The presence of evil, pain and suffering in our world is the most persistent argument raised against theism. The following are several of the main responses to the presence of evil in the world and its impact on the existence of the God of the Bible.
1. The problem of evil stated
Traditional Statement—Atheists and others usually state the problem of evil in the form of a dilemma:
- If God is perfectly loving, He must wish to abolish evil
- If He is all powerful, He must be able to abolish evil
- But evil exist—the problem is, if you affirm two of these facts, you cannot affirm the third.
- Therefore, an all powerful, loving God does not exist.
- God is the author of everything.
- Evil is something.
- Therefore God is the author of evil.
- God made everything perfect.
- Imperfection cannot come from perfection.
- Therefore perfectly created beings cannot be the origin of evil.
- Therefore God must be the origin.
Attack Based on the Persistence of Evil
- If God is all good, He would destroy evil.
- If God is all-powerful, He could destroy evil.
- But evil is not destroyed.
- Hence, there is no such God.
2. Christian Responses
Christians should learn to state the free-will defense against the problem of evil quickly and clearly.
Alvin Plantinga's Free Will Defense (Alvin Plantinga, God and Other Minds—A Study of Rational Justification of Belief in God. Ithica, NY: Cornell University Press, 1967)
- Free will is of moral value. That is, a world with free will is better than one without it.
- It is a contradiction to say that God brings it about that humans freely will only the good [vs J.S. Findlay who claims that this is possible].
- God must bring about the best possible world in His capacity.
- Therefore, God must create a world with free will. [We believe the word "must" is objectionable here, but the point still stands. Instead read "God is correct to create..."]
- But then God is not responsible for evil (choices), since it is not in his power to bring it about that men freely choose only the good. [note: this assumes that God cannot, and need not, do the logically contradictory. If logic does not apply to God, then there is nothing wrong with asserting the apparent contradiction that God is good and He permits evil to exist. Where there is no logic, there are not any contradictions—and anything could be the case!]
Other Statements of the Biblical Position:
- God created the fact of freedom—man performs the acts of freedom.
- God made evil possible, but free will creatures make evil actual.
- The ability to do something does not necessitate doing it. God is able to control everything, yet He allows free will. The atheistic position reduces to a moral judgment that absence of all evil is more desirable than freedom.
*Note: Atheistic thinkers are usually contradictory at this point. Secular humanists prefer freedom in society even if it sometimes results in evil. Most atheists resist the idea of governmental attempts to eliminate evil by the use of control.
Eschatological Formulation (focuses on how the future, or end state of the world, will ultimately be the true standard by which the present will be judged).
- If God is all powerful, He can defeat evil.
- If God is all loving and good, He will defeat evil.
- Therefore, evil will be defeated.
*Note: The question of why God allows the persistence of evil is distinct from the question of why He permitted it in the first place. The biblical answer to the issue of persistence of evil probably has to do with God's strategy for insuring the on-going and safe existence of freedom in the universe.
3. Communication Guidelines
A. In his arguments against God's existence, the atheist presupposes an ultimate standard of justice and good when he refers to evil.
- Ask, "What basis does the atheist have for saying there is evil in the world?" "Is this not an appeal to his own relative moral feelings and opinions?" "Why should his feelings be authoritative?"
- Ask, "What's your explanation?" Never accept the burden of being the only one who has to hold to a cohesive and consistent world view.