03 May 2013

The Classical Problem of Evil

An article was posted by the BBC News on Sunday, August 9, 1998 that tragically reported five Salt Lake City children between the ages of two and six, who were found dead in the trunk of a car.[i]

"Police believe the brothers played with the rearview mirror and turned the ignition before unlatching the trunk and climbing inside...the autopsy showed the boys had been dead from the heat and lack of oxygen for roughly an hour. Temperatures in the Salt Lake City area on Friday were well above 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius)... Lt Illsley added: 'The mother was too hysterical to tell us what happened or what the children were doing before it happened.'" [ii]
What about the story of the male baby-sitter who tortured a seventeen-month-old toddler by beating him in the head and back then having boiling oil poured on his genitals?[iii] What about the baby being kidnapped then purposely tossed over a bridge to its death[iv] or of the man video recording his molestation of an infant?[v] Alternatively, what about the thirty four year old father who "bit an eyeball out of his four year old son’s face and ate it?"[vi] What about the ten-day-old newborn child who died after her mother, "threw her in the washer machine; went through entire cleansing cycle and died."[vii] Moreover, in the mid 20th century, 1.5 to 2 million innocent children were burning in Hitler's ovens.

Cain and Abel
History is satiated with gruesome injustices that in turn may force many of us to ponder, deliberate and query the WHY. Many of histories injustices, unfairness  prejudices, inequalities, and discriminations are incredibly difficult for Christians to remedy. However, each Christian must inevitably one day face the question of why God allows such inhuman and potent evil if he is all-powerful (Omni-potent), all knowing (Omni-science) and all good (Omni-benevolent)? If God exists then why does he allow evil and suffering in this world even to the extent that infant children are disposed of like garbage on the sides of streets? These and many other stories pose deep questions about the reality of God's Tri-Omni's.

In the news article that told of the five children who unknowingly locked themselves inside the trunk of a car during 90-degree weather one may ask, "If God exits and contains in Him the Tri-Omnis then why could he not have just opened the trunk to save the defenseless and suffering children?"
For many atheists, the classical problem of evil may be one of the strongest arguments against the existence of a God. If Christians remain Christians and continue to believe in God then the problem of evil must be explained.

To better visualize the problem of evil, picture in your mind a triangle and at the top of the triangle you have the word, "Evil." Written on the bottom right you have, "God is omnipotent," and on the other side is written, "God is Omni-benevolent." The problem that we see here is that a person cannot confirm all three of these and be logically consistent. If you say that evil exists then either God could prevent evil (he being all-powerful) and does not prevent it then he is not Omni-benevolent or all good. Epicurus stated it this way,

"God...both wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing but unable, he is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? Or why does He not remove them?"[viii]
God's omniscience also plays a huge role upon the problem of evil. If God created all things knowing beforehand the consequences of his creations then He becomes an, "accessory before the fact and ultimately responsible for every... defect in the universe,"[ix] thus an accessory of evil and suffering.
The most convincing evidence to resolving the problem of evil is what Plantinga terms: 'contra-casual.' Plantinga takes the stance that humans are responsible for their actions. This is considered as "the free-will defense" and is for me the best attempt to rid God of all the responsibility of evil and suffering and placing the responsibility to human beings and nature. The Book of Mormon used a better term to explain free will. Rather than using the term, "free will" to explain human agency the author used the term, "moral agency." By using this term, the author places the responsibility upon each individual capable of choosing right or wrong, to act upon or be acted upon by the use of his or her moral judgments, which in turn makes each individual accountable for his or her actions.

However, in the case of the five children who suffered a horrendous death of heat and affixation in the trunk of a car, evil had its roots based upon the simple laws and operations of nature. This displays to humankind that evil happens not only by the evil decisions of acting human agents such as the father beating a child to death but also shows that the innocent and guilty are at the mercy of "natural evil." Natural evil is the suffering that people, animals and in essence, all living things feel through the forces of nature. Natural evil may come in many forms such as tsunamis, earthquakes, diseases or again in the case of the five children, extreme heat.

Sacred literature such as the Old Testament tells the story of a man named Job who was described as being perfect before God. Yet he was not immune to the trials and temptations of evil men, but was also affected by natural evil as well.

And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.[x]
How is it that a righteous steward who loved his God and worshiped Him day and night suffer tremendous pain and excruciating suffering though there was no cause neither sane reason? A massive tornado killed ten of his children yet he still exercises his moral agency to serve God by saying,

"Naked I came out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return: Lord has given, and Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of Lord."[xi]

This is a very fascinating story that answers the question; "does natural evil happen to evil men as Gods vengeance upon them?" For example to believe that an earthquake happened or some other natural disaster occurred based upon Gods vengeance upon an evil society cannot logically be applicable to our world based upon Christian scriptural contexts. The New Testament is clear on the matter of evil when Jesus said to a group of people,

"Tower of Siloam"
"There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilæans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilæans were sinners above all the Galilæans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish."[xii]

This quotation from Jesus should demonstrate to the Christian believer that supernatural evil does not occur grounded upon the evil decisions humankind produce. Nevertheless, nature takes its course upon all living things. For example, the tower in Siloam fell upon those eighteen simply because ...the tower fell. The evil is therefore displayed not in the tower that fell upon the eighteen but the evil is displayed by those who refuse to repent thus reconciling themselves with God. The evil was or could have been also by the decisions others made after the tower had fallen. Were the people more faithful towards God or less faithful? Were there people who helped serve and display their consolations to the suffering families who lost family members in the breach? Were there people available to give comfort to those suffering the pain of lost ones? Were there people available who were,

…willing to mourn with those that mourn; yea, and comfort those that stand in need of comfort, and to stand as witnesses of God at all times and in all things, and in all places that ye may be in, even until death?[xiii]

Was there anyone who rose to the commandment to, "visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction…"[xiv] "or care one for another?"[xv] Were there people to give up their time to serve those who are suffering from the affects of evil? As the Apostle Paul stated, "And whether one member suffers, all the members suffer with it."[xvi]

Therefore, it seems to me that God is not responsible for evil but places the responsibility upon his human creations whether to act good or act evil in response to evil.  In other words, God gives his people the opportunity to express their moral agency in situations that present themselves as evil. Therefore, God gives humankind the opportunity to act with the ability to choose what they will do in "evil" situations that inevitably arise throughout their lives.

Another very insightful description that may help us explain the problem of evil can be found in The Book of Mormon. Two prophets namely Alma and Amulek were told by the government to stop preaching about Jesus Christ. However, upon refusing to do so,

…they brought their wives and children together, and whosoever believed or had been taught to believe in the word of God they caused that they should be cast into the fire; and they also brought forth their records which contained the holy scriptures, and cast them into the fire also, that they might be burned and destroyed by fire. And it came to pass that they took Alma and Amulek, and carried them forth to the place of martyrdom, that they might witness the destruction of those who were consumed by fire. And when Amulek saw the pains of the women and children who were consuming in the fire, he also was pained; and he said unto Alma: How can we witness this awful scene? Therefore, let us stretch forth our hands, and exercise the power of God which is in us, and save them from the flames. But Alma said unto him: The Spirit constraineth me that I must not stretch forth mine hand; for behold the Lord receiveth them up unto himself, in glory; and he doth suffer that they may do this thing, or that the people may do this thing unto them, according to the hardness of their hearts, that the judgments which he shall exercise upon them in his wrath may be just; and the blood of the innocent shall stand as a witness against them, yea, and cry mightily against them at the last day.xvii

John Hick
21st century philosopher and theologian John Hick believed that God's purpose was to create puerile agents that could progress and develop into His likeness. In other words, God created us with the prospective need for spiritual growth by our responses to situations that present themselves as evil in the world. We as a people are obviously not born into this world with innate knowledge of God therefore; it is something that is not so easily known. God did not want His existence to be so obvious as to force belief upon humans. Hence, the course one takes to engage and encounter God is to display faith. Therefore, as I understand it, a world with evil is better than a world without evil. A world with evil builds character. What soul building can happen if there is no evil and suffering in this world? For example, it says in the book Isaiah that, "A woman when she is in travail hath sorrow, because her hour is come: but as soon as she is delivered of the child, she remembereth no more the anguish, for joy that a man is born into the world."[xvii]  For a woman to be in labor is to both anticipate and feel pain and suffering. However beyond that is deliverance from it and new life.

The United States army once tried during World War II to find a way of quickly enhancing muscle and strength without exercise.[xviii] They tried doing it with pills and they tried doing it with nutrition. They wanted to build an army but did not have the time or the patience to teach the logistics of exercise. As you can imagine they failed and they failed miserably. The only way you can develop muscle is through the laws of nature i.e. strains and stresses of muscle tissue. Likewise, you can only develop good character through strain and stress or in other words evil and suffering. John Hick once said,

"God has formed the free human person with a nature that can find its perfect fulfillment and happiness only in active enjoyment of the infinite goodness of the Creator. He is not, then, trying to force or entice His creatures against the grain of their nature, but to render them free to follow their own deepest desire, which can lead them only to Himself. For He has made them for Himself, and their hearts are restless until they find their rest in Him."[xix]
In conclusion, many denounce the existence of God because of all of the evil and suffering that both happened and is continuing to happen in the world. However, there are answers to the disciples of the Christian faith through the sacred Bible, the Apocrypha and Book of Mormon. Many disciples of the Christian faith will inevitably face this question head on, as either evil is acted upon them or they themselves are the instigators of evil. Many martyrs suffered under the extremities of the cruelest tortures yet why did many of these martyrs never recant the existence of God or of Jesus Christ? Somehow, many of these martyrs obtained a solid testimony that God and Jesus Christ were indeed real and loving with a reward in his hands for those who suffer persecution and even death for the name of Christ.

…Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake. Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.[xx]
…And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.[xxi]

[i] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/147530.stm
[ii] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/147530.stm
[iii] http://www.imperfectparent.com/topics/2008/01/05/severely-tortured-toddlers-mom-and-her-boyfriend-arrested/
[iv] http://www.imperfectparent.com/topics/2008/01/17/man-throws-baby-over-bridge-overpass-onto-traffic/
[v] http://www.imperfectparent.com/topics/2009/03/12/man-gets-life-for-raping-infant/
[vi] http://www.imperfectparent.com/topics/2009/05/19/horrific-child-abuse-warning-extremely-graphic/
[vii] http://www.imperfectparent.com/topics/2010/11/09/police-mother-high-on-drugs-puts-newborn-through-entire-washing-machine-cycle/
[viii] http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/0703.htm
[ix] Revelation, Reason and Faith. Essays in honor of Truman G. Madsen. "Sin, Suffering, and Soul-Making," by David L. Paulson and Blake Thomas Ostler page 241
[x] Job 1:19
[xi] Job 1:21
[xii] Luke 13:1-5
[xiii] Mosiah 18:9
[xiv] James 1:27
[xv] 1 Corinthians 12:25
[xvi] 1 Corinthians 12:26
[xvii] Alma 14:8-11
[xvii] KJV John 16:21
[xviii] Dr. B.H. Ershof and his liver pills never worked
[xix] Hick, Evil, 380–81.
[xx] Matthew 5:11-12
[xxi] Acts 5:41


BYU Carpet Cleaner

I carpet clean the Mission Training Center and love the gospel of Jesus Christ. These posts contain my experiences, thoughts and opinions on spiritual things.

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