05 / 06
birds birds birds

Problem of Evil (part 1)

August 05, 2007     Time: 00:11:29
Problem of Evil


Conversation with William Lane Craig

Transcript Problem of Evil (Part 1)


Kevin Harris: Dr. Craig, I am willing to bet that the problem of evil is one of the most asked questions, probably in your career.

Dr. Craig: Certainly, this is a huge obstacle to belief in God for many people. The amount of suffering and pain in the world is so excruciatingly great that it makes it hard to believe in God.

Kevin Harris: It would be: if God exists, why do so many bad things happen?

Dr. Craig: Right. Yeah, that would be one way of putting it. That somehow the existence of an all-loving and all-powerful God is thought to be incompatible with the suffering and pain in the world.

Kevin Harris: So let’s define the problem. How has it historically been spelled out?

Dr. Craig: Historically, atheists have argued that there is a logical incompatibility between the existence of God and the existence of suffering and evil in the world. If God were all-good, he would want to prevent suffering. If he is omnipotent or all-powerful, he could prevent suffering. And since he is all-good and all-powerful then he would and could prevent suffering. So there should be no suffering in the world. So typically the objection has been that if evil exists, as is obvious, and is affirmed by Christianity (we believe in the existence of evil and sin) then it follows that God does not exist and indeed that it is logically impossible for God to exist.

Kevin Harris: Is this still a popular argument among philosophers in the field of philosophy?

Dr. Craig: No, it has been universally abandoned. Even atheists recognize that there is no logical incompatibility between God and the suffering and evil in the world. In that sense, Kevin, in our generation there has been genuine philosophical progress on this problem belying those who say that philosophy never makes any progress. In this case it is clear to show that philosophy has definitely made a progression in handling this difficult question.

Kevin Harris: Who can we credit? Who has done some of the work in this area recently?

Dr. Craig: Some of the best work, the most ground-breaking work, has been done by Alvin Plantinga who is a professor of philosophy at the University of Notre Dame in Indiana. His work on the problem of evil has been really ground-breaking and has pushed the question forward another notch.

Kevin Harris: There seems to be two aspects of the problem of evil. There is the philosophical problem of evil – how can God exist and evil exist? But then there is more of an emotional problem of evil and that is since evil exists how do we deal with it?

Dr. Craig: I’m really glad you brought that up because I think that is absolutely correct and it’s crucial. Because for people who are suffering from some sort of terrible tragedy in their lives, the answer to the intellectual problem may appear dry, uncaring, and arid and of no help at all. I remember, for example, reading when Joni Eareckson had her terrible diving accident and was left paralyzed. A parade of people came through her hospital room each offering an explanation as to why God permitted this to enter into her life. And as I read the book I thought, “Boy, some of these are pretty good.” I mean some of these were pretty philosophically sophisticated accounts. But she said these people took on the appearance of Job’s comforters. To her, their philosophical explanations were of no help whatsoever. Why? Because she was suffering from the emotional problem of evil, not the intellectual problem. On the other hand, the solution to the emotional problem of evil is apt to appear superficial and inadequate to some philosophy student who is contemplating this as an abstract philosophical question. So we need to keep these problems distinct because the solutions to them are quite distinct. It is the case, I believe, that for most people at the end of the day the problem of suffering and evil is not really an intellectual problem. It is really an emotional problem.

Kevin Harris: Really?

Dr. Craig: Yes.

Kevin Harris: Wow. I can certainly see that if you went to the funeral of a friend who lost a loved one, you wouldn’t say, “Here, I want to give you this book by Alvin Plantinga.” That may not be what they need. They may need that ultimately; it may ultimately perhaps shed some light on this problem or bring comfort but they need some comfort at that moment. [1]

Dr. Craig: Right. I think that where the intellectual problem can have practical application in the practical or emotional area is if one is prepared intellectually in advance to deal with the problem. Then, when pain and tragedy does enter one’s life, the emotional impact may not prove so insufferable because one does have good understanding of how this could happen, and therefore the doubts that might arise would hopefully not be so severe because you will have already encountered and reflected on this problem intellectually. It is those who are unprepared – who haven’t thought reflectively about this – that I think the problem is so emotionally devastating.

Kevin Harris: I wanted to back up just a little bit to what you were talking about earlier; how philosophers are not using this as often as an argument against God. What are some of the reasons for that?

Dr. Craig: One reason is that it is extraordinarily difficult to show any logical contradiction between God and the suffering in the world. The atheist has taken on an enormous burden of proof here in claiming that these are logically incompatible. He has to show that there is no possible reason why God might permit the evil and suffering in the world. And that is just impossible to prove. There is no way you could prove that there is no possible reason for the suffering and evil in the world. As long as it is even possible for some reason to be given, God and evil are logically compatible. That would be the first reason.

In addition to that, Plantinga claims that he can prove that God and evil are logically consistent with each other. All you have to do is give a possible explanation. It doesn’t even need to be a true explanation; it just needs to be possible. So you could say something like this: the evil in the world is the result of either free will or demonic creatures manipulating forces of nature to produce natural disasters and catastrophes. Now, you might say that that is ridiculous. Nobody would believe something that improbable. But then you would be confusing the logical problem of evil with a probabilistic problem of evil. As I say, all you have to do is show a possible solution, not a probable or true solution, and that would show that there is no logical incompatibility between God and evil.

Kevin Harris: Even though professional philosophers have abandoned this as an argument against God, the laypeople – the people on the street – this is still pretty popular. People still tend to ask this question.

Dr. Craig: I suspect that it is and it is because lay folks aren’t schooled in philosophy. They are largely untrained and so they react to this on a gut level with your emotions. And emotionally, when you see a little child dying of brain cancer or someone having his legs cut off in an automobile accident and bleeding to death, it is hard to believe in God. It is hard to believe there is a reason why this happens. But intellectually, as I say, I think it is impossible to show that God couldn’t have a morally adequate reason for permitting that. Indeed, you can show that it is perfectly possible for him to have such reasons.

Kevin Harris: There is something very telling about this whole thing as well, Bill. And that is, it assumes a standard of evil in a sense. How do we know what evil is?

Dr. Craig: Exactly. Many people would point to the terrible moral evils in the world, like terrorism or rape or brutality or child abuse, as examples of terrible evil and suffering in the world. But you see, if there is no God then who is to say what is right and wrong? In the absence of God, everything becomes relative. We are just animals and these kinds of things go on in the animal kingdom all the time. When a tidal wave or a tsunami sweeps over an island and destroys the vegetable and animal life on that island, it is too bad for those animals but it is not morally evil; it is just part of nature. On the atheistic view, that is all we are – just animals and just part of nature. So there really isn’t any evil per se in the absence of God. Everything is just relative. So, if we do think that there really is evil in the world it follows logically that God exists because if objective moral values cannot exist without God and objective moral values do exist, as is evident from the reality of evil, then it follows logically and inescapably that God exists.

Kevin Harris: Wow, that is powerful. It is as if the Nazi Holocaust was just evolution in action and survival of the fittest. You can say that is just survival of the fittest – the Nazis over the Jews.

Dr. Craig: Yeah, it’s just one animal species fighting amongst itself, clawing and scratching for supremacy. In a world without God, whatever is, is right. It is just the law of the jungle.

Kevin Harris: We have defined the problem of evil here. It is still quite popular among people that we run into – our friends and our family. And further on in this series we are going to talk about how to further answer the problem of evil and be an encouragement to people who are suffering.

Dr. Craig: Yes, I think much, much more deserves to be said about this because all we’ve talked about today is whether or not there is a logical incompatibility between God and the suffering in the world. What many atheists will say today is, “All right, look, there is no logical problem here. But nevertheless, given the suffering and evil in the world, it is improbable that God exists.” And that question, I think, still deserves to be answered. [2]