God and Evil
Evil is an enigma. To most, evil is a bad, and even wrong, entity. Yet, it remains to exist in the world today, and has existed throughout the world’s known history. There are many arguments concerning the nature of evil and God. There are those who argue that evil is necessary, and those who argue that a good God cannot exist in a world where evil exists. Two trains of thoughts are that evil cannot coexist with a God that is all good, or that evil is necessary to man’s existence as we know it.
B. C. Johnson argues that God cannot be wholly good if evil is present in the world. He asks the question of how a God, who is all-benevolent, can allow evil to exist. He uses the example of a baby in a burning house, and says that a “good” person who had the opportunity to save the baby would (Pojman 116). Therefore, if God, being all powerful, has the opportunity to save the baby, why does he not? Why would a God who is all powerful, and all good, allow evil to exist, and since he does, how can God be all good? He concludes that there are only three possibilities, if God exists, concerning the nature of God’s morality. Either, “God is more likely to be all evil,” or, “God is less likely to be all evil,” or finally, “God is equally as likely to be all evil as he is to be good” (Pojman 119). In essence, he concludes that only the first conclusion can be correct. He concludes that the existence of evil in the world prohibits the existence of a Good who is all good, or who could even have the likelihood of being all good.
John Hick would make a counter argument, stating that evil is a necessary facet of creation. He claims, because mankind exists in a universe of set laws and functions, it would be impossible for God to interfere with its everyday operation. While Johnson would ask how a all-benevolent God could allow a baby to die in a fire, Hick would counter by saying that for God to always interfere, it would deny the science that God has allowed man to learn (Pojman 116, 124). Hick also claims that evil is necessary for the sake of mankind as a whole. He uses the Judaic-Christian argument of free-will. He writes that God did not create the world as a paradise where mankind could “experience a maximum of pleasure and a minimum of pain,” but rather a place were man can freely, by his own will, have a life of “soul-making” (Pojman 124). He argues, without a freedom of will and the ability to make ones on choices, this would not be possible. Since man has free will, it is possible for man to make the wrong choices, therefore causing evil to happen in the world. Also, Hick would argue that nature itself is a free machine, not affected by “special providences” (Pojman 124). In other words, God lets creation run its course, not meddling in the ebb and flow of how nature operates. Hence, natural disasters are possible, murders are possible, and so on and on. Hick claims that this environment that God has place man and creation gives man the concepts of courage, fortitude, generosity, kindness, and the “agape aspect of love” (Pojman 124). Evil gives man the concepts of ethics, and without the possibility of evil, man would have no personality. Hick’s conclusion is that for God to be wholly good, evil must be allowed in the world. If not, then man would not have the freedom to live a proper life, and the universe would not be allowed to exist in the state that it does now.
Both philosophies strike a center chord concerning the existence of evil. On one hand, Johnson’s argument that an all good God cannot exist because evil exists makes sense. For if God is all good, why would he allow evil and suffering to be inflicted on man, and if God is all powerful and all good, why does he not do anything to stop it from happening? Hick’s counter argument answers well, evil is necessary for the present existence of mankind. Without it, man would not be free to choose, nature would not be free to exist, and society would have no concepts of personality and culture.
Johnson’s argument does not account for the concept of the effects on nature that would happen if God constantly interfered. Although Hick’s argument is more of an apology for the Judaic-Christian concept of God in the essence of Classical Theism, he also wisely brings in the concepts of science. One can easily argue the religious side of the argument, claiming, as Johnson does, that an all good God would not allow evil to exist, yet, by bringing in scientific concepts, he draws the attention of his apology off of theology, and more on philosophical practicality and reason.
For God to allow his creation to function properly, and in order, it must be allowed to function freely. Therefore, by not interfering with the order of nature, God is seen to be all good. For, if God did interfere, as Hick argues, the laws of nature would be turned upside down. As in the example he gives, “sometimes gravity would operate, sometimes not; sometimes and object would be hard and solid, sometimes soft” (Pojman 124). Therefore, because of the fact that God allows these laws and processes to exist and function, he is all good. If he did not allow this, and interfered constantly, He would neither be good or bad, but simply a puppeteer pulling the strings. This would not all man to be man as we are today. Nor would it allow nature and the universe to function as it does. It would mean that knowledge would not exist, and in essence, life itself would hold no purpose or meaning.
With an all-benevolent God, evil acts as a balancer within creation. For man to have free will, man cannot just make good choices, he must be able to make bad choices as well. If mankind could only make choices that benefited everyone, then his will is not free, but restrained. A man might desire to make all good, or right, choices, but he is not bound by that desire, and even within that desire, the choices he makes might be wrong, or, even to the extreme, evil. Also, within nature, the freedom, as well as order, is also seen. One might, for example, contend that the wildfires in California are a bad, or evil, situation. One might think, “Why would God, if, being all good, allow such a thing to happen?” At the same time, however, by nature’s standards, fires have been necessary for purification, of both land and wildlife, and therefore the fires, as seen from nature’s standpoint, are not evil, but good and necessary. Also, take Hurricane Katrina for instance; millions of people killed or displaced by a terrible storm, truly a tragic event. By the same token, however, hurricanes have served nature’s purpose of stirring up life within the oceans and beaches. Lastly, by human element, and returning to Johnson’s question of the baby in the burning building, the fire could have been caused by many reasons. (A) Faulty wiring due to the incompetence of the electrician, (B) someone left the stove one, (C) lent build up in a dryer, and so on and so on. Although there are many reasons, some containing the human element, and others that may not, the possibility that someone may not make a mistake because something evil, or tragic, could happen does not stand up to the idea that man has a free will.
On the first two possibilities, the fires and Katrina, the free will of man also is involved. True, man did not cause the fires – per se, though it is possible – or the hurricane, the people in those two areas choose freely to live there. In the first case, it is well documented that Southern California is plagued by earthquakes, mudslides, and fires, yet, there are people who still choose to live there. In the second case, it is also well documented that in the Gulf of Mexico, as well as with the coast of the Eastern United States, multiple hurricanes land each year. Yet, people still choose to live there. On top of the documented hurricanes, New Orleans, as well as much of Louisiana, is below sea level, causing the damage of Katrina to be much worse. In both cases, man choose, not God for man, to live in these two hazardous areas. If God, for the sake of mankind, did not allow man to live there because he knew that man would suffer, it would be hampering the free will that mankind shares.
On the final scenario, although the fire is a tragedy, it is possible for it to have been avoided without the aid or assistance of God. Granted, a natural occurrence could have started the fire, as in the situation in Southern California, but it is just as likely, due to a choice or an individual, that the fire was started. As said before, an electrician could have been lazy and decided not to double check his work, or even as seen in W. K. Clifford’s essay on the ethics of belief, he simply could have assumed that, because he had never seemingly made a mistake in prior situations, that he did not make a mistake this time, and therefore there would be no problem (Pojman 130). This ability to be lazy, or assume, is a product of free will. This is of course only one reason or scenario of how free will can cause tragedy or evil to occur.
Of free will and evil, however, one could argue that by giving man free will, and knowing that evil might or would occur, God therefore ultimately is responsible, and therefore is not all-benevolent. However, does a parent, who knows that there child could possibly get hurt once they grow up and leave the house, entering the world by them selves, stop them from doing so? The idea is ludicrous, and society looks down upon those who seemingly attempt to do so. Likewise, it may be said that, God, as the ultimate “parent,” allows mankind to have free will, and to make his own choices. God allows for man to be guided by him, but does mandate that man must obey or even follow a proper course. By doing so, this allows for the free will of an individual, thus allowing for evil, as well as good, to exist in the world.
The argument that evil cannot exist in a creation by a God who is all-benevolent is an attempt to take the responsibility of someone’s actions and place them into the hands of God. If man was not capable of choice, therefore free will, this argument would not even exist. Although God created the world, he did so to create an environment where his creation could both flourish and evolve freely, not so mankind could have a perfect existence, blind to reason and logic, but so that mankind could be open to the completeness of creation through study, research, and discovery. To not allow for free will, meaning, not to allow for evil to exist, would cause these purposes to have no meaning. To not be able to experience pain, would mean not to no the pleasure of joy; to not know hate, would be not to know love, and this would truly be tragic, therefore truly evil. As said before, evil is the balance of good, not its restrainer. For in evil and tragic times, it is possible for good, like a phoenix rising out of the ashes, to flourish and shine through.
Pojman, Louis P. “Philosophy: The Quest For Truth.” 6th Edition. Oxford University
Press. New York. 2006