In my last post I talked about how God and evil can logically coexist. I explained this by saying that if mankind is to have freewill, then evil and pain must also exist. There were some problems with the explanation I gave however, and some scenarios we can think of that seem to defy this explanation. I left off by saying that some bad things that happen do not seem to be the result of free will at all, for instance natural disasters or sicknesses. A man named William L. Rowe came up with a famous example of this; a fawn lies in a distant forest which is struck by lightning. The lightning starts a fire and the fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in agony for several dies before being relieved of its suffering by death. In a case like this it seems God could step in and cure the fawn of its suffering without impinging on the free will of any human.
Events like these have sometimes been called ‘natural evils’ since they arise from nature, and not from the actions of man, and they seem to be a valid reason why the ‘free will’ defense doesn’t work when explaining the existence of both God and evil. There are several different explanations as to how natural evils can coincide with the existence of a loving and all-powerful God, but I won’t go into all of them because most I don’t agree with. To clear this up then, there’s two points I want to make. First, we can probably (reasonably) acknowledge that some of these ‘natural’ evils do arise because of man’s free will. After all, we know how deadly and destructive hurricanes can be, but we still build along coastlines. Admittedly, this is kind of weak, and you might be saying ‘yes, but God is the one who would send those hurricanes to destroy our cities’ which is a good point and in fact leads in to my next point.
Ok, now I have to confess, in my last post (and even in this one so far) I’ve been pretty loose with my definition of ‘evil’. Now I don’t want to get into a detailed explanation of what evil might be (since there’s some pretty deep philosophical waters that way and my lifejacket is already leaking) but I’ve basically been using pain/suffering/evil interchangeably. This isn’t the case though. Pain and suffering are actually not ‘evil’ at all, but instead are sometimes products of evil. When we realize this, we also begin to realize that these ‘natural evils’ that I’ve mentioned aren’t evil at all. They do result in pain and suffering to be sure, but they are not ‘evil’ in nature. Evil comes from man, not nature. In fact, I would even posit that nothing we might consider a ‘natural evil’ is ever truly evil, though they do result in pain and suffering. After all God is wholly good, and it was he who created the laws of nature, and that is just what they are; laws. These laws of nature which result in earthquakes or tsunamis or cancer or forest fires do not have free will nor are they conscious, and so they cannot choose to do evil upon the world, they act only as they were meant to act.
Even though by now we’ve established that the ‘natural evils’ aren’t evil, you still might say ‘yes, but regardless they cause pain and suffering, and why would a loving God not stop this if he could?’ Yet another good question dear reader (you’re on a roll!). This one has many answers. In short, I think God does…sometimes. The Bible itself is full of miracles of healing, and many people even today claim to be witness to miraculous events. For God to eliminate all the pain and suffering in the world however, we would lose our free will. Many instances of suffering come from one human doing evil upon another, so if God were to make it so that no act of evil could produce pain and suffering, then we could not act evilly, and once again are left without free will. Plus, pain and suffering are not necessarily bad things all the time. How else do we learn life’s lessons if not by suffering from our ignorance? You will only learn not to touch a hot stove except by touching it once (or twice…or three times…I was a slow learner).
I know this has gotten a little long, let me say just one more thing and then we can all go play. There are basically two ways of tackling the Problem of Evil, defenses and something called a theodicy. Defenses only try to show that the existence of both God and evil are not logically incompatible, while a theodicy does this while also trying to give a plausible reason evil exists. I’ve been trying to provide the most sound, plausible explanation for this I could and so you may have noticed we haven’t resorted to invoking demons or spirits or anything else to explain evil. Now it is up to you to judge the merits of my argument for yourself.
If you want another view on the problem of evil from someone who actually knows that they’re talking about, then I’d suggest Plantinga’s free will defense. You can find it summed up here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plantinga%27s_free_will_defense