The Problem of Evil

On August 24, 1990 in Gainesville, Florida, Danny Harold Rollings broke into the apartment of two young college students. He brutally raped and killed them, mutilating their bodies. Within the week, Rollings went on to kill three more college students. At the time this occurred, I was with the FBI’s Investigative Support Unit (their criminal profiling unit) working on a crime classification manual. A team from the ISU had been dispatched to Florida and were actually in Gainesville as the last murders were committed. When they returned, the Unit Chief called a meeting of all the agents to profile the case. I happened to be working in the conference room when they met and was invited to stay. They passed the crime scene photos around the table as they discussed the case. As I shuffled through the gruesome photos, I paused and went back to a previous photo. Subconsciously, something had caught my attention. At first glance, it appeared to just be a snapshot of the victim’s bedroom showing a dresser, chair, and a bookcase. But upon studying it closer, I realized what had made me go back to this photo. On the middle shelf, positioned with the books and knick knacks, was the victim’s head. Even with the amount of human tragedy and carnage I had already seen with this project, the absolute disregard for human life Rollings demonstrated with this appalling act of ignominy left me questioning if God had gone awry bringing Danny Rollings into this world.

How does an omnipotent, omniscient, omnibenevolent God allow a morally evil human agent such as Danny Rollings to exist? How does this same Being allow an earthquake (a natural evil) to decimate the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere? Then, eight months later, allow a category 4 hurricane and outbreak of cholera to further ravage these already devastated people?

These are the logical inconsistencies presented by the problem of such natural and moral evils with the existence of this omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent being:

1. An omniscient being would know Danny Rollings would grow up to be a sociopathic murderer of 8 innocent people (Rollins also confessed to a triple homicide from 1986 in Louisiana which also involved a child) and would have the knowledge to eliminate this (and all) evil
2. An omnibenevolent being would have the desire to eliminate earthquakes and hurricanes and murder.
3. An omnipotent being would have the power to stop rape, murder, and cholera.
4. If an omniscient, omnibenevolent, and omnipotent God exists, than hurricanes, earthquakes, cholera, rape, and murder (moral and natural evil) shouldn’t exist.
5. Hurricanes, earthquakes, cholera, rape, murder (evil) exists.
6. Therefore, God does not exist.

Within these examples, the evidential problem is also presented. The amount of earthquakes and other natural evils, and moral evils such as rape and murder, provide reasonable evidence against the belief of a an all-knowing, all-powerful, and wholly good being.

Free Will Defense

There are a number of counters to the logical and evidential problem of evil. St. Augustine wrote one of the earliest theodicies (a vindication of the divine attributes, particularly holiness and justice, in establishing or allowing the existence of physical and moral evil) which offers the concept of free will allowing for the possibility of evil, since it allows one to make a choice to do good or evil. Alvin Plantinga (Hugh Laurie per David L.) further elaborates, “God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For, if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all..” For God to create beings capable of moral good, they must also have the capacity for moral evil. If He makes the choice between the two for us, we have no volition in the matter.

I think C.S. Lewis answers why a God possessing the attributes above,
would create within us the capacity for choosing evil (or good).

“God created things which had free will. That means creatures which can go wrong or right… Why, then, did God give them free will? Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata -of creatures that worked like machines- would hardly be worth creating.
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently, He thought it worth the risk. (…) If God thinks this state of war in the universe a price worth paying for free will -that is, for making a real world in which creatures can do real good or harm and something of real importance can happen, instead of a toy world which only moves when He pulls the strings- then we may take it it is worth paying.”

― C.S. Lewis, The Case for Christianity

Theists and atheists alike now accept this argument as a valid rejoinder to the deductive problem of evil.

The inductive challenge to the existence of God states

1.If God exists, then unnecessary evil would not exist.
2.Unnecessary evil does exist.
3.Therefore, it is unlikely that God exists.

One argument in response to this line of reasoning centers on “if God exists”. There are cosmological, teleological, moral, and ontological arguments offering valid support to the existence of God. Unnecessary evil is defined by finite beings with limited insight who do not have the perception of an infinite God. How can we as the created, begin to grasp the whole picture?

As William Craig Lane states in “The Problem of Evil” , “We are not in a good position to assess the probability of whether God has morally sufficient reasons for the evils that occur. To borrow an illustration from a developing field of science, Chaos Theory, scientists have discovered that certain macroscopic systems, for example, weather systems or insect populations, are extraordinarily sensitive to the tiniest perturbations. A butterfly fluttering on a branch in West Africa may set in motion forces which would eventually issue in a hurricane over the Atlantic Ocean. Yet it is impossible in principle for anyone observing that butterfly palpitating on a branch to predict such an outcome. The brutal murder of an innocent man or a child’s dying of leukemia could produce a sort of ripple effect through history such that God’s morally sufficient reason for permitting it might not emerge until centuries later and perhaps in another land.”

Finally, just as we cannot grasp the whole picture, neither can we frame God’s nature from our perspective. We are defined as moral (or immoral) beings because we fall short of perfection, always trying to achieve potentiality. We are composed beings, given essence and existence by Him. But He is pure act or existence- “I am”- Exodus 3:14. By definition, a moral being is one capable of conforming to the rules of right conduct. God has nothing to live up to, no need to conform, so we cannot define Him as moral (or immoral) being. He is above and beyond morality; His goodness is not defined by rules of human conduct but by metaphysical perfect goodness. This is why He is God.

One response to “The Problem of Evil

  1. Pingback: The Problem of Evil | truereligionone27·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s