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The Problem of Evil

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Is there any satisfactory way of reconciling the existence of an omnipotent and all-loving God with the existence of natural evil (i.e. evil not due to the misuse of human free will)? One of the central claims of the Judaeo-Christian tradition is the existence of an omnipotent and all-loving God. Against this is the observation that people and animals suffer evil. By common sense, we would infer from this observation that God, as conceived in this tradition, does not exist - for, if He did, He would prevent the evil. This inference is called the Problem of Evil by those who profess one of the religions in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and their attempts to 'solve' the problem have given rise to a labyrinth of sophistry.

Put briefly, the solution most commonly espoused to the Problem of Evil is

* Some suffering is caused by others' misuse of their own free-will (as in murder).

* God does not intervene to stop people freely choosing evil because:

o people can be virtuous only if they freely choose between good and evil;

o having virtuous people in the world is a greater good than eradicating evil;

o therefore God must allow people to be free;

o therefore evil inflicted by other people is the price that God demands that we pay to enable some people to be virtuous.

* Some suffering is caused by natural phenomena (as in earthquakes). Such occurrences enable people to be virtuous through:

o heroics, such as rescuing those in danger;

o strong faith in God, as it is harder to believe in God in the midst of grief;

o humility, as people realise they are powerless against the whim of God.

* Again, God does not intervene because he is using the natural disasters to engender virtue.

I shall examine a number of such arguments, but first it is useful to clarify the nature of such debate.

The nature of theological debate

One difficulty that arises in writing about this subject is that the traditional view of God is ridiculous - as Hume's Philo says, it is fixed only "by the utmost licence of fancy and hypothesis", and the arguments put forward for it are transparently fallacious. In order to proceed with the debate at all, one must feign a deficit in the application of one's powers of reason, for if one relied exclusively on reason for deciding what to believe, then one would dismiss religion out of hand. It is well known that people hold their...

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...answers here. First, although the discharge of benevolent deeds is a good thing, it is not such a great thing that it is worth inflicting war, pestilence, and old age on mankind. Second, there are ample opportunities for people to do great works that do not involve other people's suffering. For instance, they could build concert halls, or run marathons, or make scientific discoverie, or write novels. The claim that great human achievements can be secured only through other people's misery is an expression of pure evil, and not an argument for a benevolent God.

Conclusion

The existence of evil (natural or otherwise) in the world cannot possibly be reconciled with the existence of an omnipotent and all-loving God. If such a God existed, He would prevent the occurrence of such evil. This is therefore a definitive proof of atheism, in the sense of denying the existence of God as He is conceived in the Judaeo-Christian tradition. It must be admitted, though, that this conception of God is a sharply-delineated and simplistic one, whereas many people nowadays have a 'soft-focus' God. It is harder work for the atheist to refute the soft-focus God, although it can still be done.
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