Friday, September 30, 2011

Is God Willing and Able to Prevent Evil?

Epicurus, the ancient Greek philosopher, stated the problem of evil thus:
Is God willing to prevent evil but not able?
Then his is impotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Whence then is evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

This line of reasoning has been echoed by many throughout history, but it hinges on a mistaken premise. It assumes that a good God would not allow evil to continue. The reasoning underneath that premise goes like this:
1. We cannot think of any justifiable reason why God would allow suffering and evil to continue.
2. Therefore, God cannot have such a reason.
The logic does not follow. Why should there be no reason just because we cannot think of one?

Alvin Plantinga writes in Warranted Christian Belief, "Suppose the fact is God has a reason for permitting a particular evil... Is it even likely that we would wind up with plausible candidates for God's reason?... Given that he is omniscient and given our very substantial epistemic limitations, it isn't at all surprising that his reasons... [might] escape us." Plantinga also notes in Philosophers Who Believe, "Why does God permit all this evil...? Christians must concede that we don't know. That is, we don't know in any detail. On a quite general level, we may know that God permits evil because he can achieve a world he sees as better by permitting evil than by preventing it; and what God sees as better is, of course, better. But we cannot see why our world...would be better... or what, in any detail, is God's reason for permitting a given specific... evil."

In other words, if we have a God great enough to be angry at for not preventing evil and suffering, we must also have a God great enough to have a reason for allowing evil and suffering we cannot discern.

Moreover, if there is not God, people don't really have a good basis for being outraged at the existence of suffering. After all, nature is "red in tooth and claw." Death and destruction are perfectly natural. It is perfectly natural for the strong to eat the weak and "survival of the fittest" is a genetic principle. Someone can only object to injustice if they already believe in some kind of "supernatural" moral standard (i.e., some standard that comes from outside of nature and which judges some types of "natural" behavior as wrong). And where does such a supernatural standard come from if there is no God?

As I've said before, eliminating the God of the Bible because of the problem of evil does not do away with evil. It eliminates the only real solution for it.


  1. as Job said, "are we to accept only good from God and not bad?" God's ways are much higher than our ways and we are not always going to "know" why a certain event happened. bottom line is faith-to trust God even when we can't trace God. thanks Paul for putting into words what is hard sometimes to say.

  2. "Someone can only object to injustice if they already believe in some kind of "supernatural" moral standard " Bullshit.

    Humans, as a social animal, have evolved "Morals" to function in a society of individuals over the past million years or so. If early humans hadn't developed morals, then the human society would never have been able to grow, people would kill each other over menial stuff. Not that this doesn't still happen, but usually these people justify their reasons.