The problem of Evil - I. Introduction / Background

In the series of posts to come i will go through (as promised) the problem of evil.

There was a lot about my own personal beliefs, motives and other things in the introduction. I decided to move it all the way to the bottom and save this just for the actual philosophy. If you are interested in this, you’ll find it at the bottom.

The problem of evil is one of those things that can both be very simple and mind-blowingly complex. At its heart lies a question almost everyone has asked from time to time, why do bad things happen, why do people suffer?

It has probably been around for as long as people have believed in an all-good God but the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus was one of the earliest notable people to mention it, his challenge is also useful because it is in a relatively simple form:

"Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

-Epicurus

Let’s break it down a little. God is all-good and all loving (omnibenevolent), God is all powerful (omnipotent) and God is all knowing (omniscient). Evil exists (rape, murder, natural disasters). An all-loving God would not allow evil and suffering but it exists. We end up with trilemma:

  • If God is willing to prevent evil but he can’t, then, he isn’t all powerful.
  • If God has the power to prevent evil but he doesn’t, he isn’t all loving nor all good.
  • If God is both able and willing to prevent evil, then, why does it exist ? Perhaps he does not exist. 
  • Finally, if he is both not willing and able, he certainly is not the God (in the jeudo-christian-islamic sense) at all, this is a rather uncaring and evil God.

It has puzzled the minds of the most intelligent and faithful theologians and believers for centuries. The problem hasn’t yet disappeared and it hasn’t yet been satisfactorily solved. Indeed, one particular Catholic source claims:

"The problem of evil is the most serious problem in the world. It is also the one serious objection to the existence of God."

"When Saint Thomas Aquinas wrote his great Summa Theologica, he could find only two objections to the existence of God… One of the two objections is the apparent ability of natural science to explain everything in our experience without God; and the other is the problem of evil."

In my personal opinion, it is one of the strongest reasons to not believe in the God of the Abrahamic faiths. It is one of the biggest reasons for my own personal disbelief in these Gods. There have been many people on both sides breaking, changing and solving different things as time has gone by but the problem still remains.

The set of arguments i will present are very serious. They go right to the core of a person, what it means to be human. Happiness, suffering, pain and grief. Dark & light. This is a very emotional topic for many people; none of us can avoid that. If anyone finds these kinds of things particularly distressing (or just had a bad day) might be a good idea to skip this one.

This has been a very difficult task for me indeed (half explains the time taken). Usually, i go either all or nothing when i work on something, if I am interested in something then i will work at it and this is no exception. I have figured out a rough sequence of how it will go:

I. Introduction & Background

II. Properties of God and What is Evil

III. Logical Problem of Evil

IV. Reponses to the Logical Problem of Evil

V. Evidential Problem of Evil

VI. Responses to Evidential Problem of Evil’

In II, i will talk about the properties of God briefly. These are very important for this argument since it relies on contradictions within these sets of properties and with evil existing. The properties are God being maximally powerful, maximally loving, etc. I will also briefly mention what exactly the word Evil means in this argument and the kinds of evil we see in the world.

III & IV will deal with the logical problem of evil that states that the existence of obvious evil in the world makes the existence of an all loving, all powerful, all knowing God logically impossible. Therefore, one does not exist.

V & VI will be about the evidential problem of Evil. They talk about specific kinds of evil rather than some kind of abstract evil in general. That is they use evidence. The particular versions i will use do not say that it is logically impossible for the God to exist if evil exists but it certainly lowers the probability and reasons one has for believing in him. These do not deal so much with why any evil exists at all but why the evil that does exist is so bad (e.g. the holocaust) and so frequent (children starving). It states that God would not allow any evil to exist unless that evil brings something even better or prevents something even worse. I will deal with some of the objections to this.

I am totally open to attempted solutions, comments or questions. It’s really great to hear no matter what your thoughts or ability.

I managed to fix the comment button, if you have just a quick comment to make or something to clarify, use that. If you are offering a solution or want to say something longer, it would be much better if you used the “ask a question” feature.

I know plenty of people have not really had the chance to think about it philosophically and learn in that way. I will do my best to read between the lines and take out what i think people are saying in their responses. It’s great to hear back regardless of ability. I will try to adhere to the principal of charity where appropriate, since philosophy for me is just that, it is for me. I’m as much trying to discover the truth as you. I dont want to deliberately weaken an argument just to make me feel comfortable with my current beliefs nor is it fair on the person presenting the challenge.

I’ll wait a few days (If not more) between each post (this also gives me time to write). This will give time for people to comment. The better, longer, tougher and especially more innovative and original arguments (a challenge is great when you have heard the same objections 50 times) will be posted as individually. The shorter ones and the rest will be mixed in with some of the general objections.

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Extras (not philosophical)

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I try to avoid getting too personal here for many reasons. For one, a lot of my audience are total strangers to me; I have never seen their face. It is not all that appropriate. Secondly, I really try to remain aloof and inject as little of myself as possible because i want the people reading this to treat it as a tabula rasa or blank slate. I want them to judge what is written just on its content, not what they think or feel about the person writing it. Of course, it is extremely hard for almost any person who writes to avoid this but i do try.

I want people to like my thoughts or think it is absolute trash just based on the merits of the work as a piece of philosophy, not how well i can convince, set up my words or unconsciously use techniques like the appeal to emotion. This is a very loaded topic, so, i think everyone should be aware of this. I’m sure everyone gets upset over disease and starving children but i don’t want to be believed just because you feel bad, hopefully we can all try focus on the actual argument.

Just a little on motivations..

Because this is such an emotional topic, i think i need to say a few things about my intentions. I’m sure most of the readers would of noticed by now i am an agnostic atheist (see Agnosticism and Epistemology - Why i am an agnostic and so are you ). Some people don’t realise that i don’t believe in God because i hate him or because im arrogant and think im better than him or because i want to rebel.

I’ve encountered people who said life would be hard for them without religion, it gives them meaning. Indeed, scientific studies have found religious people tend to be happier (i might go more into this at another time). I’ve even had a rather lose tonged and rather inconsiderate person say to me that he can’t imagine my life and would commit suicide if he were an atheist. I’ve received a veiled accusation that i was some tool of the devil by someone who had no argument left to fall back on. Perhaps my life would be easier if i had easy answers to everything, if i thought some supernatural father-like figure was my homie and had my back in a warm and fuzzy kind of way.  I just simply can’t believe it though based on what i know and what i see.

I don’t miss the other things in my life to sit around and do some philosophy. It comes after almost everything else but it is a big interest and passion of mine. I quite selfishly do it for myself first, it’s to help me clarify my own thoughts and to help me search for the truth. Second comes any general audience out there and third comes any specific person. Even if no one read this ever, i honestly wouldn’t mind because this is the way i think, by writing down things and working through them. So, I’m certainly not out to convert anyone or trick someone into changing their mind. I am interested in you trying to change mine though.