Why Atheists Cannot Talk about the Problem of Evil

Atheists offer several different answers to the question, “Why are you an atheist?” Perhaps the most common answer goes something like this: “I just cannot believe that God exists when I see so much evil in the world. If I were God, and if I were all-loving and all-powerful, I would have put an end to it. Therefore, since the world is full of evil, there must not be a God.”

However, a thinking atheist cannot make such a statement. A thinking atheist must conclude that in reality there is no such thing as evil.

It’s fairly easy to see why this conclusion is inevitable for atheists. If evil actually exists, it follows that there must also exist “good.” Evil can only be defined by contrasting it with good.

For a theist, this poses no problem… There is a God Who defines for us what is good. But, of course, for the atheist, there is no god who can define what is good.

So, inevitably, “good” becomes a very subjective idea. To some people it is “good” to enslave or oppress or kill ¬†other people. Nazis thought it was good to exterminate certain people groups, especially the Jews. There may even be some people you know that, down in your heart, you believe it would be a good thing if they were dead. Some people may think that it would be good if you or I were dead! Some people think it would be good if America ceased to exist. Some people believe it is good to kill babies–especially babies of certain people groups.

An atheist has no basis, other than his own subjective opinion, for saying these things are either good or evil.

After all, if everything that exists is simply the result of trillions of random collisions of atoms over billions of years, the words “good” and “evil” become devoid of any real meaning. Things just “happen to be.” We call them “good” and “evil” because of some kind of feelings that happen to arise in us because of the way these trillions of random collisions happened to coalesce in us.

So if an unthinking atheist, who has rejected God because of all the evil he sees around him, complains to a thinking atheist about all the evil in the world, the thinking atheist will have to say, “What is evil? There is no evil. There is only what happens to be.”

The unthinking atheist might answer, “But wait! The reason I’m an atheist is because of all the evil! If it doesn’t even exist, why am I an atheist?”

To which the thinking atheist will respond, “You are an atheist for the same reason all atheists are atheists. We don’t like the idea of God. We don’t want any God making demands on us or on our behavior. We prefer to make our own decisions about what we choose to do without guilt.”

The non thinking atheist might say, “But I don’t like that at all! And besides, it is patently obvious that the world is filled with evil. Evil must exist!”

To which the thinking atheist might reply, “If objective evil truly exists, then objective good must also exist. And if objective good exists, some external perfect standard of good must exist. And this is, as I’m sure you can see, an argument for the existence of God!

“And so, my friend, take it from an atheist who has given this much thought, if the problem of evil causes you so much concern, then I would suggest that you are not an atheist at all! Whether you like it or not, I am afraid that you are, in truth, a believer in God!”

But, you may ask, “Isn’t evil a serious problem for theists too?”

Yes, but not to the degree that it is a problem for atheists. Theists can acknowledge that while there are evils that we cannot understand, we can imagine that God may have a purpose in allowing them that is greater than our ability to yet see.

Many kids would think that what their parents don’t permit them to do, or require them to do, or allow to happen to them is great evil! It may be many years later, when they have kids of their own, before the light comes on!

When we see horrible evil in the world, a wise response might be something like this: “This is terrible. I don’t understand why God would allow it to happen. In fact, I am going to pray that God will intervene and stop it from happening. But it is evil. And it is real. And it reminds me that the existence of evil implies the existence of good because God has set the standard for good. And if the good God allows it to happen, it must be for a purpose that my puny mind cannot yet grasp. I choose to trust Him even when I cannot understand Him.”

And the next time you run into a self professed atheist who complains about all the evil in the world, you may want to gently try to help him see that he must not really be an atheist at all!

Stay in the Battle!

Steve Hall