The Problem of Evil

Post Author:  Darrell

One common atheist argument against Christianity is known as The Problem of Evil. It can be stated as follows.

1)  God is said to be omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
2)  If God is omnipotent, He has the power to defeat evil.
3)  If God is omniscient, He knows when and where evil exists.
4)  If God is morally perfect, He wants to destroy evil.
5)  Yet evil exists.
6)  Therefore, God does not exist.

There are several responses open to the classical theist in response to this objection. I am fond of one of Dr. Norman Geisler’s responses.  He says the atheist has overlooked an important factor, and as a result, the argument can be restated with a different conclusion.

1)  God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
2)  Being omnipotent, He has the power to defeat evil.
3)  Being omniscient, He knows when and where evil exists.
4)  Being morally perfect, He wants to defeat evil.
5)  “Therefore, evil will yet be defeated. It is a fact that an all-good, all-powerful God assures us that this will happen. In short, since God is both all-good and all-powerful, evil will be defeated” (Geisler, Systematic Theology Volume 2, 161).

I discovered another response to this argument in a recent Seminary class of mine.  It states that the atheist’s fourth premise is faulty as God is not morally perfect.  In fact, to say that God is morally perfect is to hold that there is a principle to which God must adhere, i.e., there is something which transcends God.  However, if there is a principle which transcends God, then God cannot truly be said to be God.  Instead, the principle to which God is held is God. 

Traditional Christianity teaches that God transcends all, i.e., there is nothing which is greater than Him.  He created all things, and there is nothing that is outside of His power or dominion.  Since God is the greatest of all, there is nothing by which He can be measured.  As a result, God cannot be said to be morally perfect; instead He is Good.  More appropriately, He is Good Itself.  God does not have a standard to live up to because He is The Standard by which all else is judged.  Consequently, the atheist’s argument has a faulty premise, makes incorrect assumptions about God, and is inappropriate and inapplicable to God.

Darrell

  • I’ve been thinking about this subject quite a bit lately as it seems to be one of the most common objections to Christianity. It’s not an easy problem and I like the responses you have provided here. I recently heard a related argument from J. P. Moreland. He pointed out that evil cannot exist without good since evil is a corruption of good. This does not work in the reverse. You cannot have evil without good, but you can have good without evil. Therefore, the fact that evil exists means good exists. Where does good come from if there is no God?

  • Bill Pratt

    Hi Jessica,
    We actually addressed the issue that J.P. Moreland raised a couple months ago in this blog post.

    Thanks for dropping by,
    BP

  • Hi Bill,

    Thank you for the link – that was an awesome post! I think I read that when you first posted, but I forgot about it. I surf around too much and can’t remember what I read where. 🙂

    Oh – and I drop by pretty often, I just don’t always comment.

    I love the excellent apologetics you and Darrell are providing.

    Keep up the great work! 🙂

  • As you say, there are several correctives possible to the 5-step atheist argument you present.
    I think the most conclusive one is your favorite: I frame it just a bit differently – that the conclusion “God does not exist” only works if we also presume that the universe is static –that all possible events have already happened, and nothing of consequence will ever happen in the future. even if one believes that to be true, it seems to me to be a belief without support, better assumed than explained.

    Another argument relates to premise #3 and #4. How am I, not being omniscient, to say what omniscience knows? Omniscience undoubtedly knows a great many things about an evil situation than I do; including what He plans to do, what would be the consequences of eliminating the evil in a way that appeals to Eric, and what His ultimate purpose is. I know none of this.

    Even more importantly, how could I possibly know what moral perfection wants? I am so twisted I often don’t know what *I * want! Often, I want 2 contrary things, or things that ultimately have undesired consequences etc. Perfection can understand imperfection, but my imperfection can only guess about perfection. We often get that wrong!

    Blessings!
    -R. Eric Sawyer

  • Bill Pratt

    Excellent points, Eric.

  • Boz

    Another problem with these arguments is that no one actually knows if the christian god is omniscient, or omniopotent, or morally perfect, or male, or green-eyed.

  • Hey Boz! Good to hear from you again. I hope you are doing well.

    Classical Theism and the Bible both teach that God is ominipotent, omniscient, and Good. However, Open Theism (Finitism) teaches that God is not omnipotent or omniscient in the classical sense, and they use this teaching to answer the Problem of Evil.

    However, Finitism leaves a view of God that is incoherent with a Necessary Being. For, if God is not omnipotent or omniscient, then He is by nature limited. Being limited means He has potential in His being, is not Pure Actuality, and can thereby change. Change and limitation are inconsistent with a Necessary Being and are incompatible with God as taught in the Bible. As a result, Finitism and Open Theism are not options open to the classical theist.

    God Bless!

    Darrell

  • Boz

    Hi Darrell

    “Classical Theism and the Bible both teach that God is ominipotent, omniscient, and Good.”

    These claims are not objectively true, though. They cannot be demonstrated, and there is no evidence to support them.

  • Boz,

    These claims are not objectively true, though.

    I am not entirely with you on this one. If these claims are true, then they are objectively true, for all truth is objectively true. Even truths which appear subjective are in fact objective. For example, the fact that I like vanilla ice cream is objectively true. It is objectively true for all people, in all places, and at all times that Darrell likes vanilla ice cream.

    There is no such thing as a subjective truth. All truth is objective because it is by nature true for everyone.

    Now, perhaps you mean that you don’t believe that these claims can be objectively demonstrated. Is this your contention?

    …there is no evidence to support them.

    Have you ever studied the vertical cosmological argument? It cites ample evidence to support the contention that a being exists who must by nature be omnipotent, omniscient, Good, unlimited, eternal, and pure actuality. The argument has its basis in reality and, unlike the onotological arguments, makes no jump from mind to reality. Instead it uses reality to demonstrate that this being is metaphysically necessary. If this argument has true premises (which I believe it does), is valid (which I believe it is), and is sound (which follows from validity and truth), then it most certainly proves that a omniscient, omnipotent, and Good being exists.

    Take care!!

    Darrell

  • Boz

    I haven’t seen the vertical cosmological argument before. I’m interested in going through it if you want to. Is this the reason that you accept that an omnipotent, omniscient, good, unlimited, eternal entity exists?

  • Boz,

    No, I wouldn’t say it is the reason I believe that God is omnipotent, etc. I believed God to be all of those things long before I encountered the Vertical argument. However, I would say realizing that such a being is metaphysically necessary has strengthened my faith considerably.

    I would love to go through the argument with you. It is rather long (something like 6 pages), so I wouldn’t want to put the whole thing in a post. How about I e-mail it to you? I have the e-mail you use for your wordpress account and can send it there if you would like. Then we can discuss.

    Just let me know.

    Take care!

    Darrell

  • I would ask why God allows us to feel pain, if he knew we would? I know that Christians consider that pain is a consequence of sin, but couldn’t he create us in a way that we have free will, and at the same time, do what he wants (not sin)? He is omnipotent, isn’t he?

  • I know that Christians consider that pain is a consequence of sin, but couldn’t he create us in a way that we have free will, and at the same time, do what he wants (not sin)? He is omnipotent, isn’t he?

    No, it is not possible for God to do this. Omnipotence means that God can do whatever is possible to do. Forced freedom, i.e., God creating us as free creatures who will always do what He wants, is a contradiction in terms. If you give a creature freedom, then they have the ability to do what you don’t necessarily want them to do.

    Darrell

  • Boz

    Darrel said: “No, I wouldn’t say it[The vertical argument] is the reason I believe that God is omnipotent, etc. I believed God to be all of those things long before I encountered the Vertical argument. However, I would say realizing that such a being is metaphysically necessary has strengthened my faith considerably.”

    So, would it be accurate to say that even if every argument for the existence of a deity fails, it wouldn’t matter because you have faith?

    Or, would it be accurate to say that if continually more portions of the bible are shown to be false, as has happened over time with geocentrism, the flood, the age of the earth, special creation, etc, it wouldn’t matter because you have faith?

    I only have a work email address; the address attached to my name here is fake. I can go through the argument here if you like.

  • So, would it be accurate to say that even if every argument for the existence of a deity fails, it wouldn’t matter because you have faith?

    This is begging the question. There are numerous arguments for the existence of a theistic God which are true and sound. Consequently, these arguments prove theism to be true and atheism to be false. You might say it takes more faith to be an atheist than it does to be a Christian.

    Or, would it be accurate to say that if continually more portions of the bible are shown to be false, as has happened over time with geocentrism, the flood, the age of the earth, special creation, etc, it wouldn’t matter because you have faith?

    Based on your criticism of Billy’s supposed use of fallacies, I would think you would know better. You are again begging the question. No “portions of the Bible” have been proven false, and to suggest as much is woefully inaccurate.

    I only have a work email address; the address attached to my name here is fake. I can go through the argument here if you like.

    I may do a post or two in the future on aspects of the Vertical, but as I mentioned, six pages is a bit much to get into in a comment.

    If you change your mind about wanting to converse via e-mail, let me know.

    God Bless!

    Darrell

  • Boz

    you didn’t answer my two questions.

  • Because they are begging questions which have not been established and are thus invalid. Sort of like me asking you, “Would you spend such an excessive amount of time blogging if you had a life?”

    Please note that I am not accusing you of spending too much time blogging or of not having a life. So please don’t take offense. I am simply pointing out how when one begs a question, i.e., excessive time on internet/not having a life, it pretty much invalidates the whole question being asked.

    Darrell

  • Brad

    So, would it be accurate to say that even if every argument for the existence of a deity fails, it wouldn’t matter because you have faith?

    Boz, although I know Darrell can answer these if he wants, since you’re looking for a simple answer, I’ll give you some.

    If EVERY argument for the existence of a deity was definitively shown to be false, then to continue to have faith in that deity would truly be blind, b/c it wouldn’t be supported by any rational fact. Therefore, if the above scenario ever happens, then no, I wouldn’t believe in a deity.

    However, let me ask you a question, based on the tone of your response: If numerous arguments were given to you that show that there IS a deity, are you inclined to ignore them all, b/c you don’t want to believe there is a deity in the first place?

    Or, would it be accurate to say that if continually more portions of the bible are shown to be false, as has happened over time with geocentrism, the flood, the age of the earth, special creation, etc, it wouldn’t matter because you have faith?

    My answer to this is essentially the same as my answer above. If portions of the Bible are definitively shown to be false, then to continue to have faith in what it says is, again, blind, so if that scenario were to occur, then no, I wouldn’t believe in the deity it describes.

    However, I think where I (and Darrell, and Billy, and countless others) and you differ, is to the status of the so-called “continually more portions” that have been “shown to be false.” That’s why I say “definitively” in my response.

    Thanks for coming on here!

  • Brad,

    Well said. I agree with you.

    Surprising huh!?

    Darrell

  • Boz

    brad, i would ony need to see one sound argument to accept that a deity exists, or to accept any position.

    I very much want to know if my current positions are wrong.

  • Ajackdoor

    On this “problem of evil”, the thing that gets to me is this. First, though it is presented as an argument that God does not exist, it is in fact an argument about whether a specifically defined God exists.

    Secondly, it doesn’t seem fair to pose an argument in a way that suggests that you have found a novel, clever idea that will knock out the Bible without considering fairly the Bible’s own discussion of the point. For example, Jesus’ parable about the wheat and the tares where the farmer let the good and bad plants grow together and dealt with issues at harvest time, is clearly addressing this issue. If the atheist wants to raise the argument, he should first deal with the Bible’s own explanations.

    Another example of this is the fact that the Bible describes God as being unwilling that any should perish and thus showing grace to allow repentance. And this forbearance is itself seen as an expression of God’s goodness. Not his powerlessness or his lack of concern.

    Thirdly, what is evil? (I know this is not a particularly new thought!). But I am convinced that there is no way to define a moral law that applies to all people at all times without a moral lawgiver – just as there is no way to have school rules without teachers. And it does mean that the atheist is judging God by reference either to his own moral judgment (which may well be faulty and which will probably change in the light of his life experiences – and is therefore not abosolute) or against a true, objectively real morality – which can come only from God.

  • Andrew Ryan

    “It is in fact an argument about whether a specifically defined God exists.”

    Right – it is an argument against the idea of a God that is both all powerful and cares about preventing human suffering – If He doesn’t prevent human suffering then it suggest He either cannot do so, or chooses not to.

    That alone is an important argument to deal with, as it applies to the God that at the very least most Christians believe in.

    “But I am convinced that there is no way to define a moral law that applies to all people at all times without a moral lawgiver”

    Why does introducing a moral lawgiver solve the problem? Where is the lawgiver getting the morals from? Where does he get the authority to set the laws? From himself?

  • Mr. Anonyumous

    ‎(GOD.)Created. – Man in his essential part, the image of God in him, was entirely a new creation. We discern here two stages in his creation. The general fact is stated in the first clause of the verse, and then the two particulars. “In the image of God created he him.” This is the primary act, in which his relation to his Maker is made prominent. In this his original state he is actually one, as God in whose image he is made is one. “Male and female created he them.” This is the second act or step in his formation. He is now no longer one, but two, – the male and the female. His adaptation to be the head of a race is hereby completed. This second stage in the existence of man is more circumstantially described hereafter

    Christianity claims both that God created the world and that he sustains it. Christianity claims that God knows all things and is capable of all feats and sets your life out before hand your life is already made before your born and you don’t control your fate. Christianity claims that God is perfectly good, and wants only the best for his Creation. When we say god knows all things that means that he is all knowing. Correct? Let me present to you this..One last thing god created heaven and all the angels and the earth and all the creations on it right well in that case don’t you remember “Lucifer was once an angel” God mad Lucifer and Lucifer was Evil so God made evil….

    (1) If God exists then he is omniscient, omnipotent This means he is essentially perfectly good. As it States in the bible.

    (2) If God were omniscient, omnipotent and perfectly good then the world would not contain evil. Cause as we all no Evil is not in any way good correct, and the world contains evil. So there for God can not be all good.. But wait you may say that its not essentially gods world any more its the devil’s… In Christianity that god did not know of the evil to come…. That he didn’t realize Lucifer would befriend him.. But isn’t god all knowing?

    (3.) God can’t be both all knowing and not know of evil and that Lucifer would befriend him.

    “So God created man in his own image,…. Which consisted both in the form of his body, (and the erect stature of it”) This is the best part. Gay people they say gay people are going to hell that god did not intend for man or women to be Gay (bible reference)>”man shall not lye with another man and women shall not lye with another women. Christianity they tell you in some churches if not all that they are gay by choice … But wait isn’t Choice in this aspect apart of your life I thought that god controlled your own fate So would this mean that god made you GAY? Well if you would go to hell for being gay how the hell is it your fault for how good made you Remember this “GOD MADE MAN AND EVERY THING IN HIS OWN IMAGE AND THE ERECT STATURE OF IT”
    This means in some form god him self must be gay. So Why the Hell do you have to go to hell?

    Christianity holds that God cares deeply for each of us, and that it is of vital importance that we so believe; according to Christianity, our eternal fate depends on whether or not we believe in God and trust in the cross for salvation.

    (4.) If it is true that god hates gay people, then he can not at the same time care deeply for each of us. Because he hates gays and hate is in no way shape or form a way to care..
    If god was the following All good and cares for us all deeply then why would he make you get to then send you to hell that’s kinda messed up isn’t it? That’s the same as torture almost ” your going to hell because i decided to hate gay people and i made you gay.”

  • The skeptics’ demand for verified miracles in no way sets the bar too high were there that evidence! You do not fathom the point: you just have your blinders on to just take uncomfirmed reports as true!
    Reading through your essays, I find credulity to a high degree!To get to fathom that I refer you and your sheep to Google lamberth’s naturalist arguments about God. You and others might respond to those blogs to dissent from them.
    Carneades-Hume Lord Griggs
    http://ignosticmorgansblog.wordpress.com
    http://skepticgriggsy.blogspot.com

  • schlaflosig

    He could create us so that committing sin would be very unpleasant (or even painful) to us. No one limits my freedom for me to cut my hand off, but I just choose not to do it because it’s very unpleasant.

    God could make us so that committing adultery would be unpleasant – and no one would commit it. There’s no violation of freedom here.