This week’s question: “The existence of suffering is often pointed to as a argument against the presence of a loving god, but how can one have a world in which humans are free without some of those choices being for ill rather than for good?”
In our last column, we made an implicit argument as to the incompatibility of an all-powerful, all-knowing and all-benevolent god and the existence of evil in the world. There is no better encapsulation than that of Epicurus, born 341 BCE: “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?” However, many individuals attempt to counter this by arguing that free will gets God off the hook. To allow us freedom, God had to give free will. The price of free will, however, is the possibility of evil. This is a fantastically untenable position when held alongside divine omnipotence. Immediately, the “free will” defense for God fails when one considers a natural disaster that cannot be blamed on humanity. But it’s no fun to just demolish the foundation; it’s much more interesting to detonate the argument floor by floor. Even if we consider evil strictly linked to human action, it is still incompatible with omnipotence; an all-powerful god could create a world both with freedom and without evil if he wanted. He could even create a world that tested people’s worthiness for ascension to heaven or banishment to hell without evil. God can do anything, remember? So if he exists, he either created a world where someone is raped every six minutes, or he is not omnipotent.
Connor Oakes is a third-year political science major.
As an atheist, I think the problem of evil poses one of the strongest arguments against the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, perfect God. Although I have heard countless justifications for the existence of evil from religious people, they all seem tepid and ultimately unsatisfying. The most common contention is that evil exists to serve or enable some greater good or purpose. Theologians have suggested human free will as a possible greater good; they have argued that suffering presents the opportunity for great exercises of courage and compassion; and perhaps most disturbing, they have maintained that suffering is necessary to turn people away from their sinful ways and toward God. These “theodicies” are clearly riddled with problems. An omniscient God, for example, would have to know how the world would turn out, and therefore must either be incapable of preventing suffering or be uncaring. Furthermore, why can’t an omnipotent God devise other, more effective ways of bringing people to Him without having to endure suffering? “Miracles” were grandiose and numerous in biblical times, but now they are scarce and relegated to weeping statues. For an omnipotent God, the possibilities should be literally countless, but instead we see a world where suffering is unevenly distributed, apparently pointless and, in some cases, horrifically gratuitous. The points raised here barely scratch the surface of the problem of evil, but it seems to me that if there is a God, it most certainly would not be the one characterized by the Bible.
Tyler Santander is a fourth-year political science and psychology major.
Can God make a rock so large, even He can’t move it? I’m sure you’ve heard this paradox before to argue against an all-powerful god, but it is unfortunately shut down rather easily by answering it: “Yes, He could, and then He would move it, because He’s God and can do anything.” This argument, in the context of the assumptions granted for the conversation (an all-powerful God, that is) is completely valid. He must be able to defy logic to do this, and if it’s God, then why not? Of course, this presents a new problem that must be addressed, related to human suffering: “Why can’t God create a world with free will that has no suffering?” It may be a contradiction, but God is an expert when it comes to those. This too can be shut down though, from the philosophical perspective of a divine being. “Why would He want to create a world without suffering? Maybe suffering is not bad from His perspective.” Certainly, if He is not a “loving” god and merely a super-powerful force, this is a possibility. It discounts the possibility of a personal god — the kind that so many are fond of — but it certainly leaves open room for a spiteful, angry, or uncaring force behind the universe that simply lets life exist. But if suffering is not bad, then how does one argue that free will is good? What’s so great about the idea of choice anyway? It seems we have to dismiss the idea of a personal god or accept the presence of a hateful one, unworthy of worship based upon these principles.
Cameron Moody is a second-year computational biology major.