01
Aug
09

Problem of Evil

Warning: To those whose spiritual faith are not yet deep enough to survive rational criticism, I suggest you move on to other blogs. But for those who think they can handle it, the following article is quite disturbing and rather disconcerting, but I believe this is an issue that we who believe in God simply cannot ignore and must somehow resolve – even just within ourselves.
The Saddest Picture in the World

The Saddest Picture in the World

Here’s an African child, about three to five years old, maybe eight or nine (it’s hard to tell the age of this little girl because starvation and disease have distorted her body and disrupted her growth). Possibly born with AIDS contracted from her mother and definitely undernourished, she has a major leg defect that causes her severe difficulty walking. But she duck walks and crawls to a UN relief camp about five miles away. Somewhere halfway her frail body starts to give up. She stops crawling, kneels, and bows down to rest her weary head on the ground, probably having the last few moments of her life.

A vulture lands nearby and patiently waits behind her, drooling in anticipation of a meal. As the child breathes her last breath, the vulture’s sharp eyes notice that all movements have stopped including the rising and falling of her abdomen as her damaged lungs desperately try to grab at thin dry air.

Now to those who believe that their religion is the only way to heaven, this child has probably never been baptized, and so her soul burns in hell even as the vulture feasts on her still-warm body, starting off with her soft entrails, then moving on to other soft parts – her eyes, her mouth, her cheeks, – and then finally tearing at her emaciated muscles until all that is left are her hair and bones.

The Problem of Evil has long been pondered and discussed by many theologians and philosophers, but it is so simple that ironically it has no simple answer, a satisfactory simple answer, that is. In simple terms, the problem of evil is summarized into the following:

If God is all-powerful and all-good, why is there gratuitous or unnecessary suffering and evil in this world? Either he doesn’t want to stop it (which makes Him not all-good), or he can’t (which makes Him not all-powerful). Logically, if there is gratuitous suffering in this world, then God cannot be all-powerful and all-good at the same time. Or, as the atheists would openly conclude, God does not exist.

But the faithful offer another explanation: God has a plan that we humans simply cannot yet understand because our minds are too finite for God’s infinite wisdom. Well that’s an answer, but I doubt if everyone finds it satisfactory. Just think of the African child. All her sufferings would be useless and extremely unnecessary if her soul would eventually just burn in hell for all eternity.

I’ve always prided myself as a man who gives paramount value to logic, science, and reason. And being a Christian, the problem of evil has been an eternal bug up my theist ass. Fortunately, I also pride myself as someone who thrives in mystery, who is quite comfortable with not knowing but nevertheless continues to seek answers only to question these answers in turn. For I don’t believe that the same God who gave us intellect would demand for us to relinquish it. And so the problem of evil, though it continually hovers just above my conscious mind and occasionally manages to land and provoke my thoughts, will just be a constant shadow which will keep me on my toes as I try to shed light into it.

Yeah, I think I am getting there.

Care to share your thoughts? innerminds inner minds

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33 Responses to “Problem of Evil”


  1. August 1, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    this certainly is an interesting subject of discussion, and one that i have been wrestling with as a reborn theist for quite some time now. i think the problem of evil, especially that which concerns gratuitous or unnecessary suffering of the kind you have given example of has very little to do with the existence of God, and much more to do with the absence of people who would intervene.

    take this photograph for example. it was shot by a photographer who very easily could have been of aid to this child rather than setting up and snapping the photograph. that’s just one instance. and what about us when we see this photograph? do we feel pity? if we do, then we’re only halfway there at that point. are we moved to act? will we work to change the world around us in a way that points to God’s existence?

    think as well of all the systems of injustice and evil people have built. most of the world’s inequality is caused and propagated by people; yet there are those who still find themselves blaming God, or counting out God’s existence as a result of preventable problems. there seems to be enough food and other kinds of resources on the earth to meet all our basic needs, but because some people have amassed too much, other people are left starving. is God really to blame?

    some would argue, “yes, God could stop people from doing that, therefore that would make God not all good.” others would also say, “no, God cannot stop people from doing that, therefore God is not all powerful.” if God is not all powerful or all good, then is God truly God? the answer, would of course be no, but these questions miss something incredibly important.

    God took a huge risk in creating people that could make free choices. God knew that some would become followers while others wouldn’t; God knew that some would make poor choices like the photographer, mentioned above, while others would do their best to bring wholeness to the world around them.

    last of all, we tend to forget that God is imaginative. God’s solutions to problems are often solutions we could never think of ourselves. i believe that God will do a fair share to right the wrongs and bring restoration in this world and in the world which is to come.

  2. 2 jong atmosfera
    August 1, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    Thank you Steve for your very decent comment. You might also like to comment on a related article: https://innerminds.wordpress.com/2009/06/14/what-return-can-i-make/ πŸ™‚

  3. August 1, 2009 at 2:57 pm

    @Steve Caroll

    What you wrote above is called the free will defense. But not all the evil and sufferings in this world are caused by free will. For example, hurricanes, storms, drought, down syndrome, autism, and the like.

    Why would your LOVING, POWERFUL, OMNISCIENT, EXISTING, OMNIPRESENT God not prevent at least some of them? Or at least warn the people about these things? Remember that many people pray to God to save them from drowning, for example, yet God wasn’t there (or maybe God was there but just didn’t want to help?).

    Lastly, non believers do not blame God for these evil and sufferings. There are reasons as to why and how they happen.

    All in all, the absence of your God shows that he does not exist. Or he just doesn’t want to help. Or he exists but he is not that powerful/capable to help. Of course you would argue that God might have a ‘deeper’ meaning behind it (common escape route of believers when faced by PoE). But that would just tell us that he is not worth of worship.

    Thank you!
    πŸ™‚

  4. August 1, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Accurate information is the key.

    All powerful = ability to do all possible things. God accomplishing His ends while also eliminating evil in this world = quite likely not possible. God not being able to make a four-sided triangle doesn’t denigrate His omnipotence anymore than this does.

    Further, scripture’s pretty clear regarding an “age of accountability”. According to the scriptures, children who die in this world are innocent and blessed by awaking to a painless reality so enviable we’d excitedly trade places with them in this life to get there.

    • 5 jong atmosfera
      August 1, 2009 at 5:13 pm

      Thank you Poppies for your brief but very insightful comment.

      You have a pretty cool blog by the way. I’ve scanned it and I will definitely set some time to read it in depth.

      By “accomplishing His ends” did you mean something like God allowing evil to happen in this world in order to give man a chance to grow spiritually? I think I can live with that.

      As for the “age of accountability”, you mean it actually precedes Original Sin?

      I am all ears, if I may borrow your blog’s name. πŸ™‚

    • August 1, 2009 at 5:42 pm

      @Poppies:
      Can you prove to us that the children who died are really going someplace better? Where is this world/place? Or is it just a comforting lie/delusion? Can you prove to us that this place really exists? Or can it only be found in the scriptures?

      Thank you

  5. August 1, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    It’s rather hard to speculate about the ends of an omniscient being. πŸ™‚

    But…

    The idea of God placing us in a broken world yet with hints of love and beauty in order to freely bring us to Himself is awfully compelling.

    You’d be very welcome as the subject of a post on my blog.

  6. August 2, 2009 at 12:58 am

    your picture – an interesting one by the way – yet, oh so sad…

    you have stated well the “religious” dilema when facing this “contemptuous” situation. – why did god, if he exists, not save the dying child – as he oblivious had the power to do so? – we are left wondering the cause of god’s silence and absence. – jong atmostfera’s comment, answer, apology – it is devillishly brillant – shows why religion is falling out of favour with many “human” people: “by – accomplishing his ends – did you mean something like god allowing evil to happen in this world in order to give man a chance to grow spiritually? – i think i can live with that –

    Wow!

    now, that answer is “evil”. because it contains within it a powerful “reason” to commit or let any one else commit any act of unimaginable cruelty… and feeling no inclination to intervene… nor compassion, nor love. so what if the girl in the picture suffered? so what if she is sick? so what if i could have done something? … it is for her spiritual growth!!!

    http://www.ANaturalPhilsophy.com

    • August 2, 2009 at 2:17 am

      @Albert Forcier: Thank you for your comment. What I meant with spiritual growth in this case was not on the part of the child (and Poppies gave me a quite satisfactory answer about the child’s soul not going to hell because of the “age of accountability”), but on us observers. Seeing suffering in others can bring out good things from people, and perhaps even trigger spiritual growth. Take us, for example. Surely this picture has made a small community of thinkers devote their precious thoughts to shedding light on something very significant yet often allowed to lurk in the shadows of our consciousness.

      By the way, I am the author of Inner Minds. I noticed that you talked about my comment as if I was another person. πŸ™‚

  7. August 2, 2009 at 1:07 am

    @jong atmosfera: There’s much scriptural evidence that “Original Sin” isn’t taken into account for judgement where no moral accountability has been reached, e.g. young children, the mentally handicapped, etc. This only makes sense, as even we wouldn’t judge “sins” from people like this. Further, Original Sin simply opens up the possibility of sin; it doesn’t “load the dice”, as in Ayn Rand’s mistaken conception (and that of many churches).

    @Discreet Infidel: I’m not the person to ask since I’m undecided myself on the evidence. With all due respect, though, I don’t think I would make the effort even if I were decided, since you seem to hold your current beliefs very tightly. Nonetheless, I’d love to hear from you on my blog, I need more perspectives like yours.

    • 11 jong atmosfera
      August 2, 2009 at 2:27 am

      @Discreet Infidel: Yes, Poppies is right. Let us hear your thoughts.

    • August 3, 2009 at 4:36 pm

      @Poppies: I do not hold my beliefs (or non beliefs) “tightly”. I am also open to other possibilities. If the evidences would point that there’s a God, then so be it. But the evidences for God’s existence are not really enough (and valid) to conclude that God exists.

      πŸ™‚

  8. 13 aforcier
    August 2, 2009 at 11:53 am

    jong,

    just read your comment about my post. (ok – you may mean well… still there is a very real possibility for justifying abuse). apologies… i should have been more conscious of the authorship of the piece.

    http://www.ANaturalPhilosophy.com

    • August 2, 2009 at 12:08 pm

      @aforcier:

      No problem. For a moment I actually considered taking advantage of that by starting a discussion with you as two different people – Jong Atmosfera and Inner Minds, alternately and connivingly. (Jong: “I think Inner Minds is right.” Inner Minds: “What Jong said does make sense.”) LOL. But seriously, a “reason beyond our understanding” wearing the cloak of spiritual growth is indeed an avenue for abuse. Some help here, Poppies?

  9. August 3, 2009 at 3:59 am

    I don’t personally ascribe to the spiritual growth argument, I think it’s a form of sadomasochism. I do think a subtle, slight change of that argument is the scriptural argument, however.

    As I mentioned above, I think scripture tends to answer the problem of evil by describing a broken world which yet has hints of love and beauty designed to freely bring us to God. We don’t directly grow spiritually from other people’s suffering, but we do become dissatisfied with this world. Note the subtle difference: suffering is an inherent yet deplorable part of a world designed to drive us to God through our discomfort and frustration. Suffering is not desirable in and of itself like some “purifying agent”, it’s simply a merciful preview of sorts of life apart from God.

    It’s important to realize how minor this world’s suffering is in relation to eternity. The child in the picture probably has no qualms with her earthly lot now that she’s enjoying basking in the glory of God and His revealed kingdom. She may even be actively grateful that her life was used in such a powerful way to draw people to said kingdom through their disgust at this world. People who balk at this can really only utilize an argument from outrage, which is a common logical fallacy. One can’t appeal to emotion to buttress a case.

    Scriptures say that friendship with the world is enmity with God; the world is even described as being ruled by Satan. I think it makes a lot of sense that if God wants us to come to Him, yet does not want to override our freedom, He wouldn’t make an environment apart from Him very appealing.

  10. August 3, 2009 at 12:42 pm

    you funny man.(the trap is laid, do i answer?

    i have many thoughts… but i am not a believer. so i have no divine answer for you jong atmosfera, nor for poppies. i do not perceive the world through the eyes of a god, nor his battling namesis.

    as you have laid the trap, i feel that i owe you an answer. if you are interested in looking on the other side of the wall… go to my site below, then to an entry called: “in nature, there is no such thing as sin or sinners.”

    http://www.ANaturalPhilosohy.com

    • August 3, 2009 at 2:34 pm

      Thank you, Albert Forcier, for making the effort of sharing your thoughts even though the Problem of Evil is not really a problem/dilemma for you since you do not believe in God in the first place. You were very professional in our discussions and you kept my theist mind on its toes, preventing it from easily jumping into the “devilishly brilliant” conclusion of the spiritual growth argument for the sufferings in this world.

      As for the “trap” you mentioned, it was never my intention to make you lay down your cards just so I could cross examine your beliefs. Actually, at first I didn’t consider you to be an atheist (my bad) because, well, let’s face it, I assumed (my bad again) that an atheist would probably just say that there is simply no God. But you wrote in such a way as to give the impression that you’re just another believer struggling over this Problem of Evil. Now THAT was devilishly brilliant.

      I read your article, “In nature there is no such thing as sin or sinners”, as well as the introduction of your book, A Natural Philosophy. Hmmm…they both open a door, and I am deeply honored that a published writer would actually take the time to discuss with an amateur blogger. Thank you, and I hope to hear your thoughts again on my future (and even past) articles.

  11. August 3, 2009 at 4:06 pm

    jong atmosfera,

    the pleasure was mine. we had a sincere discussion on a very well stated problem.thanks for visiting my site. we’ll talk again. a.f.

  12. August 3, 2009 at 4:33 pm

    So, is the problem of evil already solved? Ahehehe

    • August 3, 2009 at 8:03 pm

      @Discreet Infidel:

      The problem of evil will never be “solved” in a simplistic way that most people prefer, otherwise it would never have made it to this blog. I said in my original post that I am a man who thrives in mystery, who is quite comfortable with not knowing but nevertheless continues to seek answers only to question these answers in turn.

      Forgive me if I’m wrong, but your tone seems to suggest that you are quite certain of your beliefs (or non-beliefs). Now, please indulge us. Could you please tell us if the universe always existed for all “time”, or if it had a beginning, and how did it begin? πŸ™‚

  13. August 3, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    LOL. You heard my ‘tone’? Hehehe. I am 99% certain in my (non)belief. Not really a 100% sure certain.

    Now as to the origin of the universe. I believe in the Big Bang theory. It is because it is the only theory that I am quite familiar with and that I have not studied well the other theories yet. Would the Big Bang tell us that God exists? Tell us how and why if it would. πŸ™‚

    I suggest lets transfer this origin of the universe thing in another post. Lets keep this post about the PoE. Is it ok? So that it would be easier to reply and comment.

    • August 3, 2009 at 11:02 pm

      Okay. But on one condition. YOU start it. Just give us your views on the following question:

      Please tell us if the universe always existed for all β€œtime”, or if it had a beginning, and how did it begin?

      You might also like to add where you are in reference to Richard Dawkin’s “spectrum of belief”, so that we would quickly get the proper perspective, and discussions would have an effective structure.

      For the meantime, allow me to quote your exact words and to comment on them:

      Discreet Infidel: “Now as to the origin of the universe. I believe in the Big Bang theory. It is because it is the only theory that I am quite familiar with and that I have not studied well the other theories yet. Would the Big Bang tell us that God exists? Tell us how and why if it would.”

      Now why are you asking me if the Big Bang tells us that God exists when it was YOU who opened up the Big Bang Theory in reference to the origin of the universe? YOU tell us about the Big Bang and the origin of the universe. πŸ™‚

      • August 4, 2009 at 7:55 pm

        I already answered your questions. Now its your time to answer mine πŸ˜€

        I cannot really start “it”. I am very busy at the moment w/ my job. But I will try to squeeze some time to reply in our discussions.

      • 25 jong atmosfera
        August 4, 2009 at 8:10 pm

        @Discreet Infidel

        You call that an answer? Let me quote again your “answer” to my question about the origin of the universe:

        Discreet Infidel: β€œNow as to the origin of the universe. I believe in the Big Bang theory. It is because it is the only theory that I am quite familiar with and that I have not studied well the other theories yet.”

        Well if you say you’re busy at the moment, I can wait. But I will not take those few lines you wrote as a serious answer. Tell me, in your own words and beliefs, how did the universe begin? Okay, I’ll help you start. You say you believe in the Big Bang. Can you briefly describe to us your understanding of the Big Bang? Please indulge us, just so we know if we’re on the same page.

        Also, please indulge the other thing I requested. Please explain briefly where you are in reference to Richard Dawkin’s β€œspectrum of belief”, so that we would quickly get the proper perspective, and discussions would have an effective structure. πŸ™‚

      • 26 jong atmosfera
        August 4, 2009 at 10:56 pm

        @Discreet Infidel:

        You suggested that we continue the discussion about the origin of the universe in another blog entry, and since you said that you’re too busy to start it, out of Christian charity I started it for you here:

        https://innerminds.wordpress.com/2009/08/04/knowing-vs-believing-proof-vs-evidence/

  14. August 3, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    Here’s a loooong version of the problem of evil i found at Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/#IndVerArgEvi). Its quite long but a good read. This could really challenge one’s faith.

    1. Both the property of intentionally allowing an animal to die an agonizing death in a forest fire, and the property of allowing a child to undergo lingering suffering and eventual death due to cancer, are wrongmaking characteristics of an action, and very serious ones.
    2. Our world contains animals that die agonizing deaths in forest fires, and children who undergo lingering suffering and eventual death due to cancer.
    3. An omnipotent being could prevent such events, if he knew that those events were about to occur.
    4. An omniscient being would know that such events were about to occur.
    5. If a being allows something to take place that he knows is about to happen, and which he knows he could prevent, then that being intentionally allows the event in question to occur.

    Therefore:

    6. If there is an omnipotent and omniscient being, then there are cases where he intentionally allows animals to die agonizing deaths in forest fires, and children to undergo lingering suffering and eventual death due to cancer.
    7. In many such cases, no rightmaking characteristics that we are aware of both apply to the case in question, and also are sufficiently serious to counterbalance the relevant wrongmaking characteristic.

    Therefore:

    8. If there is an omnipotent and omniscient being, then there are specific cases of such a being’s intentionally allowing animals to die agonizing deaths in forest fires, and children to undergo lingering suffering and eventual death due to cancer, that have wrongmaking properties such that there are no rightmaking characteristics that we are aware of that both apply to the cases in question, and that are also sufficiently serious to counterbalance the relevant wrongmaking characteristics.

    Therefore it is likely that:

    9. If there is an omnipotent and omniscient being, then there are specific cases of such a being’s intentionally allowing animals to die agonizing deaths in forest fires, and children to undergo lingering suffering and eventual death due to cancer, that have wrongmaking properties such that there are no rightmaking characteristics β€” including ones that we are not aware of β€” that both apply to the cases in question, and that are also sufficiently serious to counterbalance the relevant wrongmaking characteristics.
    10. An action is morally wrong, all things considered, if it has a wrongmaking characteristic that is not counterbalanced by any rightmaking characteristics.

    Therefore:

    11. If there is an omnipotent and omniscient being, then there are specific cases of such a being’s intentionally allowing animals to die agonizing deaths in forest fires, and children to undergo lingering suffering and eventual death due to cancer, that are morally wrong, all things considered.

    Therefore:

    12. If there is an omnipotent and omniscient being, then that being both intentionally refrains from performing certain actions in situations where it is morally wrong to do so, all things considered, and knows that he is doing so.
    13. A being who intentionally refrains from performing certain actions in situations where it is morally wrong to do so, all things considered, and knows that he is doing so, is not morally perfect.

    Therefore:

    14. If there is an omnipotent and omniscient being, then that being is not morally perfect.

    Therefore:

    15. There is no omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being.
    16. If God exists, then he is, by definition, an omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect being.

    Therefore:

    17. God does not exist.

  15. August 4, 2009 at 11:21 am

    “In many such cases, no rightmaking characteristics that we are aware of both apply to the case in question, and also are sufficiently serious to counterbalance the relevant wrongmaking characteristic.”

    Rather bold assertion for no proof being offered, or even a measure by which to determine relative moral characteristics. I would expect more of Stanford.

  16. August 4, 2009 at 8:31 pm

    LOL. I do not see the point/relevance in answering that. There’s no other Big Bang theory.

    Btw, your book (A Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawkings) is in me. So I am just gonna base my answers in that book if you’ll insist about the BB. πŸ˜€

  17. August 4, 2009 at 8:37 pm

    Btw, what is the topic here? Origin of the Universe? Lets make this clear before we continue.

    Also, I would really suggest we continue this in another post. Maybe we can have our little friendly debate there. πŸ™‚

    • 31 jong atmosfera
      August 4, 2009 at 9:31 pm

      @Discreet Infidel:

      Yup, let’s continue this on another blog topic. In fact, I am writing it right now for your convenience. It’s easier to attack a stationary target from a moving position, right? But out of Christian charity, I’ll make it easy on you. I’ll start the discussion, you comment. The title of my next entry will be: “Knowing vs. Believing; Proof vs. Evidence”. πŸ™‚

      By the way, yes it would help if you base your answers about the origin of the universe on A Brief History of Time, among other sources. At least our discussion will have a proper perspective.

      Looking forward. πŸ™‚

  18. 32 zaurah patricia
    December 17, 2009 at 2:16 am

    i could never forget this photo. this was a child who could not carry his weight for him to walk normally. so, he walked like a duck to be able to get to the camp to feed himself. this was a common site for the vultures who were just waiting for the child to give up and die. there were already few who died in this field and had the same plight of those who were eaten by the meat-eating birds.

    actually, this was sent to me several years ago via email with several photos of children falling in line behind the cow to drink its urine. anyway, this photo won an international contest but the photographer killed himself after few months of severe depression caused by the harsh conditions he had seen in the place where children slowly dying of starvation. this was indeed one of the few saddest pictures in the world.

    well, why all of these existed? for the believers, the answer is maybe that’s the reason why you are here. God has sent you. and to those who are non-believers, at least try to do something about the problem. hypocrisy is universal. it should not be shared like a commodity by merely illustrating a problem and discuss whether or not God is real because of the existing problems of the world.. people can do better than that.


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