We have seen God has morally sufficient reasons to allow evil. Yet why so much? Couldn’t he accomplish his purposes by allowing much less evil than we experience? Isn’t the amount of evil reason enough to not believe in God? This is a very reasonable response often offered at this point in the discussion. At least three things may be said in response.
Clarifying The Objection
Let’s step back and understand where we are in the discussion. Atheists have historically raised the “Logical Problem of Evil” as an argument against God’s existence. They have argued that, given the reality of evil, it is impossible that God exists. However, due to the good work of Christian philosophers such as Dr. Alvin Plantinga, it has now been shown that God may have morally sufficient reasons to allow evil. Therefore, the Logical Problem of Evil fails. Most atheists who study this issue agree.
The discussion has now shifted to the “Evidential Problem of Evil.” The argument goes something like this: Given that it is not logically impossible for God and evil to both exist (the Logical Problem of Evil has been invalidated), it is, nevertheless, improbable that God exists, due to the amount of evil in the world.
I believe this objection also fails, for at least three reasons.
#1: A Good Argument Is, In Principle, Falsifiable
An axiom of logic (and science) is that nothing can count in favor of a theory if nothing can count against it. Simply put, if there is no way to show a view may be false, there is no reason to believe it may be true.
For instance, suppose someone tells you he doesn’t believe you are real, but that you only exist in his dream. You explain that you most certainly are real—you have sensations, hopes, beliefs, make decisions, and take action in the world. To this he responds that your sensations, hopes, beliefs, decisions, and actions are also part of his dream. No matter what additional evidence you offer to prove you exist, he just says this additional evidence is also part of his dream.
At some point you must stop arguing. Nothing you say will change his mind—he won’t even consider any evidence to the contrary. His belief is irrational, as it is not grounded on evidence and reason. Of course, he may continue to hold this belief. Since there are no possible evidences showing he may be wrong, he cannot say there are good reasons to believe he is right.*
But the Evidential Problem of Evil runs into the same problem. It is not, in principle, falsifiable. There is no evidence that can be offered which could count against this theory. Therefore, it is not a rational objection to God’s existence.
To unpack this, let’s first “quantify” evil. Suppose evil is quantified as units of “nerts” (admittedly fictional, but helpful for our discussion). Furthermore, let’s say in the actual world there are 100,000 units of nerts. The atheist is objecting that 100,000 units of nerts are too many to believe God exists. So the question arises: given that it is reasonable God would allow some evil (some units of nerts), how many are too many?
What if there were only 50,000 units of nerts? This would still seem like a lot of evil. We would still experience or be aware of evil we think shouldn’t occur. So, with even half the units of nerts that exist in the actual world, the objection would still be raised.
So what if there were only 25,000 units of nerts? Or 10,000? or 5,000? In each case, the same objection could be raised: this is too much evil! In other words, no matter how little evil there may be, one could always argue God is allowing more evil than he should allow, and therefore it is unreasonable to believe God exists.
Or consider the “Boxing Day Tsunami” on December 26, 2004, which killed 227,898 people in 14 countries throughout Southeast Asia. This was a horrible event, one we pray will never occur again. Many wondered how God could allow this. However, the same question would be asked if “only” 100,000 people died. Or 50,000 people. Or 50 people. A world with any evil always leads one to ask “why so much?”
So here we have a situation like the dreamer who doesn’t believe you exist. No matter how much counter-evidence is brought to the discussion (even in theory), the argument can never be falsified. Therefore the Evidential Problem of Evil is not a rational objection (though it certainly has much emotional force).
#2: We Are Not In A Good Position To Make This Call
Second, we simply are not in a good position to assess whether God has morally sufficient reasons to allow the amount of evil we experience in the world. We are limited in so many ways: in time, in space, in knowledge, and in intelligence. Therefore, we are ignorant about much of what is going on around us.
For this reason we are often surprised. We learn something new and realize how little we had really known (and how little we still know). This is true for even the most accomplished scholars in their fields. For instance, scientists with great knowledge and expertise are often surprised by what they discover.
Therefore, it is unrealistic to claim we know how much evil God should allow to accomplish his purposes, and that he allows more than that. We are simply not in a position to know this. Saying we do is unjustified arrogance.
Furthermore, our limited knowledge means that we don’t know if God actually is limiting evil to a great extent. Perhaps 500,000 would have died in the Boxer Day Tsunami, rather than 227,898, and God intervened to limit the evil. By observing evil the world we simply are not in a position to know how much more God may be limiting. This is a second reason the Evidential Problem of Evil fails.
Though we cannot know if God is limiting evil through empirical investigation (by looking around, as discussed above), logically we can conclude that God does limit evil, for several reasons. I’ll discuss these reason next week. Until then, grace and peace.
For further reading see William Lane Craig’s Reasonable Faith podcast on this topic here: The Problem of Evil
*Note that some have offered this as an objection to the truth and rationality of Christianity. They have argued Christians believe in Jesus in spite of the evidence, so no evidence can ever count against our belief. Therefore, they conclude, Christianity is not true (or at least not rational). However, this is a misunderstanding of Christianity. We have good reason to believe Jesus Christ is a person of history who lived, died, and resurrected (see my series Seven Common Objections to the Real Meaning of Easter). Therefore, Christianity is, in theory, falsifiable: just find the bones of Jesus, or other credible evidence to prove he did not live or resurrect. With this all of Christianity would be falsified, as everything else is built on the person and resurrection of Jesus.