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The Problem of Evil

14 August 2013, 07:46

Before I proceed, allow me to clarify something:

The accepted definition of God is that it is a being that has three qualities, namely Omnipotence, Omniscience, and Omnibenevolence. Omnipotence means that it is all-powerful, Omniscience that it is all-knowing, and Omnibenevolence that it is all-good. These are analytic statements about God, meaning that they naturally follow from the concept of such a being. If I were to assert that a triangle has 4 sides, then the object of which I speak ceases to be a triangle, for it follows analytically that a triangle possesses 3 sides. Similarly, if i were to remove any of the above qualities away from God, then the being of which i speak ceases to be God.

Now that this has been cleared up, allow me to present The Problem of Evil, a common argument against the existence of God. Note that this the logical problem of evil, and deals with the logical incompatibility of evil with the nature of God, rather than arguing that the amount of evil in the world lowers the likelihood of God’s existence. The argument is as follows:

1)     (1) If God exists, then he is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent

2)     (2) If God is omnipotent, he is able to prevent evil

3)     (3) If God is omniscient , he knows how to prevent evil

4)     (4)  If God is omnibenevolent, he eliminates as much evil as logically possible

5)    (5)  If God exists there would be no evil

6)    (6)  There is evil

Therefore God does not exist

To sum the above up, the argument basically states that if God exists then he possesses all the means to stop, remove, or prevent evil, yet there is still evil in the world, so God cannot exist. Pretty simple, right?

Now the theist has a few objections to this argument, yet the one upon which I wish to focus is the one that is most commonly given: That evil is the result of the free will given to man by God, and is man’s fault, not Gods. This, at first glance, seems to be a viable objection, yet if one thinks more on it, it only serves to raise more uncomfortable questions.

Let me pose a scenario

Let’s suppose that a man named Jones decides to mow his lawn at 12pm on Saturday afternoon. Furthermore, let us also suppose that God exists. If God exists, then he is omniscient. If God is Omniscient, then at a time 100 years prior to Jones mowing his lawn (T1), God knew that Jones would mow his lawn on Saturday at 12pm (T2). If God knew that Jones would do this, then God believed that Jones would do this. And since he is omniscient, God can hold no false beliefs. Taking this into account, could Jones have chosen not to mow his lawn at T2? If he had not acted in this manner at T2, would he not have caused God to have a false belief at T1? If he had chosen differently at T2, would he not have rendered God no longer all-knowing? So it seems that this common response to the problem of evil leads the theist to a dilemma: Either God is all knowing and humans have no free will, or we have free will and God is not omniscient.  Regardless of which one you decide to choose, theist, you will notice that your choice leads to still more uncomfortable questions.

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then evil?” – David Hume

I look forward to your comments!

*Note that the example of Jones is taken from Nelson Pike’s Divine Omniscience and Voluntary Action in Philosophical Review (January 1965)

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