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.

Unbelievable? Chapter 7

On suffering

Justin wants you to know that god is present in your suffering and sees the future even if you can’t. So stop complaining.

An argument has been made by theists and Justin repeats it, that why do atheists complain about suffering if we live in an indifferent world. This question does seem to me to miss the point. The atheist is telling the theist, you have made such and such claims about the universe and were that the case, the following should be expected as matter of course. In an indifferent universe, suffering is embedded in the nature of the universe. In a world with an omnibenevolent being, suffering is allowed to exist. And if that is the case, then either god is not willing or not able to eradicate suffering.

Justin says because there are many arguments for god, god must exist. No argument would be necessary for god were the existence of god obvious.

He quotes this statement of CS Lewis

My argument against god was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust. A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust.

Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, my argument against god collapsed too- for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my private fancy. Thus in the very act in trying to prove god did not exist, in other words that whole reality was senseless, I found was forced to assume that one part of reality- namely, my idea of justice- was full of sense.

First, was he a theist or atheist? Leaving that aside, do we really need transcendence to say this is not fair? Is a toothache the order of things so that one can’t complain if they have a toothache? Must a god be posited to claim that a toothache is pointless? My idea of justice as a reasonable person leads me to the conclusion that we live in an indifferent universe where unless humanity works together to alleviate the suffering of others, their pain and burden becomes unbearable.

Jeff’s favorite argument. Freewill. Justin wants us to believe that it would be a greater evil for god to intervene, which we are told he has done before, than to allow freewill. Basically, we are told to accept that god is inadequate in coming up with scenarios where we maintain our idea of freewill without causing harm to others or ourselves. Where is omnipotence and omniscience when you need it? To Justin it was better in the eyes of god for the African holocaust to happen because of freewill than to intervene to stop it. How many of you find this argument convincing?

Justin says we live in a spiritual war zone and also that suffering draws people to god. I don’t know about you. But for me, there is no logical contradiction in a world where there is a god and there is no suffering. There is nothing that would come in the way of an omnipotent god who wanted to draw people to himself. No human connivance would prevent this from happening.

Question for believers

Do Christians, Muslims and those in Judaism believe in the same god?

Is it the wish of the same god that there exists different competing sects, each with absolute truth on its side?

If the gods are different, are they all omnibenevolent?

Many an African theologians have argued that the gods of African religion were also omnibenevolent, is it the case then that we have many omni gods?

And my favorite subject, is there a resolution of the problem of evil or does the Epicurean problem remain as unsolved problem for theism?

A further comment on the problem of evil

First, the freewill argument as made here

I was stating that God allows us to have free will and for the most part, the world that we live in is what we make of it. This is a very clear fact when we talk about murder, theft, assault, etc.

is insufficient to dispense of the problem of evil. One can always ask what happens to the free will of those assaulted as it is obvious it is annihilated in the process. And the bigger question is what stops god from redirecting our will to more acceptable goals unless of course our interlocutor is willing to accept that war, theft murder in some unknown way serves the purposes of god, that is, they are god’s will.

This next quote seems to be making the argument of the world/ earth as a place for learning or preparation. He writes

Perhaps the suffering caused by diseases is necessary to draw us together, and we simply make it worse by utilizing our ability to choose not to cooperate with one another, then we blame God because things seem to be too bad.

which one is forced to ask why did god not stop disease carrying organisms from boarding the ark?

And here we come to the Leibniz argument of the this is the best of all possible worlds

The secret is that things could be much, much worse.

an argument which is easily refuted by postulating a world where there is no measles.

This final paragraph does not help the case of our interlocutor

The middle class tend to compare themselves exclusively to the wealthy and ignore the poor while doing so. In this way, they focus on how things could be so much better than they are, rather than appreciating how far from homeless they are.

especially if he holds it as true that god is a benevolent provider. Then we don’t need destitution. In fact, it is possible to imagine a world arranged such that there is no destitution. The christians and muslims already imagine it and name it heaven where they have constant supply of milk and honey.

In summary, the argument that this is the best of all possible worlds is weak as an argument against the problem of evil or in trying to establish the being of a god.

Why does the existence of evil necessarily mean God does or may not exist?

This is an interesting question I saw on quora.

The existence of evil is fatal to a specific type of god, the all loving, all knowing all powerful kind. But for those who believe in a god that suffers with us, or a god that is not all loving nor powerful nor knowing is not affected by the presence of any amount of evil.

There are theodicies that try to explain the compatibility of God and evil as we experience in the universe.

There are for example the argument that this is the best of all possible worlds, or that freewill can explain the evil( though this doesn’t explain natural evil), or that this is a place for preparation or learning or that we don’t have the understanding necessary to know why evil exists.

the problem of evil

a solution, somewhat

for those who are not so philosophically inclined, the problem stated simply, reads

  1. If an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god exists, then evil does not.
  2. There is evil in the world.
  3. Therefore, an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god does not exist.

I am not here to give a new or novel solution but present the solution suggested by Rousseau in Emile as given in the essay of the Savoyard Vicar and ask for your views on the same, whether it is adequate and answers adequately the problem as stated above.

He has the Vicar say

There exists no other evil in nature than what you either do or suffer, and you are equally the author of both. A general evil could exist only in disorder, but in the system of nature I see an established order, which is never disturbed. Particular evil exists only in the sentiment of the suffering being; and this sentiment is not given to man by nature, but is of his own acquisition. Pain and sorrow have but little hold on those who, unaccustomed to reflection, have neither memory nor foresight.

and that

God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. He cannot be mischievous or wicked without hurting himself. A being capable of doing every thing cannot will to do any thing but what is good. He who is infinitely good, therefore, because he is infinitely powerful, must also be supremely just, otherwise he would be inconsistent with himself. For that love of order which produces it we call goodness, and that love of order which preserves it is called justice.

which is to deny the very existence of evil and to reduce it to our passions or judgments. That is to say, evil is a product of our imagination and if we were only to think right, the problem wouldn’t exist. In this view, then, natural evil as elucidated in Rowe’s evidentiary argument doesn’t exist, that is, the death of a bird in a forest fire is not an evil.

The Vicar says of man (moral evil), that

His powers, however, are at the same time so limited and confined, that the use he makes of his liberty is not of importance enough to disturb the general order of the universe. The evil done by man falls upon his own head, without making any change in the system of the world, – without hindering the human species from being preserved in spite of themselves.

In essence, the Vicar has argued that evil, in so far as it exists, is only in our heads and even if we conceded this much it is too minute to affect the nature of things.

Do you agree with the Vicar or is this solution problematic?