Thursday, January 06, 2005

Why Does God Allow Evil?

Norm Weatherby writes:

Why Does God Allow Evil? Why not? Some people seem to get a big kick out of presupposing thoughts in God's head. God created the Universe and we are here.

BV: I get the impression that Norm doesn't appreciate the difficulty. Is it reasonable to believe that an all-good God created the universe given the vast amounts of natural and moral evil in it? If Hume and others are to be believed, the existence of evil entails the nonexistence of the classical 'tri-omni' God. The issue has to do with the rationality of theistic belief, not with "presupposing thoughts in God's head." For one thing, God does not have a head or a brain, and second, the people who argue from the existence of evil to the nonexistence of God are not trying to specify God's reasons for allowing evil: after all, they deny the existence of such a being.

There is a difference between specifying God's exact reasons for allowing evil and making a case that there must be some reasons or other for God's allowing evil. The first Plantinga calls a theodicy, the second a defense. If a theist cannot mount some kind of defense, by what right does he continue to indulge his belief in an omniqualified deity?

We all are mortal with a very limited lifespan. Mere micro seconds in the scheme of things. Actually far less. Everyone dies. What we do with our lives is up to us. You're constipated and it's God's fault? Give me a break here.

BV: Norm seems to think that people who raise questions about reconciling the fact of evil with the existence of a God of love are 'whining' and need to get a grip on themselves. But the people in question are not emoting but raising a serious logical/philosophical difficulty for theistic belief.

The Tsunami is "Evil"? How so? It's a natural phenomena. It's neutral in the good vs evil game. Lots of people who were eventually going to die, died. That's bad? Maybe inconvenient or sad for some. Hardly "evil".

BV: I think Norm is making a very common mistake here, that of identifying evil with moral evil. Yes, tsunamis and the like are natural phenomena: on the face of it, there are no free moral agents that bring them about. So, on the face of it, they cannot be said to be morally evil. That's why philosophers speak of natural evils. People who don't like this extension of the word 'evil' can use 'bad' or some other word. Isn't the excruciating agony caused by being crushed in a collapsing building bad? Is suffering neutral as between good and bad?

Think of one's own death or the death of a loved one. Are such events neutral, just natural phenomena? It is not at all obvious. I don't know if Norm is a Christian, but if he is, then he is at odds with his own tradition: for Christianity, death is an evil. Thomas Aquinas: "Of all human evils, death is the worst." (Quoted from Josef Pieper, Death and Immortality, Herder and Herder, 1969, p. 51.) On this whole question, Pieper's book is excellent.

Read the rest of Norm's post here.