The Problem of

by Louis A. Turk, B.A., M.Div., Ph.D.
One of the main arguments liberal theologians, humanists, and atheists give against the existence of God is the existence of evil in this world.  The Episcopal bishop John Shelby Sponge (a self-confessed humanist) words what humanists call “the problem of evil” argument like this: In other words Spong is saying that the presence of evil in the world proves that there is no God, and also proves that nothing the  Bible says is true.

 The “Problem of Evil”Argument Turns Many  People Away From God

The “problem of evil” argument is repeatedly given in humanist literature, and is undermining the faith of many people.  Consider, for example, Ted Turner, the husband of Jane Fonda, and the founder of Turner Broadcasting Systems, the Better World Society, and the Goodwill games.  Turner was proclaimed the 1990 Humanist of the Year by the American Humanist Association; he is an atheist.  But he says that as a youth he wanted to be a Christian missionary.  Here is how he says he lost his faith:

The Truth In the “Problem of Evil” Argument Must Be Noted

There is generally an element of truth in humanist arguments, else no one would believe them.  That element of truth is twisted in order to persuade people to believe a lie.  However, the thinking man will recognize that element of truth as contradictory to other humanist doctrines.  In the “problem of evil” argument the element of truth is its admission that there is evil in the world.  Since Humanists (wrongly) think this fact disproves the existence of God, they proclaim it loudly and clearly as absolute truth.  We  are quick to heartily agree—it is the absolute truth.

The Fact of Evil Contradicts the Humanist Doctrine That There Are No Absolutes

This admission of the fact of evil contradicts one of the foundational doctrines of humanism—the doctrine that there are no absolutes.  Now if there are no absolutes, then nothing is absolutely evil.  And if nothing is absolutely evil, then how can evil be a problem, for it would not even absolutely exist!  And if evil doesn’t absolutely exist, then the “problem of evil” argument is utter nonsense.  The truth, of course, is that both the “problem of evil” argument and the doctrine of  “no absolutes” are  nonsense.

The Fact of Evil Contradicts the Humanist Doctrine That Human Nature Is Basicly Good

By admitting that there is evil in the world, the “problem of evil” argument contradicts the basic humanist belief that human nature is basicly good.  The question that naturally arises is this: If human nature is basicly good, then why do people do evil—murder, rape, rob, cheat and deceive, and wage war with each other?  If people are basicly good, and nothing is absolutely  wrong, then why do we have government and why do we need police?

Flaws in the “Problem of Evil” Argument

The Problem of Evil Argument Is Not Logical

Now if one does not believe in God He cannot logically ask, Why does God allow these things to happen?  And if one does believe in God he must accept God’s explanation as recorded in God’s Word.  For an atheist to ask the question but refuse God’s explanation shows insincerity and bigotry on the part of that atheist—he does not really want to know the answer for he has already decided not to believe in God or the Bible.

That Turner did not accept God’s explanation makes obvious that Turner never really believed in (perhaps never even knew about) the true God.  Had Turner really believed in God and in Heaven, and really believed that his sister “hadn’t done anything wrong,” he would have been comforted at her death, knowing that she is now free of pain and rejoicing in the presence of Jesus.  And he would be looking forward to being reunited with her someday in Heaven, both she and he permanently rescued from the problem of evil.    Certainly that is more hope than atheism offers.

The Problem of Evil Argument Is Deceptive In Its Definition of the Word Evil

The noun evil is defined by Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary as follows: Note that there are two definitions.  The meaning of the word evil depends on the context in which it is used.  Humanists deceptively combine these two definitions into one in an effort to try to force the Bible to contradict itself by making God both righteous and morally depraved.  But careful study of the Bible makes clear that some verses use the word evil in the sense of moral depravity or sin (the second definition of evil), and make no reference to the first definition at all.  For example: One the other hand, other verses are not referring to moral depravity or sin at all, but are referring to the punishment (displeasure, injury, pain, suffering, etc.) God is going to bring upon evildoers.  For example: In summary, God cannot sin (second definition of evil), but as the righteous judge of all the earth God can (and does) bring judgment (first definition of evil) upon sinners.

The Problem  of Evil Argument Rests Upon False, Conceited, and Bigoted Presuppositions

The False Presupposition That Philosophy Can Determine the Truth About God’s Existence.

Man is locked into a finite body which is incapable of sensing the vast majority of events occurring around it.  We can see only a small band of light rays.  We can  hear only a small range of the sound.  We can smell, taste, and feel only a limited range of phenomena.  For instance, we will never be able to see an electron, for the moment we shine upon it the light necessary for our eyes to see it, we change it.  Nor can we ever know for sure what the stars are like today, for they are so far away that by the time the light from them arrives to earth they may not have existed for thousands of years.  And we have no way of knowing that the arriving light rays have not been drasticly altered or distorted in their inconceivably long journey through space.

Also, we humans are locked into time, and time goes only one way.  We were not there when the earth was created, and can never reproduce that event in the science laboratory.  Nor can we determine the future scientifically.  Because of these limitations science and human wisdom can never answer such questions as: Where did the universe come from?  Where did humans come from?  Why do humans exist?  Is there an afterlife?  Is there a God?  Only God, Himself, can reveal such things to men, and He did so in the Holy Bible.

The  False Presupposition That the Bible Is  Not God’s Infallible Revelation of Himself to Man

Is it sensible to refuse to hear the testimony of the only witness who was there when it happened, in favor of the guesses of men living thousands of years later and whose theories have often been proven wrong?  God was there in the beginning of the universe and of life and of evil.  Only God’s testimony is authoritative.  Only the Bible has the answers we must have.

The False Presupposition That Being Born Again Is Just a Delusion Suffered by Emotional Fools

I do not just believe God exists, I know He exists, for I have accepted Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior, and have been born again.  God’s Spirit lives in my heart.  In fact, it is possible for anyone to know the truth of God’s reality in an instant by being born again.  This is, in fact, the only way to know God this side of death.  “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3.3).  If a person refuses to be born again, that person doesn’t want to see the truth.  He is like a person who says he doesn’t believe in electricity, and then refuses to flip light switches (or even touch the bare wire) because he doesn’t want to “look ridiculous” in the eyes of his friends.  He looks at the electric wires, and sees that they are not hollow tubes, and he cannot see the electricity because it is invisible.  How can energy flow through something with no hole in it? he reasons.  He asks believers, and they too admit to not completely understanding it, even though they assure him it is true.   Whoa!  He doesn’t intend to accept something he can’t understand.  No way!  Not him; he is an intellectual.  So each night he lives in darkness unnecessarily because of unbelief.  He could easily have light in his house if only he would have enough faith to flip a light switch.  But, no, he will not flip a switch until someone can prove to him that there is electricity.  Yet only flipping a light switch (or touching a bare positive wire) could prove to him that there is electricity.  People who use electricity everyday can but feel sorry for such a fool.  People turn lights on all around him, yet he closes his eyes to the light.  So is the atheist that has rejected God and the new birth by refusing to accept Christ as personal Lord and Savior.  God would reveal Himself to him in an instant if only he would believe; but he will not.

Why a Loving God Allows Evil

Having put aside the flawed logic and phony presuppositions of humanism/atheism, let us go to the Bible for the true answer to Turner’s question: “If God is love and if he is all-powerful, then why does he allow these [evil] things to happen [especially to small innocent children]?”

Before one gets too huffy about God allowing evil, he should consider the alternatives.  Reading Genesis chapters 1-3, we notice that Adam and Eve were intelligent, free moral agents, allowed by God to do as they pleased.  God could have kept humans from evil by making them robots with computer chip brains, unable to do anything but what they were programmed to do.  But then would they really be humans?  No, and they would not have been able to return God’s love, for computers can’t love.

Or God could have put Adam and Eve in chains in jail cells so they could never have approached the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  That way they would never have sinned, and therefore would have lived for ever—there would be no sorrow, sickness, or suffering in the world today.  But wait!  Maybe there would be.  Would not that imprisonment of innocent people itself have been evil?  Would not that imprisonment itself have caused suffering?  Would you not rather live in a free society even if that means that people, having the opportunity to do good, also have the opportunity to do evil?  Does not justice demand that people be allowed freedom as long as they do no evil?  What value is life without freedom?

As parents, we allow our children out of the house, knowing that by doing so we give them opportunity to do wrong.  Still we let them out, hoping that they will choose not to do evil.  Is it evil of us to give them this opportunity to do wrong?  The answer, of course, is that we are not giving them opportunity to do wrong; we are giving them opportunity to do right.  If they abuse their opportunity, and do wrong instead, that is their choice and their responsibility, not ours.  If we locked them in chains in their rooms to keep them from ever doing wrong, that would be our choice, and it would be child abuse.  We then would be evil ourselves.

So the answer to Turner’s question is really very simple: God loves humans so much he wants them to be free.  God allows the presence of evil because that is necessary to allow freedom.  Freedom implies choice, and humans would have no choice if righteousness were the only choice, because only one choice is no choice.

Having given a brief answer to Turner’s question, let us now give a more detailed answer.

God Did Not Create Sin

God did not create sin, nor did God create man with a nature inclined to sin.  “God hath made man upright” (Ecc 7.29a).  Adam and Eve were not created with natures of lust, hate, bitterness, wrath, greed, etc.  To the contrary, they just naturally treated each other with honor, kindness and love.  Adam and Eve just naturally agreed with each other, so there was no need for God to command Eve to submit to Adam.  Also, in the Garden of Eden before man’s fall into sin the curse of Genesis 3:17-19 (the Second Law of Thermodynamics) was not in effect.  Nothing ever wore out, no one ever got sick, nor did anyone die.  No one ever stole or lied or murdered.  It was truly paradise on earth, and in the rest of the universe also there was neither sin nor evil.  “And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day” (Gen 1.31).  Adam and Eve may never have sinned had they not been tempted by Satan.  Of course, at this point the humanist/atheist will scream, “How can God be called good seeing He created a monster like Satan?

God Did Not Create Satan

God created a perfect archangel whom God named Lucifer.  Lucifer was not a monster when God created him, but Lucifer was a free being.  Of his own volition Lucifer chose to rebel against God’s will.  At that point Lucifer became Satan—the Devil.  Many years later when the King of Tyrus was possessed of Satan, God commanded the prophet Ezekiel as follows: So we see that—like humans—Lucifer was very good on the day God created him.  Lucifer was, in fact, glorious in beauty and wisdom.  Pride later entered his life and brought him down, just as it brings down many humans.  God did not make Lucifer a monster; God did not create a Satan.  Rather Lucifer made himself to be the Devil and Satan.

God Did Not Create Death

Certainly of all evils, death is the greatest.  Let it be clearly stated that death was not a part of the original creation.  Death was not part of God’s plan.  In the beginning, humans and animals did not die.  Consider the lengths God went to to encourage Adam to always choose life: In the above verses, notice three things.  First, only the fruit of one tree out of all the hundreds of varieties on earth was forbidden.  It wasn’t like God would only let them eat one boring kind of fruit.  They had a tremendous number of good choices, and only one bad choice.  And not one good thing was withheld from them.  Second, their environment was perfect, so there was certainly nothing environmental to provoke them to sin.  And third, God clearly warned them not to eat of the one and only dangerous tree.

That was before humanity’s fall from innocence.  But consider how good God is to us even now after the fall.  He could imprison us in Hell forever the instant we commit our first sin so we could never hurt anyone again.  But instead he gives us opportunity to repent.  Usually for years God chooses to delay our physical death so as to give us as long as possible to choose God and Heaven instead of Satan and Hell.  Only our own sins enslave us, and in His unlimited love God has sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to deliver us even from that bondage.  God wants you to be free!  But like Adam and Eve you have a choice in the matter.

To learn how to choose life, read "Ye Must Be Born Again."


1John Shelby Spong, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism (New York: HarperCollins Publishers <Imprint: HarperSanFrancisco>, 1991), 68-69.

2Ted Turner, “Humanism’s Fighting Chance,” The Humanist, January/February 1991, 12-13.

(C) Copyright 1994 by Louis A. Turk. All rights reserved. You may  reprint this article, provided you do not edit it in any way without the author's consent, and provided this paragraph is printed at the end of the article.  Other publication requires advance permission of the author.

Louis A. Turk, B.A., M.Div., Ph.D.


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