The Problem of Evil - Part 1

The Problem of Evil

One of the most common complaints against Christianity is the Problem of Evil. This particular complaint has plagued Christian apologists for literally thousands of years. For as long as evil has existed in the world, mankind has questioned why a God who is seemingly able to rid the world of such pain and suffering, does not choose to do so.

It was the18th Century Scottish philosopher David Hume who popularized the Problem of Evil to the world as “proof” that God does not exist; at least the Christian God of the Bible. But even if Hume had not popularized this issue within philosophical circles, it would still be a problem for Christians to deal with, for no one who has been a Christian for very long has avoided being cornered by a non-Christian who is looking for a solution to this problem.

Why is the existence of evil considered to be a problem for the Christian? To understand, we must first consider the attributes of God – attributes which, when combined with the existence of evil, seem to create a contradictory state of affairs.

The Omnipotence of God

First, God is claimed to be all-powerful, or omnipotent. This is not only a view that is held by a great majority of Christians, but it is one that is easily supported from the Bible. An omnipotent God is one who is able to do anything [1]. This is the very God who is described for us in Jeremiah 32:17 -

“Ah Lord GOD! behold, thou hast made the heaven and the earth by thy great power and stretched out arm, and there is nothing too hard for thee …”
If God were truly omnipotent, then he would be able to get rid of evil if he desired to. If God actually has creative and providential control over the universe (more specifically, the world we live in where evil exists), then he would have been able to create a universe where no evil existed, or he could choose to rid the world of the evil that most certainly does exist. The fact that he does not logically moves us on to consider another attribute of God – his omnibenevolence.

The Omnibenevolence of God

Next, God is claimed to be all-loving, or omnibenevolent. He is, in fact, claimed to be love itself. Again, this is a view that is held by the majority of Christians, and that can be supported from the Bible without difficulty. By way of example, we find the following claim in 1John 4:16 -
And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.
If God were truly omnibenevolent, then he would want to get rid of evil if he were able to. If God truly were loving in all that he does, and we assume that evil is not something that a loving being desires, then the logical conclusion it would seem is that God would want to make sure that no evil existed. But evil does exist, and so we are once again drawn to another attribute of God – his omniscience.

The Omniscience of God

Finally, God is claimed to be all knowing, or omniscient. Although fewer Christians ascribe this attribute to God than those who believe in his omnipotence and omnibenevolence, it is a view that still seems to be held by the majority of Christians. [2]

If God were omniscient, then he would know for certain that evil exists. Although most mainstream Christians hold this belief, it is actually not necessary for the formation of the Problem of Evil. Although this view would indicate that God is aware of every single evil action that takes place, he would only need to be aware of one such action in order to be placed in the position of deciding whether or not he will take action to stop future occurrences of such evil. Although a belief in God’s omniscience seems to make him all the more culpable, it is not necessary to the argument of the one who is condemning Christianity.

(continued in an upcoming post ...)

--BK



[1] More specifically, an omnipotent God is one who is able to do anything consistent with his nature. It is not a being who can do just anything at all. The favorite puzzle that is leveled against God’s omnipotent is the question of whether God can create a rock so large that he cannot move it. The answer to this is no, but such an answer does not negatively impact God’s omnipotence. Rather, it is consistent with the fact that God is unable to actualize a contradictory state of affairs. By way of another example, God is unable to lie (Num. 23:19). This does not reduce God’s omnipotence – rather, it is indicative of the fact that God is constrained to his truthful nature.

[2] Whether or not omniscience can be supported from the Bible is a view that is currently being discussed in many articles and books. It is specifically the view of Open Theists that God does not know all future contingent events (events based on the choices of man). Supporting God’s omniscience is well beyond the scope of this paper, but as we will see, is not even necessary to believe in omniscience in order to be forced to deal with the Problem of Evil.

4 comments:

david said...

"Although this view would indicate that God is aware of every single evil action that takes place, he would only need to be aware of one such action in order to be placed in the position of deciding whether or not he will take action to stop future occurrences of such evil."

Just for clarification: here you are saying omniscience is not necessary for the problem of evil to stand, but one must at least still assume that God knows the future?

To me it seems if God were not omniscient but maintained the other 2 attributes, this would prove rather troublesome. How would we know the difference between God preventing some known evil and God ignoring other events? Couldn't one holding this "double O God" position assume that all evil is that which God lacks knowledge of?

Brian Knapp said...

David -

Thanks for the question!

I am not saying that God must know the future, no. What I am saying is something less than that, namely that if God witnesses (i.e. knows) that evil has occurred, if he were a loving and all-powerful God then he would (at least according to this line of thinking) *act* in some way to try to stop such things from happening in the future, whether or not he has infallible knowledge that such things will happen again.

The point I was driving at is that it doesn't take omniscience for a being to become culpable.

-- BK

C.L. Bolt said...

It is true that the Problem of Evil does not require the premise of the omniscience of God. This is widely accepted in philosophical circles. The interrelatedness of the "omnis" of God would, I assume, be a separate subject not really relevant to this specific Problem. However the added premise of omniscience, perhaps in a new syllogism, might cause a great deal of havoc for those utilizing the classical Free-Will defense in attempting to answer this problem.

"Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?" — Epicurus

C.L. Bolt said...

From what I can tell there is an apparently necessary assumption in the argument that God possesses some knowledge of evil but this may be inherent to at least one of the premises and it is a far cry from needing to bring omniscience into the picture.