In Life After Death, author and speaker Dinesh D’Souza was able to convincingly argue for the possibility of an afterlife. In What’s So Great About Christianity, he successfully debunks the arguments of many critics who accuse the religion of being anti-science and violent, and shows how it contributed to democracy, liberty, and capitalism. In his new book Godforsaken, he tackles the biggest obstacle to faith: the problem of theodicy. He attempts to answer the question of how a God who is both all-loving and all-powerful can allow evil and suffering in the world. This is a much more difficult task than those he took up in his previous two books on religion. Although I believe he falls short in some areas, his book provides solid insights and I believe he should be commended for taking up such a challenging topic.
Interestingly, he starts out by noting that this is a uniquely Christian (or Judeo-Christian) problem. According to historian Rodney Stark “ancient civilizations did not regard their gods as necessarily just or loving”. In the religion of Islam, which literally means submission to God, the question of theodicy is thought to be blasphemous and according to Seyyed Hossein Nasr writes “In the Islamic world this question…has hardly ever bothered the religious conscience”. In Hinduism, it is pointed out that all suffering is deserved: individuals who behaved badly in their previous life are paying for it in this life. Lastly, in Buddhism, suffering is not truly in the world but only an illusion in our minds, which can be overcome through enlightenment.
From here, D’Souza rejects the “best of all possible” worlds argument (and several others) put forth by the seventeenth century philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, and later argued by C.S. Lewis in his 1940 book The Problem of Pain. According to this subtle but intellectually powerful argument (although it is hardly emotionally satisfying), because God is all-knowing, he was able to review all the possible scenarios for creating the universe. Combine this with the fact that is all-loving and he chose this world, this world must be the best world. D’Souza rejects this argument citing “because any of us can think of massive improvements for God to make”. I don’t quite see how D’Souza rejects this argument based on this reasoning. Sure, we can all think of improvements, but we are not all-knowing, to conclude with 100% accuracy that they are truly improvements. Additionally, we assume such improvements are possible to God, which they might not be.
Instead, D’Souza offers alternate argument which he names “the Only Way Argument”. According to this argument, God created the universe in the only way that it could be created in order to get the result he wanted, and that was result was creatures capable of entering into a “relationship of mutual love with him”. In other words, evil and suffering are necessary to obtain this result, because the result is not possible without them.
D’Souza then notes that although this argument may seem to render God non-omnipotent, it does not if we refine what Christians mean by omnipotence, which is the power to do anything that is possible. In order words, the fact that God cannot make a round square does not render him omnipotent.
D’Souza then points out that to obtain the result of creatures capable of entering into a “relationship of mutual love with him”, God had to make man free because “the nature of love is to be free”. In order words, love isn’t truly love when it’s compelled. Can one say a man’s wife truly loves him if she is being forced to? And freedom means that we can do evil. Sure, God could have created us as robots incapable of doing evil, but that is not the end he desired. Additionally, the cost associated with that option would be our humanity: D’Souza points out that this option removes the complaint of evil and suffering, but it also removes the creature filing the complaint.
To preserve his argument, D’Souza must offer a rebuttal to arguments insisting that we do not have free will. First, the question of God’s foreknowledge is raised. If God is all-knowing and therefore know the future, it cannot be any different than from God knows it to be, which implied that humans cannot choose differently, and therefore have no free will. This argument is refuted by citing the concept of a timeless God: “for God, past, present, and future are all equally present”. Therefore, God does not have foreknowledge, but rather just has knowledge. God knows about our free choices, but does not dictate them.
Second, D’Souza brings another objection to free will to the surface: If we live in a LaPlacian universe, then everything that has ever or will ever happen was determined at the moment of the Big Bang. In other words, we are merely following a set of physical laws, much like balls on a pool table follow trajectories based on the conditions of the initial break. We may think we have free will, but we are slaves to the movement of atoms in our brains and bodies, as those movements have already been determined. However, many philosophers and physicists believe that free will is rescued from this LaPlacian hold by quantum mechanics, as quantum mechanics which shows that the motion of subatomic particles is both unpredictable and undetermined, which physicist Stephen Barr claims “provides an opening for free will”.
Also to preserve his argument, D’Souza must answer the following question: “Why couldn’t God have created all humans with free will but no inclination to do any evil?” Here D’Souza enters into a discussion of the Fall and how Adam and Eve chose to be their own arbiters of what right and wrong instead (because they chose to eat from the only tree God told them not to eat from) of just taking God’s word for what is right and wrong. He also discusses St. Anslem’s argument that man’s inclination to sin does not come from God, but from man himself. I’ve read through his discussion several times, but I fail to see how D’Souza addressed the question posed. However, I’m not entirely sure the question is a valid one, for if God created me with no inclination to do evil, than am I truly free?
From here, if one can understand D’Souza’s response to the question posed in the preceding paragraph, one may accept that evil conducted by humans to other humans could be consistent with an all-powerful and all-loving God, but what about evil that results from natural phenomena such as earthquakes, volcanoes, tornadoes, floods, and disease? That challenge remains open.
To answer this, D’Souza enters into a discussion of why God created lawful world. He could have created a universe that did not obey physical laws where sometimes when a ball was dropped it bounced on the ground and other times the ball disappeared. God chose to create a lawful universe because a lawful universe is a prerequisite of free will. Only in a lawful world can one predict the immediate outcome of one’s actions. If one could not predict the immediate outcome of one’s actions, freedom is useless.
Very well then. God had to create lawful universe for free will to exist. But couldn’t God have made a lawful universe where there were no natural phenomena (ex. Earthquakes, disease) that caused suffering? To answer this question, D’Souza points out that while earthquakes kill people, they result from plate tectonics, but that plate tectonics is a “central requirement for life on a planet” because plate tectonics, among other things, recirculates carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. He also points out that while bacteria kill us, they also held us digest food and perform other functions necessary to human life being sustained. I’m not quite sure that this answers the question though. Couldn’t God have created a universe where the natural mechanism that recirculates carbon dioxide into the atmosphere is one that at the same time doesn’t kill us? Couldn’t he have created a means for helping us digest our food that at the same doesn’t kill us? If he has answered this, I missed his point.
Starting in Chapter 8, D’Souza discusses the pain experienced by animals in the natural world, and points out that atheists find this inconsistent with all-powerful and all-loving God. Even Christian theologian John Hicks admits this is “the most baffling aspect of the problem of evil”. In this chapter, D’Souza argues that this pain is the fault of evolution, and that evolution is the only tool God had to create his desired end.
In Chapter 9, D’Souza introduces the Anthropic Principle. This principle suggests that if certain values (ex. The strength of the electrical force binding atoms, the density of the universe and it’s rate of expansion at its initial conditions, the ratio of the mass of the proton to the electron) were changed even by a tiny fraction, atoms, life, planets, and the universe itself would not exist. This is analogous to the conditions for life being set my 100 different dials, and if you moved any of the dials slightly off its preset value, life would cease to exist. The strongest objection to the Anthropic Principle is the fact that there could be an infinite number of universes, and that conditions for life are bound to be right in one of them. However, D’Souza brings this argument into perspective when he states “In order to demolish one invisible God, Hawking and his pals have to conjure up an infinity of invisible universes”. D’Souza suggests that the Anthropic Principle supports his “Only Way Argument”, because it suggests that there was only one way for the dials to be set to produce creatures such as ourselves. He notes that “suffering is a necessary ingredient of this recipe”.
Chapter 10 enters into a discussion of whether or not God should have created the universe given the level of evil it necessarily would contain. It is noted that the philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer concluded “It would have been so much better not to have made it at all”. It is counter argued, that on the whole, humanity is glad to be alive. To prove this, it is noted that we have the capacity to destroy ourselves many times over with nuclear weapons, but we have not. However, some individuals still endure a great amount of pain and suffering. To this point, it is noted that many people who suffer tragedy (such as loss of a limb) return to their the level of happiness they were at prior to the tragedy (which is referred to as hedonic adaptation by psychologists). In my opinion, this does not address those who have endured unbelievable suffering (ex. Someone who was in a Nazi concentration camp). It also does not address the following question: given the world must contain evil, why aren’t individuals given a choice on whether or not they want to exist in it?
The latter part of Chapter 10 discusses miracles. Atheists argue that if God had performed miracles in the past, why doesn’t he perform them now to end suffering? The late Christopher Hitchens summed this argument up nicely by posing the following: “if Jesus could heal a blind person he happened to meet, then why not heal blindness?” To answer this challenge, D’Souza argues that Jesus had to perform certain miracles to prove he was who he said he was and to establish his message. However, God refrains from constantly performing miracles because he may believe he has provided us with enough signs. He is caught in a balancing act of providing those with faith with enough evidence to believe, and those who choose to reject him with enough freedom to do so.
Chapter 11 enters into a discussion of some of the unsavory things God commands the Israelites to do in the Old Testament. For example Deuteronomy 20:16-17 states “In those towns that the LORD your God is giving you as a special possession, destroy every living thing. You must completely destroy the Hittites, Amorites, Cannanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites”.
D’Souza notes that radio talk show host and author Dennis Prager gives one potential response that vindicates God. Prager states that these people were wicked and practiced child sacrifice. Therefore, they received what they had coming, much in the same way the Nazi’s deserved the bombs being dropped on them by the Allied Powers.
D’Souza attempts to vindicate God in another way. He suggests that Christians read the Bible in a different manner. He claims that some language is hyperbole and metaphor. He supports this with the fact that certain groups that were said to have been destroyed (ex. Canaanites and Amalekites) appear in later biblical passages.
He also claims that the New Testament provides an explanation of what the Old Testament really means, and the New Testament supersedes the Old Testament. For example, whereas in the Old Testament, it is stated that adulterers should face the death penalty, Jesus does not advocate this when he encounters adulterers in the New Testament. Or take for example the binding of Isaac. According to D’Souza this story serves to provide a juxtaposition of the previous order where men sacrificed “blood to appease the anger of God”, and the new order where “God will sacrifice his own son in order to atone for the sins of men”.
However, it is interesting to note that D’Souza still has some qualms about violent passages in the Old Testament. He state “I confess, having come this far, that there are some passages in the Old Testament that continue to bother me. I wish they weren’t there. But just because I don’t understand why they are included, or what they really mean, doesn’t provide that the God of the Bible is a terrible monster”.
Chapter 12 addresses the issue of how an all-loving God could condemn a person to hell for all eternity. It is pointed out that some Christian theologians do not believe in hell (ex. Marilyn McCord Adams and John Hick). Even C.S. Lewis struggled with the idea, saying “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power”. D’Souza points out that we often forget that although God is loving and compassionate, he has another attribute: he is just. To me, D’Souza here proves why a mass murdered should not be in Heaven: it would not be just and would you really want to be in Heaven if it were full of mass murders? However, could God not perfect the murderer’s soul to cure him of this evil? Or couldn’t God just obliterate the soul as opposed to sentencing it to eternal damnation? I don’t think D’Souza addresses these issues.
Lastly, Chapter 12 answers the question of what Christ’s suffering for us. D’Souza’s answer is “Adam and Eve sinned by disobeying God’s command, by deciding to do things their way even though they existed in a state of exceeding happiness, devoid of all suffering, Christ reverses the effect of human sin by acquiescing in the will and plan of God”.
Godfoesaken is published by Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. Carol Stream, Illinois. 2012.