Friday, October 21, 2011

Saint Bernards, "No see 'ems", and suffering (The Reason for God part 13)

(I'm reading through Tim Keller's book "The Reason for God" and taking my small group through a DVD study based on the book. Over the next few weeks, I'll be blogging about the book, the study, and the discussions occurring in my group.).

In Keller's chapter entitled "How Could a Good God Allow Suffering?", he cites philosopher J.L. Mackie's book entitled, "The Miracle of Theism." Mackie asserts the following:

"If a good and powerful God exists, he would not allow pointless evil. But because there is much unjustifiable, pointless evil in the world, the traditional good and powerful God could not exist. Some other god or no god may exist but not the traditional God."

Yet other philosophers have discovered a flaw, a hidden premise in this reasoning. That premise being that, "If evil appears pointless to me then it must be pointless." This reveals a tremendous amount of faith in one's cognitive faculties. A faith that asserts that, "If I cannot see or comprehend a point to suffering and evil, then there can't be a reason for it."

Philosopher Alvin Plantinga unpacks this hidden premise with his "no see 'ems" illustration. He states that if you were looking in a pup tent for a St. Bernard and you didn’t see one, it is reasonable to assume that there is no St. Bernard in your tent. But if you were looking for a "no see um" in your tent (a tiny sand gnat with a huge painful bite) and you didn't see one, it is not reasonable to assume that they are not there. Because, after all, no one can see 'em.

Keller then notes that "many assume that if there were good reasons for the existence of evil, they would be accessible to our minds, more like a St. Bernard than like "no see 'ems", but why should that be the case?"

Pastoral experience sheds more light on this as well. Over the years, in both my own life and the lives of those around me, tragedy and pain at times bring personal and spiritual growth. If, over time we can see good reasons for suffering in at least some of pain and tragedy of life, then isn't it possible that, from God's point of view, there are good reasons for all of it?

Keller concludes the following, "If you have a God great and transcendent enough to be mad at because he hasn't stopped evil and suffering in the world, then you have (at the same moment) a God great and transcendent enough to have good reasons for allowing it to continue that you can't know. Indeed, you can't have it both ways."

Keller goes on to claim that, while evil and suffering isn't evidence against God, it could actually be evidence for the existence of God.

More on that unusual claim in my next post.

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