Problem of Evil
Wrote this for a philosophy class, thought I would share.
The problem of evil arises when one attempts to reconcile the existence evil with the existence of a benevolent, omniscient, omnipotent deity. The existence of evil indicates one of two alternatives. If suffering exists God either can’t prevent it, and may therefore be benevolent but not omnipotent, or won’t prevent it, and may therefore be omnipotent but not benevolent. A third alternative does exist, as well, which is that God may be neither omnipotent nor benevolent. Several attempts have been made to reconcile the two and provide a solution to the problem of evil and, while generally consistent, I find most of them to be unsatisfactory because they make unjustified assumptions about the objectivity of evil and the anthropomorphic nature of God.
Evil can be divided into two subcategories; they are natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil suffering brought about by natural phenomena, whilst moral evil is human suffering brought about by the will of other willful entities (1). Evil, in the context of this discussion, almost always refers to something that results in suffering. Any process whereby suffering imposed can be said to be evil. Moral evils consist of circumstances where, through action or inaction, one human being allows suffering to be imposed upon another. Natural evils consist of circumstances where, through action or inaction, and God allows suffering to be imposed.
Moral evil, though, can also be seen as Gods responsibility because, despite the apparent presence of free will, God should have the power to circumvent out transgressions against each other in order to prevent suffering. For example, if we should see one person causing another to suffer and we can, with little or not effort, circumvent and prevent suffering, most would consider it negligent, cowardly, and immoral not to do so. One might object on the basis that this would undermine our free will. I see this not so much as an objection so much as a complaint, as well as another contradiction in the riddle of this God’s nature. Supposing certain truths for arguments sake is bound to lead to certain objectionable consequences. Regardless, both moral evil and natural evil can seen to be transgressions of God against man, in which case God is not benevolent. Otherwise, God can’t prevent evil, and is thusly not omnipotent.
The first issue I have with the argument is a failure to establish the objective standard that suffering is a qualifier for evil. Without invoking the existence of a deity who dictates or reveals the nature of evil, establishing objective or even subjective moral systems is a taxing endeavor. Without assuming the God in this discussion has properties not yet specified, there exist no reason to presume that suffering is objectively or even relatively evil. In even posing the problem of evil, our preferential aversion to physical and mental anguish must be equated with evil and, moreover, we must anthropomorphize God in assuming the same aversion to suffering as inherent to its nature. Finally, our mortal aversion and God’s divine aversion to suffering must then be justified as serving as a qualifier for evil.
One solution to the problem may simply be to deny that suffering is evil. This can be done on the basis that no reason to accept otherwise has been established, but these seems more a matter of opinion. However, we might also presume that suffering has been endowed in us at the biological level in order to ensure our survival. Suffering is not always necessary, such as in the case of impending and non-preventable death, but does have its uses. Physical suffering alters our behavior in a number of ways that are either useful at the individual level or the group level. Pain makes us aware of bodily injury, and prevents us from exposing ourselves unnecessarily to the possibility of further harm. Pain also exposes our physical limitations. If you jump of a two-story house, and it hurts, logic dictates that jumping of a three-story house will probably hurt worse. In a sense, suffering, be it emotional or physical, indicates to ourselves or to our group that our circumstances are not as we wish them to be. So, again, we find ourselves at the level of preference.
The solution of biological suffering as a means of survival is inadequate because we have described the necessity of suffering relative to our natural environment, of which the parameters and properties have been and can be dictated by God. Suffering is only necessary if God allows it to be imposed upon our biology by failing to circumvent the parameters of our environment. If God is omnipotent, either our nature or the nature of our environment can be altered such that suffering is not a necessity.
The solution I just proposed is a more specific example of the greater goods defense, which states that evil is necessary for the attainment of greater good. As well, it is stated that for ever evil, an equal or opposing amount of good results. Evil has so far been defined in terms of suffering and thus good must also be defined in these terms. Presumably, good should be defined as any action, and possibly inaction, that relieves or prevents suffering is good. In other words, evil means to a good end justifies those means, and negates their being evil. So it follows that, if God did not allow some degree of suffering, far more would result. This defense though is flawed as wall, because it fails to acknowledge that an omnipotent God could create a reality in which the greater good can be achieved without the necessity for suffering. Suffering is inherent to our nature, and our nature is malleable to an omnipotent being.
Another objection would be an attempt to falsify the premise that the net amount of suffering in the world leads us to a greater net amount of good. So I will attempt to falsify the premise by providing a single example from personal experience. My grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimers just after my grandfather’s death. My schizophrenic and physically disabled uncle, whom lived with and depended totally on them, was forced to leave because my grandmother had no income and, given her affliction, was unlikely to acquire one. So my uncle reverted to alcoholism and homelessness, and no one has seen him sense the funeral of my grandfather some 6 years ago. As well, my grandfather left his family thousands of dollars into debt, and neither my uncle or grandmother has the wherewithal to solve the problem, so it was left to myself and my parents. My mother was forced to drop out of school because we had to constantly travel to Texas, my grandmother’s home, in an effort to sell her house, help her declare bankruptcy, and find medical and psychological help for my uncle and grandmother, something both of them refused.
Today, my uncle is missing, my mother sacrificed 3 years of her life to help my grandmother, who no longer remembers her name, and who look at me as though I were a complete stranger. From these circumstances, no greater good was achieved. Death and tragedy can bring about greater good, but it is no necessarily so. Often, tragedy begets tragedy, violence begets violence, and hate begets hate.
In summary, we have no reason to assume God defines evil in the same way we might, lest we refer to some specific deity. We have no reason to assume suffering is necessary, as doing so appeals to a naturalistic explanation for which the invocation of God is unnecessary or contradictory. The consequences of accepting said attributes of God are an inherent contradictions when contrasted with the plight of human existence. Finally, attempts to solve the problem of evil assume that its premises are true; that God exists and has said properties, and thusly any contradiction must be reconcilable. I can think of now clearer example of confirmation bias. Ultimately, the simplest and most consistent solution to the problem is this; said God does not exist.
Lawhead, F. The Philosophical Journey: An Interactive Approach, Third Edition, McGraw Hill: New York, NY, 2006