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A Core Conflict within Atheism

Why do people become atheists? There are many reasons given for why people stop believing there’s a God, but a reason that rises to the top for many people is the problem of so much suffering. Atheist Andrea M. Weisberger explains that there is just so much evil in the world that, if there were a good God, He would intervene. But since God permits such an incredible amount of evil in His world, then, according to Andrea, He must not exist. Here are Andrea’s words:

“Where was the intelligent designer of the universe when 1.5 million children were turned into smoke by zealous Nazis? Where was the all powerful, all knowing, wholly good being whose very essence is radically opposed to evil, while millions of children were starved to death by Stalin, had their limbs chopped off with machetes in Rwanda, were turned into amputees by the diamond trade in Sierra Leone, and worked to death, even now, by the child slave trade that, by conservative estimates, enslaves 250 million children worldwide? Without divine justice, all of this suffering is gratuitous. How, then, can a wholly good, all-powerful God be believed to exist?”[1]

Wow. That’s some major evil that people do to each other.

And it is hard to see so much suffering without hurting inside. And sometimes, even in the Bible, faithful people would see evil and would ask God why He didn’t do something about it. As Psalm 6:3 says, “My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?”

Now, it’s one thing to cry out to God in pain and confusion. It’s another to try to think through exactly what we are asking God to do. If we’re asking God to do something about all the evil that people do to each other, in exactly what way are we asking him to intervene?


“If we’re asking God to do something about all the evil that people do to each other, in exactly what way are we asking him to intervene?”


3 Possibilities for Fighting of Evil

There seem to be three possibilities as to how God could get rid of the evil that people do to each other.

First, God could simply get rid of all human evil. No more lies, no more stealing, no more abuse. Obviously, taking away all evil would also take away our ability to make meaningful moral choices. Getting rid of the possibility of human evil kind of gets rid of humanity itself; we would become a different, less human species. But that would be one way of getting rid of human evil.

Second, God could get rid of the worst kinds of human evil. For example, mass murder. As atheist Richard Carrier puts it, when a shooter starts shooting, “A loving person with godlike powers could simply turn his bullets into popcorn as they left the gun.”[2] By intervening, God could at least get rid of the most devastating instances of evil.

And third, God could fight against evil internally. In other words, God could combat human evil by transforming the human heart.


“God could combat human evil by transforming the human heart.”


Which Option Is the Atheist Requesting?

Now, think back to our atheist friend who thinks that God should do more to stop human evil. Which of these three options is our friend asking God to do? It’s not the third option, because that’s precisely what God is already doing. The atheist is not asking God to combat human evil by transforming the human heart. Why not? Well, because that’s what the God of the Bible is constantly doing.

Rather, the atheist is requiring that God either take away all evil or at least take away the worst forms of evil. After all, the atheist cares deeply that evil, or at least the worst forms of evil, be erased. And since God doesn’t do that, then the atheist feels justified in concluding that God doesn’t exist. Evil is that big a deal to the atheist.

Now, here’s where things get fascinating. The atheist says he wants God to do something radical to take away evil. It sounds like the atheist would be willing even to go without human freedom and even do away with human nature altogether in order for evil to be abolished.


“The atheist says he wants God to do something radical to take away evil.”


And yet, I can point to quotation after quotation after quotation where atheists are angry with God for trying to fix evil even at the heart level (see The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw by Norman Geisler and myself).

Atheists angry with a God who tells us to submit to him. Anger toward a God who gives us commands to follow. Anger toward a God who encourages us to have faith in him. And a lot of anger toward a God who, in the Bible, when evil got really out of hand, would send judgment to punish evil.

But don’t these atheists realize that these things they are angry with God about are the very things which God does to combat evil? Submitting to God, obeying his commands, placing our faith in him, and fearing a God who judges and punishes evil—all of these are very effective ways which God combats human evil by transforming the human heart.


“All of these are very effective ways which God combats human evil by transforming the human heart.”


Who Cares Most About Fixing Evil & Giving Freedom?

It’s very clear that, even if atheists care about fixing the problem of evil, they also tend to care a lot about human freedom. They may want to get rid of a lot of the evil in the world, but they also really want to stay free.

Which is really fascinating, because those two things are precisely what the God of the Bible cares about too. God clearly cares about fixing the problem of human evil, but He also cares about giving us freedom. If God cares about precisely the same things that the atheist cares about, then maybe our atheist friend should consider giving God another look.


[1] Andrea M. Weisberger, “Argument from Evil,” n The Cambridge Companion to Atheism,
edited by Michael Martin, 166–81 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 166.

[2] Richard Carrier, “Why I Am Not a Christian,” 2006, Internet Infidels,
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/whynotchristian.html#inertgod.

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