Posts Tagged ‘Cory Markum’

My recent adventure in Christian apologetics

November 9, 2017

In response to Tuesday’s blog post, which I shared on Facebook, I had an interesting exchange with Cory Markum, an atheist blogger and podcaster whom I first heard on Justin Brierley’s Unbelievable? radio show. I blogged about that episode last year, and he “friended” me on Facebook.

He began with the following reply:

That’s great, but if [God] exists, he should have stopped the shooting instead of sitting idly by. If anyone else knew that something like that was going to happen and had the capacity to stop it, but didn’t, then we would all conclude that they are culpable for failing to act. I see no good reason to give God a pass, so the fact that God didn’t do anything to stop it, in my eyes, constitutes strong evidence that such a being doesn’t exist.

To which I wrote the following:

I see no reason to give God a pass, either, Cory. But I trust that God knows better than we do the myriad consequences of his intervening to stop what one of his free creatures chooses to do. Obviously, if God were in the business of intervening every time one of his creatures chooses to do something harmful, we would no longer be free, nor would we live in a universe governed by predictable laws. And God knows it wouldn’t be good for us to never suffer consequences of free choices.

But if you read my post, you know that we Christians believe in heaven. This is not pie in the sky to us; this is an essential part of how God balances the scales of justice and redeems suffering. Whatever happens in this world is a “light momentary affliction,” as the apostle says, in comparison to eternity. I know you don’t believe that, but I wish you did.

He replied:

I wish I did too, man. I’m extremely envious of those who are able to.

I’m curious…do you believe that we (or more accurately, you) will have freedom of this sort in heaven? If so, and if heaven is a place free of evil, doesn’t this show that it is possible for there to be free creatures and yet, no evil? And if such a state of affairs is possible, doesn’t it follow that a perfectly good being would opt for that world, rather than the one we have?

Notice here that Markum raises precisely the objection that Christian apologist Clay Jones discusses in his recent book Why Does God Allow Evil?: If heaven is a world in which free will and sinless perfection coexist, why couldn’t God have created this world to begin with—and spare us the pain and suffering? Markum continued: Read the rest of this entry »

Does a good God allow “gratuitous” evil?

March 8, 2016

In the latest episode of Unbelievable?, Josh Parikh and Cory Markum square off over this question: Does the existence of evil presuppose the existence of God? In my view, the answer is obvious: The moment you call something “evil,” you are appealing to objective moral facts, which themselves depend on the existence of a Judge who defines what is good and bad. As Tim Keller argues in his masterful book Walking with God through Pain and Suffering, in making an argument against God on the basis of the existence of evil, you end up “relying on God to make an argument against God.”[1]

If I were Parikh, the Christian debater, I would have exposed the sentimentality that atheist Markum depended on to suggest that evil is incompatible with God’s existence. He began by citing the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami in which hundreds of thousands—disproportionately children—died in one fell swoop. Surely a good God wouldn’t permit this!

Parikh should have intensified the problem: In other words, if Markum is right, he doesn’t go far enough. By what logic does a good God allow not only the deaths of hundreds of thousands in a tsunami, but even the death of one person, for example, whose trailer park was struck by a tornado? Unless Markum can justify even one death, he’s neither helping nor harming his case by appealing to scale. Logically, multiplying the problem of one death from “gratuitous evil” adds nothing to the problem.

Besides, as C.S. Lewis points out in his masterpiece The Problem of Pain, no one suffers more than one death.

Suppose that I have a toothache of intensity x: and suppose that you, who are seated beside me, also begin to have a toothache of intensity x. You may, if you choose, say that the total amount of pain in the room is now 2x. But you must remember that no one is suffering 2x: search all time and all space and you will not find that composite pain in anyone’s consciousness. There is no such thing as a sum of suffering, for no one suffers it. When we have reached the maximum that a single person can suffer, we have, no doubt, reached something very horrible, but we have reached all the suffering there ever can be in the universe. The addition of a million fellow-sufferers adds no more pain.[2]

Years ago, I read an online debate between N.T. Wright and agnostic New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman. When Ehrman made this inevitable appeal to what Lewis calls the “sum of suffering,” Wright pointed out his logical inconsistency. Ehrman never grasped the point, unfortunately. Because it is a good point…

Or it’s a bad point inasmuch as it works against us believers in the Christian God. Again, either we can justify one person’s death from so-called “gratuitous evil” or we can justify no one’s death from it. It’s that simple.

Later in the episode, Markum appeals to the massive scale of animal suffering as another spin on the argument. What about a baby bat with a broken wing who dies a seemingly gruesome death in bat guano by being eaten alive by creatures living in the guano?

How is this not a facile example of anthropomorphizing animal pain? By all means, nature is red in tooth and claw, but Markum’s argument only holds water if we ascribe human-like self-consciousness to the bat—as if the animal were thinking (paraphrasing the Carpenters song), “I’ve only just begun to live/ So much of life ahead…” While many animals experience pain, God has designed them such that they are unaware that they are themselves experiencing it. They’re not capable of thinking, “Why is this happening to me?” They lack any awareness of regret, or remorse, or a sense of their own mortality—things that often makes human suffering so painful.

Again, Lewis tackles this question in his book. Other Christian apologists have done so more recently.

Besides, has Markum not heard the Disney song (by way of Tim Rice and Elton John) “The Circle of Life”? It’s good and necessary for the ecosystem that organisms in the guano feed on the baby bat. Right?

After all, when the cheetah attacks the antelope in the National Geographic special, we always feel awful for the antelope. But if we’re going to anthropomorphize, let’s anthropomorphize all the way: Let’s follow that cheetah as she feeds the antelope carcass to her cubs. Isn’t that sweet? (I’m a cat lover. I think it’s sweet when a house cat leaves a dead squirrel on the doorstep.)

Nevertheless, I agree with Parikh that the cross of Jesus Christ represents the worst evil the world has ever known. If God can redeem even that evil, then he can surely do the same with all lesser forms of evil. Suffering may be “gratuitous” in the sense that it isn’t necessary to fulfill God’s purposes, but it’s never meaningless—which is to say, it never happens outside of God’s providential purposes.

Does that make sense?

1. Timothy Keller, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering (New York: Dutton, 2013), 103-4.

2. C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: HarperOne, 1996), 116-7.