Whose Problem Is The Problem of Evil?

Posted: April 19, 2015 in Blog Post
Tags: , , , ,
Evil and the Existence of God

If you are a Christian and have ever had a conversation with a non-believer about your faith, chances are you have been hit with the most common objection to belief in God – the problem of evil. You may have even struggled with this same problem in your own life, as most of us will at some point. The objection, in point form, usually sounds something like this:

  1. If a good and loving and powerful God exists, then evil could not exist.
  2. Evil does exist.
  3. Therefore, God does not exist.

It’s a powerful argument, for sure, and one that we as Christians must be prepared to address. It certainly doesn’t take a lot of searching to find examples of the most unspeakable evils in the world. The news and internet are plagued with gruesome murders, rapes, assaults, corruption, theft, human trafficking, and many other examples. Without a doubt – evil exists; which is precisely why atheists will always point to it in their rejection of the existence of God (point 2 and 3).

However, using the existence of such evil to disprove God is a big mistake. People seem to assume that the problem of evil is only a problem if you believe in God. In actuality, it’s a problem for everyone. As Christian apologist Greg Koukl often puts it, “If you get rid of God because of the problem of evil, you haven’t solved the problem. You’ve just gotten rid of one possible solution!” Both Christianity and atheism need to supply answers to the problem of evil. So how do atheists solve this problem?

When someone brings up evil as an objection to the existence of God, it is often helpful to ask them how they explain the problem of evil. What do they mean when they say evil? They are likely taking for granted that in an atheistic worldview, there is no way to ground concepts like good and evil. Something can only be evil if there is such a thing as good. But what is the standard by which this person is differentiating between the two concepts? Since they don’t believe in God, the only standard they are left with is human opinions. So who gets to decide what is good or what is evil? By human standards, the concept of evil makes no sense.

What determines evil or good, if humans are the standard, would turn out to be the person or group of people with the power to impose their view on the rest of the population. This is exactly what happened in Nazi Germany; Hitler thought that exterminating 6 million Jews was a good thing, and he had the power to eliminate anyone who did not agree with him. Does this mass slaughter of Jews now become a good thing because everyone who doesn’t think so is dead? Of course not. It will always be wrong to do such unbelievably horrible things to other human beings, like those that were done in the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.

The Moral Argument and the Existence of God

The obvious nature of the problem of evil plays right into one of the most powerful arguments for the existence of God – The Moral Argument. In its basic form it goes like this:

  1. Objective morality exists, if and only if God exists
  2. Objective morality does exist.
  3. Therefore, God exists.

Objective morality simply means that something is right or wrong regardless of anyone’s opinion. For example, when a person says that the Holocaust was wrong they are not talking about their opinion, but the Holocaust itself. They are saying that the act of the holocaust was objectively wrong, regardless of what Hitler thought about it. Likewise, when a person says it is a good thing to save a toddler from a burning building, I don’t think they mean it is just their opinion that this is good. They are saying the act itself is good, even if there is no one around to give their opinion about it.

It is also important to note that I am not saying that a person needs to believe in God to be good. That would be a ridiculous thing to say. There are many atheists out there who live more moral lives than some Christians. I am saying that God needs to exist in order for there to be a standard, beyond human opinion, by which to judge good and evil.

From our perspective, the only way to define good and evil is if there is a standard by which to judge both. If someone throws a dart at a white wall how would they determine whether it was a good throw? There would be no such thing as a good throw on a white wall because there is nothing to aim at. However, if we put a bull’s-eye on the wall we can now say one throw is better than the other by comparing how close it is to the middle. We have a standard. Equally, when it comes to things like good and evil, we need a standard, beyond human opinion, by which to say that one act is better than another.

In the Christian worldview, our sense of morality is derived from the fact that we are created in the image of God. This doesn’t mean we look like Him, but rather that we have the same faculties of reason, rationality, and morality. Our definition of what is good is grounded in the very nature of God Himself. In Him, we unconsciously have the standard we refer to when we call one thing good and another thing evil.

In atheism, however, there is no such standard. We must remember that in this view we are the products of blind evolution. Our thoughts, beliefs, actions, and values are supposedly grounded biologically in the long process that turned us into the creatures we are today. There is no such thing as evil or good, just DNA.  Famous atheist and Oxford Biologist Richard Dawkins admits as much:

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication some people are going to get hurt, others are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we would expect if there is, at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, and no other good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows, nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.” ¹

The problem should be obvious. Was Hitler wrong because he simply danced to a different DNA than we do? Do we tell a rape victim that her attacker didn’t really do anything wrong, but that he was just dancing to his DNA? With biological evolution as the standard, this is about as good as it gets. If atheism were true, what we call evil is just our opinion, or maybe our evolution. With this view, I am not sure why we think it is wrong to kill or rape. Those things are obviously wrong, but it seems that a person who is willing to rape a woman or kill someone has a better chance of surviving and reproducing. That is what evolution is all about. The fact that humans have a moral objection to acts that would actually help them survive, is a powerful evidence that this worldview is inadequate.

I find it astonishing that even though many atheists like Richard Dawkins, whom I quoted above, will say things like, “DNA neither knows, nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music,” they will then write an entire book complaining about how evil religion is! Why can’t they accept that the only reason they think religion is evil, is because of their DNA? And why can’t they accept that whatever evil things religious people did to make them so angry, were only religious people following their DNA? No matter what people claim, they can’t help using terms like good and evil – even when they say they don’t exist. Evil is too real to deny.

Christians should not be intimidated by the problem of evil. In a sense it is an ally of sorts. For atheists to push the objection, they need to abandon their atheistic view to make sense of evil in the first place. Atheism steals morality from the Christian worldview in order to argue against it. For a consistent atheist, the problem of evil is not really a problem at all – just an opinion. That is all it can ever be. Rest assured though, that when true evil strikes at an atheist or someone they care about, it will no longer feel like just an opinion; it will be as real as gravity.

Conclusion

When it comes to this topic, we see a bigger problem for the atheist than for the Christian. Don’t just let someone demand an explanation for the problem of evil – unless they are also willing to explain it from their own worldview. We may not know why God allows evil, but at least we are not in the unfortunate position of having a worldview that can’t even define evil, or good for that matter. There are many different ways of trying to make sense of why God allows evil, and it is important to educate ourselves on this matter. We may very well come in contact with a person who is the victim of such evil and is seeking answers. Christianity has answers. Atheism does not.

 

  1. Richard Dawkins, Out of Eden (New York: Basic Books) p. 133

 

Advertisements
Comments
  1. RHargrave says:

    The second syllogism is really bothering the logic pendant in me. The stated conclusion does not follow from the stated premises. Specifically, “If God exists, then objective morality exists” is wrong in 2 ways.

    First, it is incorrect in that God could have created a world without objective morality. There is no reason to believe that God had to create objective morals.

    Second, it does not support the conclusion. If A, then B. B being true does not necessarily mean A is true. The statement needs to read “Objective morality exists if and only if God exists”.

    Like

    • defendingyourfaith says:

      Thank you very much for your input!

      You are quite right in your assessment of my syllogism. What I wrote in the article was meant to be sort of an “off the cuff” version of it, but that is no excuse to use sloppy logic. That being said, I do believe my argument still stands based on the argumentation that followed afterward.

      I will make the correction for sure. I hope you keep stopping by!

      Like

  2. glad you weren’t offended. i just think professional writings should always look as professional as possible! i liked this one, just hoped that the ending led to more of a Christian answer to the problem of evil. or pointed to some writings/books on the topic

    Like

    • defendingyourfaith says:

      I am glad you liked it, and i was not offended at all. The reason I didn’t offer a Christian perspective to the problem is because it was not the intent of the article. My intent was to simply show that the atheist’s attempt to force the problem solely onto the Christian was illogical. The problem still exists, unless a person want to deny evil as a reality altogether. There are definitely some great writings that offer a Christian perspective on the subject. I would recommend either Why Suffering? or Deliver Us From Evil? by Ravi Zacharias to start.

      Like

  3. sorry, but before i read this, it’s bothering me that the title says ‘who’s’ when it should be ‘whose’ :/

    Like

  4. Mark says:

    For all the internet atheists who claim to “lack belief in a god or gods”(and there seem to be tons of them), I would refer them to an article on americanatheists.com by Kai Nielsen (himself an atheist) titled “The Definition of Atheism.” In it he absolutely demolishes the notion that atheism is a “lack of belief.”
    And as for a definition of evil, how about this: Evil is when you do or say something to someone that you wouldn’t want done or said to you. Kind of like the Golden Rule.

    Like

  5. makagutu says:

    Life is not black and white as you seem to reduce things. You are creating a false dilemma where none exists. Good and evil are human categories and as long as we are human, there are acts that will be designated bad by the greatest majority of us. That is how things are.

    What is rape?

    Yes, I am consistent. I would call it evil because as I have said evil is a human category and I don’t like people being killed. Where is the contradiction?

    Like

    • defendingyourfaith says:

      I am afraid some things are black and white. Rape, for example, is either objectively evil, or subjectively evil. It has to be one or the other (Law of excluded middle) and it can’t be both (law of non-contradiction). If, as you say, things are designated bad by majority, then it means that if the majority decided rape was now good, then it would become good and not evil. Another example would be that if the Nazis had won WW2 and successfully brainwashed anyone who disagreed with them, then the Holocaust would no longer be evil, since the majority thinks the Jews should have been killed. I find that appalling, and I would argue that some things are wrong, regardless of the majority vote. Otherwise, someone like William Wilberforce would become wrong for opposing slavery, since the majority thought it was fine.

      Also, notice how you said you don’t “like” people being killed. If God does not exist, and good and evil really are human categories as you say, then the moral value of your statement really would be the same as “like” or “don’t like” in the same way that some people like cookies, and some don’t. You don’t like murder, some people think it’s great. If the majority of the people in your area think it’s great, well then it becomes great. If you think murder is objectively evil, then there must be good. If there is good, then there must be a moral law by which to differentiate between good and evil. But a moral law requires a moral law giver, who is beyond humanity. It is the same thing that convinced CS Lewis to believe in God. I think if you reflect on it a bit, you will at least see that I am not crazy for thinking what I do.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Actually the problem of evil is based on the believers definition of evil. In my world view neither gods nor evil exist. Only in a world where a god exists can there be evil. The problem of evil is a philosophical/theological one. Without religion there is no evil, so say I. It is only when the theists world view is asserted that the problem of evil becomes a ‘thing’ to think about.

    I don’t ask you to simply explain evil. I want you to explain why such is necessary in your world view. It’s only the theist world view that requires and necessitates evil. The theist world view falls to pieces if there is no evil to tempt and corrupt humans. The problem of evil is ENTIRELY the theist’s problem.

    Like

    • defendingyourfaith says:

      I disagree completely, but i appreciate your response!

      My guess is, like most people, you are very inconsistent on this issue. I am sure you claim that evil is not real, but then can’t help yourself from complaining about someone doing something wrong in the world. The Holocaust was not evil? Child abuse is not evil? Rape or murder are not evil? I know you don’t believe that, but since you are claiming there is no such thing as evil, the burden of proof is on YOU to explain how those things are not evil all the time. It is not my job to defend that they are. Everyone knows they are, but you made the claim, so the burden of proof is yours my friend.

      I don’t believe either that evil is a necessary part of the Christian worldview. God created humans with moral freedom, which is a good thing. If He had made robots that were simply programmed to help each other, they would not be doing anything virtuous, they would just be following their program. A computer is not good or evil, it just does what it is programmed to do. So in my view moral freedom is a good thing, but with that good thing came the opportunity to do bad things. There is nothing logically incoherent about that, even if you don’t believe it. If you see another way around it, I am welcome to hear it. The free will argument is the reason why almost no professional philosopher takes your position by the way.

      So I have shown you that evil is not necessary, and you have said that evil does not exist. By the way, when countries that institutionalized ATHEISM, like those under Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Zedong, killed conservatively over a hundred million people, was that evil? I know it is a standard move to discredit God by playing the “evil religion” card, but if a high body count makes your worldview false, then I would say you have the wrong worldview. I however don’t think it discredits either of our worldviews, but rather just shows that humans are the source of evil. It is an unhelpful way of arguing that kind of misses the point entirely.

      Thanks again for your input! I hope I got you thinking a bit, but if not, I am glad you stopped by anyway!

      Liked by 2 people

    • You failed to define what evil is. Until you do there is no conversation about evil. Remember, in my world view there is no evil. So, go on, define what evil is.

      Like

    • defendingyourfaith says:

      I gave you some pretty clear cut examples of things that are self-evidently morally evil. The Holocaust, child abuse, rape, murder, over 100 million killed by atheist dictators. Appealing to intuitions is a perfectly acceptable way of defining what is evil in many cases, and I am sure you use your intuitions all the time to argue for things. The fact is, I don’t think anyone, including you, think those things are not evil. Anything that violates the intrinsic value of human beings without proper justification is evil. If you think it’s not, then I feel sorry for you.

      What would you call it if someone kidnapped your closest loved one, abused them, raped them, tortured them, and eventually killed them? Evil? If not then what? Just shrug your shoulders? It is not intelligent to deny such an obvious thing as evil, it is kind of scary. A person who makes no distinction between good and evil, who has no moral categories whatsoever, is called a sociopath. You don’t have to believe in God to know that. I gave you at least one definition of evil, and gave many obvious examples. I don’t know what any of those things are if not evil. If they happened to you, you would drop the claim to moral relativism and become a believer in evil too. It is the most common human experience there is, and everyone, religious or not, cannot help themselves from pointing to it as a real thing in the real world.

      Like

  7. I agree, if objective morality exists, this would mean that a action is always wrong or always right. Is the owning of a human being always wrong or always right? How does this work with an omnipotent, omniscient god that chose to support slavery in your bible?

    I have no problem in making sense of evil. I have empathy. I know that religion has caused much misery in the world. I would work against that because I don’t want others harmed as I do not want to be harmed. Christian do not agree on what evil consists of either, so to claim that you have some objective morality is quite poorly supported.

    Like

    • defendingyourfaith says:

      Thank you for your feedback!

      I am glad that you agree about objective morality. I am sorry to see that you have been held up by the supposed slavery problem in the Bible. While I won’t give you a long treatment on the subject (there are many much smarter than me that have done it, and you can look them up in the links on my page) here are a few points:
      1. What is often thought of as slavery was actually indentured servitude for paying off debts. It would be the equivalent of declaring bankruptcy today, where a person could sell himself and his family to someone else in order to be provided for under the position of a servant.
      2. Prisoners of war existed back then, just like now, and there weren’t a lot of prisons around. Often times these people would be put to work as a “slave” even though they had the equivalent of union representation, with holidays on sabbath and everything.
      3. The New Testament clearly goes against slavery. The Bible was misused by so called Christians to approve of it, however it was also Christians like William Wilberforce and Abraham Lincoln that fought against it and saw it abolished completely. They used the same Bible by the way.

      There is more I could say, but like I said you can check the links. It is important to here from people at the top levels on both sides of the issues, and there are many fine scholars that have written extensively on the subject. Also a book called, Is God A Moral Monster by Paul Copan may help.

      While it is true that people have caused misery in the name of “religion”, it is important to know that it is actually atheistic regimes like those of Lenin, Stalin, and Mao Zedong, that killed more people than in the last 19 centuries before them. Evil committed by those claiming to be religious is a problem, but it proves nothing in terms of whether or not Christianity is true, just like it proves nothing about atheism. Humans are depraved, and while the Bible doesn’t explain why all the evil happens in every case, it certainly predicts it. It also explains our aversion to it, something I don’t think evolution does well at all.

      I also would disagree with your statement that Christians do not agree on what is evil. I think it is safe to say there is a pretty strong consensus among committed Christians as to what constitutes evil. I am not claiming to have a “list” of all the objective moral values out there, but I think it is obvious that most people are aware of many. Things like murder is wrong, torturing for fun is wrong, stealing for fun is wrong, lying for fun is wrong, cheating on your wife or husband is wrong, etc. By defining evil as “harm” the way you did, it does a poor job of addressing the problem. You have made an arbitrary category, and another person could easily do things that are wrong and stay within your framework. A person could spy on their neighbours’ children bathing, for example, and not “harm” them. This would still be wrong in my view, and I am sure yours as well. That is just one example.

      I am glad to see you are thinking through this issue, and I hope you keep reading up on it. Jesus is not your enemy I assure you.I would invite you to read what He had to say instead of taking other people’s words for it. Thanks you so much for the feedback again!

      Like

  8. makagutu says:

    Unfortunately, it seems to me you have no idea what you are talking about. Atheism is a lack of belief in gods. There is no problem of evil for the atheist to answer to regardless of what your favourite apologist says.
    The world just is. Good and bad are human values. It is how we see judge the world and as such something is bad if it is inimical to our well being and bad if it threatens our will to live.

    Like

    • defendingyourfaith says:

      Thanks for reading!

      I always appreciate some input. However, atheism is a belief, and saying it is a lack of belief is just kind of a word game. If I asked you , “Do you believe God does not exist?” you would answer in the affirmative, which means you have beliefs. That is ok by the way. You are better off arguing for your position than trying to dodge it altogether.

      The only way you as an atheist have no problem of evil to answer for, is if you deny evil altogether as a category and assume moral relativism. You are welcome to deny evil if you want to, I just don’t see that as a rational position, considering the abundance of examples of undeniable evil in the world. I am sure you, like most people would be quick to cry foul if someone assaulted you or a loved one, stole from you, lied to you, etc. However, if the world just is, well then that’s too bad. You have no right to get mad at anyone.

      I hope you realize that your arbitrary description of good and bad has no grounding whatsoever, and there are many things a person could do based on your definitions. There is nothing about rape that is inimical to our well being or threatens our will to live. Lying either. Or stealing. Come to think of it, a person could play pretty loose within the so called moral framework you described. What you should say, to be consistent, is that moral categories are meaningless, and are not binding on us in any way. As you said “the world just is.”

      By the way, this is not just what my favorite apologist says, it is also what almost all philosophers, atheists included, agree on. There is nothing new here in terms of foundational concepts.

      Thanks!

      Like

    • makagutu says:

      Thanks for your response.
      You are wrong when you say

      “Do you believe God does not exist?” you would answer in the affirmative, which means you have beliefs.

      My answer will be I lack such belief. It is the answer I always give and will give. And of course, I have beliefs just as other humans do. You appear to me to think the only beliefs people can have are about gods. How narrow is your conception of the human person?

      I said you don’t understand the problem of evil and it continues to show. The problem of evil is only so when you conceive the world to be governed by a good, all powerful and all loving god. If for example the god you have in mind is malevolent, there is no problem of evil, maybe a problem of good.

      I didn’t in my comment ignore evil. I said good and evil are human categories. You can’t talk about such terms without reference to human persons.

      And yes, the world is. It is indifferent to our feelings.

      You think am inconsistent? Maybe you need to reread what I wrote.

      Like

    • defendingyourfaith says:

      If it is true as you say, that good and evil are simply human categories, then you are forced to say that the most horribly inconceivable acts that have been perpetuated by humanity are not evil in an objective sense, but merely not your preference. I would argue that something like rape is objectively evil, and when we call it that, we are referring to the act and not our feelings about it. In your comment you did ignore evil, because you relegated it to a subjective human opinion, thereby undermining it as a reality altogether. If you think it is rational to think of evil that way, you are entitled to do so. However the reason I am not persuaded by that is because it is a very poor explanation of reality.

      I said you are inconsistent, because like everyone else who lives in the world, you bump into reality all the time. You turn on the news, and there is evil, and I am sure you refer to it as such. If all the Christians decided to kill all homosexuals, (kind of like what ISIS is doing right now), my guess is your intuitions would rise to the surface and you would call that evil, regardless of opinion.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s