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On first finding this defense by Zacharias, I was rather convinced, but upon reading it again, I have some doubts.

Firstly, here is the transcript from what he said about the problem of evil.

...Whenever a person raises the problem of evil, they are implicitly also positing the existence of good. When you say something is evil, you assume something is good. When you assume something is good, you assume there is a moral law by which to differentiate between good and evil; and if you assume a moral law, you must ultimately posit a moral law-giver. But that is often what the questioner is seeking to disprove and not prove; because if there is no moral law-giver, then there is no moral law. If there is no moral law, there's no good. If there's no good, there's no evil. The question self-destructs in terms of an objective rule by which to measure good and evil. It's very important to note that the question affirms that a moral framework exists in life...'

(Source: "Ravi Zacharias - Addressing the Problem of Evil" nlcfvideoteam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9b0PJDDof4)

What I'm stuck on is how he jumped from positing a moral-law giver to showing that God exists and hence makes the problem of evil inconsistent. A moral law does not require a God (from what I've learnt regarding ethics), so why is it that Zacharias' defense proves the problem of evil to be self contradictory/self destructive? Am I missing something important?

  • It doesn't look like a defense, it rather looks like he's articulating a certain position on the way to discussing some other issue that is at stake in his discussion... – Mozibur Ullah Jan 16 at 19:16
  • Would you have a link to the full transcript or to the video? Welcome to Philosophy! – Frank Hubeny Jan 16 at 19:34
  • @FrankHubeny I think it's this one: youtube.com/watch?v=P9b0PJDDof4 – Julian Cheng Jan 16 at 19:53
  • @MoziburUllah Well, he is a Christian apologist with the main goal of responding to criticisms and defending the faith. What isthe 'issue' that you have in mind? – Julian Cheng Jan 16 at 19:54
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    @MoziburUllah This was taken from a talk he conducted. The video link is above in the comments. It seems like all he intends by his defense is simply to render the problem of evil as not a problem for God's existence. – Julian Cheng Jan 16 at 20:21
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Let's summarize the argument as follows:

Q - If God exists, why is there evil?
1 - How can we call something evil, with no moral standard?
2 - How can there be a moral standard, with no God?
3 - Therefore, the entire question is incoherent

Your objection is to line 2, because your ethics studies have asserted that there can be a moral standard without God. I don't think you're necessarily missing anything here. Zacharias clearly disagrees with the idea that moral standards can exist without God, but it doesn't seem to be his project here to provide a full disproof of that concept. He's assuming this is a self-evident truism (which means that this argument is directed mainly against those sympathetic to that point of view).

Personally, I think there's a more serious objection to this argument. It's largely directed against the contrapositive ("There exists evil, therefore, there is no God") by pointing out that without God, it doesn't even make sense to talk about "evil." But even if we grant it has force from that point of view, it doesn't necessarily excuse the theist from addressing the problem of evil, since the theist does accept the existence of God and hence a moral framework. In other words, even if the atheist must assume theism in order to even talk coherently about evil, it does not therefore exempt the theist from answering. It's an example of the genetic fallacy --the disingenuous origins of the argument are not in themselves a disproof.

  • Thanks for the very helpful insight. Would it however be correct to say that if we accept the 'self evident truism' that a moral framework requires the existence of God, Zacharias has made it so the problem of evil does not disprove the existence of God, but still poses a problem which theists must answer? – Julian Cheng Jan 16 at 19:18
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    That's a very good summary of what I was trying to convey with my answer :). God is a necessary being in any world with a moral framework --according to Zacharias' baseline assumptions. So an attempt to disprove God with a morals-based argument would therefore inevitably fail. That's what he's trying to demonstrate. – Chris Sunami Jan 16 at 19:23
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In the video Ravi Zacharias is answering a question from the audience:

How can you present the Gospel to a friend who has been raped at a young age?

His answer prepared the audience with a brief philosophical position that the OP transcribed and then Zacharias addressed the "existential" issue by referencing Eleanore Stump's contribution to a book Philosophers Who Believe:

Her entire article - essay - shows how she came to know Christ by facing the problem of suffering head on.

Zacharias and perhaps also Stump are primarily approaching the topic of evil and suffering from a "head on", pastoral perspective. There is a corresponding philosophical perspective that Zacharias briefly touches on when he remarks "if you assume a moral law, you must ultimately posit a moral law-giver".

Is it really the case that the assumption of a moral law (or obligation) requires the assumption of a moral law-giver? The OP appears to be primarily concerned about this assertion:

What I'm stuck on is how he jumped from positing a moral-law giver to showing that God exists and hence makes the problem of evil inconsistent. A moral law does not require a God (from what I've learnt regarding ethics), so why is it that Zacharias' defense proves the problem of evil to be self contradictory/self destructive? Am I missing something important?

The existence of a moral-law giver would be the existence of God and Zacharias' theology has identified that God.

What one might be missing is a distinction between ethics and moral obligation. G. E. M. Anscombe in her article "Modern Moral Philosophy" would agree with Zacharias that moral obligation (law) requires a divine law-giver. However, she also claims that one could have an ethics without obligation by imitating Aristotle's ethics in which she sees no obligation only a judgement whether something is done well or not. One of her key points as Wikipedia quotes it is:

Concepts of obligation, and duty — moral obligation and moral duty, that is to say — and of what is morally right and wrong, and of the moral sense of "ought," ought to be jettisoned if this is psychologically possible; because they are survivals, or derivatives from survivals, from an earlier conception of ethics which no longer generally survives, and are only harmful without it.

Why we are in a situation where moral philosophers feel the need to go beyond Aristotelian ethics to include theistic obligation she considers historical. Between the time of Aristotle and today there was a theistic cultural influence "which no longer generally survives" that made obligation part of ethics.

At the end of her paper she claims that with modern moral philosophy one can "procure the judicial condemnation of the innocent". This is what makes modern moral philosophy "harmful" without theistic obligation. Her perspective may help clarify what Zacharias said that the non-theistic approach to the question of evil "self-destructs in terms of an objective rule".


Anscombe, G. E. M. (1958). Modern moral philosophy. Philosophy, 33(124), 1-19. https://www.pitt.edu/~mthompso/readings/mmp.pdf

"Eleonore Stump" Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eleonore_Stump

"Modern Moral Philosophy" Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Modern_Moral_Philosophy

"Ravi Zacharias - Addressing the Problem of Evil" nlcfvideoteam https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P9b0PJDDof4

"Ravi Zacharias" Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ravi_Zacharias

  • Last two paragraphs correct and helpful, but hard to follow... can you add words or sentences to clarify them somewhat? – elliot svensson Jan 17 at 16:49
  • @elliotsvensson I made an attempt to clarify those last two paragraphs. Thank you for pointing out that they needed more clarification. – Frank Hubeny Jan 17 at 16:59

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