Skeptic and Southern Evangelical Seminary Christian Apologist Delve into the Problem of Evil
SES Faculty Member Dr. Brian Huffling and Dr. Michael Shermer Address the Question ‘Is the Reality of Evil Good Evidence against the Christian God?’ in Current Issue of Skeptic Magazine
November 12, 2019
CHARLOTTE, N.C.—As part of its 27-year mission to “train men and women, based on the inerrant and infallible written Word of God, for the evangelization of the world and defense of the historic Christian faith,” Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES, www.ses.edu) seeks to create environments where the defense of that faith can be carried out in real-world settings.
Such was the case on Feb. 23, 2019, when Skeptic Magazine editor Dr. Michael Shermer was invited to an on-campus debate with SES faculty member Dr. Brian Huffling on the issue of “If God, Why Evil?”
Now, Shermer has featured the debate and its central question, “Is the reality of evil good evidence against the Christian God?,” in Skeptic Magazine, vol. 24, no. 2, which also includes a response from Huffling.
SES President Dr. Richard Land said the so-called problem of evil is one of the most often discussed topics in apologetics.
“Our goal at Southern Evangelical Seminary is to equip our students to know what they believe and why they believe it and to defend the Christian faith rationally, intelligently and compassionately,” Land said. “This means answering difficult questions from skeptics, atheists and others. Therefore, believers must be prepared to address convincingly and thoughtfully these queries. Our aim is that debates like these will not only spur critical thinking, but also introduce a new group of gifted and dedicated students to Southern Evangelical Seminary. We never shy away from seeking truth at SES. We do so in the firm conviction that ultimately the pursuit of truth will confirm God’s Truth.”
Shermer opens the multi-page article by stating that SES’s “primary epistemology—their core way of knowing—is that ‘we believe sensible reality (i.e., general revelation) is the first truth man comes to know via his intellect. This knowledge is then combined with, and provides the tools for properly understanding, authoritative special revelation given by God (i.e., the Bible).’”
“With this distinctive difference in thinking between religion and science it was not long before both of us realized that we were talking at cross purposes, inasmuch as Dr. Huffling was making philosophical arguments for why the problem of evil was a solvable one for the Christian religion, whereas I was presenting empirical evidence for why I think the problem of evil is an insoluble one for Christians,” Shermer writes.
Shermer goes on to present several solutions to the problem of evil:
- God is all powerful but evil.
- God is all good but not all powerful so he cannot prevent evil.
- God is neither all powerful nor all good, so evil exists.
“My solution to this problem is simple: There is no God!” Shermer adds in the article. “I agree with the Oxford Companion to Philosophy, which concludes that the problem of how a good and loving God can allow evil to afflict its creations ‘has always been the most powerful objection to traditional theism.’”
He also presents the problem of evil for Christians—what he calls the Irrefutable God Problem:
- When good things happen, who gets the credit? God.
- When bad things happen, who gets the blame? Not God!
“So … no matter what happens, the God hypothesis is confirmed,” according to Shermer. “What would disconfirm the God hypothesis? Good things happen so God is. Bad things happen so God is. What would have to happen to refute this causal explanation of evil? In the Christian worldview, nothing can refute it.”
In his response to Shermer’s affirmative answer to the debate question, “Is the reality of evil good evidence against the Christian God?,” Huffling says there is much to “unpack.”
“If our arguments for God are sound, then God is not part of this universe,” Huffling writes. “He is the Creator of all aspects of our known world, which would include matter, time, change, etc. If God is the cause of such things, he could not be material, temporal, changing, etc. We argue that God is an immaterial, spaceless, timeless, unchanging being. Such a being is being itself, lacking nothing. He is infinite in the sense that he is not limited by anything. He is perfect, metaphysically speaking, since he is complete unbounded existence. This is what we mean by perfection regarding God.
“If something exists, it has something good,” he continues, “Existence itself is good. From a theistic point of view, to have existence is to be like God (in a very qualified way), which is a good thing. ‘Evil’ in the philosophical sense is some corruption of a good thing. As Shermer has said, there is nothing that is pure evil. Traditional theists would agree. Even something that has been corrupted, such as an immoral human, would have aspects of goodness, such as existence.
“On this view evil can’t be a thing in itself since it would have to exist,” according to Huffling. “If existence is a good thing, then it would be contradictory to call something pure evil, as it would have to exist, which in itself (i.e. existence) is good. So how does God relate to evil? A traditional response is that God created man with free will, and man somehow willed something that he was commanded not to, which resulted in moral corruption (evil). Thus, was the introduction of sin, which also caused sickness, disease, and death.
“While Shermer does not like this explanation, there is nothing illogical with it. If one rejects theism, then it seems impossible, which it would be if God didn’t exist. However, if theism is true, there is nothing far-fetched about this scenario. The question is: ‘Is theism true?’ I would argue that it is, but since our discussion is not about God’s existence per se, I need to remain on the actual topic, which is ‘Is evil evidence against God?’ The next question to ask is, ‘What would have to be the case for the problem of evil to count as evidence against God?’ Since Shermer has laid out the problem of evil I will not do so. … I have no objection to how he explained the argument. The main thrust of the problem is to show that given the existence of evil, a God that is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-good could not exist. This is just one form of the argument. The logical problem is the form Shermer has chosen, and it is the ‘stronger’ of the two general forms in that it attempts to show that God and evil are logically contradictory. Given the existence of one, the existence of the other is impossible.”
The two each make extensive arguments, both of which can be further explored in the featured issue of Skeptic Magazine.
Dr. Brian Huffling has master’s degrees in Apologetics, Biblical Studies and Philosophy and a Ph.D. in Philosophy of Religion from Southern Evangelical Seminary. He is an Associate Professor of Philosophy and Theology and is the Director of the Ph.D. program at SES. He is also a reserve chaplain in the Air Force. Learn more at www.brianhuffling.com.
Dr. Michael Shermer is the Founding Publisher of Skeptic magazine, a monthly columnist for Scientific American, and a Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, where he teaches Skepticism 101. He is the author of “Why People Believe Weird Things,” “The Believing Brain,” “Why Darwin Matters,” “The Science of Good and Evil,” “The Moral Arc” and “Heavens on Earth: The Scientific Search for the Afterlife, Immortality and Utopia.” Learn more at www.michaelshermer.com.
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