Author Greg Koukl
Published on 03/29/2021

How to Respond to the Problem of Evil

Greg answers a question about how to respond to someone who rejects God because of the problem of evil. Listen to the entire #STRask podcast here.


What is a gracious, effective response to someone who pushes away from the idea of God because of the problem of evil?

Well, my first question is, what exactly is the problem? Now, of course, this is a question I’m asking to get the other person to spell it out because it’s not that I am ignorant about the kinds of ways people factor in the problem of evil into the existence of God. I want them to spell it out because I actually think there are serious problems with using evil as an argument against God. So, I want them to spell it out.

Now, I know the way it’s usually characterized: Well, if you think God is good and he’s powerful—and that would be God, right?—but if he’s good, he’d want to get rid of all evil. If he’s powerful, he’d be able to get all rid of all evil, but there’s evil, right? So, there you go. God probably doesn’t exist.

And it turns out, though that sounds like an argument, like a step-by-step syllogistic argument leading from premises to a conclusion, it turns out that when you press the issue, you can’t build a valid argument from those facts. If God were good, for example, then he wouldn’t allow any evil. Really? Is that true? That’s a question, and we talk about this—I talk about this (I’m looking at you because I’m saying “we” because you were such a help to me in editing The Story of Reality)—but you recall from The Story of Reality how I talk about how my daughters don’t like shots, you know? That’s evil for them because it causes them pain, but Daddy makes them get shots, so why does he do that? Because Daddy’s evil? No. Because I know that the short-term evil to them is going to result in a longer-term good. And so, there is a moral justification for the shorter-term bad.

All that does is point out that it certainly could be possible (and that’s a very simple illustration—there’s dozens and dozens we can think of)—it certainly is possible how something bad could be justified. There could be a morally sufficient reason for allowing it because it leads to something good, okay? Or maybe something bad that prevents something even worse from happening. So, there’s different ways to construe this, to demonstrate that it is not the case that if God were good, he would never allow anything evil. Rather, he could have a morally sufficient reason for allowing it for a time. And that, by the way, is all we need to parry the objection about the problem of evil.

Now, the possibility that he could have a reason, we don’t have to tell them what that reason is. Remember, the type of objection that this is, is a strong defeater: It’s not possible that there is a God because there’s evil in the world. And my response is, well, wait a minute. Maybe so. And this, by the way, I step out a little step by step in The Story of Reality. So, anybody wants to go there, they can see the chapter where I deal with this. It’s not tricky, but it has some steps to it.

This is why it makes it a little bit more difficult when you’re having a conversation with somebody. Somebody’s even listening to this, saying, “Well, I can’t remember all that stuff that he just said.” Well, that’s true, I can understand that. But if you don’t know why the problem of evil is not a good argument against God, but a good argument for God, then it’s going to be hard for you to make that point. And that, I think, is the most powerful point that can be made from the problem of evil.

This helps us. Evil is on our side, in that sense, because if there were no God, there would be no evil at all...because there’d be no lawmaker. It’s just molecules clashing in the universe. Okay, so then, what is wrong? Says who? Your grandma? Kind of thing. So sometimes I get to the point in a little different way: What’s the alternative? So, somebody says, “Well, there can’t be any God; there’s evil in the world.” Really? There’s real evil? What do you mean by evil? So, I would just want them to emphasize that. Okay, so if there is no God, how can there be evil? What do you mean? Well, there’s no lawmaker. There would be no law, right? Notice, those are questions, and I’m trying to lead to make this point: Or what’s the alternative?

Well, the alternative is there is no God, okay? Let’s say there is no God then, right? So, what makes anything evil? You just complained about the problem of evil. There must be evil in the world, right? So, what do you make of evil now that God doesn’t exist? How do you get traction to even complain about evil in the world? You can’t. And I make this point again in The Story of Reality because people think that they somehow solve the problem of evil by getting God out of the equation.

And what I point out is, okay, now you got God out of the equation, okay? Now you’re an atheist. Yeah. Okay, that’s our view now. Right. How do you solve the problem of evil? What do you mean? Well, you got God out of the picture. You didn’t get rid of evil. You still got all the things that you used to call evil. They still are existing, and you still probably consider them evil. Okay, now solve the problem. The point I’m making is, atheism can give you no traction to even make sense out of evil to begin with. And if somebody wants to say, well, okay, then evil is just an illusion of evolution or something. Really? Wait, just a few moments ago, you were saying it’s so real that it disqualifies the existence of God, and now you want to say it’s an illusion?

See, our answer makes sense of all the facts. We don’t have to play games like that. The world is broken. That’s why there’s evil in the world. Broken means it ain’t the way it’s supposed to be. It started out one way, and now it’s a different way. And we broke it. And so, we’re responsible. Some people haven’t thought about it this way, Amy, but our whole story is about the problem of evil. It starts in the third chapter, it doesn’t get solved till 66 books later. If there was no problem of evil, we’d have no story. We’d have no Christianity.

So, in a certain sense, we could say that evil is quite at home in our view. It’s central to our story, and our story is not over yet. But it has no place in an atheistic worldview. It does not make any sense whatsoever in an atheistic worldview. Now, people can get that notion in their mind, and I do walk through fairly carefully not only in The Story of Reality, but in the last couple chapters of the book on relativism that Dr. Beckwith and I wrote called Relativism: Feet Firmly Planted in Mid-Air, and lots of things we’ve done on the air here, and lots of things we have on the internet make the same point. If there is no God, there is no morality. But there is a morality, since the problem of evil, therefore, there is a God. That’s your basic modus tollens argument for God—moral argument for the existence of God.