Possible Answers to The Problem of Evil

There has been a problem that has plagued theologians for the last two thousand years; it is called The Problem of Evil.

The problem can be summed up the following question; “How can a Perfect God and an Imperfect Universe both exist?”.

There have been many answers to this, with no means for anyone alive today to prove or disprove any of them while remaining alive, and the answer someone chooses ends up telling a lot about that person. Most people combined the following Theodicies, while others only need one.

Here’s a list of all of them. It’s by no means comprehensive, and I will add more after the fact if anyone points out one I forgot. But first definitions!

Perfect God = when someone describes God as being perfect, they usually visualize God having three attributes. These are Omnipotence (this means God is all powerful), Omnipresence (this means God is all knowing), and Omnibenevolence (this means God is all-good).

Evil = Evil is divided into two types. There is human evil (which includes things like genocide, sex-slavery, sadism, and other wrongdoings caused by others) and there is physical evil (hurricanes, famines, brain cancer, miscarriages, and other types of suffering that no human really caused or could have prevented). If it involves suffering in life, then it is considered an evil.

  1. A perfect God can’t exist

This argument is not a theodicy, as it does not try to reconcile a Perfect God with an Imperfect Universe.
Some argue that the existence of evil is the result of God being imperfect. Perhaps God, they argue, did not account for everything (meaning he isn’t all-knowing) or perhaps God is not powerful enough to prevent evils (meaning he isn’t all-powerful) or perhaps God is simply does not care about humans enough to prevent evils (meaning he isn’t all-good).
Some take this even further and argue that God must not exist to begin with. You can see this whenever somebody in mourning or in outrage asks “What God would allow this?!?”.

  1. Spiritual Training

This argument states that God allows evil in the world because it makes those who endure such evils stronger and more compassionate as human beings. This can be seen in people who turn to prayer when faced with their mortality, or when brought to their lowest. Very often, when someone is made to suffer, he or she is better able to sympathize with others in that situation and will therefore be more compassionate.

Without poverty there could be no Mother Teresa. Without imperialism there could be no Gandhi or George Washington. Without racism there could be no Reverend King or Nelson Mandela. Without Polio there would be no Jonas Salk. Without injustice there would be nobody to fight against it. Suffering breeds heroism.

  1. Free Will

This argument states that God allows evil in the world because that is the price for giving humanity free will. If God forced everyone to only do good things, or if he only gave free will to righteous people, then all of those good deeds would be meaningless. A good deed means all that much more when the person doing it also had the option to do a bad deed but chose the former instead.

This can also be used to explain natural evils; do you blame God for creating the tectonic plates in such a way that they caused the killer earthquake, or do you blame city hall for never holding builders to a quality standard that would eliminate earthquake casualties?

  1. Perspective

This argument states that God allows evil in the world so that we might have some perspective to better appreciate the good in the world. We protect precious things because we know that not doing so will make them a target for chance and malice. If we knew precious things will NEVER be at risk, then we would have no reason to protect them and we would take them for granted and they would cease to be valuable to us.

  1. Silver Linings

This argument states that every bad thing that happens results in a good thing happening too, leading to a net positive. It’s often phrased “everything happens for a reason”.

The guy killed in a mine collapse was prompted to pray sincerely in his last moment, giving him a chance to be forgiven before death and to enter an Eternal Paradise he might have otherwise been barred from. The man who survived being interned in a death camp ends up being a champion of human rights. The woman who got pregnant from being raped ended up giving birth to a boy who grows up to cure AIDS.

Some go even further and argue that the world we live in now is the BEST POSSIBLE WORLD, and that any change would make things worse. Events like the Cuban Missile Crisis could be used to support this.

This argument often goes hand-in-hand with #2, when the reason for a bad thing happening is that it leads to the victim becoming a better person.

  1. Punishments

This argument, often described as “karma” or “what goes around comes around”, is the belief that bad things don’t happen to people because those people did something to deserve it.

The runner who lost his legs in an accident was being punished for his pride. The woman who had a heart attack at the store was being punished for skipping church.

This argument is unpopular today, as it suggests that sufferers of misfortune shouldn’t be sympathized with. It was more popular in the Middle Ages it was quite popular, and it is how European Christians explained the near-apocalyptic Black Death.

  1. Test of Faith

This argument states that God allows bad things to happen to good people to test whether or not they still believe in God in times of trial.

The Book of Job is one example of this in action; Job was a righteous man when he was prosperous, so God allowed Satan to take away his prosperity to see if Job remained righteous.

Let me know if you believe or don’t believe any of these, or if you have any theodicies I forgot.

I wrote this essay about 3 years ago, it is relevant to your essay as well. My favorite is the argument from the principle of double effect. I think it is very powerful and could be a good supplement to your arguments.

4 Catholic Responses to the Problem of Evil

The problem of evil is often pressed this way:

Premise 1. If God is all-knowing, He must know about suffering.
Premise 2. If God is all-good, He must want to eliminate all suffering.
Premise 3. If God is all-powerful, He must be able to eliminate all suffering.
Premise 4. Yet suffering remains.
Conclusion. Therefore, one of the premises must be false: God either doesn’t know about it, or He does know about it but doesn’t want to stop it (which would be bad), or He wants to stop it, but can’t.

Major premise. If God doesn’t know something, isn’t all good, or can’t do something, then he isn’t God.
Minor premise. But one of those must be true, from the previous conclusion.
Conclusion. Therefore, there is no God.

There are several possible responses to this argument, and I like the ones that focus on premises 2 and 3.

Re: premise 2, we can argue that God can be all good and permit suffering if there are morally sufficient reasons for permitting it. One way to do this is by arguing that suffering is not inherently evil but can be good, if it points us to God. Under this argument, being comfortable is not the maximum good, but being united to God is, and therefore suffering can be permitted if it helps lead people to God.

Another way to show that God has sufficient reasons for permitting evil is by analyzing the existence of evil through the principle of double effect. The principle of double effect is formulated as follows:

An act which results in both good and bad effects is only justifiable…

…if the act itself is either good in itself or morally neutral;
…if the good result is not directly caused by the bad result;
…if the evil result is tolerated, not desired; and
…if the foreseen good outweighs the foreseen evil.

Under this analysis, God freely acts to create free human beings. This action is good in itself, but the result is mixed because people sometimes abuse their freedom by doing evil instead of good. Nonetheless, the good of freedom is not caused by our abuse of that freedom, and the abuse is tolerated by God, not desired. The gift of free will also outweighs the evils that are sometimes committed through it, and thus God is justified in giving us free will.

I’ve also seen arguments that emphasize that the properties of the universe logically must be able to have both good and bad effects; the fire that warms must also be able to burn, for example; and thus the principle of double effect is used to judge that creating a world with the potential for natural disasters, etc., is justifiable because there are also good effects, which outweigh the bad effects, and the bad effects are neither intended, nor are they the direct cause of the good effects. I have seen this argument defended by Dinesh D’Souza and C.S. Lewis.

Re: Premise 3, God can be all powerful and yet be unable to put an end to suffering if doing so involves causing a contradiction. Alvin Plantinga argues that putting an end to suffering does involve a contradiction unless you remove free will and the presence of good actions, because you cannot both endow humans with free will and at the same time prevent them from causing suffering. Under this analysis, God wills to create a world where men do good actions; if He creates a world where only good actions are possible, then that is not a free world; but if He removes freedom, then good actions are not possible. (Love can’t be forced.) If God wants us to do good actions, therefore, there is only one way to bring that about, and that is to create a world with free will and let some of us choose to do good or some of us not. Under that scenario, God’s will (that man do good) is fulfilled, and God remains all powerful.

So those are four logical ways to debunk the argument from evil: the argument that suffering isn’t inherently evil, the argument that free will is so good that it justifies creating it even though it will sometimes be abused, the argument that creation, though imperfect, is so good that God is justified in creating it even with defects, and the argument that a free world without the possibility of evil would be a contradiction and God can’t create a contradiction.

How about the explanation of the rebellious angels, and what God gives He does not take back.

So, He allows them to tempt us, so that we, in our fallen nature, can respond to His grace and grow in His love, and become sanctified.

We have all the means to do that…prayer, sacraments, good works, inspirations of our guardian angels, etc.

I know that is really the short answer to the problem of evil, but it is the basic one!

God is All Good, All Knowing, etc…but He is Just & Fair. This means He doesn’t force anyone to follow Him. God will give humans time to change their evil ways. eg. Adam & Eve.

There’s another solution not touched on. God is all-powerful. That means God can do all possible things. That doesn’t include God doing impossible things (like making a three sided square, or making it pour down rain while making it not rain at all in the same place at the same time). Having a physical world with creatures with free will cannot simultaneous exist without suffering. Therefore, not creating such a world is not proof that God lacks either the power of the will to make a better world.

CS Lewis’ The Problem of Pain deals with all this masterfully.

There is a problem with the “problem of evil” discussion.

There is no “problem of good” talked about. Why is that?
Serious question.

Looking at this from the non-religious point of view:

Life happens.
People have pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow, life and death, happiness and sadness. All of these are experienced in every life without exception, in unique ways.
And we are obsessed with finding an answer to only half of life, as if we live two lives. One half we will ignore and the evil part we will rail against.
That seems to me a blindness that obscures the truth. It’s a blindness that seeks a preconceived notion of God. It’s not a holistic view of life and reality.

Why is there not a problem of good?

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