Answers for Atheists: Where Did Evil Come From?

choiceIf there is a God, why did He create evil?

Have you heard this question before? I have. Atheists ask it because they believe there is no legitimate answer. And without a reasonable answer, they believe it is the perfect question to use when trying to disprove the existence of God. Maybe, if someone could answer this question in a satisfactory manner, they would consider the existence of God? Well, maybe not, but I’m having a go at it anyway.

Here is the pat answer, and the one I have (regretfully) given myself:

What is cold? What is darkness? (In case you don’t know the answers, they are the absence of heat and the absence of light, respectively.) Therefore, it stands to reason that evil is the absence of good, and God never created evil at all.

Now, I believe all of these things are true; I only regret that my answer was too short. When I gave it, I didn’t expound on it. This is unfortunate because I believe that sometimes people are legitimately looking for answers, and mine was a non-answer. That was me, avoiding the real question.

Of course, perhaps it would have served the atheist better if they had asked the real question to begin with, which goes something like this: If God loves people, why would He allow evil?

There, now that’s something we can work with.

Evil is perhaps not best explained as the absence of good, but rather the refusal to do good. The way I see it, God could have made humans behave in one of two ways: first of all, He could have created us to do His will all the time, never questioning His authority, never thinking for ourselves. In other words, we could all be rocks. Or plants. Or…something. Is this how a loving parent raises their children? Nope.

Secondly, He could have created us in the way that He actually did, giving us the choice to obey or not to obey. In order to have choice, we must first be aware of what we should choose – what “good” is. That’s why He gave us the Law.

“Seek good, and not evil, that ye may live:” Amos 5:14.

Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; A blessing, if ye obey the commandments of the Lord your God, which I command you this day:” Deuteronomy 11:26-27

See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; In that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commandments and his statutes and his judgments, that thou mayest live and multiply: and the Lord thy God shall bless thee in the land whither thou goest to possess it. But if thine heart turn away, so that thou wilt not hear, but shalt be drawn away, and worship other gods, and serve them; I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish, and that ye shall not prolong your days upon the land, whither thou passest over Jordan to go to possess it. I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live: That thou mayest love the Lord thy God, and that thou mayest obey his voice, and that thou mayest cleave unto him: for he is thy life, and the length of thy days: that thou mayest dwell in the land which the Lord sware unto thy fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give them.” Deuteronomy 30:15-20

The word “good” is not merely the opposite of evil. The Law is good for us. To stray from its path is to engage in self-destructive behaviors. (And sometimes, disobedience leads to the destruction of the peace, happiness, and lives of others as well.) We should be in amazement, overwhelmed that our God, the Ruler of the universe, loved us enough to give us His own perfect Law. The one that is so righteous, He Himself adheres to it. What do I mean by that? Here’s a short explanation:

The reason that Christ had to die is that God could not allow sin to go unpunished. The wages of sin is death, and that wage had to be meted out. If God could break His own Law, He could have provided an alternate way for salvation. This also explains why Jesus is the only way to salvation. The ransom He paid for us is the only way to meet the requirements of the Law.

Now, His Law is not some random set of rules. It is life, it is truth, it is the very definition of these things (Psalm 119). Jesus Christ Himself is the embodiment of that Law (John 1:14). Those who choose life, know how to do so, by walking in His precepts. Please, please read Psalm 119.

So how does choice work? In addition to knowing what we should choose, we must also be given the opportunity to choose something else. This “otherness” is what is meant by “evil.” If God has told us how to have life, and have it more abundantly, then any refusal of that offer is necessarily evil. It leads to death and destruction.

So is God then somehow responsible for our evil when we choose not to obey? By creating the Law in the first place, and the ability to disobey, has He in some round about manner also created evil?

Let’s consider some options here:

A) If I instruct my children not to play in the street, not to talk to strangers, or not to touch a hot burner, am I the author of their rebellion if they choose to disobey me? If we use atheist reasoning, it would appear to be so. Isn’t that the very argument we are dissecting here? Regardless of how just or unjust God may be viewed for this behavior, it is the way He interacts with His creation. This approach of a loving Father toward His children is outright rejected by those who hate God, but an atheist who loves his children surely teaches them about health and safety.

B) Would it be better to never offer instruction, so that the children can decide for themselves what is good and what is bad? Should God have refrained from giving us the Law to keep us from having the opportunity to sin against Him? Should we allow our children to discover on their own what leads to life and happiness and what leads to pain and death? That’s ridiculous, and a loving God or parent would never leave their children to their own devices.

C) So what is the alternative to A and B? Perhaps one would suggest that a loving parent would hover around the child at all times, physically refusing to allow them to become hurt. That would be the only scenario I can imagine that doesn’t involve pain, death, disobedience, or evil of any kind. Now, a human parent couldn’t pull that off, but God could. However, can you actually imagine an atheist being happier if God never allowed them to make their own choices about anything? If He didn’t give us the freedom of choice, then they would have a legitimate reason to complain. But that’s not the way He created us.

Atheists cannot comprehend God as a loving God because He tells them what right and wrong is, because He has imposed a Law, because He has labeled destructive behavior as sin. Isn’t it ironic that they would choose option B over the others? They want to live their lives as they see fit. In short, they want to live without the instruction of anyone or anything wiser than them. They wish to remain obliviously happy in their disobedience and death. They would choose for God not to love them at all.

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19 responses to “Answers for Atheists: Where Did Evil Come From?

  1. What you are talking about is not really the problem of evil, as classically stated.
    That is more a question of ‘natural evil’, as opposed to the moral evil described in the post.
    The classical problem could be restated: “Do we believe that there is no gratuitous distress in the world? If so, why; if not, why?”
    A bit harder knock-down.

    • I’m sorry, I’ve never heard an atheist ask “Do we believe that there is no gratuitous distress in the world?” Is that the real question, or is that your question? That is a good question, and worth consideration. I will try to give you my perspective in some other post, but it will take some time to put my thoughts in order. (I’m usually terrible in off-the-cuff conversations, lol.)

      When I get into a theological discussion with an atheist (which is pretty frequently), they usually ask why evil exists, as if they can prove that the God I believe in is evil just because evil is in the world. And if they can prove He is evil, they can prove that I have a misconception. And if I have a misconception, why believe in a God at all? Although this logic does not truly follow. If I did have a misconception about the benevolence of God, it would not prove to me that He doesn’t exist.

      • I believe that is the real question, or at least the question that has typically been asked. ‘Evil’ is an unfortunate word in this case since it allows confusion with moral arguments.

      • I think people are confused to what constitutes evil. Like maybe they believe there is an evil that is harmful to yourself or others (is this what you are labeling moral evil?) and an evil that is not. (What would that even consist of? Can you give me an example?) How do you personally define moral evil? And if you believe there is some other type of evil, how do you define that? I am just looking for a baseline to make it easier to understand where you are coming from. As far as gratuitous distress, are you talking specifically about the pain, mental anguish, etc that is experienced by the person on the receiving end of evil? I think that would be a conversation as to why pain exists in this world, if we have a loving God. I perceive that as being a different issue than the one I was addressing. I would love to clarify these terms and have a conversation with you about this. It helps me get down to the bottom of why I believe what I believe, and will help me discover if my perception is skewed.

      • There are all sorts of questions associated with this theodicy stuff, and most of them are not as easy as they may seem at first.
        I don’t know exactly what constitutes moral evil. It would seem to require agency, i.e. someone would have to be conscious of it as a moral transgression, and it would seem to require an adverse experience on someone’s part . Beyond that, I think that there is widespread disagreement.
        But, I’m a moral anti-realist, so I have an easy way out on this one 🙂
        Natural evil is a bit easier to characterize: experiences one would rather not experience.
        Within that category, there are experiences which can be functionalized, like the pain that comes with burning your hand on the stove, which helps you remember not to touch the stove and damage your hand.
        Other adverse experiences are not so easy to functionalize, like neuropathic pain.
        Yet both the experiences which can be functionalized and those which can’t have their source in divine agency.
        What possible account can we give of the latter? The lord works in mysterious ways? All’s for the best in the best of all possible worlds?
        That’s the real problem

      • “Theodicy.” Yep, that one didn’t escape me, lol. However, and you already know this, but I disagree.

        I know I’m going to lose you on this one because I don’t have any proof, except my own personal experiences. So our conversation may have to find an ending point here, but yes, I do believe that “…all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” Romans 8:28. But you probably already knew I was going to say that.

        I have had breast cancer, amputations, etc, and at every juncture, I can see how my life has tremendously improved. Sorry I can’t give you better evidence. 😦 There’s only one way I know to test that specific aspect of God, and it’s not something you would probably consider – asking Him to show you, if He does, in fact, exist.

        I struggled for many years over “do I believe this because someone told me to” or “do I believe this because it’s true”. The fact is, if one doesn’t know the answer to those questions, every person owes it to themselves to seek out the truth, because if they are asking that question in the first place, they don’t know the reliability of their own belief system.

        I challenge Christians and atheists alike, and every other religious people group, to seek the truth. To find out why you believe what you believe. Otherwise, if you had been born on the other side of the world or to a different family down the street, you could just as firmly believe something totally different.

    • Sorry it’s taking me so long to reply. I am really enjoying our discussion, and I need a little more time to make a thoughtful reply because life and stuff, lol.

  2. You seem utterly, hopelessly confused.
    Atheists know that there are people “wiser” than them – that’s why we read and hire plumbers.
    The amount of nonsense that is drilled into captive believer’s minds about atheists is just staggering.

    • I think you have a problem with my over-reaching statement about “anyone or anything wiser than them.” I should have clarified to say that when it comes to good and evil, atheists don’t want to be told the difference by someone who knows more than they do. They want to figure everything out for themselves, and seem to have a problem receiving “help” in this area, even if that help comes from the loving Father that created them. They trust their own ability to decide between right and wrong, even if they don’t have a lot of experience or the foresight to see how a mistake in their logic might affect their future. The reason why none of us can come together on the definition of good and evil, right and wrong, is because there is no perceived standard. Everyone does that which is right in his own eyes. It’s a mess.

      On the other hand, my family trusts that God’s laws are for our benefit and that they always make sense, even when we don’t understand why. For instance, God instructed His covenant people to circumcise their sons on the eighth day of life. While some might view this as a random law to burden those being ruled, my husband and I have seen too much proof of His benevolence in our personal lives. So, we automatically assumed that God must have given this command for the benefit of the people who are willing to obey. Even though we are not Jewish, we had our son circumcised on the 8th day. We learned years later that blood clotting is best on the 8th day of life, proving to us once again that God always has our best interests in mind.

      If you don’t like Him, don’t serve Him. He doesn’t force anyone to obey – that’s kind of the point. But it’s your loss if you refuse to recognize that obedience to His Law benefits us.

      • You may not know any atheists, personally – it doesn’t sound like it. Atheists may indeed have a father, and that is the “father” that created them, but that does not give the father perpetual command over them.
        Atheist parents base their medical care for their children upon the best medical science that is available – not according to the whims of a Stone Age text. An excision of the skin around an infant boy’s penis should be made for purely health reasons – if the parents do indeed love that child as a being with rights to decent care.

      • My sister’s fiance is an atheist, and we converse quite regularly on the topic. My sister herself is caught between two worlds and always plays devil’s advocate when she’s around me, and I guess she probably does the same thing when she’s with her fiance – arguing with each of us to try to get to the bottom of things. I admire her willingness to search, rather than just believing what she wants or what she has been told. Her fiance is extremely intelligent, and well-educated, so yes, I am used to having lengthy discussions with an atheist about religion.

        As far as circumcision goes, it is quite readily recognized that it does contribute to health. Every command the Father gave us was for our good. The fact that we waited eight days only contributed more to his health and diminished the chances for infection. When obeying God’s commands naturally leads to a healthy lifestyle, it makes perfect sense to obey. Already knowing that His commands are healthy for us, it also follows that we would obey even when we don’t understand, trusting that there is a health benefit yet to be discovered. (When it came to circumcision, modern doctors had already discovered that blood clotting was at its peak on the eighth day of life, but my husband and I didn’t know that at the time.) I am guessing that you are a logical person. If you knew that 90% of the commands in a certain book demonstrated uncanny foreknowledge of health benefits, wouldn’t you just trust the other 10%?

      • Ah, no, because the 90% number is fictitious, so you might ask yourself if you are giving out that number because you are convincing yourself of that number without any evidence. Science has determined so what we know as good health practices: penicillin, blood transfusions, condoms, screenings, vitamins. An ancient text from the days before scientific study will promote only ancient superstitions that have killed and injured so many people in history.
        Your sister deserves quite a bit of credit for hanging in there with you, and I hope you continue to have good discussions.

      • First of all, I expect that most people reading this would understand that I am not trying to quote statistics, and that by “90%” I mean “most.”
        Second, since we’re being so technical, can you give me a single example of a health regulation from the Bible that has turned out to be unhealthy? Since you might say that burden of proof lies with me, here is some proof for your perusal:

        http://www.tomorrowsworld.org/magazines/2004/march-april/bible-health-laws

        The health laws were given thousands of years before man discovered the implications. The Word delivered to Moses has withstood the test of time, and modern science continually proves it so.

  3. You have made one thing clear, and that is your contempt for atheists. The rest is just noise.

    • What makes you say that? Is it because I disagree with their ideology? When does disagreement equal contempt? It’s not the same thing at all in my world. Is it in yours? If it’s noise, engage me on it. Have a discussion. Tell me why my rationale doesn’t make sense. Btw, I happen to love one atheist very much.

      • I don’t drink from a poison well Amy. If you’re going to ask a question, then ask it. When you answer your own question like that with a preemptive criticism, it pretty well illustrates the futility of talking to you. Seriously, you communicate contempt and nothing more with antics like that.

      • Lol, this is where I have to ask you to analyze your own communication skills. My post was not at all motivated by contempt. The atheists who know me know this to be true. You, however, do not know me. You are drawing conclusions about me based on my writing style or…something, not sure what, since you refuse to say. You have decided that I’m not worth talking to, and yet I would love to have a conversation with you. You visited my page and felt compelled to publicly judge my motivations. I very reasonably assumed you may have something you want to talk about. Refusing to engage me at this point makes one question if you actually have anything valuable to add to the conversation.

      • Okay, sorry, I reread your comment and see that your problem with my article was the fact that I asked a question and then answered it. I just have to say that’s a pretty common way to begin an article, no matter who is writing it. It’s the bouncing-off point I used to make my argument. Would it have irked you less had I left the question out? Is that the real problem?

  4. Pingback: The Evolution of a Blogger: Survey | Full Circle Homeschooling

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