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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Problem of Evil

Every Christian should realize that the problem(s) of evil are difficult to deal with and can stand as legitimate obstacles to someone's belief in the existence of God. For those that are not familiar with this problem, I will give you a very quick version:
  1. If God exists, he is omnipotent and omnibenevolent
  2. Evil exists.
So, it seems that:
  1. God wanted to prevent evil, but couldn't and so is not omnipotent, or
  2. God could have prevented evil but didn't want to and so is not omnibenevolent.
It seems that there is an inconsistency within the first two premises, so they both cannot be true at the same time. The non-theist says we have good reasons for believing evil exists, so we should reject (1). The theist, however, doesn't want to reject either so must figure out a way to make (1) and (2) consistent. This version of the problem of evil is one of many, but gets the general idea across.

What I hope is that Christians understand the force of this problem and do not just chalk it up to the lack of faith in God in the non-believer. That probably plays a role, but even many Christians are troubled by this as well. I feel that we have good responses to this type of problem in the 'free will' defense, but it isn't likely to answer the non-theists questions on the first pass. I recently had the opportunity to lecture for two introduction to philosophy classes at the University of Oklahoma on the problem of evil and had some really good discussions with many of the students. If you would like more information on this type of objection, let me know and I'd love to direct you to some great resources.

Grace and peace,


kal-el said...

I got nothing other than chalking this up to one of those things that we as humans are not able to understand, such as "Could god create something so big or heavy even he couldnt move it?" I guess the answer is yes..... then hed move it? Goes agaisnt logic and reason for me as a human. I know that is somewhat vague or not a good answer but since no one else commented I thought I would give it a try.

Paul said...


Thanks for the response! This is the general area that I'm going to write my dissertation on, so hopefully at some point I'll have a good response to someone that proposes the problem of evil.

As for your comment about God creating something so big he couldn't move it; most philosophers (and theologians as far as I know) will say that God could not create anything that big. There are some things that even God can't do. Some worry about statements like that, but it's no real blow to God's omnipotence (which is what worries many people). God can't do anything that would cause him to cease to be God. If God sinned, he wouldn't be God, so God can't sin. If God created a bolder so big he couldn't move it, then he isn't omnipotent and would cease to be God.

Another way to look at it is to say that it is logically contradictory to say God could make something he couldn't move because being able to move everything is part of the concept of God. It's similar to saying God can't create a square circle. To be a sqaure is have four sides and to be a circle is to have 360 degrees. It's logically impossible for anything to have both those attributes at the same time. God can't create square circles, but it's no big deal because it's a logically impossible thing to do.

Youth Extreme said...

If Christians consider their deity omnipresent the difficulty is pondering the absoluteness of their deity's omnipresence because Hell is both a place and is also the absolute separation from God, presenting a paradox. Can a deity be both omnipresent and absent from Hell?

This discussion reminds me of a statement my nephew shared with me a couple of weekends ago…What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?

To examine this statement we must first decide what evil is…I have read a quote from Thomas Aquinas, “evil cannot have an essential cause, or rather that no one commits an evil act for a purely evil motive: there is always some good to be aimed for, even if it one's goals are selfish. This good, no matter how small or short-sighted, is where the deity resides in any given act.”

So if we believe God is omnipresence, should we believe that even when evil is being committed God is there because the motive for the act is for good even though the act is evil?
Further research brings us to the thoughts of God being Omniscience….or having the capacity to know everything, or at least everything that can be known about a character/s including thoughts, feelings, etc. Or even further defined as the capacity to know everything that will be.
Foreknowledge and its compatibility with free will has been a debated throughout the years. If man is truly free to choose between different alternatives, it is very difficult to understand how God could know in advance which way he will choose. Or is it God chooses to foreknow (and, therefore, predetermine) some things, but not others. This allows a free moral choice on the part of man for those things that God choose not to foreknow. It accomplishes this by attributing to God the ability for Him, Himself, to be a free moral agent with the ability to choose what He will, and will not, foreknow, assuming God exists in linear time (or at least an analogue thereof) where "foreknowledge" is a meaningful concept.* It is not possible for a god to know the result of a free human choice. Should Omniscience be interpreted to mean "knowledge of everything that can be known". God can know what someone will do, but only by predetermining it; thus, he chooses the extent of human freedom by choosing what (if anything) to know in this way.

THese are some things to ponder as we eat our breakfast this morning...