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Argumentum ad Ignorantiam: (appeal to ignorance)

A logical fallacy that claims a proposition is true simply on the basis that it has not been proved false or vice versa.

Central tenets of the Christian faith include the ideas that God created everything from nothing, knows everything that can be known, and benevolently “watches over” his flock. A problem that believers have to deal with is the pesky fact that a lot of bad stuff happens, seemingly contradicting that benevolence. This essay addresses natural disasters, like earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, forest fires and the like. Millions of people, many of them devout believers, have died in these disasters. If God is in charge, why is he causing these catastrophic events, or not preventing them?

Here is a response from Dr. Erwin Lutzer, posted on the Billy Graham Evangelical Association web site:[i] Dr. Luster is an evangelical pastor and author of a dozen books. He was senior pastor at the Moody Church in Chicago from 1980 to 2016. (My comments are enclosed in brackets.)

“One thing we have to remember is that the world is fallen. The Bible says that when man fell into sin, all of nature was cursed. In other words, it was impossible for a sinful man to live in a perfect environment of paradise, so all of nature is cursed. But having said that, it doesn’t mean that God has a hands-off policy when it comes to natural disasters. Many people want to protect God from the clear teaching of the Bible, which shows He is involved in natural disasters. It is not that God causes them, but the very fact that He could prevent them shows that we need to face squarely the fact that natural disasters happen within God’s providence. Natural disasters are a megaphone from God and they teach us various lessons. First of all, natural disasters show us the uncertainty of life.”

[I will try to parse this gobbledegook if I can. God does not cause natural disasters? Then who or what does cause them? He created everything, so He could have created it so that these things did not happen. Even so, Luster says he could prevent them if he wanted to. Instead, He allows them to happen, Luster says, to teach us “lessons” about the uncertainty of life. Why would that be an important lesson, important enough to cause the suffering and death of a lot of people? It must be a demonstration of the terrible things that can happen to us if God does not protect us. When asked how a benevolent God can allow such things, Lutzer gives us this:]

“What we need to realize is that God can be trusted, even when it seems as if He is not on our side. We have to point people to the fact that God has intervened in our planet by sending Jesus Christ. There we see the love of God most clearly.”

[This is a good example of obfuscation and “changing the subject when I don’t have an answer.” Then he offers us is this final bit of inanity:]

“The other thing you need to realize is that time is short and eternity is long. Sometimes we reverse that. The values that we have here on this earth, although life is precious, the fact is that earthquakes do not increase death. Everybody is going to die someday. It’s the way they die that causes us so much grief.”

[Got that? You are gonna die anyway, so if God decides you need to be crushed to death when a tornado collapses your house, it’s not a big deal. Your devastated family that loves you and grieves for you…well, that’s just collateral damage. Using that argument, murder should not be a serious crime. The victim was gonna die eventually.]

Other apologists have offered “explanations” for natural disasters. Here’s one more:[ii]

“In much the same way that God allows evil people to commit evil acts, God allows the earth to reflect the consequences sin has had on creation. Romans 8:19-21 tells us, “The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.” The fall of humanity into sin had effects on everything, including the world we inhabit. Everything in creation is subject to “frustration” and “decay.” Sin is the ultimate cause of natural disasters just as it is the cause of death, disease, and suffering. [It’s all Adam and Eve’s fault]

“We can understand why natural disasters occur. What we do not understand is why God allows them to occur. [Huh?] Why did God allow the tsunami to kill over 225,000 people in Asia? Why did God allow Hurricane Katrina to destroy the homes of thousands of people? For one thing, such events shake our confidence in this life and force us to think about eternity. Churches are usually filled after disasters as people realize how tenuous their lives really are and how life can be taken away in an instant. What we do know is this: God is good! [It looks like shit, it smells like shit, it tastes like shit…but we know it is chocolate.] Many amazing miracles occurred during the course of natural disasters that prevented even greater loss of life. [So if He kills a thousand and miraculously saves a hundred, this is good?] Natural disasters cause millions of people to reevaluate their priorities in life. Hundreds of millions of dollars in aid is sent to help the people who are suffering. Christian ministries have the opportunity to help, minister, counsel, pray, and lead people to saving faith in Christ! God can, and does, bring great good out of terrible tragedies (Romans 8:28).”

[Isn’t that great? People flock to churches after natural disasters, and church leaders take advantage of their desolation and play on their fears to proselytize them. We need more natural disasters! Benevolent God kills people, the churches love it, and it’s all good!]

When such arguments fail, the apologists have a final defense. They retreat into their castle of ignorance, pull up their rhetorical drawbridge, and recite something like the following, usually with a smug smile:

“We mere mortals cannot know the infinite mind of God or his Plan for us.”

It is the ultimate conversation stopper or debate terminator. Whatever God does is good, by definition. It may seem evil to a skeptical observer, but God has his reasons. It is the argument from ignorance. I say these things are good, and you cannot prove me wrong.

How can any thinking person reconcile this? We all know it is wrong to kill a person, but when God does it, it’s okay. All those tragic deaths and suffering are just God carrying out his Plan. If things that seem so evil are really good when God does them, how can a believer tell the difference between good and evil? They become indistinguishable. Everything becomes just…whatever…when God does it.

You have to feel sorry for religious believers who must accept this monstrous idea. But what other choices do they have? Either God is incompetent or a malevolent monster, not our benevolent protector. Since both alternatives tear  huge holes in the carefully-woven fabric of their religious belief, they must be rejected, leaving only the cognizant dissonance of a dangerous world, created by a benevolent God who loves us, but who chooses not to protect us from the dangers he created. He is punishing us all, including Christian believers, for the insubordination of those first two people who were flimflammed by a talking snake. The whole thing boggles any rational mind.

Oh, I almost forgot. There is one more possibility. Natural disasters are caused by…are you ready?…nature. And nature doesn’t give a damn about us. It just…is.  And God…isn’t.



Bert Bigelow is a trained engineer who pursued a career in software design. Now retired, he enjoys writing short essays on many subjects but mainly focuses on politics and religion and the intersection...