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The Problem of Evil Makes it Unreasonable to Believe in the Christian God


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Contender / Con

Unreasonable: exceeding the bounds of reason or moderation

I am a hard-core atheist due to the problem of Evil (The epistemic question posed by evil is whether the world contains undesirable states of affairs that provide the basis for an argument that makes it unreasonable to believe in the existence of God.)

I cannot get by the idea that some supreme creator with incredible power and good willingly caused so much suffering and problems in the world. Some believers claim "God is the final standard of good, and all that God is and does is worthy of approval." -- Systematic Theology. I find this incredibly worrisome given the real life practical events -- even if "final good" can be claimed to be symbolic rather than literal.

I invite any religious believers to change my mind, my idea that the problem of evil in the world disproves God.

Burden of proof is shared.

Round 1
I have two major issues with the Christian God which I will lay out clearly here.

1. "Greater Good" VS Sinning Repentance

In the Bible, God is a force to be reckoned with. It's commonly known that we must repent for sins, as there are things that are always wrong, for example, thou shalt not murder, thou shalt not commit adultery, so on and so forth. Yet God is commonly phrased to desire a greater good for the people. For example, even if he allows Hitler to execute the innocent Jews, it's said that they went to heaven for eternal pleasure, and that he has a mysterious plan hidden in the depths. Yet despite his clearly malicious actions, he phrases himself as the exception merely because of his knowledge. Despite his ability to create means towards an end, we are not put toward the same standard. This is inherently problematic to me. Let us say that God warns me that killing one person to save one thousand will be a sin and I must repent if I choose to kill this man. But God himself ironically does not have to repent if he chooses the same option. Because somehow his "all good" nature means the inherently bad action does not have to be punished or redeemed. This is the contradiction that I have trouble with. If you do something virtuous as a result (as God does), why must you repent that your action was bad? Is God a utilitarian in action only, and believes in Kant in order to impose oppression on people, forcing them to believe in him? Or is he actually Kantian in ethics (you can never do this, you must seek my forgiveness), yet contradicts this by allowing suffering as a means to an end? Con must answer these questions to overcome the question of evil.

2. Natural Evils and Absurd Universe

Many say that God, through only a temporary evil, and creating us a livable world, clearly displays his kindness and glory to the world. Yet science counters with the cold evidence that there is not a planet worth living on for at least many light years, far from our reach. He has prevented our exploration beyond earth and countered our well meaning life with cruel planets filled with poison and damage. This alone is already contradictory. The natural evils are also very troubling. Religious men say that we have sinned, therefore we should be punished. But they ignore the animals who have not eaten the apple of knowledge, and let deers be eaten by lions, fish die to sharks, and endless suffering due to environmental damage and other problems. They try to negotiate that the perfect life is filled both with problems and with joy, because with no problems it's difficult to appreciate the joy. The reconciliation with Buddhist principles is interesting, but the natural occurrence of life seems absurd to me. Yes, the prey will suffer. But why not the predator? Other than our human intervention, lions sit comfortably at the top of the food chain. Where's their suffering? In fact, where's God's suffering, if suffering is part of a perfect life? Theists will be astonished to hear that a perfect being is able to suffer. So is God suffering? Or is he the "exception" because he is already "perfect"? In that case, are we supposing even babies with no outside influence, the blank slate, is inherently evil, despite God's creation being based upon himself? These natural evils seem terrible to me, and lead me to conclude that the God must be evil, or non existent. 

Pre-rebuttal: Moral relativity

Some proponents of God point out that without a universal creator, moral is relative and hence there can be no "true evil". However, scientific objective basis has shown that we naturally avoid and seek certain things. For example, nearly no one wants to get hurt for no reason. Everyone wants to help themselves and their cultures. We can still have universal desires and needs that drive our need for rights -- and therefore wrongs. If nothing was right or wrong, anything can be justified, and entire society would fall apart. But as society is still going forward, it seems self-evident that even with relative morals, we can come to agreement on what can be right or wrong.

Questions for Con:

- What does he have to say for hell being potentially eternal punishment for a crime taking over a limited amount of time?
- Why do we suppose that the God must exist, rather than an alternative like Buddhist's karma system?
- What does he have to say for God punishing non-believers (atheists and agnostic)? Surely beliefs and thoughts itself should not be a crime. Otherwise, he would not have allowed us room for free will.
The problem of evil is an important issue to consider. Rather answering all issues raised in Round 1, I will attempt to lay out the relevant teachings of the Bible. The following rounds will address more specific questions and arguments.

"In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth" (Genesis 1:1)
God is an eternal spirit, an immaterial being not bound by time. He created all matter and energy, and even time itself. After creating stars and galaxies, plants and animals, He created human beings - not from evolved apes but purposefully and intentionally. He made us in His image; that is, we reflect the glory of God in the physical world as the moon reflects the light of the sun. As image-bearers of God, we are also moral beings capable of making decisions and being held responsible for them. God created us with an immaterial soul that is inextricably connected to our body, giving humans a dual nature. Humans are thus distinct from the rest of creation. Plants are not alive as we are. Animals are not held to a moral standard as we are. But this unique life and moral agency also give us inherent dignity and value that comes from the One whose image we bear. No other part of creation can claim such an honor as humans have in that regard.

"The Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die'" (Genesis 2:16-17)
There is a natural question that rises from this part of the narrative: why did God put the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden? Many have speculated about this. The simple answer is that the text doesn't tell us. God never promised us answers to every question we might have. But we do know that God created a paradise in which Adam and Eve had everything they could ever want in the garden. The only negative command was not to eat the fruit of a single tree. I would hardly call that restrictive. God was also clear about how He would punish disobedience of that single command with death. Genesis 3:17-19 records how the earth was cursed because of Adam's sin.

Is that unfair? If I fail to water my plants or feed my dog, I should not blame the forces of nature or the dog's digestive system for the suffering and death that will follow. The guilt lies with me alone. Adam was responsible for the creation and he failed to uphold that task. The creation suffered because of Adam's failure, not God's.

But what of human suffering?
"Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned⁠" (Romans 5:12) We all understand the concept of justice. If someone commits a crime, the law demands retribution. If a judge refuses to punish a guilty criminal, that is not justice but injustice. Creation has suffered because of the failure of Adam, but no one will be held guilty for Adam's sin on judgment day. "The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity, nor will the father bear the punishment for the son’s iniquity" (Ezekiel 18:20). In a way, Adam's sin has cursed the world and affected all of us since we are all his descendents. But we are all guilty of sin, which is any transgression of God's perfect standard of righteousness. Ultimately, we suffer and die because of the sin we commit.

How have we fallen short?
Clearly in actions we have failed miserably. Be honest - how many lies have you told in your life? Have you ever stolen anything or taken the Lord's name in vain? I think we all have, which makes us lying, blasphemous thieves. Jesus said if you even look at a woman with lust, you have committed adultery in your heart (Matthew 5:28). Lust, pride, and envy are sins of the heart and mind that we are still accountable for. And doesn't that make sense? Rape is an action that results from lust in the mind, just as stealing results from covetousness. Our performance in the moral test only gets worse as we keep going. If God is a just Judge, what should His verdict be when we stand before Him on judgment day?

So in the Christian worldview, the simple answer to the problem of evil is that we have brought suffering and death upon ourselves through our disobedience to God. He is not obligated to give us health and prosperity. He is good and righteous, but He is also just. And justice demands punishment for transgression. A murderer who is executed cannot blame the judge if he is justly condemned. Nor can we blame God for our condemnation.

I will address your questions in Round 2, but here are my questions:
By what standard are you judging God to be acting in an unjust or immoral way? Is it by God's own standard, or your own?

Do you believe most of human suffering is the result of the evil actions of other humans?
Round 2

In the beginning...

Notice how Con vouches for creationism, stating outright "not from evolved apes but purposefully and intentionally". We could have a debate over whether evolution is true or not, but the level of scholar evidence for evolution proves that it is one of the most rigorous scientific theories of all time. Even just one expert paper notes the fossil records, the common structures, the distribution of species, molecular biology, and gradual steps carefully shaping the incredibly complex world of today. Nearly 97% of scientists agree with the theory of evolution. On the other hand, there are next to no papers published on the strength of creationism. Clearly, con's assumption is absurd.

Tree of Knowledge

Con claims that the eating of the apple was Adam's (or Eve's) fault, but makes no remarks on how God allowed an incarnation of the devil, the serpent, into his garden of sanctuary. If the garden contains everything necessary, that means God intended for Adam to be tempted, eat the apple, and fall from glory. All for a "grand plan" that is unexplained. Therefore, the garden couldn't have everything, because God's "Grand plan" with omniscience included knowing what Adam would do, and deciding to punish instead of forgiving him due to the devil's clever words.

Human suffering

Con ignores that I already conceded that we may deserve to suffer due to our bad, but says nothing about other animals. Did the fish sin as well? What about the ants? What does he say about other animals? In addition, he makes no remarks about my accusation that God may think that babies are also innately sinful, despite their blank slate. He allows them to suffer as well.

On an extension, if God is so struck on suffering, why does he allow us to reduce it, especially to negligible amounts? For example, if you are very rich and powerful, a lucky life could result in very little misfortune. Yet on the other hand, some people in Africa are starving to death, with no education, poor parenting, so on and so forth. Even if we accept the rich man must have some small level of suffering, the disparity seems ridiculous. God infers that the greater your crime the more you should be punished. Perhaps the child will go to heaven to eternity for suffering in Africa. But if the rich man coincidentally also lives a good life and believes in God, then God has little choice but to also send him to heaven. Granted, an eternity of joy outweighs the years of suffering, but it seems absurd that the rich man's suffering was very negligible, while the poor child had incredible amounts of suffering. If God was a utilitarian, even with his timelessness, he would still try to reduce current amount of suffering if the net amount of suffering was not reduced. 

How have we fallen short?

Con seems to be standing by the Kantian flagpole, assuming that lying is definitely a sin, and that lust is always terrible. He makes no remarks on my potential reconciliation with "Greater good", and makes God look like a horrible entity that says "you can't do this even if it results in the greater good", yet does it himself to result in the greater good. He had killed many sinners in the bible, and with possible intentions to send them to hell. If this wasn't a malice intention, I don't know what is.


Con seems to infer that all bad acts cannot be reconciled, contradictory to the utilitarian potential of God (sends people to heaven if they have done good, to compensate for the suffering in their life). But the intention based system also seems contradictory. God could have pointed out all the times he intended to do good in your life, and that Good will alone would respect the human dignity. Kant would certainly think it enough. Give him a little luck in finding food. Give him a small twist of fate. Regardless of horrible results overall, God's telling us of evil intentions would infer that merely fulfilling good intentions was good enough. So he has no obligation to help send the Jews executed by Hitler to heaven either. As long as he has mere intentions to help us, he can treat us as means to end instead of executing that end (ultimate good). And that's very problematic.

Con asks: By what standard are you judging God to be acting in an unjust or immoral way?

I say the scientific and societal basis of ideals. It is true that almost no one wants to suffer needlessly, besides masochists and sadists. And nearly everyone wants to protect themselves and their culture -- evident by our genetic coding to survival. In addition, the libertarian ideal can still support objective values, such as everyone's rights to life and liberty. If we did not have these, people could easily shut others in jail for no reason, or kill everyone else, leading to a society that collapses. Even with a practical or subjective application of values, looking at impact is clear to see that there can be immoral/unjust values.

God is not a Kantian or Utilitarian
You keep mentioning the "greater good" in a way that is completely inconsistent with Scripture. You can believe what you want about a utilitarian deity, but that is not the Christian God. There is no concept of heaven being a compensation for suffering. The only sense in which you could say that God has a grand plan is that He will bring about a final judgment in which all the unrighteous people of the world will be cast into hell. "And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). God cannot tolerate sin so there will be no sinners in heaven.

Inconsistent Standards
The whole point of showing how something is unreasonable in this debate is to bring it to its logical conclusion. You must accurately represent God, and you must work within the biblical framework to make your argument. Otherwise, you are just knocking down straw men. You cannot argue that God's existence is somehow dependent on His adherence to a subjective moral standard that is foreign to the Bible.


"What does he have to say for hell being potentially eternal punishment for a crime taking over a limited amount of time?"
I would say that the Bible clearly states that the punishment for sin is death. And Jesus made more clear than anyone that this death was not just a physical one, but an eternal one. He refers to hell as "the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 13:42). To put it in perspective, the punishment for assaulting a prominent world leader would be different than if you assaulted your neighbor. In the same way, an offense against the God of the universe is condemnable by death.

"Why do we suppose that the God must exist, rather than an alternative like Buddhist's karma system?"
Christianity is an exclusive truth claim. There is no other path to salvation.

Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6)

"What does he have to say for God punishing non-believers (atheists and agnostic)? Surely beliefs and thoughts itself should not be a crime. Otherwise, he would not have allowed us room for free will."

"...I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:28)

"For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, acts of adultery, other immoral sexual acts, thefts, false testimonies, and slanderous statements" (Matthew 15:19).
The 'heart' is our inner being, which includes our thoughts. One of the reasons that thoughts and beliefs of the heart are sinful is because that is where our outward crimes stem from.


In the beginning...
Yes, I have vouched for creationism because that's what the Bible teaches. Whether or not you believe that as well is irrelevant. I am saying that is the Christian claim that formulates our understanding of reality. The fact that it is debated so often, even on this site, is enough to say that the issue is not settled.

Tree of Knowledge
You are using the term "everything" extremely vaguely. Adam and Eve had every provision in the garden that they could possibly need. There was only one rule: "The Lord God commanded the man, saying, 'From any tree of the garden you may eat freely; but from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat from it you will surely die'" (Genesis 2:16-17).

God gave Adam and Eve every provision in the garden, but He never promised there would be no opportunity for them to willingly break His command. You may not like that God acted how He did, but you must show how He was unreasonable for doing so. I would argue that God is just and if He did not carry out the punishment He promised, He would be acting unjustly. That would be unreasonable.

Human Suffering
Regarding animals, I already addressed this in Round 1. Adam was responsible for creation. The consequence of his failure not only affected him, but the world he was responsible for.

Regarding babies, I would hold to an 'age of accountability' view that says babies go to heaven. Every human is inherently sinful, no matter how old. But there is strong biblical evidence that young children that die who are yet incapable of understanding their sin will go to heaven.

And I have already addressed the idea that God is not a utilitarian above.


Is There a Problem of Evil?
I will try to simplify the issue to show that there nothing unreasonable about how evil can exist, even if God is good. Let me lay out a simple line of biblical reasoning:

  • God is both Lawgiver and Judge
  • God is just
  • Any violation of God's laws (i.e. sin) require the prescribed punishment or else God is not just
  • The punishment for sin is eternity in hell
  • All humans have sinned
  • All humans deserve to go to hell or else God is not just

With this simplified view, I would simply ask what is unreasonable about this?

Round 3
I am feeling unwell so I apologize ahead of time for any unclear arguments/rebuttals.

Con repeatedly claims that God's position is nothing so extreme as Kantian nor flexible as Utilitarian, yet the fact that he denotes specific actions as always wrong makes it seem his belief is no different from Kant's ideals of goodwill and intentions. Con has proved that even mere thoughts (or lack thereof) should be punished, which is simply absurd. Merely lacking knowledge is no fault of a person, and if God is the ultimate Kantian, then it only proves that maybe all the Jews that Hitler killed didn't go to heaven. He merely needed to have the intention to help us, regardless of ultimate gain. So the poor man who gets a single bread can be as just as giving the rich man millions of dollars. So long as both perform their heavenly duty, they get to heaven. It is ridiculous that someone who seems "all good" would accept such severe injustice and absurd outcomes. This is what I dislike about religion. The priests and popes start big wars claiming good intentions and will. Maybe they were just misled. Maybe they held malicious intentions. Regardless, the end was many people dying, over something that may or may not exist. God claims to have work on faith alone, and the lack of actions taken to reduce the natural evils makes it near impossible to differentiate a God and a devil.

Con has failed over and over to address why other animals also suffer and seem to be designed for the purpose merely to punish and ruin nature. It seems reasonable that a sinner is punished. But it seems unreasonable that a baby, without faith yet without intentions to do evil, would also suffer disease and die ridiculously early. Not only so, but Con also has not addressed the fact that some people may reduce their suffering to negligible amounts, especially with modern technology stopping pain and diseases. God's actions are heavily inconsistent and ridiculous. It seems absurd that God would tell generic rules to govern our world, yet with such knowledge, rarely ever gives out exceptions to specific acts. The only change in thought he has is allowing disbelievers to repent, and even that is merely faith-based. So it would seem that Con's "if something is wrong, it is always wrong" is incorrect. And I still have no answer on eternal punishment within hell. The crimes don't match up to what is claimed.

If God is so smiteful that he would think a single sin would send you to hell, why allow sinners to exist in the first place? Does the libertarian "free will" overcome the possibility of crime? If so, he is a hypocrite for not doing everything he can to prevent such crimes (such as education, equality, ridding of racism, etc.). The bible has gotten so symbolic that its interpretations have even caused some to become anti-gay and anti-transsexual. The number of problems that exist in the world makes me doubt whether this allowance of freedom and evil allows for God.

In the end, Con cannot reconcile the ridiculous amount of inequality in the world, the haunting world with the law of "I intend to do this" allows God to sit by the side as a spectator. The thought process is contradictory. If we say God had to help everyone to prove his kindness, then the action's execution is important. But theists also say that God actively punishes the bad as well. So which is it? The times where he takes action and doesn't seems arbitrarily based. Even if libertarian is an important right, everyone would agree that it would be better to stop a terrible murderer, even against his will. Also, God allows us to infiltrate others' free will as well. There is little about oppression, master-slave relations, even employee and boss, have some form of oppression in it. God uses his power as some kind of threat but generally allows people to do what they will and only interfering in the most extreme of situations (in the Bible at least). The line for interference is also hazy, and the modern world's experiences have left many confused about why God would allow so many cruel things to happen. Practically, there is no reasonable way for people to believe in God.

I have already explained my position and how the problem of evil does not present a logical problem for the Christian God. To summarize my position, God created everything including humans. Since God created us, He is our heavenly Father but also our sovereign Lord. He is good and kind, but He is also righteous and just. We humans have broken the commands that God has given us; commands that are for our benefit, as well as our neighbor's benefit ("You shall not take vengeance, nor hold any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord." Leviticus 19:18). We have repeatedly broken God's commands and deserve the prescribed punishment for such a transgression. Every evil we experience is the result of our own wickedness. That is where we all start. We are all guilty and God is not obligated to forgive us.

But He is also merciful. Our condemnation to eternal death presents our most dire need: salvation and eternal life. But we must be perfect and never sin against God to achieve this. That is why the one true God took on human flesh in the form of a baby nearly 2,000 years ago. He lived a perfect life of obedience that God demands and that we fail at. And He gave up His life as a perfect sacrifice. But why? To take our sin and our guilt upon Himself. To die to this world and all the evil in it that we caused. And to live in obedience to Him. All He asks is that you turn from evil and turn toward Him. Believe that He is the only way to eternal life, and that without trusting in Him you will get the punishment you deserve. If you do this, you will be free from guilt and condemnation.

"For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16)