Hume Visits Haiti
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
January 19, 2010 - At one time in the history of the world, philosophers, as the etymological origins of their titles suggest, were captivated by wisdom. The wisdom literature of the Old Testament informs us that the beginning of the same is the “fear of the Lord.” These days, Folly (a.k.a atheism), is a virtual philosophical Shibboleth. And some professional academic philosophers go to Herculean lengths to display their foolishness to the world.
Consider, for example, a recent essay on why God allow(s)/ed the suffering in Haiti by a UK philosopher; let’s call him, “Voltaire.” Voltaire begins by pontificating thus: “Evil has always been a thorn in the side of those - of whatever faith - who believe in an all-knowing, all-powerful, all-good God.” And after rehearsing the rich and complex history of theodicy with breathtaking speed, Voltaire concludes with predictably skeptical cynicism: “as for those who believe in an all-good, all-powerful agent-God, we've seen that they face a question that remains pressing after all these centuries, and which is now horribly underscored by the horrors in Haiti. If a deity exists, why didn't he prevent this?”
The reflective Christian (the presumptive target of this tiresome drivel masquerading as the zenith of intellectual rigor) is left wondering to whom Voltaire’s rhetorical question is directed. If there is an omni-competent God like, for example, the God whom Job fears and worships, what reason to do we have for thinking that we, as his creatures, would be situated so as to know all of his reasons for acting or refusing to act? (Isn't that the point of Job?)
Voltaire’s question is a trap. It presumes (without argument, mind you!) that Christians must know, that we ought to know. And our failure to justify God’s ways is thus an indication of the irrationality of our belief and the un-reality of the One in Whom we believe.
Of course, this is nonsense. As C.S. Lewis pointed out in his own treatment of the problem of human suffering, Christianity is “not a system into which we have to fit the awkward fact of pain: it is itself one of the awkward facts which have to be fitted into any system we make. In a sense, it creates, rather than solves, the problem of pain, for pain would be no problem unless, side by side with our daily experience of this painful world, we had received what we think a good assurance that ultimate reality is righteous and loving.”
What Voltaire fails to see is that, as Lewis points out, his capacity to ask “whence evil?” is conditioned upon the very Being of Primitive Goodness, apart from which the derivative parasite that is evil would not be recognized as such. The question is not “if a deity exists, why didn't he prevent this?” The question is if there is no such deity, then why are we even asking the question?
To be sure, such philosophical retorts do not begin to resolve the agonizing burden of Divine silence in the face of Haiti's suffering. But the God from whom we demand answers is not utterly mute. For he has spoken in the person of his son, whose very suffering and death is the wisdom of God. But to the philosophers of this age, it is folly.