It is popular among atheists to use the existence of evil to disprove the existence of God. Lately, they have gone so far as to look at the attacks against the Canaanites to show that God is genocidal and not good. While I think we should explain both why evil exists in light of a good God and why He ordered the deaths of the Canaanites, I think that the atheistic arguments are ultimately pointless.
The arguments implicitly assumes that we are on equal footing with God when it comes to understanding justice and moral goodness. That is, we see God do x or allow x and assume that we can evaluate just as well (if not better) than God on if He should have done or allowed x to occur.
For instance, we look at the tsunami of Indonesia and ask, “If God is all good, why would He allow this to occur?” Or we can use Dawkins’ favorite chew toy and say, “If God is so good, why did He order innocents to die in the attacks on the Canaanites?”
But such an argument puts God’s goodness in a vacuum. It ignores that God is perfect in knowledge, meaning He knows what is ultimately good and what is ultimately just. Therefore, we must assume that any action He commits is perfectly good and perfectly just and whenever that action seems immoral or unjust to us, the flaw is in our understanding and not in God.
In fact, for the atheist to avoid this argument he must disprove that God is all-knowing, but to do so would mean that God is not really God (for by definition, if we accept Anselm’s argument, God must be all-knowing). That is to say, the atheist would first have to prove God doesn’t exist.
The atheist is left with two choices:
1) Prove God doesn’t exist, in which case attacking His goodness becomes superfluous (because He doesn’t exist)
2) If they can’t prove that God doesn’t exist (that is, that He isn’t all-knowing), then they can’t disprove His existence by pointing to supposed immoral actions
This is not an attempt at a cop out, but merely looking at the issue logically. If we take the whole of God into view when critiquing His actions, then we cannot critique His actions because we are lesser than Him and imperfect in our understanding of moral goodness and justice. Thus, we must prove that He is not all-knowing, that is, that He doesn’t exist before we can critique His moral actions. But if He doesn’t exist, then there’s no reason to critique His moral actions.
While this doesn’t do away with the study of theodicy (as understanding why a good God allows evil is important), it does take away quite a bit of venom from the atheist’s charge against God.