Thank you for your opening email. Where I quote from it, I do so in red.
As you point out, not all suffering is without a good side. Some pains warn us about other, greater pain. This is a good indication that we have been designed by natural selection and not by an all-powerful God. Why would a God need to create pains just to warn us of other pains? Is he just patching up mistakes in his design?
This sort of pain is just what we would expect from natural selection, which is a jerry-builder. People get pains from phantom limbs. Why would a God design a body to feel pain in a limb that is no longer there? Many very serious cancers develop without any initial warning pain. Why does God's warning mechanism fail us here?
You write 'It can be argued that a material world cannot exist without the need for pain to protect us from greater pain.' Christian doctrine is that resurrected bodies will be material, physical bodies , able to be touched. So your statement is bad news for people who think there will no longer be pain when they are resurrected.
The Gospels state that the resurrected, material body of Jesus still had wounds which could be touched , yet presumably Jesus was not in pain and not suffering. How can this be , when you argue that pain is God's gift to warn us of the effect of precisely such wounds as Jesus had? Was Jesus's resurrected body capable of walking this Earth and not feel pain? If so, why did God not create this world, so that we also can walk the Earth and not feel pain?
As you point out, "suffering" is different from "good" and "evil". An earthquake can cause much suffering, but can an atheist really say that an earthquake is "evil"? Can an atheist say that an earthquake has evil intentions?
However, I don't see why this is a problem for atheists. The problem of suffering is a Christian problem only - atheists expect suffering to happen, precisely because we don't think of Nature as caring one way or the other about us. It is Christians who say that God created a "good" world and have to explain why Nature inflicts suffering upon us.
Atheists don't have to think of , for example, the HIV virus as being "evil" to know that the world would be better without it. We know that HIV causes great suffering without having to suppose that it was created by an evil force. Surely God could easily have prevented HIV from spreading. After all, the world did without HIV for a very long time. If the level of suffering in the world before HIV spread was compatible with an all-powerful, all-merciful God , why did God allow this extra suffering to occur? If an all-good God is trying to reduce suffering to the minimum level consistent with allowing freedom to human beings, why do new plagues, illnesses and diseases occur? If God is looking after us, we should expect the level of suffering to stay constant or gradually reduce. It should never increase.
While I agree that atheists have real problems saying what is "truly good", I don't see why Christians don't have even worse problems. Do you really believe that Christians know what is truly good? If we have tricky moral problems to solve, will you hold yourself up as the person who can tell us what is truly good?
Christians differ enormously about what is truly good. They disagree about contraception, homosexuality, capital punishment, abortion, divorce, Sabbath laws, animal suffering (e.g. foxhunting), drinking, gambling etc etc.
Christians often say that suffering is caused by people doing evil. However, unless God tells Christians what is truly good , in clear, unambiguous terms, then this defence fails. For people will often do evil when they think they are doing good, because God has not told them what is truly good. For example, some people may think it is acceptable to mutilate male baby children by cutting off part of their penis, because they think God has commanded them to do that. However, if God does not think removing foreskins is truly good, then they are inflicting suffering despite having purely good intentions, contrary to the Christian claim that suffering is caused by people having evil intentions.
If God wants us to do what is truly good, then he should have chosen another medium other than the Bible. There are some 20,000 Christian denominations. Christians themselves cannot agree what the Bible teaches. An all-powerful God who wants his message to be understood would not tolerate such confusion among the very people who want most to understand his message. Accordingly, we can conclude no such God exists.
I look forward to your next email.
Steven Carr's Opening Statement
Mr. Walmsley's Opening Statement
Mr. Walmsley's First Response
Steven Carr's Final Response
Mr. Walmsley's Final Response
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