The problem of suffering and pain in a world that the theist claims has been created by an all-loving, all-powerful, all-knowing God has long been a flashpoint in the debate surrounding God’s nature and existence. The argument about the mere presence of evil pushes the limits of human history (i.e. Job), but the escalated horrors of the 20th century, specifically the Holocaust, have brought the debate about the magnitude of the problem to the forefront now more than ever. Interestingly, the problem of pain was not a serious threat to Christian thought until the last several centuries; suffering has only recently been seen as a ground for final skepticism rather than an incentive for inquiry.
Christian theologians have responded in a number of ways. In the next post, we will look more closely at three important talking points when having this conversation. In the final post, we will look at how the Apostle Paul dealt with the suffering in his own life. In this post, we will look at two logical challenges that highlight the Problem of Evil.
Two Skeptical Challenges
The Logical Problem of Evil: God and evil are logically incompatible.
Critics of Christianity have dealt with this a few different ways. One is to say that if God is all-knowing, this wouldn’t have happened. If he was all-powerful, he could prevent it. And if he was all-loving, nothing would keep him from doing so.
In response, Christians typically talk about free will. The Free Will defender argues that it was good for God to create people who had genuine choices. Humans were created to be able to make ethical choices in a morally significant way, and this ability makes this world more valuable than a world that does not contain free action.
Much of the suffering in this life is our own making, either directly or indirectly, and the only way God could prevent us or our ancestors from disrupting the order he created would be to take away our free will. We have a dilemma. Which is more important: risky freedom or coerced happiness? A world in which nothing we do matters because there are no consequences, or a world in which everything we do matters, sometimes to the extreme, precisely because there are consequences?
Though this is a complex subject with a rich history of debate, few philosophers today see the Logical Problem of Evil as a valid argument against God’s existence.
The Evidential Problem: There is so much evil that God’s existence is unlikely.
While the logical approach said that God and evil could not exist simultaneously, the evidential problem looks at the fact that it sure seems like God would fix things – especially the things that humans don’t seem to have caused. Why do animals die in forest fires? Why do babies get sick and sometimes die? If there were a God who loved us, he would not allow unexplainable and meaningless suffering.
Philosopher William Rowe stated the argument along these lines:
- If there are times of gratuitous suffering which an all-powerful, all-knowing, completely good being could and would prevent, then this being (the Christian God) does not exist.
- These times clearly happen.
- Therefore, the Christian God does not exist
G.E. Moore provided a response to Rowe’s logically phrased argument:
- If there are times of gratuitous suffering which an all-powerful, all-knowing, completely good being could and would prevent, God does not exist.
- God does exist.
- Therefore, there are no times of gratuitous suffering.
If there is a God who loves us, the suffering we see is not without explanation or meaning. Maybe God exists and he allows things to happen that we don’t like or understand. This doesn’t mean there is no God. At most, the problem of evil is not an attack on God’s existence, but an attack on his character.
The Christian worldview claims that we live in a world with an overwhelming, intrinsic good (Free Will) that and gives it worth in spite of the pain that accompanies it. It is a legitimate answer for the skeptic who thinks this is a challenge to God’s existence.