Why Does God Permit Evil to Exist/Part 4

By: Dr. John Ankerberg; ©2001
How would you respond to someone who says evil is not real, that it’s only an illusion? Does denying the reality of evil make sense? Will denying evil make it go away?

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Why Does God Permit Evil to Exist?—Part Four

Dr. John Ankerberg: We are talking about how God can be all loving, all-powerful, all knowing, and you can still experience the evil things that are coming your way. How does that fit inside of the orthodox historic Christian position? And Norm, today we would like to start off with this. There are some people that have suggested that evil is not really there; it is an illusion. What would you say to a person like that?

Dr. Norman Geisler: Well, illusionism is probably one of the oldest non-Christian solutions to the problem of evil. It arises out of the Pantheistic worldview where God is all and all is good, and therefore there is no evil. It is manifest in Christian Science, and Unity, and Hare Krishna, and the Hindu background, and Baha’i. A lot of American religious groups have picked up this Pantheistic background. What they are saying in essence is, to quote Mary Baker Eddy, evil is an error of mortal mind; that it is like darkness; it doesn’t exist; it goes out of existence when the light comes there; it is like a zero; it is like a dream. It isn’t real, therefore death and sin and hell and suffering are all a figment of one’s imagination.

Ankerberg: What don’t you like about illusionism then, besides what seems to be obvious? How would you tell a person, for example, who might be saying, “Okay, but I believe that. That is my way of looking at the world.”

Geisler: I would say that the obvious is that it’s denying the obvious. No philosophy should start with denying the obvious; we should start with the obvious and work our way from there. Besides that, I would say they have no explanation for the origin of the illusion. Where did the illusion come from? Secondly, why is this illusion so universal? Why is it everybody has this illusion? Why is this illusion so persistent? And why does the illusion seem so real? After all it doesn’t make any real difference to somebody who believes that or someone like us. If you stick him with a pin, he hurts just as much as I hurt. As someone put it: “There was a faith healer of Deal/Who said that though pain is not real/Yet when I sit upon a pin/And it punctuates my skin/I dislike what I fancy I feel.” Now he dislikes it as much as we do.

Ankerberg: He just tries to deny it. He just denies the experience.

Geisler: He just denies the reality. But actually the force of that in his life is equal to the force of the pin in our life, he is just defining it differently. But defining a reality as a non-reality doesn’t make the reality go away. And there is one other thing I would like to say. According to their view, our view is evil because we propound the reality of evil. They deny the reality of evil. But if they admit that we exist and that our view is real, then they are admitting the reality of evil because our view is evil. But once they admit that we exist and that our view is part of reality, they are denying their view because they are admitting that evil is real and they can’t admit that evil is real.

Ankerberg: What do they say when you tell them that?

Geisler: Well, they usually stutter a little bit. They usually try to get around it by saying something as kind as they can without insulting our non-existence—insulting us by saying we don’t exist—they try to point out that for us to say that is an illusion. But then, why talk with us if we are just an illusion, if we don’t really exist? If people who really believe that and the reality of that belief don’t exist, then they really shouldn’t write books trying to convince us and they shouldn’t talk with us; they should just ignore us.

Ankerberg: How about dualism? They are saying,” Hey, evil is there. It is a separate entity. It is a separate god. It is a separate agent, whatever you want to call it. And good is there, and they have always been there.” What would you say to that?

Geisler: That is a very ancient view, too. Actually St. Augustine, the famous Christian from around 400 A.D., belonged to a Manichean cult that believed that. The Zoroastrian religion believes that: two eternal forces struggling with each other. The problem with that is that both forces cannot be infinite. Both forces can’t be all powerful, because you can’t have two all-powerful beings. If they got into a fight, one could give a knock out blow to the other. If the other can be knocked out, he is not all-powerful. So only one of those can be all-powerful. But if the other one is not all-powerful, and one is all-powerful, then you don’t really have two co-eternal beings. They are not “co.” You have one finite power and one infinite power. That is precisely what the Bible says. Secondly, the problem is if one is finite and everything finite thing is created, because every limited thing must come into existence, then it must have been created by the other. Then what they are really talking about is the devil. A finite, limited power that was created by the infinite power—created good and went bad, of course, as the Bible says. But they are not talking about a god.

Ankerberg: Then of course they would say both of them could have been finite, but then there is a problem with that, too.

Geisler: Well, if they say both are finite we have serious problems then because we do not know the outcome of the battle, we don’t know if we are on the right side. God is just struggling with evil Himself, and if He is only finite, who made Him? Everything finite thing must have had a creator.

Ankerberg: Alright, how about determinism, which is another sense of Pantheism, or is Pantheism? “God was not free to create a better world than we have. God was forced to create the world we have. God is actually either a part of the world, all is God, and God is all, or that that which is here is flowing out from God and it is just the way it is.”

Geisler: The problem with this deterministic view is that God, of His own nature, must necessarily create evil, is like saying evil must necessarily flow from an absolutely good being. That is contradictory to say than an absolutely perfect being must create something that is evil. Furthermore, God doesn’t have to do anything. He is free. God is love and love is bestowed freely. You can’t force someone to love. The basic premise, false premise, behind this belief is that God is somehow incomplete, because a Pantheist be­lieves that God is like a seed and He must unfold into a flower. So there is a lack in God and He had to create in order to fulfill His own lack, whereas we believe that God is abso­lutely perfect. He had no lacks, he had no need, He wasn’t lonely and therefore He cre­ated. Actually, He would still be lonely because we don’t talk to Him that much anyway. But it wasn’t loneliness, it wasn’t need in God, it was an absolutely perfected being who wanted to share, but didn’t need to create.

Read Part 5

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