Monday Morning Greetings 2017 #12 – The Problem of Evil

March 20th, 2017

Recently I became very interested in apologetics. Before I looked up the term it sounded like a group of people who just always say they are sorry and make excuses for themselves. Apologetics, however, from the Greek word “speaking in defense of”, is the rigorous discipline of defending or proving the truth of theism through systematic argumentation based on reason. In that regard, I am very inspired by the work of many profound modern day Christian apologists like William Lane Craig, John Lennox, and Alvin Platinga who publicly and successfully defend the existence of God from the modern onslaught of atheism.
 
Inspired by occasionally listening to their debates, I felt inspired for this Monday Morning Greetings to try my own hand at apologetics. Today I will try to defend the challenge that the existence of evil and suffering in the world are inconsistent with an omnibenevolent being, arguably the most confronting argument against the existence of God.
 
This is no doubt a very complex discussion. It will not be possible within the scope of this short column to do full justice from the standpoint of the academy, [1] but I am confident that I can share some good arguments on the matter, both from what I heard from the top apologists and also from what I have gathered by my own reasoning.
 
One of the most compelling arguments to help reconcile the existence of evil and a benevolent creator is the proof from the existence of evil itself. I first heard this argument from the life of the famous British novelist and Christian apologist, C.S. Lewis. He left Christianity at a young age after experiencing the hell and evil of war and later came back to Christianity when reflecting on the ontological basis of evil. His thoughts in this regard as related by Art Lindsley, one of the main scholars on his life:
 
“But, where had he gotten this idea of evil? He realized that his atheism provided no basis for it. Lewis could have said that his idea of evil was just his own private affair, but then his argument against God collapsed, too. Yet, if evil was real, then there must be an absolute standard by which it was known to be evil and an absolute good by which evil could be distinguished from good. Where could we get this infinite reference point, this fixed point above all our personal and cultural bias? Did that not demand a God as an adequate basis for absolute good? This was a first clue to the cosmos: evil was real.” [2]
 
In other words, the existence of evil shows that objective moral values exist, ideals that that are independent and transcendent to human opinion. For example, torturing babies is wrong. It is not evolutionary or culturally wrong. It is wrong beyond circumstance or time. It is wrong by basis of the very fabric of the universe. Thus modern atheism, which is reductionist and sees reality simply as a collection of causal random events has no basis for objective moral values and cannot be a reasonable explanation for the world. God is.
 
Again, it is beyond the scope in this short column to rigorously dissect all the subtleties of determinism at the basis of atheism, but it is safe to say that modern atheism robs one of free will and thus the moral responsibility of one’s actions. It is a view that even most atheists can’t in good conscience embrace, but is nonetheless the natural outcome of their worldview.
 
Sam Harris is arguably one of the most brilliant atheists publicly challenging theism. If you have time you can watch as he miserably fails again and again to directly answer William Lane Craig’s challenge to explain how atheism can serve as a foundation for morality.
 


 
Śrīla Prabhupāda also offered an interesting argument on this subject when he was once asked why we have come here, indicating this world of suffering and evil. “God did not create you as dead stone. You have chosen to come here. Now don’t blame God.” [3]
 
In other words, part of God’s perfection is that He did not make us dead stone, but has given us life, a concomitant factor of which is free will, which necessitates the possibility of choosing evil. The argument here is that some things we accept by their own definition have conditions that follow from them. In this case, the possibility to choose evil as a necessary condition that follows free will.
 
Finally, I will offer my own argument. Part of the problem of denying the existence of God based on suffering and evil is that this conclusion is based on several wrong premises. The first mistaken premise is that true happiness is controlling and enjoying the world, and not a flourishing of the soul in devotion and compassion. The second misconception is that what is good must be agreeable, when many things that are good for us, such as medicine or a surgical operation, are generally not nice at all. Suffering, therefore, even to the extent of evil, doesn’t have to be contradictory with an omnibenevolent Being if that suffering frustrates our unbecoming attempts to control and enjoy the world and helps leads us to true happiness. [4] Our condemnation of God for the existence of evil is thus only contradictory with the goodness of God from our limited perspective and not from the perspective of God who sees good in that which brings us closer to true happiness.
 
When I begin writing a Monday Morning Greetings I never know what I am getting into. I must say that this subject is a tough one. The problem of evil is a complex subject and so much more can be written, and so many more questions that can be raised and answered, but I think the basic reasoning for the reconciliation between God and the suffering of this world is clear.
 
 


 
[1] “The academy is a term used to describe all of academia.
 
[2] From “The Problem of Evil” published in the Winter 2003 edition of Knowing & Doing.
 
[3] I could not find the reference where Śrīla Prabhupāda said this, but I do have a strong recollection of reading it and trust its authenticity.
 
[4] A further challenge to this argument would be to question how the young and innocent could learn from horrid experience. It is beyond the scope of this paper to tackle this head on here, but the answer rests in an in depth discussion of how karma works and how specific karma related reactions can impact the consciousness beyond intellectualizing them.
 
 

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