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The Problem Of Evil

What is most likely the most serious challenge to any faith in God is probably what is commonly known as the Problem of Evil. Essentially, this problem is the apparent contradiction between the existence of an all-powerful, all-loving God, and the obvious and horrible evils that seem to occur in the world with alarming frequency. How does one go about reconciling the notion of God with these unfortunate realities?

First and foremost, we need to properly define who and what God is. I choose to define God as a being with four fundamental characteristics or properties. They are: Omnipresence (being everywhere), Omniscience (being all-knowing), Omnipotence (being all-powerful), and Omnibenevolence (being all-good). Omnipresence naturally leads to Omniscience, which in turn naturally leads to both Omnipotence and Omnibenevolence. Being everywhere obviously enables a being to know everything that is going on. Knowing everything enables a being to be able to do anything that is possible. These are usually recognized and understood by most people. What is perhaps less commonly recognized is that knowing everything also leads logically to being all-good, because knowing everything essentially means knowing the feelings of every sentient being at every moment in spacetime. Because of this awareness, any being with this property essentially feels the pain and pleasure of other beings naturally, and so is motivated to maximize the happiness and minimize the suffering of all other beings in the universe.

So, having established this, why is there still so much suffering and evil? The common argument used by many religious folk is that God gave humans free will, and that this free will is something that God willingly chooses not to override. Even if this were true, it does not explain sufficiently the natural evils of Earthquakes and Tsunamis killing thousands. So really, why is there so much suffering and evil?

The best argument that I can think up at the moment requires a careful understanding of what it actually means to be all-powerful and all-good. Being all-powerful does not mean one can do absolutely anything up to and including paradoxes such as creating a rock so heavy that even God can’t lift it. The existence of such logical paradoxes means that being all-powerful is still constrained by the limits of the possible. Omnipotence thus means only that God can do anything that is possible. Being all-good furthermore also limits what God can do. God can only do what is good, and cannot willingly choose to do evil. Thus, contrary to some understandings of God, a logical God is not free to do anything at will.

This strongly implies that if there is in fact such a God, then the suffering and evil in the universe are strictly necessary in order to achieve the higher order goal of the greatest good. How could this be the case? Well, first, let’s define the greatest good. The greatest good is a state of the universe in which the happiness of all sentient beings is maximized.

How would a God go about creating such a state? Well, to borrow from various faiths, there is the concept of Heaven, a place of eternal life and eternal bliss. To place all sentient entities in such a location would achieve this goal rather handily. So why aren’t we all in Heaven enjoying such?

One of the issues of creating a Utopia such as a Heaven, is simply that competing interests and desires can create suffering. Note that this is a concern only when there is more than one sentient being. If there were only one sentient being, then all the universe could cater to that being’s whims. But the second you introduce a second sentient being, you arrive at a situation that necessitates either cooperation or competition. This seems to be logically unavoidable. Furthermore, the Law of Diminishing Marginal Utility suggests that the most efficient way to maximize happiness is to have as many equally happy sentient beings as possible. Thus, suffering is the cost of sharing the universe with others. The best God can do is to try to minimize this suffering as much as possible.

So, is suffering actually minimized by the current state of the universe? There appears to be a lot of seemingly arbitrary and unnecessary suffering in the world today. I do not pretend to know if suffering is actually minimized, however I can suggest possible reasons why the world is the way that it is. This goes back to the concept of Heaven. Heaven is supposed to be a place of eternal bliss, and absent suffering, but how would this be possible if more than one sentient being co-existed there. Well, perhaps it is possible that a particular arrangement of personalities that cooperate rather than compete can be devised that enables mutually beneficial co-existence. So why not just create beings with such personalities?

What is a personality? A personality is a product of genetics, experiences, and circumstances. It is formed through actually existing. Perhaps it is not possible to create a personality fully formed out of nothing, but it is absolutely essential to the formation process that it grow into whatever it can be. Thus, we have the world as we know it, as the proving ground, the training that forges us into whatever we can be. And based on our moral performance in this world, our logical place in the various levels of the afterlife can then be determined. Thus, the universe as we know it is nothing more than a kind of litmus test for whether or not we have the right personality to populate Heaven or Utopia if you will.

I do not know if this is truth or merely hopeful conjecture. I know that this does not really sound like any particular religious creed, and is only loosely connected to the notion of Salvation by Grace. Nevertheless, I offer it as a possible tentative solution to the Problem of Evil.

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Page last modified on August 29, 2015, at 01:47 PM