Wednesday, January 12, 2011 Login

The Problem of Evil

The Problem of Evil is a problem with reconciling between the existence of evil in the world and the existence of a god who is all-powerful (omnipotent), all-knowing (omniscient), and all-good (omnibenevolent). The atheistic argument that uses the problem of evil to argue for the non-existence of a god as defined above is known as the Argument From Evil, in that it argues for the non-existence of god from the existence of evil. The Problem of Evil can be outlined as follows:

  1. God, being Omniscient, would know when evil was about to occur.
  2. God, being Omnipotent, would have the power to prevent it.
  3. God, being Omnibenevolent, would want to prevent it.
  4. Evil is not prevented.

Conclusion: Either God is unwilling or unable to prevent evil. If God is unwilling, He is not Omnibenevolent. If He is unable, He is either not Omniscient because He doesn’t know when it would happen, or He is not Omnipotent because He can’t do anything about it, or both. Because evil exists, a God that is defined as omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent cannot exist.

In the next section we will consider some common objections to this argument.

Objections Part 1

A common objection to the Argument from Evil is known as the Free Will Defense. It asserts that God gave man the freedom to make his own choices and that any evil that occurs is the result of man’s free choice. God did this because He believed free will to be a more desirable than a world full of people programmed to do only good. Dennis McCallum, in an article linked to below, outlines this response in the following way:

  1. Free will is of moral value. That is, a world with free will is better than one without it.
  2. It is a contradiction to say that God brings it about that humans freely will only the good.
  3. God must bring about the best possible world in his capacity.
  4. Therefore, God must create a world with free will.
  5. But then God is not responsible for evil (choices), since it is not in his power to bring it about that men freely choose only the good.

The most obvious flaw with this response is that not all evil in the world is the result of the free choices of people. The vast majority of evil falls in the category of Natural Evil, or evil that results from random acts of nature such as earthquakes, diseases, tornadoes, asteroids, etc – all of which humans have no control over. The Free Will Defense fails because it does not explain the existence of natural evils.

A less subtle response is that even if God did prevent all evil, this would not completely negate our free will or require that God take away our free will. It should not take much thought to see that we are not free in an absolute sense of the word. Our freedom to make our own decisions is already limited by the type of decisions we can make and the laws of nature governing this Universe. I cannot, for instance, pick myself off of the ground and fly out the window. Yet nobody denies my free will, despite my inability to fly on my own accord. The inability to sin, rather than taking away our free will, simply places one more limitation on us. We would still have the freedom to choose between an infinite number of good actions, just like we still have the freedom to choose between a number of other transportation methods. Of course, it is also debatable to what extent, if any, we actually have free will (which is simply assumed to exist by this objection).

Finally, we are supposed to believe from this that humanity, with free will, thwarts the desire of God for humanity to do good by sinning and bringing evil upon himself. Acting contrary to the desires or wishes of an omnipotent being does not make much sense. We must assume that the state of the world is precisely how God desires it to be, because nothing could prevent an omnipotent God from obtaining His desires. The evil that occurs, then, is in line with God’s desires. This goes contrary to the idea of an omnibenevolent being.

Objections Part 2

Another objection is that evil only “seems” evil to us, but in some mysterious way all evil is really “good” to God. This objection, for all purposes, destroys our ability to distinguish between “good” and “evil” in the first place. If we cannot distinguish between good and evil, then on what basis can the theist claim God to be “good”? Labeling God all-good is meaningless if we can no longer distinguish between good and evil. This objection must be rejected simply because it undermines our ability to call God omnibenevolent in the first place.

This page was last modified on November 13th, 2009 at 7:16 pm

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