Chess and the Problem of Evil

One of the most popular Christian arguments in defense of the belief in a perfectly good omnipotent God in the face of intense suffering is that the atheist does not have an objective or ultimate moral standard from which to press this argument against the theist. I have tried and tried to explain why these are two separate problems. In my latest attempt I said this:
On the one hand is the problem of suffering for you who believe in a perfectly good omnipotent God. On the other hand there is the problem of objective morality for those of us who do not believe in God. If you press the second problem on me as an answer to your problem, then you are skirting the issue of your problem. It's that simple. You cannot respond to your problem by saying, "yeah, well you have one too," and I cannot respond to my problem by saying, "yeah, well you have one too." I have dealt with my problem here. When will Christians deal with their problem? Their problem arises from within the things they believe. If they believe God is perfectly good and omnipotent, then they need to explain why there is so much suffering in the world. This argument is used by atheists, but it's not an atheist argument, per se. A Christian could make this argument and ask his Christian teacher to give him an answer. Many Christians have become panentheists because of this problem irregardless of whether on not they ever talked to an atheist or read what one wrote.

The fact that many professional philosophers agree with this can be seen in reading through the book, The Evidential Argument From Evil, edited by Daniel Howard-Snyder. Not one scholarly Christian theist attempted to make this argument in that book; not Swinburne, not Plantinga, not Alston, not Wykstra, not Van Inwagen and not Howard-Snyder. I suggest it’s because they know it is not dealing with the problem at all.

But let me relate it to the game of chess. We call the game "chess" and we all agree to its rules. However, let’s say I make the chess pieces move differently than the accepted rules and/or I set the pieces up differently than we presently do. Let’s say I reject the conventional rules of chess, okay? For the sake of clarity I’ll call the conventional game “t-chess” (as in theistic chess), and my game “a-chess” (as in atheistic chess).

I can still watch as two players play t-chess, and say someone made a bad move, or that another move is better, even if I reject those rules and think the rules of a-chess are better ones. You see, it does no good to say I need to accept the rules of t-chess before I can criticize how someone plays by those rules. I can still think those rules are ignorant and yet show how someone could play the game of t-chess better.

Doing so is merely using the logical tool for assessing arguments called the reductio ad absurdum, which attempts to reduce to absurdity the claims of a person. The technique is to force a claimant to choose between accepting the consequences of what he believes, no matter how absurd it seems, or to reject one or more premises in his argument. The person making this argument does not have to believe what the claimant believes to do this. In fact, he does not believe the claimant and is trying to show why her beliefs are misguided and false to some degree, depending on the force of his counter-argument. It’s that simple.


Even though I’ve made my main point here, let me go further. It does not make any difference if the theist claims that God made the rules for t-chess, or that God is the one playing the game of t-chess. I can still assess these theistic claims by arguing that God did not make the rules and/or that if God exists he does not play the game well.

When a theist claims God made the rules of t-chess, I can assess whether or not God in fact created these rules by arguing that these rules are not good ones based upon the believers own claim that God is perfectly good and revealed these rules for believers to follow in a divinely inspired book. I can also legitimately evaluate whether or not believers actually play by these rules and whether God consistently plays by these same rules.

For the theist to effectively counter my arguments he cannot merely assume God exists, or that he doesn’t like the rules for a-chess. He can do this, of course, but doing so skirts the issue at hand. The issue at hand is whether God exists, and the rules of t-chess do not lead me to think he does. In fact these rules are evidence against the existence of a perfectly good God, for the theist has to explain away this evidence. The issue at hand is whether t-chess rules are good ones based upon the standard of goodness laid out in God’s so-called inspired book about the game, not by the standards of a-chess rules. So once again, the issue isn’t about whether the rules of a-chess are good ones. This is a distinctly separate issue.


Lastly, let me drop the whole distinction of t-chess and a-chess, and just talk about the game of chess as it is accepted and played around the world. Let’s say the theist claims God is playing chess and he makes a move. What if every world class champion and every Grand Master thinks he made a bad move? What do we do then? It depends on how bad the move is. The worse that God’s move is then the less we can continue to believe God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenelovent. That’s called evidence, and if world champion chess players cannot see the move as a good one, this is important evidence against the claim.

For my purposes let’s consider the 2004 Indonesian tsunami which killed a quarter of a million people. Who can look at this and be happy that it took place? Who would actually walk among the bodies, smell the stench as they decompose, and lift their hands in giddy praise for God’s goodness? Who can watch as a mother holds the body of her dead son and the next Sunday during worship say, “Praise God for the wonderful tsunami he didn't stop from happening!” Who could watch as half naked kids stumble around from building to building looking for their parents in the aftermath, and tell them to thank God for what he has done with a million dollar smile on her face? Does any Christian do this? We all intuitively recognize what is obvious. This was a bad chess move.

Actually there are some bad chess moves that not even an omniscient God can make good, once he purportedly makes them. Some moves lead to a loss of a chess piece, loss of positional strength, or checkmate, that even a novice chess player can take advantage of. That’s how bad I think God’s moves are. And I’m supposed to believe there is an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenelovent God? No. There is overwhelming evidence here against such a belief.

To monitor comments posted to this topic, use .

Pageviews this week: