“Evil” is one of those terms that can refer to many things—natural evil, social evil, physical evil, religious evil, mental evil, moral evil, etc. Often the word is used to describe anything that is considered “bad.” For example, if a hurricane wipes out a city and takes human lives, then it might be called “evil” (natural). However, that same hurricane can move through unpopulated territory, and it is not considered evil.
“Evil” is commonly applied to moral matters. We think of someone like Hitler as evil because of the immoral activities (bigotry, murder, etc.) he promoted. Most people recognize evil as something that is real. It is not just an illusion (though some do think this way). It is a real problem to be reckoned with.
In fact, atheists use the problem of evil to try to deny the existence of the Biblical God (to be explored later). So, both atheists and theists recognize that there is something that can be called evil. However, atheists will grasp at straws to try and tell us why they believe that evil is real. Theists, on the other hand, have no philosophical difficulty talking about evil.
Why do I say this?
If people are going to say that something is “evil,” then they must have some kind of standard to which they can appeal in order to define the difference between “good” and “evil.” In other words, if there is no ultimate standard by which to define what is really “evil,” then how can they say that evil is real?
The problem with atheism here is that they have no ultimate standard to which they can appeal. They have no solid foundation for saying that something is ultimately evil. If nature is all there is, and if there is no God, then “evil” would only be a subjective idea that has no ultimate basis. How can an atheist consistently say, for example, that Hitler was “evil” or “wrong”? What did he violate? “Basic human rights,” one might say. Yes, but who determines that? And ultimately, does it really matter whether or not Hitler was the way he was? If evil is real, but has no final day of reckoning, then why should it matter if one is “evil” according to some standard that is not truly universal? Hitler winds up dead just like everyone else, and once dead, it wouldn’t matter how one actually lived.
Theists, on the other hand, recognize that evil is real, but they also have a reason for believing in the reality of evil. This reason goes back to a universal standard that exists outside of us. The reality of God, the reality of the devil, and the reality of a moral standard by which we will be judged all factor into this. Evil has a day of reckoning, and one day all that is crooked will be made straight. This view sees satisfaction in justice, and sees that there is a great purpose to life that transcends the here and now.
Evil is real, but it cannot be explained or properly dealt with without God. By accepting God, we accept a standard to which we can appeal and submit. We know that it really does matter how one lives a life here on this earth. We can take a positive view of life, knowing that one day we will give an account for our activities. Life makes sense with God. Without God, it becomes meaningless and hopeless.
Doy Moyer is a native of California. He is 41 years old and has been married to Laurie (Teel) Moyer since May 1986. They have three children: Caleb (17), Luke (14), and Audrey (12). He has been preaching the gospel for over 20 years, working with congregations in Louisiana, Kentucky, Ohio, California, and Florida. He presently resides in Florida and works with the church in Cork, outside of Plant City. For five years he was an associate editor of Focus Magazine, and has written numerous articles for various publications. Since August, 2001, Doy has been teaching Biblical Studies, Evidences, and Philosophy at Florida College in Temple Terrace, FL. He has his own web site located at http://studywell.org. You can write him at firstname.lastname@example.org.