One of the emotionally strongest arguments against the existence of God is known as the problem of evil. In fact, one of my students told me it made an appearance in the latest Batman vs. Superman movie in the form of an atheistic apologetic. In short, the problem of evil concludes that an all-loving God cannot exist when evil exists. This seems reasonable at first, at least on an emotional level. However, a closer look at the logic shows that the problem of evil is not a problem for theists, but it is a problem for atheists.
Here is one formal presentation of the problem of evil.
1. A God that is all powerful would be able to prevent evil and suffering.
2. A God that is all knowing would know that evil and suffering happen.
3. A God that is all loving wouldn’t want evil and suffering to happen and would take needed action to stop it.
4. Evil and suffering happen.
Conclusion: Since evil and suffering exist, an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-loving God cannot exist.
*If each point is accurate, then the conclusion follows logically. Therefore, as a theist, we must determine if there are problems with any of the individual points (premises 1-4). If not, then God does not exist. Hint: There are several problems.
Addressing the Errors in This Syllogism
- Point one is correct.
- Point two is correct.
- Point three is speculative. (We will address this below.)
- Point four is only true if God exists and, therefore, becomes self-refuting. In short, evil suggests right and wrong actions and events, with evil being the wrong action or event. However, without God, there is no evil. Things simply are. Borrowing language from the famous skeptic David Hume, without God there only “is.” There is no “ought.” Deceased atheist professor at Cornell, William Provine, said it well: “Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear, and I must say that these are basically Darwin’s views. There are no gods, no purposeful forces of any kind, no life after death. When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be completely dead. That’s just all—that’s gonna be the end of me. There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning in life, and no free will for humans, either.” (To understand this better, read: “Can You Be Good Without God? 5 Reasons Moral Relativism Fails.”)
So point four already shows us that the “problem of evil” is really no problem at all—at least not for theists. For atheists, however, evil is a problem. The only way to arrive at evil from atheism is to make vast assumptions that contradict the foundation of their worldview.
Premise three states, “A God that is all loving wouldn’t want evil and suffering to happen and would take needed action to stop it.” First of all, this assumes perfect knowledge. As the statement claims to know what an all-loving God would do, to make this claim one must know everything that an all-loving, all-knowing God would know. The moment someone introduces me to a person who has this level of knowledge, I will concede.
Second, premise three sets up somewhat of a false dichotomy (only two options, when there are at least three). The third option is that an all-knowing, all-loving God would allow evil to exist. Of course, premise three does hold certain emotional influence. It seems strange at first, though, that a loving God would allow us to experience all the hardships that we experience. Therefore, it’s important for us to address why God might not stop suffering and evil from occurring.
5 Reasons Why God Allows Evil (What Purpose Does It Serve?)
There is not one reason that God allows evil and suffering. There are many. Surely, this is not an exhaustive list, but here are five reasons that God says He allows suffering. Comment below if you can think of any others. I may even use your ideas in my updated articles, videos or books down the road!
- Evil is necessary for choice (free will) to exist.
This is a bit complicated. Think about it this way: If God eliminated free will and everything was perfect, we would be nothing but robots. We not only wouldn’t make a mistake—we couldn’t make a mistake. Again, this is a very simple explanation of a complex philosophical idea, but you should be able to get the basic idea. Evil must exist if choice exists.
- Evil shows us that we are but beasts without God.
The wisdom literature of Ecclesiastes tells us, “In the place of justice, there was wickedness; and in the place of righteousness, there was wickedness. … Regarding the account of sons of men, God is making clear to them to show that they are but animals (Eccl. 3:16-18).” By allowing us to make decisions, God also shows us our sinful nature without Him. It is no surprise that as modern atheism has moved further and further away from God, we are increasingly placing value on the animalistic part of ourselves. This is precisely the pattern Paul describes in Romans 1.
- Trials test worship.
Job was a faithful man. However, Satan pointed out that it is easy to worship God when everything is going your way. When you are blessed, it is easy to sing praises, but then the question arises: Is it God who is being worshipped or the blessing? When God allows for suffering, we have to make the choice to praise Him despite not getting our way. Suffering forces us to love Him above our situation.
- It produces good fruit.
The world says it this way: “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” The Bible is a little more eloquent. “My brothers, count it all joy when you fall into diverse temptations, knowing that the trying of your faith develops patience. But let patience perfect its work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing” (James 1:2-4). Suffering is not fun. No one loves correction when it happens, but trial by fire has the potential to produce exponential growth.
- Only God knows.
There are unquestionably other reasons God has chosen to allow evil and suffering to exist. The vastness of His knowledge is incomprehensible to finite humans. This is where faith comes in. Faith is not blind. It is not brainless. Faith simply acknowledges personal limitations and places trust in a higher power—namely God. (Side note: Everyone puts faith in something, be it their own reasoning ability, popular opinion, expert recommendations, epistemological processes and so forth. Faith is not exclusive to God’s people.)