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The Problem with The Problem of Evil May 27, 2007

Posted by Joe in atheism.
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The problem is evil is the staple of any atheist presenting an argument against almost any flavor of theism. I believe that on its own it is quite weak and ineffective. Those atheists should really drop it.

The basic argument  goes like this: If god is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-loving then why would he allow evil deeds to cause suffering to people. Often made in reference to a recent tragedy, like say the Virgina Tech shooting. An atheist might ask, “Why would a loving god allow that to happen?” Since he did he is either not all-knowing, not all-powerful, or not all-loving.

There are way too many easy answers to this for the theist. The most common being the free will argument. God respects the free will of his creations. He doesn’t want a bunch of robots running around doing his will, but a bunch of volunteers instead. I believe that easily resolves the issue.

The much more useful argument that the atheist could make is the problem of the natural disaster. Natural disasters cause pain, suffering, death and loss to many people every year. They ruin families, destroy cities, and are the source of much human suffering. Why would an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving god allow that to happen again and again and again? This version cannot be answered by the free will argument. An earthquake has no will, free or otherwise.

I have heard some theist responses to this. Death from a religious perspective doesn’t seem all that bad. A quick trip to paradise. But what of those children that lose their parents, people who are permanently injured, or people who suffer of thirst and starvation for days and suffer until they die as a result of disaster?

How can one reconcile a loving god with this seemingly useless suffering?

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Comments»

1. Stephen - May 27, 2007

No, I don’t agree with you on this. While the problem of natural disasters is indeed a still stronger argument, the problem of evil remains a huge problem for people who wish to defend the reality of the Christian god. I allow my children a good deal of freedom, including the freedom to get hurt at times (my son has just taken up unicycling). But if I see things getting out of hand I step in.

How can I be impressed by a purported “all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving” deity who does a much worse job than I do myself? The complete lack of corrective action is not permission of free-will, it is abdication of responsibility – or non-existence.

2. agnosticatheist - May 27, 2007

How can one reconcile a loving god with this seemingly useless suffering?

You can’t. Christians have to simply admit that their God is not the loving, kind, merciful, compassionate God they claim.

Here’s how Richard Dawkins describes him:

“Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

This is all true. It’s ok for them to still love God, follow him, worship him etc. but they need to get out of denying that everyday thousands of children die of starvation and God doesn’t do anything about it (and he can – he makes the rules, doesn’t he?)

aA

See this blog for some discussions on the subject.

3. Joe - May 27, 2007

Stephen: You have led me to rethink this. I still believe that suffering brought on by nature is a stronger argument than suffering brought on by other people.

To play theist’s advocate for a second: Parents do allow and cause suffering for their children in order to let them avoid greater suffering. They might smack their child’s hand to keep them from burning it in the fire.

4. Stephen - May 27, 2007

I think Christians take “free will” for granted. If God is truly omniscient, he already knows what our decisions will be. He knew about everything that would happen before he created the universe. This God character created the world knowing man would turn away from him, allowing suffering into the world. He knew there would be meaningless suffering, natural disasters, miscarriages, Hitler, Fox News, etc. but he created the world anyway.

I’ve heard Christians dodge the problem of evil saying “If we didn’t have free will, we’d all be robots.” This is flat out ridiculous, because according to their own definition of an all-knowing God, we are robots! He created the earth knowing exactly what we would do and when we would do it. Us mortals are simply living out his divine plan. How could we possibly have a choice in something thought out before time began?

5. Joe - May 27, 2007

Here’s how Richard Dawkins describes him:
“Jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.”

I think Richard Dawkins goes too far. I think that this is how the discourse becomes very negative. Most theists do not believe these things about their god, most do not take the bible literally and they obviously don’t support any of the notions in that quote.
I believe that all such statements produce are defensive postures and stereotypical attacking argument.

6. agnosticatheist - May 27, 2007

Joe,

The issue isn’t whether theist believe these things about their God. When I was a Christian, I never believed that about God. However, it is what the Bible says about God. I guess that’s the point. If God exists and is loving, merciful and compassionate, then the Bible does a number on slandering his character.

Here’s a sample:

http://literalbible.blogspot.com/search/label/Killings?&max-results=100

aA

7. Joe - May 27, 2007

But that really is the issue. There is no point in discussing a position that no one actually holds.

because according to their own definition of an all-knowing God, we are robots!

Ah thanks for bringing this up, Stephen. This is going to be the subject of my next post.

Thanks for all the comments!

8. Richard Wade - May 27, 2007

The problem with “the problem of evil” is that it is an argument used almost exclusively in debates over the existence or non-existence of God. Those debates are an utterly futile waste of time, given the believers’ ad hoc amendment to their definition of god that he is also outside of ordinary existence and cause and effect. That makes the proposition neither provable nor disprovable. Whether the debate tries to use science, rational argument or sheer wind power it is doomed to be a start nowhere. go nowhere, get nowhere activity. Not even much ado about nothing, it’s much ado about making much ado.

From the standpoint of the non-believer, god/no god discussions are worse than a waste of time, they’re actually counter-productive. As I said over at Friendly Atheist, it is in a roundabout way akin to worshipping god. Non-believers who step into that hall of mirrors trap have the embarrassing position of giving as much “air time” to god as the believers do. It’s like talking about the large herd of purple elephants that is not in the room with you. The more detailed your description of them not being in the room, the more “real” they become. You know, the purple elephants with the blue and pink blankets on their backs, bespangled with little brass bells, with the coarse hairs on their skin, smelling of peanuts and elephant poop, on and on. No, no, those now very vividly described elephants aren’t here…

It’s really best to avoid that silliness and instead discuss specific aspects of religion that impact our real world lives for good or ill. Done carefully and respectfully, such discussions can lead to positive changes in people’s attitudes and in their behavior, and eventually in public policy.

9. uPgRaD3 Z3R0 0n3 A - May 27, 2007

http://www.whydoesgodhateamputees.com/video2.htm
Proving that the bible is repulsive.

Free will does not explain why so many Children are starving to death. Jesus promises makes promises in multiple places that he will answer prayers, but he does not. Why? God is a delusion.

Most Christians ignore or don’t read most of the Bible. They pick and choose the “good” stuff. How do they know what that is? Answer: Their source of morality comes from outside of the bible, just like everybody else. It must, otherwise Christians would accept slavery, stoning people to death, and so on.

10. More on suffering and free will « Mind of Stephen - May 28, 2007

[…] on suffering and free will I wrote a comment on Joe’s blog that could start some interesting discussion. I think Christians take “free will” for granted. […]

11. Bob K - May 29, 2007

“Their source of morality comes from outside of the bible, just like everybody else”

What is the grounding for everybody’s morality? Is there a grounding for morality? If there is no grounding then why should I even care if children are starving and if there is a grounding then what is it grounded in?

This is not intended to be a series of rhetorical or argumentative questions either. I’m just curious of your response.

12. Joe - May 29, 2007

Not to answer for Upgrade Zero, but I to believe that the morality of the theist comes from the same source as it does for the atheist.

Really I think the motivation to be moral primarily from two sources:

1. Our innate empathy for other humans. (Which is why enemies often are defined as inhuman to aid in the popular support of inhumane actions.)

2. Our desire (and need) to fit into society.

13. uPgRaD3 Z3R0 0n3 A - May 29, 2007

“What is the grounding for everybody’s morality?”
This is a subject that can be scientifically invesitgated. We have established that the bible can not be the grounding.

“If there is no grounding then why should I even care if children are starving and if there is a grounding then what is it grounded in?”
Since you are a human being, and probably not autistic, then I assume you possess something called “empathy”. I think the vast majority of humans have had this feeling all throughout the world for a very long time. Evolutionary pressures of some sort must have played some role in this. Even chimps groom each other, and warn each other when a preditor is nearby. Mirror neurons may play a role, but the scientific method should eventually iron out the so-called “grounding” of morallity. Perhaps morallity is nothing more than “rational selfishness”.

We humans are social animals and our survival depends on getting along with one another. My personal view is that following “The Golden Rule” is a good place to start, if we are interested in delaying our own extinction. Beyond that, opening peoples eyes to the benefits of the rational thought, and the dangers of superstitions. I am very worried that superstisous people will beat out the comet, the astroid, and the sun going supernova, in destroying us.


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