The Problem of Evil University of Oxford Department for Continuing Education, Undergraduate Philosophy Certificate, Assignment 7 Peter B. Lloyd 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).
... this argument regards to the existence of evil and injustice set against an absolutely good God. Theists are able the counter ... many different strong and weak arguments in support of Gods existence. Naturalist metaphysics has many implications. This world view ... reasoning before, during and after faith in God. Aquinas believes that Gods existence can be shown with natural theology. Aquinas believes ...
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 religious beliefs because they are emotionally bound to them, primarily through their upbringing, and not because they have arrived at them by reasoning.
As Hume’s Deme a admits, ‘each man feels, in a manner, the truth of religion within his own breast’. Arguments in defence of religion arise retrospectively to support convictions that have already been secured by emotional persuasion. In this respect, Palinor’s undermining of Beneditx’s religious beliefs, in Paton Walsh’s ‘Knowledge of Angels’, is unrealistic. Since religious beliefs are held on emotional rather than rational grounds, Beneditx’s beliefs would have been invulnerable to Palinor’s reasoning. Arguments for religion usually develop by the elaboration of hypotheses about what might be the case, in reaction to atheistic attacks. As Hume’s Philo says, there is an inventiveness in religious arguments ‘entirely owing to the nature of the subject’; he contrasts it with other subjects, in which ‘there is commonly but one determination that carries probability or conviction with it’, whereas in religion ‘a hundred contradictory views’ flourish to defend one point; and he claims that ‘without any great effort of thought, I believe that I could, in an instant, propose other systems of cosmogony, which would have some faint appearance of truth’.
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Likewise, at every step in this essay, one could in an instant formulate a hundred hypotheses to defend religion against my criticism, and for each hypothesis the refutation of it can be rebuffed by another hundred hypotheses, all equally baseless. Part I. A non-omniscient God. Grounds for supposing God is not omniscient The assignment for this essay mentions only that God is omnipotent and all-loving, and omits the other traditional attribute, of omniscience. Therefore let us first consider how the debate goes if we allow God’s ignorance of the suffering as His excuse for not stopping it. This approach gains some legitimacy thus: There are passages in the Bible where God is ignorant, such as Genesis 3.
ix, where Adam is hiding in the bushes, ‘And the Lord God called Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?’ . Of course, for every such passage in the Bible there is a theological theory that reconciles it with God’s omniscience. In this instance, we could suppose that God is asking a rhetorical question, for the purpose of inviting Adam to give an account of himself. Nonetheless, for the purpose of this essay, the fact that there is biblical evidence of God’s ignorance lends support to our taking the time to see how divine ignorance might solve the problem of evil. St Thomas Aquinas, in his ‘Summa contra Gentiles’, argues at length that God knows particular facts, not just universal truths. We may infer that God’s omniscience was not universally acknowledged by medieval theologians.
Many theological theories arise in reaction to criticism of existing doctrines. Therefore it would be in keeping with the traditions of theology if one were to hold the belief that God is not omniscient just because it offers a solution to the problem of evil. Having thus gained some legitimacy for considering a non-omniscient God, we could formulate a hundred hypotheses to explain God’s ignorance. Here are just five: God stands aloof from the world, and so cannot observe what happens in it. This might be put forward in conjunction with Boethius’ theory that God is ‘outside time’. Suffering is a private mental phenomena, which no other being can share.
... -testament Question 3 The origin of evil and human suffering according to: • Hebrew scriptures According to Rhodes, evil is something that is not an ... spirit. b) Similarities and differences between the gods and humans, according to the Iliad Greek gods are not spiritual beings but are anthropomorphic ...
It might be argued that it is logically impossible for one mind’s experiences to be known by another, and so even God’s omnipotence could not give Him access to human suffering. God’s only source of knowledge of the world is human prayer. This would be supported by numerous anecdotal claims that God intervenes in the world only in answer to properly made prayers. We could speculate that God created this arrangement in order to encourage people to pray and thereby become virtuous.
God knows about the world only through the angels’ reports. Since they are not required to be perfect, they might be inaccurate or too slow in reporting on human suffering. As the world’s population swells, we could reasonably expect the angelic bureaucracy to be swamped. Without the benefit of electronic computers, so they must still be relying on manual, or even oral, methods of data processing to handle information on the suffering of four billion human souls. Satan is temporarily deceiving God about what is happening in the world. Given the traditional acceptance that Satan exists and does evil deeds, we may speculate that he has made God oblivious of human suffering.
God’s omnipotence is not a difficulty for this theory, for we may suppose that Satan has done his work so thoroughly that God is oblivious of Satan’s trickery and therefore cannot use His omnipotence to stop Satan doing it. Countless conjectures are possible along such lines. Against these conjectures is the fact that mere mortals are aware of human and animal suffering. Since we know about suffering, it is somewhat surprising that God, who is infinitely more powerful than we are, is unable to acquire this intelligence. In each of the above conjectures, though, a good reason is given to explain how this paradoxical position could arise.
Divine ignorance and the Problem of Evil Superficially, God’s ignorance of human suffering would be the perfect alibi. It would therefore solve at once the Problem of Evil. There are, however, certain drawbacks. God is the author of the universe, and He is therefore responsible for creating a situation in which human suffering could take place without His knowing about it.
... we do see it exist we commonly ask ourselves, "Does human suffering have meaning?" I can answer this question easily. Yes, it ... and mental suffering. When God took away Job's family ... to God testing his best subject, Job. God made Job suffer in the worst way any human being could.This would be physical suffering ...
And He is omnipotent, so He could remove barriers to this flow of information. Therefore, if God’s ignorance is due merely to a failure in the transmission of information from our world to Him, then God must take the blame for it. If He created such a world knowing, or reckless as to whether, there might be suffering unbeknown to Him, then He is evil. This contradicts the traditional premise that God is all-loving.
So then divine ignorance would not be a solution to the Problem of Evil after all. On the other hand, suppose that God’s ignorance were due, not to some obstruction in the flow of information, but to a logically impossibility of God’s knowing our suffering. One theory that is in keeping with tradition is as follows. If God is ‘outside time’ in some sense, or if His mind operates outside Kant’s categories of time and space, then it is plausible to suppose that the concept of suffering simply cannot occur in His mind. Pain might be unthinkable for God, because a necessary element of the concept is the desire for the pain to end, which can be comprehended only by a being in time. This seems to offer a neat solution to the problem of evil: God is not remiss in allowing us to suffer, because He does not know what it is like to suffer.
Nor does Jesus’ excursion to our world necessarily remove this ignorance. Granted the traditional view that Jesus suffered on the cross, and that he was in some mysterious sense as one with God. But, if God’s mind cannot support Kant’s categories, then Jesus must have relinquished his knowledge of suffering upon his re-establishing his full union with his heavenly father. That is to say, as soon as Jesus got back home to Heaven, he completely forgot all His suffering. Even this neat solution will not quite work. There is ample evidence in the scriptures for regarding God as a volitional being: He forms intentions to act, and acts in accordance with those intentions.
(Indeed, it is difficult to see how divine ‘omnipotence’ could mean anything if God were not engaged in intentional acts. ) But it is well known that God’s omnipotence is not a licence to do all things that can be articulated. Famously, He cannot make a stone so heavy that He could not lift it. Therefore, the concept of frustrated intention must be accessible to His introspection; that is, He should be able to form the concept of a being who wants to do something but cannot do it. Now, He can apply this concept to His human creations. For, although we are assuming that God is not omniscient, nevertheless it seems likely that the architect of the universe would have an extensive knowledge of the workings of His created world, and should be able to infer that humans may have intentions, which may in turn be satisfied or frustrated.
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Hence, He ought to know that the misadventures to which mankind is prone may frustrate our intentions, even though He has no concept of our pain and suffering. We can thus sustain a weaker, but still potent, form of the Problem of Evil: namely that an omnipotent and all-loving God allows human intentions to be frustrated willy-nilly by the vagaries of natural and man-made disasters. Moreover, even though God is not omniscient, it would be plausible to suppose that He knows enough about us to be aware that we often put a great deal of effort to bring our intentions to fruition. For instance, consider a mother who intends to rear her child to adulthood, but the child is killed in a road accident at the age of fourteen. Even though God may be unable to imagine the grief, He could still realise that that is a major blow to the mother’s intention. And that, I submit, is a sufficient contradiction of God’s love for the force of the Problem of Evil to hold.
One possible defence against this criticism would be to suppose that God is so aloof from the world that He does not even know that human intentions are being thwarted. So remote a God, however, would not be capable of loving mankind in the normal sense of the word, for He would not be able to conceive of anything’s mattering to humans. Conclusion: Assuming that God is not omniscient does not solve the Problem of Evil. For such a God must still possess at least the mental wherewithal to apprehend that human aspirations may be crushed by misfortune, and He is therefore culpable for failing to inform Himself of human misfortunes. Part II. An omniscient God Suppose God is omniscient.
This has a range of possible interpretations, of which we may identify three representative points: God knows all objects of knowledge. This encompasses not only all the past, present, and future facts of our universe (including all quantum-mechanical events and acts of human free will, if such acts exist), but also the facts of all other possible universes, as well as all logic o-mathematical facts (such as all the digits of pi).
... worlds or at least a better world than worlds with no evil, and so it does not follow that the existence of moral evil and God ... conclusion is that there are possible worlds with freedom and no moral evil that an omnipotent God does not have the power to ... overall balance of moral good and evil than that of any of the other worlds that God could have actualized. It's at ...
Even in the Boethius’ time, this was problematic, as it seems to conflict with our having free will. In modern times, however, physics makes it more problematic. For instance, in Young’s two-slit experiment, does God know which slit the photon goes through? Or, does God know whether a certain event on Earth occurs before or after some other event on a planet millions of light years away, given that the answer depends on the position and motion of the observer? Even with this broad definition, however, we can safely exclude nonsense questions, such as: Does God know the area of a four-sided triangle? God knows all knowable facts that are, or will be, true. On this reading, God does not know through which slit Young’s photons pass (as this is not knowable), but He does know the winners of every lottery to come.
God knows all knowable facts that are true at the time of knowing. Here, God knows only those future events that are necessary consequences of present facts. He cannot tell the results of our exercise of free will. The arguments discussed in the rest of the essay do not hang on which interpretation of omniscience we adopt. Moral versus natural evil The problem of evil is often thought to be easier to solve in respect of moral evil than in respect of natural evil. (Following the terminology used by Hume, ‘moral evil’ is that committed through the exercise of human will, while ‘natural evil’ is suffering caused by natural phenomena such as earthquakes.
) In fact, the problem cannot be ‘solved’ for either kind of evil. Let us briefly consider moral evil, in order to put into context the subsequent discussion of natural evil, which is the topic of this essay. First of all, introducing human agency into the causal chain does not absolve God. For, any human action uses natural means to achieve its end. When a gunman presses his trigger, his bullet must then fly through space to hit the victim. God could miraculously change the trajectory of the bullet slightly so that it hit nobody.
Furthermore, even if human will is free, it is nonetheless influenced by antecedent neural events. God could tweak the assassin’s brain cells so that he is suddenly overcome with abhorrence at the thought of murder. Therefore, God is responsible for allowing moral evil to take effect. The next line of defence is to suppose that God has some higher purpose that is served by allowing people to commit evil deeds. Usually, this higher purpose is to engender a world in which people are virtuous in the sense of choosing to do good rather than evil. As Lewis’s Screw tape says, ‘He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself – creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His’.
If God always intervened to stop attempted acts of moral evil, then people would realise that they were not really free to make moral choices, and therefore they could not truly be virtuous. Against this, the answer may be made that God’s means are incommensurate with his ends. The objective of getting some people to achieve the required degree of virtue is so trifling, that only an evil God would use it to justify allowing the unspeakable atrocities that are committed in our world, especially in war-time. God could give people the freedom to choose minor wickedness es, such as stealing chocolate from supermarkets, without allowing them the freedom to perpetrate horrors such as killing and maiming. Are we seriously to suppose it was worth sending thousands of teenagers to ‘die as cattle’ in order that someone else could virtuously refrain from wrong-doing? If we regard Hitler as evil for sending six million Jews to their deaths in order to make his master-race happy, then how much more evil must we regard an omnipotent God who allowed Hitler to do so in order to make well-behaved people virtuous? Introducing human will into the cause of evil does not solve any part of the Problem of Evil at all.
We are still left with an omnipotent God’s responsibility for human suffering. Natural evil Natural evil considered as a punishment In the Middle Ages, a popular line of defence against attacks based on the Problem of Evil was to say that it was a punishment, but this point of view has gone out of fashion. The argument was that if you suffer some misfortune, such as contracting the plague, then that is God’s righteous punishment for your sins. If other people, who have sinned more, do not suffer such misfortunes, then that is God’s mercy, and it is just your hard luck that you did not get that mercy yourself. We can outflank this defence by considering the suffering of sick infants (as can be witnessed Great Ormond Street Hospital), who have not had the chance or power to sin. To be sure, St Augustine claimed that even babies are sinners: ‘Who can recall to me the sins I committed as a baby? For in your sight no man is free from sin, not even a child who has lived only one day on earth.
[… ] Was it a sin to cry when I wanted to feed at the breast?’ . We can disregard this claim because it is obvious that babies lack the conceptual wherewithal to commit moral evil. Likewise, we can disregard St Augustine’s teaching that we all inherit the guilt of Adam’s original sin, because the idea of inheriting guilt is self-contradictory. The relevant OED definition of guilt is ‘the state of having wilfully committed crime or heinous moral offence…
.’ , and it immediately follows from this that you cannot inherit it from your parents. Therefore, infants are innocent and so the medieval argument that natural evil is a punishment God metes out to us for our sins is not tenable. Arguments from mankind’s limited knowledge The main line of defence remaining is that, if we could see the world from God’s point of view, we would see that God has actually done His best for us, and that the evil we suffer is the price we cannot avoid paying for the benefits that His love will bring. A bald statement of this defence has no force, since it offers no explication of the posited necessary connection between evil we suffer and God’s benign design for the world.
As always, however, there are hundreds of hypotheses that can invented. Argument from the side-effects of intervention It could be supposed that the world is so constituted that, if God were miraculously to intervene to prevent evil, then that intervention would have some knock-on effect unbeknown to us that would result in a greater evil than the one prevented. For instance, consider someone who dies of cancer: maybe, if she had not died, her great-grandson might have become a new Hitler and slaughtered millions of people. Of course, we have no way of telling how the world would proceed in the long run if this or that evil were miraculously to be prevented.
But, if we consider the hypothesis of God’s preventing all evil, then there is no danger. There would then be no risk of the woman’s great-grandson becoming an evil tyrant because ex hypothesi God would prevent his doing so. In short, God can indeed miraculously intervene to banish all evil from the world, without fear of causing evil side-effects, because if any such side-effects threaten to happen, then He can simply intervene again and miraculously prevent them. A variant of this defence is to suppose that the laws of physics must necessarily be obeyed. We might suppose that there is some deep connection between the basic laws of physics such that a logical inconsistency would be entailed by any breaking of those laws. But any miraculous activity by God would violate basic laws such as the conservation of energy or momentum.
Therefore, God cannot change the trajectory of an assassin’s bullet, any more than he can make a stone too heavy to lift. Even though we think we can imagine God making such life-saving interventions, in fact they are logically impossible at some level. Hume’s counter-attack to this would be to insist that the onus is on the religious apologist to prove that any violation of the laws of physics would be logically impossible. Consider Philo’s statement of principle, ‘conjectures […
] may, perhaps, be sufficient to prove a consistency but can never be foundations for any inference’ And, specifically, ‘There may, for aught we know, be good reasons, why Providence interposes not in this manner; but they are unknown to us: And though the mere supposition, that such reasons exist, may be sufficient to save the conclusion [… ] yet surely it can never be sufficient to establish that conclusion’. That is to say, although the conjecture of a logically necessary physics is consistent with what we so far know of the world, and although that conjecture would solve the Problem of Evil, there is nevertheless nothing in our knowledge of the world that would lead us to infer this to be the case. Therefore it is irrational to adopt the belief.
After all, there are endless possibilities in the world that we cannot prove not to be the case. For instance, the news vendor outside the local Underground station might be a Martian. I have no proof that he is an Earthling, and there is circumstantial evidence that he is an alien (such as the fact that he is selling papers on the street at six o-clock every morning, come rain or snow).
But the complete lack of serious grounds for believing that he is a Martian entails that it would be madness to believe him to be a Martian. Likewise, it would be madness to believe that the laws of physics are logically necessary merely because they might be. As Hume would say, if we had some prior reason for believing that God exists with the full complement of perfections, and if this belief could be reconciled with the existence of evil only by positing the logical necessity of the physical laws, then we might take the idea seriously.
But the existence of God as traditionally conceived is the very point of contention, and therefore cannot be presumed. There is, however, a more definitive counter-attack than Hume’s, which is simply that if God cannot break the laws of physics then he is not omnipotent in any real sense. But our definition for the purpose of this essay says that God is omnipotent. If the concept of divine omnipotence is to have any force, then it must entail an ability to break physical laws. There is a weaker variant of the defence, which is that, although God could break the physical laws, He prefers not do so often because the world would be become a confusing and unreliable place. One of Hume’s characters throws this idea up in his Dialogues.
This defence at once collapses, because the orderliness of the world is a trifle to sacrifice if we could be rid of the evils that mankind suffers. Another variant is that divine interventions would be required on such a scale that the physical ramifications would sweep the world with such chaos that civilisation would not be feasible. For instance, to prevent people dying in earthquakes, God would have to either redistribute the colossal tectonic forces, or redistribute the people out of harm’s way. Either way, human society would be disrupted. Again, however, we can simply answer that God would miraculously remove the tectonic forces without any ramifications at all. Physical causation operates either by contact or by forces that are subject to the inverse square law, so it would not be unduly difficult for God to isolate the side-effects of his miracles.
Argument from God’s transcendence One bastion of defence is the claim that God’s mind is an ineffable mystery and the apparent irreconcilability of God’s perfection with the existence of evil is merely an artefact of our own limitations of thought. This is chiefly attributed to Boethius’s doctrine that the capacity to be known is a function of the knower’s epistemological ability: ‘Everything that is known is comprehended not according to its own nature, but according to the ability to know of those who do the knowing’. The blanket exclusion of human knowledge from the workings of God’s mind is a rather vacuous defence – for, as Hume points out, the terms in which His traditional properties are expressed lose their conventional meanings and become empty tags: ‘love’, ‘omnipotence’, ‘omniscience’. On this view, the statement that the God is all-loving is simply devoid of meaning. This is not a defence of theism, but a capitulation to the attacks of atheists: for the theist to say, ‘God is omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving, and by these terms I mean absolutely nothing’, is to cease to be a theist at all. Boethius, to his credit, was more specific about God’s transcendence of our minds.
He claimed that God ’embraces the whole of everlasting life in one simultaneous present’. This is often expressed by saying that God is ‘outside time’ (as opposed to humans’ being ‘in time’), which is a rather obscurantist way of saying that God is unchanging. This undermines the traditional concept of God, as it renders obscure the sense in which the term ‘omnipotent’ applies to Him. For, if God never changes, then he can never actually do anything in the accepted sense of the word. Any act of doing occurs at some point in time, therefore, God’s omnipotence is empty. Continuing in the same vein, some theists claim that divine love is ineffably different from human love.
To attach novel meanings to words, however, is a sophistic abuse of language. Why, I could claim that Margaret Thatcher is omnipotent, omniscient, and all-loving if by those terms I intended some particular qualities that she does possess. The word ‘love’ has a certain, established meaning which is contradictory to permitting human suffering that could be prevented without adverse consequence. Argument from the inextricability of good and evil It is embarrassing how many Western people say that there must be evil in people’s lives, for otherwise there could be no good. One expects to hear this opinion from fatalistic Eastern minds burdened with the doctrine of karma, but it is inimical to the idea of progress that sustains Western civilisation. That good and evil are inextricable is proposed as a solution to the Problem of Evil thus: God wants there to be goodness in our lives; but we cannot experience goodness without experiencing evil; therefore God cannot eradicate evil.
This was one of the feebler arguments that Beneditx put to Palinor in ‘Knowledge of Angels’: showing him a mosaic in which the picture was formed by lighter and darker fragments of glass, Beneditx says, ‘Now, if we can see how the human craftsman needed dark tesserae, can we not see how God might need the blackness we find in the world, how to the mind of God it might serve a wholeness of transcendent beauty, whereas we, thinking of a tiny fragment of creation by itself, find it ugly, and childishly demand that it should not be part of the picture?’ . To this Palinor later replies, ‘No glass is dark enough to stand for the suffering of a tortured and dying child’, which seems to admit the validity of the principle but to quibble about details. The claim that good cannot exist without evil rests on a fallacious analogy of good and evil with a single dimension of a relative scalar quantity. There are two flaws, as follows. First, happiness and pain are not purely relative and quantitative, but have an absolute and qualitative aspect. The usual analogue, as in Paton Walsh’s novel, is brightness.
But light can be measured in absolute terms (as, for example, watts per square metre) as well as in relative terms (as the eye discerns brightness).
And the absolute terms give the better analogy, because the sensation of, say, a toothache has a specific quality which is unaffected by other experiences. The brightness of any patch in the visual field is adjusted, by the pupil’s dilating and contracting, so that the brightest patch is clearly discernible but not uncomfortably bright. If an anaesthetic, such as atropine, is dropped into the eye, then the iris will relax and a scene illuminated by direct sunlight will become unbearable, because the pupil then admits too much light.
The body does not automatically moderate pain in such a way. In terminal cases of cancer, there may be continuous and excruciating pain. If the experience of pain were a relative quantity, like brightness, then the pain inflicted by the cancer could not be perceived as any more intense than, say, a toothache when that is experienced on its own. Perceived pain would be able to occur only up to some agreeable intensity, and the pain induced by any particular stimulus would depend on the comparative intensities of any other painful stimuli present at that moment. Just as pain thus has an absolute aspect, so evil – which is usually manifested as the infliction of pain – has an absolute aspect. Second, happiness and pain (and hence good and evil) are two distinct dimensions, and do not form a single dimension as darkness and brightness do.
The quality of happiness is distinct from the quality of pain; so happiness is not the absence of pain, nor vice versa. Whereas extreme darkness is logically identical with the extreme absence of brightness, agony is not the same thing as the absence of ecstasy. One can be in a neutral state, completely lacking both happiness and pain. The correct analogy is that happiness and pain each separately correspond to the dimensions of different colours of light: if happiness corresponds to green and pain to red, then: the neutral state would correspond to darkness, ecstasy to bright green light, and agony to bright red light. Human physiology has evolved in such a way that stimuli that induce pain do not induce happiness, and vice versa, so that one does not normally experience both at the same time.
Nonetheless, it can be done. One might, for instance, receive some very good exam results while one is suffering from toothache, and thereby be happy and in pain at the same time. And, in sadomasochist sexual practices, the same physical stimulation might induce both pleasure and pain (corresponding to a mixture of red and green light in our metaphor).
Therefore, the inextricability of good and evil is fallacious, and it is in principle possible to have good without evil. This defence against the problem of evil therefore fails. Argument from the soul’s evolution I mentioned earlier that one proposed explanation of moral evil is that people must be free to choose between good and evil, in order to be virtuous.
There is a parallel explanation of natural evil. Suffer evil things so tempers people souls that they become spiritually better people. In particular, suffering pain enables people to empathize with others to a depth that would not otherwise be possible. And the presence of suffering in the world creates opportunities for people do good things, such as heroically rescuing the neighbour’s dog from drawing the in the river; or rushing out from the front-line to rescue a wounded soldier; or to dedicate one’s life to nursing. If mankind never suffered evil things, there would be no chances for people to exercise their goodness, and this faculty would be under-developed. What could the ‘good Samaritan’ do to prove himself, if God Himself had prevented the bandits from mugging the Pharisee? There are two 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 discoveries, 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. (c) Peter B. Lloyd, 1996[ Philosophy Home Page | Peter Lloyd Home Page | Ursa Software Home Page | Berkeley Studies | Consciousness Studies | Psi Studies | Index ].