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Reason for the Hope Within 4: God, Evil, and Suffering

11/21/2011

The basic response to the problem of evil is that there is a justifying reason for permitting it. God prevents evil as best he can, while preserving the greater good. So, the answer to the problem of evil comes in showing that a justifying reason exists.

Some theodicies or justifications of evil:

God would be justified in punishing evildoes and suffering is a result of his punishing them (p.86).

The objection to this is undeserved suffering. Also, contra-causal free will doesn’t exist.

Evil is a necessary counterpart to good (p. 87).The objection is that God is fully good, and existed before humans. Therefore it’s false that evil had to exist at the same time.

In order to allow self-determinism, God permits evil (p. 88). A loving relationship can only occur if each agent has the freedom to benefit and harm (do evil to) the other.Is this true? God can’t do evil to humans, but he supposedly can be in a loving relationship with us. What if we could benefit each other to different degrees, but not do evil to one another? Doesn’t this allow room for love?

Mackie says that God could have created a world where all can freely choose the good. The author rejects this, saying that if God could not create a being that he knew would always choose the good, since this would be a non-free being. That would only be non-free in the contra-causal sense, not the compatibilist sense. Moreover, given that I am free to murder, but have little to no trouble avoiding murder, it seems at least possible that God could create beings with freedom, but a much, much lower likelihood of committing these evil acts.

Natural evils exist as a natural consequence of rebellion against God. If God removed these consequences, he would be removing a very important motivation for us to see the flaws in our ways.
This, again, would not work if compatibilism is true. It also presupposes quite a bit. There’s a lot of ad hoc reasoning here, concerning a previous rebellion.

In order to be able to predictably navigate the world, we need to have laws. Those laws, unfortunately, lead to the natural deaths and suffering of animals.
I think that just a little thought could come up with some examples of possible worlds that lack animal suffering, or possible ways to mitigate the suffering. Perhaps the correct response is to show that God does not explain (constrain our expectations at all of) the suffering we see. Naturalism, or a mindless universe leads us to expect exactly what we see.

God allows evil in order to create higher order goods, like compassion and generosity.
Not sure how to reply. It seems very likely that we see things like compassion and generosity as good, precisely because of the evils in the world. They are not inherently good- so there is no reason to create evil just to create those features. It’s like saying that being punched in the face is good, because it allows us to develop higher order goods, like dodging and strong faces.

The author comes to a very humble conclusion. He says “I can’t see how (the theodicies) requires God to permit so much evil rather than a lot less. That’s how I can’t see how (the theodicies) would justify God in permitting so much evil” (p.101).

He says “We need to own up to that fact.” Great quote. Could totally use this in a debate or blog post.

After all that writing, how interesting that he admits that, contrary to many Christians, he can’t explain the amount of evil that we see. He does offer a lame lesson from the book of Job and Isaiah to the effect that Gods ways are not our ways. Imagine any other religion responding with such a line. That’s a total non-answer, even if it does come from the Bible.

He concludes by examining how well an argument to the amount of evil would be a good argument against God, concluding that although he cannot provide a reason that God would allow evil, we are not in a good position to rule out with any confidence that a good reason exists. Just like you can’t rule out slugs being in your garden by looking out your kitchen window, you can’t rule out there existing reasons that God would have to permit evil by looking at our current state of ignorance.=

I’m not sure how to evaluate the argument. It may be fair to say that the argument from evil does not rule out God. If Howard-Snyder is correct in his last argument, maybe he would say the amount of evil does not make God less likely to exist. I would argue that, for example, examining one square foot of the garden and finding no slugs is at least some evidence against slugs. Examining two feet is a little more. Similarly, examining all theodicies and finding none successful is evidence against God, but how much?

But if he is trying to show that God exists, and is all good, doesn’t he have to overcome this hurdle? The burden of proof is on him to show that evil or the amount of evil is consistent with the existence of an all good God, so if we are to accept a claim that this being exists, we can fairly demand that the apparent contradiction be resolved.

This can be worked around only if there is a large amount of compelling evidence outside of this argument to believe in an all good God. If there is (many other arguments succeed), then perhaps we can admit our ignorance solely in the case of evil, while still rationally believing. Unfortunately, I think the other arguments suffer from similar flaws.

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