If God is all good, and if God is all powerful, no evil would exist. Evil exists.
The only solutions to the problem appear to be either:
- God is not all good.
- God is not all powerful.
- There is no God.
First, the atheist can legitimately raise this challenge if s/he believes that this as an inconsistency--a contradiction--in the Christian worldview, such that holding these attributes of God (i.e., God is good and all-powerful) can not be made compatible with the other premise (i.e., evil exists). Indeed, if these cannot be made compatible, if they can not simultaneously be held, then the Christian worldview collapses.
The first problem for the atheist is that the Christian worldview is compatible with the existence of evil. Here's the Christian worldview of evil:
- The Christian worldview explains the entry of evil into our world (Genesis 3).
- The Christian worldview recognize evil and suffering as something alien to the world. It is not as it should be (Romans 8: 20-23).
- The Christian worldview offers the sure hope that evil will end (Revelation 21:1-6).
- God does not do evil (James 1:13). He is holy, perfect, and without sin (Leviticus 20:26; Isaiah 6:3).
- God is sovereign over all things, such that nothing (including evil) can occur without Him ordaining it. This is tough to understand and deal with, but this conclusions is unavoidable. Indeed, the most heinous evil was expressly predestined by God (Acts 2:23).
- God uses evil and suffering to accomplish His ends. Those ends, though, are not always clear. God uses suffering for direct punishment for particular sin (e.g., 2 Samuel 12:10-12); he uses suffering to show his power (John 9:1-3); he uses suffering as a test of faith (e.g., Job; James 1:2-3; 1 Peter 1:6-7; 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). God promises that He uses all things (including evil) to work for the good--i.e., for the sanctification--of His people (Romans 8:28).
The second problem for the atheist in raising this problem is that, once the compatibility problem is handled, they can only raise this problem illegitimately. It is illegitimate because the problem challenges the consistency of the atheists' worldview. The atheist's worldview says that the world began out of chaos (a "big bang"), operates, in some sense, under randomness (e.g., chance mutations) via purely natural, blind, purposeless (albeit strangely enough, constant) laws of nature. Under these conditions, suffering and evil would be exactly what one would expect. In this worldview, suffering and evil fit quite well--too well. Evil and suffering are not a problem; they just are. They are part of the normal, purely natural, physical undetermined world.
Moreover, the atheist is faced with another problem along these lines because s/he cannot establish an objective basis for identifying evil that extends beyond space and time. As such, they have no case against God on the basis of evil without borrowing from the Christian worldview. Only by taking on the definitions--the absolute standards of good and evil--from the Christian worldview can they make a case about evil.
In summary, it is illegitimate for the atheist to raise the problem of evil because (a) there is no reason to see evil as a problem because it is what would be expected in their worldview and (b) they have no objective basis for determining evil.
Most fundamentally, what this problem reveals is that the atheists' worldview suspends reality by pretending God does not existence, and as such, it can not stand under its own weight. Their worldview would say that suffering and evil are expected and as such are not a problem, but this does not fit with the way we speak and act in the real world.
Evil is problem. It is a problem for atheists; it is a problem for Christians. Only in the Christian worldview, though, can evil and suffering be properly recognized as something alien and foreign and is there found the solution to evil--Christ.