Reflections on the Problem of Evil

I read a post not long ago, Prayson Daniel’s Scholarly Status of Logical Problem of Evil.  The problem of evil (as I understand it) states that the existence of evil in the world is strong evidence against the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent God.

Daniel states: “The logical problem of evil is dead. This is the general status of the once loved argument against the existence of an omnicompetent God in academia. The idea that existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of God is dying.”  Daniel then goes on to quote academics who challenge the power of the problem of evil in refuting the existence of God.

Here are some of my thoughts about the problem of evil.

1.  I think that the problem of evil goes too far when it says that the existence of evil in the world is evidence against God’s existence.  There may be a God who has reasons for temporarily permitting evil.

2.  On the other hand, I do not think that many theodicies (defenses of God) have the corner on truth.  There may be something true in them, but they usually have flaws.  For example, I can envision God permitting evil because adversity can lead us to seek God, because encountering evil teaches us why bad is bad and encourages us to love the good all the more, or because evil gives us opportunities to do good and thereby develop such traits as compassion and benevolence.  Do I think that such theodicies have flaws?  Yes.  Some theodicies seem to treat suffering or dying people as guinea pigs for others’ moral and spiritual growth.  I do not dismiss the possibility that God may permit suffering for the reasons that theodicies say, but I believe that those theodicies only have part of the truth and are not adequate, iron-clad, end-all-be-all explanations for why God permits suffering.

3.  God advertises himself as benevolent.  Or, if you do not believe in God, God is advertised as benevolent by certain religions.  In light of this, the existence of suffering will continue to challenge belief in God.  Even some of the people Prayson Daniel quotes acknowledge that, while the deductive problem of evil may be dead in many parts of academia, the problem of evil could still continue to exist, albeit in another form (i.e., as an inductive argument).  Jesus in Matthew 6 says that his audience should not worry, for God will take care of their needs (i.e., eating, clothing).  Yet, there are people in the world who die of starvation.  I can understand why people conclude from this that there is no God.

4.  At the same time, I do get sick of people saying that, because God seems inactive in the Third World, I should not pray to God or trust God to take care of my needs or answer my prayers.  Who is to say that God is totally inactive in the Third World?  There are many people in the Third World who enjoy life: family, food, etc.  There are also a lot of Christians in the Third World: whatever suffering exists there has not discouraged them from looking to God in faith.  Why, then, should it discourage me from having faith?

I admit, however, that I am rather sheltered, and that there are problems in the world far beyond what I comprehend.  The human community should try to meet those problems, when it can.  I applaud people who, for whatever reason, show compassion.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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3 Responses to Reflections on the Problem of Evil

  1. James, I applaud the depth of your reflection stirred by my article. I am honored that it echoed careful reconsideration. I am to blame in some of your thoughts because I was not clear enough. I will thus attempt to ease some of your thoughts.

    1. What you presented in your first thought is what is called a defense. It is different from a theodicy because it does not speculate what reasons God may have to temporarily permit pain and suffering. This is the core of counter-argument that makes the problem of evil weak or more boldly dead. Because if it is possible, not necessarily true, that God may have reasons to temporarily permit pain and suffering, then it follows that is not an evidence against God’s existence.

    2. It is not the theodicies that brought the change in academic but recent defenses from Nelson and Plantinga. Plantinga would agree with you that many theodicies are wrong and some very weak. Defenses do not offer the reasons for why God permits evil, they a possibility as the one you noted above to which shows that existence of evil does not eliminate God as classically believed.

    3. The existence of suffering and pain will forever challenge belief in God. Though most of atheist philosophers, e.g. Rowe, Martin, and Draper have judged deductive/logical problem of evil as dead, they defend non-deductive/ probabilistic problem of evil. Though the deductive problem of evil is dead, . inductive problem of evil. is alive and well in academia.

    4. I am with you on this point. And will used John Hick’s remark to close:

    “As has often been observed, in the case of human suffering the intellectual problem of evil usually arises in the mind of the spectator rather than that of the sufferer. The sufferer’s immediate and absorbing task is to face and cope with evil that is pressing upon him and to maintain his spiritual existence against the threat of final despair. He does not want or need a theoretical theodicy, but practical grace and courage and hope. We can therefore say, in Marchel’s terminology that for him evil is not a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be encountered and lived through.”(Hick 1977: 10)

    Hick, John (1977) Evil and the God of Love. London: Macmillan and Co.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thank you for your clarification and elaboration, Prayson.


  3. Your post shows so much depth James


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