Monday, April 30, 2007

Problem with the Problem of Evil (part I)

I drive a lot for work. This gives me plenty of time to think. My thoughts have been caught up quite a bit lately with the problems in the "Problem of Evil" argument. As an aside, if you're ever on Jeopardy its also called the "Epicurean Paradox." For those unfamiliar with the argument, you can generalize it like this:

  1. God exists. (premise)
  2. God is omnipotent. (premise — or true by definition of the word 'God')
  3. God is all-benevolent. (premise — or true by definition)
  4. All-benevolent beings are opposed to all evil. (premise — or true by definition)
  5. All-benevolent beings who can eliminate evil will do so immediately when they become aware of it. (premise)
  6. God is opposed to all evil. (conclusion from 3 and 4)
  7. God can eliminate evil completely and immediately. (conclusion from 2)
    1. Whatever the end result of suffering is, God can bring it about by ways that do not include suffering. (conclusion from 2)
    2. God has no reason not to eliminate evil. (conclusion from 7.1)
    3. God has no reason not to act immediately. (conclusion from 5)
  8. God will eliminate evil completely and immediately. (conclusion from 6, 7.2 and 7.3)
  9. Evil exists, has existed, and probably will always exist. (premise)
  10. Items 8 and 9 are contradictory; therefore, one or more of the premises is false: either God does not exist, or he is not both omnipotent and all-benevolent or there is a reason why He does not act immediately.
The first thing you may notice is that the argument assumes in #7.1 that suffering may not potentially be the best way for some things to be learned. It is a prejudice to think that there must be a better alternative to what exists. If God is omnipotent and all-benevolent, and created all that exists then it should be assumed that based on these qualities He would have created things in the best way possible. Thus, the existing state of things is the best way it could have been created. To assume otherwise is to assume that God thinks as does the framer of the argument, which is ultimately prejudiced toward said framer.

Another thing present in the argument is in #5 and #10 when it states the possibility that "there is a reason why He [God] does not act immediately. It is stated last for a reason, the debater wants this to be the last alternative. However, the fact that this alternative is even acknowledged ends the debate. If there is a possibility that God's thoughts are infinitely above that of humans it is always possible that the moral weight of such things as free-will is much greater than the moral weight of suffering. Also, in #5 its states that "All-benevolent beings who can eliminate evil will do so immediately when they become aware of it." This again doesn't take into account the moral weight of free-will. If an all-knowing God thinks that free-will is better than the potential evil that could be caused, lesser-knowing humans must accept it as true just like a 5 year old has to accept that the brownies he really, really wants before dinner may not be good for him because his mommy told him so.

An interesting problem (and somewhat less noticeable by most folks) is that the argument assumes the existence of evil. Here, most people are probably like "yeah, isn't it obvious that evil exists?" It is. Therefore, God exists. You see in a world in which God does not exist the possibility of a humankind-wide standard of morality reaches nil. To paraphrase Dostoevsky "If God doesn't exist, then all things are acceptable." Without God, there is no one to punish your wrong doing (outside of human law enforcement of course). There is only subjectively relative law, and that means that to claim that evil exists is only to claim that you, as an individual, believe it exists based on your personal standards. On the other hand, if you claim that evil exists and is known objectively and not relatively based on personal belief, then God must exist and must have created a "natural-law" so to speak, of which all of mankind has knowledge.

The laptop is getting hot in my lap and my coffee is running dangerously low, so I'll continue with some more interesting (or not so interesting) thoughts on the problem of evil later.


Christopher said...

Well done for a concise summary of a complicated issue. I hope you do explore it more later.

Lynne said...

God allows Evil to occur so that a greater good may come out of it (quoting, hopefully accurately, Father Corapi).

aggiecatholic said...

Well, one of the arguments from the problem of evil as stated by Clifford is that if evil is okay because it allows good to happen then it would be meritorious to do bad things. By doing bad we would be helping others be courageous in doing good. This obviously cannot be the case because evil is intuitively, well, evil and we know we shouldn't do evil things. So it must be that free-will itself is a greater good than the potential evil. Because mankind has chosen to commit evil acts out of their free-will, God has made it possible to create good from this evil, but it must be understood that evil doesn't occur FOR good to happen, but rather good comes first, via free-will, then evil enters by way of mankind choosing it with free-will, and finally God allows good to be done so that it may "cover over a multitude of sins."

Anonymous said...

this argument assumes that:
1.) something exists independently of G-d (in this case, evil)
2.) G-d is within the logos (that is, can be explained or proven rationally)

while i most of my fellow aggies i know are ardent rationalists and believe that everything they believed can logically be proven, i am not of that opinion.

aggiecatholic said...

I would agree that not all beliefs within our faith can be logically proven as God is so far beyond our comprehension. However, if God's truth is comparable to, say food or light in the soul, is it not a great accomplishment of God's spirit within us to grasp that which he has allowed us to grasp?
Though again, there are many mysteries of God which human minds shall never comprehend.

aggiecatholic said...

I forgot to comment on the assumptions you mention.

Firstly, it is not assumed that evil exists independently of God. Rather, it is that through God's giving of free-will, evil exists as a secondary effect. That is to say that God saw fit to endow mankind with the ability to choose between good and evil. Therefore it must actually be assumed that evil exists prior to man's creation, or atleast exists simultaneously with man's creation for it to be possible for man to choose it. This in no way implies the existence of evil as something independent of God but instead as something dependent on God's creation of (and possibly His own existence within) free-will.

Secondly, you are partially right to say that we assume that God can be understood or explained rationally. By partially right, I mean just what I said in my last combox reply that we understand that there are many more unfathomable things about God than fathomable. On the other hand, we believe there to be some knowledge of God understandable by man since it is held by our faith that He 1) gave us such a capability (even if very limited) 2) He gave us some of the information directly (say the Chrisian bible or the Jewish torah or what ever carrier of divine revalation your particular faith believes.

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Paul Cat said...

I only briefly skimmed what you said, but did you define what evil is? Is evil suffering? Is evil demonic? Is evil Death? etc... you get the idea. I sometimes see evil as a collision of wills.

aggiecatholic said...

I didn't define evil, but I felt the ommision of a definition showed an inherent and common understanding. I planned to talk some about evil as suffering in part dos (when I get the time).