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To whom is evil a problem?

In the previous post “Is gratuitous evil a problem?” I wrote of a fundamental flaw for the proponent of the problem of evil (POE). This is that the existence of evil cannot be sustained if Naturalism is true. But this implies God exists.

Everyone contends in the arena with the problem of evil, bringing their worldview with them. Even the naturalist.

To explain, Metaphysical Naturalism (henceforth, naturalism) is that view that affirms that everything that exists is natural, and there is nothing that exists that is not natural. The natural world, according to this view, is the collection of all existing physical entities from the past, present and future, with everything else whose existence depends on any of those physical entities. Outside the “natural world” is nothing, neither; God, nor anything like a god, nor angels or demons, nor abstract objects like numbers, nor platonic ideas. Those would all be part of a supernatural worldview. Naturally, naturalism implies atheism. However, an atheist is not necessarily a metaphysical naturalist.

Included in the list of things that naturalists deny are objective moral values. These are objective in the way that their existence does not rely or arise from anything inside a person or the culture of a person. Like a volcano’s ash cloud is objective, you know that it actually exists and would cause damage to your plane if you flew through it. Even if you were resolute in denying it exists, and everyone were telling you it wasn’t there, it still would be, so you avoid it. It is the same with moral values. Your opinion doesn’t matter as much as it the actual truth of the matter.

We say moral because it’s about value concepts such as “right,” “wrong,” “good,” “bad,””ought,””duty,” “virtuous,” “blameworthy” and so on. Morality is supremely authoritative, prescriptive, universalizable and makes reference to human dignity, welfare and flourishing.

To say that naturalists deny objective moral values is not to say, as so many atheists and nontheists do, that they cannot define what is good, know what is good and do what is good. It is to say that if naturalism is true, then there is no such thing as goodness. This means that on naturalism it is doubly true that Casper the Friendly Ghost does not exist. For goodness is a non-physical property too. It follows that there is no such thing as evil either, for evil is a privation of goodness, or an absence of a good that should be there. Like a mute man, his muteness is an evil because being able to speak is a good that a man should have. It’s not a privation for a rock not to have speech, for a rock should not be able to speak. Likewise, for a wife who is beaten by her husband, the abuse is evil because of the lack of loving-kindness that should be there.

So evil is a non-physical property whose existence relies on the existence of objective moral values. Since these objective moral values are not plausibly a part of any description of the universe if naturalism were true, then evil is not plausibly a part of the universe also. Thus, the existence of evil, which the naturalist uses to injure the Christian’s belief in an all-powerful and all-loving God, can be turned around to injury the naturalist. The argument goes like this.

  1. If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Evil exists.
  3. Therefore, objective moral values exist.
  4. Therefore, God exists (modus tollens, 1, 3)

Premise 1 is the first premise in the moral argument for God, which is accepted by many theists and nontheists alike. See here to see why. Premise 2 is accepted furnished by the problem of evil itself, since it appeals to the moral evils in the world, and one can hardly deny that which you use against others. Premise 3 follows by definition from 1 and 2, for if you grant that there are some things that are evil, then you admit implicitly the objectivity of moral values. The conclusion in 4 necessarily and inescapably follows.

So instead of evil being a defeater for the existence of God, it is actually evidence in favour of God! This is difficult to remember when you hit your thumb with a hammer.

Notice that we haven’t given an explanation as to why there is evil in the world. We have not sought to explain why any particular instance of evil occurred. We have not provided a theodicy. Like Job, we may be totally ignorant of why bad things happen to good people. Nonetheless we have shown that God and evil can coexist, and the existence of evil in the world does not call into question God’s existence. Rather, it implies he does exist.

Evil is therefore not a problem for the Christian, who believes in an all-powerful and all-loving God. It is a problem for the metaphysical naturalist. Maybe that is part of the reason why the New Testament authors told us to rejoice in our sufferings.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. 1 Peter 4:12-13


  1. For example see Luke 6:23; Acts 5:41; 16:23-25; Romans 5:3; 12:12; Philippians 2:17-18; Hebrews 10:34.

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