Why Evil Disproves Atheism

How can a good God exist when there is so much evil in the world?

Debate Atheism Arrival Evil

Many people doubt the existence of God because of the existence of evil.  But evil doesn’t disprove God—evil disproves atheism!

How so?

Evil can’t exist on its own, it only exists as a parasite in good.  Evil is like rust in a car; if you take all the rust out of a car you have a better car; if you take all of the car out of the rust you have nothing.  Evil is like cancer—it can’t exist alone, only in a good body.  Therefore, there can be no objective evil unless there is objective good, and there can be no objective good unless God’s objectively Good nature exists. If evil is real—and we all know it is—then God exists.

We could put it this way: The shadows prove the sunshine. There can be sunshine without shadows, but there can’t be shadows without sunshine. In other words, there can be good without evil, but there can’t be evil without good; and there can’t be objective good without God. So evil may show there’s a devil out there, but it can’t disprove God. Evil actually boomerangs back to show that God exists.

While evil can’t disprove God, one can legitimately ask the question why does God allow evil to continue?  That’s one of the topics I cover in the book, and the new Stealing From God online course I’m hosting that beings January 15 (you can start the self-paced version any time after that too).  The course includes ten hours of video, and several live video conferences where I’ll be answering questions.   Since we limit the size of the live classes to ensure every student has an opportunity to ask questions, you’ll want to sign up soon if you want to be a part of this.

In addition to the details on that link, I’ll be discussing some of the course content right here on this page in the few weeks leading up to the course.  So keep checking back here for more.


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36 replies
  1. TGM says:

    I don’t particularly care for the Argument From Evil as disproof for god. The best it can do is cast doubt on a good god. So it’s not really useful to atheists, only to those who would characterize your notion of God-as-good to be incoherent. But your own rationale demonstrates how arbitrary your position is. Consider that…
    Good can’t exist on its own, it only exists as a parasite in evil. Good is like rust in a car; if you take all the rust out of a car you have a better car; if you take all of the car out of the rust you have nothing. Good is like cancer—it can’t exist alone, only in an evil body. Therefore, there can be no objective good unless there is objective evil, and there can be no objective evil unless God’s objectively Evil nature exists. If good is real—and we all know it is—then God exists.
    All you’ve done is argue that things exist in opposition to other things. You might get your objective good and evil, but now you can’t tell which is which.

    • jcb says:

      The POE is a great disproof of god, i.e., a perfect in all ways being. The problem is that most theists fail to define god clearly when they are arguing, but if you ask them, most of them think god is perfect. But yes, the POE clearly disproves a perfect god, but the POE also disproves a near perfect god, given how much suffering there is. But of course, we have no good evidence for any god.

      • toby says:

        If you consider their notion of god having a plan and that he has the ability to see how a evil act can bring ultimate good down the road, you have to wonder if they even believe in evil at all. If an evil act had to happen to eventually bring good then how does it make sense to call that initial act evil? If a god uses evil to bring about his ultimate good then either god wants or needs evil or evil doesn’t exist because everything that happens is part of his morally perfect plan and hence cannot be evil.

    • TGM says:

      Theists nest in the gray areas of language and in the ambiguity of ideas. It’s nigh impossible to get them to usefully describe their positions and beliefs. That’s hardly a surprise. We can only describe and communicate topics in terms of what we can experience. So when a theist tries to discuss things that defy experience they are diving headfirst into rabbit holes that nonbelievers can’t fit through.
      I’ve been watching Sean Carroll physics lectures recently and am reminded at the precision in language and the exactness in definitions and relationships. These things in physics that defy our experience, in the realms of both the very large and very small, are explained with great clarity. The math and the data are available to anyone. Acceptance followed by conviction is easy and inevitable. Then, I compare this to apologetic tripe and find myself embarrassed for believers when I hear that they’ve been convinced by the “inner witness of the holy spirit.”
      Honestly, I still have no idea what people mean by “God”, “Perfect”, “Immaterial”, “Supernatural”, “Objective Good”, “Spirit” and “Soul”. How can I possibly believe in what they cannot explain?

    • Link Damorio says:

      Well . . . if you can “believe” that cancer is good, then i suppose you could “believe” butchering babies for fun & profit is . . . uh . . . good.
      I cannot.
      I can, (and that easily!), tell good from evil.
      I “believe” i have the correct position.

      • jcb says:

        I’m not sure what you are trying to say, but: there are lots of beliefs, and some of them are true, and some of them are not. The belief that cancer is good/desirable/enjoyable, etc. is false. The belief that butchering babies for fun is loving is also false. Yes, it’s not hard to tell that murder is unkind (usually), and hugs are kind (usually).
        Nothing about these existing things that we often call evil (like murder) prove god.

      • Brett Scotchman says:

        That wasn’t the point and you know it. The “cancer is good” argument was made to show that the example given could be flipped as it only observed an opposition. If you “‘believe’ you have the correct position” than good job, you ignored his argument completely, as you theists tend to do when someone makes a good point.
        To touch on that ‘butchering babies for fun/profit” bit, if you think abortion is horrible, imagine being in a situation where you can not, in any way, support a child. Somehow, you get a kid in you. Do you want the fetus, the thing without a conscience, something that doesn’t even know it’s alive, to peacefully pass (and not by butchery) than to have a horrible life. It’s basic morals, the pros outweigh the cons.

    • Agnostic Believer says:

      Why is it that good and evil are discussed here as being objective? Good and evil cannot be given a definite value and are therefore subjective. Also, good does not prove God, it only proves that there is evil. There is nothing that says God must exist because there is good.

  2. jcb says:

    Evil disproves a perfect being, such as god. “evil” is just a word that usually refers to things like suffering. The existence of suffering is not evidence of a perfect god, but actually evidence for the lack of a perfect god. If there were a perfect being, there probably wouldn’t be so much suffering.
    It’s cute, but inaccurate, when theists claim that suffering actually proves that there is a perfect being/god.
    You might notice that FT doesn’t define evil, so it isn’t clear what he is referring to when he uses the term. If he means things like murders and suffering, then none of that proves god.
    Hugs are a good example of good (desired, pleasurable) things. Suffering can exist without hugs, so FT is wrong when he says “Evil can’t exist on its own, it only exists as a parasite in good.”
    Suffering is not like rust, although FT is right that you can stop some suffering, which is something like taking rust out of a car. Nothing about that proves god.
    That suffering can’t exist alone (there must be a sufferer, etc) doesn’t prove god.
    FT introduces, out of nowhere, the concept of “objective” evil. This is undefined here, but FT seems to mean “god given” evil. There is no such thing. Nor is there god given/objective good. There are only huggers and muggers: suffering, and pleasure/happiness.
    Suffering is real, god given evil is not real.
    No, we don’t all know that objective, god given evil is real.
    So, nothing here (nor elsewhere) proves that god exists. Suffering exists. That proves there is probably no perfect being. It fails to prove there probably IS a perfect being.

  3. Andy Ryan says:

    “Evil can’t exist on its own, it only exists as a parasite in good”
    Just replace the word ‘evil’ with ‘suffering’ and your argument falls apart. Can suffering exist on its own? I don’t see why not.
    A world full of random suffering seems more likely in a Godless universe than under a God who is supposedly all-powerful and all-compassionate. Nature is full of appalling suffering. Theists need to make the case that the suffering of a paralysed spider being slowly eaten alive from the inside out by the larvae of parasite wasps is somehow necessary or serves some greater good.

    • Link Damorio says:

      I don’t get how anyone can say that there is any suffering; or any such thing as suffering.
      Things are just the way that they are. What exactly is so special about anything in a Godless universe, so as to say that any type of “suffering”, or that anything “evil” actually ever happens to it??
      As the mere products of random chance – with no intelligence / no God behind ANY of this – there absolutely cannot be any suffering / evil whatsoever!
      We must then all be – from microbes to man – mere chance collections of atoms; upon which any circumstance is also nothing but CHANCE: niether good nor evil.

      • Andy Ryan says:

        “What exactly is so special about anything in a Godless universe, so as to say that any type of “suffering””
        Why would there need to be anything ‘special’ for suffering to occur? What do you mean by ‘special’?
        “As the mere products of random chance”
        We’re the products of natural selection, which by definition isn’t random.
        “there absolutely cannot be any suffering”
        Why not?

      • jcb says:

        Obviously people exist and they experience certain things that make them feel things like pain. We call that suffering. Suffering (those experiences) exist. The issue here is not about what is special about a godless universe, although a godless universe looks exactly like our current godless universe, so for many people, it is “special” because of families, kindness, ice cream, etc.
        If a non-intelligent (“random” as you call it) force led to our current state, it doesn’t follow that there couldn’t be any suffering: a bodily experience that we dislike.
        There is no god. There is suffering. Suffering does not prove god.

    • Cap’n says:

      1). Who can you blame for suffering in a godless universe?

      Are we to just harden our hearts and say “Everything just sucks?”

      Suffering is the atheists’ animus against God.

      Who cares about the parasite infested spider?

      In a godless universe, God doesn’t.

      In a God-run universe, He does (seemingly) Care, although we don’t know His purposes…yet.

      a). If you care, do something about it. Dedicate your life to one of the several solutions.

      If not, why should I or God care?

      b). Like a lot of atheist arguments, the short sightedness is in the limited scope. Suffering is sometimes only what we THINK is suffering: it ends up have a greater purpose (see childhood, high school). Experiences may suck, but the story isn’t over.

      If we quit watching Star Wars at the Empire Strikes Back, we will never see the good that really is in Darth Vader!

      • Andy Ryan says:

        “although we don’t know His purposes…yet”
        So the spider being slowly eaten to death suffers for a purpose, and you have no idea what but you figure there must be some purpose because otherwise your argument fails. If you’re so completely in the dark, and your God is so unfathomable, why conjecture at all? It’s equally possible that if something good happens it’s actually serving the long-term plans of an evil God with ill-intent.

      • jcb says:

        There is no god. Suffering is often caused by (to be blamed on) unkind people. Not everything “sucks”. Suffering is never hatred of god, as there is no god.
        Some suffering we know of is worth it. Some is not. Nothing here proves god, but lots of suffering makes it improbable that there is a perfect being/god.

  4. PJR says:

    Suffering and evil are not synonymous. There definitely is a need to define evil more precisely. Suffering exists because of the temporal nature of the world. Where there is death, there will be suffering.

    Evil on the other hand is deliberate, willful, selfish acts against moral law. Evil is a choice made. Suffering can result from evil but not exclusively so. I am currently “suffering” with back pain but it was not a result of any evil thing. It is a consequence of having a body that is not perfect or eternal.

    God is never the source of any evil. Humans are.

    • Andy Ryan says:

      “God is never the source of any evil”
      The question is whether a God that allows gratuitous, pointless suffering to continue can be called both benevolent and all powerful. For example, either God doesn’t want to stop your back pain, in which case he’s isn’t benevolent, or he can’t, in which case he isn’t all powerful, or he has a good reason to allow the back pain to continue.
      Now, one can make an argument that back pain is important to protect us from hurting ourselves, but it is harder to make such an argument for prolonged pointless pain, or for the many agonising deaths that animals go through every day.

    • jcb says:

      Suffering and “evil” may not be synonymous. To know that, you would need to say what “evil” is beyond suffering. Whatever you say, if it is exists, will still not prove that god exists (but feel free to show otherwise).
      You seem to say that evil requires a choice, but suffering does not. Even on that account, nothing proves god.
      Yes, god is never the source of any chosen suffering/evil, because god doesn’t exist. Yes! The known chosen evils we know of are all done by humans (and maybe a few devious animals).

      • Kate says:

        1. What do animals have to do with it? They do not have souls and are unable to comprehend much of the things that we as humans can. Nothing happens to them when they die; all that happens is that there is now a lifeless corpse of what used to be.
        2. Evil and suffering are two quite different things. Suffering is often a result of something. For example: a family member, close friend, or other dies, and as a result, we experience what we call suffering. In the same way, we can be physically hurt, whether it’s from burning ourselves on something hot or somehow chopping a finger off. One decent definition of to suffer is to undergo, be subject to, or endure pain, distress, injury, loss, or anything unpleasant. On the other hand, evil is defined as something that is morally wrong. This goes to show that in order to have an idea of what is morally wrong, one must first have an idea of what is morally right. And what exactly is the base of many of our moral understandings? The Bible. Also, when we and the Bible talk about God, it is extremely difficult to think that God is just an idea, considering the Bible was written over thousands of years in multiple languages by hundreds of people.
        I guess what I’m getting at is that you can’t directly prove the existence of God with evil, but you cannot disprove it either.

        • jcb says:

          The reply was about evil and suffering and choice. Some animals make choices like most humans do. We have no eternal soul. That we can comprehend some things that some animals cannot changes nothing about the topic of evil and theism.
          Yes, when animals die, there is now a lifeless corpse. This includes when humans die: there is only a lifeless corpse remaining.
          Yes, when someone we care about dies, we suffer: it pains us, we cry, our bodies convulse etc.
          But saying “evil” is what is “morally wrong” points to nothing.
          Some people get their values and idea of what they want to do or are motivated to do from the Bible. Not everyone does. It is not difficult to think and realize that god is just an idea, not a reality that we know of.
          Yes, evil does not prove god, but evil does disprove (make improbable) a perfect being,

  5. Thomas says:

    Rust can exist just fine without a car. That’s why Mars is red. Rust is iron and oxygen bonded. That’s all it is.

    A better analogy is that God + Man = Evil. Neither man nor God is evil on their own. It takes both.

    • jcb says:

      Humans can be evil/unkind without god. There is no god, but there are unkind (evil) acts by humans. So it is false to say “it takes both god and man to have evil (unkind acts)”.

  6. NLS says:

    The truth is right in front of you. If there is no God Then there is no way to define evil. Who says what is kind or unkind?
    You simply don’t want to believe.

    • jcb says:

      I define evil (in part) as “suffering”. There! I did it! So it is false to say “if there is no god then there is no way to define evil”. Perhaps you meant, if there is no god, then “evil” can be defined in many ways. That’s true, but it’s also true that if god exists, “evil” can be defined in many ways. Nothing here proves god or disproves atheism. And for me, it is false that I “simply don’t want to believe”.

      • Jeremy says:

        The point is you have no measuring stick to measure what is good or evil. Your stating good and evil is relative and only an opinion of the person. If one man defines good as hurting another person and the person being hurt says the person hurting him is doing evil. Which person is correct?

        • jcb says:

          That’s false. If I define evil as “murder”, I can easily measure the # of murders there were last year. If you mean, if I value X and you value Y, and those values are fundamental (nothing is more important to each of us than those values), then we have no measuring stick to determine which is “better” in some cosmic, godly sense, then yes, you are right. But nothing about that proves theism or disproves atheism. What is good/valued by one person may be different for another person. But you are mistaken to think it makes sense to ask, which person/person’s values are “correct” (full stop, out of nowhere). That makes no sense. There are just differing values. There is no judge in the sky/god saying “that one is correct!” There are just differing values. Again, nothing here proves god, disproves atheism, nor disproves anything I’ve said above.
          Now, you might say, value X is better than value Y in terms of Z. Example: valuing kindness is better than valuing meanness in terms of making friends. But again, nothing about any of that will prove god, nor disprove atheism.

        • Andy Ryan says:

          “The point is you have no measuring stick to measure what is good or evil. ”
          Yes he does – the fact that you may disagree with his measure is neither here nor there. People have different ways of evaluating the quality of a film but that doesn’t mean film criticism is meaningless or that I can’t say The Godfather is better than the fourth Transformers film.
          “If there is no God Then there is no way to define evil.”
          What difference would the existence of God make to our ability to define evil?

  7. Leo says:

    ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ are not objective qualities, the whole argument’s a strawman. Even if there were objective moral properties, that fact wouldn’t indicate, let alone require, an intelligent creator.

    • jcb says:

      That’s right, “good” and “evil”, if they are properties at all, are not objective/godly properties. They have nothing to do with god, as god doesn’t exist.
      Here’s the trick:
      Start with basic moral language: “Hitler was evil”.
      Then say: “Hitler was ‘objectively’ evil.
      People are now saying, okayyyyy? (they are confused as to what ‘objective’ adds).
      If Objective just means, yes, Hitler was unkind, then that’s true.
      If Objective means, god-given/pertaining to god, then it’s not true.
      Thus if one then tries to argue, “since Hitler was objectively evil/unkind, god exists”, this argument fails.

      It’s kind of obvious: theists regularly fail to do what they need to do: present something we know to exist, and then show that this makes god probable.
      Hitler exists, Hitler murdered people. Hitler was unkind (mean to others). Many of us prefer that Hitler was kinder. Nothing here (or elsewhere) proves god.

  8. barry says:

    The only mystery in the problem of evil and the Christian god, is why Christians ever thought there was any mystery to evil in the first place.

    In the bible, God is credited with responsibility for causing men to rape women.

    That is, God doesn’t merely “allow”, he also “causes” evil. Notice the last part of v. 16.

    9 Behold, the day of the LORD is coming, Cruel, with fury and burning anger, To make the land a desolation; And He will exterminate its sinners from it.
    10 For the stars of heaven and their constellations Will not flash forth their light; The sun will be dark when it rises And the moon will not shed its light.
    11 Thus I will punish the world for its evil And the wicked for their iniquity; I will also put an end to the arrogance of the proud And abase the haughtiness of the ruthless.
    12 I will make mortal man scarcer than pure gold And mankind than the gold of Ophir.
    13 Therefore I will make the heavens tremble, And the earth will be shaken from its place At the fury of the LORD of hosts In the day of His burning anger.
    14 And it will be that like a hunted gazelle, Or like sheep with none to gather them, They will each turn to his own people, And each one flee to his own land.
    15 Anyone who is found will be thrust through, And anyone who is captured will fall by the sword.
    16 Their little ones also will be dashed to pieces Before their eyes; Their houses will be plundered And their wives ravished.
    17 Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them, Who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold. (Isa. 13:9-17 NAU)

    In context, the pagan men raping the Hebrew women is not credited to anything other than the burning anger of the Lord (v. 9) , and his stirring up the Medes against the Hebrews (v. 17).

    Turek will insist that sometimes the bible characterizes as God “causing” that which God merely “allows”, but

    a) Turek cannot provide a persuasive argument for watering down these “cause” passages to mere “allowances”, he seems to prefer this for no other reason than his furiously unjustified belief in biblical inerrancy and his furiously unjustified belief that his God is objectively “good”, when in fact, if modern Christian philosophy has anything to say about it, this god’s goodness is more the result of the words humans choose to describe him, and has nothing to do with God’s actions, when in fact a person’s actions usually is the more objective criteria for deciding what they are really like. But if God’s actions are a legitimate criteria, then his causing women to be raped refutes any theory that he is “good”.

    b) God sitting there watching a man rape a women and doing nothing about it, is not morally distinguishable from a man sitting there watching another guy rape a women and doing nothing about it. Apparently, saying “God only allows, but doesn’t cause, evil”, accomplishes nothing since we often rightly accuse people of doing evil or wrong because they failed to act, failed to protect, or “allowed” a bad situation to start or continue when their inteference wouldn’t reasonably have resulted in more harm.

    c) inerrancy is too hotly contested even within the Christian scholarly community, to justify thinking it is qualified to be a governing hermeneutic (it has nowhere near the universal acclaim that “context” and “grammar” and other tools of interpretation have), for which reason you have to show something more than “your interpretation causes the bible to contradict itself!” before we are intellectually obligated to abandon an otherwise contextually justified interpretation.

    But Turek wants atheists to answer more directly so:

    1 – Relativity doesn’t make a moral disappear. If a child obeys her father and goes to bed on a schoolnight at the time the father imposes, that particular bedtime does not come from god or any natural law, so it is not objective, but relative, yet the girl is fully rationally justified to obey. Most would call her a fool if he disobeyed on the basis of Turek’s reasoning, i.e.,, that because her dad’s imposed bedtime doesn’t draw from some objective divine source, it is nothing but opinion and thus can be dismissed at will by anybody for any reason they please.

    2 – the fact that Turek’s bible-god not only allows but “causes” men to rape women (Isaiah 13, supra) really kills Turek’s argument from morality, for now Turek must answer: Was it an objective moral good for God to cause Hebrew women to be raped, yes or no? If yes, then Turek contradicts his own belief that rape is objectively evil. If no, then Turek is confessing that his bible-god sometimes does things that are objectively evil.

    So, Dr. Turek: When God in his anger stirs up Medes to rape Hebrew women, is this divine moral act objectively good, yes or no?

    • Mark Heavlin says:

      Not sure where you are getting the Hebrew women from ??? Isaiah 13 covers the following 3 topics per the NAU : Prophecies about Babylon ( verses 1-5 ); Judgment on the Day of the LORD ( verses 6-16 ); Babylon Will Fall to the Medes ( verses 17-22 ). Per the King James Version Isaiah 13 covers a single topic: A Judgment Against Babylon. Sometimes it helps to read the Words above the verses for some context as well as look at more than one translation.

      • barry says:

        That was a mistake, I often argue the same point from Deuteronomy 28, and I simply forgot to change the Hebrew women to “women”. Thanks for the tip.

        But regardless, do you have a substantive reply to the more weighty problems I create for fundamentalism here?

        Does God stir up men to rape women and butcher children, yes or no?

        If not, why does God credit himself with stirring them up to do such things in Isaiah 13:17? Are you quite sure that “stir up” merely means “allow to proceed with their own freely chosen actions”? is that because of something in the grammar, context or genre of Isaiah.

        Or do you see it that way solely because that way makes God seem more loving?

        If you believe God sometimes stirs up men to rape women, then is that action of God objectively good or objectively evil?

  9. gigel says:

    Are you for real?
    “The shadows prove the sunshine. There can be sunshine without shadows, but there can’t be shadows without sunshine.” You know what there can be? Complete and utter darkness, which is the opposite of having sunshine and which also exists in quite a lot of places.
    The concepts of evil and good are man made, based on the level of empathy and understanding each individual has.
    Good is not some standalone ultimate concept because without evil, good would not exist, you would not have the counterpart to compare it with, you would not have the scale on which to compare something in order to deem it “good”.
    What you’ve wrote sounds like the composition of a fifth grader. It sounds like you’re trying to convince yourself more than you’re trying to convince others.


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