Perhaps one of the most commonly expressed reasons for rejecting the belief in God is the problem of evil. The objection is expressed as follows: How could a good God allow evil and suffering to exist? One example of this is Andrew Himes, the grandson of evangelist John R. Rice who descends from a long line of preachers and missionaries but chose to reject God. He wrote: “In October of 1967… at the age of 17, I had decided that God no longer existed. For me, the notion of a loving God who cared about the welfare of the least sparrow was incompatible with slavery and segregation, with poverty and murder, with genocide and the demons of the war in Vietnam. I tossed God onto the refuse heap of history.”1) Andrew Himes, The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family, Chiara Press (Seattle, WA, 2011), p. 141
The argument was first expressed by the atheist Greek philosopher Epicurus (341-270 B.C.) as a trilemma that seemed to him to reason out the existence of God. His thought was “God, he says, either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? Or why does He not remove them?”2) Epicurus did not write anything himself but this was recorded by Christian apologist Lactantius in his A Treatise on the Anger of God, chap. XIII, para 3; in The Ante-Nicene Father (edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson) Hendrickson Publisher ( Peabody, Massachusetts, 2012) Vol. 7, p. 271 To paraphrase it, his argument was since evil exists, either God is unwilling or unable to stop it in which case God would not be worthy of being considered God; thus there is no God. Indeed, evil and suffering exists and plagues all of lifeforms, specifically those with the self-consciousness to recognize this serious issue. There are many facets necessary to express in answering this question.
First, the question could be countered with another question, how can an atheist complain about evil? If there is no God then life must have arose from natural processes, mainly evolution. “But the evolutionary mechanism of natural selection depends on death, destruction, and violence of the strong against the weak – these things are all perfectly natural. On what basis, then, does the atheist judge the natural world to be horribly wrong, unfair, and unjust? The nonbeliever in God doesn’t have a good basis for being outraged at injustice, which… was the reason for objecting to God in the first place. If you are sure that this natural world is unjust and filled with evil, you are assuming the reality of some extra-natural (or supernatural) standard by which to make your judgement.”3) Timothy Keller, The Reason For God. New York: Dutton-Penguin, 2008, p. 26 The very mechanism that drives evolution is the death and suffering of innocent lifeforms, thus if an atheist/evolutionist desire progress by means of evolution, suffering and death at best would be viewed unsympathetically, at worst gleefully. Consider the comment made by atheist Richard Dawkins: “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind pitiless indifference.”4) Richard Dawkins, River Out Of Eden, Basic Books, (Reprint), 1996, p. 133 So Dawkins can ignore the suffering and death as if there was “no evil.” In an interview by another evolutionist Jaron Lanier, Dawkins was asked: “There’s a large group of people who simply are uncomfortable with accepting evolution because it leads to what they perceive as a moral vacuum, in which their best impulses have no basis in nature.” Dawkins replied: “All I can say is, That’s just tough. We have to face up to the truth.”5) “Evolution, The dissent of Darwin,” Psychology Today, 30(1):62, Jan.-Feb 1997 So we exist in a world with no evil and no morals according to Dawkins. Therefore, an atheist has no right to complain about evil or suffering and surely cannot use the argument against the existence of God. However, this answer would not satisfy most people because suffering is real, evil exists, and morals are innately fixed in the consciences of mankind.
A philosophic answer could be made by an appeal to the chaos theory. This philosophical theory essentially states we cannot predict how a menial action could possibly produce something catastrophic of a great magnitude. The analogy often presented is a beautiful butterfly flaps its wing and the gust of air produced from that action wafts over the continent and through a chain of events of that gust of wind traveling to the ocean causes a disastrous hurricane. In this hypothetical account, how could one say that the butterfly flapping its wing was an evil action? Or how could one know if such an insignificant action could cause such perils? One would need to be omniscient to know the possible outcome. The parallel to the problem of evil is how would one truly know if an event is completely evil? Perhaps what seems to be evil because we despise suffering can turn out to be beneficial. Timothy Keller explained, “Tucked away within the assertion that the world is filled with pointless evil is a hidden premise, namely, that if evil appears pointless to me, then it must be pointless…. Again we see lurking within supposedly hard-nose skepticism an enormous faith in one’s own cognitive faculties.”6) Timothy Keller, The Reason For God. New York: Dutton-Penguin, 2008, p. 23 The Bible teaches “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). With a firm trust in God we can ask (as the Psalmist did) “Why art thou cast down, O my soul? and why art thou disquieted within me? hope thou in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.” (Psalm 42:11) Or as Tertullian’s famous words proclaimed in reference to the persecution of Christians in the early century under the Roman Empire, “The oftener we are mown down by you, the more in number we grow; the blood of Christians is seed.”7) Tertullian, Apology, chap. L.; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; 1885-1887, Hendrickson, 1994, Vol. 3, p. 55 So he viewed the whole sale slaughter of Christians as the thing that drove the rapid growth of the Christian faith. Tertullian recognized that God used this great evil of sin, suffering, and death, for His own good purpose.
Another important element to acknowledge is the fact of freewill. An atheist/evolutionist worldview is properly speaking deterministic, that is there is no recognition of freewill. Why? Because if we evolved by naturalistic means, thoughts of the brain would be merely chemical reactions, thus brain chemistry would predetermine one’s thoughts by accident. There could be no rational thinking. As evolutionist Francis Crick put it: “‘You,’ your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules.”8) Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, Simon & Schuster, 1994, p. 3 So every thought and action you make, according to atheistic/evolutionary thought, is due to chemical reactions in your brain responding to some physical stimuli occurring around you. The Bible has much to say about man being created with freewill.
“he shall offer it of his own voluntary will” (Lev. 1:3)
“for to will is present with me” (Rom. 7:18)
“Presumptuous are they, selfwilled” (2 Pet. 2:10)
“they were willing of themselves” (2 Cor. 8:3)
The Bible reveals that God originally created a perfect world and mankind being created with freewill chose to sin which is the cause of suffering and death (Genesis 1-3). The Bible also reveals that God has an ultimate plan on reversing the curse of death which was introduced to God’s originally perfect creation due to man’s rebellion. Death is viewed as an intruder and an enemy that God will destroy (1 Corinthians 15:26) and there will be no more pain and suffering (Revelation 21:4). This is the complete opposite of what atheism believes. Norman Geisler articulated the Christian’s confidence clearly, stating: “First, evil cannot be destroyed without destroying freedom. As we said before, free beings are the cause of evil, and freedom was given to us so that we could love. Love is the greatest good for all free creatures (Matthew. 22:36-37), but love is impossible without freedom. So if freedom were destroyed, which is the only way to end evil, that would be evil in itself, because it would deprive free creatures of their greatest good. Hence, to destroy evil would actually be evil. If evil is to be overcome, we need to talk about it being defeated, not destroyed.”9) Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996, p. 64
Logically speaking, any acknowledgement of the existence of evil—which is self-evident—presupposes that there exist a universal good, which is God. As Greg Bahnsen wrote:
On the unbeliever’s worldview, there is no good reason for saying that anything is evil in nature, but only by personal choice or feeling.
That is why I am encouraged when I see unbelievers getting very indignant with some evil action as a matter of principle. Such indignation requires recourse to the absolute, unchanging, and good character of God in order to make philosophical sense. The expression of moral indignation is but personal evidence that unbelievers know this God in their heart of hearts. They refuse to let judgement about evil be reduced to subjectivism….
What we find, then, is that the unbeliever must secretly rely upon the Christian worldview in order to make sense of his argument from the existence of evil which is urged against the Christian worldview! Antitheism presupposes theism to make its case.10) Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready, Ed. Robert R. Booth, Nacogdoches, TX, CMP, 2011, p. 170
Every atheist demands to see justice meted out properly. Such moral judgments cannot be accepted logically by a relativistic process of a person’s own opinions; nor could justice be based on the majority consensus of any given culture (as commonly perceived by atheists) since separate cultures could contain various ideas of morality. How does one holding such a view explain international law or engagement in wars against other nations if they have the right to define their own morals in codifying laws? Would not Nazi Germany have the right to make their own national morality making the murder of millions acceptable in the culture? Or why such indignation when the political party that differs from your position is elected into office? Because the majority may be able to change laws but cannot change morality and we all understand that otherwise we would passively accept and invite any and all winds of political change and or acts of terrorism perpetrated by hostile and inhumane nations.
Finally; God can use man’s evil to reveal His perfect goodness. The Bible teaches, “We love him [God], because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19). Scripture also addresses the ultimate expression of love is sacrificial and unconditional love. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). How would man, with his rebellious freewill, choose to love God? God demonstrated His love for us by sending His Son to suffer and die for our sins (1 John 4:14). “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Roman 5:8). But if sin had never entered God perfect creation, He would never have the opportunity to present the depth of love He has for us. The apostle Peter preached, “Him [Jesus Christ], being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: Whom God hath raised up, having loosed the pains of death: because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2:23-24). It is by God’s foreknowledge that sin would enter His creation which would thereby be cursed with suffering and death, only then could He send His Son Jesus Christ to suffer and die at the hands of the sinful men who crucified Him so that His blood was shed for our sins to be washed away when we place our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who took the penalty of sin in our place (Romans 3:23-25; 6:23). God’s demonstration of love enables us to love Him in return and receive His wonderful gift of salvation purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9; Acts 20:28). This is the defeating of evil which Norman Geisler spoke about. This is also the premise which Lactantius answered Epicurus, stating “For on this account [of allowing evil to exist] He [God] does not take them away, because He at the same time gives wisdom [of His love], as I have shown; and there is more of goodness and pleasure in wisdom than of annoyance in evils. For wisdom causes us even to know God, and by that knowledge to attain to immortality, which is the chief good. Therefore, unless we first know evil, we shall be unable to know good. But Epicurus did not see this, nor did any other, that if evils are taken away, wisdom is in like manner taken away; and that no traces of virtue remain in man, the nature of which consists in enduring and overcoming the bitterness of evils. And thus, for the sake of a slight gain in the taking away of evils, we should be deprived of a good, which is very great, and true, and peculiar to us. It is plain, therefore, that all things are proposed for the sake of man, as well evils as also goods.”11) Lactantius, “A Treatise on the Anger of God,” chap. XIII, para 3; in The Ante-Nicene Father (edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson) Hendrickson Publisher ( Peabody, Massachusetts, 2012) Vol. 7, p. 271
It is therefore only when we recognize that evil exists, and that we ourselves are guilty of great sins against the Holy God that we need to repent and seek His forgiveness which He has already provided for us in the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4). We must only receive that free gift He has provided for us (John 1:12) by placing our faith completely in Jesus Christ to take away our sins (Galatians 2:16).
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||Andrew Himes, The Sword of the Lord: The Roots of Fundamentalism in an American Family, Chiara Press (Seattle, WA, 2011), p. 141|
|2.||↑||Epicurus did not write anything himself but this was recorded by Christian apologist Lactantius in his A Treatise on the Anger of God, chap. XIII, para 3; in The Ante-Nicene Father (edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson) Hendrickson Publisher ( Peabody, Massachusetts, 2012) Vol. 7, p. 271|
|3.||↑||Timothy Keller, The Reason For God. New York: Dutton-Penguin, 2008, p. 26|
|4.||↑||Richard Dawkins, River Out Of Eden, Basic Books, (Reprint), 1996, p. 133|
|5.||↑||“Evolution, The dissent of Darwin,” Psychology Today, 30(1):62, Jan.-Feb 1997|
|6.||↑||Timothy Keller, The Reason For God. New York: Dutton-Penguin, 2008, p. 23|
|7.||↑||Tertullian, Apology, chap. L.; The Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson; 1885-1887, Hendrickson, 1994, Vol. 3, p. 55|
|8.||↑||Francis Crick, The Astonishing Hypothesis: The Scientific Search for the Soul, Simon & Schuster, 1994, p. 3|
|9.||↑||Norman Geisler and Ron Brooks, When Skeptics Ask, Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996, p. 64|
|10.||↑||Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen, Always Ready, Ed. Robert R. Booth, Nacogdoches, TX, CMP, 2011, p. 170|
|11.||↑||Lactantius, “A Treatise on the Anger of God,” chap. XIII, para 3; in The Ante-Nicene Father (edited by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson) Hendrickson Publisher ( Peabody, Massachusetts, 2012) Vol. 7, p. 271|