Does Evil Disprove God?


November 29, 2012 by mattfradd

I recently submitted a paper, imitating the structure of St. Thomas Aquinas, for my logic class. I first propose the argument and then respond to it. Enjoy!

Article 1. Whether evil and suffering are incompatible with an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God?

Objection 1. God is believed to be omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent. But If God were omnipotent he could eliminate evil and suffering.

Objection 2. Further, if God were omniscient he would be aware of evil and suffering.

Objection 3. Further, If God were omnibenevolent he would desire to eliminate evil and suffering. However, Evil exists. Therefore it follows that God does not exist, or, if he does exist, he is either weak, ignorant or wicked.

On the contrary, Far from disproving God’s existence, evil actually points to God’s existence in an indirect way. If genuine evil exists then it follows that objective morality exists. If objective morality exists then it follows that God exists.

I answer that, in order to show that an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God is not logically incompatible with evil and suffering, one need simply offer an additional premise, “God may have morally sufficient reasons for permitting evil and suffering.” As long as this premise is possible it proves that evil, and suffering and God are not logically incompatible. Further, since God is able to bring good out of evil, we must be prepared to acknowledge that this is what he is doing–as the Christian faith claims. As St. Paul says: “We know that in everything God works for good with those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

Reply to objection 1. Omnipotence does not mean the ability to do the intrinsically impossible. For example, it is possible for God to create beings with the kind of free will that can choose between good and evil, but it is not possible to force those creatures to freely choose good, for that is a self-contradiction. If he forced their choice, it wouldn’t be free.

Reply to to objection 2. Because God is omniscient, he knows many things we do not. This means that he may, in fact, have good reasons for permitting things–like evil and suffering–that seem inexplicable to us. Because of the limitations of our own perspective, we must acknowledge that we may be in the same position as a small child being taken to the doctor for his injections. The child may be very afraid of getting an injection, and he may be too small to understand why his own parents–who normally take care of him–are suddenly holding him down and allowing the doctor to do what he perceives as horrible. But in fact the injection can keep him from getting a disease that would lead to much more suffering, and thus there is a greater good that he is unable to recognize.

Human beings have a very limited vantage point and we often lack knowledge of things true significance. What appears to us to be a tragedy may have effects that bring about great good, and on the flipside, what appears to us as a great good may, in the long run, prove harmful.  From our limited reference point, we are often simply not in a good position to judge. Because of this, we have to recognize that a being with more knowledge than us–like God–may have good reasons for things that we are unaware of.

Reply to objection 3. As we think about the omnibenevolence of God, we must be careful not to impose an inadequate understanding of goodness on him.

In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S. Lewis writes, “By the goodness of God we mean nowadays almost exclusively his lovingness; and in this we may be right. And by love, in this context, most of us mean kindness. . . . What would really satisfy us is would be a God who said of anything we happened to like doing, ‘What does it matter so long as they are contended?’ We want, in fact, not so much a Father in heaven as a grandfather in heaven–a senile benevolence who, as they say, ‘liked to see young people enjoying themselves’ and whose plan for the universe was simply that it might be truly said at the end of each day, ‘a good time was had by all.”[1]

But Christians do not believe that God created us merely for happiness in this life. Rather, as the Baltimore Catechism says: “God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven” (BAL 3).

[1] C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain: (New York: Harper Collins, 2001), 31.

5 thoughts on “Does Evil Disprove God?

  1. Rachel says:

    Mind blowing stuff Matt. I shall be studying this blog and memorising some of it so it will come in handy in the future when I get into yet another one of those “debates” I always seem to find myself in with certain delightful secularist chums of mine. I shall succeed in helping them to see my point of view by using your wisdom. But also I think evil and suffering helps us to see good and happiness in this life because if we were all happy all the time and nothing bad ever happened, then we wouldnt know the difference.

    • Lori8069 says:

      I asked Jesus once, in prayer, why He doesn’t stop pornography, and after a while I feel I got the answer “Because it works so well in separating the sheep from the goats”.

      Having evil in the world makes it easier for God to see what we’re really made of–there wouldn’t be any other way to know what side we were really on without it.

  2. Matt, I found my fellow youth always asking about this topic too. Could you help me to answer these objections I often find?

    it’s written above that “God made us to show forth His goodness and to share with us His everlasting happiness in heaven.” But there’re also people who reject God. How can there be such people? I mean, why God let those people exist? If your answer is the ‘free-will’ stuff, why then God gives free-will that could lead to evil?

    Doesn’t it seems cruel to let evil exist so that there can be a ‘comparison’ like Rachel said above, “if we were all happy all the time and nothing bad ever happened, then we wouldn’t know the difference”? It opens a chance to better, but also opens a chance to be worse.

    thanks, love this topic~

    • mattfradd says:

      This really is a mystery, Francisca. When I think of all the evil and suffering in the world, I admit, I find it hard to believe in God. Though it is a strong emotional obstacle, I do not believe it is a strong intellectual obstacle -this short article briefly sketches why.

      With that caveat:

      God could have made human puppets, who, when asked, “Do you love me?” Would respond in unison , “Yes God, we love you.” Giving human creatures free will entails the possibility of those human creatures choosing evil.

      I do not agree with Rachel’s statement, ” if we were all happy all the time and nothing bad ever happened, then we wouldnt know the difference.” This would entail that the angles do not know the difference between good and bad.

      If someone you know is asserting something to the effect of, “God couldn’t exist, just think of all the evil in the world.” The burden of proof would be upon them, not you, to prove that. A burden of proof that no atheist has been able to sustain.

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