The Real Problem with the Problem of Evil

One of the most common reasons for denying the existence of God is the problem of evil in the world. Just ask any group of atheists to give their top ten reasons for unbelief and surely one will claim as number one, “If there is a God, then why is there so much evil in the world?” For many, this is the pièce de résistance of rebuttals. How could a good God be real and allow all the suffering in the world to continue unabated – assuming He is even good? The eighteenth century philosopher, David Hume described the problem this way in Dialouges concerning Natural Religion, 1779:

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?” (Stackhouse 1998, 11)

So, the “problem of evil,” and its source, has been an issue of philosophical debate for centuries.  The existence of evil in the world, along with unanswered questions, has even become evidence enough for some to even embrace atheism.  Therefore, because so many philosophers and theologians have tried for ages to reconcile the existence of God with the existence of evil, I dare say that nothing I write will be new.  But, if anyone were to challenge my belief in God, along with my faith in Jesus Christ, with the argument that the problem of evil constitutes proof God does not exist, then I would possibly respond with arguments based on the following thought: without the existence of God, there should be no evil to be a problem, and that’s the real problem with “the Problem of Evil’

What exactly is “evil?” Now, that may sound like an absurd kind of question to ask, but if the existence of evil is the evidence that is supposed to expose my faith as a fraud, at best, or even a lie, then what is it?  Is it something tangible? Is it metaphysical? Is ittheoretical? What is it, exactly? Does it have any particular form? How can it be distinguished from what is called good? On what do the atheists and agnostics base their definition of this thing called “evil?” Amazingly, the answers are not all the same, nor in some cases even grounded in reality. However, it is imperative to understand that we must define this God-killer, because its definition will determine our conclusions and help to clarify our assumptions. When C. S. Lewis was an atheist, for example, his “argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.” (Lewis 1989) There he had it, or so he thought. God could not exist because so much evil exists. But how did he arrive at “this idea of just and unjust?” Lewis said, “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” (Lewis 1989) “Tell me,” I would say, “what is evil, and how do you recognize it when you see it?

To start, evil must be understood to be an adjective. Evil is a description of something that is not good. Evil is not a thing. The word “evil” only describes the thing, the thought, and the action. Technically, “evil” does not exist, only what it describes. Some people say that they cannot believe in God because why or how could a good God, if He was perfect, create evil? They think of evil as something that must have not existed until God made it. But evil “isn’t a kind of molecule or a virus…infecting or affecting everything it encounters.  There was no time when God said, ‘Let there be evil,’ and there was evil.” (Stackhouse 1998)  As John G. Stackhouse put it, “evil becomes a noun only in the abstract.” Additionally, in his book Can God Be Trusted, Stackhouse says of evil:

“An action can be evil, or an event can be evil, or a quality can be evil, or a being can be evil. And we can lump all these particular evils together in our minds and come up with a category ‘evil.’ We can even go on to discuss it as if it were a particular thing, so long as we do not forget that we are always dealing with a category or group of particular evil things, not a thing itself.” (Stackhouse 1998, 31)

So then, if evil is a description, how is it that we come to use the adjective, or as Lewis put it, the “crooked line,” without first having some idea of what is a “straight” one?  Defining what is good is as important as defining evil. To know what is evil, we must first have some assumption as to what is not evil. The crazy thing is that if God does not exist, and man is nothing more than a collection of random matter, both good and evil are purely relative – their existence is based purely on one’s perspective.  So, in other words, the one who says that there is no God, based on the existence of evil, is literally basing his belief on pure opinion, not on anything objective; therefore, in order to bring an accusation against the goodness of God, one must have a base line. What is the standard by which we determine what is good and what is evil?

Some use Man as the baseline. They compare God to the standard set by what is thought to be good behavior in this world. They rationalize that if God is real, at least according to monotheistic dogma, He must be all-powerful, perfectly good, and the supreme example of love, kindness, and providential care. Because it is preached that God is a better Father than earthly fathers, Mark Twain took it upon himself to write:

The best minds will tell you that when a man has begotten a child he is morally bound to tenderly care for it…[yet], God’s treatment of his earthly children, every day and every night, is the exact opposite of that, yet those minds warmly justify those crimes…when he commits them.” (Tonie Doe Media 2007)

So then, according to Twain, God could not exist because if He did, He would act consistent with our understanding of what a good and loving earthly father would do.  In other words, if God cannot, in all His perfection, behave better toward His children than the most common man, His credentials are therefore revoked, and He must cease to exist.  However, this is so illogical. Who are we to say that God, if He is perfect, and we are imperfect, ever treats His children poorly? Do the protesting cries of a toddler who has had poison taken from his grasp carry more weight than the decision of the earthly father to take it away? How, then, are we to automatically assume that the infantile tendencies of finite man are wiser than the infinitely Mature?  Using Man as a baseline for what is good and evil is pure arrogance.

In reality, the problem of evil is really a problem for the atheist. He, who denies the existence of a Creator and accepts only the realities of evil in the world, essentially has nothing about which to complain.  Everything should be just fine and dandy, but it’s not.  The atheist knows that evil things happen to good people, as well as bad.  He sees the hurt, feels the pain, and begs for justice. The reality of evil in the world causes men to cry out for justice; for things to be made right. This is a problem, though, because knowing that a crooked line is not straight hints at the fact that a Line-drawer exists.

Of course, there are others who take a different approach. They claim that God does not exist except in the evil intentions of his followers to control others through guilt. They claim that God is just a fabrication of priests to keep mankind from behaving “naturally.” They say that nature is good, and if anything, God is evil for trying to get man to behave contrary to the very way he was created to behave. One guru said, “It seems that for those who worship God, the opposite to God is not that which is ‘evil,’ but that which is natural.” He said of animals, comparing them to men, “They don’t worship God, they don’t go to church, they don’t have any theology.  They don’t have any feeling of guilt, they are simply natural.” (Osho 2009)  In other words, if there is evil in the world, it is because our belief in God has inflicted it.

But for the majority of the hurting world, pain is real, loss is real, and evil is manifested daily.  Many see the things that happen to innocent people, especially children, and wonder, “If there is a loving God, why doesn’t he do anything about this?”  These people, many of which hold on to hope as long as they can, finally succumb to their doubts and conclude that the only way to explain away the pain is to admit that it is just part of life, part of the natural world, part of what makes us human; alone, in our quest to make life easier, free of pain, free from evil; alone, without God. These are the ones, I believe, that lure more away from the faith than any Darwinist.  They are the ones who have seen evil face-to-face and cannot fathom a God who would allow it to continue.  And because their experiences are so painful and tragic, the devout are left speechless and without explanation. Ellie Wiesel is a good example.

Wiesel was a teenager when he saw his family murdered in the Nazi death camps.  But it was only after witnessing one particular act of horror – the slow, hanging death of a young boy – that he turned away from his faith in God. In the book Night, his Nobel prize-winning autobiography, Wiesel said he heard a man behind him ask, “Where is God now?” As he stood there, being forced to stare into a pitiful, wide-eyed, swollen face of a dying child, a voice within replied, “Where is He? Here He is – He is hanging here on the gallows…” (Wiesel 1982) Because there was no justification, even in the big scheme of things, Ellie Wiesel’s God died with the executed boy.  But as sad as it is, without God, who can say what happened to that boy was any worst than the slaughter of an animal?  Are we not all just animals – some more evolved than others?

To me, the problem of evil is not a problem for the believer, but for the non-believer.  Aside from the theological arguments about the character of God, without God, to turn Hume’s question around, “whence then is evil?” Without God, evil is relative to one’s desires and personal pleasure.  Does it really even matter whether or not God could do anything about evil in the world when the whole question is moot if He didn’t exist?  With God, evil is defined as that which is against His law, that which stands opposed to His standards, and that which describes all who take pleasure in such rebellion. Without God, evil is just a matter of opinion. That is the real problem of evil.


Works Cited

Lewis, C. S. “Atheism.” In The Quotable Lewis, by C. S. Lewis, 59. Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 1989.

Osho. The God Conspiracy: the path from superstition to superconsciousness. New York: Osho Media International, 2009.

Stackhouse, John G. Can God Be Trusted. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Tonie Doe Media. In The Atheist’s Bible, 129. New York: Harper Collins, 2007.

Wiesel, Ellie. Night. New York: Bantam Books, 1982.

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41 Comments

Filed under Apologetics, Culture Wars, Faith, General Observations, Life/Death, Struggles and Trials

41 responses to “The Real Problem with the Problem of Evil

  1. I haven’t finished reading yet, but I just have to say you and I are thinking on the same lines… I was explaining this to someone the other day… the intangibility of evil, and how it was never created. I love this!

    Let me finish it though 🙂

      • Finished and reblogged it! FIRE…It was too hot not to share.

        I wrote something recently, expressing the same thought, but you opened it all up.

        You can check it out though. It’s called A WORLD WITHOUT GOD.

        God bless you and grant you more wisdom!

      • Blessings to you. I’m glad you enjoyed it. I actually wrote this paper 5 years ago and then posted it on my blog back in 2011 and again in 2014. But last night, as I was in my study, I came across the original paper and felt the Spirit nudging me to post it again. I pray it’s an encouragement to some new people. Thanks for reading.

      • Nice one 🙂 It definitely was for me. I rarely reblog. And I’m not much of an apologist or theologian. But I like a good faith building post that exposes the deception of the enemy.

        Atheist are the most illogical beings when they use a trait that can only be defined with the existence of God to denounce His existence. This was a slam dunk!

  2. Reblogged this on Grace and Truth and commented:
    I am giving you a standing ovation! You did this topic justice. This is the truth! Thanks for speaking it.

  3. Hi Brother Anthony

    I have absolutely nothing to add to this. Just a well done.

  4. The problem of evil is not a problem for those who believe in God. It is a problem if you don’t believe God exists. If we are asked to account for evil in the universe with a God (as though we are responsible), then atheists must be asked to account for the existence of evil in a universe without God. Where dies evil come from but from human beings? It’s the answer in both universes.
    Also, I have found that to ask an atheist where he obtained his conception of evil in a universe without an objective, purely good Being, they avoid the question.

  5. Charise Collins

    Refreshing. I was thinking the exact same things! God is just – so if God is just, it’s a given that there will be things happening that people won’t agree with, events that require that scale thingy – the Balance. I (just me myself) don’t think about good vs evil, I think about good/civilized vs natural: nature is beautiful – butterflies, rainbows, goodness of others, (believing and non) as well as harsh – viruses killing, or even DNA wiring a person’s brain to be geared toward violent tendencies. “Natural” or because nature made it happen that way. But God created nature and nature behaves as nature behaves, and submits to the will of God. In Islam (the state of submitting to the will of God), everything in nature is naturally submitted to the will of God (that gazelle will be eaten by the cheetah. The cheetah is not evil for eating it – it is in its nature. The grass will be killed when the gazelle eats it. The gazelle isn’t evil for killing the grass – it is in it’s nature.) So to help with the way nature make us feel, we have the Old Testament and the Qur’an and gain info on how to deal (maybe this is a “civilized” aspect. Not to everybody of course lol. But yeah…No one should be starving or homeless if we who have, share. No one should be jealous if they give to others who are in need. If someone is killing, are they sorry and if so, can we forgive? If they are not sorry, do we stone them? Its like evil is part of life, nature and we don’t know what all it stems from (planetary alignment – God created the heavens, DNA, hormones, emotions, bad manners…). Ok my baby’s waking up. Lol my favorite joy of nature 😊 (but smelly poos are evil)

    • I’m sorry I just saw this comment. Thank you for stopping by, reading, and leaving a comment. It’s very much appreciated. Were it not for the fact that this baby (me) is barely awake, I’d like to reply to a couple of your thoughts. Forgive me if I “lay me down to sleep…” I’m not even going to need a lullaby 😉

      Again, thanks for stopping by.

  6. Joe

    Hello

    I enjoy reading and writing on these topics as well. I think it is important to note that and atheist can consistently believe in real moral evil and good. This issue was addressed to some extent by Plato’s dilemma in the euthyphro.

    I am glad you ask nonbelievers to examine what they mean by something being evil. Is moral evilness a quality that attaches to objective reality or is it something we “make up” in our minds?

    I offer 4 of the main views here:
    https://trueandreasonable.co/2014/01/20/what-do-you-mean-im-wrong/

    I firmly believe that the more people explore meta-ethics the more they will understand reasonableness of Christianity.

    But just because it is logically possible that there is a real morality without God that does not mean it is logically consistent with other beliefs the atheist holds. For example many atheists claim they should only believe something if they have evidence for it. What evidence do they have that moral qualities attach in our reality?

    I argue that they would have no such evidence. And I just wrote a blog on that topic here:
    https://trueandreasonable.co/2016/05/10/evidence-of-objective-moral-realism/

    If the atheist is the sort who insists they need evidence to believe something then it would seem they are violating that principal if they believe in real morality.

  7. Grear points, but what we have to ask ourselves is what does God desire from us, and that is to have loving fellowship with us. He gave us free will to chose because He desires a love relationship not a robotic obligation. If there was no evil, then there would be no choice. God desires our love. If we are not given the choice, how can we decide to love Him.

  8. All good points. But what we need to ask ourselves is what does God desire, and that is a love relationship with us. If we are not given free will, if we are not given the option to choose good over evil then He would not have our love but our robotic devotion. Evil exists so we can choose to love God. Evil exists so God’s desire can be met, by us choosing to love Him

  9. You have started quite the fascinating conversation here!

  10. Haha, my bad. It was so important apparently I had to post it twice 🙂

  11. Life’s experiences do affect our thinking no matter we believe in our head. For example: We have a daughter of 34 years born with her incomplete spinal cord sticking out her back. 34 surgeries and several ambulance rides, life flights, and near death experiences alone has seemed to keep raising the trust bar (that God is a good, loving and all powerful God) for my wife and I. I am convinced that each of us must be driven to a total abandonment from our trust in ourselves to be able to say as Job did “though He slay me , yet will I trust Him”. I relate to the old saying “The only problem with a living sacrifice is that it keeps crawling off the alter” (Romans 12:1-2)

    • Brother, that is certainly heartbreaking. I can’t imagine. All I can say is that I’ve seen a lot of pain, suffering, tears, and even death. Even the aged who’ve lost their minds. What I’ve learned is not to question God, but hate the devil. Sin (the Fall) did this. But one day the scales will be balanced. In the meantime, since we’re not home yet, I long for the day when mortality will put on immortality, and sin and death will meet their end.

      • We have come to hate sin and Satan immensely as well. Home is in our sights but meanwhile we hope to run the gauntlet of life well. Thank you for tackling some of these issues with good biblical insight.

  12. Pingback: The Real Problem with the Problem of Evil – Truth in Palmyra

  13. This was really well written. Thanks, I really enjoyed reading it.

  14. Pingback: Making Sense of Suffering, No Assembly Required – Life After Doubt

  15. Check out the above link. It is a respectful critic from an atheist who disagrees with me. He makes some interesting observations which might be worth a response.

    • As an ex-christian and now atheist myself, I couldn’t agree more with the atheist author of the link above (Making sense of suffering….) when she says… “We are not questioning why suffering exists—we are questioning how a Christian can make sense of God when we know what we know. In a world of suffering we find no purpose for God, Satan, or the “evil” nature of mankind.”

      I do hope the other readers here will hop across and check out what she wrote. She IS always civil in what she writes, and usually spot on when it comes to what many atheists feel.

      • However, I do believe the majority of humanity would agree that there is more to “evil” than naturalistic cause-and-effect suffering. If nothing else, that “sense” one gets when around a murderer, or when surveying an horrific crime scene. Even most non-Christians would concur that “evil” describes more that suffering.

      • By the way, before I forget, thanks for taking the time to comment. I do appreciate it, regardless the different viewpoint.

      • Eolandeeliva@yahoo.com.au

        And I too appreciate you allowing another viewpoint on your blog Anthony. That shows courage and integrity IMO.

  16. I rarely find an atheist who uses the word “evil” as such…so I’m not sure which atheists you’ve been speaking with. But for me, acting “immorally” would be a better description. And who defines that morality? The evolution of our species, over thousands of years, has required us to adopt behaviours that allow us to live harmoniously in groups..hence giving us a better chance of survival. That explanation makes far more sense to me now, than some supernatural being giving us rules/guidelines to live by.

    • I do find it puzzling that you and the author of the other blog keep questioning where I get that atheists raise the “evil” question. Were the citations in my post insufficient? Were they nobodies?

      But what hopelessness. Your position is nothing more than an “oh well, life’s a b—-.” I’m not a fatalist, and what I see in the world is evidence there’s something more than just what’s “in the box.”

      • Perhaps it’s the every day “nobody” type atheists you need to be conversing with more Anthony. And hopelessness? The value I place on this life is far greater now that I’ve accepted this is it, no second chance. And my life is far better for it.

      • Life After Doubt

        I’m definitely not questioning whether or not atheists raise the question– we absolutely do. I’m questioning whether we are really asking the question as genuinely as you attempt to answer it. Atheists often use the Christian point of view against Christians in a debate, and maybe they really do think it’s a valid argument. But the question is useless when the two sides do not even agree on whether or not a supernatural factor is real. That changes everything about how we interpret evil.

        Also, in response to an above comment about how everyone senses something more when faced with a horrific scene: I do not think everyone does. If you believe in supernatural forces like God and Satan, of course you will. And when I believed in those things I felt it, too. But when you can no longer believe– that “sense” becomes something different. Two people can experience the same thing in two very different ways. For many reasons.

        Thanks for an interesting conversation 🙂

  17. Pingback: Things I have read on the internet – 32 | clydeherrin

  18. will definitely reblog this. Thank you in advance.

  19. Reblogged this on imanikingblog and commented:
    Evil in the world? Try God, He is full of Love and enough room for you to join the family!

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