“Surprisingly, instead of evil being a good argument against God, I am convinced it is one of the best evidences for God.” (Greg Koukl, Tactics, 2019, p.171)
Nobody can be indifferent about the presence of evil in the world beyond us and especially in the world within each of us. If you think Koukl is cuckoo and mistaken think again.
Contemporary American Christian Philosopher Alvin Plantinga has thoroughly debunked the logical problem of evil. Plantinga points out that there is no explicit contradiction between the theistic statements re God’s goodness, omniscience, omnipotence and the presence of evil. This point has since been agreed to by even one like atheist J.L. Mackie.
In his 1982 book The Miracle of Theism, Mackie concedes: “It is true that there is no explicit contradiction between the statements that there is an omnipotent and wholly good god and that there is evil. But if we add the at least initially plausible premises that good is opposed to evil in such a way that a being who is wholly good eliminates evil as far as he can, and that there are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do, then we do have a contradiction. A wholly good omnipotent being would eliminate evil completely; if there really are evils, then there cannot be any such being.” (cited in Ronald H. Nash, Faith & Reason: Searching For a Rational Faith,1988, p.182).
If a freethinker concedes real objective evil in the world she must explain the yardstick she is using to call anything evil. Pointing to examples of evil like torture, suffering or murder will not help. One needs a clear idea of what evil is before pointing to examples and thus the freethinker’s yardstick for calling anything evil is crucial.
As C.S. Lewis said of his pre-Christian idea of God: “My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call something crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line.” (Mere Christianity, p. 31)
Put differently some adequate explanation is needed for the universal, trans-cultural innate sense of good and evil, right and wrong in all human societies studied. Though not an irrefutable notion, it seems that our moral sensibility requires a transcendent moral lawgiver who has implanted this moral sense within all of us in spite of our posturings to the contrary.
By the way Richard Dawkins and his kind, who suggest that our moral sense is simply a survival outworking of our evolutionary history, are offering an implausible explanation. For how could this sense have become so universal given the ‘survival of the fittest’ axiom in evolution? What value would this good/evil, right/wrong notion have to ensure that it would be passed on by organisms that had to literally fight for survival?
Since moral sensibility seems to be with humans alone how would this have emerged from our ‘lower animal’ ancestors on an evolutionary outlook?
When ordinary thinkers and philosophers as well suggest a problem for belief in an omnipotent, all-loving God and evil in the world they betray confusion about what omnipotence really means.
As my former philosophy lecturers William Lane Craig and J.P. Moreland say: “God’s being omnipotent does not imply that he can do logical impossibilities, such as make a round square or make someone freely choose to do something.” (In their Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 2003, p.538).
Christians especially need to remember that there are other things that God cannot do beyond lying!
Further, the notion that ‘a wholly good God will eliminate evil as far as he can’ is dubious, in a world with free will and natural law, where God possibly allows certain evils for certain purposes even if we don’t know what those purposes are. (e.g. pain re lepers, salvation via Jesus’ unjust trial, crucifixion and death).
Inadequate attention to the outworking of free will and natural law has prompted many critics to see a problem between evil and what Christians believe about God, Plantinga provides a deep and challenging point:
“Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if he does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore; He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and he can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil…a world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all.”(Cited in Nash, op. cit., p. 190)
We cannot overlook the uncomfortable fact that evil presents a problem re the existence of God seemingly only when others or nature are the causes of evil not when the self exercises free will to the detriment of others or of the environment!
There is no logical inconsistency between the reality of evil in our world and the existence of God as we have attempted to show here.
I close with the instructive lament of Arthur Leff, Professor of Law at Duke University. In his 1979 lecture “Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law”, he said:
“I want to believe—and so do you—in a complete, transcendent and immanent set of propositions about right and wrong, findable rules that authoritatively and unambiguously direct us how to live righteously. I also want to believe—and so do you—in no such thing, but rather that we are wholly free, not only to choose for ourselves what we ought to do, but to decide for ourselves, individually and as a species, what we ought to be. What we want, Heaven help us, is simultaneously to be perfectly ruled and perfectly free, that is, at the same time to discover the right and the good and to create it.”(“Unspeakable Ethics, Unnatural Law”, Duke Law Journal 6 (December 1979): 1229).