The Straw Man of Atheism
The term “Straw Man” as defined by Webster is “a weak argument or opposing view set up by a debater so that he may attack it and gain an apparent victory.” A common argument of atheism used to try to refute the existence of God is one such “straw man.” It’s sometimes called The Problem of Evil. The argument states an all loving and all powerful God could and would not allow evil and pain to afflict His creation. But since evil and pain do exist, God must not. While we will see that this is a straw man argument, considerations of evil, pain and suffering are among the most cited explanations for disbelief in God, both for “educated” philosophers and for the general public.
We can sympathize with Ivan Karamazov as he described the earth as one soaked through with human tears. Evil and pain affect us all. If tears were ink, the whole Bible could have been written with the tears of the saints.
Many claim to be Atheists. I am not sure that any absolute atheists exist, although many claim to be. Those who claim to be atheists fall into two camps: those who do not believe and those who do not want to believe there is a God. Others hedge their bet even further by claiming agnosticism (we can’t know if God exists) as their conviction.
Whichever camp they are in, their arguments crumble under their own weight. Their argument is that the God of Christianity cannot exist because evil, pain, and suffering do exist. And since these elements obviously exist, the loving and benevolent God of the Bible must not exist, because an all loving, and all powerful God would simply not allow the evil and injustice we see to exist.
First of all we must note that evil, pain, and suffering are not equivalents nor codependent. Each can exist without the other and can have different, causal effects. It is quite possible that protective pain was and is available to man prior to or without evil entering the world and therefore separate from evil. But let’s look at each of these elements in this straw man argument against the existence of God.
Evil can exist or be recognized only if there is moral right and good. Without moral law we would have no standard by which to define or recognize what is good and therefore what is evil. Since moral law must exist for good and evil to be known, there must be a source of this moral law. For there to be a moral law there must be a moral law giver or Higher Power. Therefore, in an ironic way, the presence of evil demands that God, a Higher Power which gives us moral law, exist. Evil could not exist without a definer of what is evil. This very argument of the atheist proves the impossibility of their argument.
Also, they ask, who created evil? The atheists argue: If God created all things then He must have created evil, but the God of the Bible could not do this. They argue that a totally good God would not produce evil. I believe this argument to be true.
But God did not created evil because evil is not a created thing. In fact, it is not a thing at all but rather the absence of a thing (goodness). Just as God did not create darkness because darkness is the absence of a thing (light), He did not create evil. When we cool something we do not add cold, rather we remove heat. God did not create cold because it is an absence also, the absence of heat rather than a thing. This same principle that God placed in the natural world also carries into the spiritual world. In James 4:17, we read, “Therefore to him that knows to do good, and does it not, to him it is sin.” Sin is the absence of good or righteousness. With these examples we can see how evil is an absence: the absence of good. Likewise, evil is not a created thing but the absence of a created thing (good).
To claim that God created evil is a “Straw Man.” The skeptics’ argument again falls under its own weight.
Pain does not nullify the existence of God because pain is not always the result of evil. God himself has known pain but not evil. On the cross, in the person of Christ, pain was God’s. He felt it acutely, absorbed it personally and endured it deeply. True, man’s sin has brought more pain into the world (Genesis 3), but pain may have preceded evil on earth. Pain is not always a punishment or an undesirable thing. It can be a blessing given by God to warn and protect us. People who truly feel no pain are oblivious to injury for example. To have created man and the animal kingdom without access to pain before the “fall” would have robbed them of one of the greatest protective blessings of all.
Therefore, pain, rather than disproving God, is one of the great proofs that a loving, caring God exists and protects us.
While evil can bring about suffering and pain can result in suffering, they are, not synonymous. Suffering can occur without evil and protective pain can guard us from greater suffering. Human reasoning considers them as bad. Godly wisdom sees that they can be great teachers of righteousness. Job suffered although he did no evil. Joseph, Daniel, the Prophets, Paul, and others were all examples for drawing nearer to God through suffering. And we can attest to this in our own lives.
So the atheistic argument that evil, pain, and suffering invalidate the existence of a loving God crumble under their own weight. In fact, they not only crumble but prove the very Being they are designed to disprove.
It is because there is a God that we will be able to escape all evil and pain someday. Without God we are doomed to nothing but evil and pain. Truly the wisdom of man is foolishness and sadly the wisdom of God is foolishness to many men.