How and Why The Problem of Evil
by Luke Nix
Lately two three-letter words have been getting me thinking about the problem of evil. They are simple words that may stand alone in order to ask two unique questions. It seems that when we properly distinguish between these two words, we can see a clear pointer to the truth of Christianity playing out in the lives of every person alive. These two words are “How” and “Why”.
How vs. Why and Its Common Confusion
“How” is a question of mechanism. When someone asks this question, they are (presumably) looking for the physical, cause-and-effect series that led to the result. If someone asks how a house is built, the answer would include all the steps from laying the foundation to the final inspection.
“Why” is a question of purpose. When someone asks this question, they are (presumably) looking for the reason that the house was built. If someones asks why a house is built, the answer would normally include the fact that it will provide a living space for a family.
I’ve noticed that quite often, these two very different questions are confused by both questioner and listener. A lot of times when someone wants to know “how” something took place, they will ask “why” it happened. Likewise, if someone wants to know “why” something happened, they will ask “how” it took place. In some cases the listener will understand the question (regardless of the incorrect word being used) and provide the answer appropriate to the question, but there are other times that the listener does not recognize that someone is asking “why” and they answer “how” instead (because they asked “how”).
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Confusion of the questions can have trivial effects or eternal consequences. Since “why” is a question of purpose, in worldviews where ultimate purpose does not exist, a “why” question is irrational to ask about suffering, evil, and even existence. A person who asks “why” assumes that there is a purpose, and they want to know it. But if a worldview that posits no ultimate purpose is true, then the assumptions in the question contradict reality- that is how a “why” question is irrational on, say, atheism, but is perfectly valid (and compelled) if Christianity is true.
In atheism, asking why anything happens cannot be answered because “why” is a question of ultimate purpose, but atheism, a priori, has no ultimate purpose. Now, it can answer “how” something happened. A person could go into all the different laws of physics and chain reactions of cause-and-effect that led to the result that the question is being asked about.
Unlike atheism, theism can answer both questions. Theism can answer “how” something took place and “why” it took place. Atheism uses the scientific disciplines to answer a lot of “how” questions (not all, though that is a topic for another post)- that is the limit of science’s ability. If we believe that science will answer all our questions, we are wrong. Science cannot answer our “why” questions. Granted science may be able to answer “how” we can ask “why” questions, but it will never answer “why” we ask “why” questions. It may be able to answer “how” we have a sense of purpose, but it will never answer “why” we have a sense of purpose (more on this below). An attempt to answer “how” when the question is “why” is an attempt to explain away what cannot be explained by naturalistic worldviews…
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