Rapid Response: “Evil Disproves the Existence of God”

In our Rapid Response series, we tackle common concerns about (and objections to) the Christian worldview by providing short, conversational responses. These posts are designed to model what our answers might look like in a one-on-one setting, while talking to a friend or family member. Imagine if someone said, “If God is both all-loving and all-powerful, why does He allow evil things to happen? Doesn’t the mere presence of evil disprove the existence of God?” How would you respond to such a claim? Here is a conversational example of how I recently replied:

“In criminal trials, evidence can either inculpate or exculpate a suspect. Inculpating evidence points toward a suspect’s involvement. Exculpating evidence, on the other hand, points away from the suspect’s involvement. So, the real question here is this: Does the presence of evil, either natural or moral evil, exculpate God as the best suspect for the creation of the universe? After all, if there’s an all-powerful, all-loving God, why could He allow evil to exist? Either He’s not all-powerful (so He can’t stop it), or He’s not all-loving (He doesn’t want to stop it), or presence of evil demonstrates that He doesn’t exist at all.

Evil Disproves God

There’s a problem with this question, however. We would have to know as much as God to understand why God would allow any evil. How would we ever know all the reasons why God might allow evil to exist? In any horrific crime I’ve worked as a detective, if someone were to ask, ‘Why did that happen?’ the answer is always going to involve a variety of hidden factors working together. It’s always a combination of unique (and often unlikely) relationships between events, opportunities, and conditions. In a similar way, there are always a variety of factors we must consider when asking why God would allow any act of evil in the world. At the very least, we must try to understand the role eternity plays, the importance of free agency, the definition of love, the impact evil has in developing our character or drawing us to God, the role justice plays, and the difficulty we should expect in trying to understand how these factors interact. These complex factors must be considered before we render a verdict about God’s existence and involvement. It’s a difficult task, to be sure.

Let me just offer one quick thought, however. As an atheist (I didn’t become a Christian until I was thirty-five), evil was a problem and concern for me, based on my definition of life and understanding of eternity. Back then, I thought of life as a line segment; starting at my point of birth and extending to my point of death. If life is good, I hoped to get about ninety years between these two points, and as an atheist, I was hoping for the happiest, pain-free years possible. If, for example, I was to get sick at the age of forty, suffer for ten years and then die at the age of fifty, I would have seen this as an insurmountable evil. After all, I expected to get ninety pleasurable, pain-free years. But what if my foundational definition of life was wrong in the first place? What if life isn’t a line segment, but is instead a ray that starts at birth, extends through death and continues off into eternity? If that is the true nature of life, I would have to reevaluate what I believe about the nature of pain and suffering ‘between the two points,’ wouldn’t I?

All of us have suffered something evil or painful for a short period, but when we compare it with the length of our lives, we’ve seen the role this painful experience had in the larger context. If Christianity is true, we live for more than ninety short years. If Christianity is true, our lives are more than short line segments; we are eternal creatures. Any evil you may suffer in this short temporal life must be considered in the context of eternity, and eternity changes everything.

That’s just one factor we must consider when trying to decide if evil exculpates God’s involvement in the universe. Our definition of life and view of eternity is incredibly important. When we think about this, in combination with the other factors I’ve described, we begin to understand that evil is not actually an exculpatory piece of evidence at all. In fact, unless there exists a righteous, perfect God to serve as the standard of good by which we measure any act and call it ‘evil,’ the notion of evil becomes little more than a matter of personal or cultural opinion. We need a true standard of good to recognize anything as evil. That’s why the presence of evil in our universe is another piece of inculpating evidence. It demonstrates the existence and involvement of God, because without a standard for moral perfection, evil doesn’t really exist at all. In the end, evil actually points toward the existence of God.”

This brief answer was modified from my interview with Bobby Conway. To learn more and watch many other short answers to difficult questions, please visit the One-Minute Apologist website.

J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, a Christian Case Maker, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, and God’s Crime Scene.

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Euthyphro Is Dead!

By Timothy Fox

It’s the zombie argument. The objection that won’t stay down: the Euthyphro dilemma. Skeptics just can’t accept the fact that Euthyphro has been dead for centuries and keep dragging him out of his grave.

In case you don’t know who Euthyphro is, let me introduce you to him. Euthyphro is a character from one of Plato’s writings who has a discussion with Socrates about the gods and piety. His dilemma has been repurposed as an argument against the goodness of God and can be stated as follows:

Is something good because God commands it or does God command something because it is good? In the first option, God’s commands seem arbitrary, that he could have easily commanded murder and rape to be good and love and kindness to be evil. In the second option, God merely reports to us the commands of some other moral standard that even he is subject to. So we’re caught in a dilemma: either God’s commands are arbitrary or he is not the ultimate authority. This is the Euthyphro dilemma.

At first it seems like we’re stuck. Except, as mentioned earlier, this dilemma has been resolved for centuries: God is good. He is the source of goodness. Heis the moral standard. His commands are not arbitrary, nor do they come from some standard external to him. They are good because they flow from his innate goodness. Dilemma averted.

Euthyphro is dead.

Now I know this doesn’t settle the issue of God’s goodness. Since this article is only intended to discuss the Euthyphro dilemma, I’ll just briefly touch on two related objections:

1 – God is not good. This is typically in response to an action or command from God in the Old Testament. And I agree that there are some things that are hard to understand and need to be discussed. But generally speaking, if we question God’s goodness, what are we judging him against? Our own moral standard? Then it’s our opinion against God’s and, if he truly exists, I’m going to trust his judgment over any finite, fallible human’s.

2 – How do we know that God is good? This question completely misses the point of Euthyphro’s resolution: God is the standard of goodness. There is nothing to compare him against or judge him by. But let’s suppose there does exist some higher moral standard. By applying this objection’s logic, we should ask “How do we know that this standard is good?” See the problem? You’re forever asking “How do we know?” to any moral standard. But if there is an objective moral standard, that is the standard by which morality is measured. It simply is good.

The best you can do is try to find some kind of inconsistency in God’s moral character. But then you can still only judge him against himself, which would point you back to objection 1. And even if you feel that one (or both) of these objections has not been resolved, my broader point is that the Euthyphro dilemma fails as a dilemma since there’s a third possible option, whether you like it or not. Thus, it’s an invalid argument.

Euthyphro is dead.

Why do skeptics keep digging him up? You may as well as ask why zombies keeps coming back. Because they do. That’s what makes them zombies. Bad arguments will always come back into fashion. But you need to see Euthyphro for what he is: a dead, defeated argument. Yet unlike zombies from tv shows and movies, he has no bite. He doesn’t even have teeth. His dilemma has been resolved for centuries.

So if you’re looking for an argument against God’s goodness, Euthyphro is not your man.

Euthyphro is dead!

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