The Problem of Evil – for Atheists


The Apologetic of Evil

Apologetics 101 – no. 6 – How Can We Believe in a God who Allows Evil and Suffering



  1. The PoE argument, presupposes objective good. Because it is impossible to define evil, without referencing a good, that is used to define the evil.
    Ask the atheist to give an example of evil, without inference to a good? They cannot.

    It’s like the problem of darkness. Darkness is the absence of an expected light. Without light, there is no awareness of darkness.
    Without good, there is no identification of evil.

    So if there is a PoE, where does the good come from?

    CS Lewis put it something along this way. If something is crooked, where is my reference to identify it as such, other than having to rely on acknowledgement of the existence of a straight line!
    If life is unfair, evil, there must be a fair, good.

      1. Exactly. Teleology indicates the nature of the Creator, and we have 13.8 billion years to judge.

        As Paley so accurately said:

        “Contrivance proves design, and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the designer.”

        What it tells us is that Creation is a complexity machine; a self-enriching engine spilling out from a state of ancestral simplicity to contemporary complexity, where complexity corresponds precisely to a forever expanding ecology of suffering.

        This is an incontestable fact.

        So, God exists. Evil (here primarily defined as the ways and means by which suffering can be delivered and experienced) not only exists, but its capacity, variety and potency is increasing as God’s Creation faithfully fulfils its elemental instruction: to diversify and specialise, to migrate, to augment and to grow more complex over time.

        Good, therefore, is simply the privation of evil, of suffering.

      2. It doesn’t work the other way round. The absence of darkness is light? The absence of evil is good?
        You can’t put light out with darkness, you have to remove light.
        You cannot defeat good with evil, you have to remove good.
        These are not simply reversible.

      3. If darkness is a substance, then of course the argument works that way. But this is a nonsense analogy as light and dark are not substitutes for suffering and happiness.

        The question is, though: Can you support the central premise/presupposition of your belief; principally that of a benevolent, maximally good Creator?

        I noted Paley’s observation:

        “Contrivance proves design, and the predominant tendency of the contrivance indicates the disposition of the designer.”

        So, if you do a teleological study of this world, an honest study of 13.8 billion years, what can you point to that actually supports your premise of goodness?

        What is the predominant tendency of the contrivance?

        The simple truth is this: This world was never good, never peaceful, never without suffering, pain and anxiety. Fire has always burned flesh, water has always drowned babies, and Creation has only ever exhibited but one impulse, one motive, one direction: towards increasing complexity, where complexity—across all systems, animate and inanimate—corresponds precisely to the degree and depth of potential suffering available to those contingent things whose participation in Creation was never solicited.

        From heat and protons to hearts, central nervous systems, minds and cluster bombs, this is Creation’s single compulsion, its one and only passion; a relentless passage from a state of ancestral simplicity to contemporary complexity, where complexity—and the specialisation it affords—parents a wretched and forever diversifying family of more devoted fears and faithful anxieties, more pervasive ailments and skilful parasites, more virulent toxins, more capable diseases, and more affectionate expressions of pain, ruin, psychosis and loss. In the simplest possible statement: Creation is a vast entanglement apparatus—a complexity machine—whose single-minded mindless state of employment is geared entirely towards a greater potency and efficiency in the delivery and experience of misery and confusion, not harmony and peaceful accord.

        Where is your supposedly “good” Creator in this?

      4. John, your reaching wildly beyond yourself. How old are you? How old do you think your going to live? Forget 13 billion years. The fraction of that you have is miniscule. A mere drop in the ocean. A vapor in time.
        Your not in a position to judge that far into the past, or future. You only have now. Your few decades. Whereupon do you reach this miserable conclusion? This crooked state as you see it, what is the straight line your measuring against?
        How can you be sure the world so cruel, unless you have a line of justice, peace, and harmony, against which you identify the ‘sin’ (miss the mark) that ought not to be?
        You can only identify darkness, because there should be light. You can only identify this evil as you see it, because there is a good.

      5. Hi Gene

        An honest teleological study proves you wrong. There is no such thing as “good.” Good has never existed, not as something distasteful or hurtful to the Creator, for good is neither a wave of dissent, nor an infection. It is not a rebellion growing inside Creation like some determined cancer, a lively tumour. Good is neither a disease nor a corruption, for good is not the equal and opposite of evil. Good is not evil’s privation, that which exists in its absence, but rather an evil unto itself. It is a calibre of evil, a dialect, or perhaps more accurately, a variation in temperature and pressure there to be experienced in those moments when there appears to be a temporary reduction of perceptible suffering.

        In the simplest possible statement: good is evil. From the perspective of the Creator, they are one in the same thing, indistinguishable in that they are both mechanisms working towards ever-greater expressions of suffering.

        Consider the good of climate, astronomical and geological stability. If daylight hours were not predictable, or the ocean tides were massively erratic, or planet-shattering bolide impacts were far more regular, or perhaps the earth’s tectonic plates flowed at meters-per-hour instead of centimetres-per-year then even the simplest and most resilient illustrations of organic life, cyanobacteria, would be harassed and molested to such a degree that large, stable populations would be impossible to maintain. The corollary of this is, of course, that without those voluminous colonies consuming the sulphurous, carbon dioxide-rich protean earthly atmosphere and excreting oxygen the planet (2.48 billion years ago) would never have been flooded with that sweetest of gases essential for more complex, muscular life to be nudged into being. And if muscles and oxygen-hungry tissue in general were absent from the world then so too would be jaws and teeth and talons and claws and poisons and knives and cluster bombs and lies.

        Good, demonstrably, births evil. Good feeds evil. Given enough time, good is evil. Indeed, given enough time to play through, good is seen to be the greater evil for it is a mechanism of amplification; broadening, magnifying and deepening the ecology of suffering there to be experienced by the Creator’s avatars, His proxies.

        That is what an honest teleological study reveals.

  2. David

    I honestly don’t understand your argument but suspect it may hinge on your definition of evil. What exactly do you think it is, some kind of metaphysical force? I am not being an “angry, fundi atheist”, I simply don’t see that it is difficult to defend from an atheistic worldview.

    I would define evil as the actions of sentient beings that intentionally cause extreme detriment to the well-being of other sentient beings. I am quite happy to debate what sentient means in the context of non-human species but I think we are able to make that judgement for humans reasonably well.

    Therefore, natural disasters and disease clearly are not evil. Nevertheless, whilst some actions may bring about a short-term reduction in well-being but for an eventual gain, those of the Nazis at Auschwitz appear simple to define.

    The fact that there is no ultimate accountability or reckoning is not “hellish” as it took Christianity to invent that particular notion. Just because theism offers a happy ending, doesn’t make it any more likely to be true. The problem is not that naturalism offers no hope; it is that theism has provided humanity with a false one.

  3. Why is this a problem for a-theists?

    Evil is not in the mind of the doer of the act. Evil is a description, by the observer, of an action of a person or group. It is descriptive of an act that is deeply contrary to the wellbeing of an individual or a community. It therefore is resolvable by good influence and education.
    It is not, as religionists would have you believe, an extant force that is inflicted on unfortunate people (like Hitler, Mao, Mother Theresa, the etc) from time to time, presumably by some omnipotent divine miscreant.

    I’m routinely amused by the efforts of religionists and other dogma driven philosophers to overcomplicate very simple ideas such as this.

  4. David

    Both Ian and I have made exactly the same argument. We have both clearly stated that evils acts do exist and that they are physical actions. Your refutation is to a point of view neither of us hold and you have equally failed to respond to the basic question of how you define evil.

    1. Evil is not an act. I can give you two acts that are exactly the same. One good, one evil.
      What differentiates the two? Not the act. That is exactly the same.

      Sexual intimacy between a husband and wife.
      And Rape.

      The physical act may be exactly the same.

      The latter is evil, because the presupposed good of the act, the right motive and context, is absent. If the good was not expected in the first place, there would be no rape. The evil of rape is only identified because of the expected good of sexual intimacy. If there was never a good in the first place, it negates the subsequent evil.

      Animals do not rape, because there is not the expected good, that if absent would be evil.

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