Do Evil And Suffering Disprove the Existence of God?

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Why would a loving God allow such horrific evil and suffering as the recent attacks on the USA? Couldn’t an all-powerful God stop them, if he existed? Doesn’t this show that such a God cannot exist?

For many people the existence of evil and suffering is their number one objection to the existence of God. Sometimes it is communicated in terms of a refutation of God’s existence. Many other times it is stated as an emotional rejection of a God who would allow such evil and suffering.

In order to deal with this issue it will be helpful to draw a distinction between the intellectual problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil. The intellectual problem concerns how to give a rational explanation for how God and evil can co-exist. The emotional problem concerns how to dissolve people’s emotional dislike for a God who would permit suffering.


There are two versions of the intellectual problem – the logical problem and the probabilistic problem.

a. the logical problem – According to the logical problem it is impossible for God and evil to co-exist. If God exists, then evil cannot exist. If evil exists then God cannot exist. Since evil exists, it follows that God does not exist. Only a defense needed is needed here.(1) The theist does not have to answer why God allows evil, only show that God and evil are not incompatible.

1. The problem with this argument is that there is no inconsistency between God’s existence and evil’s existence. There is no explicit contradiction, logically. In order to get an implicit contradiction one needs a hidden assumption or assumptions that are necessarily true to produce the contradiction, and no philosopher has been able to come up with such premises. Possibly the best premise that has been tried would go as follows:

A – “An all-loving God would eliminate every evil and an all-powerful God could eliminate every evil.”

This assumption is essential to the atheistic argument and must be necessarily true.

Would an all-loving God eliminate every evil? Not necessarily. There are times when eliminating an evil would bring about a greater evil or eliminate a greater good that outweighs the evil. In such cases even an all good being would not eliminate the evil.

eg. 1 – amputate a scraped knee
eg. 2 – sterilize people to eliminate the pain of childbirth

Could an all-powerful God eliminate every evil? Not necessarily. Even an all-powerful God cannot do the logically impossible like create a square circle. It is logically impossible to make someone freely do good. If he makes them, they are not free. If they are free, he can’t make them. So God cannot guarantee that a world of free persons will not commit evil.

Second, and more to the point, it is just not the case that an omnipotent God can create all logically possible worlds. In a world of truly free agents, God’s power to actualize depends, in part, on what in fact a free agent would freely choose to do. If a free agent (P) would choose to do X in a given situation, God cannot actualize the possible world where, given the same conditions, P would choose ‘not X’. This latter world may be theoretically possible but not actually achievable.

As the atheist philosopher Evan Fales admits, “Alvin Plantinga has convinced most of us – if indeed, we were not already convinced – that the free will defense exonerates God from the imputation of a certain kind of incapacity. Not even an omnipotent being can guarantee the best of all possible worlds, for if such a world must contain created free beings, it will be partly up to them what transpires.” (2)

Consider whether God could actualize the possible world where Adolph Hitler never started the Second World War. We know what Adolph Hitler’s free decision was, given the exact conditions leading up to his decision. God cannot actualize the world where given those same conditions, Hitler would choose not to start the war. Even though it is a logically possible world, God’s power to actualize is limited by what in fact Hitler would choose to do. Thus, God cannot actualize any other world where Hitler would not start the war unless he did not allow Hitler his free will with respect to that decision or did not create Hitler at all.

Some might suggest those latter two options would be preferred. Possibly, but that misses the point of the example. I could just as easily have used a more innocuous example, say whether God could actualize the possible world where Michael Horner eats an apple at 3:00 p.m., March 29, 1994. What Michael Horner would freely chose to do in that situation determines what is in God’s power to actualize. If Michael would choose to eat the apple God cannot actualize the world where given the same situation Michael would not eat the apple. It is up to God whether to give Michael freedom or whether to create him at all, but it is not within the power of even an omnipotent God to actualize the possible world where Michael does not eat the apple.

Therefore, it is just not true that an omnipotent God can do anything, like create any possible world. It is entirely possible that it is not within God’s power to create a world containing moral good without that world also containing moral evil. When free moral agents are involved it is entirely possible that a good end could not be achieved in any other way.

Thus the assumption “A” that was needed to produce a contradiction between God and evil, that an all-good, all-powerful God could and would eliminate every evil is not necessarily true. Therefore, there is no inconsistency between God and evil.

page 2 >> Can God & evil be logically consistent? >> 1.2.3

Copyright © 2002 Michael Horner. Used with permission.


7 thoughts on “Do Evil And Suffering Disprove the Existence of God?

  1. JamieJamie

    God does not do evil. Twilight’s claim that the Bible says that God does evil is wrong. There are only a couple of places that this misinterpretation comes from. In Judges 9:23 it says that God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the men of Shechem. The Hebrew word used here is rayah which is an adjective that means bad, distressing, troubling, evil. So in this context we can see that the spirit that was sent by God was there to stir up trouble between Abimelech and the men of Shechem so that their plans for ruling would be thwarted.

    A similar spirit (same Hebrew word) was sent by God to King Saul in 1Samuel 14 so that he would be kept from succeeding in his path of rebellion against God. The spirit that God sent was not evil as in wicked but a spirit that was intended to stir up trouble and distress. God’s action was not evil but actually a means of accomplishing justice.

    God is good and right in all He does.

  2. Lauren

    Jamie, there is no evidence to support any of the claims made in the Bible concerning the existence of a god. Any ‘evidence’ proposed by theists to support the Bible’s various historical and supernatural claims is non-existent at best, manufactured at worst. The Bible is historically inaccurate, factually incorrect, inconsistent and contradictory. It was artificially constructed by a group of men in antiquity and is poorly translated, heavily altered and selectively interpreted. Entire sections of the text have been redacted over time.

  3. JamieJamie

    Hi Lauren, you have made some pretty sweeping judgements on the Bible. I would be interested on hearing what evidence has convinced you of those judgements. You see I often make the statement that evidence for God is based on the historical accuracy of the Bible, the precision of the prophecies found within the Bible, and the consistency of the message that is proclaimed despite the fact that it was written by over 40 different authors with different socio-economic backgrounds over the period of 1500 years. Perhaps you could give some examples of the historical inaccuracies, incorrect facts, inconsistencies and contradictions.

    I would say that the historical accuracy of the Bible is outstanding. That is one of the reasons why it is a primary source for any that are doing historical research in the that area of the world. Now I grant that historical accuracy is inextricably tied to the quality of evidence we have available to us, and so where there is an absence of evidence questions can be raised. But time and again the evidence has been found that has proved the accuracy of the biblical accounts of people, places and events. An example would be the discovery of the Tel Dan Stele ( which put to rest the question of the true existence of David the king of Israel.

    The prophecies recorded in the Bible have a high standard they need to reach which is set by God. God said that you can know a prophet is speaking for Him if his/her prophecy is 100% accurate 100% of the time. What we see in the Bible is strong evidence of just that. One prime example is the prophet Isaiah who gave the name of the Medo-Persian king who would release the people of Judah from their captivity in Babylon. He made this prophecy before the Babylonian Empire was established as a world power (not to mention the Medo-Persian Empire who would defeat the Babylonians and free the people of Judah), 80 years before the people of Judah were taken into captivity from which they would need to be released, and around 150 years before the named king (King Cyrus) was even born. Who but an infinite God could be so precise in the facts of His prophetic proclamations?!

    The message of Bible is extremely unified and consistent: there is a God who has created all things, who has chosen humanity to bear His image and have a unique relationship with Him because of that close association with Him. Humanity chose instead to follow their own path and rebelled against God’s involvement in their lives. That choice has had detrimental consequences in all areas of life since we have separated ourselves from the guiding hand of God. God’s love for humanity motivated Him to restore that relationship with humanity which ultimately culminated in God becoming one of us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth so that we could know Him intimately and so that He could sacrifice Himself to pay the penalty of our rebellion against Him. He now offers that opportunity to all who will put their trust in Him and allow Him to lead and guide in every aspect of life. Those who receive that free gift of grace from God will be able to enjoy that renewed relationship with God through all eternity and will be a testimony of His great love and wisdom to all the rest of Creation. Even with the diversity of authors that message is weaved into all of the pages of the Bible and is consistent.

    As I said, if you have evidence to the contrary I would be very interested in discussing that with you.

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