KP: Discussions of the problem of evil, like all philosophical discussions, tend to be conducted at a level of theoretical aridity. When discussing these issues with a class, we first go through all the standard moves and counter-moves. Then, I recommend that they step back from the theoretical for a moment and consider the testimony of those who have actually confronted radical evil. I mention two texts, Elie Wiesel's Night and Corrie Ten Boom's The Hiding Place. Wiesel and Ten Boom, as survivors of Nazi death camps, certainly had experience of the worst that humanity can dish out. Their reactions were totally different. Wiesel says that the experience destroyed his God. Ten Boom said that she had found that God's love is deeper than the deepest evil. I then challenge my class to consider whether anyone who had not been subjected to such experiences has the right to judge those who have. Do any of us have the right to say that either Wiesel's or Ten Boom's response was irrational or perverse? I think not.
Still, I have heard testimonies of those who have encountered great loss or suffering that struck me as cheap and facile, Years ago when I was still a Christian and went to church I heard a preacher talk about a couple whose seven-year-old son had died. The couple dealt with their loss by saying that, as they viewed it, God had lent them their son for seven years and then called him back to his true home. The preacher compared those who express outrage at the loss of a child to those who bitterly complains when the owner asks for a lent item to be returned. That answer made my skin crawl even when I was devout. I cannot help but feel that there is something cheap, facile, and, indeed, callous about that answer.
It seems to me that a far more authentic response was the one of the main character in Peter de Vries' novel The Blood of the Lamb. He takes a cake to his daughter's hospital room to find the bed empty. The nurse tells him that his daughter has died overnight. On the way out he passes the chapel where there is a large crucifix. He takes out the cake and crams it into the face of the Christ on the cross.
Fortunately, I have never had a loss like that, but, if I did, I think I would be one of the cake-in-face crammers.
VR: Facile responses to the problem of evil are problems, for the simple reason that we do not know what the explanation is. What was really wrong in the preacher's comment is the fact that it sound as if the feelings of those who are angry with God for losing a child are illegitimate.
I can surely understand the cake-cramming state of mind. However, whether this grounds a rational argument against belief in God is another matter, and some people act as if that attitude is morally superior to other possible attitudes, and I don't buy it. It's the Ivan Karamazov move: This is evil, God should have done something, and nothing we might find to be true hereafter can render God innocent of allowing this kind of suffering.
I happen to think that an disconfirming argument against theism from evil probably can be made. I think "skeptical theist" responses based on our expected lack of understanding of these things decrease the weight of the argument, but they do not eliminate it entirely. On the other hand, when I think about argument from evil, I find that the very things that generate the argument, such as the capacity to feel pain (as opposed to just having one's c-fibers fire), our conscious minds, our moral awareness, and our ability to think rationally, are all things that make philosophical naturalism, which is typically offered as the alternative to being a theist, implausible to me. What I don't see is an argument from evil that somehow outweighs all the others. It is, at most, something theism can't explain, or can't explain as well as I wish we could. Why this is a more severe explanatory failure that naturalism's failure to explain consciousness has always escaped me.
I mean, people who do believe in an infinite being invariably think that that being is good. Do you know any actual subscribers to Paul Draper's Indifferent Deity Hypothesis? What that expects you to believe is that God controls the universe, and there is a moral standard, which God somehow fails to satisfy. So, I don't see any plausible alternatives if I want to reject naturalism and God both.