The Atheistic Problem of Evil

Kids come out of the womb like the seagulls from Finding Nemo, going, “Mine. Mine. Mine. Mine! Mine! MINE!” I’ll bet your 2-year-old has never said, “Mom and Dad, you look like you’ve had a tough day. Why don’t you just put me in my room and go take some ‘you time.’”

That’s happened in my life exactly never times, because kids are born thinking about themselves. We never had to send any of the Greear kids to sin camp. They never had to take selfishness seminars. They came by that without a lick of training.

It’s because of what we call “original sin,” where we all sinned in Adam. Romans 5:12 says, “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, in this way death spread to all people, because all sinned” (CSB).

The result of this choice was that death (physical and spiritual) spread to all people. Even if we struggle with the logic behind why original sin works like it does, we at least have to concede the presence of its effects. As G.K. Chesterton put it, “Original sin is the only doctrine that is empirically verifiable.” Everybody dies. Death and disease affect everyone—nice people as much as cruel people, smart people as much as ignorant people, rich people as much as poor people, innocent infants as much as adults.

And, “spiritual death” means we’re all born in a posture of rebellion toward God, with a fist clenched toward the heavens, assuming our way is better and our desires most important.

Child psychologist Burton White, famous for his research on early childhood development, put it this way:

From fifteen to sixteen months on, as [the child’s] self-awareness becomes more substantial, something in his nature we don’t fully understand will lead him to deliberately try each of these forbidden activities, specifically to see what will be allowed and what won’t. In other words, he will begin systematically to challenge the authority of the adults he lives with. Resistance to simple requests becomes very common at this time, and if there is more than one child around, this can be a low point in the parenting experience.

(To which every parent said, “Ah, a ‘low point.’ That’s an awfully nice phrase for what I refer to as ‘wanting to claw my eyes out.’”)

White isn’t a Christian, so the “something in the child’s nature” is mysterious to him. But God has revealed that mysterious “something” to us in the Scriptures. That “something” is the spirit of Adam who wants to do things his way.

If not for original sin, how would we explain the pervasive wickedness of the human race?

Why do we have such trouble doing what is right—even when we know it’s wrong or bad for us? Why do riches almost always lead to selfishness, and power to corruption? Why are we so often attracted to what is wrong?

The Christian answer is that every single person alive is horribly bent toward evil. That might seem pretty dismal until we consider the atheistic answer. For an atheist, evil is explained as the result of evolution. Selfishness was bred into us through the principle of the survival of the fittest. Our species is here because we figured out a way to claw and crawl our way to the top, and that didn’t happen by being kind and selfless.

According to this theory, there’s no such thing as wrong, because “wrong” implies a referee who has established the rules. There’s only useful or harmful for the propagation of the species. That’s a major problem for atheism, and many argue that it makes it impossible to promote a coherent argument for justice.

In recent years, certain evolutionists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, realizing the moral bankruptcy of this worldview, have said, “Well, now that we’re in an advanced state, we see that kindness and love can actually help humans survive in community. So, we should choose that.”

But notice they are not saying that love is inherently good, just that now it appears to be useful for the species, whereas before, cruelty and dominance were useful. According to the internal logic of this theory, selfishness and exploitation are not wrong or evil per se, because there is no wrong or evil. They are simply not useful.

This simply won’t do. And you and I know it.

Martin Luther King Jr., in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” said the reason segregation laws in the United States were unjust was because they conflicted with the higher laws of God. Many segregationists argued that keeping ethnic groups separated was more useful. Dr. King didn’t care. He said, in essence, “Useful or not, it is wrong because are all made in the image of our Creator.”

Many young believers are uneasy when confronted with the problem of evil in the world. But what they often neglect to see is that the problem of evil is one that everyone has to grapple with. And if we step away from the doctrine of original sin, we find ourselves with a much worse explanation.

Original sin sounds like bad news: We are all born in sin. But it is bad news that makes good news possible. Because if the whole world was put under sin by one man, that means salvation could also come to everyone through one man. And that is precisely what happened in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:14–17).

The first Adam selfishly disobeyed God and ate from the forbidden tree, bringing a curse on the earth. The second Adam, Jesus, sacrificially obeyed God and climbed up onto a cursed tree to take that curse into himself.

The first Adam brought death upon the whole human race. The second Adam restored life to all who would receive it.

That’s much better news.