Why does God let people suffer? Why is there so much evil in the world?


I know! I know. Don’t ask where i find these people. They happen to litter the internet. And this one I stumbled upon by accident. Well, not really. It was suggested by WP. Our attention is drawn to a paper by a Joe Monzari that you don’t have to read because there is nothing new in it that you haven’t heard before. But for those coming to this for the first time, the problem of evil has been divided into two forms; the logical and the evidential.

First, the logical problem

(1) God exists.
(2) God is omnipotent.
(3) God is omniscient.
(4) God is omni-benevolent.
(5) Evil exists.

Premises 2 and 3 are unnecessary because omni-benevolent implies omnipotence i.e nothing should stop it and omniscient it should not lack in knowledge. So we can rewrite the above as

  1. god exists
  2. god is omnibenevolent
  3. evil exists.

Theists have argued that the above do not imply a contraction. Two additional premises have been added after (3) thus

(4) A good being always eliminates evil as far as it can.
(5) There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do.

Knight and Joe argue in an attempt to defeat proposition 4 argue that in order to eliminate human evil, you would have to eliminate free will. They argue further that eliminating free will is worse than allowing it, because good things like love are impossible without free will. I will here just point out that if it is true that Jonah ate a fish, then god doesn’t give much currency to freewill and would use any means to achieve her ends. As Ubi has correctly pointed out in a previous post, the theist readily admits that heaven is all milk and honey and humans have freewill and they can’t do no wrong. An existence without evil is possible for this god theists yap about. For Leibniz to argue that this was the best possible world is to put a limit on omnibenevolence.

To defeat premise 5, they argue god cannot do contradictory things. Joe argues

Thus, if God grants people genuine freedom, then it is impossible for him to determine what they will do. All that God can do is create the circumstances in which a person can make free choices and then stand back and let them make the choices.

If the above is allowed to stand, apart from god being callous, it is also grossly irresponsible. But there is no contradiction in omnibenevolence creating the circumstance in which all choices lead to good. We are tempted to ask what about those whose freedoms are limited? For example those held at gunpoint or those children abused by clergy. Or is this freedom only for the powerful? And if god allows a state of affairs where one can choose to act whichever way, why punish one for acting this or that way?

Joe and his mouthpiece, Knight, have not defeated the two propositions. The freewill defence is inadequate. They have also failed to show the contradiction in a world where all the outcomes of our choices only lead to good.

On the second formulation of the problem, I will use Rowe’s and not Knight’s. Rowe argued

  1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  3. There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

The argument is not, as Knight is making it appear, that while god would have a reason to allow freewill, there are natural evils that god has no reason to permit but rather that there are instances of evil that it could have prevented. Knight’s argument is that premise 2 cannot be allowed to stand. She does ask how does the atheologian know that the instance of evil is really gratuitous? Unfortunately for Knight, she need to demonstrate there are unknown goods that are achieved by god not acting, say to rescue kangaroos in the recent forest fires in Australia. If this cannot be done, then the argument is not defeated and the conclusion follows necessarily.

Having failed to defeat the above argument, Joe and Knight tell us these 4 Christian doctrines explain why gratuitous evil is less (emphasis mine) problematic for the christian

  • The chief purpose of life is not happiness, but the knowledge of God.
  • Mankind is in a state of rebellion against God and God’s purposes.
  • God’s purpose is not restricted to this life but spills over beyond the grave into eternity.
  • The knowledge of God is an incommensurable good.

Against 1, if god is permitting suffering earth so that we are not too comfortable here, what stopped god from creating man in heaven? The theist argues there are beings that did not leave the heavenly realm. Why not man?

Against 2, I would just say god has allowed it. And two god has not made its purpose clear to man. If the theist insists that man is a fallen being, it’s not man’s fault but god’s problem.

Against 3, to argue there will be no suffering after death is presumptuous especially after having argued that this is the best of all possible worlds. How then does one tell themselves that god has arranged things in another world such that there is no suffering for eternity while the same state of affairs was impossible for god to achieve here?

It is no relief to tell a person suffering from years of ALS or an advanced stage of cancer that Jesus hang on the cross for a few hours, died and resurrected. One, if the bible is to be believed, Jesus knew about his impending death on the cross. In fact, he had been sent to come and die on the promise he would resurrect. He accepted the proposition. The person with ALS did not ask for it. And has no such promise of a quick release.

The attempt by Joe to apply the G.E Moore shift is inadequate in solving the problem of evil. It doesn’t prove what it sets out to do.

Joe thinks that if the above arguments are not a triumph, he can invoke the moral argument for god through the following line of  reasoning.

(1) If God does not exist, then objective moral values do not exist.
(2) Evil exists.
(3) Therefore, objective moral values exist.
(4) Therefore, God exists.

The first premise he says is accepted by all. I don’t accept it. Besides it only moves the question of subjectivity from man to god. So that whatever god wills is good. There is no contradiction in objective moral values existing independently without god. There are arguments by theologians who question the attribution of moral goodness to god. He writes

To be blunt, I suggest that many contemporary philosophers writing on the problem of evil (both theists and non-theists) have largely been wasting their time … They are like people attacking or defending tennis players because they fail to run a mile in under four minutes. Tennis players are not in the business of running four-minute miles. Similarly, God is not something with respect to which moral evaluation (whether positive or negative) is appropriate.

In conclusion therefore, Joe or Knight have failed in what they set out to do and her celebration that

If objective morality exists, then there is an objective moral lawgiver. Game over. If the atheist backtracks and says that the existence of evil is just his opinion or his cultural preference, then this standard does not apply to God, and you win again. Game over again.

is premature and she need go back to the drawing board. The problem evil has not been defeated as yet.

About makagutu

As Onyango Makagutu I am Kenyan, as far as I am a man, I am a citizen of the world

29 thoughts on “Why does God let people suffer? Why is there so much evil in the world?

  1. jeremiahmyer says:

    Interesting in as far as your study goes. You are speaking as if there is only two possibilities “God or no God”… what if there was a third way? Of course if the point is just to debunk the Abrahamic God and in particular the Christian face of that God well then: points well made! But if your scope is larger and your comments are directed toward the very existence of any gods or forces in the universe… well I’m not sure you have made the case or achieved the result your hoping for. “god” is not the sole realm of christians, God belongs to many and all people. And people See God in different ways and God manifests in different ways to each. peace

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    • makagutu says:

      Jeremiah, you raise a good question.
      Is the type of god you have in mind a personal one? Does it have the properties of the god of classical theism? Or rather, what’s its nature?

      Like

      • jeremiahmyer says:

        Sorry, about the delay in returning an answer to your comment. For some reason or other not only am I not notified but I only see anything at all unless I return to your blog.
        Oh well, technology is not one of my suits.
        Let me see if I can clear some missing parts of my answer up for you and clubschadenfreude, (what a great name by the way!) My point about your blog is this: I did not feel your case was against “God” so much as it was a case against the “christian god” or the Abrahamic god. And against that god your make a very strong and compelling case. Now as far as yours and Clubs questions about what I personally feel the nature of “God” is, I will try to answer a bit. First, I don’t believe you can “make up just any ol’ thing and call it god”. I do however feel if enough people elevate something to a “godlike” status long enough that “something” will elicit worship, I’m thinking something like money or a particularly charismatic individual, maybe in sports or politics. But in the passing of time that status will fade. Now on to your questions Mak, “Is the type of god you have in mind a personal one?” the short answer is: Yes. The longer answer is this’ I am a polytheist, I believe in many Gods not just one. And I have personal relationships with some and not so much with others. For instance the Abrahamic god I never interact with on a personal level, by his own admission “he” is a jealous and warlike god and I really want nothing to do with “him” but “he” is just one god among many. Next; “Does it have the properties of the god of classical theism? Or rather, what’s its nature?” By “god of classical theism” you mean a archetypical father figure some do but not ALL god’s do. Some God’s purpose reason for being is much narrower and local. Some God’s are not nice and as such can manifest in evil on this plane. Others, work healing etc. The nature of god is varied and many. Some are so local they are tied to a stream or a mountain etc. But others much vaster in nature.
        in conclusion I don’t believe in just god that is responsible for all the good and all the evil in our world, how could that work? But I do believe in “god” just many of them who along with us, you and I weave the web of life.

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        • makagutu says:

          No problem Jerry.
          The god of classical theism is usually described as being all powerful, all knowing and fully benevolent and is personal. So if your god does not have the property of omnibenevolence, then it falls in a different category.
          I see you have said you believe in personal gods with Yhwh just being one of them but you don’t interact much. So are these gods either singly or together prevent evil but haven’t?

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          • jeremiahmyer says:

            That’s not it exactly. The day to day evils in this world are not the story of humankind or the gods. they are missteps and discords in the web of life. They are terrible misfortunes to the people involved. Your focus is on that evil and why did not god some god step in to right that wrong… and since the evil exists then god must not. I get that. My belief is that this life is but a stanza in the great song, as it is played this, life song… sour notes are hit now and again, evil pops his head up, but the song keeps playing because it is about the whole song not the note. The Gods do help us especially if we ask the right one. Our life has fewer sour notes if we don’t pay homage to ones that are disinclined. But in the end this lifetime is just one verse in a much greater story. And as an aside I suspect Yhwh is pretty fed up with his followers.

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            • makagutu says:

              To see life as a song would be much in line with my thinking.
              How would we know the right god though?

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              • jeremiahmyer says:

                Great question! Depending upon what result we are hoping for; for instance if we are looking for insight and wisdom we might invite Isis to join us in our quest for knowledge. She is a Goddess of wisdom. And is said to be “more clever than a million gods”. On the other hand if we or a loved one are under a doctors care we might pray to Dhanvantari seeking his blessings for sound health for ourself or our loved ones. He is not only the Hindu God of medicine but also the physician of the Gods themselves!

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    • if you want to make up just any ol’ thing and call it god, you may have a point. However, if your god has attributes e.g. is defined as a god, then yep, Mak has made the case.

      This attempt to make “god” so vague that no one can question it is a rather sad conclusion to how theists fail.

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      • makagutu says:

        Jerry might actually have a point. If you posit the god of deism who created the universe and then went to do god things and doesn’t care about how things turn out, such a god is consistent with the existence of evil.
        Problem is that this is not the god of the problem of evil.
        We could as well posit the god in John’s seminal work. A god who allows some good to happen to confuse us.

        Liked by 1 person

      • basenjibrian says:

        and a very common trope for the more “deist” species of liberal(ish) apologist. I imagine (not to speak for him), Jeremiah might find persuasive various nods to “ineffable” deities THAT WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND. etc. etc.

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  2. john zande says:

    So, if I read that correctly, the argument is evil exists but you’re not allowed to judge god.

    Mmmm.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. wk is such a failure.

    “Similarly, God is not something with respect to which moral evaluation (whether positive or negative) is appropriate.”

    aka please oh please don’t question our god or us.

    Like

  4. Arkenaten says:

    Can’t stand Wintery Knight. Another apologist with nothing but flatulence to offer.

    Like

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