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Defying the existence of good and evil continues to be widely debated in the field of philosophy of religion, specifically when debating the moral capabilities of God. The existence of evil and suffering in the world poses serious issues for the existence of God. More specifically, for the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent, and omniscient God. The purpose of this essay is to develop a general argument for the claim that good and evil both have to exist and to explain what absolute good and evil are. Also, to dive into the question: why would God allow for evil? I intend to show that there is a reason as to why God would allow for evil that does not undermine his omnipotence or power. The world requires amount of balance in all aspects. If either good or evil were to eliminate the other then this balance would be disrupted. Since we do not live in a perfect world of absolutes, this cannot occur, making the topic of good vs evil much more complex.
“Evil” and “good” are both broad terms that must be defined before considering their absolutes. First, I will get into the term “evil.” I will define evil in two ways: a broad concept and a narrow concept. Evil in the broad sense can further be divided into two categories: natural evil and moral evil. Natural evil is known as evil for which “no non-diving agent can be held morally responsible for its occurrence.” An example of natural evil would be an earthquake or a hurricane. On the other hand, moral evil is inflicted by humans. For example, a robber shooting an innocent human. These two forms of evil in the broad sense are generally the type of evil that is referenced in theological frameworks, such as the problem of evil, which I will get into later. Moreover, evil in the narrow sense relates to moral judgements. For example, moral aspects of actions, characters, events, and so forth. This could be anything from walking an elderly woman across the street to helping your neighbor take their groceries out of their car. The narrow concept holds human beings as moral agents. So, in this context, the occurrence of evil is thought of to be caused by human action. This form of evil is generally the kind of evil that is referenced in political and legal situations.
Now that I have defined the precepts for good and evil I will discuss the terms in “absolute” form. If something is an absolute good that means that it is good because of something in itself. It does not require the opinion or validation of other people. That means that it will still be good even if no one bears witness to its goodness. In my opinion, absolute good is being good for the sake of being good. You don’t care if anyone is around to see you be good. It is more important to be a good person on moral principle than it is to be a good person strictly for the sake of appearances. Conversely, absolute evil is when an entity is completely and totally immoral and malevolent to its core. Absolute evil is the absence of absolute good. On the other hand, absolute good is all of the things that absolute evil is lacking. This could be empathy, compassion or simple kindness.
The problem of evil refers to the issue of how an omnibenevolent (all good), omniscient (all knowing), and omnipotent (all powerful) God would allow the existence of evil. How could such a God allow for the existence of human suffering, premature death, and gross moral misconduct? Clearly, there’s a major problem. In spite of the problem of evil, some philosophers reject that God is all-powerful and all-knowing. This seems to be able to get God “off the hook” with regards to evil. Those who take this approach accept a limited God. These people still believe that God is good and the greatest possible being. However, they question whether this being is truly omnipotent and omniscient. Proponents of this view believe that God is not actually all powerful and cannot know everything. Therefore, he cannot control the future. Because of this handicap, He has no control over the evil in the world. However, this idea would require that some faiths question their most fundamental tenets. If God is not omnipotent and omniscient then is there really a God?
The fact that God allows for evil to happen discredits the idea that there is even a God. If there was truly some absolutely benevolent, all powerful God then he simply would not allow evil to exist. Personally, I believe that the presence of so much evil and cruelty in the world demonstrates that God, at least as we know Him, does not exist. This is not saying that God Himself doesn’t exist, but merely that we must change the way that we think of God. Maybe He is not some amazing omnipotent thing. All humans have their flaws and, if God created humans and modeled them after Himself, then this would mean that God is flawed as well. This could be one reason for God allowing evil in the world. He simply could not be as omnipotent and morally perfect as we have been led to believe.
However, it is possible to maintain the belief that God is all-powerful while simultaneously recognizing the existence of evil: God allows for evil to demonstrate to humans that not everything can be perfect. If god did not allow for evil to happen in the world than it could upset the balance of life. If everything in the world is too perfect and too good then people would become bored. In turn, this could cause people to act out and maybe even commit acts of evil themselves. God could allow for evil as a way to keep the natural cycle of life going. Maybe God does not want the world to be happy and mechanically perfect at all times. Maybe it cannot even be so.
In regards to natural evil, such as diseases, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, etc. some may argue that this is a part of an orderly process of nature. People who argue this believe that natural evil stems from the combination of deterministic laws, which state that everything happens because of strict laws in nature. Everything has a cause and an effect. Evil can be situational and natural evil is something that seems to be necessary in the world.
Another response to the problem of evil is known as the free will defense. This adds another premise to the problem of evil which goes as follows: it is impossible for God to create free beings and further promise that these beings will never do anything evil. This view holds that free will is so important that it is worth the price of evil. The argument against free will, as laid out by Louis J. Pojman, is that 1. To be really free and responsible for our actions, we must be the cause of what we are (our states of mind). 2. No one is the cause of one’s self. Not even God is causa sui. 3. So no one is really free and responsible. The root of Pojman’s argument is that there isn’t actually free will. We are not the cause of our states of mind and we are not the cause of oneself. Due to this fact a person can’t be free or responsible. If free will is really worth the price of evil then God’s omnipotence is thus brought into question again. Also, if free will doesn’t really exist then maybe it’s human nature that’s inherently evil.
Another response is the soul-making theodicy defense created by John Hick, which stems from the free will defense. The soul-making theodicy argues that God allows some evil in the world because it builds one’s positive character. According to Hick, the world is an arena that fosters moral development. So essentially all evil in the world will contribute to the greater good of the people. Hick holds that if the world were a perfect world and there were no possibility of suffering, pain, and death, then we could not be held accountable for our actions and we would have no opportunities to prove our virtue. This view also contends that humanity was made in the image of God, but not God’s likeness. So the world is a place where humans have the ability to develop their character into the complete likeness of God. This positive growth outweighs the negative value of evil in itself.
Even with the freewill and the theodicy defense, the problem of evil still remains. One of the major criticisms is that God who is supposed to be all powerful, all knowing, and omnipotent does not intervene on the evil in the world. Couldn’t an all-knowing God have expected or seen in advance the suffering in the world and created a world in which people do not commit as much evil as they do now? And why does God not intervene upon events that cause suffering on a global scale, such the Holocaust? Following Hicks, one could respond that He abstains from action in order to teach people a lesson and allow them to build their character. But this seems to be inefficient. If God is omnipotent then He should have been powerful and intelligent enough to provide humans with free will, the ability to learn from our mistakes, and still been able to create a world where feedback could be made available. This would in turn hopefully prevent evil from occurring. One would hope that there is a better way teach people morality without giving allowing for all the consequences of evil.
It can be argued that good cannot exist without evil or that evil is needed as a counterpart to good. This can be seen as a way to solve the problem of evil. It does this by setting a limit as to God’s capabilities, implying that God cannot create good without also creating evil at the same time. However, this means that God is not omnipotent. Or there is a limit as to what an omnipotent thing can do, which contradicts the very meaning of omnipotent. This goes back to the very idea that maybe God doesn’t exist if he isn’t all powerful. Thus leading to people beginning to question their faith yet again. Good and evil are not able to eliminate another once and for all. You need good in the world to know what the evil is and you need the evil in the world to be able to see all of the good. One could never eliminate the other because there would always be people that would still be doing good acts or evil acts. You need to have one in order to have the other. Without that, it couldn’t even be considered absolute. It would just be the new normal. Additionally, according to Mackie this solution is implausible because he rejects the claim that any quality must have a counterpart. Mackie contends that if an entity is bigger than another entity then there also has to be an entity that is smaller than that entity. But then this would mean that good and evil are not opposed because good does not try to eliminate evil to its greatest ability, but instead needs it. In conclusion, it can be seen that the free will argument is the most plausible response for defending the omnipotence and morally perfect characteristics of God in the presence of evil. It is better that God created free beings who sin than humans who mechanically do good as a result of determinism. It keeps balance in the world. By having free will humans can exercise their freedom and work towards bettering themselves and engage in soul building. The free-will defense comes with issues such as the claim that an omnipotent God could have done better in creating a world with less suffering.
However, I accept these issues because one truly does not know God’s motivations and the best possible world. How is one to say that this isn’t the best possible world? Although we can conceive of a greater possible world, truly there is no way of knowing.
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