Turning the Problem of Evil On Its Head

Atheists are fond of using the argument from evil to debunk the notion of God.  It goes something like this:

  1. If God is all-powerful (omnipotent), He could stop evil.
  2. If God is all-loving (omnibenevolent), He would stop evil if He could.
  3. Therefore, if an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God existed, evil would not.
  4. Evil exists; therefore, an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God does not.
Another variation of the argument was put forward by the Greek philosopher Epicurus, centuries before the time of Christ:

Against Christians, this argument is stronger rhetorically than logically.   But against atheists, it’s ironically quite devastating.  Let me explain what I mean.

I. The Problem of Evil for Christians

Logically, this argument misunderstands what’s meant by God’s omnipotence.  Omnipotence means that God cannot possibly be more powerful than He currently is.  His power is perfect.  But within these traditional confines, we still acknowledge that God cannot do the logically impossible.  He cannot, for example, will what is contrary to His Will.  Why?  Because that’s a meaningless statement.

Herein lies the easiest answer to the problem of evil:

  1. God gives us free will, because free will is inherently good.  
  2. Free will entails the possibility of doing what is contrary to God’s will (this is what we know as evil).  
  3. Thus, evil exists, because of man’s actions, rather than because of God.  
Thus, the notion of an all-loving God is consistent with abundant free will, and abundant free will is consistent with the presence of evil.  I talk about that more here. You may disagree with that solution — you may not see why free will is better than God forcing us to perform on command, for example — but it at least shows that there’s no logical problem with the simultaneous existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God and evil.

II. The Problem of Evil for Atheists

But today, I wanted to show why this is a particularly bad proof for atheism.  It relies (in the fourth point of the argument outlined above) on the proposition “evil exists.”  Now there are two things that might be meant by this claim:

  • Subjective evil exists: That is, things exist that I don’t happen to like.  But if that were the case, the whole argument of evil falls apart.  Obviously, an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God might well do or permit things that I happen to dislike.  The existence of broccoli and the New York Yankees doesn’t discredit God, unless I’m such a narcissist as to think that a loving God would create the universe as best suits my own whims.
  • Objective evil exists: This is what is obviously meant by the problem of evil.  Things exist that aren’t just contrary to my personal tastes (like broccoli) but which are contrary to what all moral people know to be good (like genocide).  

But here’s the problem with that.  Objective morality, including objective evil, cannot exist without God. This doesn’t mean that atheists can’t be moral people, of course.  Catholicism teaches that much of objective morality is knowable by natural law. Atheists can and generally do implicitly recognize the moral law, and obey it.  The problem is that this behavior appears completely irrational.

More specifically, the problem is that is that there’s no way to get from statements about how the world is to how the world ought to be without imposing a value system.  And to say something is objective evil — that it objectively ought not to be — you have to believe in objective values, binding everyone (including, in the case of the problem of evil, God Himself).  It has to be something infinitely more than whatever your personal values might be.

This, as you can hopefully tell, is a serious problem for atheism, since atheistic naturalism denies any such universally-binding moral laws (since they require Divine Authorship).  William Lane Craig, in arguing against Christopher Hitchens, laid out the problem like this:

  1. If God does not exist, objective moral values do not exist.
  2. Objective moral values do exist.
  3. Therefore God exists.

Hitchens misunderstood the argument, and flubbed it pretty badly, so I sought out an atheist response.  The atheist responding argues that both of Craig’s premises are false:

Firstly, objective morals could well exist without God. They could be hardwired into our genes as an evolutionary survival mechanism. So clearly, Craig’s first premise is incorrect.

Others have used this argument before, but it’s quite a bad one.  A man might simultaneously be sexually attracted to a non-consenting woman, and conscious that rape is immoral.  Why, from a strictly biological standpoint, should the man listen to his genetic hard-wiring when it tells him rape is wrong, and not when it gives him an urge to rape?  The answer to that question is a moral one, and one that (by definition) can’t come from mere evolutionary urges.  The urges are the problem, not the solution.

You can see this with virtually any sin: man both desires sin, and knows it’s wrong.  If both the desire and the moral aversion are nothing more than evolutionary conditioning, why listen to the unpleasant one?  Why not act like simply another member of the animal kingdom, a world full of rape and theft and killing.

But for that matter, is it morally evil to go against our genetic hard-wiring?  If the hard-wiring is nothing more than the result of random chance over millions of years, it’s not at all clear to me why it would be.  Your body may also decide to start producing cancer cells at a remarkable rate, but you feel no moral allegiance to quietly let it have its way.  We constantly subdue our bodies to make them perform better, last longer, and the like.

And indeed, atheists constantly go against their genetic hard-wiring.  For example, I’d venture that most atheists use birth control and don’t seem to find this immoral, even though it’s transparently contrary to both our genetic hard-wiring, and evolutionary survival mechanisms.   They’re literally stopping evolution from working: a more direct violation of evolutionary hard-wiring is almost unthinkable (except, perhaps, celibacy).

So at most, evolution can explain urges we have for or against certain behaviors.  Some of these urges are worth acting upon, some aren’t.  But to know which to obey and which to ignore is a moral question, not a biological one.

Significantly, when Hitchens eventually understood Craig’s argument, he conceded this first premise — because it’s undeniably true.  That brings us to the second premise, that objective morality exists:

However, objective moral values de facto do not exist. Not everyone has the same moral standards. Our perception of what is right and wrong have changed over the centuries with Richard Dawkins has termed “the shifting moral Zeitgeist”. Indeed, practices in other parts of the World today which are considered the height of piety seem barbaric to Westerners. You only have to look inside the books of our religions and see what these pronouncements mandate to see that this is the case.

If this is true,  we cannot criticize the Nazis for killing millions of Jews, any more than we can criticize the Yankees for beating the Tigers.  We don’t happen to care for Nazi genocide, but their cultural practices are just different from our American values.

More directly, if objective morality does not exist, the problem of evil breaks down.  As I said above, if by “evil” you mean nothing more than what you happen to like or dislike, the term is meaningless.  So when atheists raise the problem of evil, they’re already conceding the existence of objective evil, and thus, of objective morality.

So atheists can either believe that morality is nothing more than a “shifting moral Zeitgeist,” of no more importance than the latest fashion, or they can criticize what’s “inside the books of our religions.”  But they can’t coherently do both.

III. Objective Evil Exists

Just in case some people reading this would be inclined to give up the problem of evil, in exchange that they don’t have to admit the existence of universally binding morals, let me be clear.  We can see that objective morals do, in fact, exist.  We don’t need to be told that raping, torturing, and killing innocent people are more than just unpleasant or counter-cultural.  They’re wrong.  Even if we were never taught these things growing up, we know these things by nature.

Incredibly, even the most evil societies — even those societies that have most cruelly warped the natural law for their own ends — still profess these universal morals.  Nazi Germany, for example, still had laws against murder, and theft, and rape.  They didn’t have some delusion that those things were somehow morally good: it’s sheer fiction to suggest otherwise.  Everyone, with the possible exceptions of the severely retarded or severely mentally ill, recognizes these things to be evil, whether or not they’ve been formally taught these truths or not.

Conclusion

So is the problem of evil a problem for Christians?  Sure.  There are intellectually satisfying answers, but it’s not for nothing that Aquinas lists it as one of one two logical arguments for atheism in the Summa.  But we shouldn’t let this fact blind us to the paradoxical truth:  the problem of evil is a dramatically larger problem for atheists:

  1. To complain of the problem of evil, you must acknowledge evil.  
  2. To acknowledge evil, you must acknowledge an objective system of moral laws.  
  3. Objective universal moral laws require a Lawgiver capable of dictating behavior for everyone.
  4. This Lawgiver is Who we call God.
Ironically, this evidence lays the groundwork for establishing that God not only exists, but cares about good and evil.

36 Comments

  1. Two things. I’m interested in your thoughts on this.

    First, what if the atheist framed this is an internal inconsistency? Christians often use intuition as their evidence to argue for objective morality. But if those intuitions later then tell us that biblical morality is evil or that this world is not good enough to be the creation of a perfect being, how can we deny that use of intuition without being ad hoc?

    Secondly, does theism really cross the is ought gap? Every system of theistic ethics I’ve seen has to start with a basic ought premise like you ought to follow the God given natural law or you ought to follow God’s divine commands. But these initial ought premises must be accepted as brute and ungrounded. If theists can do that, why can’t an atheist start with a brute ethical fact and go from there?

  2. I think you’re missing that the atheist is arguing that
    “If Christianity is true, then objective morals exist”

    And then, “if objective morals exist, then:

    If God is all-powerful (omnipotent), He could stop evil.
    If God is all-loving (omnibenevolent), He would stop evil if He could.
    Therefore, if an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God existed, objective evil would not.”

    And then concludes that:

    “Either
    Evil exists; therefore, an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God does not.
    Or objective evil does not exist, in which case Christianity is also false.
    Therefore in either case, Christianity is false.”

    I don’t see the problem with that argument, other than the free will defense, etc.

  3. Well, good point. I know that. And I know that what Joe said is true against some people who use this argument.

    But my point is that, contrary to what Joe says, the argument may still be used to point out an internal inconsistency in Christianity by someone who does not believe in objective morals. And when it is used this way it does not allow for an attack on the subjectivist’s own worldview.

  4. HocCogitat,

    While I technically agree that such a formulation could be made, I think that there’s good reason why prominent atheists aren’t presenting the argument in the way that you’re suggesting.

    The problem with that formulation is that it has no moral force. Atheists say that God was “cruel” and “evil” in the Old Testament, not simply that He did things apparently contrary to Judeo-Christian morality.

    If morality is simply the product of religion, and you’re claiming nothing more than an apparent contradiction, you might as well accuse God of not keeping kosher. From an atheist perspective, who cares? And given the various defenses (free will and a variety of others), it’s thereby reduced to a weak and easily-answered objection.

    God bless,

    Joe

  5. I agree that Hitchens and Dawkins and so forth are normally applying a kind of moralism in their arguments about the tyrant OT God, etc.

    I think the smart atheist philosophers of religion, formulate it as an internal inconsistency of theism. They think it is importnt b/c it shows, they argue, that theism could not be.

    Now, if it can be defeated by, e.g. showing that the premise

    “If God is all-loving (omnibenevolent), He would stop evil if He could.”

    is false, then that would show the argument to be of little importance. But I do not think the argument is very easily defeated, particularly with regard to natural evil like natural disasters, etc.

    (Although there is the whole school of skeptical theism that argues that we just can’t comprehend the justification for such evil. And I think they’re right, though it is far from uncontroversial. E.g. Almeida & Oppy (2003) argue that if the considerations deployed by skeptical theists are sufficient to undermine evidential argument from evil then those considerations are also sufficient to undermine inferences that play a crucial role in ordinary moral reasoning.)

  6. I see HocCogitat’s point about using the argument to point out supposed “internal inconsistencies” within Christianity from outside of Christian belief and practice, but I think Joe has the better point: that’s not the way atheists want to use it, but rather to promote doubt in the existence of God.

    Thus, this post addresses why this argument cannot be used to disprove the existence of God in any real way. I was thinking last night of a more succinct way to summarize Joe’s critique.

    (1) The atheist using the “God isn’t God” argument must presume objective morality to formulate the argument.

    (2) If the argument proves that “God isn’t God,” then objective morality is disproved also.

    (3) If objective morality is disproved, then the atheist can’t formulate the “God isn’t God” argument to begin with.

    (4) crickets chirping

    In other words, you can’t disprove the existence of God through the “God isn’t God” argument without critiquing God from God’s own standpoint (it’s taken for granted that the atheist may stand in the place of God). I’m not up-to-date with the various logical fallacies which have been catalogued, but I would think there is a name for this, something having to do with circularity perhaps?

    Oh, and @BBB: Does the “is / ought gap” matter? I know Joe used it in this post, but I mean in general, for Christians. I don’t think so. David Hume’s formulation of this idea is simply a clever way to dismiss the living of an ordered, moral life.

    The way you bridge this imaginary is / ought gap is the same way the Church has from her beginning (if not always clearly understood): you recognize that what “is” tends towards and is meant for some end, and once you know the end through clear discernment, you know what the “is” “ought” to be or be at.

    An example of this is sexual morality: the Church has always recognized that human sexuality is for something besides our subjective enjoyment, that there is an objective purpose to it. All the teachings on contraception, homosexual acts, marital fidelity, etc. follow.

    The trick is clear discernment, which Hume’s formulation was meant to undermine, throwing radical doubt at whether or not we can clearly discern such matters. The Christian believes he can, by the grace of God. Most non-believers seems conflicted about whether or not they can.

  7. C.S. Lewis has some great responses to this problem in his book, “The Problem of Pain”. He sees the fundamental problem here being a misunderstanding of terms.

    What atheists mean by “good” and “evil” and “all-powerful” is counter to what most Christians mean. So even before we get to the logic, a clear ‘definition of terms’ can clean up much of the mess.

    And either he or Dr. Peter Kreeft (or maybe both) has this stellar response that rarely gets discussed: “If Christians must confront the problem of evil, then atheists must equally confront the problem of good and the problem of beauty. Why is there goodness in this world? Why is there beauty? And why are both so attractive?”

    The naturalistic atheist would have incredible difficulty answering any of those questions.

  8. Telemachus,

    I think the is/ought gap is absolutely vital for this point. Most of the comments here assume that atheism can’t ground morality and that theism can. If theism can’t really “ground” ought statements or moral duties a whole lot better than any other system, this assumption is false, and the comments assuming it get the rug thrown out from under them.

    Your method of grounding in the purpose of things or the way things tend toward seems to assume an ought premise as well. You must assume that we ought to act consistently with the purpose given to us by God or we ought to go on the direction that our nature tends toward. If free will exists, however, we have the ability to do otherwise. Any claim that we shouldn’t do otherwise assumes that initial ought premise. But once again, if you can assume an initial ought premise, why can’t an atheist? Both will be stuck with at least one strange, ungrounded, brute ethical fact.

  9. BBB,

    I was also going to raise the argument from function in response to Is/Ought, but forgot to publish my comment after writing it (whoops!). From a Christian standpoint, there are three arguments that I see.

    (1) First, that “ought” is determined by the Creator and Designer. The Baltimore Catechism tells us our purpose:

    “Q. Why did God make you?”
    “A. God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in the next.”

    That’s our design, and our function. Success can be objectively measured in how well we perform these functions.

    A screwdriver ought to be able to loosen and tighten screws precisely because it was designed for this functionality. A screwdriver unable to do so is deficient. Likewise, we not only ought to be able to know, love, and serve God, but ought to actually do so.

    It seems to me that even if this argument isn’t unanswerable, it’s at least stronger than the atheist argument. We can say what a screwdriver ought to do, because it was designed for a specific purpose. But if a chunk of metal, by sheer random accident, happened to be vaguely screwdriver-shaped, it’s not accurate to say it “ought” to be able to loosen and tighten screws, only that we’d like it if it could do that, as well.

    (2) Christianity teaches that objective morality exists, and specifically, that God is the Incarnate culmination of what we call good. Setting to one side Euthyphro’s dilemma, which is an entirely other rabbit hole, if Christians are right that goodness originates and ends in God, then we have the union of ought and is in the Divine Being. He IS and OUGHT to Be. I haven’t done nearly a good enough job explaining this, but hopefully, you see where I’m going with it.

    (3) Christianity argues that conscience exists, and that it provides us with “ought” commands. The only reason that we can speak of “ought” and know what each other means is because conscience constantly tells us we ought to do or not do certain things. Conscience is, and tells us what we ought to do. If this doesn’t bridge the Is / Ought gap, it at least shows that we’re already on the other side.

    Brandon,

    Beautifully put. I’m indebted to Problem of Pain for the bit about omnipotence in part I above. I had heard the problem of beauty argument, but long since forgotten about it. There is no discernible evolutionary purpose for us finding the stars beautiful, for example. Natural beauty, in particular, is something that I’ve never seen evolution account for very well.

    God bless,

    Joe

  10. Darn, i think blogger swallowed my last comment.

    Thanks for the responses. Let me summarize my issue. My main concern is that, for any moral system, you have to start with a basic, ungrounded, brute ethical fact. Doesn’t the system based on proper function/purpose assume that, even though we have free will to choose or course, we “ought” to act in accordance with the purpose God gave us?

    Basically, don’t you need that initial assumption as the basis of your moral system?

    I agree that a theist could argue that their system, on the whole, is superior to an atheistic system. But then the discussion between theists and atheists needs to change. Theists can no longer say “you have no basis for morality and we do”, but instead must say “we have the best basis for morality”. I think William Lane Craig, who loves the moral argument, almost realizes this and says something along the lines of “God [and his commands] is the least arbitrary basis.” This seems to implicitly accept that all our systems have something arbitrary, unexplained, brute, and ungrounded.

  11. BBB,

    You can characterize it as a starting assumption if you’d like. I’d say that the difference is that the starting assumption in atheism is essentially random. There’s no reason to accept it. Not so in Christianity.

    If Christian claims about who God is are true, they eliminate substantially all of the randomness and ungroundedness of that starting point.

    I also think that the argument from conscience is worthy of serious thought. We can identify an obvious difference between the Torah’s prohibition against murder and the Torah’s prohibition against mixing two different types of cloth. We don’t need anyone to explain that one is moral in a way that the other isn’t. So these universal “oughts” already exist. We generally don’t arrive at them: we start with them. And that fact points to a God, and to a system of universal morality.

    God bless,

    Joe

  12. Well, I don’t want to characterize it as an assumption if it isn’t. Your response implies that you believe, however, that it isn’t an assumption, but instead that there is a reason to accept that initial premise on theism but not on atheism.

    But that’s where Hume’s is/ought deal comes into play. If I ask you what your reason is for accepting your initial ought premise, your reason would either be an is statement or an ought statement. If it is an is statement (its our purpose, it is natural law, it is God’s command, etc.), then Hume points out that is statements do not result in ought. The only way it can do so is if you have an initial ought premise along with your is statements.

    Even Mortimer J. Adler (a thomist) accepts this. His argument for accepting the initial ought is the following from “Ten philosophical mistakes”: “We ought to desire whatever is really good for us and nothing else… It is impossible for us to think that we ought to desire what is really bad for us, or ought not to desire what is really bad for us, or ought not to desire what is really good for us. The very understanding of the really good carries with it the prescriptive note that we ‘ought to desire’ it. We cannot understand ‘ought’ and ‘really good’ as related in any other way” (p. 125-6)

    That’s Adler’s way out of the is/ought problem. I’m not sure whether it succeeds or not, but I hope it clarifies what my problem is.

  13. All argument presumes that the Christian religion accurately reflects the will of God, the paradox being, that evil continues to exist contrary to the expectation of the incarnation. And there is no argument that can resolve the issue. Thus the real question is whether those, theological, institutional forms of religion that exist have anything to do with the reality we refer to as God?

    But this question can only now be legitimatly asked and the answer could very well resolve in practice the ‘problem’ of evil.

    The first wholly new interpretation for two thousand years of the moral teachings of Christ is spreading on the web. Radically different from anything else we know of from history, this new ‘claim’ is predicated upon a precise and predefined experience, a direct individual intervention into the natural world by omnipotent power to confirm divine will, command and covenant, “correcting human nature by a change in natural law, altering biology, consciousness and human ethical perception beyond all natural evolutionary boundaries.” Like it of no, a new religious claim testable by faith, meeting all Enlightenment, evidential criteria now exists. Nothing short of a religious revolution appears to be getting under way. I’m testing the teaching now myself. More info at http://soulgineering.com/2011/05/22/the-final-freedoms/

  14. Though I’m not an atheist, I find the problem of evil currently devastating to Christianity, and the best Christian philosophers alive right now, such as Plantinga, agree that currently there is no good answer to the logical problem posed, much less the emotional impact of the argument.

    The world is full of suffering. Even people who have lived very happy lives have experienced violence and death in their families. I could imagine a way in which God could have made the world where people would suffer far less. But maybe for some reason he doesn’t do this. Maybe he can’t do this. I suspect that, if God exists, he could not have created the world in any other way than it is.

    Is there then some universal objective morality? No, I think, probably not, not at least in any metaphysical sense. But this I find exceptionally freeing. It means all the floods, the holocausts, all these terrible things, and they are terrible, are not violating some primordial rule of the universe. If it were the case that this rule was being violated, I would suspect that the universe is a very ugly place made by a very stupid or very evil sort of thing, and probably not very orderly at all (or rather with a cruel and brutal order). If God existed in this universe, and could have made things better for us but hasn’t, then I wouldn’t care about this sort of being anyway.

    The problem isn’t about metaphysical evil. The problem is about human suffering, and very serious emotional and logical consequences are raised by accepting that a loving god would allow all this pain, if he has the power to stop it.

    Is there a good answer to this problem? Maybe so. It should be looked for by theologians. But claiming that there’s already a good answer to this problem doesn’t make it so. Your own Pope said as much, when talking about creation and evolution: you can’t solve the philosophical problems raised by the existence of suffering by pretending that the problems don’t exist.

  15. I don’t think atheists should accept the argument(s) from evil as good.

    I’d like to address two points.

    The first is that free-will is an adequate defense/theodicy.

    Free-will doesn’t entail the possibility of choosing evil.

    “St. Augustine and others urged most admirably against the Pelagians that, if the possibility of deflection from good belonged to the essence or perfection of liberty, then God, Jesus Christ, and the angels and saints, who have not this power, would have no liberty at all, or would have less liberty than man has in his state of pilgrimage and imperfection. This subject is often discussed by the Angelic Doctor in his demonstration that the possibility of sinning is not freedom, but slavery.” – Leo XIII, Libertas Praestantissimum.

    Further, free-will doesn’t entail alternative possibilities. Numerous Frankfurt cases demonstrate this.

    As to the objectivity of Evil:

    If evil’s objectivity being grounded in our human nature is a problem, then it’s also a problem for evil’s objectivity being grounded in God’s nature. I assure you that however you work the objection against us, we can rework it to backfire on God.

  16. Robert,

    You have a very silly way of asking for things. Why would you ask for something you know doesn’t exist?

    If you’re really interested in the citation, ask for it sensibly. Otherwise, do your own research.

  17. But one of plantinga’s main contributions has been to show precisely the opposite of what you claimed he thinks. Surely, you should cite such a shocking claim rather than sending me on a wild goose chase for this thought of his amongst his thosands and thousands of pages of published work, right?

    In short, I don’t think you know what you’re talking about, but prove me wrong with a cite if you have it.

  18. Hi Paul Rimmer…

    I’m not a great thinker as you are, but I would only say that God “allows” suffering if he could do anything to prevent/eradicate it… now: can He? can He intervene in this Creation, that is orientated (not in a chronological way) towards Him, in a way that not only would prevent/eradicate all suffering (by continuously intervening in a miraculously way in that same Creation and, therefore, breaking all the natural laws he might have chosen and ignoring the freewill that is the necessary prerequisite to Creation achieve that goal) and, at the same time, not boycotting the conditions that allow everything to be reunited with God? What are your thoughts on this subject?

  19. The truth that not only does God exist but He descended, became man and still dwells with us as the Eucharist goes to show how woefully ignorant militant atheists are. I think it’s best to simply not even bother arguing. If they manage to get over themselves they’ll see the truth. If not then they’ll see the truth when they pass through particular judgment. No if’s, and’s, or but’s about it, and no way around it.

  20. Paul,

    I think the reason Robert said what he did is because Plantinga is famous for defeating the logical problem of evil in his book “God, freedom, and evil”.

    Most philosophers agree that the logical problem is dead (except for, J.L. Mackie, I think). The argument that is still alive and dangerous is the evidential argument from evil. It is a very different animal, and I think it definitely has power.

  21. Actually, this problem goes back at least to Job. The solution is really no answer at all; it is to remember that we are not God, so there are aspects of the problem that we will necessarily overlook. Ultimately, we either trust God or we don’t. He has given us reason to trust Him but also the freedom to refuse to trust Him. Frankly, a system so simplistic as to have no seeming paradoxes would not be a useful for the real world.

    Also, it is worth pointing out when considering the problem of evil that the world really is surprisingly good. Most attempts to imagine a better world end in some kind of dystopian hell. When we try to imagine Heaven, it’s hard to avoid a picture that would ultimately become boring, or in which the cheerfulness would become oppressive, or in which we are some sort of mindless robots of praise and worship.

  22. The Blessed Virgin was preserved from all stain of sin, yet I think no one would say that she lacked free will. Why didn’t God do this for all of us?

    I don’t think we can know the answer on this side of death.

  23. It seems to me that Christian solution is that evil has no real existence; rather, it’s a deficit in the good that might be for which we limited creatures are responsible in exercising our God given free will. The net good in a creation with free will is greater than a stale one without. If God ultimately filtered out all the “evil” people, you could rightly claim that free will has no real existence because it’s only transient. In that sense, the existence of Hell is proof of God’s gift of free will and thereby glorifies Him. In the mean time God already knows the consequences of all that He allows or enables to happen and provides for it such that none can say they have been treated unfairly or been condemned to Hell through a fault other than their own. Even pain is a gift, if seen through the eyes of God and acted upon accordingly. Sometimes it’s a warning and sometimes it’s a test that challenges us to grow. The devil in tempting us to despair becomes God’s unwitting tool allowing the choices (or unchoices) that are the object of free will. It is God Who is the ultimate standard of what is good, and that standard is unbounded Love. Lastly, one might ask whether there could be an alternate reality that is more good than the one in which we exist? Taken end to end, we exist in this one and see no other, which is good reason to believe there is none. If there are unseen alternate realities that are better, then we would have to include those in any statement we make about God’s creation as a whole and still say that there is none better, i.e. our local created reality may not be the best, but the net sum of all could not be better and God Himself is the best.

  24. Your argument is False. Atheists aregue that there is objective Evil – i.e. bad stuff happens – but humans have learned through a variety of contexts…self preservation, maternal and clan protection, not to mention that humans are inherently “not-evil” – humans have learned to develop a moral code against evil. Religion claims morals come from God, Atheism claims that morals are universally inherent….evil is the exception to the rule

  25. @Good Seed

    Also, if ethics is merely an instinct designed to ensure the survival and reproduction of our close relatives so that our genes are passed on, the Nazis really were not wrong in their aim of driving competitors into extinction. Of course, their methods backfired horribly, but if “it’s the thought that counts”, they had the right thought — if ethics is just a Darwinian illusion.

    Even if you think it would be better for the species to maintain more genetic diversity than, say, Himmler would have favored, that’s still a eugenic argument.

  26. Robert,

    It sounds as though you claim he has achieved a satisfactory resolution about the problem of evil in general. Maybe you could say where he claims this?

    This is my impression of the current state of the problem and Plantinga’s relation to it (correct me where I’m wrong; I do astrophysics, not philosophy):

    Plantinga importantly produced a satisfactory answer to one formulation (or group of forumlations) about the problem of evil relevant to some mid 20th century atheist philosophers, such as Mackie. (The Nature of Necessary (1974) God, Freedom, and Evil (1977).)

    Though Plantinga responds well to this formulation of the problem as inconsistency, Plantinga’s argument does not seem to provide any sort of explanation for evil, and does not satisfactorily address the general problem.

    In “The evidential argument from evil” Chapter 13, Plantinga’s “On Being Evidentially Challenged”, he reviews a particular argument on the evidential problem of evil (which is a logical problem for evil) and provides a solid defeater to the argument, showing that it is still reasonable to be a theist in light of the current evidence of pain and suffering. Nevertheless, he recognizes in this chapter that, though he can provide a probabilistic argument for rational belief in the face of pain and suffering, no good answer to this problem has yet been produced.

    So there is no satisfactory answer to the problem of evil. Plantinga has provided a strong answer to some of its formulations, and has shown that both evil and God are possible, but has not (admittedly so) sufficiently addressed the problem of evil in general, or its evidentialist or probabilist forms (his attempt in 1967 seems weak).

  27. In arguing about the problem of evil and suffering I use to try to place God in a human category and say He must behave a certain way. What I failed to take into consideration is the holiness of God. Holiness when applied to God not only refers to moral purity and perfection but to everything that sets God apart from His creation and His creatures. Holiness is God’s essence. It’s who He is. God is set apart from His creation and transcendent. He’s distinct. We are to imitate God in His holiness in certain ways but there are also ways we are not to imitate God. We cannot be like God in every way. He alone is God and He therefore has rights and prerogatives that we don’t have. Just to name a few ways I’m not like God: God is infinite in wisdom, God is all-powerful, God is sovereign, God is self-sufficient, God is all-knowing. When I try to be like God in every way it leads to pride and arrogance. He is the Creator and I am the creature.

    The Bible tells us that God is love. It doesn’t say He is ONLY love. And while God is love it’s a holy love. For the Bible says that God is holy, holy, holy. Not only this but the Bible also speaks of a holy hatred that God has. So, it’s my contention that the problem of evil and suffering doesn’t even get started. For God’s love isn’t merely a human love but a holy love. This isn’t the same omnibenevolence that we try to ascribe to God. For God has a holy hatred as well. Nonetheless, He is completely holy and deserves our worship.

  28. Hi Howard…

    You said: «The Blessed Virgin was preserved from all stain of sin, yet I think no one would say that she lacked free will. Why didn’t God do this for all of us?»

    I think Mary was granted, in anticipation what all of us will have in “Heaven”: not the less important freedom to sin, rather the more important freedom from sin… her freewill was one of a special kind because in everything she was specially assisted not to sin… in other words: she lived in earth the way we all shall live in heaven… now: could G-d do the same for everyone of us? What do you think?

  29. How can there be any objective “evil” without an objectively moral standard to judge what is “evil”? There can’t. Thus, from where does this objective moral standard come from? God (or at least the concept of God).

    Evil proves the existence of God, not the other way around. Otherwise, it’s just your personal preference for what is “evil.” Secular humanism has this exact personal preference problem because there is no objective moral standard created by man. What if I like to steal and it makes me feel good? The atheist/secular humanist has no answer for such preference.

    Ravi Zacharis (protestant) deals with this issue well given his Indian background and knowledge of the eastern and western mindsets.

  30. Several years ago my parents, retired and serving as volunteers with the Red Cross, found themselves in New York assisting with the cleanup after the 9/11 attacks (speaking of evil). One evening, eating dinner in a very crowded restaurant, they overheard a fellow (whom they took to be a Mormon) explaining the cosmos to some young women. My father had to intervene when his explanation of evil implied some kind of limitation on God’s omnipotence. Of course, he pointed out that evil is a result of man’s free choice which God allows, to which the other fellows response was, that that explains moral evils but not physical evils. Here my dad credits the intervention of the Holy Spirit, since he’s pretty sure that he couldn’t have come up with it on his (maybe he could, he’s pretty smart, but I wasn’t there and he was).
    If this building collapses right now, and I am killed by it, you looking on may say that what happened to me is evil. But if I am living a life ordered to the glory of God, which I should, then it is not an evil for me who actually experienced it. If it is an evil for me, it is because I have not been living as I ought, not because I just died, which was going to happen one day anyway.
    Obviously, this is an easier argument to appreciate in the comfort of a decent restaurant in New York City than if one is a Sudanese woman who has just survived a Janjahweed militia attack on her village. It does show, however, that the “problem of evil” argument is only speaking to other people’s evil. Why doesn’t God prevent those wicked people from doing their wickedness? How about, why doesn’t God, if He exists, stop me from doing my wickedness?

  31. Hi thefederalist…

    could the existing God intervene in this Creation, that is orientated (not in a chronological way) towards Him, in a way that not only would prevent/eradicate all suffering (by continuously intervening in a miraculously way in that same Creation and, therefore, breaking all the natural laws he might have chosen and ignoring the freewill that is the necessary prerequisite to Creation achieve that goal) and, at the same time, not boycotting the conditions that allow everything to be reunited with God?

    What are your thoughts on this subject?

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