Atheism and the Problem of Evil

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The problem of evil is a collection of philosophical arguments which claim that the existence of evil in the world contradicts the belief that there exists a God who is both wholly good and omnipotent.[1]

Atheism and the problem of evil

Atheism cannot explain the existence of evil

See also: Atheism and morality and Atheism and ethics and Atheism and the Euthyphro Dilemma

Theodicy is the branch of study in theology and philosophy that defends the goodness of God despite the existence of evil. In traditional Christianity and Judaism the book of Job is used to explain the existence of evil. In recent times Christian apologists often cite Alvin Plantinga's free will defense in regards to the logical problem of evil.[2] The work of St. Augustine is also cited in regards to theodicy.[3] Dr. Ron Rhodes of Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministry states regarding this issue regarding the existence of evil: is impossible to distinguish evil from good unless one has an infinite reference point which is absolutely good. Otherwise one is like a boat at sea on a cloudy night without a compass (i.e., there would be no way to distinguish north from south without the absolute reference point of the compass needle).

The infinite reference point for distinguishing good from evil can only be found in the person of God, for God alone can exhaust the definition of "absolutely good." If God does not exist, then there are no moral absolutes by which one has the right to judge something (or someone) as being evil. More specifically, if God does not exist, there is no ultimate basis to judge the crimes of Hitler. Seen in this light, the reality of evil actually requires the existence of God, rather than disproving it.[4]

Atheism cannot solve the problem of evil

Ken Ammi declares:

Imagine considering the problem of evil and (illogically) concluding that God does not exist—what happens next? Well, you look around the world again and notice that evil still exists and now you do not even have God to blame. Rejecting God does nothing about evil. Thus, atheism does nothing about evil. Of course it does nothing—it cannot do anything and is not supposed to do anything. Atheism is merely an idea and thus, has no volition by which to do anything at all. Indeed, and that is just the point: atheism is an idea, but God is a being who can and does various things about evil: God can condemn it absolutely, God can make provision for redeeming evil, God can abolish evil.

Atheism not only does nothing about evil; atheism actually makes evil even worse. Atheism guarantees that evil is for nothing, it has no greater purpose or meaning; it guarantees no redemption of evil.

However, it is inaccurate to state that atheism guarantees that evil is for nothing and has no greater purpose or meaning. This is because in the absolute materialism that atheism implies, evil is very purposeful in that it benefits the evildoer. The evildoer commits evil acts, and as long as they are not caught they evade the judicial systems of this world and simply get away with it, the victim suffers and may suffer for decades while the evildoer enjoyed committing evil deeds.

Also it is inaccurate to state that atheism does nothing about evil; it actually makes it go away by pretending that it does not exist. A tsunami that drowns thousands of people is not “evil”; it is a large wave. A hurricane that destroys cities and kills people is not “evil”; it is high winds. An animal, whether human or otherwise, that kills another animal is not “evil”; it is acting according to all that there is; its own will. It may be inconvenient, we may not like it, we may attempt to do something about it, against it, but it is not evil; it just is.

The fact of evil in the world is one of the very best reasons for rejecting atheism.[5]

Natural evil and the fall of man

Atheism as a cause of evil

See also: Atheist population and immorality and Atheism and morality

The perverse and cruel atheist Marquis de Sade in prison, 18th century line engraving.

Not possessing a religious basis for morality, which can provide a legitimate basis for objective morality, atheists are fundamentally incapable of having a coherent system of morality.[6] For example, atheists have been the biggest mass murderers in history (see: Atheism and mass murder).

The Barna Group found that atheists and agnostics in America were more likely, than theists in America, to look upon the following behaviors as morally acceptable: illegal drug use; excessive drinking; sexual relationships outside of marriage; abortion; cohabitating with someone of opposite sex outside of marriage; obscene language; gambling; pornography and obscene sexual behavior; and engaging in homosexuality/bisexuality.[7] Given the many diseases associated with homosexuality, the biblical prohibition against homosexuality is quite arguably one of the many examples where the Bible exhibited knowledge that was ahead of its time.

In 2014, a University of Kentucky study was published by Will M. Gervais, which was entitled Everything Is Permitted? People Intuitively Judge Immorality as Representative of Atheists, and the study indicated that "even atheist participants viewed immorality as significantly more representative of atheists than of other people."[8]

See also:

Existence of evil as proof of the existence of God further elaborated

The Christian apologist Roderick MacKenzie argues:

C. S. Lewis, photographed in 1947.
When someone uses the argument of the existence of evil to disprove the existence of God, they have to affirm that evil actually exists in order to use evil in their argument…whether they are making the argument that the existence of evil does or does not make sense with our concept of an all-loving and all-powerful God.

There is a problem for the atheist when he or she tries to explain the existence of evil. As we discussed in “What Is Evil? Natural vs. Moral Evil“, evil exists only in relation to good. For evil to exist, there has to be an absolute standard of goodness and justice. One can not form a logical concept of evil without appealing to an ultimate standard of good. The problem then arises: where does this ultimate standard of good come from? Where do we get our concepts of what is good, or of justice and injustice?

C.S. Lewis, in his classic book, Mere Christianity, describes his conversion to Christianity by discussing this very topic. He initially did not believe in God because of the injustices he saw in the world, but on reflection, he decided that the very concept of injustice depended on an absolute concept of justice…which could only be given by an Ultimate Lawgiver. Someone who is beyond humanity and has authority to make the rules.[9]

The Christian apologist Gregory Koukl similarly argues:

The presence of evil in the world is considered by some to be solid evidence against the existence of God. I think it proves just the opposite. The entire objection hinges on the observation that true evil exists "out there" as an objective feature of the world. Therein lies the problem for the atheist.

To say something is evil is to make a moral judgment, and moral judgments make no sense outside of the context of a moral standard. Evil as a value judgment marks a departure from that standard of morality. If there is no standard, there is no departure.

Evil can't be real if morals are relative. Evil is real, though. That's why people object to it...

The argument against God based on the problem of evil can only be raised if some form of moral objectivism is true. Morals, therefore, exist. I need not give a complete taxonomy of ethical guidelines to make my case. If there is even one moral absolute, it invites the question, "What kind of world view explains the existence of this moral rule?"

Atheism can't make any sense of it.[10]

Atheism and suffering

See: Atheism and suffering

Argument from evil and gratitude

See also: Atheism and gratitude

The book Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy which was edited by William Dembski and Michael R. Licona declares:

The real power of the argument from evil is that it can destroy a person’s gratitude. If we focus all of our attention on the bad things in our world, we come to see it as a place of nothing but misery, disease, and bloodshed. (I’ve read many atheistic writings that describe the world in such terms.) When we become, as G. K. Chesterton would put it, “Cosmic Pessimists,” our gratitude doesn’t shift from God to something else. Our gratitude simply dies.

How we view the world, then, can have a massive impact on our religious views. I would say that a person who looks at the world and sees nothing but pain and death has missed out on a truly amazing place. As a blissful young pagan, Chesterton set out to found his own religion. He eventually became a theist and a Christian, a process which had much to do with his sense of gratitude...

Theists see a universe full of gifts under the Christmas tree. Until atheists offer a reasonable explanation for our marvelous world, it was always seem to theists that atheists have much to be thankful for..."[11]

See also

External links


  1. J. L. Mackie, "Evil and Omnipotence," Mind, New Series, Vol. 64, No. 254. (Apr., 1955), pp. 200-212. - EVIL AND OMNIPOTENCE
  2. Xenos Christian Fellowship - The Problem of Evil
  3. Stand to Reason - Augustine on Evil
  4. Ron Rhodes, Reasoning from the Scriptures Ministries - Strategies for Dialoguing with Atheists
  5. Atheism’s “problem of evil”
  6. Paul Copan
  8. [Everything Is Permitted? People Intuitively Judge Immorality as Representative of Atheists], Will M. Gervais, Journal: PlOS ONE, Published: April 09, 2014, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.009230
  9. Existence of Evil As Proof of Existence of God
  10. Evil as Evidence for God
  11. Evidence for God: 50 Arguments for Faith from the Bible, History, Philosophy edited by William Dembski and Michael R. Licona. pages 46-47