Could God Have Created a World Without Suffering?
We all suffer, and we often wonder why we suffer. We yearn to find meaning in—or despite—the evils that assail us. Everyone does this, whether they believe in one God, no god, many gods, or claim ignorance on the matter. Christians are compelled to give a meaningful and rational explanation for God, good, and evil (1 Pet. 3:15). Those enlisted in this noble cause include intellectual giants such as Augustine, Aquinas, Pascal, Jonathan Edwards, C. S. Lewis, and Alvin Plantinga. Now Dinesh D'Souza bids to join their august ranks—and even to outshine them.
D'Souza, president of the King's College in New York City, made his name as a conservative public policy analyst. In recent years, however, he has also written books on Christian apologetics and has debated well-known atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Peter Singer. His latest offering is Godforsaken: Bad Things Happen. Is there a God who cares? Yes. Here's proof (Tyndale). In it, D'Souza tackles the perennially vexing problem of evil.
From Epicurus to David Hume to Hitchens, unbelievers have denied that one can rationally believe in a God who is both all-good and all-powerful, given the amount and variety of evil in the world. If God were good, he would want to eliminate evil; if he were all-powerful, he could eliminate evil. Yet evil exists. Therefore, the atheist concludes that the God of traditional theism does not exist. The burden of the Christian apologist is to reconcile the fact of evil with the reality of God, without committing intellectual suicide.
Tackling this topic is a tall order for a short book written by a non-philosopher. I respect much of D'Souza's political analysis. However, concerning apologetics—despite his native intelligence, clear writing, and wealth of footnoted sources—D'Souza is too often out of his depth. This is particularly evident in this ambitious, but ultimately disappointing, work. To make matters worse, D'Souza claims to offer a new solution to this ancient problem—one that incorporates discoveries from contemporary science and avoids the errors of traditional approaches. Few professional philosophers or theologians hazard this kind of claim, and for good reason.
Balanced on a Razor's Edge
Since the problem of evil is both a cerebral puzzle and a visceral wound in the soul, the author wisely begins by emphasizing both aspects. D'Souza draws the reader into the problem through several stories from his own childhood in India and through other gut-wrenching examples. He clearly explains the unbeliever's charge against God, citing the pertinent sources, from ancient to modern. Some of D'Souza's best work is in the fourth chapter, where he exposes the vacuity of atheistic approaches to understanding the meaning of evil. D'Souza summarizes and criticizes the traditional responses to the problem. He then claims to offer an answer superior to that of his intellectual forebears.
In the process, D'Souza undermines his case by caricaturing some of the positions he finds inadequate, particularly the Augustinian doctrine of evil as the absence of good (rather than an entity unto itself). Augustine did not argue that evil doesn't exist (contra D'Souza), but that it has no roots in the nature of existence—unlike the good, which is grounded in the character of God and in God's original creation. The Augustinian view, which has been defended by, among others, Lewis in Mere Christianity, is far more richly nuanced and philosophically supportable than D'Souza's account would suggest.