Is Christianity false because of the existence of evil? As a Christian, I find that the argument from evil is the hardest to emotionally overcome while being relatively simple to intellectually refute. This might sound silly to many who read it, but I’ll explain in a moment.
In my last blog, I explained that two of my closest friends, who happen to be skeptics, will be presenting me with their personal objections to God. So it was no surprise when I received their objections to find that they offered two different versions of the problem of evil that prevented their belief in God. In fact, I was expecting this objection because almost every skeptic I’ve encountered has formulated a version of it. I don’t say that as a way of trivializing their objection. On the contrary, it should be thoughtfully and rigorously addressed.
To represent their objections honestly, I will include their objections as they were written.
My first friend presented me with this objection:
“So, for my first question, I decided that the “Will of God” expression is the most damaging expression for Christianity and religion in general; in fact, the first time I heard this was when I was 5 years old when my mom died. Hearing this expression from priests, family members and religious people settled my understanding that God doesn’t exist and it just pure creation of people to justify the horrible things that happens in the world and to people e.g. my mother dying at 34 and leaving us alone (me and my sister). It is also confirmation that God doesn’t have the control of nothing.“
My second friend presented me with the following objection:
“If there was a god how come he doesn’t stop the evil in the world. If he’s this powerful figure, why doesn’t he put a stop to the chaos and let us live in peace?“
Before answering these objections, I’ll explain my reasoning to shed greater insight into my answers.
The Moral Argument
For the more visually inclined, I’m including an excellent video that summarizes the moral argument for the existence of God.
The moral argument can be broken down into a deductive philosophical argument as follows:
- If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
- Objective moral values and duties do exist.
- Therefore, God exists.
How that breaks down, in simple English, without a moral lawgiver, there are no objective moral laws or duties. The word ‘objective’ is a critical word in this sentence. The word ‘objective,’ in its philosophical application, means “existing outside of the mind : existing in the real world.” All of that is to say that ‘objective’ is transcendent and absolute and incapable of being redefined by subjects (i.e., humans.) There is no serious basis for judging any moral action without objective moral laws or duties.
In an atheistic worldview, each subject (i.e., human) would develop their own personal set of subjective moral preferences. However, what if their moral preferences were evil rather than virtuous? Evil and virtue would be indistinguishable without objective moral laws. Likewise, Adolf Hitler and Mother Teresa would be morally indistinguishable if objective moral values did not exist. Most people, especially skeptics, consider that statement absurd. However, it’s a philosophically inescapable reality under atheism. Honest atheists have openly admitted this sad yet unavoidable reality: the atheistic worldview provides no objective moral framework to ground moral laws and duties.
“The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.” – Richard Dawkins in River out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life
The Will of God? – Objection One
When I heard about this story, I was angered. My friend’s faith was destroyed by pastoral imprudence and theological misapplication. What should a grieving child think about God when a priest tells him that God willed his mothers’ death? I don’t blame my friend for feeling resentment towards God, which ultimately transformed into a rejection of God itself. One theologically inept cliche turned an innocent child into a guaranteed skeptic.
A child and a disturbing number of adults aren’t theologically mature enough to filter tragedy through the proper lens. So when my friend observes that God is a “pure creation of people to justify the horrible things that happens in the world and to people,” I don’t view that observation as being an unnatural interpretation of his experience. From his tragic experience, he believes these people give meaningless platitudes to make themselves feel better. I don’t think he’s wrong either.
Children must be treated with love and respect. However, this does not mean treating their genuine heartache with stupid and shallow platitudes that further confuse them. Does God have a will? Yes. Does God’s will actively inflict evil? No. Does God permit evil? Yes. If God were to prevent every free choice that would inflict moral evil (i.e., the evil that results from an agent with free will), we wouldn’t be truly free. We’d be predetermined robots. Likewise, if God were to prevent every form of natural evil (i.e., the evil that results from nature like hurricanes, tornadoes, cancer, etc…), creation would be limited to a lifestyle with no natural hardship.
As creations of the omniscient God, are we in a position to tell Him how to create anything? For example, should we tell God that creation would be better if He only did X, Y, and Z better? Are our limited intellects capable of understanding creation better than the omniscient Creator? Obviously, if God exists, which I strongly contend that He does, God’s knowledge is infinite, and He created a world that will lead the greatest amount of people to Him freely. In many instances, God reveals Himself through tragedy and hardship. That is very hard for many adults to understand, let alone children. Still, sometimes difficult conversations must be laden with deep mystery. The evil that is permitted to take place shouldn’t overpower our trust in the God that permitted it. We must realize that God loves justice, and ultimate justice lies within the confines of His judgment, not ours. With this trust, we can rest assured that the evils of this world will not outlive our souls.
Why Doesn’t God Stop Evil? – Objection Two
For the visually inclined, the videos below provide excellent insights on this matter:
Much of my response to objection one will apply to objection two. However, I would like to expand on my answer.
As I outlined in the moral argument, if there are is an objective moral law, then there is an objective moral lawgiver (i.e., God.) So, what is objectively wrong with chaos and evil in this world if God doesn’t exist? Since no transcendent source of objective morality would exist, chaos and evil would be morally indistinguishable from virtue and love. Those who make the ‘problem of evil‘ argument against God borrow from God to argue against Him. Meaning, they use the self-evidently true realization of objective morality and judge God as being evil because He permitted X, Y, and Z to happen.
As I explained in response to the first objection, God permits natural and moral evil to occur. However, as creations of God, we cannot know what those reasons might be because of our vastly limited knowledge. So, to judge God as malevolent using God’s own objective standard of morality within our tiny window of knowledge is quite presumptuous. Not only is it presumptuous, but it’s also entirely without basis.
To unpack what I mean when I say, “without basis,” I’ll provide an admittedly imperfect analogy that attempts to demonstrate the baselessness of this moral objection to God’s existence. Let’s pretend driver A runs a red light, striking and killing driver B. Driver C witnesses the accident and is emotionally traumatized by the accident. But, instead of driver C blaming driver A’s negligence, driver C confusingly blames the objective laws that govern motor travel. Driver C goes further to reject that since motor vehicle accidents happen, the governing body that writes the rules and regulations for road safety doesn’t exist because people occasionally die while driving on the roadway. Driver C represents so many people who reject God because of the existence of bad things happening in reality. As this analogy demonstrated, blaming the moral lawgiver (or those who write the traffic laws in the analogy) when you experience tragedy, hardship, and misery is misplaced. The blame lies with those who break the moral law, not at the feet of the moral lawgiver.
As I’ve mentioned in the introduction, this is the hardest objection to emotionally overcome while being one of the simplest to intellectually refute. Nevertheless, I’ve easily shown that the existence of natural and moral evil doesn’t refute God’s existence. Yet, why does this objection continue to plague humanity as one of its most persuasive arguments against God’s existence? Intense emotion, especially when linked to personal tragedy, can easily prevent someone from seeing and assessing the facts clearly.
From the standpoint of a Christian apologist, I’m inclined to look at these questions intellectually when sometimes they’re better addressed pastorly. So, for example, a good pastor may be better at handling the emotional hangups someone is experiencing concerning the problem of evil. But, on the other hand, a good apologist is likely better suited at handling the intellectual objections of the problem of evil.
That’s what makes this objection unique. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to dealing with it. Both of my friends span the spectrum of emotional to intellectual. Ultimately, the heart and the brain need to be on the same page. Sometimes, the heart can’t change until the brain does, and vice versa. Especially concerning a very emotionally driven objection like this, the heart sometimes needs to heal before the mind is willing to process the possibility of a good God.
To my skeptical personal friends and readers I’ve never met, Jesus took human form and suffered incomprehensible earthly injustice to save our souls. If anyone can relate to our suffering, it’s Christ. Christ’s death was the most emotionally-wrenching death anyone has ever experienced. Not simply because He experienced excessive barbarity and torture, but because Christ was sinless and voluntarily sacrificed Himself for us. Open your heart and mind to God because nobody can relate with you in your suffering better than He.