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Does the Problem of Evil Support Atheism?

Windmill Ministries
Published by in Think About It. ·
Tags: theProblemofEvil
 The Problem of Evil

Why does a good God allow suffering? Why is there suffering in the world? It is a commonly mentioned problem, but it does not pose a logical problem for God's existence. Certainly, it's a deep emotional or existential problem, but neither a generic, a traditional, nor a strictly Christian concept of God render it a logical problem.

The Generic Concept God

If you consider God in a mere generic sense, as a Being with immense power and knowledge, it is not an argument for atheism at all. Just because we do not like God, or even if He did things we would consider blameworthy, it does not follow that He does not exist. For instance: I do not like Hitler – but it does not mean that he did not exist. 

The Traditional Concept of God

Yet even if we consider God through a more traditional lense, that this immensely powerful Being is not only great but good, that He is perfect in both His infinite powers and His personal (moral) qualities, still this does not pose a logical problem for theism. There is no explicit logical contradiction between the statements:
God is good.
God is omnipotent.
Evil exists.

These can be all true at the same time. The atheist, therefore, must assume that there is an implicit contradiction between these points, but this is up to the atheist to prove. It is his argument against God's existence, and therefore he carries the burden of proof.

The theist, therefore, has only to show that it is possible that God has a good reason for permitting the evil He could prevent. Many reasons have been considered over the ages. The very concepts of mercy, justice, and love require a world where choice, risk, and consequent pain existent. We call the generation that endured the Great Depression and WWII the "Greatest Generation," not because they were the happiest, but because through their suffering they exemplified the greatest qualities known to mankind. Under the Christian worldview, the greatest gift given to mankind, the greatest qualities we know about God - His mercy and grace - are known only through the veil of a fallen creation and the Love-gift of God's Son to redeem it.

Free will is another morally sufficient reason God might have for allowing evil. What if God choose to sovereignly limit His power by giving us freedom and therefore the option to choose between right and wrong, good and evil? In doing this, He would still be good, all-powerful and evil would still exist. 

The traditional concept of God's omnipotence has never meant that God can do absolutely anything, but only that God can do anything that is in accordance with His own nature and attributes. These attributes include truth. God is a God of truth, reason, and logic; therefore, God can do what seems paradoxical and mysterious, but He can never do what is illogical and untrue. He cannot lie. He cannot make a square circle. And He cannot make free moral creatures who aren't free to choose. 

In the words of Alvin Plantinga (1932 - , American philosopher): “God's creation of persons with morally significant free will is something of tremendous value. God could not eliminate much of the evil and suffering in this world without thereby eliminating the greater good of having created persons with free will with whom he could have relationships and who are able to love one another and do good deeds.”

The Christian Concept of God

The next thing to point is that evil in our world is especially consistent with Christian doctrine. Under the Christian worldview:

1. God created free moral creatures in His own image.
2. And because we have free will, we can make both good and bad choices. Therefore, bad things happen as a consequence of bad choices.
3. And because we live in a fallen world, our world is cursed and therefore bad things happen in nature.
So, in light of the moral law, we make bad choices and evil exists. And natural evil exist because nature is fallen. Yet even so, God uses natural and moral evil to redeem us at difficult situations – and I have lots of experiences on that myself as well.

Let me summarize this with a quote from American Philosopher Peter van Inwagen. He says:
“It used to be widely held that evil was incompatible with the existence of God: that no possible world can contain both God and evil. So far as I am able tell, this thesis is no longer defended.”

The Problem of Evil as an Argument for God's Existence

Is the problem of evil a significant challenge to theism? No, but it is a significant challenge to atheism! Consider the following points:

1. In order to talk about things being bad, we need to first acknowledge what good and bad is.
2. And in order to acknowledge what good and bad is, we need a moral law, we need a compass to compare it to.
3. This is our moral law, an objective moral law, which means that there’s an objective moral Lawgiver. Which means that God exist.

C.S. Lewis once reflected on his own experience with the logic of this argument. Although he once considered evil an impediment to his faith, upon further reflection he realized it actually confirmed the existence of the God he sought for.
He writes, "My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”

If you've enjoyed this blogpost, see our corresponding five-minute aplogetics video!

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