Understanding that the Problem of Evil has already been addressed on the CADRE, I thought I would do a short exposition on the problem and how it proves to be more a problem for skeptics than for Theists.
Skeptics, often invoke this problem known as the “Problem of Evil”, as source of rejection of a divine being. The argument goes as so:
1.) The Divine Being is claimed to be All-Powerful (Omnipotent) and All-Good (Omnibenevolent).
2.) If the Divine Being is Omnipotent, It has the power to stop Evil.
3.) If the Divine Being is Omnibenevolent, then It wishes the greatest good for all creation.
4.) Evil exists
5.) Therefore, God does not have the power to stop evil and is not Omnipotent or God has the power to stop evil, but is not Omnibenevolent.
Though it does not follow from this argument that “God does not exist”, many skeptics tend to take that very route when using this argument. The question that remains is if this argument is truly sound. In the course of this article, I will be tackling this problem from multiple angles. Rationally and emotionally, this problem requires several different arguments together in order to provide an adequate rebuttal to the skeptics’ dilemma. This comprehensive argument will be presented as followed: (1) The Epistemological Necessity of Evil, (2) The Need for an Objective Standard of Morality, (3) The Afterlife Gives Meaning to the Concept of Justice, and (4) Free Will is Required.
(1) The Epistemological Necessity of Evil
First, it needs to be understood what “evil” actually is. Many people tend to give different answers to what they understand to be “evil”; however, most people tend to agree on what constitutes evil; Needless death, suffering, and pain tend to all be the first things mentioned when describing evil. While I may be partial to describing evil as those things that are opposed to God’s Will, this is not the universal definition accepted by all person’s, even if it includes the former things mentioned. For the sake of the argument, whenever I state the word “evil”, I only mean the three things mentioned earlier: Needless death, suffering, and pain. It should also go without saying that anyone who creates any of the following is performing an evil action.
So when a skeptic states that there is evil in this world or that there is too much evil in this world, and presents that as a case against a personal Deity (or any for that matter), how do they know evil exists? Does one need to be a rocket scientist to understand that there is evil in this world? Of course not, but the difficulty that I am about to present for the skeptic has nothing to do with intelligence, rather it has to do with opposites and a matter of realization and appreciation,. How does a person know or appreciate an object without knowing the properties that exist opposed to it? For instance, how could I know what heat was if I didn’t know cold? A skeptic might scoff at this idea and say, “Of course you can know what cold or heat was without experiencing the other!”, but to that I would disagree. Let us draw out a hypothetical scenario. Let’s say, that our planet only experienced a temperature of 72 degrees Fahrenheit and that we humans never knew any other temperature below or above said degrees, would we then really believe there were such things as “cold” or “heat”? There would be no possible distinction, neither would there be any need to mention the degree of temperature at all, because there is nothing else to compare it to. Of course, this analogy can be challenged by merely stating that there are in fact differences in degrees on all parts of the planet, but as I stated earlier, this is purely a hypothetical situation and not reflective of reality. There are in fact distinctions in degrees, which allow us to measure and to also think things to either be cold or hot.
Now, let us change the analogy and mention God and creation. Let’s imagine for once that God created a world without any possibility of evil and that we humans never experienced or even knew what evil truly was. Would we then know what good was? Without an opposite, there would be no realization that what we are experiencing, in any way, good,. We would have no realization of good, all it would be would be a feeling that we have inherent within us just like the beating of our hearts or our intake of oxygen; completely and utterly ignored. Though it is a stretch to say that the beating of our hearts or oxygen intake are ignored, because often times they are not , in fear that it is beating too much or too little or that we are in-taking too much or too little, but this merely solidifies my point: even the slightest differences help to provide us with realization and appreciation of what we know.
The skeptic, hopefully not denying this obvious truth, may go on to say that distinctions are necessary, but that there is in fact too much evil in this world. While I can sympathize emotionally with this claim, I cannot take it very seriously because it is a rather empty statement. How do we truly know there is too much evil in this world or even just a little more than good? How do we measure that? Maybe there is too much evil in this world, but even then, how is that an argument against God? We have already concluded that evil is necessary epistemologically, so the claim that there is even a fraction of evil in this world, which disproves a Deity, falls flat on it’s face. For the irony is, in order to percieve and wish for good (a matter of appreciation), one must be able to perceive evil. So those that wish for a “perfect” world, would not recognize that it is perfect without first having experienced a world that is not perfect.
(2) The Need for an Objective Standard of Morality
Secondly, in order to claim that something is truly evil a person must be able to state so objectively. What I mean by objective is: Something that is outside of mere opinion and not self-affirmed. So when someone claims that something is “wrong” or “right”, it is wrong or right independent of that person thinking so. Subjectivism is contrary to objectivism in that it is purely within the limits of human opinion and nothing more. So when a skeptic believes that there is evil in this world (or too much of it), they must appeal to something outside of themselves in order for their beliefs to be true. Their feelings alone do not amount to a proper justification for these claims. If they were, my tastes in ice cream could very well amount to a moral choice no less good or bad than the Cambodian Killing Fields. So in order for a skeptic to say and believe there is “evil” in this world and have that be a truthful statement, he or she must believe that good and evil exists independently of his or her own feelings and are grounded in something beyond themselves. This standard, I would argue, is God: an immutable, personable Being that is beyond the Universe. Now, a skeptic may say that the ultimate standard need not be a Deity, but then I would question what else there possibly could be. The skeptic may go on to say something along the lines of a purely naturalistic source as being responsible for our existence and moral order. To this, I would believe raises more problems than it answers. The most common toted mechanism for morality among non-believers in God is evolutionary theory, which is used to argue that our morality (ordered behavior) adapted over time for the sake of our survival. The problems with this theory are numerous. For one, the claim that our morality is for the sake of survival is in and of itself a moral judgment. What is morally good about survival? It does not even seem to be ingrained within our biology, as many people seem to value more than their own survival, the survival of other people. Of course, an objection could be raised that biologically, we try to help the entire species survive and not simply ourselves. But wait, are we not too part of the species? So when a person kills another person, say, for money, how is that not part of survival of the species? We detest stealing so much, but we seem to believe that property itself it independent of human appeal. Similarly, we think the same way of human rights. We treat these special rules and conditions as being independent of human invention all together. How then, can they be part of this great scheme of survival?
Another problem is that there is no real value or purpose behind the morality we have if it is independent of a great mind or the product of indifferent motions working throughout the universe. If in fact, we are the product of this ‘chance machine”, then there is no true value or meaning behind even the slightest notion of differences between one behavior and the next. So when a skeptic says that something is wrong, he only means to say, “I don’t like it” or better yet, “I am genetically programmed to not like it.”
Another issue is that evolution does not provide us with an immutable standard of morality. If our morals changed over time, then they can change again. There is no law governing the status of these moral laws. Something that is considered morally good one day could very well be morally bad another day. Rape could be considered a good way to spread genes in the future, as it may have been in the past. Murder may be excusable for those that hold higher authority, etc (if it isn’t already). These naturalistic explanations are pitiless, purposeless, and ultimately indifferent to everything. It is a by-chance, arbitrary mechanism. It is not immutable.
Perhaps the greatest objection that a skeptic could give regarding appeal to a Deity is that such a Deity must also appeal to an objective standard in order to have any authority at all, but this is stretching the limits of what objectivity actually entails. Let us consider for a moment that God is subjective; would it follow logically that human morality is subjective? No. Human being are still appealing to something outside of themselves, therefore their morality is still objectively based. But if God is subjective, does this make our objective morality ultimately on a whim? I would argue that it does not. First, there is a difference between something being arbitrary and something being subjective. Humans tend to be both, in that they change their minds and morals constantly and only wish to appeal to their own intuitions. To be arbitrary, God would have to one day consider something like murder wrong and then the next, change it. This would ultimately destroy the status of a standard. In order for God to be a standard, He must be immutable. Could He be arbitrary and ultimately morality ceases to be anything valuable at all? Yes, it is a possibility, but not one conceded by a Theists, but it is conceded by a skeptic that morality is utlimately arbitrary.
Getting back to God’s subjectivity, does this imply there is no objective standard of morality? It has already been claimed that humans do not lose the objectivity, but it must be addressed that at some point, there can only be one ultimate standard. There has to be a point that cannot be superceded in order for standards to exist at all. If there were an infinite regress then there would never be any real standards because there would be an infinite chain of causation and infinite appeals to authority. So ultimately, there must be a final stopping point; a necessary thing or Being. This, I argue is God. How can the standard appeal to anything other than itself? It cannot if it is the ultimate standard. At some point, justifications must end in order for there to be any sort of justification at all. This is only rational.
So in order for the skeptic to rationally believe there to be an absolute evil or an absolute good, he or she must appeal to an objective standard that makes these two things possible: a personal, immutable Being.
(3) The Afterlife Gives Meaning to the Concept of Justice
Thirdly, for there to be any concept of justice in this world, one must believe in an ultimate Law Giver, Judge, and ability for that Justice to be given. What I mean by justice is: the proper ordering of rewards and punishments for good doings and wrong doings.
When people do evil or experience evil, they believe to have been done an injustice. In fact, evil and injustice are two concepts that go hand in hand. No one thinks evil to be a good thing, for it would be a contradiction in terms and ideas. When people are dealt evil, they do not consider the action or the experience a justified one, for that too would be a contradiction of the term “evil”. Justice, by its very nature, is a requirement against evil; it is the remedy of evil and is identical in many ways to what we consider good. I would argue, that the very concept of justice relies on the idea that there is an objective standard of morality, which is founded in an Ultimate Being as argued previously. Not only that, but an afterlife is also required for the concept to even mean anything at all. When a skeptic rejects an afterlife, saying that in the end there is nothing, but death, he or she also rejects the concept of justice. Let us take for instance, the act of murder. How is murder an unjust act towards the victim? The skeptic might say that it is unjust in that it was not the victims’ choice to die so soon or to have his or her life robbed of them. But isn’t this assuming that the victim actually realizes or cares that this is an injustice? If the person is dead and there is nothing left of them, how do they perceive this as anything at all? It doesn’t seem possible to have this be an injustice if personal identity has been stripped away from them at death. Further, it doesn’t seem possible to have justice without appeal to a standard that is not simply within the opinions of human beings. One could say that it is more of an injustice to the living persons of humanity as a whole and not the victim themselves, but then human value is no longer intrinsic. Human rights are merely something people agree on and hope that another group of humans doesn’t take away by force. If someone didn’t love the poor old beggar that was murdered under the bridge, then his or her life means absolutely nothing. And even if one person loved that beggar it really is all still meaningless because that person’s life really had no value at all; it is based on the mere feelings of another person, which is no different than every other person’s feeling on the planet, especially those of the person that kills the old beggar under the bridge.
The Afterlife, then, gives the opportunity for ultimate justice to prevail. It allows for there to be yet another time where evil will be dealt with and the murdered to be recompensed. It gives value to human life and true meaning to death and suffering.
(4) Free Will is Required
Fourth, Free Will is necessary for there to be any significance between the choices of good and evil at all, as well as for there to be any acts of justice or injustice. Free Will is defined as: The ability to choose freely between one choice or the other. Naturally, previous things cause all of our choices. Our choices, however, are not forced by these causes. The causes themselves, whether they be upbringing, environment, etc. are all free agents in and of themselves that can be opposed. In some sense, there is no complete free will. We are limited to the choices we make and to some extent, how we make those choices, but the point is that we can still make choices. In order to combat a purely deterministic point of view, I would bring up the fact that at some point in our ability to make choices, there is always a state of limbo. This “limbo”, is the state of hesitation. Arguably, if our choices were all determined, it would appear that this state of limbo would not exists, as one choice would already been predetermined over the other before that choice was made. It would be needless, to say in the least, for there to be a point of hesitation at all. And what a determinists cannot have in their world are needless choices. Every choice, must in fact be a necessity of a previous cause that cannot be undermined or even considered to be undermined if it is already stronger than any cause that preceded it. Now, one would be hopeful that a skeptic would believe that we have Free Will, but it seems difficult to assume that we have Free Will in a purposelessly determined universe, as exemplified in the appeal to evolutionary ethics. In essence, our genes rule who we are, and there are no “good” or “bad” genes. Our actions are ultimately determined by our biological makeup and our natural surroundings. Free will, much like human rights and a Deity to a hard line skeptics’ eye, are mere illusions. Without the ability to choose freely between one choice and the other, however, evil and good lose their significance as well. If we cannot choose between two things, then have we really committed any good or evil decisions and actions? Is a criminal truly responsible for their crimes of injustice if they did not choose to do so freely, and does justice even still carry any such meaning after the individual has been robbed of their choice to commit it?
I feel that these issues are far more troublesome for the skeptic than they are for any Theists. If a skeptic is to affirm that there is evil in this world and that it is a problem for belief in God, then they must, ironically, confess that there is a necessity to know that evil in order for them to even ever consider it a problem. Likewise, they must know evil to truly appreciate what good is. Further, I feel that morality expressed by most non-Theists is ultimately self refuting, if not, completely meaningless. Perhaps the Problem of Evil is indeed a problem, but for those that do not affirm a Theistic worldview, the problem of evil is no problem at all, much less anything worth caring about. It could be argued there is no Problem of Good either.
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Understanding that the Problem of Evil has already been addressed on the CADRE, I thought I would do a short exposition on the problem and how it proves to be more a problem for skeptics than for Theists.