In my introduction to the Problem of Evil (PoE), I wrote about some of the common popular objections to God vis-à-vis questions like, “Why would God allow [some evil event]?” and a couple of the logical objections (If God were all-good or all-powerful, He would/could destroy evil, but evil exists, therefore…you get the idea.)
First, a note about real-world application: These articles approach the PoE and answers to the challenges more from a logical, apologetic perspective. We must always keep in mind that in some (many?) cases, when someone is raising an objection about evil they are doing so because of a personal, often very painful, situation in their own life. As Christian apologists, we must ensure that when we’re addressing questions or objections we don’t do so in a cold, logical manner. Often times, objections appear on their face to be “logical”, but in reality the person raising the objection is suffering genuine pain or loss. Be cognizant of that in any discussion. Don’t be a professor when someone needs a pastor or a friend!
When someone raises the PoE as “proof” that God does not exist, there is a logical contradiction inherit within the objection. Most people don’t realize this. We can point this out through a simple question:
What is it about [evil thing] that makes it evil?
What we are trying to do is to get the person to open up in their assumptions about what makes something evil. Don’t let them get away with just describing that something is evil; make them tell you why it is actually, objectively, evil.
Objector: “How could God allow all those people to die in that apartment building fire? To me, that just proves God doesn’t exist.”
Christian: “That’s a really good question. Let me ask you, what makes people dying in a fire actually evil?”
Objector: "Well isn't obvious? Fires kill people, destroy property, and ruin lives!"
Christian: "That's true, but why are those things (death of people, destruction of property, and ruined lives) a problem for you, given your atheistic world view?"
Here’s what you’re trying to get to: If atheism is true, and God doesn’t exist, then the things that happen in this world just are. There is no good or evil! Those so-called "evil” events are simply brute facts of reality. The atheist/skeptic can complaint about evil events all they want. If there is no God, then their complaints are just their personal, subjective opinion about something they happen to not like. If it’s just an opinion, the thing in question cannot be objectively evil.
C.S. Lewis writes in his classic work Mere Christianity,
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? …Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, them my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies.”
The point here is that when the atheist complains about the PoE, and says it disproves God, he is still left with the problem. He has simply removed one possible solution. Without God, there is no objective (e.g.: outside humanity) standard for good. Thus we are left with our own human opinions about what is right and wrong. And who is to say which person’s opinion is right? In Nazi Germany, they thought it was perfectly fine to kill Jews, gays, and the physically and mentally disabled. Without an objective standard of good (e.g.: a moral law), the Nuremberg trials that prosecuted Nazi war criminals were unjust based on the standards of the German culture at the time. Objective morals, by their nature, must be outside of humanity.
Ravi Zacharias sums this up well in his book, Can Man Live Without God. He writes:
“Let me narrate an interaction I had with a student at the University of Nottingham in England. As soon as I finished one of my lectures, he shot up from his seat and blurted out rather angrily, "There is to much evil in this world; therefore, there cannot be a God."
I asked him to remain standing and answer a few questions for me. I said, "If there is such a thing as evil, aren't you assuming there is such a thing as good?" He paused, reflected, and said, "I guess so."
"If there is such a thing as good," I countered, "you must affirm a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil."
"When you say there is evil, aren't you admitting there is good? When you accept the existence of goodness, you must affirm a moral law on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil. But when admit to a moral law, you must posit a moral lawgiver. That, however, is who you are trying to disprove and not prove. For if there is no moral lawgiver, there is no moral law. If there is no moral law, there is no good. If there is no good, there is no evil. What then is your question?"
There was a conspicuous pause that was broken when he said rather sheepishly, "What, then, am I asking you?"
If someone claims to be an atheist and then complains about evil and suffering as a justification for their atheism, they are stealing from the Judeo-Christian worldview in order to make a moral judgment. Given atheism, there can be no moral judgments. It’s just my personal opinion against yours.