The Perils of Playing the "Problem of Evil" Card

This month’s Dead Reckoning.TV episodes are centered on this essential worldview question: What’s wrong with the world?

This might surprise some people because it would seem at first glance that among all the people asking this question, Christians would be in the least favorable position to answer it.

This is because one of the most powerful and successful objections to the Christian worldview is evil itself, articulated in the so-called “Problem of Evil” or “theodicy.” This ancient argument is trotted out with some regularity among the new atheists and it sadly continues to persuade.

What I hope to do in the March episodes is completely turn the tables. Hopefully I’m not stealing the thunder of my own show (I don’t think I am), but I thought I’d write a brief blog post on what I’m up to here.

In short: among all the people asking the question, “What’s wrong with the world?” it is non-Christians who have a real problem of evil.

Before I get to that, let’s walk through the objection itself. It operates on these three premises:

1. God is Sovereign (All controlling)
2. God is Good
3. Evil Exists

The atheist reasons from these premises to one of three conclusions:

A) God is not Sovereign
B) God is not Good
C) God does not exist

It gives the illusion of logical consistency. I will say that for it. But it is nevertheless an illusion. For there is one perfectly logical conclusion left out:

God has perfectly (1) Sovereign and (2) Good reasons for (3) the evil that exists.

There is no logical fallacy committed in that conclusion. I’ll repeat that: there is no logical fallacy involved in that conclusion. In fact, it is the only logical conclusion that actually follows from the premises. If we take it that God is completely Sovereign and that he is completely Good, then the existence of evil (logically) can only be consistent with his Sovereignty and Goodness.

Now, I fully recognize that this will remain unsatisfying to the skeptic, and there is a very good reason for that. For the time being I simply want to point out that the atheistic formulation of the “Problem of Evil,” despite appearances, is not some kind of logical objection to Christianity.

It is a psychological objection to Christianity.

As I said, there is a fantastic reason for that psychological objection. Because we are finite creatures (on which we all agree) we ourselves cannot conceive or comprehend what a God-like, perfect, Sovereign, and Good reason for evil would even look like. It is beyond our comprehension. Fair enough. I readily, heartily, and even enthusiastically grant the point.

But before the non-believer starts popping the champagne and holding the victory party, allow me to make one further observation. If the objection is really grounded in our own finitude and inability to plan, purpose, and see things as a truly Sovereign and Good God would plan, purpose, and see them, then the so-called argument of the Problem of Evil, at the end of the day, amounts to this:

God does not exist because I am not God.

Not exactly logical, is it? So at the end of the day, I have supplied a perfectly logical and coherent (though not comprehensive) answer to the supposed “problem,” while the non-believer has done nothing but supply a logically absurd argument.

Not so clear cut as it seemed at first, is it?

But another serious and insurmountable problem is destined to crash the champagne-popping party of the smug atheist who thinks the existence of evil has done away with God. Because that same premise (3) Evil Exists is about to do away with the atheist.

Very simply: If you believe in naturalistic principles—that is, that all that exists is matter, time, energy, and chance, then you do not believe premise (3), that “Evil Exists.” Everything in the cosmos, every atom and molecule, every thought, every belief, every emotion, every impulse, every action is simply the natural product of matter, time, energy, and chance. Quite inconveniently this means that it is utterly, spectacularly absurd to label any of those things, at any time and in any circumstance, “evil.” Because that’s not the language of natural laws of physics: that's moral language.

It is like expressing deep moral disapproval when two hydrogen atoms combine with an oxygen atom to form a water molecule.

A person who does not believe in (3) Evil Exists, loses the right to assert it in an argument against God’s existence. But the atheist generally does believe in evil. He or she doesn’t like lots of things, usually. Nazis, pedophiles, and mass murderers come to mind. But now it is he or she that has the real problem of evil! How can something like “evil” exist in a purely naturalistic cosmos of matter, time, energy, and chance?

And the same goes for the mystical religions that believe the world of matter and time, “Samsara,” or the “Wheel of Existence,” is but mere “Maya” or illusion. If material reality is illusory, if it’s all impulses fed to the brain by The Matrix, then judging it or complaining about it doesn’t make much sense. Much less using it as an excuse to not believe in a Personal, Sovereign, and Good God.

Christians don’t really have a problem of evil. We acknowledge that it is a deep mystery, yes. We have ways of explaining it that are more-or-less helpful. Maybe some of those ways don’t ultimately satisfy finite and limited creatures. Sure.

But at least when some atrocity or tragedy occurs, we have a label we get to legitimately use.

Finally, this also means that every time the naturalist or Eastern mystic plays the “Problem of Evil” card, they are actually admitting to the Christian view of the world, which is a pretty ironic turn of events, no?

Brian Mattson