The problem of evil is only a problem if God exists. More specifically, it is only a problem if the God of Classical Theism exists. The moment we deny the existence of God we dissolve the problem of evil entirely. Why? Because without God there are no moral absolutes, no objective values, and hence, no evil to “cause a problem.” Ironically, by removing God from the equation, we also remove any grounds we might have had for holding real moral indignation (by “real” I mean something more than our personal dislike for a given set of circumstances but, rather, a true moral outrage in the face of true evil).
This is what I find so fascinating about the current arguments against Theism. Those who hold that “God is dead” claim to be the most horrified and the most incensed by the existence of evil in the world, yet, oddly enough, they adhere to a worldview which teaches that evil is merely a feeling, an evolutionary accident, or a social convention and not an objective reality. For example, I recently entered into a dialogue about creaturely pain and suffering with the popular Atheist blogger John W. Loftus. He seems truly dismayed by the overwhelming number of people who have suffered excruciating deaths at the hand of various pandemics throughout history. In his eyes the amount of pain that, for example, the millions of people who contracted the bubonic plague endured was a tremendous evil. The implicit assumptions standing underneath his moral outrage are clear: (1) that human beings are inherently valuable and deserve to live a good life, free from horrendous amounts of pain, suffering and loss and (2) that death is a bad thing.
Now this is a very curious state of affairs. From a worldview perspective, Atheism doesn’t allow for the existence of objective evil or objective goodness. According to Atheisms grand metaphysical story, human beings are meaningless, temporary, bits of matter with absolutely no intrinsic value or purpose. If this is true, however, then the pain and suffering regularly experienced by humans is normal and valueless. The subjective meaning that individual human beings ascribe to life is merely an automatic, predestined, physical event (because all mental phenomena are ultimately explainable in terms of the laws of physics). Furthermore, there is no hope of ever escaping death–for there is no afterlife and no escaping the reality that we shall forever be finite, limited, dissoluble beings. Death, therefore, is a normal physical process—in fact, death, is a crucial aspect of evolution.
Thus, in a strange turn of events, Mr. Loftus, and those like him, find themselves emotionally at odds with their own metaphysics. They feel sorrow and even outrage at the idea of human suffering, while simultaneously advocating a worldview which denies the implicit assumptions underlying their indignation. Namely, they feel upset about evil but maintain, philosophically, that human beings are not inherently valuable (and do not deserve to live a good life) and that death is fundamentally not a bad thing.
This, however, brings us right back to the original problem. For, it is only when we posit the existence of the God of Classical Theism that we have grounds for believing human life is intrinsically valuable and that death is a horrendous evil. It is only then that a “problem of evil” arises because it is only then that evil is said to actually exist.
This, of course, forces us to make a choice (that is, if we do not wish to live in a state of internal conflict or inconsistency): we can embrace Atheism, deny the existence of evil or any objective value—thus eradicating the so called problem of evil—or we can embrace Classical Theism. If we embrace the former, we must be prepared to accept the fact that life is utterly futile and that pain and suffering are ultimately vain physical happenings. In the words of Pavel Florensky, “all of reality becomes an absolutely meaningless and insane nightmare.”
If we embrace the latter, however, our distain for pain, suffering, and death, is valid. For our distain becomes more than a predestined feeling or mindless automatic physical response to stimuli but becomes a proper reaction to real evil. Beyond this, if we accept Christianity, we also have hope for a future free from pain, suffering and death and filled with Divine love and meaning.