Dostoevsky did not invent these objections, of course. They are as old as rebellion. Moreover, he knew that theodicy has always been incapable of an adequate response to these hostilities. He merely gave them the most powerful form in the history of anti-religious writing. And this is why many readers think that the novel never manages to escape these pages, that the Christian Dostoevsky, in allowing such power to anti-Christian arguments, really produced not a Christian novel but an unconsciously atheistic one. The philosopher Lev Shestov thought that Dostoevsky, for all his orthodoxy, was so corroded by doubt that when he came to imagine the doubter Ivan, he could not help giving him a vitality and appeal far beyond the saintly and bland Alyosha. Those of Shestov's mind think that even if the novel demonstrates that atheism is finally a murderous idea because it kills Fyodor, religion is so damaged by Ivan's onslaught that it cannot mount a proper reply.
Yet Dostoevsky very much wanted to reply to Ivan's attack. He worried that Father Zosima and Alyosha would not be what he called, in a letter to an editor, a "sufficient reply" to "the negative side" (the atheistic side) of his book. Well, can there be a reply to Ivan's arguments? Alyosha says what any Christian must say: that Christ forgives all of us, that he suffered for us so that we may not suffer, that we do not know why the world has been constructed the way it is. Depending on our beliefs, we will find this adequate or inadequate.
But Christ is not an idea. This is surely the only way to explain the intellectually incoherent behavior of Dimitri, who, though innocent, is willing to be guilty for all and before all; or of Father Zosima's equally extreme advice that we should ask forgiveness "even from the birds"; or of Alyosha's final words, which close the book, that resurrection does indeed exist: "Certainly we shall rise, certainly we shall see, and gladly, joyfully tell one another all that has been!" Such notions have really fallen off the cliff of ideas and into the realm of illogical, beautiful, desperate exhortation. Belief has smothered knowledge. And this exchange--of the unreason of Christianity for the reason of atheism--means finally that there can be no "dialogism" in this novel, either of the kind that Bakhtin proposed, or the kind that Dostoevsky so ardently desired. There is neither a circulation of ideas nor an "answering" of atheism. For the answer--the unreason of Christian love--no longer belongs to the realm of worldly ideas, and thus no longer belongs to the novel itself. It truly exists in Paradise, and in that other, finally un-novelistic book, the New Testament.