am tilting at a straw man, I sympathize with you, but read the exchange between William Rowe and the team of Daniel Howard-Snyder and Michael Bergmann in Michael Peterson's Contemporary Debates in Philosophy of Religion (Blackwell, 2001).
Copyright ©2009 Mark Vuletic. The electronic version is copyright ©2009 by Internet Infidels, Inc. with the written permission of Mark Vuletic. All rights reserved.