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The Problem of Evil is Everyone's Problem

The Japan tsunami inevitably raises profound questions about God and evil.  But in this discussion, it is important to realize every worldview, not just Christianity, must explain evil.  Christians are often on the defense with regards to this objection, yet the tables can be turned on the atheist, with his naturalistic worldview in tow.  Given naturalism, what is evil and how does the atheist make sense of it?

Famous British philosopher and atheist Bertrand Russell once commented, "No one can believe in a good God if they've sat at the bedside of a dying child."  Now, I agree that sitting at the bedside of a dying child is a heart-wrenching situation not to be treated simplistically or in a cavalier manner.  Providing pat answers and quoting Romans 8:28 over and over will not suffice.  But what of Russell'sresponse?  What can the atheist say to the dying child?  Or to the Japanese parents whose child disappeared in the flood waters?

  •  "In the grand scheme of the universe your suffering is utterly meaningless--life and all that comes with it has no transcendent meaning or value."
  •  "Your suffering is completely pointless since there is no purpose to any of this anyway."
  •  "Fortunately, you will soon die and return to dust."
  • "Take heart, you will soon pop out of existence forever and your suffering will be over."
  • "Stuff like tsunamis just happen."
  • "Bummer."

Or let's try the actual words of Russell:

  • "Brief and powerless is Man's life; on him and all his race the slow, sure dooms falls pitiless and dark."
  •  "Blind to good and evil...omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way."
  • " fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave..."
  • "...all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system..."
  • "Man's achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins..."

Hmmm...not too comforting in the face of real tragedy & sorrow.  Not only does atheism lack the intellectual resources to account for evil, it also lacks the emotional/psychological resources to bring hope and redemption to a world corrupted by both moral and natural evil.  Russell's own words certainly clarify the absurdity of life without God.

Make no mistake, the problem of evil is not just a problem for Christianity--it is a problem for all worldviews because evil is fundamental to our human experience.  If any worldview is to be considered plausible it must provide us with the intellectual and existential resources to deal with this issue.


Why can't the atheist give a fully adequate theoretical account of why Japan's tsunami is a terrible event, involving as it does the loss of lives and loved ones, and the suffering of many? Surely a person can acknowledge that such loss and suffering is heart-rending without having to believe in gods or devils.

What gives the Christian difficulty is explaining Japan's tsunami in the face of his further insistence that God could have prevented it. Let's be clear: the atheist faces no analogous difficulty. Mr. Kunkle's mistake is to conflate the difficulty at issue here--which is a theoretical or theological--with the practical problem of how to comfort grieving tsunami victims.

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I think you misunderstand the real objection of the atheist to the problem of evil. The atheist isn't trying to refute Christianity by saying "your worldview makes suffering sad and meaningless" - we completely agree that suffering is sad. The problem theism faces that atheism does not is that unnecessary suffering goes against the character of God according to his defined nature. The atheist does not have to deal with any sort of equivalent problem (after all, there are no official dogmas that need to be reconciled). There is nothing inconsistent about enormous human suffering in a godless amoral universe. In fact, given one, you would expect the other. Regardless if what you say is true about our existence having no overall cosmic significance according to an atheistic view, I find it interesting that you think just because something is inconvenient or is potentially disappointing that somehow makes it untrue or "absurd." It doesn't take very much study to find reality doesn't just conform to our every desire. Do you think atheism is some kind of proposed solution for finding "comfort" in life? Atheism isn't a proposed solution to anything, it's simply a conclusion people draw after finding no compelling reason for believing in God(s). I don't know where you got your conception of atheism, but it makes me doubt you've ever spoken to one.

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Brett Kunkle is the Student Impact Director at Stand to Reason. He is a huge fan of his wife and 5 kids, surfing the Point in Newport Beach, and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Yes, in that order.