Problem of evil

  1. What is the ‘problem of evil’ and to what extent can it be philosophically resolved?

The ‘problem of evil’ is an argument framed to try to demonstrate that the classical theistic God of religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam does not exist. Whilst various forms of the argument exist, it can be summarised logically in the following premises:

If God exists, He is purported to be defined as all-powerful, knowing and good

  1. If evil exists then such a God would either eliminate evil or never have allowed it to exist in the first place
  2. Evil exists
  3. Therefore, God (or such a God) does not exist

(Adapted from Meister, 2009).

As can be seen the argument hinges on a subjective view as to the nature of God, selecting only 3 attributes to such a deity: omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. Thus, by limiting God to such a being there appears to be force in the argument, given the apparently obvious reality of evil in the universe. However, even under this subjective framework, theistic philosophers have offered solutions to the problem of evil and I argue, the problem can be philosophically resolved to a strong degree.

Force is added to the argument by the explicit nature of evil in the universe. For example, Hick categorises this evil in 2 forms: Natural evil, being natural disasters and the like, and moral evil, being the wilful choices of humans or animals to cause harm to others. Furthermore, it has been suggested by philosophers arguing against the existence of God on these grounds that it is objectively pointless that people should suffer such natural evil through natural disasters. Moreover, that it could not have any worth for a person to have lived when suffering severe moral evil such as rape or horrific violence.

However, as theistic philosopher, Paul Draper points out, that it is impossible to demonstrate that there are no ‘good’ reasons for a good God to allow such suffering. We simply may not know the reasons that God has for permitting such evil, and therefore it is impossible for us to conclude that such a God does not exist merely on these grounds. Though it may appear to us as the best conclusion given the evidence that we can see, it may not be the reality given our limited knowledge.

I believe that this rebuttal goes a long way to weakening the ‘problem of evil’ argument, for it uses part of the proponent’s own framework of God in the argument to loosen the conclusion of the argument itself. Note the determination of the atheistic proponents set God up under only 3 categories: all-powerful, knowing and good. This is based on a very subjective and generalised view of the God of the Bible or of Islam essentially. But in stressing the all-knowing aspect of God, it is a tacit acknowledgement that mankind, as opposed to an all-powerful and ultimate God, is not all-knowing and therefore already rules himself out of the ‘problem of evil’ argument, since as Draper notes, without being omniscient, man could then not demonstrate that there are no good reasons for God to allow suffering.

Other theistic objectors to the argument have also pointed to other explanations of the problem of evil. For instance, John Feinburg argues that it is only under circumstances of evil that comfort can be produced from mankind and that in this way a person’s faith can be adequately tested. In other words, the suffering that is allowed by God provides the only circumstance where virtues such as patience, care or faith can be genuinely elicited, and therefore it can already be demonstrated (at least in part) that there visible evidences even now that may have good reasons for allowing suffering and pain.

As opposed to arguments, ‘theodicies’ have also been utilised in explaining the problem of evil. For example, in the 4th century, Christian theologian Augustine posited that it was the freewill of some humans and angels who had caused all the evil in the world through their rebellion against God in choosing to do evil. However, such a scenario has been rejected by atheist philosophers who have pointed out that this impinges too much on the sovereignty of God, since if God was all-powerful, He could have created perfect beings who would not have chosen to do evil.

I think that this objection to Augustine’s theodicy by proponents of the problem of evil argument typifies the philosophical problem of their argument. Just who on earth is the God of the problem of evil’s argument? The argument, by positing God only as omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolence as has been suggested based on the Bible does not exist in the first place and is only set up to create the problem. As Augustine’s example demonstrates, the problem of evil is very clearly identified with the freewill of man. The argument has deep-rooted flaws before even the first premise is presented. For example, on an atheistic world-view how can you even objectively define what evil is? If good does not exist, then what is good and who is the source of good? Augustine was wrong, all mankind has done wrong in the heart if not in action if they are honest. In this way, there is no logic to the problem of evil, since how could evil even be defined objectively on atheism? How could Hick use terms such as ‘moral evil’ in the context of the existence of God being in question? What is ‘moral evil’ without a good (honest) God to define it? This is the utter failure of atheism to provide any rational explanation of the universe or indeed any good reasons to doubt the existence of God.

In conclusion, under atheism, it is impossible to answer the problem of evil since it cannot be defined to be a problem in the first place. Perhaps the question and thus chapters in textbooks should be framed more intelligently as the ‘problem of defining the word evil if God does not exist’ – of course as was once said by a philosopher ‘the liberals are excellent at getting people to ask and answer the wrong questions’.

What is the best way to understand the relation of faith and reason and why?

The best way to understand the relation between faith and reason begins with properly acknowledging the limits of knowledge that humanity has. Secondly, it must be properly considered as to the right place or places where to puts one’s faith.

The limits of humanities knowledge and capability is both philosophically and practically rejected today by the majority in academia and in media. For example, the theory of evolution is presented as a scientific fact, yet it is impossible ‘to know’ (Scientia) that the universe is 13.7 billion years old and that we all evolved from a rock 3.8 billion years ago – since you would need to need power of time travel to prove this. Thus, belief in the prevailing reason of humanity today, itself requires faith. Furthermore, under normal circumstances, believing that the large and complex universe that we observe today popped into being from absolutely nothing, and that the mystery and complexity and design of human beings sprung up naturally from a rock by itself is not reasonable, it is not reason. Thus, to begin with evolution is not itself a historical or present reality, it is faith in something that is patently unreasonable to the human mind. This first must be clarified, as often evolution is, without rational reason, included in this question, where it ought not to be if one is taking the question seriously. Thus, the conflict problem is based on a false framework.

True science is:

–       Testable

–       Observable

–       Repeatable

(Big bang, stellar, chemical, organic and macro evolution do not fall into this (above) category of science).

The big religious questions of life such as how did we get here? Who are we? And where are we going? Cannot be answered by modern science and thus can only be answered by faith in a reliable witness. If the Bible is true, then God is there for the creation and gives us an accurate account of the creation. Just in the same way that we may trust a newspaper to provide us with a football score, even though were not there to witness the match. In this way, it is only possible to answer these questions by revelation, and the revelation we must have good reasons to believe are accurate.

The integration hypothesis fails under this understanding of faith and reason and many otherwise good theologians have fell into this trap. For example, as has been pointed out in the so-called ‘problem of evil’, if God created through evolution (‘tooth and claw’), then He is nothing more than the ‘bad god’ of Gnosticism, which the early Christians vehemently rejected. He is thus not the good God and if all the death and suffering the world was just simply the way God creates then what God calls really ‘good’ is not really ‘good’ and is certainly not the God represented by Jesus Christ. The integration hypothesis not only destroys the need to be saved from death and suffering, since it is ‘good’ on this view, it also falls into the post-modern fallacy. For example, the argument follows that Genesis 1 ought not to be taken literally. So why do integrationists literally believe that God created the universe? Why do they take ‘in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ literally, and the rest non-literal? Under what Hebrew rules of grammar could this be possible? Thus the integrationist view is also inconsistent with its own religious books; words and meaning are subverted in order to create one’s own reality.

The independence view falls into the same trap, since you cannot disconnect your spiritual life from the reality or truth of the universe. For example, if my religious belief was that gravity did not exist and I were to jump of a building – I would still fall and die.

In conclusion, it is reasonable to believe that:

–       The universe and humanity was created and designed by God based on true science (what we observe, test and repeat)

–       The only way you can truly know the past is through eye-witness testimony

–       There is sufficient eye-witness testimony to validate the words and resurrection of Jesus Christ, validated the Bible as God’s word

–       The trust of Jesus Christ and His words can be experience spiritually through testing, observation and repetition

–       There are no good reasons to think that other religions are truly divine or coherent based on eye-witness testimony

–       The only way you can know the future is by revelation from the only one who could know it – God

Stephen Hanley (MA)