Often, non-Christians will bring up evil as a way to argue against the existence of God. However, evil is actually a great evidence for the existence of God.
It's very common to hear someone say, "God can't exist." You might say, "Well, why not?" They might say something like, "Well, the God of the Bible is said to be all good and all powerful. Evil exists in this world, so God can't exist, because if God existed and he were all good and all powerful, he would want to eliminate all of the evil and he would be able to eliminate all of the evil. But that hasn't happened. There's still evil, so God does not exist."
If you're not prepared to deal with this objection to Christianity, that might throw you back on your heels. This is not an unaddressed or unsolved problem. I've actually talked about this before. We're not going to focus too much on the problem of evil today.
What we're going to talk about today is a way to pivot on their objection and actually make an argument for God. Now you would want to be able to deal with their objection, but it’s also good to know how to use that objection in a positive way to argue for God's existence. Here's how you do that.
The person complaining about evil in the world is saying they think evil actually exists. You might say, "Yeah, well everyone thinks there's evil. What does that have to do with anything?" Here's the thing. In order to say there is evil, there has to be some type of objective standard that's outside of a person as to what makes something evil and what makes it good. In order for there to be a moral law that someone breaks which would then make them be doing an evil thing, there must be a moral law-giver. Moral laws, like all laws, require law-givers. Where would a moral law come from if you're not a Christian, especially if you're not a theist, if you don't believe there is a God? From no where. There wouldn't be a moral law.
The non-Christian, especially the atheist, who believes there's such a thing as actual right and wrong and disbelieves that God exists, is actually living inconsistently. They have two beliefs that don't fit together. They don't cohese well. On the one hand, they're saying there's no God - there's no transcendent creator. On the other, they're saying “I think things are actually right and wrong.” They have no reason to believe that. That doesn't mean that they don't believe it. It doesn't mean that they can't behave morally, but what it does mean is these things don't fit together.
Here's how we could respond to someone who says, "There's so much evil in the world. How could God exist?" The first thing I'd want to say is, "So you actually think evil exists in the world? You actually think rape is wrong or discrimination is wrong, bigotry is wrong." If they say, “yes,” this is helpful. That's the first step.
Next you could ask, “Would it be wrong if no one thought it was wrong?” The person will probably say yes. Now, not everyone will. That's important to understand. Most people are going to say yes: It would be wrong even if I didn't think about it. (It's like that question about if a tree falls in the forest and no one's there to hear it, did it actually fall. Yes, it fell!) In the same way, the murder that no one knows about or no one thinks is wrong is still wrong.
You ask the question, “are there actually right and wrong things in the world.” They hopefully reply, “Yes.” “What makes them right or wrong?“ is the next question. If wrongness is breaking a moral law, where did the moral law come from? Now they're probably going to be stuck. What they might say is "Well, we as a society agreed." You can point this out: "Now back up, you said things were wrong or right regardless if anyone thought about them or not. Regardless of if society thinks murder is wrong, you said murder was wrong. You can't use society and its agreement on something to say something is right or wrong if you've already made that other statement."
They might say, "Well, evolution makes it wrong. Wrongness is going against our evolution." What would make rape wrong on that view? Rape helps further the genes of the person who's doing the rape. As horrible as that is, as wrong as that is, that actually aids in survival of the fittest. That's an example of survival of the fittest. That in no way could go against evolution. The same way with murder. Oftentimes the easiest way to get what you want is to take it from someone else, even if that means taking their very life. Now that's wrong, but that's in keeping with evolution. That's what we see in the animal kingdom where rape and “murder” (really, killing), but it's to get what you want. The same with theft. All of these things fit in an evolutionary model but we would say they're wrong today.
This person's running out of options. It can't be societal, if they think things are actually wrong whether anyone thinks they're wrong or not. It can't be evolutionary, because that lacks explanatory power. What are the other options? I guess they could say, "You know what? Maybe it's only wrong because I feel it's wrong." We could reply, "So you think it's wrong to kill but that's just your opinion. It's only wrong because you think it is." If they say yes, the next question would logically be, "Why should anyone care about your opinion?” I'm not trying to be mean or rude but I just don't expect people to care about my opinions. “Why is your opinion so important? How come you think God doesn't exist because someone does something that just breaks your opinion?"
The world not fitting with my preferences is not evidence that God doesn’t exist.
This person is quickly running out of options. Now our goal here (in spite of what it might sound like in this very condensed summary) is not to pin the person to the wall. Our goal is not to make them feel small or belittle them. Our goal is to try and bring them face to face with the reality of what their worldview entails, of where their intellectual commitments actually take them.
The problem in coming to faith in Christ is not an intellectual problem. You could be able to check all the intellectual boxes. You could know all the right things and not be a Christian. Because it requires faith, it requires trust, and repentance. What we do want to be able to do is take a person to the place where they have exhausted their intellectual objections and they have to confront their spiritual reality. We're taking away their excuses. We're getting through the smokescreen if you will, or as Paul says, we're tearing down every argument and other thing that's raised up against the image of Christ.
We have quickly addressed the personal opinion objection. “It's just my opinion that it's wrong.” We've addressed the societal objection. “It can't just be wrong because people think it's wrong.” We intuitively know that something is wrong whether other people think about it or agree upon it or not. We've also addressed the evolutionary objection. “It can't be evolutionary because that lacks explanatory power.” Much of the things we think are wrong today actually fit in line with the an evolutionary paradigm.
What does that leave? What makes best sense of that person's intuition, and indeed the intuition of pretty much everyone on the face of the planet about things like murder and rape and theft and those type of things? It seems like there is some transcendent law out there. There's actually a law that's being given. The question becomes “where did that law come from.” You can't have objective evil, You can't have objective good without God. There has to be someone who sets the rules. That must be some form of deity, some form of much higher power than us. Because we are bound by those laws. We intuitively know them. In fact, they seem to be a feature of how we were created. This is exactly what Paul talks about.
One of the features of being created in the image of God is an innate moral knowledge, or as he says it, the law is literally written on our hearts in a spiritual sense. That's why we have this innate moral knowledge. What I hope you've seen in just this brief time is that the objection against God from evil requires that evil is a real thing, but evil doesn't fit in the worldview of the person making that type of objection. We can point that out. You'll notice I used questions exclusively. “Do you actually believe in objective right and wrong? Is evil real?” Well yes. “Is that just your opinion?” No. “How do you account for evil? What makes something actually right and wrong?”
There are only a handful of options. We quickly addressed them all and I've addressed them at length in other places. I hope what you've seen is that evil is not an objection to God that we have to be afraid from. In fact, I actually look forward to that objection not because I can steamroll this person now, but because it's actually easy to pivot when that objection comes and use it as an argument for God.
Now, we still have to be prepared to answer the atheist objection, and tell how evil and God can be reconciled, and how the existence of both of these things are not contradictory, and how they fit together. That's important, but not being able to answer that doesn't absolve the atheists of the responsibility to confront the fact that he holds two contradictory position: God does not exist (there's no moral law-giver) and yet there's a moral law.
One last thing I want to address is that there's often confusion when this point comes up. Just because the atheist doesn't believe in a moral law-giver doesn't mean he can't behave morally. The atheist can still hop on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers. He can still hold the door for a little old lady. He can do all of those things. But he's not good, in the same way that none of us were good without God. You can't be good without God. You can do moral things but you can't be good. Because to be good is to do things for God's glory, in his name, what that intent. The only person who can actually do that is the Christian, but he can't take credit for that either, because that's the work of the spirit in his life. We were created in God's image. We were saved and redeemed to do good works that he prepared in advance for us to do. We don't even get to take credit for the good works we do. Don't be mistaken. We can't do actually good, righteous deeds apart from Christ in our lives. But that doesn't mean the atheist can't behave morally even if he can't explain how he knows what morality is.
I hope this has been helpful. Being able to deal with an objection and actually turn it around, not in an intellectually dishonest way but in a truthful way, and point out the discrepancy in someone else's worldview, is very helpful, very powerful in getting people to confront conflicting opinions or perspectives they hold. Until next week, I hope you're able to maybe use this in a conversation. I'll talk with you then on Unapologetic.