The Problem of Evil

This will be my first of many posts on this argument. I believe it to be the strongest argument in support of atheism. If you are unfamiliar with it, allow me to explain it as simply as I can.

The POE is basically asserting that evil should not be able to exist if a God is all loving. I am not convinced by an argument right off the bat, so I did look into it for a fair bit of time. I came to my own conclusion: if objective moral values exist, then God exists. If evil exists, then God created it. I believe that creating evil itself is the worst sin of all. It is concluded that God is not able to sin, because sinning would be falling short of a perfect act. So if we are able to conclude that creating evil itself is the worst sin(or any type of sin), then God would not have been able to create it. Since he is falling short of a perfect act. This can be explain in a syllogism that I formulated:

  • P1:  If evil exists, then God created it.
  • P2: By simple assertion,  it is at the very least considered a sin.
  • P3: God cannot sin.
  • C: Following premises 1-3, God cannot create objective moral values since this would include making evil.

This is the conclusion I have come to after considering this argument. Perhaps if this seems fallacious, I will change my mind. But for the time being, it is my stance and the main reason why I believe atheism to be true. If you think you can prove it false, then feel free to comment. I’m always open to consideration.

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13 Responses to The Problem of Evil

  1. Gil S. says:

    This argument (despite some of the problems with the formulation) is not convincing to me because I do not see why evil needs to be created. Perhaps you can expand on that point? For example, why couldn’t evil exist conceptually as mere “knowledge”? You’re treating evil as if it were a thing rather than a lack of good.

    But let’s assume that evil needs to be created. How would that make morality “objective”? It seems like it would produce the opposite effect. God would be arbitrarily creating something called evil which could be anything from loving another person or actually harming someone. How would He know whether it’s evil or not if He needs to create evil in order for it to exist?

  2. I don’t quite understand your first criticism. Why does evil need to be created? I don’t know, you tell me. As far as I know, if I accept the existence of God for this argument, then I must also accept that he created objective moral values(evil and good). Even if it were mere ‘knowledge’, and not a thing(I never said it was, or treated it like one), it still would mean that God created the ‘knowledge’ of evil. So we still have the same problem. We still have the problem of evil.

    I don’t think that your second criticism works either, because you’re assuming that God wouldn’t know what evil was before it was created(since it did not exist). God would already know what evil, good, or anything is before he created it. This is because he has the knowledge of evil inside of him. Since God is indeed the greatest possible being.

    I do agree that evil is a lack good, but the difference is on a sliding scale. Even if I do accept this, this still leaves the problem of evil. That is why I said objective moral values, since good cannot exist on its own without evil. This is probably the main reason why I don’t buy objective moral values or God Himself.

    I feel somewhat confused on your response, I may have not understood it enough. Because even though those are you objections, we still have problems in the end.

  3. (I am responding from the Christian view.)

    “If objective moral values exist, then God exists.”

    This warrants no serious objection, so it can stand.

    “If evil exists, then God created it.”

    This, however, does warrant serious objection. First, ‘evil’ is not an ontological term; it is not a thing to be created. If moral order is grounded in the nature of God and expressed prescriptively in his commands, then ‘evil’ is a relational term—i.e., the moral value of p is determined by p’s relationship to the nature and will of God (e.g., malevolence is evil because it is contrary to the nature of God, or idolatry is evil because it is contrary to the will of God). Second, and consequently, God did not create evil; he created free agents who committed evil (e.g., blasphemed against the nature of God and rebelled against the will of God). The agents God created were perfect, but they did not remain perfect.

    “I believe that creating evil itself is the worst sin of all.”

    Therefore, this no longer follows (since evil is not a thing to be created).

    “It is concluded that God is not able to sin, because sinning would be falling short of a perfect act.”

    God is not able to sin by definition. In other words, given how sin is defined, the nature and will of God is not able to be contrary to the nature and will of God. Think: law of non-contradiction; i.e., “God is not able to sin” because x cannot be ¬x at the same time and in the same respect (e.g., God cannot command something he does not command).

    “So if we are able to conclude that creating evil itself is the worst sin…”

    Therefore, the rest of the argument no longer follows.

    • Ryft,

      I think you are misunderstanding what I am proposing.

      God did not create evil; he created free agents who committed evil

      Just to clarify a little more on my argument, evil is not able to be committed if it didn’t even exist in the first place; which is something that you even have yet to prove. However, for the sake of argument, I will accept that evil does exist. This also leaves problems. I do not see how evil can exist in the physical world if it was not first created. When God created the universe, he created matter, the laws of logic, and EVERYTHING that is material of immaterial around us. Even if it is grounded in His nature, that still leaves problems. Does that mean that objective moral values existed before the universe? This is just nonsensical.

      Therefore, this no longer follows (since evil is not a thing to be created).

      Like I stated, evil needs to be created for God to make it exist in the actual world. Even if it is grounded in his nature, it would still have to be created to apply to our universe. Else evil itself would not apply to our setting of life.

  4. “Evil is not able to be committed if it didn’t even exist in the first place.”

    This simply does not follow—at least on the Christian view, where evil is not an ontological term. I suppose it might follow on some other view which sees evil as a created thing having an ontological state; but then your critique would address a view different from what Christianity posits, which stands unchallenged.

    And the Christian view is that, since objective moral order is grounded in the nature of God and expressed prescriptively in his commands, ‘evil’ is a relational term, such that the moral value of p (e.g., “P is evil”) is determined by p’s relationship to the nature and will of God. Moral terms are different from ontological terms; i.e., ‘God’ is an ontological term, whereas ‘good’ and ‘evil’ are moral terms. What this means for your argument—if it wishes to address the Christian view—is that evil is committed when something is contrary to the nature and will of God (and, conversely, good is committed when something corresponds to the nature and will of God). In other words, evil is able to be committed because an objective moral order exists in the first place, God. Remember your first premise.

    “I do not see how evil can exist in the physical world if it was not first created.”

    Perhaps you do now. I shall wait for your response to find out, but evil can exist in the physical world because things in the physical world can be contrary to the nature and will of God (e.g., malevolence, idolatry, rape, etc.). Evil—a moral valuation—does not exist ‘in itself’ (Latin: per se) but rather by virtue of being contrary to God; ‘evil’ is a moral term, not an ontological one.

    “When God created the universe, he created matter, the laws of logic, and EVERYTHING that is material of immaterial around us.”

    A slight correction here. Neither the laws of logic nor morality were created by God. They are grounded in the very nature of God, who exists eternally. While it is true that God created the entire universe and everything in it, the attributes or properties of his nature were not part of that creation; with regard to his being, God is who he is eternally.

    “Does that mean that objective moral values existed before the universe? This is just nonsensical.”

    First, to dismiss something as nonsensical without demonstration commits the argumentum ad lapidem fallacy. The rational person (which I assume you are) is concerned with avoiding invalid argumentation. Second, objective moral order is grounded in the nature and will of God, who exists eternally (i.e., “before the universe”). Keep in mind that both your argument and our discussion here is addressing metaethics (what morality is), not ethics (what is moral).

  5. I will concede for now, but I will make a blog post in the future addressing these points. I need to start writing blogs instead of replying to comments.

    Thanks.

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  7. Ryft stated: “First, ‘evil’ is not an ontological term; it is not a thing to be created.”

    Ryft says that he’s “responding from the Christian view.” But what informs the Christian view if not the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments found in the bible? What does the bible say?

    Isaiah 45:7 states it very plainly: “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”

    According to the book of Isaiah, evil is something that is created, and it affirmsly quite plainly that God created it. The view which Ryft is presenting is not consistent with what the bible explicitly affirms. How can it be that “the Christian view,” as Ryft characterizes what he is presenting, is so fundamentally contrary to what we read in the bible?

    Ryft writes: “If moral order is grounded in the nature of God and expressed prescriptively in his commands, then ‘evil’ is a relational term—i.e., the moral value of p is determined by p’s relationship to the nature and will of God (e.g., malevolence is evil because it is contrary to the nature of God, or idolatry is evil because it is contrary to the will of God).”

    What Ryft presents here is properly called the subjective view of morality, for it predicates moral right and wrong (and related concepts) on a person’s conscious intentions (e.g., “the will of God”). In other words, the view which Ryft endorses ascribes metaphysical primacy to a consciousness over its objects, i.e., to the *subject* of consciousness. That’s subjectivism. To call this view an *objective* understanding of morality is to expose a profound confusion on the nature of objectivity and the nature of moral values.

    My criticism here is confirmed by the fact that “the Christian view” which Ryft presents seeks to base moral values on the nature of a being which is immortal, indestructible and invulnerable. Unlike man, such a being would certainly have no need for values, for unlike man, such a being would not face a fundamental alternative. Man does face a fundamental alternative, namely life vs. death. So man needs a code of values which guides his choices and actions, whereas the god which Christians imagine, a being that is supposed to be immortal, indestructible and invulnerable, could do anything or even nothing for all eternity, and it would continue to exist in perpetuity regardless of what it did. Like a lifeless rock buried deep in the earth’s crust, it would not need to act in order to exist. Man does not enjoy this condition, but in fact faces a fundamental alternative, which is why he needs a moral code. And the moral code which he needs, is one which is suited to his nature as a biological organism. Unlike the god which Christians imagine, man cannot exist without values such as food, water, shelter, clothing, productive work, an incentive to continue living, etc. These are facts which the Christian view of morality fails to take into account, and it fails to take them into account because it has nothing to do with the reality in which man exists.

    So “the Christian view” of morality which Ryft presents is not only subjective in nature, it is unfit for man’s existence.

    As for the proper meaning of ‘evil’, it denotes a *condition*, and I see no reason why conditions cannot be created (especially if one wants to say that the universe as a whole was created). Ryft says that “’evil’ is a relational term” – but again, I see no reason why relations cannot be created. And Ryft has not provided any. Nor has he provided any good reason to suppose that the God which allegedly created everything distinct from itself did not, as the bible affirms (as we saw above), also create evil.

    Ryft writes: “Second, and consequently, God did not create evil;”

    I agree that “God did not create evil,” but not for the reasons which Ryft is proposing. Rather, I would agree that “God did not create evil” because evil is real and “God” is imaginary. An imaginary thing cannot create something that is real.

    Ryft continued: “he created free agents who committed evil (e.g., blasphemed against the nature of God and rebelled against the will of God). The agents God created were perfect, but they did not remain perfect.”

    Now this is ripe. Can you spot the absurdity here? It’s not difficult to see, but I’ll point it out for those who are having difficulty seeing it.

    Ryft says that the “free agents” which “God created” were “perfect.” He then says that “they did not remain perfect.” In other words, those agents *chose* to commit evil. But if they were perfect, how could they choose to commit evil? The only way that those free agents could have chosen evil is if they lacked perfect judgment, for an agent possessing perfect judgment always chooses perfectly, and a choice to commit evil is not perfect.

    So the free agents that Ryft is talking about, could not have been perfect to begin with, because they possessed imperfect judgment. A perfect being by definition has no imperfections, otherwise it would be wrong to slap it with the label “perfect.” And we are assured that those agents could not have had perfect judgment because they freely chose to commit evil, which is by any account an imperfect choice.

    If we are to accept the claim that the Christian god created everything, then it created the mess that Christians are trying, in utter futility, to wrestle with along with everything else it allegedly created. If a potter makes a pot which fails to hold water, it would be absurd to blame the pot for this failure rather than the potter that made it in the first place. But Christians are more cozy with absurdity than they’re often willing to admit.

    So Ryft’s “free agent” defense fails.

    Ryft says that “God is not able to sin by definition. In other words, given how sin is defined, the nature and will of God is not able to be contrary to the nature and will of God. Think: law of non-contradiction; i.e., “God is not able to sin” because x cannot be ¬x at the same time and in the same respect (e.g., God cannot command something he does not command).”

    Ryft has misappropriated the law of non-contradiction in order to defend the view that “God is not able to sin by definition.” What Ryft is really saying is that his god is not a free agent, for in spite of all the omnipotence that the Christian god is said to have, now we are being told about all the things that it cannot do. It cannot do things which man can do. How is that an example of omnipotence? There is no reason to suppose that an agent which possesses the power to choose cannot “by definition” choose to violate its own decrees and pronouncements, just as many men have done. There is no violation of the law of non-contradiction in supposing that this is possible for a free agent to do. Also, Ryft provides no reason why his god cannot command one thing and then command the opposite at different times in similar contexts (similar enough to qualify as “in the same respect”), which would result in the latter commandment contradicting the previous one, which in turn would result in a transgression of the law (which is subjective in the first place, on Christianity’s terms, since it is predicated on someone’s conscious intentions – e.g., “the will of God”).

    Ryft writes: “Neither the laws of logic nor morality were created by God. They are grounded in the very nature of God, who exists eternally.”

    While I can agree that “neither the laws of logic nor morality were created by God” (again, the imaginary does not and cannot create anything real), it is not the case that these things “are grounded in the very nature of God.” I already gave sufficient reasons for exploding this claim in the case of moral principles above. In the case of logic, see my paper “Does Logic Presuppose the Christian God?” located here: http://katholon.com/Logic.htm

    So although there are stronger reasons to reject theism, the argument from evil does, after all, have its place in the atheological arsenal.

    Regards,
    Dawson

  8. Feel free to quote from my comment. Also, if you have any questions about what I have written, need me to clarify anything, or would like to challenge any of my points, just let me know.

    I have written about the problem of evil on my blog. I consider it part of a larger problem for Christianity, which I call the problem of imperfection. Essentially the problem lies in the claim that the creator which allegedly created the universe is a *perfect* creator, and yet throughout all its “creation” we encounter a proliferation of imperfections of virtually every stripe. By definition, a perfect creator would not create anything that is less than perfect.

    You can find my post here: http://bahnsenburner.blogspot.com/2009/03/was-adam-created-perfect.html

    Also you’ll see that Van Til and John Byl disagree over whether or not Adam was created perfect, a position which Ryft has affirmed. It does not seem to be a uniform report among Christians.

    Regards,
    Dawson

  9. Over on his own blog (here: http://aristophrenium.com/ryft/another-problem-of-evil-examined/), Ryft replied to a very small portion of my rebuttal to his comments in the present post (scroll above). Ryft’s response to me focused exclusively on the meaning of “evil” in Isaiah 45:7, a bible verse which I quoted above. Ryft claims that this word is better translated as “disaster or calamity,” while maintaining that his points above were about “moral evil.” Notice how Ryft contrasts these: “disaster or calamity” and “moral evil.” Apparently in Ryft’s view, these concepts are mutually exclusive. No doubt he thinks this rescues his defense against the problem of evil.

    But does it?

    Let’s explore this.

    First notice that Ryft does not explain what exactly is the relevant difference between “disaster or calamity” on the one hand, and “moral evil” on the other. He says that “moral evil” cannot be created because it’s moral, not ontological. But it is not clear how this is supposed to follow. Also, however Isaiah 45:7 is translated, it needs to refer to something which can, on Christian grounds, be created, since it portrays its god as the one which does create it. “Disaster or calamity,” on Ryft’s view, must be ontological in order to fit the bill as he has informed it. What is ignored here is the fact that both “moral evil” and “disaster or calamity” threaten and/or destroy human values. Since morality is concerned with values, this is important to keep in mind.

    Also notice that Ryft quotes Amos 3:6, which says: “When disaster comes to a city, has not the LORD caused it?” The context of the passage, as well as the other verses which Ryft cited along with Amos 3:6, clearly expects the answer to this question to be that “the LORD” is what has caused the disaster. As Van Til succinctly puts it, “God controls whatsoever comes to pass” (The Defense of the Faith, p. 160). If “disaster or calamity” visits man and destroys his values, it is the Christian god, according to the Christian worldview, which sends it.

    Now we are always being told about “the will of God.” Even Ryft appealed to “the will of God” in his comments above. The Christian god is supposed to be a volitional being: it does specifically what it chooses to do.

    So when it visits men with “disaster or calamity,” the Christian god does this by choice: it chooses to send Hurricane Katrina to destroy New Orleans; it chooses to launch a massive tsunami in the Indian Ocean killing 300,000 people. It could have chosen not to send such disasters and calamities, but on the Christian view it did choose to send them.

    By contrast, on a so-called “naturalistic” view, hurricanes and tsunamis are not caused by someone’s chosen actions. But on the Christian worldview, they are. On a “naturalistic” view, “disaster or calamity” of the sort occasioned by natural disasters, are not endowed with moral implications, because they are not a result of volition. But on the Christian worldview, since natural disasters are caused by a volitional agent (namely the Christian god, with its all-powerful “will”), they do have moral implications, because they are chosen.

    And here’s the test for this: if a human being had invented a device which creates and directs the path of hurricanes, and sends one to destroy a city, killing thousands of men, women and children in the process; or if he invents a device which causes earthquakes which triggers massive tsunamis devastating human populations, and he uses this device to cause such “disaster and calamity,” would we not call this evil? I don’t know about Ryft, but I certainly would. Would this not be an example of “moral evil”? Yes it would, since it was action that was *chosen*. When Hitler sent his armies to invade, destroy and dominate neighboring countries, did he not create “disaster and calamity” on those populations, and was this not evil? On my view it was evil, because it was chosen action which resulted in the destruction of human values.

    Ryft thinks he’s evaded the problem of evil, but he’s only moved his god back a step, since according to his worldview his god controls everything, and is the guiding hand behind every “disaster or calamity” which affects human populations and destroys human values. The so-called “naturalistic” account of natural disasters is ruled out presuppositionally, since “the personal” always holds primacy over “the impersonal” in the Christian worldview. As John Frame tells us, “Impersonal facts and laws cannot be ultimate, precisely because they are not personal” (Cornelius Van Til: An Analysis of His Thought, p. 60). On the Christian worldview, there must ultimately be some form of consciousness which is directing and controlling everything which takes place in the universe, and that is the role which Christianity assigns to “the will of God.” The Christian god causes whatever happens in the universe, to happen.

    And it does this by choice, thus making the action subject to moral evaluation. But Ryft clearly wants to give his god a free moral pass, while holding man to an arbitrary standard (one which blames the pot instead of the potter for failing to hold water).

    So Ryft is trying to have his cake, and eat it, too. He wants his “God’s sovereign rule” to have “jurisdiction” over everything – i.e., to “control whatsoever comes to pass” – but he doesn’t want it to be morally responsible for the actions it chooses to perform. So while the Christian view of morality, as we have seen so far, divorces morality from the realm of *values* (for the impact of actions on *values* is of no consideration in moral evaluation), it also seeks to divorce morality from *choice* (for the impact of *chosen* actions on values can be ignored in moral evaluation).

    Take as another example the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. I don’t know who would resist calling such an atrocity a “disaster or calamity.” They were certainly disastrous for the families of those affected by these attacks. I would argue that they were disastrous for the entire country. And they were caused by choice: the terrorists *chose* to hijack the airliners and fly them straight into the Twin Towers. Was this not a “moral evil”? Was it not a “disaster or calamity”? Ryft seems to think that “disaster or calamity” and “moral evil” are mutually exclusive; his defense against the problem of evil as I have presented it surely requires that they be mutually exclusive. But he has given no reason to suppose that they must be, especially when the cause of the destruction in question is volitional in nature. And in the case of Christianity, since “God controls whatsoever comes to pass,” the hijackers themselves are merely pawns carrying out “the will of God,” they are not the ultimate cause of the “disaster or calamity,” the Christian god is. Any “disaster or calamity” which happens in the world is, on Christian premises, the result of the Christian god’s choices. So the concepts “disaster or calamity” and “moral evil” cannot be mutually exclusive on Christian grounds; in fact, they meet at the very same point: “the will of God.”

    Since the moral is the chosen, any course of action chosen by a volitional agent is subject to moral evaluation. Does not the Christian god choose its own actions, with its all-powerful “will” determining its every move? If so, then the actions which Christians imagine their god performing are subject to moral evaluation. Curiously though, Christians don’t like their god being judged. But why not? If their god is supposed to be the standard of morality, why would it be wrong to evaluate its actions? If its actions were always morally good, Christians should not fear their god being morally judged. Their worries betray a sinister problem lurking beneath their self-serving slogans.

    The problem of evil not only exposes a deep internal conflict within the Christian worldview, Christian defenses against the problem of evil typically show that the Christian worldview requires that the Christian believer have no problem *with* evil, since it requires him to be willing to call “good” the evil deeds which the Christian god commits. The defenses which Christians raise against the problem of evil always tell us something autobiographical about the apologist raising those defenses. And Ryft’s defense is a case in point.

    Meanwhile, Ryft has chosen not to interact with the other points that I raised in my initial comment, so he consequently fails to offer a rebuttal to the problem of imperfection as such, a problem which has disastrous results for Christianity. And since Christianity itself is a moral evil, pointing out the problem of imperfection is a moral good.

    Regards,
    Dawson

  10. Pingback: The Problem of Evil Examined | Consider Atheism

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