If there is one thing that can be universally agreed upon it’s that there is something wrong with the world. Regardless of what we believe that problem is, we can all agree that it exists. This problem often hits us painfully and emotionally, influencing even our most fundamental beliefs. This, of course, often manifests as what we call the problem of evil. If there is an all loving and powerful God, wouldn’t he stop all the pain and suffering in the world? There is almost certainly no more common and resonant argument against Christianity than that view. Many of the more self-aware atheists admit that, despite how much time they may spend arguing other points of evidence, what really keeps them from belief in God is evil and suffering. But why is this argument so persuasive? Is the problem of evil a good argument?
Drew has written a number of other great articles on the subject already, but I specifically want to focus on the problem of evil as an argument. Does it make sense from a logical perspective, regardless of our own feelings and history? This is not necessarily how I would suggest talking about the subject in a regular conversation. Instead, my goal here is to help you to better understand this common objection and be able to dissect it a little bit deeper. The argument can be structured with 4 major premises, or claims.
1. If God is all powerful, he can stop evil.
2. If God is all loving, he would want to stop evil.
3. Evil exists.
4. Therefore, an all-powerful and loving God does not exist.
If the first three claims are true, then the conclusion found in point four is true. Laid out in this way, the argument makes sense. It does not make any logical errors, and thus could be considered a good argument. However, Christians have been responding to this argument for thousands of years now. They must have found some good approaches in that time, so where do we start? We already know premise three is true, so it must be somewhere in the first two.
Premise 1. Can God Stop Evil?
The first major premise of the argument has to do with what God is capable of. Some have theorized that God wants nothing more than to stop evil but is simply incapable of doing so. This does not really line up with the picture of God scripture gives us, especially considering that we are told God will end all evil and suffering. Arguing against this point would not make very much sense for Christians. One might think that God is trying and will learn sooner or later how to end evil but can’t right now. That would, however, counteract other aspects of God’s nature such as being omniscient, so I think we may just want to call premise 1 true.
Premise 2. Does God Want to Stop Evil?
The second major premise is not about what God can do, but what God wants to do. If God can stop evil, why would he choose not to? Doesn’t the Bible say that God is love? What kind of loving being would sit back and do nothing while innocent people suffer and die? Would we even call such a being “God?”
While this premise makes logical sense, it is an extremely flimsy claim. The entire conclusion falls if the Christian can explain why God might allow evil to exist. Even a small example, and the argument crumbles. The emotional weight being thrown at us can sometimes make this seem more difficult than it actually is.
At this point, all that needs to be done is show examples for why God would allow evil to exist. And this is a concept any parent should immediately understand. Sometimes love requires allowing painful things to happen. If God’s priority is to build our character and draw us closer to him, there is perhaps no better tool to do so than suffering.
Is the Problem of evil a sound argument? It makes sense, and doesn’t break any logical rules. But is the problem of evil a good argument? Just like a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, an argument is only as strong as its weakest premise. After a few thousand years of discussion, research, philosophy, debate, and simple life experience, the weakest premise falls apart very quickly. Again, I would not take this approach in a conversation very often, but remember this the next time someone comes at you with an emotionally charged example.
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