What philosophers call “the problem of evil” is a family of arguments from the existence or nature of evil to the conclusion that God does not or probably does not exist. The oldest form of the argument is that the mere existence of evil is logically incompatible with God’s existence. If God exists, evil could not, and if evil exists, God could not. I call this argument the “charge of contradiction.” The claim is that there is a logical contradiction in asserting that God is all-powerful, God is all-loving, and that evil exists. Wouldn’t this kind of God eliminate all evil? The existence of God, in this view, is on a par with a square circle. Given the existence of evil, it is impossible for God to exist. The challenge is to show that theism is logically consistent.
Few today, including atheists, think this argument succeeds. If God might have a good reason to allow evil, then it is possible that both God and evil exist. We need not know what God’s actual reasons are, but if it is possible He has one, then the argument is defeated. Most think it is possible that God has good reasons to allow evil and that, therefore, there is no contradiction between God’s existence and the existence of evil.
Today, the most important form of the argument against the existence of God from evil is called the “evidential argument from evil.” The one who presses this argument admits that the existence of God and the reality of evil are not logically incompatible. The argument is that the amount and the kinds of evil we find in the world is strong evidence against the existence of God.
Even though it is possible that God has a reason to allow the evils we find in the world, it does not seem likely that there are good reasons for some of the evils we see. We cannot prove that there is no good reason, but if we have lots of cases in which it seems as though there is none, we will conclude that there probably is no good reason to allow these evils. If it is true that probably there is no good reason to allow these cases of evil, then it is probable that God does not exist. This argument is called the “evidential argument” because we cannot prove that there is no good reason to allow the particular evils we are thinking about. These evils do, then, look like good evidence that God does not exist.
In order to begin to answer this argument, we must think about the claim that it is probable that no good reason exists to allow the evil in question. Why should we believe this is true? The one who puts this argument forward will appeal to cases of evil in which it is difficult to find a reason that might fit. Does this mean we ought to conclude that it is probable that there is no reason? No.
The philosophical problem of evil has to do with what is reasonable to believe. To what degree is it reasonable to believe in God in light of what we seem to know about evil? We have seen that evil does not contradict God’s existence. Nor is it strong evidence against the existence of God. The evil in the world, then, does not make it unreasonable to believe in an all-powerful and all-loving God.
Want more? Check out the Apologetics Study Bible on page 736 or visit ApologeticsBible.com.