The Question of Suffering: A Leading Christian and a Celebrated Agnostic Debate, But Miss the Crux of the Matter


Written and collected by Zia H Shah MD, Chief Editor of the Muslim Times

The question of suffering is the most often cited reason by the agnostics and atheists for their lack of belief in God. With half of the European population falling into the category of agnosticism or atheism, the question takes center stage. Yet apologists for theism have very little to offer, hence I am presenting the materials here.

Prof. Bart Ehrman is a famous New Testament scholar and an agnostic and Dinesh D’Souza was president of the King’s College, a Christian school in New York City, from 2010-2012.

They are both writers of several well known books and have specifically written about the question of suffering. Prof. Bart Ehrman’s book is titled: God’s Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question–Why We Suffer and Dinesh D’Souza’s: Life After Death: The Evidence.

In the debate below lasting more than an hour and a half, both of them make several good points, yet they completely fail to bring out the best explanation for suffering, which was given to us by none other than Charles Darwin:

The question of suffering is best answered, by the creative value of suffering for the struggle for survival, as pithily described by the celebrated naturalist, Charles Darwin, in the concluding paragraph of his legendary book, On the Origin of Species:

From the war of nature, from famine and death, the most exalted object which we are capable of conceiving, namely, the production of the higher animals, directly follows. There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been breathed, by the Creator, into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.

The debaters fail to bring out this point either because biology and evolution are not their strong suit or they are too bogged down by their individual ideology.

The above paragraph about creative power of the struggle for survival of the fittest is well explained by the most famous atheist of our times Richard Dawkins in his book: The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution. The book’s title itself, reveals enough about what in the view of the theists, is the wonderful creation of God, which is dependent on suffering for its fruition.  This is the grand plan or paradigm of our earthly existence as conceived and understood by the enlightened theists of all Abrahamic faiths.

From my perspective what Dawkins has beautifully described is how suffering for almost 3-4 billion years has created ‘the Greatest Show on Earth,’ with at least 9 million different life forms and the apex of life in the form of 7 billion humans, now inhabiting the planet.

Charles Darwin and Richard Dawkins are describing what is visible to the naked human eye or the eye equipped with the scientific method to study nature.  It is just that theists see the hidden hand of an All-Knowing and All-Powerful God behind ‘the Greatest Show on Earth.’ The God of the Abrahamic faiths, who is beyond time space and matter. In the twentieth first century, with all the 20th century physics at our service, quantum physics makes it easy to conceptualize, a constant nanosecond by nanosecond Providence of God, without leaving a trace, for the materialists to observe.


Rubin vase: You can see a blue vase or two yellow statues, depending on your preference. Likewise, you can choose to see a self sufficient universe or Providence of God and guided evolution

Like a Rubin vase, the strict materialists, who refuse to conceive the possibility of anything, beyond time space and matter, see a self sufficient universe or multiverse and the theists, who allow that possibility because of their life experiences and religious history, see Providence of God and guided evolution over the last 3-4 billion years.

At any rate, the Greatest show on earth is not possible without suffering, which is an integral part of the design of our biopyllic universe. After one reads about the 3-4 billion year journey in Dawkins’ book, one can embark on another wonderful journey that started in the Big Bang some 13 billion years ago and here we can begin to learn from another celebrated agnostic, Stephen Hawking. His recent book is: The Grand Design.

Suggested Reading

Tackling the Ever Present Question of Suffering from Agnostics’ and Atheists’ Works

The Ever Present Question of Suffering

The Question of Suffering


7 replies

  1. [youtube

    In this debate both sides make several good points. It also seems that the Christian debater is going for the jugular while Prof. Bart Ehrman is not. The best point that he makes in this debate, in my opinion, is towards the end of this video, around 1 hr 57 minutes that as humans are subjective they cannot have ‘objective truth,’ even if it is present in the Bible.

    This may be true for the holy Quran also, God is Infinite, All Knowing and posses ‘objective absolutes,’ yet we as finite beings with finite resources can only seek ‘objective absolutes’ and cannot claim to possesses them.

    The theists may often claim that atheists can be arrogant, but in this area a little humility is demanded of the believers, in not trying to force their understanding or ideas on others, as ‘there is no compulsion in religion,’ according to the holy Quran.

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