Friday, September 9, 2011

Evil and Suffering Part 1

This is a really big topic so I have termed this post as Part 1 as I am sure I will be posting a lot throughout the year on how evil and suffering can exist as well as a loving all-powerful God.

The most ancient and persistent objection to God’s existence is the problem of evil. How can a loving, powerful God allow so much evil and suffering in the world? Believers and nonbelievers alike must wrestle with this difficult question. Nonbelievers struggle with the atheist conclusion that morality is an illusory and ungrounded evolutionary artifact, in which case there may be no basis to complain about the unfairness of suffering, and believers battle with the apparent contradiction between God’s goodness and the suffering in the world.

Freedom in the Universe


As we grapple with the question of evil, we must first recognize that humans cause much of it. Humans, not God, murder, torture, defame, persecute and rape. Because humans have free will, they can do terrible and immoral things. But free will is essential if humans are to relate meaningfully to God. For humans to truly love God, they must be free to choose or reject that love. For God to stop all evil in the world, our freedom would have to be removed, and with it our capacity to truly love God. God cannot give us free will while at the same time restraining us from evil acts.

It is more difficult, however, to understand why a loving God would allow suffering from natural disasters or diseases. The Rev. John Polkinghorne refers to these as a consequence of physical evil. These cause incredible destruction and pain, but are not linked to human agency. As Dr. Francis Collins writes, “Science reveals that the universe, our own planet, and life itself are engaged in an evolutionary process.” The mechanisms that God used to create humans — like  the misspelling of a gene during cell replication — can also produce pain and suffering — if that misspelling leads to cancer. Likewise, the same forces that produced a life-sustaining planet including the laws of physics, chemistry, weather and tectonics, can also produce natural disasters. As with the free will of humans, God cannot constantly intervene in these areas without disrupting the inherent freedom of his creation and disrupting his consistent sustaining of all the matter and energy in the universe. Without this consistency, science would be impossible, and moral choices would be subverted. If God blocked the consequences of human moral choices, like committing murder, and natural events, like tsunamis, every time they led to evil results, then moral responsibility would disappear and the natural world would become incoherent.

Although evil challenges the existence of a good and loving creator, complaints about the unfairness of evil can also be interpreted as support for God existence. If there are no external standards of morality, what is the basis for moral claims? Why can we say that torturing children is wrong?


  1. Why didn't god just create better laws of physics, chemistry, weather, and tectonics to avoid natural disasters? How has human choice led to such things?

    And there are external standards of morality apart from God... we can say torturing children is wrong because no conscious, helpless being deserves to be intentionally harmed for an undeserving cause. If someone disagrees that this is a moral standard, then would they still disagree when they are pinned down by 5 men and tortured 'just because'? Surely not...

    The golden rule - treat others the way you want to be treated - is a fairly simple external standard for morality.

  2. Whose to say that God didn't use the best scientific laws for our universe? For example the four fundamental laws of physics in our universe are:
    1. Strong nuclear force (keeps protons within atomic nuclei from flying away)
    2. Weak nuclear force (responsible for phenomena within the atomic nucleus, such as radioactive decay)
    3. Gravity
    4. Electromagnetic force (which governs interactions of charged particles)
    These physical laws are neccessary for the operation of the universe including its ability to sustain life. Without these fundamental laws exhibiting the exact values they do, the universe would consist solely of charged and uncharged particles and random forms of electromagnetic energy floating through space.

    You ask why DIDN'T God create "better" laws. I think this is just like asking "Why doesn't God make a circular square." By definition a square is not a circle. Similarly with the physical laws of the universe perhaps you are asking God to create nonsense when you are asking him to make different physical or chemical laws. Which even for an omnipotent being is not possible as nonsense is still nonsense. A physical law is a physical law. They need to be in place for life to exist. The catch I believe is that without God (as in after sin) the mortality of our physical bodies became a reality. In the Bible God provided us with the Tree of Life (which for all I know could be an actual tree or could be symbolic of God's ability to give us eternal life and protection). Without God we become susceptible to physical evils.

    And you second point is right. There are standards of morality apart from God. But what basis do they have? They are wrong because of chemical reactions in our brains that "make us feel bad?" The fact that humanity has a sense of right and wrong, of what is moral, points to us being a special and unique creation compared to the ENTIRE rest of the animal kingdom. Human morality is thus a signpost that points towards there being a God.

    All in my opinion of course ;)

  3. Asking why God didn't create "better" laws isn't the equivalent of saying "why doesn't God make a circular square". A circular square, by definition, is impossible. Better laws would not be impossible for an all-knowing, all-powerful being.

    An all-powerful being would not limited in any way, otherwise he would not be all-powerful. He would be able to mold science however he wanted it - allow the good, negate the bad.

    I understand that we, as humans, are mortal. And I get the "sin" explanation even though it has nothing but storytelling to back it up. But mortality doesn't necessitate the extent of pain and suffering that we see in this world. And it doesn't explain why God would nicely choose to intervene once in a while for somebody and not other times often in much more desperate situations for millions of others.

  4. I touched on it on my blog too... but do you believe that heaven will have earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, hurricanes, etc? If heaven is free of such things, then our Earth could and should also be free of such things (if there was a god).

  5. Short answer (because I am preparing for finals atm) I don't know if heaven has those things, what I do think, is that God will sustain life in there regardless of what is happening naturally.

    What I believe and what you believe is irrelevant to what is actual because we don't have all the facts. All we can do is discuss what we believe. Remember God gives eternal life (if He exists and is a personal God) that doesn't mean he magically stops all the natural processes of the universe from happening "bending" the laws of physics.

  6. I guess I'm just stuck on the idea that an all-powerful entity could have created better laws. I don't see how this would have been impossible.

  7. I don't know man. I think its just semantics. Like what is "all-powerful" you know? Does that mean something that can do absolutely anything? Because some things are just impossible as they are. Like my circle square analogy or could God make a rock so big he couldn't lift it. I guess I just think the laws are what they need to be for life to exist. Could God have made them different and created life or is this how it has to be? I don't know. Theres just so many variables.

  8. Well, the circle-square and big-rock things are literally impossible and set up as 'traps' for God.

    Creating a safer universe wouldn't be impossible... remove meteorites, for examples. Or make our bodies so that they are lava-proof (so it has the same effect as water). I think there are plenty of options - and the fact that heaven doesn't require natural disasters to "physically exist" from a religious viewpoint seems to support the notion that our world shouldn't need natural disasters either.

    Anyways... I doubt we'll get anywhere on this topic :) Have a good weekend man!

  9. Well its fine and dandy to say its possible to create a safer universe but maybe the way it is now is just the way it needs to be to support life? I mean I know natural disasters are bad as in they do kill yet at the same time many of these things are necessary for earth anyway... Who knows maybe it could have been made better, certainly we can contemplate a better more hospitable place to live so that would suggest to me that it is possible but at the same time I don't know if it is.