There Is No “Problem of Evil”

Deteething an old saw.

I don’t have a dog in this fight, but that the fight continues still slightly mystifies me. The classic “problem of evil” is a philosophical quandary for religious people and a weapon for anti-religious people in their attack on religion. Whether the “problem” is an actual problem is largely a matter of taste rather than logic.

The “problem” is classically drawn as a logical argument:

  1. If God exists, then God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
  2. If God is omnipotent, then God has the power to eliminate all evil.
  3. If God is omniscient, then God knows when evil exists.
  4. If God is morally perfect, then God has the desire to eliminate all evil.
  5. Evil exists.
  6. If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn’t have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn’t know when evil exists, or doesn’t have the desire to eliminate all evil.
  7. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

Source: The Problem of Evil. On…plato.stanford.edu

The cited article states that the argument is valid (if all premises are true, then the conclusion is true), but its soundness (it actually is all true) is much less certain.

The point is that the “problem of evil” is not the slam dunk that some atheists want to believe. I am not here to support or condemn belief in God or belief there is no God, but I want to point out that the huge lacuna in the discussion of the alleged problem says something important about us as human beings.

The Problem with the “Problem”

There are a number of ways to defeat the premises of the argument, but what is missed is a logical hole within premise four. That would be clause, “God has the desire to eliminate all evil.” The unspoken assumption which invalidates the argument is that desiring something means one will necessarily act to accomplish it.

Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that God desires for there to be no evil (side note: what exactly “evil” is is seldom defined). And yes, let’s go with the assumptions that God knows that evil exists and can do whatever God wants. Here’s my question:

What obligation is there for God to eliminate all evil?

Seriously. Why do you think God should make everything perfect for you or anyone else? Even if you believe that God created everything and has a plan for everything and dominion over everything, and so on, what does God owe you?

Sorry to be blunt, but that is at the heart of the “problem of evil.” It is an assumption made by both the religious and the atheists that God is obligated to eliminate evil , as if humans can construct, in their conception of logic, an argument that dictates to the Universe how it must be. The God must eliminate evil is an unproven and unprovable assumption that once removed dissolved the “problem.”

The philosopher William of Ockham wrote that the universe is not subject to logical necessity. This was in response to the ancient question of whether God is subject to rational determinism. It was a common belief among medieval Islamic and Catholic scholars that God created the Universe according to the dictates of logic and that the Creation was completely determined by logic. Nothing could be otherwise than it is. Even God cannot act otherwise than as rationality dictates.

That belief in rational determinism, a religious idea still hanging on in some circles, was rejected by William. He countered that the Universe is contingent on God’s will. God is not a slave to logic. Importantly, we are also not a slave to determinism. God has free will; we have free will. William would answer to the “problem of evil” that God can do whatever God wants. If evil exists, God has a reason for not eliminating it.

The reason, I suggest, is that God has no obligation to eliminate all evil. God can love us and want good things for us without doing things for us. Again, I’m not advocating for belief in God, not offering a theodicy; I am making a more humanist point (in the old school definition of “humanist”).

It is an all too human tendency to want all of our challenges and sufferings to go away, preferably with as little effort from us as possible. People turn to all manner of external sources to “make it go away” or to deaden their awareness of their sufferings. Søren Kierkegaard properly condemned such immature avoidance of the difficult aspects of life. To expect God to eliminate evil in your life is immature and selfish. It is up to you to better your life.

Again, sorry, but I have to be blunt. The “problem of evil” isn’t actually about God or religion. It is about your expectations. Expecting God to solve your problems is immature and ignorant. Using the “problem” as a disproof of God is also immature and ignorant.

 

 

 

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