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Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Believing in God is Tough - Not Believing is Tougher...

Jakarta Street Children: Is This
Evidence Against God's Existence?
I don't have all the answers. In fact, most of the answers I do have tend to spark more questions - and most of the questions I have seem to be unanswerable or have overwhelming evidence to the contrary.

For instance, the pervasive presence of evil in the world and the severity of suffering that innocent children endure are some of the thorniest issues for me to reconcile with the existence of a benevolent and powerful God.

However, despite the significant "evidence" in the form of rampant evil and egregious suffering that refutes the existence of God, here is a compelling illustration from Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga's book The Foundation of Theism: A Reply that helped ease my doubts on the matter:
I am applying to the National Endowment for the Humanities for a fellowship, I write a letter to a colleague, trying to bribe him to write the Endowment a glowing letter on my behalf; he indignantly refuses and sends the letter to my chairman. The letter disappears from the chairman's office under mysterious circumstances. I have a motive for stealing it; I have the opportunity to do so; and I have been known to do such things in the past. Furthermore, an extremely reliable member of the department claims to have seen me furtively entering the chairman's office at about the time when the letter must have been stolen. 
The evidence against me is very strong; my colleagues reproach me for such underhanded behavior and treat me with evident distaste. The facts of matter; however, are that I did not steal the letter and in fact spent the entire afternoon in question on a solitary walk in the woods; furthermore, I clearly remember spending that afternoon walking in the woods. 
In such a case, all the evidence stands against me and yet I know I am not guilty. For the evidence cannot overcome the more basic knowledge I have of the truth of my innocence. Even if the evidence is irrefutable, such that others ought to think me guilty, I myself am not obliged to go along with the evidence for I know better. 
This passage helps reinforce the validity of my own internal witness regarding the truth of the existence of a benevolent and all powerful God - despite the sobering evidence of the existence of evil and suffering.

Ironically, when you look from a different perspective at the evidence of evil and "man's inhumanity to man," I think our ability to recognize evil actually reinforces the existence of God.

As background, evolutionary naturalists such as Bill Provine from Cornell support the premise that good and evil are merely illusions driven by bio-chemical combinations that came together over time in an undirected manner that we can't control. Many atheists believe this principle and reject any difference between good and evil.

But do we believe that as individuals? Do we believe that concept as a society? Do we think that the works of Martin Luther King Jr., Mahatma Gandhi and Mother Teresa are no different than the legacies of Josef Stalin, Adolf Hitler and Osama Bin Laden? Of course not.

Our ability to recognize extreme and lesser evils, forces us to admit that there is some established standard of ultimate morality and good against which evil is measured. That standard of goodness is not merely natural - but is rather "supernatural" in origin. Consider the following two quotes:

"If God does not exist, we should have to invent Him." ~ Voltaire, writer/atheist

"If God is dead than all things are permissible." ~ Fyodor Dostoevsky, writer/author

Anyone who has ever wrestled with this issue ultimately realizes that you cannot prove nor disprove the existence of God. And while I don't have all the answers, I do have a deep belief that there is an ultimate source of good and morality beyond this broken world. That belief is reinforced by the continual healing of my own inner brokenness and a compelling need to help those in need. That's all I need to believe.

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