Evil as Evidence for God
I like to refer to Peter Kreeft as “the un-philosopher.” Not that he isn’t a philosopher; in fact, he’s a first-rate philosophical thinker, with a doctorate from Fordham University, postgraduate study at Yale University, and thirty-eight years of experience as a philosophy professor at Villanova University and (since 1965) Boston College. He has taught such courses as metaphysics, ethics, mysticism, sexuality, and Oriental, Greek, medieval, and contemporary philosophy, earning such honors as the Woodrow Wilson and Yale-Sterling fellowships.
What drew me to Kreeft was his insightful book about suffering, in which he skillfully weaves a journey of discovery through Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle; through Augustine, Kierkegaard, and Dostoyevski; through Star Trek, The Velveteen Rabbit, and Hamlet; and through Moses, Job, and Jeremiah. All along the way, there are clues that eventually, ultimately, finally, converge on Jesus and the tears of God.
I arrived early and waited for Kreeft in the hallway. He soon arrived fresh from a philosophical conclave that was being held elsewhere in Boston. His brown tweed jacket, thick glasses, and neatly combed dark gray hair gave him a fatherly appearance. He sat behind his desk (under a sign that said, “No Dumping”), and we started by casually chatting about his beloved Boston Red Sox — an appropriate subject at the time given our topic of suffering.
But then I turned a corner. There was no other approach than to hit Kreeft head-on with Charles Templeton’s blunt objections to Christianity, embodied by that Life magazine photo of an anguished mother clutching her dead infant in drought-ravaged Africa.
“Consider this,” Kreeft said. “If Templeton is right in responding to these events with outrage, that presupposes there really is a difference between good and evil. The fact that he’s using the standard of good to judge evil — the fact that he’s saying quite rightly that this horrible suffering isn’t what ought to be — means that he has a notion of what ought to be; that this notion corresponds to something real; and that there is, therefore, a reality called the Supreme Good. Well, that’s another name for God.”
That sounded suspiciously like philosophical sleight of hand. Warily, I summarized Kreeft’s point to see if I understood it. “You mean that unintentionally Templeton may be testifying to the reality of God because by recognizing evil he’s assuming there’s an objective standard on which it’s based?”
“Right. If I give one student a ninety and another an eighty, that presupposes that one hundred is a real standard. And my point is this: if there is no God, where did we get the standard of goodness by which we judge evil as evil?
“What’s more, as C. S. Lewis said, ‘If the universe is so bad… how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator?’ In other words, the very presence of these ideas in our minds — that is, the idea of evil, thus of goodness and of God as the origin and standard of goodness — needs to be accounted for.”
An interesting counter-punch, I mused. “Are there any other ways in which you believe evil works against atheism?” I asked.
“Yes, there are,” he replied. “If there is no Creator and therefore no moment of creation, then everything is the result of evolution. If there was no beginning or first cause, then the universe must have always existed. That means the universe has been evolving for an infinite period of time — and, by now, everything should already be perfect. There would have been plenty of time for evolution to have finished and evil to have been vanquished. But there still is evil and suffering and imperfection — and that proves the atheist wrong about the universe.”
“Then atheism,” I said, “is an inadequate answer to the problem of evil?”
“It’s an easy answer — maybe, if I may use the word, a cheap answer,” he said. “Atheism is cheap on people, because it snobbishly says nine out of ten people through history have been wrong about God and have had a lie at the core of their hearts.
“Think about that. How is it possible that over ninety percent of all the human beings who have ever lived — usually in far more painful circumstances than we — could believe in God? The objective evidence, just looking at the balance of pleasure and suffering in the world, would not seem to justify believing in an absolutely good God. Yet this has been almost universally believed.
“Are they all crazy? Well, I suppose you can believe that if you’re a bit of an elitist. But maybe, like Leo Tolstoy, we have to learn from the peasants. In his autobiography, he wrestles with the problem of evil. He saw life had more suffering than pleasure and more evil than good and was therefore apparently meaningless. He was so despairing that he was tempted to kill himself. He said he didn’t know how he could endure.
“Then he said, in effect, ‘Wait a minute — most people do endure. Most people have a life that’s harder than mine and yet they find it wonderful. How can they do that? Not with explanations, but with faith.’ He learned from the peasants and found faith and hope.
“So atheism treats people cheaply. Also, it robs death of meaning, and if death has no meaning, how can life ultimately have meaning? Atheism cheapens everything it touches — look at the results of communism, the most powerful form of atheism on earth.
“And in the end, when the atheist dies and encounters God instead of the nothingness he had predicted, he’ll recognize that atheism was a cheap answer because it refused the only thing that’s not cheap — the God of infinite value.”