The Problem of Evil


Apparently, the topic of evil never seems to get old for some people. There have been a number of posts recently with the same old issues, with no real answers. So let’s try and break it down.

The arguments about evil usually center around why evil exists. After all, Christianity says that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent. Atheists usually surface this issue in an attempt to disprove God, as if you could ever prove a negative. Deists, on the other hand, occasionally dip their toes into these treacherous waters in attempt to silence the skeptics, of which I am certainly one. For example, one Christian website had this to say about evil: “Some day God will ultimately and finally overcome evil entirely.” Wow, is about all I can say.

The use of logic is typically in the forefront in trying to resolve this issue one way or another. The concern with logic is that one has to use their brain to solve this riddle. Problem is, the brain is hardly an ingenious work of creation, especially since man’s DNA has been genetically manipulated to produce a dumbed-down species. This is the meaning behind the story in Genesis 2 whereby God restricts man’s access to the Tree of Life (which symbolically is the double-helix structure of our DNA).

The bottom line is that man doesn’t know what he doesn’t know.  Just ask Socrates. Intellectuals are sometimes their own worst enemy in this regard. For example, because they are smarter than the vast majority of people, they mistake this for actually being intelligent. Unlike Socrates, they don’t realize how little they really know. Case in point is world-renown physicist Stephen Hawking who said that, “One can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but science makes God unnecessary.”

So this time, the Wow Award goes to Hawking. You see, Hawking, an atheist, admits that one can’t prove that God doesn’t exist. Actually, props for that although he took a certain amount of flak from some of his peers for making such a statement. Then the zinger – science makes God unnecessary. From a somewhat uninterested third party, I’m stunned that Hawking would make such a statement. For sure, Hawking understands that science cannot observe what exists outside space and time. What the world is then left with, if we were to follow Hawking’s line of thinking, is that man should abandon any belief in a Creator despite the limitations of science in that regard. Actually, I think what Hawking is really suggesting is that we should make him God, instead. Who does he think he is anyway, a celebrity? Well, yes, now that they’ve turned his life story into a movie which was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars.

This whole problem of evil is a red herring to some extent. It presupposes that God is omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent and it also assumes that evil is always a bad thing. Perhaps, worst of all, the problem of evil hinges on the many assumptions concerning any definition of God. After all, how could we ever know what God is like?

To you theists, please don’t say the Bible because in the Old Testament God walks, talks, is seen by various people, wrestles with Jacob and physically kills people.  Totally contrary to that, the God of the New Testament is invisible, is spirit and, as John says, no one has ever seen God!  Under those circumstances, any biblical definitions are rendered meaningless, especially the concepts of omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence.

To you atheists, please don’t say that science can tell us because science, by definition, requires observation and measurement.  So observation and measurement of Intelligent Design are out of the question.  Therefore, the atheists opposition to intelligent design is not scientific, rather it’s a form of religion.

It’s interesting that the focal point of the theists vs atheists debates centers on Christianity. So, for example, why don’t the atheists attack another religion, say Buddhism, similarly? The answer is that Epicurus’ logic problem won’t work on Buddhism. So it’s expedient, even necessary, to single out Christianity in order to try and win the debate. I’d give them a Wow Award right here except for one thing – it’s a brilliant strategy. However, I defy anyone to prove to me what evil is. Who’s to say that evil isn’t really a necessity of Creation. In other words, how would you know what good is without also experiencing evil?

So the discussion about evil has to, at some point, also encompass morality. This one is kind of a sticky wicket, so to speak. What is good and what is evil, and how do you define either? There are all sorts of opinions concerning the question of morality, but two that I’ve always liked are as follows:

  • Jean Paul Sartre, an atheist, said that since there was no God, man has no standard of human behavior (moral values) and without any such values man’s actions cannot be judged to be either right or wrong.  For example in Existentialism is a Humanism, Sartre agreed with Dostoevsky that “If God does not exist, everything is permitted.” (fromThe Brothers Karamazov)
  •  Douglas Wilson, a Christian theologian, said that, “If there is no God, then all abstractions are chemical epiphenomena, like swamp gas over fetid water. This means that we have no reason for assigning truth and falsity to the chemical fizz we call reasoning or right and wrong to the irrational reaction we call morality….”  

One of the reasons that I picked those two opinions is that they are from totally contrary belief systems and yet they have a certain commonality between them. However, they are, after all, only two opinions.

Of course, the public debate over the concept of evil is only possible because of what I call the morass of Christian theology. I say morass because I’m not exactly sure what Christianity is. If you were to ask a Catholic, a Mormon and a Fundamentalist, I suspect that you might get three totally different answers; even their holy books are different. However, since the debate over evil includes a Christian definition of God, as being omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent, I will likewise dip my toes into those same treacherous waters.

So at the risk of offending many of my Christian friends, I’ll try to explain the omnipotent, omniscient and omnipresent conundrum, as follows:

If God is an infinite being, then he could not be omnipotent, omniscient or omnipresent. Those are attributes of a finite being (like man). In any event, even if God had the capability of somehow being omniscient, there are many things stated in the Bible which indicate otherwise (e.g. see Genesis 3:8-13, Genesis 11:5, Genesis 18:20-21, Genesis 32:22-30, Job 1:7, 2:2).  However, the most obvious reason is the Genesis creation story where God saw that everything he created was good.  However, later in Genesis 6:5-7, God repented when he realized that man was not good so he decided to destroy him.  Obviously, an omniscient God would have no reason to repent for he would have known in advance how his creation would turn out.  Further, with that foreknowledge, God would not have created man in the first place.

So the Christian god of the Bible was not “omni” anything. Actually, he wasn’t even God. He was simply one of “The Gods That Never Were,” which is posted a few articles back. The gods of Genesis do have one claim to fame, though, in that they have genetically passed on to man a predisposition for evil. So, if you’re an atheist, it’s probably okay to blame “God” for evil. Of course, you wouldn’t be talking about a Prime Creator/First Cause since the debate over evil really only concerns the Christian god.  

The following comment from a forum on this topic kind of sums it up rather well, at least for me: “… Atheists in general require some proof or logical set of reasoning…whereas theists don’t – they simply ‘believe’.  Arguments boil down to people shouting ‘I need proof or I don’t believe’ at people shouting ‘I have faith, I don’t need proof.'”  While it’s true that any conversation  about God has to be governed, to some degree, by logic, it doesn’t mean that we could ever use logic to comprehend such a god.  Just ask Blaise Pascal. Since the laws of physics don’t apply beyond space and time, why do we arrogantly believe that logic in our world can determine what lies beyond space and time?

Obviously, you don’t have to agree with my take on this subject.  I’m just trying to be a mirror to let you see what Socrates saw. Simply, that man must begin any quest for knowledge by admitting his own ignorance.  In the final analysis, “faith” and “logic” are simply buzz words for not having to admit to one’s ignorance.


37 Responses to “The Problem of Evil”

  1. Fascinating read with an interesting perspective. What do you think about morality as it relates to religion? Can the two, at this point in history, be separated?

    • chicagoja said

      Thanks for commenting Jason. One of the things plaguing man in his attempt to evolve is cultural indoctrination. With respect to religion, almost all Saudis practice Islam, in China its Buddhism, in India Hinduism and so on. In short, the vast majority of people practice the religion of their parents. Under those circumstances, it will be difficult to separate religion and morality.

  2. jhanajian said

    A very interesting post. I disagree, however, with your definition of an atheist. Atheists are “believers,” just as theists are believers. Atheists have no more “proof” that god doesn’t exist than theists have proof that god does exist. Both are believers, and neither is “rational.” The only rational person is the agnostic, who doesn’t have a belief system either way, who simply admits that he doesn’t know.

    By the way, what is the movie that was made about Stephen Hawking?

    • chicagoja said

      Actually, We agree on that point as I mentioned that, “… the atheists opposition to intelligent design is not scientific, rather it’s a form of religion.”
      The Hawking movie is “The Theory of Everything.” Thanks for stopping by.

    • Have you ever seen that show Ancient Aliens? It suddenly occurs to me that the closest thing to real hard evidence anyone has about how we got here might actually be the alien crap. I’ve never believed in aliens, but it sure would explain a lot of the paranormal phenomena that seems so pervasive in ancient cultures.

      • chicagoja said

        I explore the extraterrestrial question often in my posts. A couple of recent articles that you might want to check out are “Will the Real God Please Stand Up,” The GodsThat Never Were,” and “The Genesis of Man.” Hope these articles make you even more curious to discover the truth.

      • I’ll have to give those a look. I spent some time reading about the nephilim from the Apocrypha as well. It’s all really interesting stuff. Another one of those things easily explained by big eyed little green men in snorkel masks.

      • chicagoja said

        If you haven’t already done so, I would highly recommend the Book of Enoch. Despite being referred to in the Bible as a great writing, it was banned from the Bible because it spoke the truth about man’s origins.

      • I actually had to order that, despite the fact I wanted it immediately and would have paid cover price at B & N. The details are intriguing…far too many to not be historically or at least culturally significant in some way. It’s also hard to identify a motive as religious propaganda.

        Particularly interesting was the report of mankind being taught a number of specific skill sets by particular named individuals.

      • chicagoja said

        You can find a much broader discussion of material somewhat similar to The Book of Enoch in the Seven Tablets of Creation, which is an ancient Sumerian text.

  3. I definitely agree with your point about indoctrination. I’ve listened to a few John Trudell monologues and he says some of the same things, calling it imprinting as opposed to indoctrination. Interesting guy with an interesting story.

  4. babarahs said

    Isn’t it FUN being OUT OF THE BOX….and you are. Love it….

    • chicagoja said

      Thanks for stopping by. Interestingly enough, if your perspective on life is from the inside of the box looking out, you don’t know that anything other than what’s in the box exists. So it’s very difficult to think outside the box unless you first realize that the box even exists. When your perspective is from the outside looking in, you can see what’s in the box and what’s outside of the box and you relate more to those things that are outside of the box.

  5. babarahs said

    I’m just smiling away….

  6. Arkenaten said

    It’s interesting that the focal point of the theists vs atheists debates centers on Christianity. So, for example, why don’t the atheists attack another religion, say Buddhism, similarly?

    Probably because, as you illustrate above, so much of religion is culturally based, so maybe there are atheists in India and China who are disputing with local religious communities?
    Probably not too many in places like Saudi or Iraq as this would not be a life-enhancing hobby or career choice.

    As the English-speaking world – and America – is generally of a Christian heritage, I suppose it’s only natural that atheists would direct their arguments largely toward Christianity ( as many were once Christian) and to a lessor degree Islam and Judaism.

    • chicagoja said

      Very possible Ark, but that doesn’t answer the question of why Buddhism is not a target (or so I’m told by some Buddhist friends). I believe that the Epicurus logic would not apply to their belief system. Any thoughts on that?

      • Arkenaten said

        Not a target from whom?

      • chicagoja said

        From atheists because of the Epicurus logic problem.

      • Arkenaten said

        Again, I think it is probably a culture thing, especially in our electronic age.
        If Buddhists were active in the same way militant muslims or fundamental christians are then maybe they would come under more scrutiny and challenges.

      • I agree with Arkenaten that the main reason Buddhists are not targeted is that they are not very relevant to America or the West, and are not trying to change public policies. It actually makes perfect sense that they would be left alone; because they leave everyone else alone.

        The second reason is that they have a pretty awesome moral system, are less dogmatic, and promote meditation. I am a fan of Buddhism, albeit not into the metaphysics which some groups still ascribe to.

  7. This is a interesting post. I take it you are a deist? I can appreciate deism, even though I don’t find it convincing personally. I like that you criticize both Christians and atheists here, as it makes for an interesting, semi-objective critique of both that could not come from a theist or atheist.

    I think the criticism of atheists here is valid in an absolutist sense. For instance, Hawking saying that the universe doesn’t need God is impossible to prove from as an absolute (since God is hypothetical.) However, in everyday language we do this all the time. What Hawking is saying is that there is no rational need for the God hypothesis knowing what we now know, and I’d imagine he is referring to any scientific necessity. I am not well educated on the science end so I can’t judge the quality of such a claim, but philosophically his point may still be valid. If you say that there is a need for the God hypothesis because of intuition, that is a personal matter and Hawking is focused on science in the public arena.

    Intelligent design would not be as big of an issue with scientists if Christians weren’t trying to teach it in schools. Once a group wants to start teaching something to our children, they should expect criticism.

    Philosophically, the intelligent design argument is vulnerable to counter-example. If we can hypothesize about a creator, why stop there? Why not hypothesize anything else? Why not hypothesize that the universe has always existed in some form? It seems equally valid to suggest that as it is to suggested a deity as the uncaused first cause.

    When you say that ‘science can only measure within time and space,’ that is true. But how do you know that anything exists beyond time and space? It seems equally valid for me to say that nothing exists beyond time and space, or that if there is we couldn’t know about it as human beings.

    For pragmatic purposes we have to limit ourselves to those things within time and space until we actually discover that there is anything beyond time and space. Everything else is impossible to verify, and subject to the whims of the protaganist, who can hypothesize literally anything he desires to. To be consistent would be to accept all claims of anything as valid. But our starting point with hypotheses must be false until proven true if we are to live with any sanity. Therefore, I am an pragmatic atheist, while allowing for the philosophical truth of not knowing what I can’t know.

    As far as the moral arguments, I don’t think they hold as much weight as theists think they do. For instance, there is a decent explanation for moral behavior in evolutionary psychology (Franz de Waal for example). As social animals, we can only live together if there is some basic sort of understanding of what behaviors are harmful to our societies. So it seems morality can be explained.

    Then, when it comes to the prescriptive moral argument ‘you cannot get a ‘should’ from an is,’ I think the reason we should be moral is because it increases well being. Moral societies do better than ones where people kill each other at random. Our intuitions on morality can be backed up now with evidence when it comes to well-being. Theists often make the mistake of assuming that an egotistic philosophy of life is the only on which makes sense in an evolutionary paradigm (survival of the fittest,) but that’s just not true. We are social animals with social needs and desires to fit in. Even from an egotistic mindset one could infer that it is better for the self to treat others with respect, as they will usually do the same to you.

    Ultimately the moral issue is a red herring. And I would agree that the evil issue is also a red herring if used to disprove God’s existence. It can only be used to subjectively disprove God’s goodness, which in turn can be used to disprove biblical Christianity, which relies on a benevolent God.

  8. branchl77 said

    Great post and topic, you are providing a great service, at least to me. I do take exception to some of your definitions. “If God is an infinite being, then he could not be omnipotent, omniscient or omnipresent.” All-power, all-knowledge and all-presence is a very good description of infinite. We were also created in that image. Most of the time we take our point of view and our illusory perceptions of a limited finite person and give those attributes to God. However, the opposite is true as the Word states.
    When we understand infinite, which are the qualities of God, the problem of evil is solved because it becomes a non-problem. Jesus prayer in John 17:22 talks about our change in understanding as it relates to us being one with God or in unity with God. Jesus came to prove that very point. As the last Adam, He demonstrated the reality of being one with God in human form.
    Humans are obsessed with evil because it makes sense for it to stand alone from themselves (sanctified, righteous, Holy). If that is true then God also stands alone and we remain ever separate, until death. The best humans can do is manage good and evil because our premise of separation can achieve no other solution.
    For love to overcome evil Love must absorb it. In the end, there can only be one. In Christ, we take the first step as a concession to a reality built on a belief system. In true reality, Jesus did what He did because He and God were one. And the truth of matter is so can we. I am not there yet but I am on the way.

    • chicagoja said

      Thanks for commenting. Everyone has a different point of view and a different truth. Let me give you another perspective. The infinite, by definition, is beyond our ability to comprehend and does not necessarily have to be all-knowing and all-powerful. Those are man-made concepts which we ascribe to God because of our inability to truly understand him. With respect to good and evil, they are different aspects of God. We exist in a world of duality where something cannot exist unless its exact opposite also exists. There is no end to life – it’s infinite, like a circle with no beginning and no end. Like I said, just another perspective.

      • branchl77 said

        Thanks your comment on infinity has me doing a study on the subject of infinity. It is amazing the things we believe and the way we interpret scripture. I love seeing God through your eyes and heart. Keep up the good work.

  9. Really interesting post, and agreed, the problem of evil is no argument against the existence of a god, only a refutation of the “omni” god that most Christians claim.

    I feel like you came to an odd conclusion regarding intelligent design, however. You Stated:

    “To you atheists, please don’t say that science can tell us because science, by definition, requires observation and measurement. So observation and measurement of Intelligent Design are out of the question. Therefore, the atheists opposition to intelligent design is not scientific, rather it’s a form of religion.”

    The conclusion doesn’t seem to follow. From your premises I see:

    P1) Science, by definition, requires observation and measurement.
    P2) Observation and measurement of Intelligent Design are out of the question.
    C) Therefore, Intelligent Design is not science.

    And it is this point by which atheists (at least myself and those I have acquainted) object to Intelligent design being taught in a science class. If you want to cover it in a comparative religion class, great go for it.

    Having been raised as a young-earth creationist, it’s just a point of some personal interest, so wanted to reply.

    Keep writing! 🙂

    • chicagoja said

      Thanks for commenting. Some of my atheist friends like to believe that science disproves Intelligent Design. I was simply stating that science cannot prove, or disprove, the existence of God because it cannot observe or measure what lies outside of space and time. Therefore, any objection to Intelligent Design on scientific grounds is unscientific. Do you agree?

      • I would actually disagree, since in order to be an actual hypothesis Intelligent Design necessarily has to make claims and predictions about the physical world. If knowledge we have or discoveries made conflict with or outright contradict the claims of Intelligent Design, then absolutely science can disprove it.

        The existence of a god is a separate question.

      • chicagoja said

        The thing is that this isn’t some intellectual debate which might require that one define their position so that the opponent can try to refute it. Even if science could disprove certain claims, it doesn’t mean that your right, as the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. So when you are debating with a Christian about their god, if you refute their claims that doesn’t prove that God doesn’t exist, but rather that the Christian idea of God is invalid. I do love your thought process, though. Hope to hear from you again.

  10. Science is more than measurement and observation, although they are important. It is mainly abut an attempt to understand, and this requires the ability to form a conditional proposition, e.g. of the form, If I do A and if theory X is true, then I shall see observation O. You do the experiment, and the results either match the predicted observations or they do not. For that reason, science cannot say anything about religion because no person, by definition, can carry out experiments on God or the heavens/hell, or whatever. No scientist’s view on God is any better (or worse) than anyone else’s, although they should refrain from making outrageous statements, while using their scientific reputation to make the statement appear more reliable, such as, “There is no God”, because they have absolutely no evidence to substantiate that.

  11. bettejodux said

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  12. bettejodux said

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