One of the most powerful and troubling arguments against classical monotheism is the problem of evil. Even if a theist believes in the God of the Bible, Qur’an or Torah and accepts the traditional interpretation of those scriptures, the problem of evil may still be a considerable difficulty for him. Something like, “You know, God, I believe in you and your goodness; but why did you allow that to happen?” Epicurus is credited to be the originator of this argument, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither willing nor able? Then why call him God?”
In this series, I will be trying to defend the problem of evil on the face of some popular objections to it; mostly from the Internet theists. In the first part, I am going to explain two forms of the argument, namely the logical and the evidential one, as I understand it. In the second part, I am going to look at some objections to the logical problem of evil and offer some responses to them. And finally, in the third part, I am going to look at some objections to the evidential argument from evil and offer some responses to those as well. So, let’s begin.
The quote of Epicurus may have already gave you an outline of the argument, the problem of evil is basically the problem of reconciling the existence of evil with the existence of an all-knowing, all-powerful and most importantly, an all-good God. So, it is entirely about a God which has those three attributes in particular. If you don’t believe in that kind of a God; for example, if you are a deist or a polytheist; this argument is not going to trouble you at all. Regardless, it should definitely give you a food for thought. Now, this is the most modern form of the logical problem of evil:
- If God exists, then God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
- If God is omnipotent, then God has the power to eliminate all evil.
- If God is omniscient, then God knows when evil exists.
- If God is morally perfect, then God has the desire to eliminate all evil.
- Evil exists.
- If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn’t have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn’t know when evil exists, or doesn’t have the desire to eliminate all evil.
- Therefore, God doesn’t exist.
Imagine you know that one of the children in your town is going to be kidnapped, you also can prevent it from happening if you wish to, and you are also a moral person, meaning that you do wish to prevent the atrocity; will the kidnap be prevented? Yes, obviously. But if the kidnap was not prevented, what could have been the reason for it not being prevented? Simple; either you didn’t know about it, else you couldn’t prevent it or you were immoral, you didn’t want to prevent it. Replace the ‘you’ in this story with ‘God’ and ‘your town’ with ‘the world’, and it becomes the very thing we were talking about. There are countless kidnaps taking place in this world every second, why isn’t God stopping them? Well, the answer is in the 6th premise of the formal argument I gave above.
The argument can also be presented in a different way. There are four propositions, (i) God is Omniscient, (ii) God is Omnipotent, (iii) God is Omnibenevolent and (iv) Evil exists. These four propositions cannot be all true. You have to reject at least one of this propositions to make the set coherent. You can reject proposition (i), saying that God doesn’t know about evil, maybe he is interested in something else these days, maybe he left the universe completely alone after he created it. You can reject proposition (ii), saying that God cannot do anything about evil, maybe he cannot interrupt the natural world, maybe he is too far away or anything of that sort. You can reject (iii), maybe he doesn’t care, maybe he is identical with Satan etc. And finally you can reject proposition (iv), saying there is nothing ‘evil’ about the world and everything is good and justified in God’s mind, or maybe ‘evil’ itself is a meaningless word, the rejection of this proposition however, raises some problems and inconsistencies I shall discuss in later articles of this series.
As you see, if evil exists, God doesn’t have one of his signature qualities, and if he doesn’t have one of his signature qualities, then he is not God by definition.
The strength of this argument lies in its logical validity and its emotional aspect. Maybe this argument has not impressed you emotionally, but the next form of the argument will do that job. It is called “the evidential problem of evil”.
1.5 million children under the age of 5 died from vaccine-preventable diseases in 2008. 5.9 million children under age five died in 2015, nearly 16 000 every day. Nearly 500 child-rape cases happened from the time you started the to read this article.
The question is, of course, that in a world of such a horror, how can one think that an all-good creator and sustainer exists? It seems emotionally and inductively inescapable that something is wrong with all this. And this is not enough, you may rule out these bad events as ‘humane evil’, maybe they died not because of God, but because of human atrocities and corruption, maybe people could have prevented the diseases but they didn’t, maybe the children themselves played out weirdly in the sun and caught up those diseases (I did heard this kind of response from many theists, so don’t get offended, it’s not a generalization or an attempted pun) or any excuse you can possibly come up with. In that case, you have to explain this; “In some distant forest lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire a fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering.”
This is a famous example of natural evil given by William Rowe, a proponent of the problem of evil. There is nothing humane about it, nature is doing all of it and there doesn’t seem to be any sensible moral purpose for which it could have been done by God. In this example, you cannot simply escape the conclusion by invoking humans’-fault-hypothesis, you have to face the problem of a non-human evil. I can give countless examples and even statistics of the amount of these ‘natural evils’ in the world; earthquakes, tornadoes, lighting strikes and so on. It seems that God could have created this world without these things.
Unlike the logical problem of evil, the evidential version rests on probabilities. It says, “Maybe everything is justified in God’s plan, but here, try to find a purpose of this disaster, you can’t.” It lowers the probability of the existence of a God with those signature traits.
That was the brief explanation of the two forms of the problem of evil. In the next essay, I will look at some objections to the logical problem of evil and critically examine them.
Thanks for reading. Any form of criticism or appreciation is welcome.