God and Evil

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Does the existence of evil in the world mean that God cannot exist?

“If God is all-powerful, if God is all loving, if God is all-knowing, how does suffering exist?” Epicurus’ inconsistent triad is a fairly strong argument against the validity of God’s existence, for if He is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, why does He allow evil to be present amongst us? One could say that suffering allows us to understand pleasure, that without evil we cannot truly comprehend the concept of good, but that is a somewhat simplistic argument which can easily be countered. If God were truly omnipotent, He could ensure that we could understand good without first experiencing and coming to terms with evil. Saying that suffering is what allows us to understand pleasure is the same as saying that God has given evil a purpose; this argument functions only so long as one is discussing God’s omnipotence, but when one is talking of the inconsistent triad one must consider the other aspects of God’s nature. If God were omnibenevolent, He would not give suffering such a purpose, but rather help us to understand its opposite unaided by unpleasantness. This is also why we cannot say that God is simply ignorant of our individual suffering, as God is also defined as an omniscient being.

David Hume, the eternal cynic, presented an argument against God’s existence which was loosely based on Epicurus’ triad. “Either God is not omnipotent or God is not omnibenevolent or Evil does not exist in the world”, he stated, going on to observe that there is too much concrete evidence supporting the validity of evil’s existence to allow the final supposition to be true, and so he concluded that God must be either impotent or malicious (thus proving that God, as we perceive Him, cannot exist). What he failed to do was explain precisely why the indisputable existence of evil challenges that of God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence, thus making his argument “impotent”. His assertion, though relevant, makes the premature assumption that it is indeed wholly impossible for God to be all-loving and all-powerful while there is evil in the world.

Alvin Plantinga has provided an effective argument to refute this idea of God and evil being incompatible. Plantinga’s “free will defence” presents the notion that if God wished to create a world where free-will could exist, He would have to allow the possibility for evil amongst humans. If He made it impossible for humans to think and act in a manner conducive to suffering, they would not have true free will. The defence goes on to state that God may have desired to create a world were moral-evil was a possibility in order for true moral-goodness to exist (if there were no such thing as moral-evil, moral-goodness as we know it could not come into being as it would be the natural moral state of any person). Some have criticised Plantinga’s argument for being incompatibilist, but compatibilism deals with the compatibility of determinism and free-will, which has little to do with the way in which God directly moderates human liberty. Plantinga was not saying that there are no restrictions on free-will; he was only making the statement that God may not have wanted to add this additional restraint. And of course, the second part of the free-will defence is not addressed at all by this counter, making it rather ineffective. Plantinga’s argument is one which serves to disprove Hume’s statement whilst also addressing Epicurus’ inconsistent triad.

There is another angle one can view this from; perhaps God simply decided that a world where humans lived in constant bliss and never suffered in any way was not the kind of place he wished to create. Perhaps he wanted that state of bliss to come after the physical world. If suffering were removed from our lives, even if God used his omnipotence to make sure that absolutely everything else was precisely the same, it would still be a world lacking that one defining feature. Painters often include imperfections and flaws in their compositions in order to create the painting they wish to create. If Munch had chosen to use a soft, picturesque aesthetic in “The Scream” it might still have been a masterpiece but it would have been essentially different. The same goes for our world. Without evil, a core part of our collective life would be warped beyond recognition. We would not be able to prove ourselves ethically sound in the pursuit of alleviating suffering, for instance (this relates back to Plantinga’s argument). Naturally, our lives would be far easier if we did not feel pain and grief, but the very nature of those lives would then be fundamentally different, and (one might hazard to say) more simplistic.

Though there could very well be other important points of view and other anti-theistic arguments derived from the problem of evil, I regard the aforementioned to be some of the more vital. Considering what has been discussed above, I feel a certain response towards the triad has been brought to light. If God is all powerful, if God is all loving, if God is all knowing, how does suffering exist? Because suffering is what makes this world what it is. Suffering is what makes us what we are. The existence of evil does not imply that God is a fallacy, only that God (if He exists) wanted to create a world more complex than a world of interminable bliss and serenity.

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2 responses »

    • Actually, I’d prefer to have an open discussion here on the blog. That way, future readers may be able to benefit from it, especially if some of the ideas I’ve expressed are flawed.

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