Apologetic Methods, apologetics, Presuppositionalism, Theodicy

If a Good God Exists: Presuppositional Apologetics and the problem of evil

It is clear that all things are ordered according to the perfect will of the Lord. If the Lord’s reasons for some state of affairs are inscrutable, does that mean that they are unjust? (Augustine, City of God Book V, Chapter 2).

The problem of evil is the most pervasive argument used against Christianity. It also causes the most doubts among Christians. I know I can attest to crying out to God over the untold atrocities which continue to happen. Yet very often, I think, we are asking the wrong question. Here, I’ll explore the ways the problem of evil is presented. Then, I’ll offer what I think is a unique answer: the presuppositional response to the problem of evil. Finally, we’ll evaluate this response.

Two Ways to Present the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is posed in a number of ways, but here I’ll outline two varieties.

The Classical/Logical Problem of Evil

God is said to be all powerful and all good, yet evil exists. Thus, it seems that either God does not want to prevent evil (in which case God is not all good) or God is incapable of preventing evil (and is thus not all powerful).

The Evidential Problem of Evil

Evil on its own may not prove that God does not exist (the logical/classical problem of evil), but it seems that surely the amount of evil should be less than what we observe. Surely, God is capable of reducing the amount of suffering by just one less child being beaten, or by one less tsunami killing hundreds. The very pervasiveness of evil makes it clear that no good God exists.

The Presuppositional Response to the Problem of Evil

One of the insights that we can gain from presuppositional apologetics is that it forces us to look at our preconceived notions about reality and how the impact our answers to questions and even the questions we choose to ask. The way that the problems of evil are outlined provides a prime example for how presuppositional approach to apologetics provides unique answers.

The presuppositional answer to these problems of evil is simple: If a good God exists, then these are not problems at all.

Of course, this seems overly simplified, and it is. But what the presuppositionalist is emphasizing is that the only way to make the two problems above make sense is to come from a kind of neutral or negative starting presupposition. The only way to say to construct the dilemma in the classical/logical problem of evil is to assume that there is not an all-powerful and all-good God to begin with. For, if an omnibenevolent, omnipotent being exists, then to say that God does not want to prevent evil seems false; while to say that God is incapable of preventing evil is also false. Thus, there would have to be a third option: perhaps God reasons for allowing evil are inscrutable; perhaps the free will defense succeeds; etc. Only if one assumes that there is no God can one make sense of the logical problem of evil to begin with.

The evidential problem of evil suffers an even worse conundrum given its presuppositions. For it once more assumes that God should do more to prevent evil, and so because God does not do more, God must not exist or must not care about evil. But who is to say that God should do more to prevent evil? Who is in a position to judge the overall evil in the world and say that there should be less? Furthermore, even assuming it were possible for there to be less evil, who knows the whole breadth of possible purposes God might have to allow for suffering and evil? The presuppositionalist agrees with the words of God in Job:

Who has a claim against me that I must pay?
Everything under heaven belongs to me. Job 41:11

The answer must come with humility: no one has such a claim. There is none who can claim that God owes them one thing. Yet this is not all an appeal to God’s sovereignty. Instead, it is an appeal to God’s goodness.

The late Greg Bahnsen, a defender of presuppositional apologetics, presents the presuppositional approach to the problem of evil in his work, Always Ready:

If the Christian presupposes that God is perfectly and completely good… then he is committed to evaluating everything within his experience in light of that presupposition. Accordingly, when the Christian observes evil events or things in the world, he can and should retain consistency with his presupposition about God’s goodness by now inferring that God has a morally good reason for the evil that exists. (171-172)

Thus, the strength that one assigns to the problem of evil ultimately depends quite a bit upon one’s presuppositions. If you believe you have good reason for thinking that God exists, then the problem of evil seems much less powerful than if you believe there is no good reason for thinking God exists.

Yeah… and?

Okay, so what’s the point? It may be that what we bring to the table does indeed alter our view of the problem of evil. Does that mean we are at a complete impasse? I think that this is where evidences come in, even on the presuppositional view. If all we have are presuppositions, then we are indeed stuck. But we must look at evidences to see whose presuppositions match reality. And, what we have done by centering the discussion of the problem of evil around presuppositions is to set it to the side. Surely the atheist would not suggest the Christian must abandon their presuppositions? It seems like a more rational perspective to look at the evidences. The presuppositionalist holds that when it comes to evil, it is really just a matter of presuppositions. If a Good God exists, we can trust God.


The Presuppositional Apologetic of Cornelius Van Til– I explore the presuppositional method of apologetics through a case study of the man who may fairly be called its founder, Cornelius Van Til.

Debate Review: Greg Bahnsen vs. Gordon Stein– I review a debate between a prominent presuppositional apologist, the late Greg Bahnsen, and a leading atheist, Gordon Stein. It is worth reading/listening to because the debate really brings out the distinctiveness of the presuppositional apologetic.

I have explored this type of argument about the problem of evil before. See my post, What if? The “Job Answer” to the problem of evil.

I review Greg Bahnsen’s Always Ready.

Image credit: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Las_Conchas_Fire.jpg



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About J.W. Wartick

J.W. Wartick is a Lutheran, feminist, Christ-follower. A Science Fiction snob, Bonhoeffer fan, Paleontology fanboy and RPG nerd.


5 thoughts on “If a Good God Exists: Presuppositional Apologetics and the problem of evil

  1. I accept that God’s reasons for allowing evil are inscrutable. So we agree to set aside the problem of evil. For people who already trust in God, that’s great, but it doesn’t seem to help bring non-believers closer to God. And that’s what the whole apologetics project is about, isn’t it? If everyone trusted in God, we wouldn’t need apologetics at all.

    Posted by John Moore | April 29, 2013, 6:59 AM
    • I’m actually not sure that apologetics is reducible to being used with non-believers. In fact, I would suggest apologetics is most useful for two things: 1) Destroying barriers people put up to set themselves up against the knowledge of God (thus, unbelief); but more importantly, 2) dealing with doubt. Just because someone has faith, that doesn’t mean they ever ask questions. It is to such people that I think the presuppositional argument is most valuable. But, as I pointed out in the post, I also think that it is very useful for dealing with the POE when discussing the issue with those who do not believe.

      My reason for this, I hope I made clear: essentially, one’s analysis of the POE is going to be largely (and perhaps entirely) based upon their paradigm for interpreting the evidence itself. If both the theist and non-theist accept this, then that amount of work has already been done. And that, I think, is about as far as the presuppositional answer can go.

      Posted by J.W. Wartick | May 1, 2013, 11:04 AM
  2. In my view, the problem with the problem of evil is that it mischaracterizes the problem and the evil, and I agree that ones personal position comes down to one’s presuppositions. One of the presuppositions is the afterlife. If one argues that evil prepares people for the afterlife, then it removes it as a problem for people going to heaven… but then creates a problem regarding those who are going to hell. How this provides the skeptic with a ready-made argument that God is not all good or He is not all powerful. One advantage of presupposing an afterlife is that you can now argue that God is therefore all-powerful, and reduce the disagreement to being over God’s goodness. Where do you go from there? For me personally, to argue over God’s goodness is a red herring. The real argument should be over God’s justice, because Heaven and Hell is about justice, not God’s goodness, and the way we respond to our life is the evidence God will use in judging us. I believe justice is the highest goodness there is, a fact even confirms in the atheist’s repulsion of God allowing evil… but they presuppose no afterlife. What is the higher good then… preventing evil or punishing it? What is the higher good… preventing evil, or providing mercy? Without allowing for evil, you cannot take a stand against it (let alone punish in Hell) and you cannot provide mercy (let alone provide merciful passage to Heaven). The question then is whether allowing evil is akin to causing it, and whether the goodness of punishing evil and providing mercy (i.e., grace) are worth allowing evil to begin with. From God’s perspective the answer will always be no and yes respectively… for the atheist, the answers they would apply to a finite person would be no and yes, but regarding a god they reply yes and no. They apply a different standard to God, who could just create a universe without any evil if He so chose. Of course, such a universe would be devoid of justice and mercy as well. But without Hell there is no justice; without Heaven there is no mercy. For me, this creates the juxtaposition of heaven and hell that explains God’s reasons for the Gospel; for the atheist that same juxtaposition is a contradiction that proves that God cannot exist, because the mere idea of good coming from evil is a contradiction they cannot stomach… and that is where their subjectivity shows. But the atheist will disagree, pointing out that it is **our** subjectivity that is showing. And of course we are both right, because as you say, the true root of our disagreement stems from our presuppositions, and our presuppositions stem from our trust (or lack thereof) in the Holy Spirit. Of course they would say there is no Holy Spirit for them to distrust… a conclusion or a presupposition? The answer to that is itself a presupposition!

    Posted by Mike | April 29, 2013, 9:27 AM
  3. In relation to the ‘amount of evil’ an argument from the existence of good can be made to serve as a defeater for that premise. Take the amount of good that exists in Western and Eastern societies, i.e., the quality of living, and so forth. Surely, there is a great amount of good, save the amount of good committed to by those who actively seek the Good, that needs to be considered.

    Posted by Relationnelle | April 29, 2013, 8:33 PM
  4. God is not the cause of evil in any way. Great article!

    Posted by Vivipedia | January 22, 2014, 5:25 AM

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