By L. Alfred James
The title of this article might strike you as click-bait, or an attempt to be funny. But my intentions are both sincere and utterly serious. Believe it or not, the evil that exists in the world is actually evidence that supports the Christian worldview.
In my last article I demonstrated how, if atheism is true, there is no such thing as objective right and wrong. That is, atheists have no justification for morally condemning anything, even murder. William Lane Craig makes this point very succinctly:
If there is no God, then any basis for regarding the herd morality evolved by homo sapiens as objectively true seems to have been removed. Take God out of the picture and all you seem to be left with is an ape-like creature on a tiny spec of solar dust beset with delusions of moral grandeur… On the atheistic view, human beings are just animals, and animals have no moral obligations to one another. When a lion kills a zebra, it kills the zebra, but it does not murder the zebra. When a great white shark forcibly copulates with a female, it forcibly copulates with her, but it does not rape her – for there is no moral dimension to these actions. They are neither prohibited nor obligatory.1
Thus, without God, there are no objective standards for right and wrong, and no standards for good and bad. Here is the interesting part: Logically, this entails something extremely important. If it is clear that such objective standards exist, then we have powerful evidence for God’s existence.
And that is exactly what happens in the argument from evil and suffering.
How Evil And Suffering Provide Evidence For God’s Existence
The next time your atheist friends announce that God cannot exist because there is so much evil in the world, just ask a simple question. “What do you mean by evil? How do you define it?”
More than likely, they will list several examples of things they think are evil: “war, disease, theft, poverty, children dying from hunger, rape, murder, etc.”
When this happens (and it probably will), you need to clarify your request: “Those are examples of things you believe are evil. But I want a definition, not examples. What do you mean by the word evil?”
If they are unsure how to define it, just help them out. Something like this: “Isn’t it the case that what you really mean by evil is that things are not as they ought to be?“2
They will probably agree: “Yes. I think so.” (I’ve never met anyone who disagrees with this definition.)
“Okay. I have a question. Are these things that you are condemning objectively evil, or are you simply saying that you don’t like them?”
“No. They are objectively evil. Everyone knows these things are evil.”
“Objectively evil? That means there must be some kind of standard that exists, some standard by which you are measuring those states of affairs that you call evil. And since you believe these things are objectively evil then this standard must be an objective standard.”
Bingo! Do you see it?
The conviction that things ought not to be this way is an indication that we all know there are objective standards of right and wrong, good and bad. But we saw (in the previous blog post) that objective standards of right and wrong cannot exist unless God exists. This means that the existence of evil is proof of God’s existence.
This is not a new observation. C.S. Lewis made the same point many decades ago. He said his rejection of God was largely dependent on the reality of suffering and evil. However, he eventually realized he wasn’t being completely honest:
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? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet.
Lewis realized that his rejection of God—because of the cruelty in the world – was dependent on an objective standard of goodness. To save his atheism, he considered giving up his belief in this standard. But there was a problem with that strategy:
Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too— for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist— in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless— I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality— namely my idea of justice— was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.3
Thus, our dissatisfaction with the evil and suffering of the world – contrary to counting as evidence against God’s existence – is actually evidence for God’s existence.
2. I am indebted to Greg Koukl for the insights in this and the following paragraphs.
3. Lewis, C. S.. Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Signature Classics) (pp. 38-39). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.