The Refutation of the Atheist’s Logical Argument Regarding Evil
It’s interesting to see the insights of Daniel Defoe (c. 1660–1731) in his classic Robinson Crusoe (1719). The title character was marooned on a desert island for 28 years, and rescued and befriended a native he named “Friday”, and taught him Christianity. Crusoe taught about the devil, his origin, rebellion against God, and his terrible enmity against man. This dialogue ensued:
“Well,” says Friday, “but you say God is so strong, so great; is He not much strong, much might as the devil?” “Yes, yes,” says I, “Friday; God is stronger than the devil—God is above the devil, and therefore we pray to God to tread him down under our feet, and enable us to resist his temptations and quench his fiery darts.” “But,” says he again, “if God much stronger, much might as the wicked devil, why God no kill the devil, so make him no more do wicked?”
Crusoe eventually responded:
“God will at last punish him severely; he is reserved for the judgment, and is to be cast into the bottomless pit, to dwell with everlasting fire.” This did not satisfy Friday; but he returns upon me, repeating my words, “‘RESERVE AT LAST!’ me no understand— but why not kill the devil now; not kill great ago?” “You may as well ask me,” said I, “why God does not kill you or me, when we do wicked things here that offend Him—we are preserved to repent and be pardoned.”
The usual attempt at a logical argument fails. It goes back to the pagan Greek philosopher Epicurus (341–270 BC), who was cited by the early Christian apologist Lactantius (AD 240–320)26 then used by the Scottish ‘Enlightenment’ skeptic David Hume (1711–1776). In schematic form, the argument could be written thus:
If God exists, then God is all-powerful, all-knowing, and morally perfect.
If God is all-powerful, then He has the power to eliminate all evil.
If God is all-knowing, then He knows when evil exists.
If God is morally perfect, then He has the desire to eliminate all evil.
If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn’t have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn’t know when evil exists, or doesn’t have the desire to eliminate all evil.
Therefore, God doesn’t exist.
The first premise describes the Judeo-Christian God as revealed in the Bible. Premises 2–4 are plausibly held to be what the Judeo-Christian God would do with such attributes.
The first two are held to be the Judeo-Christian premises, while #5 is indisputable (although only truly justifiable under a Judeo-Christian world view). So antitheists draw the conclusion that God cannot have the attributes that the Bible reveals about Him (#6), and conclude that such a God doesn’t exist (#7).
Some theistic philosophers try to retreat on #1, by denying that God is all powerful, such as ‘open theism’ and ‘process theology’. But this is not the true God of the Bible.
However, Christian philosophers have long argued that Premise 4 should be extended to:
4′. If God is morally perfect, then He has the desire to eliminate all evil—unless He has a good reason for allowing it.
Then there is no incompatibility with #5. Since no antitheist can show that there is no possible good reason for allowing evil, since that would be a universal negative, the argument collapses as logical disproof of theism. This was expressed in a wonderful book Dr A.E. Wilder-Smith (1915–1995): “This is how God triumphs over evil—not by ‘stopping’ it, but by using it to His greater glory.”27 Later, we see some biblical reasons why God is permitting suffering.
Indeed, Lactantius used much the same argument against Epicurus himself. Before that, we will argue that one good reason for God’s allowing evil in the world today is a just judgment resulting from the man’s sin (see Death and suffering is the penalty for sin).
Apologists have also long pointed out that the argument doesn’t work for another reason. The existence of evil now would be incompatible with #4 only if it read:
4″. If God is morally perfect, then He has the desire to eliminate all evil immediately.
But is this really so? As will be shown (and was well explained by Daniel Defoe), for God to get rid of evil immediately, He would need to destroy all of us!
With this understanding, we can correct #5 to:
5′. Evil exists for now but will one day be destroyed (as the Bible says); or God has not got rid of evil—yet!
1, 4/4′ and 5′ are certainly compatible.
This is enough to show that atheists lack a logical case against God. But it is still important to go further and explain where evil came from, why He allowed it, and what He is doing about it—and has already done about it.