Evil and the Existence of God

Skulls from the killing fields of Cambodia (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Ravi Zacharais, one of my very favorite Christian thinkers, provides some food for thought in yesterday’s “Just Thinking” broadcast.

On the question of evil and the existence of God, Zacharias uses logic to examine the issue.

One of the most common and strongest arguments against the existence of God is the question of so much evil and suffering in this world.

But what are the implications of this question, this assumption?

  • – If there is evil, there is good (we cannot say something is bad without acknowledging there is something good, or something superior or preferable to evil)
  • – If there is good, there has to be a moral law (without a law, everything is malleable, subjective and based on preference, convenience or expediency rather than an actual state of “good”, i.e. superior or preferable)
  • – If there is a moral law, there has to be a transcendent moral law-giver (human beings could craft what they call “moral law” but since we are transient beings of limited perception with judgment clouded by self-interest, selfishness, etc., our standard of “good” for a moral law is quite likely to be “good for me” but not “good for you” which really means it is “expedient” rather than “good”)
  • – But the question is trying to disprove that there is a transcendent moral law-giver.
  • – So if we assume there is no transcendent moral law-giver, there can be no moral law.
  • – If there is no moral law, there is no good.
  • – If there is no good, there is no evil.
  • – What is the question, really?

The strongest argument against the existence of God actually assumes the existence of God in the question.

31 Responses to “Evil and the Existence of God”

  1. That's a pretty impressive string of non sequiturs you have there, Bob. Nice.

  2. I'm sorry that you either lack the logical skills to follow this informative journey…or lack the courage to deal with the destination.

    I hope you'll change your mind later and take it for a spin. Depending on where you're coming from, it may definitely be scary…but if you have the courage to finish the trip to its logical conclusion, I guarantee immense rewards.

  3. Oh, I don't lack the logical skills, it's just that there is nothing logical about the argument, starting with the false premise. Are you really comfortable with the way the initial question is framed?

  4. So what is the “false premise?”

  5. The Buddhist would describe suffering as a function of mind, and God as transcendent of mind. Your whole line of argument here points to a non-existent dualism. There can only be one Absolute. One all. The rest is mental fabrication, a false dichotomy. In other words, God is beyond understanding. That's why we have faith. I prefer that line of reasoning. Go beyond reason to love. Even the bad stuff. It is safe. It is the only safety. Because, after all, what did you think it was that needed to be loved?

  6. There is indeed only one “Absolute,” one “All,” and that is God.

    God is indeed beyond our complete understanding, but we can still understand a great deal about him. In fact, he wants us to understand him as much as we can. That is why he gave us the intelligence we have, and why he revealed so much of himself through his written Word and through his creation.

    To dismissively say “We can't understand God” is a cop-out, an excuse that says, “If I can't know everything, I will know nothing.”

    We seek to understand all that we can, because if we truly seek to know God–and not just for academic purposes–then we will begin to be changed so that our nature/behavior is more like his. That is the ultimate purpose of all human beings: to be conformed to the moral standard exemplified by God's character. We can't be holy as God is holy until we get to know God on some level.

    But back to the subject at hand, you still haven't even begun to deal with the problem of evil. I would highly suggest you listen to Ravi Zacharias on a daily basis. He will help you expand your horizons, as well as get a grip on our existence, like you never dreamed possible.

  7. I'll give it to you other ways, from some physicists and mystics who say almst the exact same thing:

    “To be confused about what is different and what is not is to be confused about everything.” — David Bohm, Physicist

    “There are not many, but only One. Who sees variety and not the unity wanders from death to death.” — The Upanishads

    Science and religion have reached a certain fundamental understanding. But you have to get beyond the logic of Descarte and Newton to grasp it.

    “We shall not expect the natural sciences to give us insight into the nature of the spirit.” — Erwin Schrödinger, Physicist

    “Spiritual truth is a truth of the spirit, not the truth of the intellect, not a mathematical theorem or a logical formula.” — Sri Aurobindo

    We are one in the Spirit.

  8. So in other words, you find dealing with absolutes and the question of evil uncomfortable?

  9. I submit that splitting the Absolute into “evil” and “good”, “them” and “us” it the cop out, Bob.

    It perpetuates the false dichotomy, the great lie.

    And it allows people to identify and attach themselves with a errant mental construct, and thus avoid taking responsibility for their own actions. “The devil made me do it…etc.”

  10. Not at all, what I find frustrating is the continuing persistence of the of the archaic “dualism versus monism” debate. If we could agree on that we could get on to problems of ethics and values in the light of the One Mind. We could discuss the nature of consciousness and the human psyche.

    We are poised to do that very important work, but first we all have to get on the same page.

    Are we close?

    (I have to leave for a while now. Thanks for the good discussion this morning, Bob.)

  11. Allow me to try and help you.

    If I come to your house while you're away and steal several items (computer, TV, washing machine, whatever), is that right or wrong, good or evil?

  12. It all seems to hinge on whether one believes God is omnibenevolent or not. Omnibenevolence is an absolute concept that by definition means it doesn't allow for any nonbenevolence because omni means 'ALL'. An omniwhite peice of paper can be nothing but white etc.

    So if God is omnibenevolent and creates all, He couldn't create a world with nonbenevolence in it. He wouldn't have that capability any more than a omniwhite peice of paper could have a little blue in it. But yet we look around and see nonbenevolence all over.

    You even have to toss out the free will argument, because if God were 'absolute' omnibenevolent, He wouldn't or couldn't have created a creature with with possibilty of a nonomnibenevolent free will.

    So I think the question is God
    ABSOLUTE, 100%, totally omnibenevolent or not

  13. It depends. Do you need those things more than I do Bob? Why would you want to do it?

  14. Perhaps, Brian.

    But isn't that more of an argument as to the nature of God rather than proof or disproof of God's existence?

    It seems rather to involve an anthropomorphic value judgement, doesn't it? i.e. “benevolence” as “what's good for man,” not necessarily just “what's good.”

    A fox eating a chicken looks evil to the other chicken, but not necessarily to the other foxes. Or is it possible that the animals don't make value judgements like that? Are chickens evil from the earthworms' perspective? Are viruses sinful?

  15. My real question to Bob is, “What's stopping you from stealing from me… your fear of God's reprisal? Or your love and respect for me?

    Which would be the more powerful statement? The fact that you didn't act on your “evil” impulse, or that you didn't really have any “evil” impulse to overcome, because you know what justice is, whether you know for sure that God exists or not?

    I'm just saying that if we have to be able to prove that God exists and that “he's 100% good” (even though he'll burn you in hell for eternity don't believe otherwise) — in order to do right by each other, we're all in deep, deep trouble.

    Because, that, my friend, is neither logical, nor reasonable, nor possible.

  16. Bill

    You are right that my argument concerns the nature of God and not proof or disproof of God, but since we can never prove or disprove God, I think the question posed is a fallacious one and misleading one. A strawman type of proposition if you will. If we are incapable of proving or disproving a God, doesn't matter if we speak of evil, good, baseball or blackjack concerning something like God's existance because God's existance can't be proved.

    That is why I say all can do is honestly do is look at such a God/being's nature IF it exists. Discussions of evil and the existance of God are fallacious by nature

  17. Now as to the logic in question. It has roughly the form of a series of deductive syllogisms, but most, if not all are either inductive or non sequitur or both. Let's take them one at a time:

    1. If there is evil, there is good (we cannot say something is bad without acknowledging there is something good, or something superior or preferable to evil).

    Why not? Plato discusses the idea that everything proceeds from its opposite, death from life and vice versa. Light is the opposite of dark, but there are an infinity of levels of each in the spectrum. They, are, for the most part, relative aspects of the same phenomenon. One completely dependent upon (not subordinate to) the other. The statement itself implies a value judgement. An opinion, not a fact.

    2. If there is good, there has to be a moral law (without a law, everything is malleable, subjective and based on preference, convenience or expediency rather than an actual state of “good”, i.e. superior or preferable)

    As before, why? The first premise establishes that there is “good” BECAUSE there is bad. There doesn't have to be a law for there to be light, there just has to be the absence of darkness. This statement contradicts the first, rather than flowing from it.

    3. If there is a moral law, there has to be a transcendent moral law-giver (human beings could craft what they call “moral law” but since we are transient beings of limited perception with judgment clouded by self-interest, selfishness, etc., our standard of “good” for a moral law is quite likely to be “good for me” but not “good for you” which really means it is “expedient” rather than “good”)

    Now we're suddenly talking about “transcendent” in the context of opposites, which we have already established exist, a priori and are mutually interdependent. The transcendence could just as well be argued to be the inclusiveness of the two aspects into one principle, as opposed to the preference of one over the other. This argument is speculative at best, and it hardly flows as a continuance from the prior chain of reasoning.

    4. But the question is trying to disprove that there is a transcendent moral law-giver.

    Not necessarily. The question could just be trying to prove existence,
    regardless of the disposition of that existence. This whole thing
    is thoroughly subjective, not objective.

    5. through to the end… See above. The rest are pure bunk.

    6. As with Zeno's paradoxes, one could just as easily prove that it is impossible for Bob Ellis to walk across the room or for the Rabbit to ever catch up with the Tortoise. Good logicians avoid these infinite regressions, not embrace them. They only serve to “prove” the absured, and shed no light whatsoever on either reality or truth.

  18. Finally, in reply to Brian, thank you. It seems we are pretty much in agreement. I'll just clarify here what I presume to be the premise of the argument, but state it in a way that is hopefully more clear:

    A God that is active supernaturally (i.e. the designer/creator) brings the problem of evil to the forefront. In essence, it means that God created suffering, and could eliminate it if he wanted to.

    Through his inaction, God thus becomes responsible for the persistence of suffering. In fact, it would appear that it is intentional, and, at least by human standards, cruel and abusive.

    That, I believe, is a more accurate representation of the argument. As you say, it doesn't really have anything to do with “proof of existence.” It's just that it's kind of hard to warm up to a God who would treat “his children” like that.

    And I don't see that any of Ravi Zacharais's arguments do anything to dispel that discomfort.

  19. Your argument falls on point three. there is nothing in the concept of moral law that requires a transcendent lawgiver. Here you are mistaking man-made laws (legislation) for natural laws. Ayn Rand explains this quite well. Only if you have a choice can there be right and wrong. Only living cognitive beings have choice. Ultimately the choice is life or death. Those who choose death are immoral; those who choose life, moral. This does not just mean, “good for me.” Choosing the life of my child over my own is a moral choice; but there is nothing transcendent about it.

  20. The questions of God and evil only present themselves because religious traditions exist making claims to represent a transcendent being that are in direct contradiction to the supposed message and the very purpose of the incarnation. According to one prejudices, the defaults appear to be thinking there is no God or to take an apologist position and find any complex excuse. Of course the there is a third possibility which makes most people uncomfortable: That is this: The theological project to comprehend the mind of God is a failure. That is to say religion as understood by history is wholly in error. If there is a God he has kept his distance from humanity!

    The scriptural record is loaded with warnings of false teaching and interpretation masquerading as the word of God, anti-Christs, etc, etc. Yet if all is 'theological', who can be right and true if no one is wrong and false? What religious history has yet to offer is the means to separate out and know the difference between what is from God and what is of men. And as the history of religious interpretation is paved with the continual spilling of blood, division, schism and disagreement, it is a legitimate question to ask if this very human intellectual endeavor, called theology,  has anything to do with God at all? Or is it just the height of human intellectual vanity and pretension?

    That status quo which has existed for the last two thousand years may be about to change and it will be most uncomfortable for religious. For the first time in history, for a new religious teaching exists in which the reality of God responds directly to an act of perfect faith with a individual intervention into the natural world, confirming His word and promise with a demonstration of his wisdom, will and power. Such a teaching changes the faith paradigm from one of trusting in the theologies of men to one that trusts directly in the fact of God in the expectation of irrefutable experience and change. And this is called the Resurrection.

    Revolutionary stuff for those with the moral courage to test this new teaching for themselves. Check it out at http://www.energon.org.uk

  21. I'm sorry, Bill, that I left things hanging yesterday. I had a very full day, both yesterday and this morning.

    But if you're still up for discussion, you never answered my question. If I come to your house while you're away and steal several items, was my action good or evil?

  22. If God is good, how do we account for evil? The question presumes a dualism that may not be warranted.

    If there is light, is there also darkness? If there is heat is there also cold? If there is sound is there also silence? If there is love, is there also hate? In each case the answer is 'No.'

    Darkness is only the absence of light, cold is only the absence of heat, silence is only the absence of sound and hate is only the absence of love. Similarly, evil is the absence of good, i.e., God. Out of love God voluntarily grants humans free will. When we choose to have our own way, we push God out of our lives; God's goodness (or light) also retreats from us leaving evil (or darkness) to fill the void. God created light, but men choose darkness.

    “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.”–John 3:19

  23. dr theo

    I am glad you commented, because I would like your thoughts on something. God is not just good, He is all good. Omnibenevolent.Omni-All. Absolute good.100% good. Wouldn't a Being with that intrinsic nature be incapable of even creating a system where things like free will,Satan etc could even possibly exist, which can result in evil,? Seems like a totally absolute, 100%, ALL good Being would or could even put such a system that could fail ,up in the first place. Wouldn't that be against His 100% good,
    intrinsic nature in which all He is capable of is creating good, including a good world?

  24. God created only good, but, out of love, gave us free will. He could have created automatons that were incapable of anything but His will, but that would not be love.

    I don't presume to know God and all His ways, but His nature and His attributes are seen in His creation (Romans 1). He desired to share eternity with beings that were capable of choosing good from evil, or light from darkness, and that meant that darkness had to be an option. He then went so far as to GUARANTEE our salvation by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

    In God's plan only light and goodness will prevail in His Kingdom and sin and darkness will be no more.

    Or are you suggesting that an omniscient God would have no knowledge of evil?

  25. dr theo

    On your last question, I would think a Being of ALL-Knowledge would certainly know of the concept of evil. But I would also think an ALL-Omnibenevolent God could never construct a system that could even allow for evil, be it free will or whatever. God even created our free will because He created us, we were given the potential to do evil . Seems to me an All-Benevolent God who is also All Knowing wouldn't have created a free will system such as that. There are other ways to give us choices and free will without doing evil it would seem.

    I guess it is the concpt of omnibenevolence that seems inherently contradictory. Seems like the Old Testament God, who gets angry and vengeful is more appropriate.

  26. Dr. Theo's discussion of “good” and “evil” and “free will” and “love” is interesting as far as it goes, but it really is a distraction from the actual point. Clearly, “good” people (Jesus for example) still suffer, and suffer horrifically. Mercilessly. In Jesus' case at the hands of his fellow man, in others' at the hand of natures god (disease, hunger, natural disaster, etc.)

    To assign this fact to the sufferers' exercise of “free will” and call it “sin” or “evil” seems cruel and heartless. Who would want to embrace such an ambivalent God? Who would want to commune with a fellowship of people who believe such things?

  27. Jesus' life was not taken from him by his fellow man. Jesus willingly gave his life for his fellow man.

    God is anything BUT ambivalent to demonstrate such unfathomable love for us in the eternal gift He gave on the cross.

  28. Always seems to come down to the concept of free will. But the concept of God means He created and gave man this free will and all that is in it. Since God is ALL-knowing, He would immediately realise that giving man free will such as this WILL led to sin and evil. God, being ALL-knowing means He knows the system will fail and man will sin before even implemented it all. If God doesn't know that His creation will ' make the wrong choice and eat the apple' then God can't be All-Knowing.

    It isn't like a parent teaching their children to do right and then they rebel and don't, because we aren't all-knowing and can see that they will definitely go against us. By definition, an All-knowing God would clearly know what His creation will wind up doing before they do it, thus that God must be responsible for the evil

    Seems that God can't be claimed to be ALL-Knowing, but then say well , He didn't know man would use his free will to sin.

  29. Brian, I know you love your children. So how could you let them out of your sight, play outdoors, ride bicycles, go to school and socialize with other kids when you KNEW they were in danger at times and would make some unwise decisions from time to time? How could you allow this to happen when you had it in your power to keep them safe and secure in your home, perhaps locked in the basement, until they were twenty-one years old? BECAUSE you loved them you had to allow them to make decisions for themselves, knowing that they would sometimes fail.

    Granting autonomy of the will is God's expression of His love for us. Yes, He knows we will fail at times. See John 3:16.

    It does not follow that because He allows us to choose evil that He is responsible for evil. If you give a man a light to light his way down a treacherous mountain trail but he decides to turn it off, are you then responsible for the darkness and the consequences of his fall?

  30. dr theo

    ' If I gave a man a flashlight to light his way down a treacherous trail and he turns it off, am I then responsible for his fall and the consequences'

    If I were ALL-KNOWING( absolute knowledge of all things present, past and future) of all things like God and I gave the man the flashlight and he turned it off and fell, I would consider myself responsible since I have the knowledge of what has and will happen past, present and future

    It seems to me what we do is anthropomorhphise God when we say He doesn't know where our free will is going to lead us, then deify Him when in the next breath we say God is ' of all and absolute knowledge '

    Make sense ?