In days gone by many atheists thought the existence of evil in the world disproved theism. Largely due to the work of philosopher Alvin Plantinga, however, most professional philosophers now concede that the presence of evil in the world does not disprove the existence of God (unfortunately, lay atheists failed to get the memo). As atheist and J.L. Mackie came to admit, “Since this defense is formally [i.e., logically] possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another.”
No longer able to use the mere existence of evil as evidence against God’s existence, atheists began to argue that the amount of evil in the world makes the existence of God unlikely. “Why,” they ask, “is there so much evil in the world?” James Corman and Keith Lehrer are representative of this modified argument:
If you were all-good, all-knowing, and all-powerful, and you were going to create a universe in which there were sentient beings — beings who are happy and sad; enjoy pleasure; feel pain; express love, anger, pity, hatred — what kind of world would you create? Being all-powerful, you would have the ability to create any world that it is logically possible for you to create, and being all-knowing you would know how to create any of these logically possible worlds. Which one would you choose? Obviously you would choose the best of all the possible worlds because you would be all-good and would want to do what is best in everything you do. You would, then, create the best of all the possible worlds, that is, that world containing the least amount of evil possible. And because one of the most obvious kinds of evil is suffering, hardship, and pain, you would create a world in which the sentient beings suffered the least. Try to imagine what such a world would be like. Would it be like the one which actually does exist, this world we live in? Would you create a world such as this one if you had the power and knowhow to create any logically possible world? If your answer is “no,” as it seems it must be, then you should begin to understand why the evil of suffering and pain in this world is such a problem for anyone who thinks God created this world. This does not seem to be the kind of world God would create, and certainly not the kind of world he would sustain. Given this world, then, it seems we should conclude that it is improbable that it was created or sustained by anything we would call God. Thus, given this particular world, it seems we should conclude that it is improbable that God – who if he exists, created this world – exists. Consequently, the belief that God does not exist, rather than the belief that he exists, would seem to be justified by the evidence we find in this world.