The philosophy of Religion concerns mostly arguments about whether God exists, what is God like if he exists, and which God(s) exist. One of most common arguments against the existence of God is what is called ‘the problem of evil’. The problem of evil is the argument that if God exists, then there should not be any evil in the world. And since there is evil in the world, God must not exist.
God of Monotheism
This argument can only be applied to a particular kind of God, which is the God of Monotheism. Monotheism means that there is only one God, who is typically meant to be all knowing, all powerful, and all good. Examples of Montheism would be the God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Riddle of Epicurus
The reason the problem of evil only applies to Monotheism is because if God has limited power, knowledge or goodness then this leaves room for God to exist whilst evil also existing. However, when it is assumed God has no limits to these things, evil existing becomes a problem. This problem was popularised by Epicurus, who puts forward this riddle:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
Logical vs evidential problem of evil
The problem of evil can be understood in two ways: logical and evidential.
The logical problem of evil argues that evil existing and God existing involves a contradiction. In my tutorial regarding conjunctions and contradictions I mention that you cannot have the conjuction of ‘A and not A’. The logical problem of evil is saying that someone who believes in God believes:
- Evil exists
- God exists
- God is all good, powerful and knowing
- If God is all good, powerful and knowing, then evil would not exist
- Evil does not exist
Therefore, proposition 1 and 5 are contradictions of each other, so to resolve the contradiction we need to believe that evil does not exist or God does not exist. And since evil does exist, God must not exist.
Those who believe in God can answer this problem by refuting number 4. Alvin Plantinga demonstrates an answer to the problem of evil with the following set of propositions:
- God exists
- God is all powerful, knowing and good
- Evil exists
- God has a good reason for allowing evil to exist
This allows us to consistently believe in God in a world where evil exists. However, to believe this we need to accept that God does have a good reason to allow evil. Possible reasons theists will put forward will be that the reasons are hidden from us, evil is a requirement of having free will, evil is necessary for our character, and so on.
Atheists will sometimes respond that although it is possible God has a good reason to allow evil, there is more evidence against there being a good reason than there being a good reason. This is the evidential problem of evil. Examples of evidential problem of evil would be the degree of evil that we see would exceed the possible reasons for allowing it, or circumstances where the possible reasons would not justify.
Theists will respond to this with a Theodicy. A theodicy is not a possible explanation, but an actual explanation to why God allows the observed evil in the world. An example of a Theodicy comes from Richard Swinburne, that argues if God prevented evil, then we would be robbed of the means to display virtupus character. For example being courageous. In a world where evil is impossible, we cannot be courageous. Same can be said for sympathy, compassion and so on.
I highly recommend the book “Is there a God?” By Richard Swinburne if you wish to learn more about his Theodicy, which is in the link below:
Is there a God?: https://amzn.to/2Sxpfum