The problem of evil is a bigger problem for atheists than Christians
Lots of people, when asked why they don't believe in God, will say something like, "Because there is so much evil in the world". It wasn't the case for me. One of the reasons I became a Christian was studying the horrors of the Holocaust. I visited Auschwitz for the first time last year. It was so upsetting. If there is no God, then to me, this world is hell. What's often used as a reason to not believe in God can be used as a reason to believe.
I think that all of us have a sense of evil and a sense of good – I don't think that morality is relative. The modern mantra of "It's true for you but not for me" is false. There really is such a thing as good and evil. To me this truth actually leads to God, rather than away from God.
So here's the problem of evil in a nutshell. We say that God is omnipotent – that he is all powerful, so he could destroy evil. We say that God is good, so he would want to destroy evil. So then atheists will argue, that because evil exists, a good omnipotent God cannot exist. Otherwise, he would stop evil. It's a simple argument, but for many people it is devastating.
We shouldn't shelter Christians from arguments like this. Some of our young people grow up in churches where they are not asked to think about these things, and we try to protect them. So the first time they come across a problem like this, everything gets blown apart and they lose their faith. That doesn't need to be the case. There are lots of contradictions within this argument, especially when compared to the attitude of many atheists today.
Atheists such as Richard Dawkins claim that evil doesn't actually exist. In his book, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life Dawkins writes: "In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won't find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference."
So for this kind of atheist thinking, there is no evil. There is no purpose. Nothing, but blind, pitiless indifference. Sometimes I ask God why such terrible things happen in the world. I get upset. But I would be in the pit of despair if I thought that the universe had no purpose, no good and no evil, and it all happened for no reason at all.
If you are a naturalist (ie you believe that the material world is all that there is), then you have a real problem with the existence of evil. You have to believe:
1) There is no creation, and no Creator.
2) There is no life after death. No one to answer to. You are a blob of carbon floating from one meaningless existence to another.
3) There is no ultimate foundation for morality. It's just something that happens, and has evolved.
4) There is no ultimate meaning in life. We're going on from one meaningless existence to another.
5) There is no human free will. It means I'm programmed to do certain things. It means I can't be held accountable. It means when you stand in front of a judge for raping a woman, you say, "I can't help it, it was my genes". It takes away human responsibility. Part of being human is being responsible. We have an element, at least, of free will.
The problem with the atheist view of evil, is that logically it doesn't make sense. Either you agree that it exists, or you don't. If it does exist, then on what metaphysical basis does it exist? It can't just "be" in a world that is just atoms and molecules.
I love CS Lewis' view. As he made his journey from atheism to theism, Lewis realised that the problem of evil presented more of a problem for atheism than it did for theism. In Mere Christianity he writes:
"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...? Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too – for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancies.
"Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist – in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless – I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality – namely my idea of justice – was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple."
It's true. Atheism is way too simple. If you say you don't believe in God because the world is unjust and that there is evil in the world – but you then say there is no such thing as evil, you're contradicting yourself.
The New Atheist motto "There is no God and I hate Him" doesn't make any sense at all.
David Robertson leads St Peter's Dundee and is the director of Solas CPC. This is the first in a series of articles from talks given at the Keswick Convention 2014. The audio of the talk is available at www.keswickministries.org
Keswick's mission is to unite with Christians around the world to commit to three big priorities for our lives and churches – hearing God's Word, becoming like God's Son, and fulfilling God's mission.