Greg Heil | 7:00 AM
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In his introduction to “Nonmoral Nature,” Stephen Jay Gould references this exact problem. For his purposes, he puts a naturalistic spin on it. Gould writes, “If God is benevolent and the Creation displays his ‘power, wisdom, and goodness,’ then why are we surrounded with pain, suffering, and apparently senseless cruelty in the animal world?” (638) Gould then proceeds to defuse “the problem” by arguing that nature is actually “nonmoral.”
As a result, the problem of evil does not apply to nature. In this paper I am going to tackle a grander sense of “the problem of evil.” I will address it primarily as it relates to human pain and suffering in this world.
With the removal of the animal kingdom, the overarching problem is stated a slightly different way. According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, the argument can be concisely stated thus:
- 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.
Despite the fact that I will not explicitly address many intricate articles against my position, the fact that I am attempting to combat this seven-premise deductive argument instead of an argument that can be simplified into just three or four points is, frankly, rather bold. Also, by not countering any one article in an overly-involved way, my argument will hopefully avoid being sidetracked by minutiae that are not of vital importance. Instead, I will attempt to deal with the most crucial issues at hand.
This argument is usually used, as line 7 indicates, to attempt to prove that God does not exist. In our western culture, this argument is almost always used in an attempt to specifically disprove the existence of the Christian God of the Bible. At certain points it could apply to different ideas of god in different religions, but in this paper I will focus specifically on how it applies to the Christian God.
Discussions about the existence of God can be very complex and can take several different forms. The study of apologetics seeks to give evidence for the existence of God from science and textual criticism, thereby seeking to prove the existence of God beyond a reasonable doubt. Apologetics attempts to start from nothing and build to the conclusion that God exists.
The problem of evil argument presented above is a different type of argument altogether. Instead of the atheist walking up to the Christian and saying, “prove that God exists,” the atheist is instead trying to disprove the Christian position. With the problem of evil, atheists are taking a deconstructive approach to the worldview of Christianity.
When talking about the book Evil and the Concept of God by Peter Hare and Edward Madden, David Koepsell put it this way: “They argue that the problem of evil, which allows for the continued existence of prima facie gratuitous evil which does not become resolved in the world shows an impermissible deficiency, rather than a permissible mystery or paradox” (55).
Through the presentation of this problem, atheists are seeking to point out a major contradiction in some of the most foundational doctrines that Christians adhere to. They are essentially trying to destroy Christianity from the inside out. The grounds for this argument against God are not scientific in nature—they are theological and philosophical. As a result, I think it is highly appropriate to draw on the Biblical texts as a means of understanding what exactly the Christian conception of God is. Since it is a primarily theological argument, I will provide a primarily theological response.
Over the course of this essay, I will argue that one of the main issues is that the problem of evil presents an overly simplistic view of the Christian God’s character, and that there are many more of his characteristics that come into play when we discuss the topic of evil. I will also argue that while this seems like a valid, deductive argument at first glance, there is an unstated premise that has not been included. Specifically, after 4, there should be another premise that reads: “If God has the desire to eliminate all evil, then he has the desire to eliminate all evil immediately.” I will also argue that the existence of evil is a necessary condition for the existence of the world that we live in.
Click here to read Part 2 of the essay.
Geisler, Norman L., and Frank Turek. I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist. Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2004. Print.
Gould, Stephen Jay. “Nonmoral Nature.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 638-648. Print.
Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994. Print.
Holy Bible: New Living Translation. Carol Stream: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2009. Print.
Koepsell, David. “Peter Hare And The Problem Of Evil.” Transactions Of The Charles S. Peirce Society: A Quarterly Journal In American Philosophy 46.1 (2010): 53-59. Philosophers Index. Web. 21 Feb. 2012.
Murdoch, Iris. “Morality and Religion.” A World of Ideas: Essential Readings for College Writers. Ed. Lee A. Jacobus. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2010. 733-741. Print.
“The Problem of Evil.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Stanford.edu, 21 Aug. 2009. Web. 22 Feb. 2012.