May 18, 2008

The Logical Problem of Evil: Hume and Flew

The fact that this world is full of pain and suffering has probably elicited more distrust of Deity than anything else I can presently think of. One only needs to read Wiesel’s Night to glimpse some of the horrifyingly powerful injustice that occurs. Wiesel’s holocaustic journey takes him beyond his threshold of belief in God because of human suffering. Surely there are many reasons for struggling with the problem of evil. Wiesel has resolved these seemingly insurmountable issues for himself and continues believing. But for others, these issues are left unanswered. I do not presume to have the panacea for all questions of injustice in our short lives. Some answers would appeal to some and some to others. I want to address one problem of evil in specific: the Logical Problem of Evil.

The Logical Problem of Evil claims that an All-Loving God and the fact that evil, pain, etc. exist are mutually incompatible: if God is claimed to be all-loving and omnipotent, then He is impossible. There is plenty of material on this train of thought. Many who are “ex-believers” or people who feel betrayed by God, spend much effort trying to destroy the belief systems of others. I hope that I don’t come across as destroying the belief systems of others, but I would like to explain how my understanding of God removes the seeming impossibility of His perfect benevolence.

In order to produce a meaningful explanation, I need to take the best arguments I can against this logical problem. I have nothing to hide, for the rhetoric is available to everyone. There were many great minds that contemplated this question. If I took the skeptics’ understanding of God, I would likely come to the same conclusion. But I hope to help people understand, as I do, that God is a God of love and that this is not illogical.

The following are arguments for the problem of evil coming from David Hume. Hume was perhaps the most noteworthy skeptic from the enlightenment. This was his argument:

“Is [evil] from the intention of the deity? but he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention? But he is almighty. Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so decisive.” (From Dialogues concerning Natural Religion)

Some tried to find exception to Hume’s argument, so one of the foremost atheist thinkers of the 20th century, Antony Flew, clarified the statement even further. His philosophies has evolved over the years (as every good learner should), but he still holds to this argument, which is accepted and used by the current skeptic community (whether or not they recognize it). His argument is the following:

“We cannot say that [God] would like to help but cannot: God is omnipotent. We cannot say that he would help if he only knew: God is omniscient. We cannot say that he is not responsible for the wickedness of others: God creates those others. Indeed an omnipotent, omniscient God must be an accessory before and during the fact to every human misdeed; as well as being responsible for every non-moral defect in the universe.” (From New essays in Philosophical Theology)

So the outline is as follows:

  1. God is omnipotent, omniscient, created all things ex nihilo, and all-loving.
  2. Evils occur.
  3. An all-loving being prevents all the evil that it can.
  4. An omnipotent ex nihilo creator can prevent all evils.
  5. God prevents all evils.

It is obvious from this explanation that points 2 and 5 are perfectly contradictory: one says “God prevents all evils” the other is “Evils occur.” This is the logical problem of evil stated by those who espouse it.

My subsequent posts will address this problem, explaining why this seemingly blatant contradiction is mutually incompatible with what I understand about God. I hope to show that God and perfect love are not logically contradictory.


Diogenes said...

Hume and Flew don't seem to consider a third possibility: supposing that there is a God, perhaps He does not consider it in our best interest to interfere with our lives at every opportunity. I think it is fair to say that most religions believe in some kind of "afterlife." As bad as things can get here, perhaps there is something valuable to be gained from the experience (who knows?)

Mikha'el said...

I am so glad you brought that up. I think what you've hinted at is part of the answer, but let me suggest a reason why, for me, it couldn't be the whole answer and wasn't considered as a third option. If all the suffering in this life was intended to prepare or to make us a certain way for something after this life, why didn't God just make us that way in the first place? Why not bypass the suffering part, and create us as He intended? The problem of ex nihilo creationism, omnipotence, and omniscience remains the same. If an all-creating, omnipotent Being wanted ends, why bother going through the "means" of having us suffer to get there? Couldn't He create us with the experiences and traits already programmed in us, already learned? There is a lot to answer from the traditional standpoint of God, which standpoint I don’t espouse.
There are a number of explanations. I think I will address one in my next post.
Interestingly, there is that option that God does not interfere at all with our lives: the deist standpoint (however, the deist position usually undermines the assumption of all-loving.) You will find it interesting to learn that Flew, one of the better atheist philosophers of the 20th century, has in the 21st century became a theist. Still grappling with the issues of the problem of evil, ex nihilo creation, etc, Flew has become a deist, taking a viewpoint related to the one you suggested. I read an interview with him where he expressed his complaints with some of the atheist philosophies like Dawkins', for various reasons. It must have been a difficult change saying that you had been wrong all those years, to go to an unpopular position among philosophers (theism).
I hope my posts will give shed some light into an explanation that leaves room for God's involvement, along with your suggestion that "something valuable [is] to be gained from the experience."
But you suggested, what if God just helps sometimes, and sometimes not? I personally think that He does do that, with good and moral reasons. But if we assume that He already knew at the beginning the fate of all His creations, couldn’t He done a lot of things to avoid the needless suffering? What suffering is “needed” for our afterlife experience? Couldn’t he have planned a little better or made us a little better to begin with to bypass these issues? These are just thoughts, and I’m only trying to point out that if we take the classical model for God, we run into philosophical conundrums, in my opinion.
I do, however, want you to know that I agree with your statements, but for me, they are incomplete by themselves. Nevertheless, I know many who I look up to for their intelligence who espouse that idea, so I don’t think that it is a foolish notion. I am merely saying that, for me, though your comments have part of the answer, I still feel somewhat unsatisfied. I offer my forthcoming thoughts as material to think on.
Again, I hope that my explanations don’t come across as inconsiderate. I merely offer them as an explanation for questions that I’ve asked, and I welcome thinkers and new ideas.

Rachel J. said...

If I could make a suggestion... that my fellow-peeps on this wonderful planet should stop seeing something that is difficult or awkward or uncomfortable or even hard and agonizing as a BAD THING. Something that is unworthy of your time and a distraction to where you are trying to get yourself.
We need the other side to have a balance. To have a means to judge and compare. If life was just full of daisies and endless sunshine, we would never have the chance to feel accomplished or be dedicated to the betterment of ourselves. Sunshine and daisies wouldn't last. It couldn't last.
Forest rangers deliberately and very carefully orchestrate a fire to save what is struggling and omit what is wild and strangled; the soil that is reaped from something others have a hard time understand is of the most fertile and forgiving around.
We need the ash that we may grow stronger, greener, heartier...and y'all better believe that this cycle must continue...whether planned from start to finish by a ranger or left UNKEPT and UNMANAGED, the beautiful wilderness we all are has a dangerous way of growing out of control. Stunting the growth of many.

Thanks. I was just blog surfing and I came upon yours. Gr8 stuff...I will keep my hand on the dial!

Mikha'el said...

Rachel J,
I appreciate your comments. Your point is another that I would eventually like to bring up.
I hope to have more of your comments when I address that part of the answer.

Rachel J. said...

Very good. I can see that I kinda overshot the main points others were addressing, but I believe that we ultimate need to alter our views and reap the growth rewards of being tried. We ALL have ittie-bittie brains that cannot fully comprehend what we think we should. This is hard for many to grasp. Hopefully this acceptance will yield one to be humble and teachable and submissive.
Altering our views, can enable us to be gr8ful for the challenges we are designed to face.

Thanks, I will be reading...

Giovanni Crisan said...

Ah, but there is a fourth option.

Perhaps we simply can't understand God's morality. Remember that the Bible was written (and edited - several times) by men, and organized religions are run by men. If we are to believe that God granted us free will, then who was to stop any of these composers of The Word from changing things to fulfill an agenda (such as suppression of women). The Bible was the result of visions which could also have been misinterpreted.

In the end, it may not be possible for humans to understand this "problem" or whether God sees these things as "evil" or not because we are not able to get past our own egos, which make us think that we know it all.