THE PROBLEM STATED
- The argument is used to disprove the existence of God, based on the presence of evil and suffering in our world.
- First formulated by ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus and has been restated in many forms.
- The problem of evil is specifically detrimental to upholders of the God of Classical Theism.
LOGICAL PROBLEM OF EVIL: THE INCONSISTENT TRIAD
To deomonstrate how the problem of evil poses a threat to the God of Classical Theism, Australian philosopher J. L. Mackie formulated the 'inconsistent triad':
- God is omnipotent
- God is omnibenevolent
- Evil exists
It is logically inconsistent for these three statements to exist simultaneously: The combination of any of these two positions leads logically to the third being impossible. God has the means (power) and the motivation (omnibenevolence) to eliminate evil. So why does he not do it?
THE NATURE OF EVIL
Evil is generally considered to be anything that causes suffering. It is often characterised in two main ways: moral and natural evil.
- MORAL EVIL is suffering brought about by the actions of a free-will agent (a being who has the ability to choose between good and evil) For example, murder, theft, violence, terrorism, genocide. Misuse of free-will.
- NATURAL EVIL is suffering brought about as a consequence of events outside the control of free-will agents - most commonly events which occur as part of the natural order. For example earthquakes, drought, hurricanes, extremes of temperature and disease.
PARTICULAR PROBLEM: ANIMAL SUFFERING
- Most Western religions assert that humankind has a higher status in the created order than animals, and that animals do not posess the spiritual quality of a soul. The suffering of animals has no 'higher purpose' in these religions:
- Natural selection proves violence of nature. Nature is, in the words of Lord Tennyson, 'red in tooth and claw.'
- Humans have free will and can choose good or evil; suffering is a consequence of this. Animals do not posess this moral capacity, so why should they be allowed to suffer
- Suffering is often claimed to improve the quality of one's soul; if animals have no soul, why should they suffer?
- pain as a necessary event of living things to learn how best to survive within the natural order (but why was the order created like this in the first ace?)
- Natural selection benenfits entire series as result of evolution
- Animal suffering is an additional punishment to mankind (in empathetic terms) because of humanity's evil actions.
- Animal suffering allows human beings to practice compassion and develop positive spiritual qualities.
PARTICULAR PROBLEM: INNOCENT SUFFERING
- Innocent suffering: the very nature of the innocent is blameless and guiltless, therefore undeserving of any form of suffering/punishment.
- i.e, when young children become the victims of famine or war, there tends to be a strong reaction to the blatant unfairness of their suffering.
- Why does an omnipotent and omnibenevolent creator allow innocents to suffer?
- CHRISTIAN RESPONSE TO INNOCENT SUFFERING: The Book of Job, in which a bet between God and Satan leads to Job, a 'righteous man' to have immense suffering put upon him. "In all of this, Job did not sin by blaming God" - Job remained loyal to God. God claims that he has a reason for Job's suffering, but this reason is beyond human comprehension.
- This illustrates the fact that innocent suffering may seem unjust, but humanity's view of the universe is narrow and limited and that even innocent suffering has a place in God's ultimate plan for creation.
PARTICULAR PROBLEM: IMMENSE SUFFERING
- Sometimes suffering effects millions at one time. For example, medical conditions such as HIV or AIDS, cancer, hurricanes and genocide (i.e: the holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed)
- Why so many? Even if suffering serves some purpose, why should it happen to such an extent?
- The existence of such widespread suffering, often of innocent civilians, simply does not correlate with the notion of an omnibenevolent God. Surely there must be alternatives?
- Liebniz argued that the existence of suffering allows humanity to respond in positive ways, developing qualities such as charity and dignity. (i.e: donating to help hurricane survivors, reflecting on horrific genocides of history and know never to commit such acts again). If the world were not an evil place, we might not be able to cultivate these qualities - immense suffering often provokes immense positive responses from humanity.
- But is this FAIR?
Religious believers have developed a number of responses to the problem of evil.
These defences are known as theodicies.