Few of us may ever engage in a purely logical discussion surrounding the problem of God and evil. Most reactions against God flow from people’s experience or exposure to evil than from musings from logic. Such is the case for Queen’s Professor of Bioethics, Dr. Udo Schuklenk when writing of his own departure from belief in God.
“The theodicy problem requires us to explain away why a nice, all-powerful, all-knowing God would subject his creation to such a massive amount of suffering. It became obvious to me that there is no reasonable answer to this challenge. There is no plausible answer that would make sense of, for instance, the Holocaust. This historical event cured me for good of the idea of an omnipotent, omniscient, benevolent God.”1
In the following segments we want to begin tackling the kinds of objections to God’s existence that human experience with evil present. These are often referred to as ‘evidential’ arguments from evil against God’s existence. It is in response to these arguments that Christian philosophers and theologians have sought to develop sufficient ‘theodicies’.
We would do well to remember however that our purpose in developing or presenting any theodicy is always to help remove barriers to belief, not win arguments or attempt to “explain away” evil (an unfortunate caricature). In addition we dare not view our project as an attempt to possess easy answers, for indeed when it comes to evil and suffering there are none to be found. Our approach will therefore be as thorough as possible without becoming so involved as to make it inaccessible. We will survey some of the most historically notable answers given by Christian thinkers, pointing out both strengths and weaknesses, and recognizing that no one answer may be sufficient even though some may indeed be stronger than others.
Finally, it is worth remembering that when entering into discussions about matters like God and evil, we must be ready to listen before we speak. It does little good to treat our answers like ammunition that we load our apologetic “guns” with. Rather we would do well to first ask questions and genuinely listen to answers in order to understand our questioner’s struggle, or what set of assumptions their objections are based upon. Failing to do this may result in insensitive ‘knee-jerk’ responses and our being little more use to them than Job’s friends were to him. It may be that much of their objection flows not from error in reasoning or a rebellious spirit, but perhaps (and most likely) from mistaken notions about God. Let’s not forget that the root of all sin that blinds the human heart is the suppression of what is actually true about God. (cf. Rom. 1:18)
Responding in Gentleness and Respect: (Question you might ask your friend)
- Help me understand specifically what you find incompatible with the existence of evil like ‘X’ and God’s existence?
- If God did exist, how would you expect him to change the world or intervene in order that evil ‘X’ not occur? Could you see instances where he shouldn’t intervene as you suggest?
- If on atheism everything is the result of evolutionary adaptation, how do we even make meaningful moral pronouncements concerning evil? Whose to say that the Nazi’s adoption of fascism that ultimately lead to the Holocaust (for example) was wrong if this move provided them with the greatest evolutionary advantage?
- Doesn’t it seem as though much of the evil we struggle with in the world is the result of human decisions? (i.e. people doing bad things to people). Doesn’t it seem that the problem of evil is more a problem with us (man) than with God?
- How do you make sense of the fact that human beings are capable of such good, but also such evil?
 Udo Schuklenk, “Human Self-Determination, Biomedical Progress, and God”, in 50 Voices of Disbelief: Why We Are Atheists, eds. Russell Blackford and Udo Schuklenk, (Malden, MA, Wiley-Blackwell, 2009), 324.