Ooh yeaah, the problem of evil. Now this is when things get juicy.
This argument is one of the most common ways of attacking the existence of God; and without a convincing answer, it’s enough to cast a very dark shadow on one’s belief.
Wars, disease and suffering, if God exists and is all-good why does he allow such evil? Either he doesn’t exists OR he’s a cruel God and not worth following.
As difficult as it may seem to defend religious belief in the face of this argument, in reality there are many possible solutions to it-some were even discussed in a previous post but I’ll bring them up once again:
1- Boethius and Simultaneous Experience of Time
We’ve all heard this a thousand times: ‘if God knows the future, why doesn’t he just stop catastrophes before they happen?’ Well according to Boethius, thinking in this way is silly because God experiences time simultaneously not chronologically. Which basically means that He sees the past, present and future at the same time. God doesn’t stop evil that will happen in the future, because it’s already happening in front of Him.
2- Epistemological Distance
Wouldn’t it be just wonderful if God always came to the rescue like superman?
Think of it this way: No one knew that superman existed until he began actively fighting evil. If God continually interfered in the world to stop evil, his existence would be obvious to everyone, and this my friends is a problem. Why you say? Because this actually affects our free will in being able to believe in Him. Think of it this way: if I put a spoon in front of you and gave you the option of either believing that it exists or not, you’d think I was being silly (unless you’re a sceptic).
I mean it’s obvious that the spoon exists and so in some way you have no option but to believe that it exists- you’re forced to believe that it exists. If however I hid the spoon, you can freely choose whether it exists or not based on the information available to you. This is epistemological distance, God has to obscure his existence (basically not make it too obvious) so that you can freely choose to believe in him or not. Continually stopping evil would jeopardize this.
3- Free Will
The downside to free will is that you can actually choose to do evil things. Surprise surprise. This being the case, the only way we can have an evil-free world is if we were all robots living in a sterile planet covered in protective bubble wrap. Because despite what hollywood tries to tell us, robots have no free will of their own and so can’t intentionally make evil choices.
No one argues that earthquakes, tsunamis and other natural disasters are destructive and cause a lot of pain and suffering. But can we really say that an earthquake is evil? It seems strange applying the word ‘evil’ to nature. I mean it’s not the earthquake’s fault that humans chose to live on a fault line…Nature functions like a machine and doesn’t intentionally go about hurting people.
But why did God create a world with natural disasters?
According to Gottfried Leibnez, physical evil functions as a means to an end , or helps maintain the greater good. However , this might not sound convincing to everyone because some forms of suffering seem quite pointless. But perhaps humans don’t have enough foresight to see the benefit behind such suffering?
Leibnez also argued that logically our world MUST be imperfect (and so have evil) because if it was perfect, only God would exist as he’s the only perfect thing in the universe and beyond.
4- Good and Evil
In a world free of evil, would there be any good? Not likely. Certain ideas only exist with their opposites. We can appreciate pleasure because we have the capacity to feel pain. And so, if we take ‘evil’ completely out of the equation, we run the risk of taking the ‘good’ out too.
5-Life as a test
I left this point last because it’s part of the worldview of the Abrahamic religions, and so would not apply to other beliefs. Nonetheless, I felt that it’s important to mention it here. According to these religions, life is a test which ends in heaven or hell; and naturally God as the ‘examiner’ can’t interfere in order to stop evil, as evil is part of this test. For evil not only teaches patience but is also an important test to a theist’s faith.