Is the Existence of Evil a Good Reason to Reject God?
Insights from Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell, and C.S. Lewis
The percentage of Generation Z that self-identifies as atheist is two times that of the general US population.¹ What accounts for this massive shift towards atheism? It is the problem of pain — this group reports that the single largest barrier to faith is the presence of so much evil and suffering in the world.² Since this generation is young (ages 9–24), and since the vast majority of US schools do not teach philosophy courses, it is safe to assume that these young people are mostly hung up on the emotional problem of evil, not the intellectual problem of evil. Broadly speaking, there are three dominant responses to the emotional problem of evil we see in the West today — to reject God and embrace an Epicurean life, to reject God and embrace a Stoic life, or to accept God and view evil through a theistic framework. In this essay I will argue that Christian theism ultimately provides a meaningful and hopeful answer to the problem of pain — Jesus Christ.
The Problem of Pain
William Lane Craig believes that most people reject God not because of facts and arguments, but because of personal suffering.³ Take Charles Darwin as an example. Most would think Darwin abandoned Christianity because of his Theory of Evolution, but this was not the case. His rejection of God was caused by his daughter’s death at age ten.⁴
Pain and suffering force humans to choose to either reject God or embrace Him.⁵ If we embrace God we have hope that there is purpose in pain and suffering — and that we will ultimately overcome it.⁶ If we reject God we can either numb ourselves to pain through the relentless pursuit of pleasure, or we can grit our teeth in Stoic fashion and bear with pain without hope.⁷ Let’s explore these options further.
Two Secular Ways of Dealing with Pain and Suffering
In his novel Brave New World, Aldous Huxley makes one of the best descriptions of an Epicurean society ever to appear in print.⁸ Though fictional, the truth of Huxley’s message has leapt out of the pages and made his book wildly famous (and infamous) since its publication in 1932. The book takes place in England in the distant future. The governments of the world (as we know it) have been replaced by a single government that has pursued one thing — the eradication of pain and suffering.
But the book reveals that a life without pain and suffering is a life without meaning. In order to eliminate pain, the state has had to eliminate freedom, the family, the pursuit of truth, literature, and love. This is because many of the things that cause the most pain and suffering in our lives are also the sources of our greatest happiness. Let’s look at two examples.
Love produces immense happiness in life, but when a loved one dies that happiness is replaced with the pain of loss. Thus, in the novel, the state eliminates love so that there can be no pain associated with it. Likewise, freedom gives humanity the ability to make choices, but our choices might be evil and they often bring us pain. The state thus also eliminates freedom. Now, one might think a life without love and freedom would be depressing, but citizens in Brave New World simply pop a soma (narcotic) into their mouths anytime they do not feel happy. This results in a civilization that, while pretty content and happy (on the whole), is totally devoid of the relationships and choice-making that make our lives meaningful. This book shows that a life devoid of pain and suffering is not life at all. It is an existence devoid of love, freedom, and everything else that makes our lives meaningful. Thus, the Epicurean response to evil and pain will not do.
The other secular option for dealing with the problem of pain is to grit one’s teeth and stare into the hopelessness of an evil world without a God to set things right. This logical conclusion was expressed by the famous atheistic philosopher Bertrand Russell who said if atheism was the truth, all people could do was establish their lives on a “firm foundation of unyielding despair.”⁹ This is because if there is no God there is no hope of ending evil, pain, and suffering in the world. Human efforts to eradicate pain will not work (as history has shown). Therefore, the only logical conclusion is despair.
A Third Way
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis presents a third way to respond to the emotional problem of pain. He writes that during his time as an atheist he was hung up on the question, “if a good God made the world why has it gone wrong?”¹⁰ He assumed the easy answer to this question was that the world had not been made by a divine power and that arguments against God were just complicated attempts to “avoid the obvious.”¹¹ However, this forced Lewis into another problem.
His argument against a divine power was that the world seemed too unjust — but how had he come up with this conception of unjust and just?¹² People do not recognize a line as crooked unless they have some conception of what a straight line is.¹³ So somehow he had got this idea in his head that there was evil and suffering in the world and that it was wrong. But where did this idea come from? “If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z,” writes Lewis, “why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet.”¹⁴
Lewis argues that he could give up his conception of just and unjust by recognizing it as nothing but his own idea — but if he did that his anti-God argument would collapse.¹⁵ This is because his arguments depended on the world being objectively unjust. This led Lewis to an astounding conclusion:
Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist — in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless — I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality — namely my idea of justice — was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.¹⁶
Christ and Suffering
Christianity teaches that there is evil in the world because of free will.¹⁷ God gave us (and spiritual beings) the ability to choose. Because we are truly free, we are free to make mistakes. All suffering results from this freedom. God could have deprived us of freedom, like the government did in Brave New World, but then we would have been slaves. God loves us, so he did not make us slaves.
At the same time, God planted his word, his law, his moral standards in our hearts.¹⁸ This is why we violently react against evil in this world. This is why we feel like dry creatures immersed in water. Something feels completely wrong about this evil environment we inhabit. The good news is that God did not give us free will and then abandon us to our fate. According to Christians, Christ came into this world to deliver humanity from pain and suffering. Christ took on all of the evil of the world and bore it on the cross. Those who hope in Him will ultimately be free from evil, pain, and suffering. In this there is great hope.
In this essay I have shown that there are, broadly speaking, three ways to respond to the emotional problem of pain. One can live a meaningless Epicurean life, attempting to seek pleasure and avoid pain at all costs. One can stoically face evil and despair. Or one can embrace a theistic view. Christian theism provides an answer to the problem of pain — Jesus Christ — that makes sense and gives us hope.
See my complete argument for the veracity of the Christian faith here.
Seeking wholeness and peace? Check out 21 Days of Lectio Divina for the Anxious, Depressed or Stressed.
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 “Atheism Doubles Among Generation Z,” Barna Group, Jan 24, 2018, https://www.barna.com/research/atheism-doubles-among-generation-z/
 Paul M. Gould, Travis Dickinson, and R. Keith Loftin, Stand Firm: Apologetics and the Brilliance of the Gospel (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2018), 137.
 Gould, Dickinson, and Loftin, Stand Firm, 159.
 Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (London: Chatto & Windus, 1932), https://gutenberg.ca/ebooks/huxleya-bravenewworld/huxleya-bravenewworld-00-h.html
 Gould, Dickinson, and Loftin, Stand Firm, 160.
 Lewis, C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (NY: HarperCollins, 2001), 38.
 Ibid, 39.
 Gould, Dickinson, and Loftin, Stand Firm, 153.
 Romans 2:15.