Below are some additional interactions on the article: Why Do Bad Things Happen?. Read it first.
A Supplemental Resource for Students and Leaders on the Logical and Evidential Problems of Evil
by: Brian Hershey
There is no question that the problem of evil presents an interesting challenge to Christians. Many claim that notion of God, being all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving, and all-good, stands in contradiction to the existence of evil. For them it is more reasonable to dismiss the possibility of God’s existence altogether. There are several reasons put forth to support their case. Our focus here in this resource is to address two. The first is known as the logical problem of evil. Basically, the line of thinking here is that it is contradictory to believe that God and evil could both exist. Since evil is so plainly evident, then it follows that God must not exist. A second argument, known as the evidential problem of evil, states the probability of God’s existence, given the evil in the world, is really low. Both arguments appear, at least on the surface, to offer a thoughtful, rational basis for their belief in the non-existence of God.
Perhaps you are one of those individuals who have decided against belief in God. Or maybe you know of someone who has rejected God because of the problem evil posses. In either case, this resource is intended to show that both the logical and evidential problems posed by evil are in reality flimsy; they are incapable of supporting the absolute conclusion that God does not exist. We hope that you will find it a helpful guide. We also hope that through it you will come to a richer appreciation for the depth and complexity of the God Christians have worshiped for thousands of years.
Logical Problem of Evil
Let’s begin by tackling the logical problem of evil. The logical problem has two premises:
- God, who is all-powerful, all-loving, and all-good, exists.
- Evil exists.
The conclusion, according to critics, is that premise A and B are logically contradictory since, if an all-power, all-good, all-loving God existed, he would eradicate all evil. Because evil exits, God obviously does not.
Now, it is senseless to deny the existence of evil because we see the evidence of it everyday in our own lives and through all the media outlets. Yet this is what some religions do. They believe evil is an illusion. Nothing could be a further denial of reality. We at least have to grant that, if our beliefs are to hold any merit whatsoever, they must square with reality.
The challenge for Christians is that they affirm both premises – that God and evil exist. Critics claim that this is logically inconsistent and impossible. This is a big charge and deserves careful analysis. So let’s take a closer look at the notion of a contradiction.
A contradiction is when someone both affirms and denies something at the same time. And, although it might be hard to square two truths, it does not necessarily mean they contradict one another. For example, consider these two statements:
- There are 12 students in the room.
- There are 15 students in the room.
Could both statements be true? Yes! It is possible to affirm both statements. There is no logical contradiction in these premises. This is an important point because Christians recognize that the existence of God and evil does create tension, but that does not make either one of the premises false.
Allow me to explain further. Contradictions can fall into one of three categories. They could be explicitly inconsistent, which is a set or propositions where one premise is a clear denial of the other. For instance:
- The Dallas Mavericks won the 2011 NBA Championships Series.
- The Dallas Mavericks did not win the 2011 NBA Championships Series.
These premises are clearly explicitly inconsistent because the second outright denies the first. When we apply this to the set of propositions that God and evil both exist, we have to admit that there is no explicit logical inconsistency where one premise is an outright denial of the other. The Christian is simply making two statements believed to be true. Nothing in those statements explicitly denies the other. Consequently, the critic cannot say that Christians’ belief in both God and evil are explicitly inconsistent.
A second type of contradiction is a formal inconsistency. A set of propositions is formally inconsistent if and only if an explicit inconsistency is deduced using the laws of logic. Let’s take a look at this example:
- All men are mortal.
- Justin Bieber is a man.
- Therefore, Justin Bieber is not a mortal.
Never mind what you think of Justin Bieber. The point is you cannot derive the conclusion based upon the flow of the argument. The argument simply isn’t logically consistent. When we apply this to our God and evil problem, we discover that the critic stumbles upon a formal inconsistency. Based upon the flow of the argument, it is formally inconsistent to conclude that God does not exist based upon the second premise that evil exists. Thus, the critic cannot claim that Christians are guilty of a formal inconsistency.
For these reasons, those who charge Christians guilty of being logically contradictory must appeal to a third type inconsistency. Thus, an implicit inconsistency occurs if and only if an explicitly inconsistent set of propositions is deduced using only the laws of logic and some other necessary truth. A necessary truth is something else that must be injected into the argument in order to make the argument valid. The following set of propositions illustrates this point:
- Adam is older than Brad.
- Brad is older than Chad.
- Therefore, Chad is older than Adam.
This set of propositions is implicitly inconsistent. Here why: The necessarily true that must be inserted into the argument is that if Adam is older than Brad and Brad is older than Chad, then Chad is not older than Adam. The conclusion above illustrates this implicit inconsistency because of the necessary truth demanded by the logic. Follow?
Now, let’s apply this to the God and evil problem. Remember, the critic is attempting to establish that Christians have committed a grave error in logic. Since Christians are neither explicitly nor formally inconsistent, he must show that a Christian’s belief in both God and evil are implicitly inconsistent. In doing so, he has to inject a necessary truth into the set of propositions in order to show that the existence of God and evil are irrational.
The big question becomes: What is that necessary truth? That necessary truth is that an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving God would or could have no good reason for allowing evil. If that is necessarily true, then certainly God cannot exist; thereby proving the Christian an imbecile, incapable of making logical sense. But in order for this statement to be true it assumes that the critic knows every possible reason God might have for allowing evil to exist and that none of those reasons are good ones. In other words, this necessary truth assumes that man is all-knowing. It sets up this set of propositions:
- Man is not all-knowing.
- The critic is a man.
- Therefore, the critic is all-knowing.
Do you see the formal inconsistency of this set of propositions? The conclusion does not follow from the premises. To make this set of propositions formally consistent, one has to conclude that since man is not all-knowing and the critic is a man, then the critic is not all-knowing. If he’s not all-knowing, then it follows that he is in no position to claim that God has no good reasons for allowing evil. This renders the necessary truth, which the critic must inject into the argument in order to prove Christians implicitly inconsistent, is itself formally inconsistent. On that basis, the critic finds himself crippled by his own logical cobweb.
At the end of it all, there is no logical inconsistency to believe, as Christians have for thousands of years, that an all-loving, all-powerful, and all-good God exists alongside the obvious pain, suffering, and evil in our world. Does this settle all mysteries as to how? No. But perhaps God does have good reasons for allowing evil, ones that may be imperceptible to us? Or perhaps a day is coming when God will choose to eradicate all evil? After all, the final chapters of human history have yet to be written.
People are free to embrace the God of the Bible or to reject him. We are free to hold our opinions of him. For me, I’ve chosen the safer bet—that God exists and that he’ll one day settle all scores. I’d rather be shown wrong on this matter and the critic right than to side with the critic only to be shown wrong later.
Evidential Problem of Evil
Previously, we showed that on the critic’s own logical turf, he is not capable of proving Christians guilty of any logical errors in believing that both God and evil exist. Because he cannot argue against God on logical grounds, he is forced to back away from it and moves instead to something called the evidential problem of evil. The argument is framed this way:
- God exists.
- There is evil.
- The probability of God’s existence given the amount of evil is really low.
In other words, though it may not be illogical to say that God and evil can exist together, it is highly improbable. The critic suggests that because there is so much pain, suffering, and evil and because the evidence favoring God’s existence is so low, then belief in God is irrational.
A couple questions come immediately to mind: 1) What is “really low?” and 2) How do you calculate and measure evil?” Is terrorism 10,000 widgets, murder 1,000 widgets, and involuntary manslaughter 100? What about the suffering caused by hurtful rumors? How do you measure that? Is an evil-o-meter by which we can calculate badness—call it a bad-o-meter!?
Seriously, let’s take a more a closer look at the argument. We’ll use this illustration as an example:
- Nick can swim.
- Nick is in the Navy and 90% of active duty sailors can’t swim.
- Therefore the probability of our sailor friend Nick being able to swim is 10%.
But, Nick is a lifeguard in the Navy and 99% of lifeguards can swim. Given this new evidence, the probability that Nick can swim suddenly jumps to from 10% to 99%!
Make sense? The weight of this argument assumes that there is little evidence favoring God’s existence, just as our example illustrates. A broad assumption is made that 90% of sailors can’t swim, and since Nick is a sailor, then there’s only a 10% chance that he can swim back to the boat if he ever fell off. In reality, Christians can point to a host of reasons strongly supporting the existence of God—not the least of which is first law of thermodynamics which states that energy, or matter, can neither be created nor destroyed. Let’s face it, an honest look at the evidential argument against God is surprisingly weak.
At the end of the day, the problems evil posses for Christians are not insurmountable. What’s interesting is that for thousands of years brilliant minds have both embraced and rejected the God of Christianity. Both camps have had access to relatively the same evidence. So it seems that evidence is not what’s at stake. What wavers in the balance is the interpretation of that evidence. Some interpret it to mean that God is just are real as the air we breathe while others conclude just the opposite. What is clear from this discussion is that it is perfectly reasonable for Christians to affirm both the existence of an all-loving, all-powerful, all-good God and evil. Logically and evidentially, the critic is unable to raise an objection that would render the Christians’ belief system irrational.
It appears the real issue is a moral one. As such then let’s bring the discussion back to the real rub. Each one of us, according to the Bible, will need to stand before this God we’ve been discussing and will be held accountable for all we have said and done. That thought is terrifying. But we have a choice. We can either embrace that God now as our Lord and Savior through his Son Jesus Christ, or we can face him later as Judge. If the Bible is wrong, then none of us have much to worry about. But, if Scripture is true, then eternity all eternity—heaven and hell—hang in the balance. It’s your call, but I do urge you to carefully weigh the consequences of choosing wrongly.
Blount, Douglas K. “A Discussion on the Problem of Evil.” Unpublished class notes for Trinitarianism, Dallas Theological Seminary, Spring 2010.
Psalm 55:22—a passage that encourages us to take our concerns to God.
Philippians 4:6–7—another passage that teaches us to lay our worries before God.
1 Peter 5:7—a third passage that reminds us of God’s care for us even when we have much anxiety.
1 Peter 1:7—this verse reminds us that God cares more about our character (expressed here with the term “faith”) than he does our circumstances.
James 1:2–4—these verses also remind us that, though hard and painful, God uses suffering in our lives as a means to his good ends.
Small Group Guide:
Watch this scene from M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs. Mel Gibson’s character discusses the recent appearances of lights in the sky around the world with his brother. Ask yourself the same question he does and then talk with God about what his presence and influence on your life means to you.
Check out this music video from Linkin Park. How does the singer respond to the bad things that happen in life?
Large Group Guide:
- Either draw a picture or journal about a recent painful experience you’ve been through or are currently going through. When you’re finished, challenge yourself to allow God to see or read about your pain. It’s okay to share your hurt with God; he can handle it.
- If drawing or writing about your pain seems weird, then consider asking a trusted leader to buy you a Coke (or root beer float) at the food court. In that meeting, challenge yourself to describe how you honestly see God in your current situation.
- Perspective is everything in life. If we are to show ourselves resilient to life’s setbacks, then we must maintain a proper perspective. If you feel like throwing yourself the world’s biggest pity party, consider writing down five things you can be thankful for. Do this every day for 7 consecutive days. At the end of that time, you might be surprised how your outlook has changed. Give it shot; you have nothing to loose!
By: Brian Hershey
Edited by: Chris Langan
Fewer things in life will smack our sensibilities more than that fateful call or sudden news that something awful just happened to someone we know and love. For those who knew Zach Langan, I know they know the feeling. Zach lived with his mother at the Navy base in Naples, Italy for three years before moving to Beaufort Country, South Carolina during the summer of 2006. Personally, I knew Zach a short time as we overlapped only a few months in Naples, where I served as the Club Beyond Community Director. He attended Club Beyond’s 2006 Service Project in Slovakia, where I first ran into him, and he continued to attend our events throughout the summer months. He struck me as a brilliant young man with a great sense of humor. He had a wonderful smile and a gentle way about him. He had grown close to a lot of kids during his mother’s tour in Italy. Many were sad to see him PCS, but that’s par-for-the-course as military brats. Little did Zach’s friends know that as they waved goodbye it would be the last time they would ever see their friend.
Zack quickly became an honor roll student at Battery Creek High School and was involved in other extracurricular activities. People said he was everyone’s best friend. But on Thursday, February 7, 2008 life suddenly thrust his mother, friends, and everyone else who knew him into a storm that would affect their lives forever. At 7:19am Zach was struck and killed by a cement truck while walking to school. A note was found in his wallet and some suspected suicide. But the truth is Zach had epilepsy, a neurological disorder that causes seizures. With the proper medication, patients are able to function normally and get along just fine, as was the case for Zach. Unfortunately, the drug Zach was taking, called Lamictal, has an elevated correlation to suicidal thoughts and tendencies. Ironically, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released this information to the public only one week before Zach’s tragic death. When Zach’s mom saw that on TV, she immediately talked with Zach about it. Zach said, “I’m good mom, I’m good.” She asked him to let her know if anything changes, and he never did.
Local news outlets carried the story, and grief counselors were available for students and teachers at Zach’s high school. But what about Zach’s friends in Naples? What about his mother’s service to our country that took her family overseas? It troubled me that no one bothered to mention those grieving military brats abroad. The invisible kid went unnoticed…again. Back in Naples, we devoted an entire Club to Zach’s memory. We held our own memorial service. Students shared stories, laughed, and cried as they said their final goodbyes. It was tough, but it was good and right to mourn, to walk through the painful reality of death. Sometimes it comes upon us sooner than expected. And when it does it always sobers us and snaps us back to reality.
Now, years after Zach’s passing, this aspiring Presidential hopeful is still remembered and loved through a Facebook page entitled “In memory of Zach Langan.” As I scroll through the comments, the great majority are posted by the great minority: our nation’s military youth, those invisible, unsung heroes, whose parents deploy for months—sometimes years—at a time, who move every 3 years, who will live in more countries than their civilian counterparts will visit States. The cyber-world is one place where Zach’s memory lives on. It also lives on in the 3 years during which money was raised and people walked in Zach’s memory at the National Epilepsy Walk in Washington, DC. Additionally, it lives on in stories told to Zach’s mom, thanking her for raising Zach the way she did, and for giving them such a great friend. Most touching to Zach’s mom is the story from a young man who says Zach saved his life by ensuring that young man turn away from a life of drugs. This storm has passed, but the effects linger onward. Each post and each story serves as a reminder for all of us that life is too short to be taken for granted.
Death is wrong, especially in cases like Zach’s. This isn’t the way it should be. But this does not mean we are without hope. I’m reminded of Paul’s words in Romans 5:1-5 and take comfort in them:
Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has brought us by faith into this experience of God’s grace, in which we now live. And so we boast of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory! We also boast of our troubles, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance brings God’s approval, and his approval creates hope. This hope does not disappoint us, for God has poured out his love into our hearts by means of the Holy Spirit, who is God’s gift to us.
For us who are in Christ, it is comforting to know that no matter what tragedy befalls us, we have the unfailing hope of eternity with Jesus. I do not know what storms you may be facing right now, but I pray that you will find hope in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
One reason bad things happen sometimes is because it can be really REALLY funny. Don’t believe me? Take a look at these home videos and don’t laugh, I dare you!