News and Commentary
Origins & Design 19:1

Design and Evil:
Some Musings on the Coming Controversy

influenza virus

Rikk Watts
New Testament and Hermeneutics
Regent College

To our Readers:
The problem of the existence of evil (both “natural” and “moral”) gave Charles Darwin perhaps his most compelling argument against the intelligent design of the universe, life, and humankind. In a recent PBS Technopolitics program (, the Darwinist philosopher Michael Ruse questioned the character of a divine designer who would allow evil. O&D would like to encourage the discussion of this issue, because as “intelligent design” gains in standing as a theory, skeptics are going to ask such theological questions, which thrive at the interface of science and theology. As an opening installment in the discussion, we offer the views of Rikk Watts on moral evil. O&D does not have a position of its own to endorse; rather, we wish to encourage discussion. Further contributions -- e.g., on “natural” evil, as illustrated for instance by the influenza virus schematic above -- will follow. We welcome your replies.

– The Editor

1. Many Christians (e.g. the Thomists, C.S. Lewis, etc.) assume the premise behind the question, i.e. that the presence of evil has to be reconciled with the existence of a loving all-powerful God. I am persuaded by Henri Blocher’s Evil and the Cross that this is a mistake. The very point, argues Blocher, is that the origin of moral evil cannot be reconciled with a loving and all-powerful God (“natural evil”, as some Thomists have it, is to some extent ancillary). Rather than deny the problem, I would agree and affirm the tension. Furthermore, I would point out that the biblical data not only recognizes precisely this, but also contains some of the most poignant expressions of human indignation, frustration, and horror in the face of same (cf. Job, and the lament Psalms). Nor does the Bible seek to paper over this awful contradiction with pious explanations. It stands directly alongside those who tremble with outrage and incomprehension. Indeed, the people who come under the strongest attack are those who seek to take it upon themselves to resolve the irreconcilable -- e.g. Job’s comforters, something which in the end the book of Job never does. The Christian response is not to seek to blunt the attack but to affirm the tension.

2. The origin of evil is irrational. However, rather than see this as a weakness, I would urge that its very irrationality is the strongest evidence that it does not belong in the natural order of things; especially given that the creation was declared good, indeed very good. Moral evil’s chaotic meaninglessness is absurd in a world of God’s good order. For Christians to seek to explain moral evil -- and this is key -- is in fact intellectually to legitimate its existence, to give it a “logical” place in the scheme of things, to make space for it. This is exactly what one must not do. Hence the Bible never seeks to explain the origin of moral evil. It is inexplicable. It does not belong. It is not “consistent” with God’s character or image-bearing creation. Of course, to account for it by mitigating God’s omnipotence is to destroy any secure hope of a better future, while to ‘accommodate’ it by urging that all will work out in the end fails to do justice to the Bible’s presentation of the radical evil of evil.

3. From this perspective, Western atheism with its peculiar virulence is, I think, a protest movement against a God whom it holds responsible for inaction. The intriguing point here is that if there is no God, then there is no one against whom to protest. And, if Dostoyevsky is right, we might even ask what then is evil, if there is no standard of goodness over against its malignity? It either becomes merely subjective or ultimately all categories collapse into one. To deny God is no escape; that way lies madness. (Witness the silence of our well-known Australian atheists when faced with the Port Arthur massacre of a year or two ago.)

4. Given the irrationality of evil, how is it to be countered, indeed overcome? Not through rational means. Blocher’s wonderful point is in effect that God’s response to irrational evil is to trump it with an even greater “irrationality”: to die, not just for his friends, but for his enemies. And this is both the foolishness and weakness -- but even more so the wisdom and the power -- of the cross. From this perspective, then, the Bible seeks not to explain the inexplicable. Rather, in one sense its whole story is the account of what God has done to defeat this irrationality, namely the “irrationality” of His grace and unmerited love. Thus the apparent “irrationality” of much of the Christian ethos: the one who seeks to save her life will lose it, but she who loses her life for my sake will find it; the call to take up one’s cross; suffering service rather than self aggrandizement; etc. These are not weak answers. In the light of the cross, these are the only strong answers to evil.

Copyright © 1998 Rick Watts. All rights reserved. International copyright secured.
File Date: 7.10.98