The Existence of Evil and the Non-Existence of God

In a recent debate with the Christian apologist William Lane Craig, the atheist philosopher Alex Rosenberg put out a challenge:

  • “If Dr. Craig could provide me with any kind of logical, coherent account that could reconcile the evident fact of the horrors of humanity…with the existence of a benevolent, omnipotent agent, then I will turn Christian.”

While Craig expressed delight at the possibility of Rosenberg’s conversion, I fear that reason has little to do with it. We believe what we want to believe! Besides, it seems that Rosenberg has set the goal-posts unreasonably high. To what extent can he expect anyone to “reconcile…the horrors of humanity…with the existence of a benevolent, omnipotent agent?”

Of course, we can’t do so completely. I can’t understand why my parents died without having come to a faith in Christ, despite our prayers. I don’t understand why my God allowed hurricane Sandy to devastate so many homes or the Asian tsunami to kill so many hundreds of thousands. I don’t know why He allowed Hitler, Lenin and Stalin to kill their millions.

However, I know that there is much that I don’t know. Nor should I be so presumptuous as to dismiss God because I can’t understand Him completely. After all, we can’t understand even the basics of science. We have only the most rudimentary knowledge of time, space, matter, and the laws of science. However, we don’t reject science because we lack exhaustive knowledge of these things! Consequently, Rosenberg unjustifiably rejects the idea of God because he has encountered a perplexity that no one is able to completely reconcile.

Rosenberg is also committing a logical fallacy in his challenge. He must rely on God in his attempt to deny Him. What’s the matter with “the horrors of humanity?” What makes them horrors? Is there any problem with genocide? Perhaps this is just a more advanced application of the principle of survival-of the-fittest? Instead, we can only conclude that genocide is wrong if there is an unchanging right – an objective answer-sheet – against which we can measure the validity of certain conclusions.

I like apologist Frank Turek’s illustration of this principle. If students draw maps of Norway, the teacher can only correct them if she has the absolute standard – an absolutely correct Norway map.

Without God, there is no Norway map or any basis to have objective moral standards. Without God, each one of us becomes “courts of last resort.” Without objective, universal moral standards, it’s impossible to rationally talk about evil or “horrors.” Without God, these are merely concepts we invent to give a “meaningless life” the semblance of meaning.

Instead, if Rosenberg is truly concerned about “the horrors of humanity,” he needs to find the ultimate map – a rational basis by which he can speak and act coherently about these horrors. Denying God, he leaves himself with nothing more than moral relativism, and this condemns all of his moral judgments as arbitrary and subjective.

Perhaps Rosenberg needs to understand that he depends upon God more than he now imagines. Perhaps that might be the best proof of all.

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About Daniel Mann

Daniel Mann has been an instructor of theology and apologetics at the New York School of the Bible for 20 years. He is also the author of several books, one published: "Embracing the Darkness: How a Jewish, Sixties, Berkeley Radical Learned to Live with Depression, God's Way." He also gives seminars on marriage, depression and "Reasons to Believe in the Christian Faith."

  • http://jameseo.com/ JameSEO

    I bet it’d drive Rosenberg nuts if he was confronted with the fact that him turning Christian isn’t up to him. It’s up to the Holy Spirit. This post made me think of the Truth Project

    • Daniel Mann

      I think that if we’d follow closely the lives of atheists, we’d find that there are many things that drive them nuts. Bertrand Russell admitted as much about the grinding forces of the “impersonal universe” towards the end of his life.

  • GMac

    I think that the issue that sceptics have, or even, a better way to frame the argument, would be to say that since Christianity claims to have a definition for good and evil, then within it’s own paradigm, is it consistent to claim that God is all-loving and omnipotent, while reality of our (believers’) experiences on earth seem to show otherwise?

    • Daniel Mann

      GMac, You’re perfectly right. However, the atheist usually wants to make the bolder claim – that such a God cannot exist.

      However, if he instead claimed, “You’re understanding of God is incoherent,” we’d still have many ways to respond. Here’s several:

      1. From your materialistic worldview, you have no basis to insist upon conformity to a higher set of logical laws.
      2. What do you mean by “omnipotent” and “all-loving?” Generally, the atheist fails to understand what these concepts truly mean and therefore sees a contradiction.
      3. Can you prove that this paradox CAN’T be resolved?

      • GMac

        Ok, but Rosenberg’s challenge could be rephrased as: “can you show me how the Christian concept of a loving God (in whatever terms you want to define them) is consistent with the experience of humanity?” This is not appealing to logical laws from a materialistic worldview – it’s asking for the believer to show how one can make sense of the world using a believer’s (or the Bible’s) understanding of God’s nature. What I’m saying is I’m not sure I agree with you that Rosenberg has set the goal-posts unreasonably high. Is it unfair of him to ask for a reasonable explanation for the problem of evil?

        • Daniel Mann

          GMac, Although we can’t provide an exhaustive answer – ie: why Katrina and Sandy were allowed or why God didn’t take out Hitler – I think that there are many ways to connect to the experience of the skeptic if they are willing to listen. I think that we can argue persuasively for the necessity of pain and even death.

          However, this would be the wrong way to argue with a militant atheist.