Is it likely that God exists, given the existence of evil? — The Problem of Evil (Part 3)

This post is part of an ongoing series. Click to view part 1, and part 2. In part 2 we dealt with the logical problem of evil, concluding that the existence of evil does not present a logical problem for Christian theism. Today we will examine another form of the problem of evil.

THE PROBABILISTIC PROBLEM

Most philosophers today realize that there is no logical problem of evil as Hume, Mackie, and others have proposed. Nevertheless, the problem of evil is still alive—it has merely changed its form. The form that exists today is known as the Evidential Problem, or the Probabilistic Problem. That is, given the amount of evil evident in our world, it is improbable that an omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent being exists.

The issue with such an argument is that probability is only as good as the data you begin with. If one begins with inaccurate or incomplete data, his probability conclusions will likely be lacking. Let’s take an example of incomplete data to illustrate this point. Mitch Stokes writes,

Imagine you know that, years ago, you had a student who failed every math course he took, sometimes twice. Now, given what you know, the probability is very low that this student would go on to become a stellar engineering student, acing every mathematics course in graduate school. (This is in fact why colleges look at the student’s transcripts.)[1]

But then he goes on to say,

But then imagine you find out that, during his first year in college, he decided to get down to business and work diligently while also learning the proper study methods. You discover that all through high school this student was holding back, an under-achiever of the first order. Now given everything you know, the probability of this student being an excellent engineering student is much higher.[2]

All that is needed to show that something that seemed improbable is in fact probable, is to provide further information. Now let’s relate this to the probabilistic problem of evil. For the sake of argument let’s assume that, given the information we currently have about the evils of the world and about the Christian conception of God, it is improbable that the Christian God exists. Even if this were true, it would not constitute a very strong argument. For how do we know that there is no further information about God or His plan that would reorient us to see evil in a different light?

This problem is compounded when one realizes the radical otherness of God—His holiness and transcendence. “[W]e are not in a good epistemic position to make these kinds of probability decisions with any sort of confidence,” writes J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig, “As finite persons, we are limited in space and time, in intelligence and insight. But the transcendent and sovereign God sees the end of history from its beginning and providentially orders history so that His purposes are ultimately achieved through human free decisions.”[3] His thoughts are not our thoughts, neither are His ways our ways (Isaiah 55:8). When Job questioned God in the midst of his suffering, God answered in part,

Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge? Dress for action like a man; I will question you, and you make it known to me. Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements—surely you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? (Job 38:2-6).

If one wants to call into question the existence of the biblical God, intellectual honesty requires that he take seriously what the Bible says about Him. The Bible says that He is infinite and beyond full human comprehension. His ways are not our ways. Probability will not work because there is an infinite storehouse of further information that no statistician can take into account. In reality, the only god that the probabilistic problem can successfully discredit is the atheist’s own conception of God. And that is a god who, by definition, nobody believes in.

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[1]Mitch Stokes, A Shot of Faith (to the Head): Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists (Thomas Nelson, 2012), 194.

[2]Ibid.

[3] James Porter Moreland and William Lane Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview (InterVarsity Press, 2003), 543.

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