Atheistic scholars have labeled the problem of evil as the “Achilles’ heel” of Christian theism. They claim that, like Achilles’ heel, the problem of evil inevitably brings Christianity to ruin. In fact, many God-professing individuals have converted to atheism due to this unresolved question. But Christian theists are not left without an answer to the problem of evil.
The problem of evil is logically structured into three statements:
- God is omnipotent.
- God is all-benevolent.
- Evil exists.
Atheists argue the incompatibility of these statements. They say that if an all-powerful God created a world in which evil exists, then he must not be all-good, or else he would have used his power to eliminate such evil. Transversely, if God is all-benevolent, then he desires to eliminate evil. But since evil exists, he must not possess the power to do so. They conclude, then, that God does not exist.
Before proceeding, one point must be made clear. While the source of evil is a perplexity for a Christian, the source of good is not. God is the origin of all goodness, for “He is good” (Psalm 107:1). And, “Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father” (James 1:17). With God as the ultimate authority over what is good, a Christian can evaluate what is right and wrong based on His righteous standards. Consequently, when God no longer exists, neither does ethics.
In an atheistic worldview, there is no such thing as a moral, law-giving God. Instead, morality is merely the result of chemical reactions in the brain of an evolved animal. Without any objective standards, good and evil become relative to the animal, or determined by mutual agreements within a society. Therefore, morality is reduced to the mental whims of an evolutionary process.
In fact, moral standards can fluctuate at any given time. Homosexuality, for example, was widely accepted in ancient Greek and Roman culture, as men would often participate in sexual activity with other men. Not only was it tolerated, but homosexuality was even celebrated in the arts, theater, and culture, according to some scholars. Skipping to the thirteenth century, homosexuality was strictly condemned in European society. Stringent laws called for the severe punishment of homosexual acts. Some reports indicate that people were even burned to death or beheaded for unlawful sexual behavior. The moral pendulum swung back, as homosexuality is currently accepted in most Western cultures.
With a worldview in which morality is constantly shifting – as with the issue of homosexuality – on what grounds can the atheist brand certain actions as good or bad? Human thought should be just as valued as the random process in which it was evolved.
But only the most committed of atheists live as though moral principles do not exist. For an atheist, even testifying to the problem of evil is, at its core, admitting to objective morals.
The problem of evil for the Christian theist then becomes the problem of good and evil for the atheist.