So following on from yesterday, I’m going to do a piece on the problem of evil. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s the argument that uneccesary and gratuitous evil exists, and therefore the idea of God held by theists cannot possibly exist, because if an omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent God did exist, then there would be no suffering, because he would want to, and would be able to, prevent it. Hopefully that makes sense.
Anyway there are various ways this is explained away by Christians (I say Christians only because that’s the religious group I’m most accustomed to, I daresay it applies equally well to many other religious groups), depending often on what kind of Christian they are.
Fairly traditional Christians may point to the Fall as an explanation. They say that God created the world perfectly without sin, without death and without suffering, but man turned away from God, and this brought sin into the world. The punishment for sin is death and suffering, so it’s all our fault (as usual in Christianity).
This Fall doesn’t make sense unless you’re a creationist, for a fairly simple reason. If someone uses this as an explanation, all you have to do is ask when the Fall supposedly happened. If they say it happened in the Garden of Eden about 6,000 years ago, you can point to geology and evolution to prove them wrong as usual. But if they’re a theistic evolutionist, it doesn’t fly, because animals were killing each other and eating each other and dying from the word go, there was no time when there was no death, certainly not right the way up until anything resembling humans came around within the last 200,000 years. That’s how natural selection works. When you’re in the middle of a debate it’s quite useful, as Stuart demonstrated once, to ask something like “so when did the Fall happen, before or after the Precambrian?”, because this divides the creationists from the theistic evolutionists. I also used this with a street preacher and he was left saying “erm erm erm” because if he’d said “in the Garden of Eden 6,000 years ago”, then everyone listening would have laughed and walked away.
I did once hear a curious answer which took me by surprise and stopped me using this argument for a while because I thought he’d put a hole in it. A geologist said that it didn’t matter when the Fall happened because whenever it happened, it had ripples of effect both forwards and backwards in time and space. Think about that, he means that it could happen in the future… weird eh? That sounds pretty solid but actually it isn’t, that’s impossible too. If humans did it, and then it had effects corrupting the creation throughout history as well, then that means in some other now-corrupted reality humans must have evolved without death and suffering, and as I’ve said, that’s impossible with natural selection. So the Fall only works if you’re a full-blown creationist.
Another way the problem of evil may be explained away is through Free Will. As you may have read in my last post, God’s Free Will is on shaky ground anyway but let’s carry on regardless. The argument is that God created the world perfectly, but he gave us Free Will and some people have chosen to cause suffering, and that’s the source of evil.
Well, first of all, not all suffering is caused by people choosing to cause evil. What about diseases? What about natural disasters? What about accidents? At this point they may try and cover the gap with the Fall argument, but then you can just go back up to the last argument. One person did try and come back to that with the argument “well, a natural disaster isn’t evil in itself, people being close to it causes the suffering”, which threw me off for a second, but then a bullet isn’t evil in itself, but if I shoot you with it then it is. If people aren’t causing it, then in Christian thinking that leaves God. God is killing people using natural disasters. Brilliant.
Other Christians may explain evil away by saying that evil is caused by Satan, and goodness is caused by God. Well it’s kind of wishful thinking really to attribute all the good things to God but all the bad things to either people or to Satan, fairly arbitrarily. But this argument (and both the above) is fairly easily knocked down by pointing out that God is supposedly omnipotent and whatever is causing this evil, be it people, the Fall or Satan, God should be able to overcome it and prevent suffering. That’s what a loving, perfect God would do.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if someone did something evil, say, shot someone, but then the suffering caused by that evil didn’t happen. Say the victim got shot but was still alive and felt no pain and had no adverse affects. That way the suffering is being prevented but God isn’t affecting Free Will. What if disease and natural disasters happened but didn’t harm people. Then suffering would have been prevented, but the Fall will still have happened. Wouldn’t that be amazing? Wouldn’t that be a good reason to believe in an all-loving God?
I think this is fairly solid but if you can put a hole in any of what I’ve written, or you can think of another way of explaining evil away, go ahead and leave a comment.