What Problem of Evil?


The problem of evil is only a problem if God exists.  More specifically, it is only a problem if the God of Classical Theism exists.  The moment we deny the existence of God we dissolve the problem of evil entirely.  Why?  Because without God there are no moral absolutes, no objective values, and hence, no evil to “cause a problem.”  Ironically, by removing God from the equation, we also remove any grounds we might have had for holding real moral indignation (by “real” I mean something more than our personal dislike for a given set of circumstances but, rather,  a true moral outrage in the face of true evil).

This is what I find so fascinating about the current arguments against Theism.  Those who hold that “God is dead” claim to be the most horrified and the most incensed by the existence of  evil in the world, yet, oddly enough, they adhere to a worldview which teaches that evil is merely a feeling, an evolutionary accident, or a social convention and not an objective reality.  For example, I recently entered into a dialogue about creaturely pain and suffering with the popular Atheist blogger John W. Loftus.  He seems truly dismayed by the overwhelming number of people who have suffered excruciating deaths at the hand of various pandemics throughout history.  In his eyes the amount of pain that, for example, the millions of people who contracted the bubonic plague endured was a tremendous evil.  The implicit assumptions standing underneath his moral outrage are clear: (1) that human beings are inherently valuable and deserve to live a good life, free from horrendous amounts of pain, suffering and loss and (2) that death is a bad thing.

Now this is a very curious state of affairs.  From a worldview perspective, Atheism doesn’t allow for the existence of objective evil or objective goodness.  According to Atheisms grand metaphysical story, human beings are meaningless, temporary, bits of matter with absolutely no intrinsic value or purpose.  If this is true, however, then the pain and suffering regularly experienced by humans is normal and valueless. The subjective meaning that individual human beings ascribe to life is merely an automatic, predestined, physical event (because all mental phenomena are ultimately explainable in terms of the laws of physics). Furthermore, there is no hope of ever escaping death–for there is no afterlife and no escaping the reality that we shall forever be finite, limited, dissoluble beings.  Death, therefore, is a normal physical process—in fact, death, is a crucial aspect of evolution.

Thus, in a strange turn of events, Mr. Loftus, and those like him, find themselves emotionally at odds with their own metaphysics.  They feel sorrow and even outrage at the idea of human suffering, while simultaneously advocating a worldview which denies the implicit assumptions underlying their indignation.  Namely, they feel upset about evil but maintain, philosophically, that human beings are not inherently valuable (and do not deserve to live a good life) and that death is fundamentally not a bad thing.

This, however, brings us right back to the original problem.  For, it is only when we posit the existence of the God of Classical Theism that we have grounds for believing human life is intrinsically valuable and that death is a horrendous evil.  It is only then that a “problem of evil” arises because it is only then that evil is said to actually exist.

This, of course, forces us to make a choice (that is, if we do not wish to live in a state of internal conflict or inconsistency):  we can embrace Atheism, deny the existence of evil or any objective value—thus eradicating the so called problem of evil—or we can embrace Classical Theism.  If we embrace the former, we must be prepared to accept the fact that life is utterly futile and that pain and suffering are ultimately vain physical happenings.  In the words of Pavel  Florensky, “all of reality becomes an absolutely meaningless and insane nightmare.”

If we embrace the latter, however, our distain for pain, suffering, and death, is valid.  For our distain becomes more than a predestined feeling or mindless automatic physical response to stimuli but becomes a proper reaction to real evil.  Beyond this, if we accept Christianity, we also have hope for a future free from pain, suffering and death and filled with Divine love and meaning.

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5 thoughts on “What Problem of Evil?

  1. You’re wrong. There is no absolute evil, not something that we know everyone could agree upon or even something, that was determined evil by some absolute being. That’s true. But that doesn’t imply that there aren’t things that can be called evil, based on moral systems that simply don’t claim to be absolute. Depending on the basis of the moral system, more or less people can agree to it. So, trying to tell us, that homosexuality is evil will find less people inclined to agree than, let’s say, eating babies.
    And of course, the funny thing is, the only thing that makes moral systems based on religion different is, that they claim to be absolute. Nothing more.

    So, when someone tells you that something is evil, if he’s not a religious guy, he doesn’t mean some kind of “absolute” evil that makes little baby Jesus cry, but of course only, that this is evil according to his own moral system. Trying to claim that this person wants to make a claim about absolute evil is nonsense. “Evil” is subjective, as well as “Beautiful” – and as with beautiful, only if the majority accepts it, you can do something with it.

    And, according to most of the dominant modern moral systems, which are based, for example, on simple premisses like preventing human suffering (not absolute, but valid), the Christian god is very evil. Perhaps he’s not evil for the aliens living on Omicron Persei 8, but his actions are evil for many people today – religious people just like the lie about that to themselves and try to flee into insanity by claiming that it isn’t evil if god does it, thus fulfilling George Orwell’s prediction… War is Peace, Freedom is Slavery, Ignorance is Strength.

    1. First of all . . . cool name. It’s not every day that we get mutants commenting on here, let alone atomic ones.

      As to your comment, I understand what you’re trying to say. In my article I made the observation that those who argue that God is dead, “adhere to a worldview which teaches that evil is merely a feeling, an evolutionary accident, or a social convention and not an objective reality.” In other words, on Atheism, values (e.g. morality, beauty, etc…) are completely subjective. I think you and I are in agreement on this point.

      So, I’m not entirely clear which point you disagree with. Perhaps you could elucidate?

      1. Simple: The fact that most things are not absolute does not make then without value or merit. A social convention can be very import – at least for the people. So, what I don’t agree with is the strange idea that you need god for any moral or a use of the word “evil”. You don’t.

      2. I had a feeling this is what you were driving at, but wanted to be sure.

        Let’s take a second to analyze what you’re saying. If you are correct, if values are completely subjective (i.e. relative to the observer or the community), and if the physical world is all that exists (which is what Atheism espouses), then there is no objective meaning or value to anything that happens in the universe. A physical event–such as the movement of atoms, or the falling of an apple from a tree, or bodily death–is entirely neutral. Physical events simply happen; they just “are.” At this point, I think you’d agree. So, if we accept this state of affairs, then we must also accept that there is no difference (in terms of value) between flushing the toilet or shooting a child with an automatic weapon: both events are merely neutral physical happenings. You and/or the community might object to this–you might feel that flushing a toilet is less valuable than the life of a child (which you might hold in high regard). However, these are just feelings, not truths. Furthermore, they are feelings which were brought about by blind, meaningless, automatic, physical processes beyond your control (because ultimately, all mental phenomena are explainable in purely physical terms . . . if we accept Atheism). Mental events, being themselves physical, are just as neutral or valueless than anything else. So, in point of fact, if there are no absolutes, “things” are without intrinsic value or merit.

      3. You’re right while being wrong at the same time:

        For the universe itself, the two actions have no real difference, true. There’s no absolute instance that would make a difference between the two. But does this mean that there cannot be a difference for humans? Of course not. Humans can choose (or at least experience the illusion of choice, if you ask some – but free will is another topic) and create their own moral systems. They will not be absolute – as there are no absolute moral systems at all – but of course they can be compared, for example by choosing certain criteria, like the amount of stability they grant a society, the freedom of the individual, etc.

        You try to claim that, because these moral systems are not absolute, they are without value. They are only if viewed from a pseudo-“universal” viewpoint. But of course, for humans, they aren’t. Based on our nature, these moral systems can be better or worse for us. For humans, such systems have value. Set in relation to the size of the universe, these value may be almost infinitely small – but in relation to humanity, the value is gigantic.

        And, as I mentioned, all of this also fits for religious moral systems, simply because the claim that “this” system is absolute doesn’t make it true. Anyone who read the bible and tries to tell me that this is absolute morality is probably blinded by belief and ignored most of it. If you want to accept that the bible contains absolute morality, you must accept that reality makes no sense, evil is good, simply because you have to say that what’s in the bible is evil but must be considered good, because god did it or commanded it. So, for me, the bible disqualifies itself as a moral guideline – much less an absolute one.

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