Evangelical theologian Douglas Wilson last November posted a series of “open letters” on his blog to Sam Harris, author of Letter to a Christian Nation, that are well worth a read. Harris, following in the footsteps of atheist evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, is the latest popular writer to indict religion (i.e. Christianity) as divisive, oppressive and intellectually backward. A sample of Wilson’s responses:
Further along in the series, Wilson turns around the argument that a good and powerful God is incompatible with the suffering we see in the world:
Your next section asks the question, “Are Atheists Evil?” Your argument here rests upon a common misunderstanding of a standard Christian argument. In short, the issue is not whether atheists are evil, but rather, given atheism, what possible definition can we find for evil. The argument is not one about personal character but rather about what the tenets of atheism logically entail.
But there is another wrinkle as well. The Christian position is not that atheists are sinners, but rather that people are sinners. Consequently, when any false ideology (atheistic or theistic) gets hold of a collective group of people, there is bound to be an area where there are no brakes to restrain the natural sinful tendencies of the people involved. This will of course manifest itself in different ways according to the differences of the ideologies. It explains why nations that are formally atheistic are awful (and dangerous) places to live. But at the same time, we could all rattle off false ideologies that were theistic and which also turned the places they controlled into hellholes. This just means that men sin in different ways.
So all this happens because people are sinners — and the Christian faith accounts for the reality and influence of this sin.
You are exactly right that all Christians, if they are to be intellectually honest, must acknowledge that God is the ultimate governor of earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, genocides, and wars. This creates the “problem of evil” for us. How can a God who is infinitely just, kind, merciful, and loving (which we Christians also affirm) be the same one who unleashes these terrible “acts of God?” It is a good question, but it is one that can only be answered by embracing the problem. We solve the problem of evil by kissing the rod and the hand that wields it.Read the whole series here.
This sounds outrageous to you, I know, but it is the only way to genuinely deal with the problem of evil. It is either “the problem of evil,” which the Christian has, or “evil? no problem!” which the atheist has. Consider the tsunami, and what that event was, from your premises. You spoke of the day “one hundred thousand children were simultaneously torn from their mother’s arms and casually drowned” (p. 48). Now I can only understand being indignant with God over this if He is really there. But what if He is not there? What follows then? This event had no more ultimate significance than a solar flare, or a virus going extinct, or a desolate asteroid colliding with another asteroid, or the gradual loss of Alabama to kudzu, or me scratching my head just now. These are just atoms, banging around. This is what they do.
It is very clear from how you write that you do not believe that God is there, and you are also very angry with Him for not being there. Many of these people who were drowned were no doubt praying before they died. You throw that fact at us believers (which you can do, because, believing in God, we do have a problem of evil). But if we throw it back to you, what must you say about the tsunami and its effects? It was a natural event, driven by natural causes, and has to be seen as an integral part of the natural order of things. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it. These things happen.