The Problem of Evil
The problem of evil, also called the problem of pain and suffering, is probably the most well attested argument against the existence of God. It’s modern construct traces its roots back 2300 years to the Greek philosopher Epicurus. In this argument, there are fundamental assumptions (here in the form of premises) about the nature of God that makes the argument work in the favor of the non-theist. 1st, God is all powerful. 2nd, God
is all loving, or omni-benevolent. If he was all loving, he would want to do away with all the evil that harm to his valued creatures. If he is all powerful, he would have the capability to get rid of the evil that harms his value creatures. But, 3rd, evil obviously exists. Therefore, as the argument goes, such a God does not exist.
From the face of it, we are given three basic premises which lead to the conclusion of this argument. In order to defeat the argument as it is framed, one must deny at least one of these three premises. The problem is, a Christian generally affirms 1) that God is a loving, 2) that God is all powerful, and 3) that evil exists. Therefore, without probing deeper into the premises, the Christian essentially concedes the argument – at least in it’s constructed form – to the non-theist.
Let’s ask some questions of the premises in order to show that this argument may not be as air tight as it can initially look. First let’s consider (P1), “If God is all powerful he would be able to get rid of evil and suffering.” As I have written recently, God’s omnipotence does not necessarily imply the ability to do logical contradictions. It is possible that the only logically consistent way to get free responsible moral beings is to allow for the capacity for evil to occur. Therefore, God’s omnipotence allows for either free moral creatures and the existence of something evil, or no capacity for evil and no free
responsible moral beings. Perhaps God allowed for the existence of such dignified beings at the expense that evil would inevitably occur. I am not yet saying that this is certainly the case, but I am demonstrating that this premise is not necessarily true. God may be all powerful and not able to get rid of evil based on the type of world that he intended.
Now let’s ask questions of the second premise: “If God is all-loving, he would want to eliminate evil.” This suffers from the assumption that since we don’t see evil being eliminated here and now, evil will never be eliminated. There is a possibility that the evil that we endure now is only for a relatively short period. After that, evil will be eliminated from its influence over us. There is a possibility that the reason evil has its reign for a time is so that we can always know what was eliminated. Maybe the greatness of God is most highlighted by the existence of forces that oppose God. If there were no evil, might everything appear morally neutral – or entirely amoral?
I grant the third premise – “evil exists.” We can however consider what the existence of evil implies about our world. If evil exists, then good exists, and so does an intuitive ability to discern between the two.
Good and evil can only exist within agents of value.
Consider this example: You urgently call the cops to your house, telling them, “I’ve been robbed, I’ve been robbed!” The cops tell you to calm down, asking you exactly how much was stolen. You tell them, “Well, it was $0.00. It was nothing of any value that actually belonged to me.” The cops look back at you with a puzzled look, asking, “Excuse me? So what exactly was stolen if nothing of any personal worth was taken from you?” You respond, “A big white truck came through the back alley and hauled off with my garbage!” The cops roll their eyes and begin to walk away.
We can see that no evil exists if only unwanted trash exists. But if we are valued, wanted, and have some kind of infused purpose, only then can we say that evil can exist around us. Such evil could be defined as that which deters from our value and intended purpose. The assumption in “evil exists” is that our lives are worth something from the very start.
To conclude this introductory part, the logical problem of evil, as presented by the three premises and the conclusion, “God does not exist,” is not built on necessarily true premises. There are assumptions within the process – not least of which is the admission that there is an objective way to distinguish between good and evil. There are possibilities that God actually chooses to allow evil for a brief period for the sake of greater purposes – which will be explored more in the following blog. There is also no need to grant the hidden assumption that true love equals no hardships. These ideas go to disprove the idea that if God is defined as a being who is all-loving and all-powerful, and evil exists, then God must not exist. Instead, we see that a world in which, at least for now, contains evil might be exactly what God has intended for his perfect purposes.