Posted by: Randall Niles | September 26, 2011

The Problem of Evil — Further Exploring the Atheist and Theist Response

Last week, I posted some “one-liners” in the Atheist vs. Theist debate. A few of you asked for clarification on the following:

The Atheist: “Even if a finely-tuned cosmos and/or complex life suggest a first cause/designer, there’s too much pain and suffering in the world to believe in the Judeo-Christian God.”

The Theist’s Response: “Life’s order, design, and complexity require an Intelligent Designer, and our response to pain and suffering is relative to our knowledge of right and wrong/good and evil in a fallen world.”

Indeed, writers from Job to Augustine, Aquinas to Lewis, have filled volumes on this subject… My “one-liner” didn’t quite cut-it. Here’s where I was going…

Many atheists deny the existence of God based on the evil, pain, and suffering they observe in the world.

The simple logic: (1) A good and loving God wouldn’t allow evil, pain, and suffering in His world. (2) Evil, pain, and suffering exist in our world. (3) Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

But does this logic really work? On what objective basis is the atheist defining “evil,” “pain,” and “suffering” in his purely materialistic, naturalistic universe?

If the entire cosmos is nothing but the long-term result of an initial cosmic accident, then we have no universal standard for comprehending right and wrong. If conscious life is somehow the ultimate effect of mindless matter in motion, how can any individual declare what is objectively good or evil? Asked differently, how can the atheist reject the existence of God based on evil, pain, and suffering, when there’s no transcendent basis to argue “cosmic unfairness” in the first place?

C.S. Lewis said: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?”

Richard Rorty, a popular atheist philosopher, gives us a different perspective on the same truth: “There is no answer to the question, ‘Why not be cruel?’”

The theist observes and acknowledges evil, pain, and suffering in this broken world. The theist understands that evil, pain, and suffering are contrary to the opposite “good” states – The “way it should be.” The theist has an ultimate answer for why we are the way we are, and what the end of the story looks like. Indeed, our response to evil, pain, and suffering is relative to our objective knowledge of right and wrong, good and evil, in God’s fallen world.

The atheist, on the other hand, has no such bearings in this area, no objective basis for declaring what’s right and what’s wrong. In fact, the atheist has no foundation for believing things are broken (“fallen”) in the first place. If the atheist rejects any type of objective standard for evil, how can he use the so-called “problem of evil” to deny the existence of God? Similarly, without a transcendent plumb line (a “true north”) to define what “evil”, “pain,” and “suffering” really are, how can the atheist reject God (condemn God) for things that don’t really exist? Logically, how can anyone use a subjective feeling or personal experience to reject the ultimate existence of anything?

Still Thinking,

Randall Niles



  1. Saying we have trouble identifying ‘evil’ is not the same as saying we have trouble identifying ‘pain’ and ‘suffering’. That’s what science is for.

    And there is an answer to ‘why not be cruel’, despite Richard Rorty’s opinion…who might be a popular atheist philosopher, I though I’ve never heard of him.

    The answer is ‘because I don’t want people to be cruel to me’. It’s really that simple. Reciprocity. A concept that is older than religion, and still makes a great deal of sense.

  2. As an atheist and former Christian….I can say that you are completely off-base with “Many atheists deny the existence of God based on the evil, pain, and suffering they observe in the world”. That is so wrong that it is laughable.

    The truth is: Most atheists lack your belief in a god simply because there is no evidence for your god, any other “god”, or anything supernatural for that matter. That’s it. It’s that simple.

  3. Great Stuff Randall !!

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