Tag Archives: questions about God and evil

God, Guns and an Evil World

On June 6th, 2013 Chris Zawahri killed his father and brother in their own house. After setting that home and corpses inside ablaze the 23 year old walked the sun-drenched streets of Santa Monica, California with a .44-caliber handgun that had been in his family for years, and Santa Monica Shooting - Students - USA Today Imagesan AR-15 type rifle, clad in body armor and an intent that can only be described as evil.[1] He opened fire randomly at passing cars, wounding drivers, eventually taking one woman hostage while carjacking her.[2] Mr. Zawahri made his way to Santa Monica College where the shooting continued. Reports are starting to shed light on this very scary and dark event, one that took the life of at least five, two of the victims a father and daughter.  During a time when most college campuses are preparing to celebrate a graduating class, this years celebration will also be a memorial.[3]

On December 14th, 2012 a young man took his mother’s Bushmaster riffle and while she was sleeping pulled the trigger at point-blank range, killing her instantly. From there the young man drove to a nearby elementary school in the Sandy Hook community of Newtown,Sandy Hook Shooting - Angels - Episcopal Digital Network Connecticut armed with that Bushmaster XM-15 rifle, a Glock 20 SF handgun, a SIG Sauer handgun, and a loaded shotgun.[4] He entered the school around 9:35 AM by blasting his way with the high-powered rifle through the locked front doors. Once inside Sandy Hook elementary school 21-year-old Adam Lanza went from classroom to classroom, murdering any and all he saw. When this tragic day was over 27 people lay dead in that school including Mr. Lanza who took his own life, along with six faculty members and 20 children, most of which were kindergarteners.[5]

These events have intensified a debate that’s been raging for years.[6] The debate as reported by blog sites and major media outlets has mainly focused on gun control legislation and the availability of medical help for the mentally ill.[7] But are the answers we are really looking for wrapped up in these and the other topics that rule the media’s attention? Some have been writing in recognition of another topic all together, something much more pervasive. While still treated peripherally these events have reminded us that we are surrounded by evil. And as such other questions have been asked, questions that are usually for the theologically minded and relegated to the “Religion” section of the paper, if included at all. “Where was God?” and “How could God allow such a thing to happen?” are two of the more popular. When events such as the most recent ones in Santa Monica and Newtown take place we are often left wondering these and other questions. Often in the midst of tragedies people have difficulty understanding them in context of the existence of God, for many these questions serve as an objection to God’s existence. In fact this is one of the most popular objections to God, known as “The Problem of Evil.” Dr. Keith Yandell writes, “The existence of evil is the most influential consideration against the existence of God.”[8] Below I hope to explore the problem of evil by first discussing the existence of evil. The problem itself is actually made up of two sub-problems, the intellectual problem of evil and the emotional problem of evil. For our purposes here we will only be discussing the intellectual problem of evil. At the conclusion of our discussion we will see that this problem is not a problem for the theist at all and it is quite the opposite actually.

Evil - 123rf

“The fact is that there is evil in the world…”[9] This is something that is clear to us all; it’s considered brute or basic knowledge. The events discussed above serve as evidence that evil exists. We often ignore evil, having become desensitized to it; that is until a man murders 26 innocent people, most of them children or he walks the streets of a wealthy suburb randomly shooting innocent human beings. Then we are jostled and shaken, as if being awakened from a sleep or trance to a cruel truth. Evil exists. Greg Stier, a contributor to the Christian Post writes, “What happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School was at a level of malevolence beyond any earthly explanation or solution.”[10] About the Sandy Hook shooting Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy said, “Evil visited this community today.”[11]

Sam Harris, outspoken critic of religion and prolific atheistic author gives his own example of what evil is in a Huffington Post article,

Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture, and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of six billion human beings.[12]

Atheist William Rowe, professor emeritus of philosophy at Purdue affirms the existence of evil, “Intense human and animal suffering, for example, occurs daily and in great plentitude in our world. Such suffering is a clear case of evil.”[13] In that same publication Paul Draper, who is quite well regarded in the area of the evidential argument of evil and also at Purdue equates evil with pain and defines it as “physical or mental suffering of any sort.”[14] The Psalmists writes “Evils have encompassed me without number.”[15] Jeremiah pleads, “Why is my pain unceasing, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?”[16] And Saint Paul tells us “the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now.”[17]

It is evidentially clear that evil exists but what exactly is “evil”? The dictionary definition of evil is “morally reprehensible, sinful, wicked.” We will use this definition as we explore the problem of evil. At this point it is important to note that the burden of proof here in the logical problem of evil rests on the skeptic being that this argument is supposed to be a positive argument for the non-existence of God. It is up to the skeptic to lay out an argument that concludes with “Therefore, God does not exist.”[18] With that let us examine the most often used argument against God.

The Intellectual Problem of Evil

Yandell plainly explains the intellectual problem as such, “That there is evil seems to many a feature of the world that God would not have allowed. Thus they argue that since evil does exist, God does not.”[19] The intellectual problem of evil itself has two lines of argumentation.The Problem of Evil The first is the logical argument from evil, which asserts that it is logically impossible for God and evil to exist. The second way the intellectual problem of evil is expressed is known as the evidential argument of evil and tries to show that it is highly improbable that God and evil exist. We will begin by exploring the first of these, the logical argument from evil.

The Logical Argument from Evil

The logical Argument is usually presented in the following format:

O1. An omnipotent God exists.

O2. An omniscient God exists.

O3. An omnibenevolent God exists.

E4. However, evil exists.

G. Therefore God does not exist.[20]

This problem as stated relies on the notion that it is logically impossible for an all-powerful, all knowing and all-loving God to exist while evil also exists. The skeptic reasons that either God is not O1, O2 and/or O3, given that evil exists, or evil would not exist. Since evil clearly exists (as we have seen), God, as according to traditional monotheism, does not exist.

But why think that O1, O2 and O3 are inconsistent with the existence of evil? This is where the skeptic must own the burden of proof; it is up to them to show that there is a contradiction between them. But there is no explicit contradiction here; that is, one statement is not the opposite of the others. In order for this argument to follow logically the skeptic must bring to the table at least two hidden assumptions,

O4. If God is O1, He can create any world He wants.

O5. If God were O3, He would prefer a world without evil.[21]

In light of these two hidden assumption the argument is that an all powerful and all-loving God could and would want to create a world without suffering. Therefore, it follows that because there is suffering in the world (E4) God does not exist (G). However, for this argument to follow logically the atheist must now show that O4 and/or O5 are necessarily true, a task they cannot accomplish.[22] In order for the skeptic to show O4 and/or O5 to be necessarily true there must not be any logical exceptions to them. In other words to show either or both of the premises false all one must do is provide a possible scenario that would show that God, while being all-powerful could not create any world he wants.

Is O4 (if God is omnipotent he can create any world He wants.) necessarily true? Not in a world in which God created people with free will! It would be logically impossible to create a free people and then force them to do or not to do anything against that free will. This would be the equivalent of having a married bachelor or a four-sided triangle. God, in his omnipotence cannot create illogical impossibilities. On this very subject William Lane Craig writes,

If people have free will, they may refuse to do what God desires. So there will be any number of possible worlds that God cannot create because the people in them wouldn’t cooperate with God’s desires. In fact, for all we know, it’s possible that in any world of free persons with as much good as this world there wouldn’t also be as much suffering. This conjecture need not be true or even probable, but so long as it’s even logically possible it shows that it is not necessarily true that God can create any world that He wants.[23]

In light of this it is clear that O4 is not necessarily true. What about O5, “If God were all-loving, He would prefer a world without suffering.” Is this necessarily true? This premise is easier to navigate for the simple reason that we can all imagine situations in which the allowance of suffering or evil can bring about a greater good. Garret DeWeese rightly points out that when answering this question we are not attempting to show what God’s actual reasons are for allowing evil, this would be equivalent to claiming to be omniscient. We are only showing that there are possible reasons for God to allow evil while remaining all loving and it would seem quite simple to imagine a world in which God could have reasons for allowing evil.[24]

If you are a parent then you have real-life experiences where allowing pain or suffering (evil) accomplishes a greater good, and done so out of love. I have two little girls and a third on the way; just yesterday we brought our youngest to the doctor where blood needed to be drawn, this caused pain to Phoebe but the results from the blood work will hopefully give the doctors clues as to what might help her. Out of our love we allowed our daughter to experience an evil in the hopes of a greater good being accomplished. Similarly God could have perfectly good reasons for allowing evil while loving us perfectly!

The free will defense can also be applied to O5. Given free will it may simply be impossible for an all-loving God to eliminate evil. As a point of fact the free will defense has been astonishingly successful throughout the history of philosophy. So much so that philosophers no longer believe the logical problem of evil exists. “No one can disprove God’s existence by the logical problem of evil.”[25] In conclusion, the skeptic simply cannot stand under the weight of the burden of proof assumed by his hidden assumptions. “It’s widely admitted by both atheist and Christian philosophers alike that the logical version of the problem suffering [evil] has failed.”[26]

The Evidential Argument from Evil

We have seen that the logical argument from evil for atheism fails but the evidential argument from evil is another challenge to theism within the larger context of the intellection problem of evil. The evidential argument from evil, unlike the logical argument, does not contend that there is a logical contradiction between the existence of God and evil. Instead the argument tries to prove that it is improbable that God would exist in light of the evil in the world. William Rowe expresses the evidential argument from evil as,

1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without therefore losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad.

2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.

3. There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.[27]

In his discussion of this argument Rowe uses an example of a fawn burned in a forest fire stated by natural causes (an example of natural evil). In this example the fawn not only dies but also suffers for five days without anyone ever knowing. Rowe concludes that this is an example of a sentient being suffering unnecessarily without any good that could offset that suffering. As a result it is more probable than not that God does not exist.[28]

Rowe's Problem of Evil - Wikipedia

Simply put Rowe says that [1] it would seem that there is no justifying reason for God to permit certain evils. [2] Therefore, it is “probably true” that there is no justifying reason for God to permit certain evils. He follows that if [2] is correct then it is probably true that the God of traditional monotheism does not exist. This reasoning seems true; if you or I search exhaustively for a reason to justify a certain evil and come up with nothing, it would be logical to conclude that there is more likely than not any justification for the evil done.

However Rowe does not go unchallenged. Dr. Gregory Ganssle of the Rivendell Institute approaches Rowe from the position that Rowe’s “grounds are insufficient for thinking that it is probably true that there is no justifying reason for God to allow the particular evil.”[29] This objection is based upon the notion that going from “seems” to “probably true” is a weak inference, and quite a jump in reasoning.

In order to see how Rowe’s argument breaks down we have to understand what kind of inference he is asking us to make. For example, “It seems as though there is no B-52 bomber in my dining room, therefore, probably there is no B-52 in my dining room,” is an example of a strong inference. It is reasonable for me to look up from my computer and see that there is no B-52 in my dining room, and then infer that there probably isn’t one. However not all inferences are equal. For example, “It seems as though there are no radio waves in my dining room, therefore, there probably are no radio waves in my dining room,” is a weak inference. Anyone can see the difference between these two examples; one is more reasonable than the other.

Ganssle uses the statement, “If there were a X, we would probably know it.” to test whether an inference is strong or weak.[30] The weaker the inference the less likely it is to be true. Going back to our examples, replace the “X” with “B-52 bomber” results in a statement that is true because we would see it. Replacing the “X” with “radio waves” we get a false statement because even if there were radio waves in this room we would not see them.

So, is God’s allowing some certain evil event akin to a B-52 or a radio wave? The statement we must test as true or not is, “If God had a justifying reason to allow a particular case of evil, we would probably know what it is.”[31] When phrased like this it is clear that we should know God’s justification for certain evil events, but there are other events that we would not and should not know God’s justification for. To claim otherwise would be to claim to be omniscient. Remember, we are not trying to ascertain the actual reasons for God to allow an evil event but instead we are trying to determine whether it is reasonable to think that there are justifiable reasons for God to allow that evil event.

Looking at most evils in the world it would be fair to conclude that there are justifiable reasons for God to allow them. In other words often times good can come from evil, even if we aren’t privy to that good in the midst of the evil. This can be said about most evils; good can and often does come from them. Greg Koukl, in his article A Good Reason for Evil says,

“It’s not good to promote evil itself, but one of the things about God is that He’s capable of taking a bad thing and making good come out of it. Mercy is one example of that. Without sin there would be no mercy. That’s true of a numbr of good things: bearing up under suffering, dealing with injustice, acts of heroism, forgiveness, long-suffering. These are all virtues that cannot be experienced in a world with no sin and evil.”[32]

But what about an event like the Santa Monica shooting? Or the shooting at the elementary school in Sandy Hook, CT? As far as I can tell there is no good reason for God to have allowed those people to die in this manner. However, this does not mean that it is more likely than not that God does not have a justifiable reason. Actually I would conclude that if God exists there should be certain parts of reality that we would not understand due to them being beyond our grasp. If God exists I would expect a certain amount of mystery in any number of life’s experiences. In sum Ganssle writes,

The fact that there is mysterious evil is just what we would expect if there were a God… If this is about what we should expect, it cannot be counted as evidence against God’s existence. So even though it might seem, at first glance, that there are no good reasons to allow certain evils we see, this does not provide strong evidence that these evils are really unjustified. The evidential argument from evil, then, does not make it likely that God does not exist.[33]

Contrary to what the skeptic thinks it has become clear that instead of providing evidence against God’s existence, evidential argument from evil actually provides evidence for His existence. The fact that we cannot find justifiable reasons for God to allow all the evil in the world is exactly what we should expect if there were an omniscient, omnibenevolent, omnipotent and omnipresent deity.

Conclusion

Above we have explored only one of the arguments employed by atheists and other skeptics to prove that God does not exist. We have seen that their arguments fail for a number of reasons and for these reasons and others too it is “dubious that the existence of evil is in fact evidence against the existence of God.”[34]As a matter of fact we have seen that their arguments actually point to the existence of a Being that is consistent with traditional monotheism.

With that we have also seen that no matter the merits of the argument or the debate that is had, evil is real. Many times, and often in theThoreau Quote wake of tremendous evils such as public shootings it becomes clear that many do not take seriously the fact that evil is all around us. Going further and from a survey of headlines by major media outlets and what our politicians have to say about such events many do not take seriously the fact that there is only one solution to evil, and more legislation on this or less legislation on that with more social programs is not it. The solution is found nowhere but in God. It is becoming clear that the further away from God we move the more frequent these evil’s will become. Henry David Thoreau is credited with saying “For every thousand hacking at the leaves of evil one strikes at the root.” Throughout human history there has only been one person who has been successful at striking the root of evil and that is Jesus Christ. And that we will have to discuss at a later time.


[1] Robin Abcarian, Jessica Garrison, Martha Grove (June 10, 2013). “Santa Monica Shooter’s background steeped in trauma, violence”. LA Times (http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-0611-santa-monica-shooting-20130611,0,1490078.story)

[2] John Bacon (June 10, 2013). “Santa Monica shootings claim fifth victim”. USA Today (http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2013/06/09/santa-monica-shooting-john-zawahri/2405015/)

[3] (June 11, 2013). “Santa Monica College To Celebrate Graduation, Remember Shooting Victims In Dual Ceremony”. CBSLA (http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/06/11/santa-monica-college-to-celebrate-graduation-remember-shooting-victims-in-dual-ceremony/)

[4] Steve Almasy (December 19, 2012). “Newtown shooter’s guns: What we know”. (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/18/us/connecticut-lanza-guns/index.html accessed Dec. 19. 2012)

[5] Richard Esposito, Candace Smith, Christina NG (December 14, 2012). “20 Children Died in Newtown, Conn., School Massacre”. AP. ABC News. (http://abcnews.go.com/US/twenty-children-died-newtown-connecticut-school-shooting/story?id=17973836#.UOIAHEKhosk accessed on Dec. 17, 2012).

[6] James Barron (December 14, 2012). “Nation Reels After Gunman Massacres 20 Children at School in Connecticut.” The New York Times. (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/15/nyregion/shooting-reported-at-connecticut-elementary-school.html?_r=0 accessed Dec. 17, 2012).

[7] CNN Editorial Staff (December 14, 2012). “After school shooting, how do we stop the violence?” CNN. (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/14/us/school-shooting-violence-irpt/index.html accessed Dec. 17, 2012)

[8] Keith E. Yandell. Philosophy of Religion: A contempary introduction (New York: Routledge, 2004), 124 -125.

[9] Keith E. Yandell. 125. [Just: Ibid., 125]

[10] Greg Stier (December 27, 2012). “Gun Control Is Not the Answer.” The Christian Post Online. (http://www.christianpost.com/news/gun-control-is-not-the-answer-87291/ accessed Dec. 19, 2012)

[11] Susan Candiotti, Chelsea Carter (December 15, 2012). “‘Why? Why?’: 26 dead in elementary school massacre.” CNN. (http://edition.cnn.com/2012/12/14/us/connecticut-school-shooting/index.html accessed Dec. 17, 2012).

[12] Sam Harris (October 6, 2005). “There is No God (And You Know It.” Huffington Post. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sam-harris/there-is-no-god-and-you-k_b_8459.html? accessed on Dec. 13, 2012).

[13] William L. Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” In Philosophy of Religion: A Reader Guide, ed. William Lane Craig (Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, NJ, 2002), 318.

[14] Ibid, Paul Draper, “Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists,” 329.

[15] Psalm 40:12, RSV.

[16] Jeremiah 15:8, RSV.

[17] Romans 8:22, RSV.

[18] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending your faith with reason and precision (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010), 153.

[19] Yandell, Philosophy of Religion, 125.

[20] Garrett DeWeese, “Solving the Problem of Evil.” Biola University recorded lecture series.

[21] Craig, On Guard, 155.

[22] Necessarily true statements are statements that cannot be untrue in any situation. Logical truths are widely agreed to by necessarily true statements across religious and philosophical spectrums.

[23] Craig, On Guard, 156.

[24] DeWeese, “Solving the Problem of Evil” Biola Lecture series.

[25] DeWeese, “Answering the Problem of Evil.” Biola lecture series.

[26] Craig, On Guard, 157.

[27] William L. Rowe, “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” In Philosophy of Religion: A Reader Guide, ed. William Lane Craig (Rutgers University Press: New Brunswick, NJ, 2002), 318.

[28] Ibid, 320-322.

[29] Gregory Ganssle, A Reasonable God: Engaging the New Face of Atheism (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2009), 157.

[30] Ibid, 158.

[31] Ibid, 158.

[33] Ibid, 159.

[34] Yandell, Philosophy of Religion, 161.

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