The Problem of Evil
For the skeptic who doesn’t believe in the existence of God, you may find that one common reason for this has to do with the existence and prevalence of evil and the suffering we experience in the world. Some common questions I’ve heard and had to deal with are, “If there is an all-loving, all-powerful God, how could He allow evil to exist?” and “How can I believe in God when there’s so much evil in the world?”
These are indeed thoughtful questions that even Christians grapple with. When we see a world riddled with corruption, racism, hate, murder, war, disease, poverty, etc, we can’t help but ask “why?” and “how?” Even more so, if we say we believe in the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful God who allows these things to continue.
However, does the existence of evil itself disprove the existence of God? I don’t believe so. To really tackle this question, it’s vital to first examine the underlying presuppositions that give birth to it: moral truths and worldviews. My goal for this article is to give the skeptic something to think about, and to give the Christian a set of tools you can use to give a reasoned argument for the existence of God in the midst of evil and suffering.
“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?” – C.S. Lewis
Before answering this question, I believe it’s important to nail down some key ideas people have when they ask this question. The first idea being a “worldview.” A worldview is essentially the “lens” in which every human being uses to see the world around them. For example, as a Christian who believes the Bible is the ultimate source of truth, I have a Biblical worldview. Society, on the other hand, is quickly embracing a materialistic worldview – a worldview that believes the physical, material world is all there is, and that there is no God, the supernatural, or immaterial.
We need to understand that many people who use evil to claim God doesn’t exist have a materialistic worldview. This materialistic worldview often goes hand-in-hand with the theory of evolution and the belief that we’re byproducts of millions of years of evolution. Usually, this question or claim is made with these presuppositions. This fact will be important later in the article.
The next key idea we need to understand is morality. When we bring up the topic of evil and suffering, we’re invoking a set of moral truths. In my article Do All Religions Lead to God?, I examined what it meant for something to be objective or subjective. I’ll do the same here, but instead take a look at objectivity and subjectivity in the context of morality.
Even if we wanted to give the materialist the benefit of the doubt and say, at the very least, subjective morals can exist in a materialistic worldview, we still have a problem: they’re not living by those moral standards. Despite the fact that the materialistic worldview is widely embraced and held in society, most people give no thought to its logical conclusion.
If there is an act of evil, such as a school shooting, the nation may grieve and mourn the loss of lives or those affected (as we should). However, if we wanted to take the materialistic worldview to its logical conclusion and appeal to the idea that this world is purely physical and morals are subjective, who’s to say (based on this worldview) an act of violence such as this is “bad?”
The perpetrator believes what he did was “good” and to say otherwise (again, based on this worldview) would be forcing our views on them and would be hypocritical. If morals are subjective, we have no standard by which to judge “right” or “wrong” other than ourselves, which fails miserably when put to the test in the real world.
The point is, although many people love the idea of morals being subjective, as soon as our possessions are stolen, our house broken into, an injustice committed, or act of violence and “evil” witnessed, we all of a sudden react as if morals are objective, that there is, in fact, a moral law, a standard that’s beyond us with which we use to judge what’s “good” and what’s “evil.” I ask again, where does this come from? I believe that evil does not argue against the existence of God, but evil actually is an argument for the existence of God.
If Evil…therefore, God
If we say there’s evil, we’re comparing it to a standard of “good.” For those that don’t believe in God, but think the physical world is all there is, there is no objective moral standard by which you can judge “good” or “evil” to begin with because, at best, morality would be subjective (if it even existed at all).
At best, acts of “evil” would only be preference from one person to another, while suffering wouldn’t matter as we’re all byproducts of millions of years of evolution and no different than a fly or monkey – it would be do or die, survival of the fittest. However, none of us truly live life thinking this way, but this is the end result once you follow this worldview to its logical conclusion.
“When you say there’s too much evil in this world you assume there’s good. When you assume there’s good, you assume there’s such a thing as a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. But if you assume a moral law, you must posit a moral Law Giver, but that’s Who you’re trying to disprove and not prove. Because if there’s no moral Law Giver, there’s no moral law. If there’s no moral law, there’s no good. If there’s no good, there’s no evil. What is your question?” – Ravi Zacharias
When we closely examine the idea whether the existence of evil disproves the existence of an all-loving, all-knowing, all-powerful God, we come to find out that this first requires us to presuppose a set of objective moral standards to judge “evil” from “good.” If this weren’t true, then there would be no reason to conjure up this notion in the first place.
However, in a materialistic worldview without the immaterial, without God, these objective moral standards can not exist. I believe it’s because God exists, that objective moral values exist, and therefore we are able to pose such questions in the first place. As a rebuttal, the skeptic may refer to evolution as the means by which mankind has a form of morality, but this doesn’t address the prior points.
How could morality exist in a purely physical world, and if it did exist in a subjective context, how then can we truly judge “evil” from “good?” When we see animals hunt and kill, we don’t cry foul and claim what they did is wrong. Animals don’t have morals, but in the evolutionary worldview, evolved just like humans did. So who’s to say humans, just like animals, don’t behave purely from instinct or other biological processes?
In fact, Stephen Hawking—who was a well-known physicist and cosmologist—took a deterministic approach to this view, a belief that, ultimately, humans have no free will, and everything is pre-determined by stating, “It is hard to imagine how free will can operate if our behavior is determined by physical law, so it seems that we are no more than biological machines and that free will is just an illusion.”
If free will is just an illusion, this then doesn’t allow for morals of any kind.
Any “act of evil” would actually be a simple act done purely due to biological reactions, in which the “perpetrator” had no control or will over anyways. This is the conclusion one can reach when we take the materialistic evolutionary worldview to its logical conclusion.
This is an updated edition of a post originally published on himitsustudy.com.
Featured Image by Aaron Thomas