The Problem of The Problem of Evil

Many people, when they formulate an argument against God, claim that God cannot co-exist with a world plunged into darkness as this one is. The argument usually goes like this:
1. If God exists, He is all-powerful and wholly good by definition.
2. If God were not all-powerful and wholly good, He would not be God.
3. Evil exists.
4. The reason that evil exists is either that God cannot eradicate it, in which case he is not all-powerful, or he allows evil to happen to the innocent, in which case he is not good.
5. In either case, the contradiction is point 4 indicates that there is no God.

Much of my study of this subject will be adapted from apologetic writers and thinkers Hank Hanegraaf and Ravi Zacharias. I will attempt to deal with this question, but before I begin, let me make one thing clear: this is not a frivolous question. It has turned people of faith away from God; young people with no apologetic training are often floored by this question when it posed by a non-believer, skeptic, or even a fellow believer. It is, in short, a legitimate question.

However, let us take a step back. Look at the 5 points above. Points 1 and 2, I think are clear: when we talk of a monotheistic deity, these two points are coherent with one another and implicit in the use of the word “God.” My concern arises within the third point: Evil exists. I will not deny the point; some would, and we will get to that point elsewhere, but for now, let us consider this point true. The problem arises here: from a Naturalistic framework, good and evil are deceptively ethereal concepts. To help explain what I mean, a quote from Carl Sagan’s popular educational show “Cosmos” adequately describes the Naturalist philosophy: “The cosmos is all that is or ever was or ever will be.” To the Naturalist, matter and energy sum up all that life and reality are.

Matter and energy, however, have nothing to do with morality. The Naturalist believes that nothing produced everything, non-life produced life, and that this undirected purposeless life somehow produced morals. These moral truths are nothing more than a construct of man. They are not based on facts, but rather on popular opinion. Questions of right and wrong, from a Naturalist’s perspective, boil down to societal norms.

Let us stop and consider the implications of this for just a moment. Take a crime that we can agree is morally reprehensible: murder. Let us not get bogged down in specific hypothetical scenarios; let us instead merely work with the proposition that murder is wrong. Someone might come along to you after you have made such a statement and ask, “Why?” Here is where the Naturalist runs into a problem. If she answers “Because society says so” (or “it’s illegal,” “other people wouldn’t like it,” etc.), she will be bashed over the head with multi-culturalism and pluralism: “It is not wrong to my culture, and you must respect that.” If she answers, “Because I say so,” it is the same problem: “You cannot force your beliefs on me.” Without an objective moral framework, a system of thought that demands that there are moral absolutes, there can be no answer to the question underlying the “Why?” question: how do we determine right from wrong?

Now, you might say that this is a rather silly example; people do not seriously consider that murder might be morally neutral or even a boon, do they? Can’t we expect, on most issues like this, for the moral compasses of the masses to remain pointed in the right direction? I would invite such a questioner to review the twentieth century. German citizens were convinced that murder on a massive scale was not only acceptable, but a moral imperative to protect the genetics of the German people! Joseph Stalin, citing the integrity and defense of the State, ordered massive killings that dwarfed, to borrow a euphemism from Stalin himself, the “statistics” of the Holocaust. Even today, in some parts of Africa and the Middle East, young girls’ bodies are mutilated with the express intent that they should never find any sort of pleasure in the act of sexual congress; the practice is known, almost euphemistically, as “female circumcision.” These are not the acts of lone madmen; these are whole countries. These atrocities are the result of societies’ autonomy in determining right from wrong, good from evil. I would do well to quote a man by the name of Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust:

“If we present man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present him as an automation of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instincts, heredity, and environment, we feed the despair to which man is, in any case, already prone. I became acquainted with the last stages of corruption in my second concentration camp in Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment—or, as the Nazis liked to say, of ‘Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and in the lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers.”

So, what does all this have to do with my original point? Only this: either there is an objective moral framework, or there isn’t. If there are absolute moral truths, we must have a moral law-giver. In posing this question of evil, one may become frustrated with the whole idea of God and claim that there is no God. In claiming that there is no God, one must turn to purely naturalistic explanations. In turning to purely naturalistic explanations, one must accept that good and evil cease to exist as concrete realities and instead are relegated to mere opinion and preference. Thus, the original force driving the questioner away from God becomes irrelevant and immaterial. The questioner cannot appeal to the existence of evil without acknowledging a moral absolute used to judge between right and wrong, and that moral absolute cannot be explained by merely Naturalistic means.

The horror present in the world is striking; it pierces the soul and causes outrage in the hearts of men and women who are awakened to the depravity of the human heart. Nowhere in all of human history is this more clearly illustrated than in the story of Christ’s crucifixion. Anyone reading any of the gospel’s depictions cannot escape the horror and injustice of it. The problem of Evil does not rest in the hands of God, but rather, it rests at the feet of humanity. That is our inheritance. It is our nature, actualized at the personal, local, and global scale across the shifting sands of time. The problem is not God. The problem is us.

Further reading: The Doctor and the Soul, Viktor Frankl. The End of Reason, Ravi Zacharias.


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