Atheists Claim That It Is Illogical to Believe in God
This argument can take two different forms, both of which we will consider briefly. The first argument contends that all philosophical proofs for the existence of God are inherently contradictory because they all beg the question: "Who then created God?"
The second argument insists that the existence of evil (e.g., the Holocaust, 9/11, pediatric AIDS victims, the shopping channel, etc.) makes irrelevant any evidence for the existence of God. This is because any God shown to exist is hardly worth human allegiance since he is either incapable of preventing evil (and thus not all-powerful), or could prevent it but chooses not to (and thus clearly not all good).
A Christian Response
The issue of "who created God" is not particularly profound, though it apparently started Bertrand Russell on the downhill slide to atheism. The fact of the matter is that the world is a contingent universe (i.e., nothing in the world contains the explanation for its existence in itself, but instead one must look outside of it for an explanation). The physical sciences have an impressive battery of illustrations of the fact that the universe we live in is contingent and finite (the second law of thermodynamics being only one such example.
To regard the world we live in as eternal is simply out of the question. Similarly, to regard the Creator of this world as likewise contingent (i.e., "Who created him?") begs the question since that only forces us to continue to pose the same question ad infinitum. As Montgomery says, "Only by stopping with a God who is the final answer to the series do we avoid begging the question-and only then do we offer an adequate account for the contingent universe with which we began."
Our universe is simply a blooming lot of contingency! The atheist stops at this universe and refuses to move to the God who is not contingent and who is himself the necessary being to start the whole process. The atheist, however, stops with his explanations at this world, and yet this world offers utterly no reason for stopping with it and its heap of contingent "stuff" crying out for an explanation.
As for the problem of evil, first, we note a logical problem with the argument that the existence of evil disproves the existence of God. As the analytical philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein established, there is no such thing as "ethics" unless one has a truly transcendent source of such ethics. Without that transcendent judgment on what is right and what is wrong, one cannot even speak of "evil" save in only relative or culturally conditioned manner.
In short, one must presuppose an absolute moral standard even to employ the word "evil" in the across-all-cultures manner employed by the atheist in this argument. However, an absolute standard of morality is impossible unless God exists. If there is no God, both good and evil are strictly relative concepts and by-products of cultural conditions and sociological-political-psychological factors. More directly, if God does not exist then there simply is no "problem of evil." What is is, and no more can be said.
Secondly, Christianity is not in the least incompatible with the existence of evil in the universe. The biblical data is unimpeachably clear that evil entered the universe through the volitional acts of the creatures, not the Creator. Evil entered the human condition as a result of a completely free moral choice by the creatures to do their own will in direct contradiction to the plain and unambiguous word of God Almighty. The consequence was eternal separation from God as well as suffering and death in this life.
Sin and its effects are irrational, however, and do not obey nice, clean rules of cause and effect (i.e., the idea that you only get what you truly deserve). Thus, innocent children get AIDS and innocent bystanders die in terrorist attacks while the elderly Godfather, Don Corleone, dies quickly of a heart attack in his tranquil garden after playing a game of chase around the vines and tomato bushes with his beloved grandson.
But the biblical picture does not end by simply separating God from the cause of evil. Indeed, in Jesus Christ death (the final result of sin and evil) is conquered decisively and forever. Jesus grieves at the tomb of Lazarus over the devastation that human evil and death bring. In Christianity, a most solid foundation exists for standing against moral evil and for doing so with complete confidence that such a stand has the divine stamp of approval.
Contrary to the attitude of benign resignation toward evil in many Eastern religions (the concept of karma and the essential unity of good and evil emasculate any real ability to aggressively counter the cause and effects of human evil and suffering), Christianity speaks of human depravity as being so real and dreadful that it required the Son of God to enter human history in order to make atonement for humanity's sin. Thus, not only is evil condemned, but God himself takes the consequences of that evil onto himself in his very body.
The result is that no one can say that God does not understand human suffering and evil. The cross of Jesus forever silences the argument that God does not understand what it is like to suffer, to be unjustly treated, and to die. Finally, Christianity is clear that Jesus Christ will return again to totally obliterate all sin and human suffering and to wipe away all tears from every eye.
Professor Gordon J. Van Wylen, Thermodynamics (New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1959), pp. 119-174, see esp. p. 169.
John Warwick Montgomery, Christianity for the Tough-Minded: Essays in Support of an Intellectually Defensible Religious Commitment (Edmonton: Canadian Institute for Law, Theology and Public Policy, 2001), p. 27.
Dorothy Sayers, The Mind of the Maker(London: Methuen & Co., 1946), p. 13.
Read the Rest in this series on the Traditional Arguments of Classical Atheism:
Part 3: Belief in God is illogical.