The Problem of Evil

Why did God create sin?

One of the early philosophical questions that I tried to tackle as a young Christian will probably sound pretty familiar. If God is all powerful and all loving, why is there evil in the world? Even as a child, it seemed like allowing something bad to happen when you are in a position to prevent it is immoral. After all, the famous quote most of the Western world hears at some point growing up is:

Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends, than that good men should look on and do nothing .

John Stuart Mill

The book of Isaiah claims that God created evil (though this is sometimes translated as darkness, calamity, or another similarly abstract word). The Old Testament in particular is also filled with all manner of stories of God taking actions that any rational person would consider immoral.

These are some of the more obvious examples and I was very keen to reconcile these actions with an all-loving, omnipotent God.

There are a few apologists who actually try to defend these actions as moral saying things like “well, Leviticus is talking about indentured servitude, not slavery” (as if that somehow makes beating them or passing them to your children as property okay) or “the Bible never says that those young girls to be kept are actually sex slaves” (so, why specify virgins and slaughter the other children?), or “well, Pharaoh wanted to disobey God anyway so the plagues were justified.” None of those were particularly compelling–and even harder to reconcile with the idea of an objective, absolute morality that comes from an unchanging God.

Instead, many apologetics fall into one of two positions: either we are simply unable to understand how this was moral but it must be because God is moral and incapable of being otherwise; or of course there is evil in the world, how else could there be good?

For the first argument, I just don’t buy it. If we are created in God’s image and he wrote the law upon our hearts and gave us the free will to choose right from wrong, how are we blocked from determining what’s right and wrong in this case? Who am I to judge God? I’m supposedly the creation He endowed with the ability to do so. Any time your argument is “we just can’t know” then I agree with you–the question is if you can’t know, how do you believe? (However, epistemology is a topic for another post.)

The second argument is basically saying that it’s impossible to have a paradise or utopia but according to Genesis, that’s exactly what was supposed to happen. God originally created the Garden of Eden as a place without evil and Heaven is still supposed to be such a place. If you can’t have good without evil then there must be evil in Heaven, right? I’d doubt many Christians would agree with that.

While we’re on the subject of the Garden of Eden. Original sin always bothered me too. If we are all sinners because of the Original Sin, how could it possibly have been immoral to eat from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil? By definition, Adam and Eve could not have known it was wrong because they didn’t yet possess that knowledge. “Well,” I hear you saying, “God told them not to.” Sure, but how did they know it was wrong to disobey God? For me, this is more than anything proof that Genesis should not be taken literally at the very least.

Ultimately, I think this entire problem was summarized most eloquently more than two thousand years ago.

“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. 
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. 
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? 
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”

Epicurus

I have heard arguments that equivocate here such as “are car manufacturers morally responsible for a death caused by a drunk driver?” or something else along those lines. Ignoring for a moment that the bartender that served that driver can actually be liable in some cases, this is a false equivalency because the car manufacturer is powerless to stop the drunk driver–presumably God is not…

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s