I know your familiar with the argument from too much evil to the claim that God does not exist. It’s a case of inference to the best explanation; we can’t see any reason there could not be less evil in history than if God exists. But the best explanation for that us that there us no reason for it and that God does not exist. A response that A theologian might make is; The inability on our part to see a reason for the amount of evil we see in history is neither in compatible with nor made unlikely because of the hypothesis of the existence of God. If God exists, it is likely that there are somethings He does/allows such that he has good reasons for them that are beyond our limited capacity to see. This is enough from the logical point of view to make the argument moot.

Another problem of evil for Christian Theism is the problem of not enough impact. Anecdotal observation and disciplined sociological research seem to show that there is no discernible significant impact that Christian faith makes in the lives of persons who claim to hold to it (e.g. divorce rates, dysfunctional families, charitable giving, fanaticism, etc.). There are disputes about the details of this but one can certainly understand why one would expect something more clear.

However, this problem of evil case also seems like the too much evil case. That is, it seems to argue that the best explanation for why we don’t see a difference between believers and non-believers is because there is no such difference to see. So it is most likely that Christianity does not make a difference.

But to assess the best hypothesis, we need to know what exactly Christianity promises to the believer in this life. Much promised is relational and positional, forgiveness of sin, the gift of imputed righteousness, adoption into God’s family, being set apart from the world and for God, the Presence if the Spirit of God in this life, and a sure hope if life everlasting with God. If someone sincerely attributed these descriptions to themselves based on what the Gospel promises warrant, they would a point of view no one else would share because if their belief.

But there are also promises the gospel makes about believers’ condition. It is said that those who believe are new creations, to have died and been raised to new life,  regenerated. But this is not understood of moving from a bad character to sinless perfection. It does not promise to ipso fact make your old habits disappear and be replaced with new habits as you might have if you parents raise you in a perfect home. The change is rather a radical shift in attitude from complacency about sin and hostility to the authority of God, to an attitude of hostility to sin and complacency about the authority of God. However, the residual vices stay and are just as difficult to change as ever. The gospel holds out hope for progressive mortification of sinful vices but is realistic about the unavailability of sinless perfection in this life. Being new is not necessarily being nice (to allude to C. S. Lewis at the proper place). To see a basic presentation of thus view with biblical evidence, see the Westminster Confession of Faith chapter on “Sanctification”.

Granting this as a hypothesis, the Christian could reply, by parity of reasoning to their response to the “too much evil” problem, that we are not in a place to see the impact Christianity makes in life even though it is there. There are two sources fir this blindness. One is that people disagree about what good and evil are in every case. Besides the cognitive challenges endemic to practical reasoning, which need prudence to make, there is also the imperfection of our dispositions that may make us either puritans or psychopaths. Both believers and non-believers are found in diverse locations on these continua.

The other is that the only way we could astutely judge the progress another has made is against the background of their distinctive past circumstances. This is typically difficult information to acquire as proverbs like “comparisons are odious” and “walk a mile in their sandals” bear witness. One person’s learning to hold down a part-time job may be more saintly than another’s being a head of a world relief NGO.

Given the broad sweep of such peculiarities, it is not surprising that such an impact would be invisible to us most of the time and that statistics would not be able to confirm its existence over time, especially given the problems of formulating law-like regularities about human behavior and the need to always add ceterus paribus conditions to describe it. These problems are expected given the nature of the promises made in the gospel.

So by parity of reasoning, the objection of no visible impact as showing that faith is irrelevant is also moot. This response to the objection is adequate even though admittedly not satisfying for experiential reasons.

One may wonder if then there is any evidence that we would accept that would refute the claim that faith per se is a positive force on an individual’s life. In a discussion of impact in terms of life and character, “we can only be as precise as we can be” (Aristotle). That is, we could not be obliged to specify in advance the necessary and sufficient conditions of what would count as counter-evidence. However, nothing here systematically rules out the epistemic possibility of a paradigmatic case of evil directly or efficiently resulting from faith in Christ. In this case. So these rebuttals do not exclude Christian faith from existential falsification in that sense.

Be sure to read “Nice People or New Men” in C. S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity”.

 

(RE-posted from Facebook)

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