15. Problem of Evil

Click here to hear episode #15.

The Problem of Evil stands out as the premiere argument against the existence of God. In this episode I critically analyze this argument and offer some possible explanations for the existence of evil in the world. For the book review I take a look at Jesus Under Fire by Michael Wilkins and J.P. Moreland. For the audience question I analyze whether the arguments for God’s existence are too complicated.

See the full transcript.

  1. Hi,

    I’m a weak atheist and I like listening to your podcast. You made the best argument I heard against “The Problem of Evil” argument, yet I can’t escape these two problems:

    1. Most of your arguments sound very similar to the arguments from an abused spouse in defense of the abuser: “He is a good man”, “He has to beat me”, “It’s my fault”, “It’s for my own good”.

    2. Your arguments fail to address animal suffering. The world is set-up so that most life has to eat other life, causing extreme suffering, in order to survive. I can’t see how a benevolent creator would design such a world.
    — Richard    Jun 2, 04:00 AM    #
  2. Kyle, I loved the show, but the transcript won’t show up for me. Is it uploaded? There was one particular point you made that I really liked.

    John Foxe    Sep 19, 12:56 PM    #
  3. Hello,

    Thanks for a thoughtful treatment of the “Problem of Evil.” I agree with the difficulty of logically proving evil proves God does not exist. But I don’t think that’s how most atheists frame the problem. Rather, I think evil makes it unlikely that a theistic God along the lines of the Christian faith exists. That is a different question.

    If you had no other preconceptions about God and simply looked at evil and suffering in the world, would you take that as evidence for or against an all-powerful loving God? I think most people would take it as strong evidence against. Of course one can look at other lines of evidence, but I think an honest account of the problem of evil concludes it argues strongly against the existence of a loving God.

    Using the abusive spouse analogy above, it’s possible that a man who beat and tormented his wife is a perfectly moral and loving man. But based on the existence of abuse alone, few would make that bet.

    There is also a problem in your argument for why some evil serves a good end. You use the example of people putting criminals in prison (which causes harm for a greater good). Yet later you say that God cannot restrict evil because of the free will problem. Yet that is exactly what prison does — it restricts free will. If you find prisons an acceptable argument for why evil can be justified, shouldn’t you also acknowledge them as showing why limiting free will can be justified?

    I still find the problem of evil strongly argues against the existence of a Christian-type God. Most of the arguments I hear countering this view strike me as fairly intellectual and disconnected with reality. The Plantinga argument that angels might cause earth quakes is a perfect example. You might as well say Sauron causes natural disasters, since that too can’t be proven and perhaps God wants Sauron to have free run of the planet.

    Rather than say we don’t know why certain evils might improve the world, why not take your best guess at (1) why a tsunami that killed 250K people was justified and allowed by God and (2) why children are allowed to be tortured and raped?

    Sure, God might have some reason for this, but I am curious what specific reasons a believer might offer up why these evils are allowed to exist? Talking about disciplining children to help their moral character development is obviously a quite different matter. In the case of children, the better example is whether we would think a parent who allowed one child to torture his sibling without getting involved was an exemplar of morality and love.

    Thanks again for your podcast. I hope you have an opportunity to respond.

    Michael Darby    Jun 28, 07:24 AM    #
  4. Problem #1 (from transcript #15 on the problem of evil)

    “According to this formulation, the existence of evil and the existence of God are literally incompatible, so that if one exists it is impossible for the other to exist. Clearly, this type of logical proof would require quite a bit of support. After all, if the theist can show that it is at least possible for evil and God to exist at the same time, then the argument is shown to be false.”

    There is some shorthand here, since I can come up with lots of Gods that can logically coexist with evil. I assume the author is talking about the concept of an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent and all-loving God being logically incompatible with the presence of evil. We know evil exists, although we can and should disagree about the definition. We could say evil is willfully inflicted suffering, or we could call it needless suffering, either way the God of the Bible takes part in both versions over and over. One divine massacre should be enough to prove my point here and there are dozens of examples of extreme cruelty either ordered or commited by YHWH. So it is not the God of the Bible that is incompatible with our concept of evil, but just one particular definition of God. If good and evil are defined arbitrarily by cosmic fiat without any reference to human well being, then we are talking about a value system totally removed from morality as we commonly understand and practice it.

    Problem #2
    “Yet, we all recognize in our daily lives that evil is sometimes appropriate. For example, disciplining a child causes that child some suffering.”

    If we expand the defintion of evil to include parental correction and other kinds of useful instruction, then our concept of evil has just become practically meaningless. Suffering by itself, independant of context or mitigating circumstances, is not what most people mean by the term “evil.” Otherwise it would be “evil” to do a single pushup since there is suffering involved.

    — Ross    May 23, 12:58 PM    #
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