Atheism and the Problem of Evil

Atheists often question and sometimes chastise Christians for believing in God because of the existence of evil. If God is all-loving and all-powerful, then why does evil exist? Wouldn’t he just take it all away? Since he does not, God must not be all that good, or he must not be as powerful as Christians believe him to be. So goes the atheist’s objection.

We must certainly agree that the existence of evil is not an easy issue for Christians. The Christian ought to be careful not to dismiss the problem of evil hastily, as if it is not really that difficult and not worth the wrestle. No. No matter how we answer the question, we will still be left ultimately with why God allows evil. But, it seems to me, that atheism actually has more obstacles to overcome for the problem of evil than those who believe in God.

First of all, according to atheism, a universe without God is merely one of survival of the fittest. Evil, then, is just a way we talk about the weaker being overcome by the stronger. As such, evil does not really exist.

This idea may sound like an overstatement or unbelievable. Atheists, however, are forthright in this belief. “The universe we observe,” says the atheist Richard Dawkins, “has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music.”[1]

Atheist Michael Ruse makes it even more clear. “The position of the modern evolutionist,” he says, “is that humans have an awareness of morality . . . because such an awareness is of biological worth. Morality is a biological adaptation no less than are hands and feet and teeth. . . . Considered as a rationally justifiable set of claims about an objective something, ethics is illusory. . . . Morality is just an aid to survival and reproduction, . . . and any deeper meaning is illusory.” [2]

This idea creates numerous other problems for the atheistic view. If evil does not exist, then logically anything is permissible (rape, slavery, murder, torture, etc.) because no action ought to be refrained from. The idea of what humans “ought to do” and “ought not to do” no longer exists. Also, if evil does not exist, then it logically follows that evil serves no purpose whatsoever. In short, when something “evil” occurs, humans must just “suck it up.” It’s just the way life is, and there is no reason for it. Moreover, the strong human intuition that some things are definitely right and others wrong must be denied and seen as some kind of “trick” of nature.

These obstacles (as well as many others not even mentioned here) seem quite insurmountable for atheism to overcome when dealing with the existence of evil. Surely humans perceive that some actions are definitely good and others absolutely evil. If not, then are we prepared to permit anything? Do we just have to “suck it up” when evil occurs in our world? Is there no hope for justice ever? Is evil purposeless and meaningless?

In contrast to atheism’s denial of evil, Christianity provides a better explanation of and response to evil. Although we cannot go into too many details here, we can enumerate several. First, Christianity has a better explanation than atheism when it affirms that evil actually exists! To deny the strong sense of evil that humans appear to have innately seems preposterous. Surely murder, rape, torture, and many other actions are absolutely evil. Christianity states that such actions ought not be permitted. They are definitely wrong.

Furthermore, Christianity sees evil as serving some purpose. Although theologians and great thinkers of the Christian tradition would argue that evil is not something created and carried out by God, they would affirm that evil is not meaningless. God’s creatures, by their own free will, brought evil into existence. God, however, promises that such evil can be and will be used for good. One of the great promises of Scripture is that “we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). If you will, God “hijacks” the evil in this world and uses it for the good of those who love him (see, e.g., when Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery).

Moreover, Christianity provides an ultimate resolution to evil. Justice will be served! It is promised that Jesus will return, and when he does, he will give to each according to his deeds (John 5:28-29; Matt. 5:32ff). Those who rejected Jesus and were evil will receive eternal condemnation, while those who believed in Christ and sought righteousness will be rewarded. For atheism, there is no resolution for evil. Justice will never be served.

Atheism, therefore, is simply bankrupt when it comes to the problem of evil. We are left with no hope–indeed, no evil at all! Christianity, on the other hand, provides humans with an explanation and reason for evil, and ultimately, an end to all evil by God’s justice.

Dr. Peter Rasor

[1] Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life

[2] Michael Ruse, “Evolutionary Theory and Christian Ethics,” in The Darwinian Paradigm

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One Response to Atheism and the Problem of Evil

  1. Jack Cottrell says:

    Thanks, Brother Rasor, for this explanation. I agree with what you say here. I do believe that more should be said about the role of free will in God’s purpose of creation and in the origin of evil. I go into this somewhat in my 1984 volume, “What the Bible Says About God the Ruler,” pp. 397-409. I do appreciate the Blade blog.