One of the most persistent challenges to god’s existence is also the root of one of the most-asked, but least answerable, questions that we, as thinking beings, face. Why does evil exist?
So, if there’s really an all-knowing God out there, he knows about all the evil. He might even know about it before it happens. And if he’s all-powerful, he could stop it. And if he’s all-good, then he would want to stop it. And yet he doesn’t. The evil continues.
Philosophically rational people shouldn’t hold inconsistent beliefs, so atheists argue that you’re going to have to give something up – and the thing to give up is God. Some theists, however, take a different route. They choose to give up one or more divine attributes. They argue that maybe God isn’t powerful enough to stop evil, or maybe he’s not knowledgeable enough to know about it, or maybe he’s not even good enough to care about stopping it.
That might sound weird to some of you, but if you’ve ever heard someone say that God is envious, or petty, or jealous, that’s basically what they’re doing – they’re acknowledging the possibility that God is not actually good.
If you’ve ever checked out the Old Testament, there is a God there who has some anger issues one who’s not at all opposed to wiping out entire populations just because of some bad behavior.
There is a counter argument for those who believe the possibility that God is not all good. This argument holds that God maximized the goodness in the world by creating free beings. And being free means that we have the choice to do evil things – a choice that some of us exercise. This theodicy means God doesn’t create evil, but evil can’t be avoided without depriving us of our freedom. And a world without freedom would be a worse place overall.
This explanation preserves God’s goodness, because he created the best possible world, and also preserves his omnipotence and omniscience, because, although he does know about evil and could stop it, he has a good reason not to – to ensure our freedom.
The problem is, the free will defense really only really addresses what’s known as moral evil –or the evil committed, on purpose, by humans. Now, we’re certainly responsible for a lot of bad stuff, but you can’t blame us for everything.
We can’t be held responsible for the fact that the plates of the earth sometimes shift, causing destructive earthquakes, or that a storm might knock a tree over that falls onto someone’s house. This type of evil – the stuff we’re not responsible for – is called natural evil, and the free will defense can’t resolve natural evil.
Then there are some people that argue that good can’t exist without its opposite. The idea here is that you can’t understand the concept of pleasure without pain. We don’t know what it feels like to be warm if we haven’t been cold. We can’t understand the goodness of filling our bellies if we’ve never been hungry.
However, the problem of evil actually goes a step deeper. What we’ve been talking about so far is the logical problem of evil. This problem can be resolved, if we can explain why there’s evil. But there’s also the evidential problem of evil. This problem points out that we might be able to explain why evil exists, but we still can’t explain why there’s so much evil in the world. For instance, let’s say that it’s true that we really do need evil in order to understand goodness.
In that case, why can’t we understand the contrast through some sort of low-level evil – like paper cuts and head colds I mean, slow, painful deaths from cancer, and city-destroying hurricanes… they don’t really add anything valuable to our understanding of goodness. Do they?
If God were truly good, and if a negative contrast were really needed in order for us to understand the goodness of the world, then why wouldn’t he give us just the very minimum dosage of necessary to achieve that goal?
A counterargument might suggest that there’s always a good that corresponds to, and is proportionate to, any evil. But empirically, such goodness is really hard to find. What good, for example, could possibly correspond to the horrors of a genocide?
What are your thoughts about God and the reasons of evil in this world? Comment down below.