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Evil in Religion and Problems

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Philosophy of Religion Final Paper

If God is all-knowing, all-powerful, and all-benevolent, how can there be evil in the world? This question is known as the “logical problem of evil,” or “the apparent contradiction between the world’s evils and an all-loving, all-powerful creator” (Paulsen 53). There are multiple subsets of the larger problem of evil, but I will address its logical aspect. Many choose to address the logical problem of evil by concluding that the premise of an all-powerful and loving God cannot be true, given that there is evil in the world. I will give a defense against this argument, and consider and analyze other implications that the argument has. Ultimately, I will argue that if one responds to the problem of evil by concluding God’s death, in order to maintain logical consistency, he must either (a) believe that an all-good God would create a “morally good” world with a complete absence of suffering, or (b) be able to explain why an all-good God should eliminate certain kinds of suffering in the world. I will discuss the shortcomings of each of these arguments through the lense of the “aesthetic solution” to the problem of evil, and ultimately reject the claim that suffering and evil are incompatible with an all-powerful, benevolent creator on the grounds that the aesthetic solution adequately addresses the problem of evil.

However, before we can discuss these responses to the problem of evil, we must come to a common understanding of the conception of God that this paper will work from. In this paper, God will be treated as an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-benevolent, and infinite creator of a finite world. He is a being whose purpose for humanity is for them to have a loving relationship with Him. Note that this treatment demands that man have free will for this relationship to truly be one of love. We will continue to fill out this understanding of God as the paper progresses, but this should serve as a sufficient basis of God that we can work from throughout the rest of the paper.

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Now that God has been more or less characterized, option (a) can be addressed. That is: an all-powerful loving God would not permit suffering and would create a morally good universe. But first, a quick aside on the matter: It certainly doesn’t seem as though those who cannot reconcile the problem of evil all agree that God should be expected to create a perfect universe free from suffering. However, I will address the option nonetheless; firstly, because some people do hold to this opinion—however rare these individuals may be. Secondly, because I believe that if one thinks that the prevalence of evil and suffering are evidence against the existence of a loving and all-powerful God, then it is most consistent to also think that such a God would create a universe free from suffering if He existed.

Let me explain. At the risk of being accused of setting up a straw man, I must very briefly outline the argument that the problem of evil is evidence of the death of God: Person A supposes that God is all-loving and all-powerful. Person A acknowledges the prevalence of suffering in the world. Person A knows that the reality of suffering in some way incompatible with the premise of an all-powerful, loving God, so Person A concludes that the premise cannot be true. That is, God is either not all-powerful, not loving, or not real (Tooley). Obviously, there is much more to this argument than I have included, but what I wish to point out is that this format of reasoning is known as reductio ad absurdum—or a “proof by contradiction” in layman’s terms. Proofs by contradiction work by supposing a premise, observing a known fact, recognizing that the premise and the fact are incompatible, and therefore concluding the premise must be false. That being said, the strength of the argument I have outlined above depends on the fact that the existence of suffering and God are in contradiction. Then, it is entirely logical for Person A to maintain that a loving God would not permit suffering, and thus, if God existed, the world would know no suffering. Of course, one may say that it is not all suffering that is incompatible with our notion of God, This position will be addressed when we consider what I had earlier called option (b), the belief that an all-good God would eliminate certain kinds of suffering in the world. First, however, we must consider the claim that God would create a world devoid of suffering.

There are several reasons that make this claim untenable; these include the finite nature of matter and the non-coercive, relational, and loving nature of God. A solution to the problem of evil that makes use of these two important concepts is what is known as the “aesthetic solution” to the problem of evil. This model involves the belief that God’s creation should not be expected to attain moral goodness, but rather aesthetic goodness; in other words, “nature’s goodness is its beauty” (Kellenberger 28).The aesthetic model liberates God from the expectation that he create a morally good (devoid of suffering) universe, and argues that it is consistent for God to create only a very good universe in terms of its aesthetic value.

This aesthetic value is realized by “God’s giving individual persons what is needed to ‘recognize and appropriate meanings sufficient to render [their] life worth living’ in the face of experienced horrendous evil,” or in other words: “God must give the individual the imaginative power to weave horrendous evils into a narrative that creates a life narrative of positive meaning” (Kellenberger 28). Another author explains why this aesthetic model contradicts the claim that God should create a morally good universe: “A life of pure order, a life of aesthetic ecstasy without disorder, would be possible only on the assumption of divine unilateral power,” which is an assumption contrary to the nature of God, given that God works “persuasively,” rather than coercively, to entreat mankind to enter into relationship with Him (Whitney 26). Thus, God forfeits unilateral control over the universe so individuals can have free will. Moreover, Whitney explains, “There is no divine guarantee that any creature will experience anything other than what the creature itself chooses, although the divine lure is powerful, and the actions of other creatures and natural forces also affect us very significantly” (Whitney 28). Thus, since creation is finite and temporal, there is no way for a God who works persuasively to ensure that people encounter some specified level of absolute good. He says, “To expect that we must experience absolute value is asking to be God-like. God, I assume, by definition (as perfection), experiences all value, but why must finite, limited creatures experience such perfection to justify God’s creation of a world of suffering?” (Whitney 32).

As the aesthetic model acknowledges, the reason that our world cannot be free from suffering is because it is finite. For example, death is one of the most poignant forms of suffering we know as human beings. If all suffering was eliminated, so would be death, and as a result man would either have to live forever, or never have been created at all. Whitney notes that the former option is asking to be like the Creator rather than accepting one’s role as a part of creation. As for the latter option: some individuals do argue that it would indeed have been better to never have been created. Whitney addresses this claim as well. In God bringing chaos into what we now know as creation, He “is justified since the alternative would have been for God to have left the chaos merely as a chaos. But this would have resulted in the loss of all the value achieved by countless billions of creatures during the history of our physical universe” (Whitney 28).

The aesthetic solution opens another interesting point of discussion, as it rests on the point that God does not exercise “unilateral” control over the universe. Many construe this as an evidence of the death of God and that God cannot be all-powerful as we had previously thought. However, this is not so—at least not in the context of the aesthetic solution. It is not that God cannot exercise power over everything, but that He chooses not to so that humanity may have the freedom to choose Him and to create aesthetic value in every moment, which is the privilege of ‘being’ that God gives humanity.

Overall, the aesthetic solution demonstrates the untenability of the position that God would create a perfect universe, as it does not fully consider the nature of God and His creation. This now brings us to our other option (b) which we briefly mentioned earlier. This is the belief that an all-good God would eliminate certain kinds of suffering in the world. In my opinion, this argument comes from stronger position than option (a), since it is my experience that most agree that it is unreasonable to expect a nearly perfect, morally good world. However, I have only stated half of this argument. It is not enough to simply say that God would allow some kinds of suffering and not others; in order for the argument to be critically evaluated, it needs more substance. The argument may be valid, as long as the parameters for what I will call “allowable suffering” are clearly defined, and those parameters are defended.

I make this argument because it is not satisfactory to claim that God should allow some kinds of suffering and not others without support. An example of a parameter for allowable suffering is: the suffering is allowable if it does not cause the individual to question their belief in a good and loving God. This is a reasonable parameter, but then the individual is charged with the task of defending why this is an appropriate place to draw the line between acceptable and unacceptable suffering. Afterall, why should we expect that God not allow suffering that causes people to question Him? Surely we should not accept that claim without support—if God did not allow suffering of this sort, would it not already be known to everyone that God is loving and all-powerful? Again, this stands in contrast to what we understand God to be—persuasive and relational in nature. Thus, I argue that for those who argue for option (b) to maintain intellectual honesty, they should explain the kinds of suffering God should prevent and why. To be clear, I make no claim that there is no response to this charge; I only argue that it is necessary to respond to the problem of allowable suffering to defend the position that an all-loving, all-powerful God would allow certain kinds of suffering and not others.

Another challenge to defining allowable suffering is that the suffering of Jesus Christ must be included within the set of permissible sufferings given by the definition. If the God we are discussing came to earth and was crucified, then certainly we should expect Him to allow suffering of this order. Moreover, if God Himself can suffer so greatly, it is more difficult to substantiate the claim that He would eliminate such suffering on behalf of man (Cohn-Sherbok 143).

Overall, this essay has addressed the logical problem of evil and responded to some of the arguments that the Death of God model makes in response to logical problem of evil. To review, one who responds to the problem of evil by concluding God’s death must either (a) argue that an all-good God would create a morally good world which is completely devoid of suffering, or (b) argue that there are different kinds of suffering that can be defined as allowable or unallowable. This essay has addressed (a) by making use of the aesthetic argument to demonstrate the untenability of a perfect universe. This argument utilized the persuasive nature of God and finite nature of creation to challenge position (a); on the other hand, position (b) has been addressed in a more subtle manner. Rather than arguing that (b) is a flawed option, I have discussed the implications of this option and the potential difficulties one may have in defending the position. However, I ultimately concede that the position can indeed be truthfully maintained in the case that what constitutes allowable suffering is defined, and that this definition is compatible with our agreed-upon understanding of God.

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