The Cognitive Dissonance of Evil

by Luke Nix

The Problem of Evil and Suffering
In defending the truth of the Christian worldview, I often come across atheists who point to the supposed incompatibility of a loving God with the existence of evil and suffering. Many defenders of Christianity will move directly to explain to the atheist that without an eternal, unchanging standard, there is no objective morality, thus there is no objective good or evil. Without objective good or evil, their challenge is groundless. I agree with this answer, but only if the atheist is critiquing the Christian worldview from outside the Christian worldview; they are rather usually pointing to an internal inconsistency- that of a loving God and evil. Christians usually offer two answers to show that evil is, in fact, compatible with a loving God: that God does have purposes for allowing the evil, and man is free is disobey God which results in much evil and suffering. (Many do recognize that the challenge to Christianity has been overcome, but it is still offered in one form or another which does have much emotional and rhetorical power- more on this later.) However, this is only a portion of what our answer should be. We have merely shown that their claim of incompatibility is false, but what about challenges with atheism posed by evil and suffering?

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The Assumption Granted
That question, of course, assumes the existence of an objective morality in the atheistic worldview. Many atheists do hold to some sort of “objective” morality. Most of the time this comes from the philosophical mistake of equating a teleological “good” with a moral “good”. But I am not going to discuss that distinction in this post. For the purposes of continuing the conversation (and demonstrating another challenge to the atheist worldview), I will grant the idea that the atheist can have objective good in their worldview.

The Implications of the Assumption
As mentioned in the first paragraph one of the responses Christians give to the problem of evil and suffering is that God does have greater purposes for allowing it. The atheist often claims that evil is “gratuitous” because it has no purpose. The atheist is claiming to know ALL of God’s intended ends (purposes) when they claim that “there is no purpose for <such-and-such> evil”. This critique assumes something that the atheist worldview does not possess- a purposer. If evil and suffering do not have a purpose, then they are gratuitous- so the atheist claims. I ask the atheist who holds to the existence of objective morality, “where is the purpose for any of the evil and any of the suffering in your worldview?” Atheism by definition has no purposer, thus no evil or suffering can have a purpose. Thus all evil and all suffering is gratuitous…

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