“Evil exists, therefore God doesn’t!” This objection is heard from coffee shops to lecture halls. Many believe it proves there is no God. But if we stop and think about it for a moment, the reality of Evil is actually evidence that God does exist!
Evil Is Real
This argument is based on the realty of Evil (with a capital “E”). The argument assumes there is objective and absolute Evil. Therefore, given this reality, the conclusion is that God must not exist (or he would do something about it).
But if God does not exist, what sense does it make to even talk of Evil? This argument depends on there being an objective and absolute standard of Good and Bad, Right and Wrong, Pure and Evil. Yet if only atoms exist that are simply arranged in highly complex ways, how can this purely physical reality produce Evil? If there is no God to ground morality as objective and absolute, what sense does it make to talk of “Evil”?
These are questions thoughtful people have struggled with the world over, and concluded that without God there can be nothing that is really (objectively) Evil. Dostoevsky, the great Russian novelist, wrote, “If God is dead, everything is permissible.” (The Brothers Karamazov, Part 4, Book 11, Chapter 4).
Nietzsche, the famous atheist of the early 20th century, lamented, “God is dead.” He was convinced God did not exist. He was also astute enough to realize the consequences of “the death of God”—there could no longer be an objective standard of right and wrong. As a result, the only standard of good and evil is what a person or culture defines it to be. He saw the consequences of living as if God were dead and thus there were no true Evil. (See, for instance, The Gay Science, section 125: “The Madman” and Thus Spoke Zarathustra at the end of “Zarathustra’s Prologue.”)
Nietzsche’s concerns were justified. Hitler read Nietzsche and played his atheistic ethic out to its logical conclusion: since God was dead he had the authority to determine what was and was not evil.
Sigmund Freud came to the same conclusion. When, at the age of 64, his daughter died. In his grief he wrote to a friend, “[A]s a confirmed unbeliever I have no one to accuse and realize that there is no place where I could lodge a complaint.” (Letters of Sigmund Freud, p. 328). In other words, he wanted to morn her death as an Evil, and complain to Someone that this shouldn’t be, but as an atheist he couldn’t admit there was a God or that it was really Evil.
Pressing the Point
C.S. Lewis was another thoughtful person who realized God must exist for there to even be a “Problem of Evil.” In Mere Christianity he develops this argument, showing that without God there are only “evils” (personal likes and dislikes), not “Evil” (objectively wrong states of affairs), because there is no longer an absolute standard by which to judge something as Evil. He summarizes:
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, Mere Christianity, p. 31 of 1960 Macmillian paperback edition)
For instance, we are always being told by reports of this or that “tragedy” which occurred. We must stop and ask, “Why is this a tragedy? Does this series of events violate a Moral Order of how things ought to be?” If there is a God, it is certainly a tragedy. But if there is not a God, what is tragic about it? It simply is, and that’s all we can say. We discussing the event we should simply state, “X happened in Y place at Z time” without any moral commentary of it being a “tragedy.” The fact that we feel compelled to refer to these events as tragedies are evidence that we believe there is an objective moral order, this is really an Evil, and thus God exists.
I have often pressed atheists (or alleged atheists) on this point. I recall a conversation with a college student on this topic that went something like this:
Dave: God must not exist, because if he did, he wouldn’t allow all the evil that is in the world.
Me: What evil?
Dave: Innocent people dying in earthquakes, plane crashes, children being harmed, and so much more!
Me: Why are those things Evil?
Dave: Because they are unfair and unjust! They shouldn’t happen!
Me: Why not? If there is no God, what makes something right or wrong, fair or unfair, good or evil?
Dave: I don’t need God. I define them as right or wrong, fair or unjust.
Me: Then it seems to me that you can solve the problem of evil easily. If good and evil are simply determined by your definitions, just change your definitions! Don’t call these things evil anymore, and they won’t be.
Dave: No, they would still be Evil!
Me: I agree. But they can only be Evil if there is an objective standard outside your definitions (and outside our culture’s definitions). This objective standard can only come from God.
Dave: (He thought about it for a few moments) I’m stuck, aren’t I?
Me: Yes you are, my friend. You must either give up your belief in the reality of Evil as a reason to reject God, or grant there is a God who defines Good and Evil objectively.
Dave: I need to think about that more. Maybe I do believe in God after all!
The Logical Fallacy Underlying this Objection
Underlying this objection is a classic fallacy of logic—it is self-defeating (for an explanation of this logical fallacy see my post here). If it is true God does not exist, there is no Evil. But if there is no Evil, this is not an objection to God’s existence.
If, on the other hand, there is objective Evil, God is required for this Evil to exist. Therefore it can’t be evidence against His existence.
Therefore, the problem of Evil is not an argument against God’s existence, but actually an argument for God’s existence.
If nothing else is said in response, this objection fails. But there is much more to be said. I’ll discuss a second response next week. Until then, grace and peace.