The defining claim of atheism is that God doesn’t exist, but if you listen to them long enough, you come to realize that atheists never argue against God’s existence.
In fact, there are really only two basic arguments atheists make. The first rests on the observation that the universe seems to work just fine without divine intervention.
Not only is this a straw man, since Christians do not in fact deny secondary causes, it reinforces the cosmological arguments for God. Rules imply a rule-giver. Once the atheist grants the existence of universal principles, he can’t deny that they have an origin without violating the law of cause and effect he’s arguing from in the first place.
The other argument in the atheist’s bag of tricks, and by far the weaker of the two, relies on appeals to the problem of evil.
Philosophers and theologians have been engaging with the question of why a good God allows evil–theodicy, to use the fancy term–since before biblical times. But as they do with the question of God’s existence, atheists pretend Christians didn’t come up with numerous solutions to the problem centuries ago and forge ahead as if they’ve discovered a silver bullet “gotcha” question everybody missed for years.
I’ve heard a lot of smart people say that the problem of evil posed a serious challenge to their faith. That’s because arguments for atheism based on theodicy are rhetorical devices masquerading as dialectic. They derive all of their punch from evoking an emotional response in the target.
The question, “How could a good, all-powerful God allow children to starve?” doesn’t even address the issue of God’s existence. It assumes God exists and instead casts doubt on His goodness and/or omnipotence. Again, it’s not really an argument for atheism. The point is to give believers a case of cognitive dissonance.
Now, one might argue that a creator who lacks perfect goodness and power leaves us with an imperfect demiurge. The obvious objection to that line of reasoning is that it just kicks the can one step further down the road, because a contingent demiurge still requires an Absolute First Cause.
Even more damning to the atheist wielding theodicy as a bludgeon, arguing from the problem of evil also assumes Christian morality. Blind evolutionary forces don’t care if children starve. Such cases are neither good nor bad. They just mean those kids didn’t have what it took to survive.
But our atheist takes it for granted that children starving is wrong, even as he accuses God of hypocrisy in order to undermine the believer’s rationale for judging child starvation to be evil.
If we grant the premise that evil’s existence refutes God’s goodness and/or omnipotence, then God is not God. Therefore, His precepts do not bind in conscience. Therefore Christian morality is wrong. Therefore the believer was wrong to be scandalized by starving kids in the first place.
How do Christians resolve the problem of evil? As I mentioned above, scholars have had a long time to work on theodicy, and myriad solutions exist.
The simplest is this: God exists, and evil exists.
That answer might sound facile, but remember, it’s up to atheists to prove those statements contradictory. They never actually do. They just glibly assume it.
They also pretend like there’s some Scripture passage where God says evil isn’t real, and His people will never suffer. In fact He says the exact opposite time and again. The Bible is the story of God’s tireless efforts to deliver His people from evil, culminating in the Passion of Jesus Christ, which solves the problem once and for all by giving men a way to make suffering redemptive.
“But God created everything, right?” I can hear some of you say. “Doesn’t that mean He created evil?”
The first part of that objection is correct. God alone has the power to create something from nothing. But whereas I’ve affirmed throughout this post that evil exists, that statement is only true in a metaphorical way.
It’s the inverse of how God is said to exist as a matter of convenience. More properly speaking, God is Being. Since God is good, and God is being, good is being.
The flip side of that syllogism is that evil has no independent existence. Instead, evil is an absence of the good; a lacking of something that should be.
Where does evil come from? Remember that only God can create things. Men can’t create anything. Or, phrased another, equally correct way, men can create nothing.
Human beings–and unfallen and fallen angels–are agents of causality. While we can’t create ex nihilo, we can mar and destroy already existing goods.
It’s men and fallen angels who bring evil into the world, not God. It’s all on us.
Happily, bringing something out of nothing; good out of evil, is God’s specialty. He’s already taken the worst evil ever committed–His own sorrowful Passion and death–and turned it into the salvation of mankind.
O happy fault, that gained for us so great a Redeemer!
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