The existence of evil makes belief in God impossible. Assess this view.
‘The existence of evil makes belief in God impossible’. Assess this view. (30 marks)
The problem of evil is a problem for everyone as no one wishes to suffer, but it is a particular problem for believers in one God, who possesses all the attributes ascribed to him in revealed and natural theology, such as omnipotence omnibenevolence and omniscience. There are many types of evil: natural evil, like earthquakes and volcanoes, pains and sufferings caused by nature, which are independent of human actions. There is also moral evil, which is evil caused by humans upon other humans, such as murder, assault and rape.
A predicament arises when we consider the unbridled iniquitous acts of evil that seem to crescendo throughout history. Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher, first stated the problem of evil. If God wants to remove evil and cannot, then he is feeble and not omnipotent. If God does not want to remove evil and he can do such a task, he is evil and not omnipotent. If he cannot remove them and he does not want to remove them, then he is both feeble and evil, and is at variance with God’s character. If he wants to remove evil and he has the power to then why is there evil prevalent within the world, which is an undeniable assertion, then why does he not remove them? This questions the perfection of God which is revered by believers.
More recently philosophers have created a dichotomy into the logical problem and the evidential problem. Epicurus’ is more akin to the logical problem. J.L. Mackie states the modern logical problem. God is the omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient creator of the universe; evil exists within the universe. An all-good God removes evil as much as he can. But here there is a contradiction as there is evil within the universe. J.L Mackie also created the ‘Inconsistent Triad’, which shows that God’s attributes cannot be reconciled with the evil and suffering in the world and God’s loving nature. This argument uses deductive reasoning and is an a priori argument, which is contrasted to the following argument.
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The evidential problem tries to show that the existence of evil, although it could be logically consistent with the existence of God, lowers the probability of theism being true. For David Hume, the existence of evil makes it more probable that God does not exist, as he says in his ‘Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion’, that it is not possible to ‘reconcile any mixture of evil in the universe with infinite attributes’. This argument is an a posteriori argument using inductive reasoning, where the conclusion is derived from empirical evidence rather than being from reason. This argument highlights the fact that if we inspect upon the sheer amount of evil prevalent in the world, we are forced to conclude that either God does not exist or He is not omnipotent or omnibenevolent; why would an all-powerful and all loving God allow concede to all this evil and suffering. As Darwin pointed out the pointless suffering inflicted upon animals which seems to have no advantage or purpose but is gratuitous evil which is unwarranted and purposeless, ‘what advantage can there be in the suffering of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time?’.
So it seems that believers have to give up one of the attributes of all loving, knowing or powerful, as it is undeniably true that evil is prevalent throughout the world. But cannot believers alter the definition of God? By doing this they can resolve the problem of evil. Such as Process Theology, where A.N. Whitehead says, God is the ‘great companion – the fellow-sufferer who understands’. This view point suggests that God is part of the world and evolving with it, and He can influence our actions but cannot completely remove evil; taking away the attribute of omnipotence from God. However solutions like these will not satiate most believers, and would reject them as pseudo-solutions as they would want to keep a God with all the attributes like omnipotence and omniscience. A solution which does this and still accounts for the actuality of evil is known as a theodicy.
St. Augustine’s theodicy tries to account for the evil suffering prevalent in the world while not changing the definition of God. Augustine’s theodicy is influenced greatly by the Bible as it is a Christian theodicy but also by the Genesis, the first book, which accounts for the creation of the world. He devised the hierarchy of being: with God as the number one, then followed by Angels, he also added that there were two types of Angels, some with more grace and some with less grace, who fell from the grace of God, and one of them became the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Then comes men followed by women and finally animals. He claims that God first made Adam then Eve as perfect beings with perfect freedom, and a world which was perfect, but when Eve was tempted by the serpent, and Adam as well, they misused this absolute freedom. As how could a perfect being create evil, asks Augustine. He also defines evil not as a separate entity but a merely a privatio boni, a lack of good. It is like saying that God did not make blindness but rather a lack of sight. So Augustine is trying to claim that a perfect being like God did not create anything ‘bad’ but due to humans misusing their freedom, a deprivation of good arises. The original sin which caused by Adam and Eve is passed down generations, Augustine claims, like how eye colour or hair colour is passed down through generation via the genes, Augustine claims that due to this, we are all born sinful, from the sins of our ancestors, and he described humans as ‘lumps of sin’, when born. But then Augustine claims that Jesus came to save us humans by dying on the cross, an opportunity came for us humans to be saved and forgiven, Jesus is the ‘second Adam’ he saves us from the wrath of God, while Adam condemned us. But all these account for the moral evil and Augustine said very little on natural evil, which he described as the disruptive behaviour of the fallen Angels like Lucifer causing this.
The Augustinian theodicy can be criticised on several counts. First of all as raised by Friedrich Schleiermacher, of why would the first Angels or Humans whom their natures contained no flaw as they were created by God, would sin? Even if they free and happy in the grace of God, where would this ‘original sin’ come from if it was not in their nature. Also Augustine’s theodicy is very pessimistic in nature, as he describes all humans as ‘lumps of sin’, when we were born. It can also be seen that Augustine takes the Bible quite literally, too literally in a way, as many of the stories in the Bible are parables and are supposed to be taken symbolically.
By placing the responsibility of evil on the shoulders of humans and fallen angels, it seems as if he is merely shifting the blame off Gods shoulders, and absolving Him. But this does not seem fair as if God is all powerful then both humans and Angles are both under His control and ultimately are under God’s control and so He should accept the final responsibility. But is this not quite unfair, that if the world had the potential to go wrong, which God made, then why humans have to suffer as a result, if God is omniscience then He would know what would happen and yet He does not intervene but stands idly by. So in a sense, He knows you shall fail, yet He still punishes you for it. It is like a teacher giving you a test on a topic you have never done, so knowing you will fail it and then punish you for it. It does not seem very just and fair. There is few if any strength in this theodicy, it has room for the key Christian doctrines as it is a Christian theodicy, like the Original Sin, and it tries to account for all the evil without changing the definition of God.
In conclusion, the idea of God seems to be incoherent with the evident evil in this world, leads us to conclude that you cannot reconcile the two, and forces you to conclude that God does not exist.