The Old Argument
There is an age-old argument against the existence of God, and it is one to this day still dealt with in the hearts and minds of many. It is known as “theodicy” or the Problem of Evil (often suffering is included here also), and it goes something like this:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
Many attribute this particular statement to the Greek philosopher Epicurus, though there is debate as to who actually has said it. Nevertheless, this kind of argument has been around for some time and even in our culture is manifested in the cries of people everywhere, religious and non-religious. Some use it as a means to justify denial of anything and everything to do with religion. For others, dealing with many a challenge and difficult circumstance, simply walk away from any idea of a so-called “loving God”. I think the best way to deal with the problem of evil and suffering is to look at it in two different ways: logically and emotionally. In this first post, we will deal with evil logically.
Being both a thinker and one who’s emotions can definitely get the best of him (surprising as that may seem to those who know me), I have wrestled much with the ideas of evil, suffering and the existence of God. I’m sure the worst of life has yet to hit me too however, and so I know I will wrestle all the more in the future with the deep, heart piercing questions that plague each one of us. I also know that I have not delved into the depth of the debate in modern philosophy regarding this question, and so as per usual the discussion below will likely only be surface level. Nonetheless, I hope to give the big picture and make the case that evil is still no reason to deny God’s existence; to the contrary it is all the more reason to believe in it!
The Assumption You May Have Missed
First, we must start with the big picture. We must define evil – what is it? Evil is first and foremost a moral problem – wickedness, or acting immorally.
You might be surprised at how simply I will deal with evil right now. The reason for this, I think, is that the problem isn’t a problem at all, at least from a logical perspective. The truth is, if you believe in evil, that is, a transgressing of some moral standard, then you of course presume that very moral standard. In other words, you believe that there is also a such thing as good. But what defines this good? Therein lies the second presumption of the “problem” of evil – it presumes a source of moral law. And this source must be transcendent! It cannot come from us; otherwise it would be defined by us and therefore subjective and subject to change. But when we speak of the problem of evil, we assume that indeed, something is objectively evil, that is, it is bad whether or not someone says it is (or isn’t). For an extreme example, if Hitler had claimed to us all that the killing and torture of millions of people was not evil we would not have agreed with him, though at least then we may have given him the insanity plea (maybe). He could have argued that it was all for science and for the greater good of humanity that we kill off these people and perform these experiments. But no, I think we would all agree that regardless of the potential benefits he may have argued for, we would have denied him any claim to “good”. We would have condemned such ideas because we believe that such things are evil, objectively, whether or not someone argues otherwise. Isn’t it interesting? We make an audacious claim in calling things evil – effectively, we imply the very existence of God when we do so.
But isn’t there still a problem?
So sure, maybe our claims against evil imply God’s very existence… But still, why does he allow it? Again, perhaps simpler than we might think. It would be unhelpful (and incredibly difficult, if not impossible) to come up with an answer to every single evil committed, but perhaps a general look at things would suffice. From a logic standpoint, it is perhaps enough to simply say that God may have morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil. If we could have even one good reason for allowing evil that is morally sufficient for God to do so, then there is no logical reason to believe that God ought not to allow evil. Make sense?
One example that comes up often is the idea of free will. If God wanted to create a world of free creatures that had choices, in particular a choice to love or not to love (thereby enabling true, self-giving love to someone, namely God in this case) then he had to allow for the possibility of un-love. It is in this choice that evil is made a possibility, and indeed, in the Christian view, it is the choice that brought evil into the world when Adam and Eve chose to follow their own, subjective “moral law” (see the book of Genesis, chapter 3). So, God has given humanity some degree of freedom, and within that freedom is a choice of evil.
I think that is one half-decent argument among many. One could also posit quite effectively that through allowing evil God is somehow seeking a greater good, thereby having more than sufficient reasons.
These definitely aren’t always the “comforting” answers that many, perhaps even you, have sought. But this is the logic aspect of the question, and I think that from a logical perspective we don’t have reason to disbelieve in God because of evil… But rather we have reason to believe in his existence if indeed there is evil in this world.
Check out my other posts where I deal with the emotional problems associated with the existence of evil and why I think Jesus’ own dealings with evil and suffering give Christianity the most powerful responses to evil amongst the world’s religions. Thanks for reading!
Original Post: Saturday, 19 January 2013