Making Sense Of Evil And Suffering In God’s Universe Part One: Atheism

By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)

Quotation For Contemplation 

“I now found it relatively easy to accept the concept of a good God who could solve troubles and problems. There had to be good, because I had looked into the eyes of evil. There had to be a God, because I had held hands with the devil.” (William J. Murray, My Life Without God: His Mother Had School Banned And Raised Him As An Atheist…But God Had Other Plans, 270 (Kindle Edition); Washington, DC; WND Books)

Questions For Contemplation 

Are there good reasons to believe that there is a God? 

How can any suffering be called “evil” unless there is first a standard of goodness by which the evil is judged? 

What are some lessons that the Book of Job teaches about atheism?

A Very Important Topic 

 One of the great questions that the Book of Job grapples with is the subject of evil and suffering.

Where is God when we suffer?

Is the Lord indifferent to our struggles?

Is He to blame for the pain in this world?

Several passages in Job bear out these questions: 

Job 3:11 (CEV)-Why didn’t I die at birth?

Job 3:20 (CEV)-Why does God let me live when life is miserable and so bitter?

 My personal favorite passage from Job along these lines is found in Job 7:

Job 7:1 (CEV)-Why is life so hard? Why do we suffer?

 Other great Bible heroes asked similar questions throughout their lives, and especially during times of heartache and trial.

Examples include Gideon (Judges 6:12-13), Moses (Exodus 5:22), Jeremiah (Jeremiah 4:10; 5:19; 9:12; 12:1-4), and Habakkuk (Habakkuk 1:-4).

One of the greatest Psalms in the Bible is written by Asaph who declared: 

Psalm 73:2-5-2 (CEV)- But I almost stumbled and fell, 3 because it made me jealous to see proud and evil people and to watch them prosper. 4 They never have to suffer, they stay healthy, 5 and they don’t have troubles like everyone else.  

 These great Bible characters unite together and give voice to questions that all people in the world have struggled with.  

 Since we are carefully investigating the subject of evil and suffering in our study of the Book of Job, we need to consider whether or not atheism provides a logical explanation of these matters.

 The atheist is one who claims to know that God does not exist.

While there is no evidence that Job himself struggled with the belief that there is not a God, this does not mean that the Book of Job does not teach us some very important lessons about this worldview.

The very struggle of Job (the questions of faith in the midst of his trials) bear witness to the fact that suffering is far more than a physical ailment.

The ageless questions, “Why do we suffer?” and “Is there any meaning to my pain?” testify to the reality of God and of His plans. Job’s encouragement to his friends to consider how the created world bears witness to the Creator (Job 12:7-10), Elihu’s defense of God’s goodness and righteousness (Job 32-37), and the incredibly advanced scientific foreknowledge that the patriarch displays (cf. Job 26:7; 28:24-27; 38:12-14, 16, 19, 24, etc.) all speak directly to the subjects of atheism and unbelief.  

 Before we examine the atheist position on evil, pain, and suffering, let’s survey some of the problems of atheism in general.  

Atheism Is Irrational 

 Atheism attempts to defend what is known as a universal negative.

Basically, in order to prove atheism true, an atheist would first have to become God.

The atheist would have to be omniscient (all-knowing) to prove his allegation that there is no God; for the very thing which he did not know could be the proof that God exists.

The atheist would likewise have to be omnipresent (existing in all places at once); for the very place in which he was not present could contain the evidence which shows that there is a God.

Finally, the atheist would need to be omnipotent (all-powerful) in order to exercise his omniscience and omnipresence.  

 Thus, the atheist must become God in order to KNOW that God does not exist. This is one reason why atheism is (and always will be) irrational and unprovable.  

Atheism Is Unscientific

 The laws of science clearly demonstrate that there is a Creator of the universe. Furthermore, these laws show us that this Creator is identical with the God revealed through the Bible. Consider two examples of scientific laws which point to the existence of God: the First and Second Laws Of Thermodynamics.   

“”Not everyone welcomed the Big Bang concept, some disliking the idea that the universe had a beginning because it strongly implied a supernatural creation. In 1948 Sir Fred Hoyle helped to formulate the ‘steady-state’ theory. This maintained that the universe was infinite and eternal and that the entire cosmic process was kept in balance as matter simply sprang into existence out of nothing at a regular rate to replace the matter which had ‘died’ through expansion. The biggest problem with this view is that it violates the First Law of Thermodynamics, sometimes known as the law of conservation of mass and energy. This fundamental law, which Isaac Asimov called ‘the most powerful and most fundamental generalization about the universe that scientists have ever been able to make’,24 states that matter and energy can neither be self-created nor destroyed…The First Law of Thermodynamics clearly supports the idea that an expanding universe must have had a beginning but could not have created itself. The Second Law of Thermodynamics, which states that any isolated physical system becomes less ordered and more random over time, provides another piece for the cosmic jigsaw. Applied very simply and generally, it means that our entire universe is running down. As the rotation of the planets and their moons slows down, and as stars (and whole galaxies) burn themselves out, the matter in our universe is becoming more and more disorganized as its energy is dissipated. The logical consequence of this is that the universe cannot be eternal. If it were, the stars would have ceased to shine long ago and all the energy in our universe would have long since been evenly spread throughout space. At the same time, this suggests that if the universe is becoming less ordered, it must have been more ordered in the past, and have had a highly ordered beginning.” (John Blanchard, Does God Believe In Atheists? 5601-5620 (Kindle Edition); Carlisle, PA; EP Books USA)   

 So the First Law of Thermodynamics states that anything which begins to exist can be neither self-created or destroyed. In other words, something cannot create itself, and in its’ “destruction” it merely changes form.

The Second Law of Thermodynamics shows that the universe has not always existed (for if it had always been here, all of the energy in the universe would be used up by now), and therefore it had a beginning.

Since the universe must have had a beginning (and a highly ordered beginning at that), and since it could not have created itself, then logically it must have been created.
This is indeed, strong evidence from science that God exists.   

 In fact, several scientists have pointed out that these facts show that there is a God.

For example: 

“Using the clock analogy again, the further back in time, the more wound up the clock. Far enough back in time, the clock was completely wound up. The universe therefore cannot be infinitely old. One can only conclude that the universe had a beginning, and that beginning had to have been caused by someone or something operating outside of the known laws of thermodynamics. Is this scientific proof for the existence of a creator God? I think so. Evolutionary theories of the universe cannot counteract the above arguments for the existence of God.” (John M. Cimbala, ‘Mechanical Engineering,’ in John F. Ashton, PhD, In Six Days: Why Fifty Scientists Choose To Believe In Creation, 3021-3026 (Kindle Edition); Green Forest, AR; Master Books) 

“In a stunning confirmation of the book of Genesis, modern scientists have discovered that the universe was created in a primordial explosion of energy and light. Not only did the universe have a beginning in space and time, but the origin of the universe was also a beginning for space and time. Space and time did not exist prior to the universe….The story begins about a century ago, as scientists began to look for evidence that our universe—not just our planet or our galaxy but all the matter that exists—had a beginning. The reason for the search is that one of the most universal laws of physics, the second law of thermodynamics, predicts such a beginning. The law simply states that, left to themselves, things break down. We see this all around us: highways and buildings decay and collapse, people age and die, metals rust, fabrics become threadbare, rocks and coastlines suffer erosion…..Scientists use the term entropy as a measure of the level of disorder, and the second law shows that the total entropy in the universe is continually increasing. The second law has a startling implication. Consider the example of the sun. As time passes its fuel reserves decline, so that eventually the sun will run out of heat and go cold. But this means the fires of the sun must have been ignited at some point. The sun has not been burning forever. And this is also true of other stars. They too are gradually burning out, suggesting that they too were set aflame some time ago. As the great English astronomer Arthur Eddington once put it, if the universe can be compared to a clock, the fact that the clock is continually running down leads to the conclusion that there was a time when the clock was fully wound up. The universe originated with its full supply of energy and that is the fund that has been dissipating ever since. These facts were known as far back as the eighteenth century, but scientists didn’t know what to make of them….Scientists call the starting moment of the universe a “singularity,” an original point at which neither space nor time nor scientific laws are in effect. Nothing can be known scientifically about what came before such a point. Indeed the term before has no meaning since time itself did not exist “prior to” the singularity. Once upon a time there was no time. Jastrow’s implication was that such concepts, which border on the metaphysical, give scientists a very queasy feeling. If the universe was produced outside the laws of physics, then its origin satisfies the basic definition of the term miracle. This term gives scientists the heebie-jeebies….Many attributes of the creator remain unknown or hidden, but there are some conclusions that we can reasonably draw from what we know. As the universe was produced by a creative act, it is reasonable to infer that it was produced by some sort of mind. Mind is the origin of matter, and it is mind that produced matter, rather than the other way around. As the universe comprises the totality of nature, containing everything that is natural, its creator must necessarily be outside nature. As the creator used no natural laws or forces to create the universe, the creator is clearly supernatural. As space and time are within the universe, the creator is also outside space and time, which is to say, eternal. As the universe is material, the creator is immaterial, which is to say, spiritual. As the universe was created from nothing, the creator is incomprehensibly powerful or, as best as we can tell, omnipotent.” (Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity? 116-126 (Kindle Edition); Washington, D.C.; Regnery Publishing Inc.)

 How amazing that the Bible testifies to these laws of science, and has done so long before they were discovered by modern man!  

Psalm 102:25-27-25 Of old You laid the foundation of the earth, And the heavens are the work of Your hands. 26 They will perish, but You will endure; Yes, they will all grow old like a garment; Like a cloak You will change them, And they will be changed. 27 But You are the same, And Your years will have no end.

Hebrews 3:4-For every house is built by someone, but He who built all things is God.

 Another thing which is truly fascinating is that these scientific laws declare to us not only that there is a God, but that He is identical with the God described in the Scriptures.

Speaking of the cosmological argument for God’s existence (which is based in part upon these laws of science), McDowell and Morrow inform us: 

“What the kalam reveals is that the universe was made and that someone made it. Further, the kalam helps narrow the range of possible causes to a being that is nonphysical, spaceless, timeless, changeless, and powerful: • If matter began to exist at the moment of creation, then the matter’s cause must be nonphysical, or spiritual. • Since space itself came into existence at the big bang, space’s cause must be spaceless. • Since time began at the moment of the big bang, time’s cause must be timeless. • Since change is a product of time, time’s cause must also be changeless. • Given the immensity of energy and matter that comprises the universe, energy and matter’s cause must be unimaginably inably powerful.” (Sean McDowell & Jonathan Morrow, Is God Just A Human Invention? And Seventeen Other Questions Raised By The new Atheists, 78-79 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Kregel Publications)  

Atheism And Evil/Suffering

 Many atheists have come to their denial of God due to an inability to harmonize the existence of God with the reality of evil, pain, and suffering. Having undergone some terrible experience or calamity in their lives, many unbelievers are unable to reconcile such suffering with the existence of an all-good and an all-powerful Being (I.e., God).

The alleged dilemma can perhaps be stated best through the words of the ancient philosopher Epicurus:

“God either wishes to take away evils and is unable; or he is able and unwilling; or he is neither willing nor able, or he is both willing and able. If he is willing and unable, he is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of god; if he is able and unwilling, he is envious, which is equally at variance with god; if he is neither willing nor able, he is both envious and feeble, and therefore, not god; if he is both willing and able, which is alone suitable to god, from what source then are evils? or why does he not remove them?”

 On the surface, the argument of Epicurus seems air-tight; but when we start breaking it down, we see a very different story.  

Why Atheism Does Not Provide Adequate Answers To Evil And Suffering  

 First, the very fact that we are aware of and able to identity evil is a testament to the existence of God.

C.S. Lewis, famous former atheist turned defender of God, explains why this is the case: 

“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? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. 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, then 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. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 38-39 (Kindle Edition); HarperCollins E-Books) 

 Whenever an atheist invokes evil and suffering as proof that there is no God, they first have to acknowledge that there is a moral standard or law which has been somehow violated.

Yet the very existence of this moral law points undeniably to the existence of the moral Lawgiver, I.e., God! This is one of the many reasons why atheism cannot account for the existence of evil, pain, and suffering. 

 One apologist, Jeff Vines, describes in one of his books a banquet he attended in which he was the honored guest (so to speak).

Arriving at the dinner, one of his hosts had the following dialogue with him: 

““So, Jeff, how can you believe in God with all the evil in this world!? Have you ever heard of the Holocaust? Stalin? Lenin? War? Starving children? Tsunamis? Earthquakes? Wake up, man! There is no God!”…I cleared my throat, gathered my thoughts, and looked toward Dan to ask him a question he was not expecting: “Dan, can you and I interact on this issue for a moment?” “What do you mean?” he responded. “Well, you have asked a great question, but I think the question itself needs to be analyzed. Would you help me with this issue?” Hesitantly, but confidently, Dan said, “Sure. What do you want?” “Well, first of all, once you admit that there is such a thing as ‘evil’ in the world, are you not also assuming that there is such a thing as ‘good’? 4 After all, how can anyone know the definition of ‘evil’ unless he knows the definition of ‘good’?”…The origin of the moral law within every human heart is perhaps one of the greatest objective proofs of God’s existence. No matter where you travel in this world, absolute moral law exists within every culture. Equally astounding is the fact that even in communist, war- torn countries where God has been thrown out of the public arena, the masses continue to live in testimony to His existence in private. In fact, people in communist countries possess a moral law that is astonishingly similar to those nations in which religion is not restricted, where God is alive and well….After hearing that ‘good’ and ‘evil’ as absolute categories can only exist if an absolute moral law is present to sustain them, I asked Dan if he knew anyone who had the knowledge and authority to give this absolute moral law to which all humanity must conform. “Well, it’s sure not the religious hypocrites of this world or people like you!” Dan responded in anger. In wholehearted agreement, I confirmed that all men were tainted by their finiteness and could not possibly give an absolute moral law under which the rest of humanity should live. Such absolute law could only originate from an absolute moral lawgiver. Only the creator and sustainer of all things would have the authority, knowledge, and power to implant within all creatures the ability to distinguish between ‘good’ and ‘evil.’ What is most interesting is the fact that no matter where you go in the world, the basic understanding of right and wrong exists, and only when evil men set out to tarnish and corrode such understanding do the atrocities of our world occur.” (Jeff Vines, Dinner With Skeptics: Defending God In A World That Makes No Sense, 144-263 (Kindle Edition); College Press Publishing Company)

 This “moral law” was spoken of by the Apostle Paul as “the law written on the heart.”  

Romans 2:14-15 (ERV)-14 Those who are not Jews don’t have the law. But when they naturally do what the law commands without even knowing the law, then they are their own law. This is true even though they don’t have the written law.

15 They show that in their hearts they know what is right and wrong, the same as the law commands, and their consciences agree. Sometimes their thoughts tell them that they have done wrong, and this makes them guilty. And sometimes their thoughts tell them that they have done right, and this makes them not guilty.

 The fact that every culture has had such similar moral laws is powerful testimony to the existence of God.

Lewis wrote: 

“I know that some people say the idea of a Law of Nature or decent behaviour known to all men is unsound, because different civilisations and different ages have had quite different moralities. But this is not true. There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Greeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own. Some of the evidence for this I have put together in the appendix of another book called The Abolition of Man; but for our present purpose I need only ask the reader to think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to—whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or every one. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 5-6 (Kindle Edition); HarperCollins E-Books)  

 Another author, discussing near-death experiences, touched on this topic briefly: 

“NDErs commonly experience two things in the presence of this Being of Light: an overwhelming love and compassion, and a life review where this God of light emphasizes the impact of their actions on others….People commonly say, “All religions basically teach the same things.” There’s some truth to this. It’s actually uncanny how similar the moral laws are across cultures— in ancient China, Babylon, Egypt, Greece, and Rome; across Anglo- Saxon and American Indian culture; through Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, and Muslim sacred writings— all basically agree in this area. Former Oxford scholar C. S. Lewis gives evidence of this common moral law summarized below: Don’t do harm to another human by what you do or say (the Golden Rule). Honor your father and mother. Be kind toward brothers and sisters, children, and the elderly. Do not have sex with another person’s spouse. Be honest in all your dealings (don’t steal). Do not lie. Care for those weaker or less fortunate. Dying to self is the path to life. 10 In just about every culture and world religion since the beginning of recorded history, we see this common moral law. “They demonstrate that God’s law is written in their hearts” (Romans 2:15 NLT).” (John Burke, Imagine Heaven: Near-Death Experiences, God’s Promises, And The Exhilarating Future That Awaits You, 160-161 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books).  

Second, we need to consider the fact that the human response to suffering shows that there is something more to our pain than the idea that “we suffer simply because that’s the way it is in our materialistic universe.”

Think about it: if suffering is just part of the universe with no higher meaning,and if we had evolved from the universe (as atheists maintain), then why would suffering and death bother us?

Would we not simply accept it as part of reality and not give it a second thought?

As Lewis pointed out, if the universe had no real or higher meaning, we should never have become aware of that fact.

In the same way, if suffering were just part of the natural process of life and death, we should never be bothered by such.  

Third, we need to consider another way in which evil, pain, and suffering point to the existence of God.

In his interview with Lee Strobel, philosopher Peter Kreeft pointed out: 

“If there is no Creator and therefore no moment of creation, then everything is the result of evolution. If there was no beginning or first cause, then the universe must have always existed. That means the universe has been evolving for an infinite period of time—and, by now, everything should already be perfect. There would have been plenty of time for evolution to have finished and evil to have been vanquished. But there still is evil and suffering and imperfection—and that proves the atheist wrong about the universe.” (Peter Kreeft in Lee Strobel, The Case For Faith: A. Journalist Investigates The Toughest Objections To Faith, 34-35 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan) 

Finally, the inability of atheism to account for the existence of evil leads to a much deeper problem: how does the atheist deal with the existence of Good? 

“Why do people have such a strong sense of right and wrong? A system that operates on brute strength, genetic superiority, and the survival of the fittest can explain and justify racism, sexism, greed, selfishness, insensitivity, survival preoccupation, and even a certain amount of ruthlessness and oppression. But it cannot explain goodness, humility, compassion, and mercy. What should surprise atheists is not that powerful people sometimes crush those weaker than themselves, but that many make sacrifices to aid the weak or risk their lives for a stranger. If naturalism were an accurate worldview, the cruelty of abortion should characterize our society at every level. And yet we have children’s hospitals spending vast resources to help the terminally ill, we see Special Olympics for disabled children, and we find special parking everywhere for handicapped people. These are all shocking aberrations from the survival of the fittest, which would normally welcome the death of the weak, the diseased, and the disabled. So yes, this hurting world has truckloads of evil. But it also has boatloads of good. Where did all that goodness come from? If you argue that evil is evidence against God’s existence, you must also admit that good is evidence that God does exist.” (Randy Alcorn, If God Is Good: Why Do We Hurt? 30 (Kindle Edition); Multnomah Books)

Psalm 52:1-Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man? The goodness of God endures continually.

Acts 14:17 (GW)-Yet, by doing good, he has given evidence of his existence. He gives you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons. He fills you with food and your lives with happiness.”

 Going back for a moment to Epicurus’ argument, we can see that if we restate it (taking into account the fact of God’s Nature that we learn from Creation and the Scriptures), we will learn that God is actually vindicated in this argument.

Norman Geisler powerfully elaborates: 

“”The argument against God from evil makes some arrogant assumptions. Just because evil is not destroyed right now does not mean that it never will be. The argument implies that if God hasn’t done anything as of today, then it won’t ever happen. But this assumes that the person making the argument has some inside information about the future. If we restate the argument to correct this oversight in temporal perspective, it turns out to be an argument that vindicates God. 1. If God is all-good, He will defeat evil. 2. If God is all-powerful, He can defeat evil. “3. Evil is not yet defeated. 4. Therefore, God can and will one day defeat evil. The very argument used against the existence of God turns out to be a vindication of God in the face of the problem of evil. …God isn’t finished yet. The final chapter has not been written. Apparently God would rather wrestle with our rebellious wills than to reign supreme over rocks and trees. Those who want a quicker resolution to the conflict will have to wait.” (Norman L. Geisler & Ronald M. Brooks, When Skeptics Ask: A Handbook On Christian Evidences, 64-65 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books) 

Conclusion 

 Atheism cannot adequately explain the existence of evil, pain and suffering.

Indeed, a careful review of the issues involved will inevitably point to the conclusion that there must be a God, and that any answers to suffering in His universe will only be found within Him and what He has revealed.  

 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God,and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.  

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