Day of Evil
The 9/11 terrorist attacks kicked off a change in the overall tone of conversations about religion. Outspoken “New Atheists” like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett and the late Christopher Hitchens gained a huge following from people who were critical of the Judeo-Christian conception God.
Why Does God Allow Evil?
Besides just slamming religion in general, the New Atheism often targets the Christian idea of an all-powerful, all-good God. To do this, one of the main challenges they often bring up is the problem of evil. Apologetics aside, this is a question that Christians often struggle with themselves: “Why does God allow evil?”
One possibility is that God wants us to be able to love him for real, because real love can’t be forced. In other words, God made evil possible by giving us the kind of free will that allows us to love–but this also gives us the freedom to do evil things instead. It could also be that God wanted us to live in a world where our moral choices actually matter. For example, if you throw a rock at someone, it doesn’t magically turn into confetti before it can hurt them!
The Problem of Evil
The problem of evil doesn’t automatically lead us to atheism. Even though the problem of evil is often presented as an “either-or” (either God’s too weak to stop evil or he doesn’t care to stop it), the rest of the story is that God can have good reasons for allowing evil—even if we don’t know what those reasons are. Just because something might seem pointless to us, doesn’t mean God can’t have a good reason—a morally justified reason for it. We’re just not in a good place to make that call. And it actually takes some humility to admit the role of human finiteness in understanding why God allows evil. Still, the one thing that we do know if that God will one day defeat evil.
If God is good and evil exists, then God will one day do something about evil and that we have an eschatological hope that evil and all of its effects will one day be removed. So there is a redemptive work of God and he is acting redemptively in a fallen world.
The Problem of Good
So what about the atheist alternative? Becoming an atheist doesn’t seem to help us make better sense of evil. Because on a naturalistic worldview, there’s no basis for objective moral values and duties. And if everything is ultimately reducible to physical processes and matter just behaving according to law, it seems pretty tough to build a moral foundation that doesn’t leave you as a subjectivist. In other words, if there’s no good and no evil, as Richard Dawkins says in his work, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life, there is “no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference” in our universe.
If atheism is true, what’s good or what’s evil is basically just you saying what you happen to like or what you happen to not like. As an atheist, you could say “I don’t happen to like the idea of human trafficking.” But you couldn’t have the grounding to call it evil—if atheism is true.
The atheist position is has another problem to deal with: The Problem of Good. In other words, naturalism has the challenge of providing a sufficient moral grounding for goodness itself—in addition to making sense of evil in the world—that a pretty tall order for a philosophy with absolutely no room for God.
I Don’t Fully Understand Why God Allows Evil and That’s OK.
In in the end, I can’t say I totally understand all the reasons why God allows evil. But I’m not so sure God’s reasons for allowing evil are the kind of thing I should expect to fully understand. And as Christians, we’ve got to be OK with the fact that we don’t have all the information on this. Still, here’s what I do know. God can have morally justified reasons for allowing evil, even if I don’t know what those reasons are.
Despite all the ruckus coming from many followers of the New Atheism, evil doesn’t disprove God. This is why Christians can persevere through all kinds of trials, holding fast to the words of Jesus: “I have told you these things so that in me you may have peace. In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage—I have conquered the world” (John 16:33 NET).