The “Ask an Atheist” column in last Friday’s edition of the Nexus featured Connor Oakes, Tyler Santander and Cameron Moody, who put forth a variety of arguments positing that suffering in the world disproves the existence of God as an omnipotent — or at least loving — entity.
It’s true that a continuing conundrum for western monotheists is the question put forth by last week’s column: If God is loving and omnipotent, why does he allow for suffering in the world? As was acknowledged in Friday’s column, the conventional answer by religious types is essentially some variant of the idea that suffering is the result of human sin, which is an inescapable consequence of human free will.
Therefore, the religious apologist answers, in order for humanity to have free will, God must also allow for suffering. The opinion pieces in Friday’s issue variously attacked this line of logic, noting that if God is omnipotent, he should not be constrained on any level, and thus could have chosen to create a world where both freedom from suffering and free will could coexist. Even if this were a logical impossibility for the human mind, an omnipotent God would not be constrained even by this apparent contradiction.
Because there is suffering in the world, the writers appeared to arrive at the conclusion that religious apologists must either accept that there is no omnipotent God — as he would not allow for suffering if he had the power to prevent it — or else that God is not loving, which would contradict a core tenant of the major monotheistic faiths. I think this argument disproves itself. If God is omnipotent, it is implied in Friday’s column that He can allow for supposedly illogical impossibilities — a world where there is free will, but that nonetheless has no suffering (and presumably no “wrong” choices).
However, when Friday’s writers implied that the existence of suffering in the world must mean that God can be either omnipotent or loving, but not both, suddenly it is being reasoned that God’s nature is constrained by the very same logic the writers implied that He was freed of by his omnipotence in the former example. Essentially, if God’s omnipotence allows him to contradict reason itself, such that He could create a world with free will that is also without suffering, by the same token his omnipotence frees him from the constraints of logic to the extent that He could also create a world with suffering, such as ours, and yet be absolutely loving at the same time.
On a side note, I think there’s a larger flaw in using logic to argue against the existence of God as understood by monotheists. Essentially, as Decartes noted with his use of the “evil daemon” concept, even human reason is not certain to the absolutely skeptical rationalist. To attempt to skewer faith in God — who is supposedly beyond human experience, and thus reason — by appealing to the limited experiences of the limited, and thus rational, human mind is as futile as applying a finite measuring stick to an infinite distance. Using reason, there is no way to create a compelling framework of “necessary” or “sufficient” circumstances to disprove, or prove, God’s existence.