Philosophy /Philosophy
The Problem of Evil - Philosophy

The Problem of Evil

Posted by Aneela Shahzad on

The age old problem of evil is in fact a case for atheism, it is a theorem designed to eliminate God. It has proven to be a shovel in the hands of the atheist, by means of which to strike at the roots of belief and baffle the untrained target into confusion and a willingness to shake away his existing worldview – that had previously kept him in peace and content.

It is based on a fallacy, one that can temporally grip the common sense – that if God is all-good then why would He allow evil to prevail in man’s world. It does not allow any of the numerous possibilities, why He actually would do that, but simply imposes a verdict on God that He has to eliminate evil, or we won’t believe in Him; it is also the same as asking for the miracle, ‘if He wants to win us, He will have to show’.

The theorem does not take into account the need of ‘purpose’, the need of ‘accountability’, the ‘perfection of the machine’ and the ‘consequences of free-will’. Although the religious communities of the west have tried their hardest to repair the damage this theory brings to the institution of belief, but as yet, have done it in a sorry way. All their theodicies have not been able to heal this constantly bleeding rapture in the bridge between the heart and the mind.

Let us observe the problem afresh; the age-old premises of the theory go like this:

1. An omnipotent being would have the power to eliminate all evil.

2. An omniscient being would know how to eliminate all evil.

3. An omnibenevolent being would want for there to be no evil.

4. Evil exists.

5. God is an omnibenevolent, omniscient and omnipotent being.

6. If an omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent being existed, it would eliminate all evil.

7. If God existed, evil would not exist.

8. So, God does not exist.

But there are some problems with this ‘problem of evil’, let’s observe what they are. Firstly, the theorem is put in an absolute closed way, wherein the question and the answer complement one another and the theorem demands this specific way of thinking as if there were no premises left out and as if all logic has been covered. Thus being able to appeal to the common sense of the untrained mind as to all-good equals all-good, end of case, case closed.

The three terms omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent are presented as a liability over God that are to eventually lay Him down. It is presumed that the thinker will take omnipotence as a power that can and must destroy itself, omniscient as knowledge that can construct but at the same time can and must deconstruct what it makes, and that benevolence should mean letting evil get away with everything - while He interferes with every single law of nature, running to save this and save that.

The counter argument is that if God is omnipotent, should it not imply that He should have made a system absolutely perfect, with no loop-hole, in which laws connect every single entity with the other, so that there is no question of His absence or presence, wherein He would be both absent and present all the time. Would such a system not demand absoluteness? Wherein, the fault of a single speck of dirt could set the whole system wrong, therefore everything from the tiniest to the heaviest has to be in measure and proportion. Then if man is to be given free-will, interference, an option to either go by the laws of this humungous machine of nature or go against it - what would be the consequences. The atheist might say they should be negligible, but the Creator-Scientist knows what disaster this can hold, He knows how one silly mistake on part of this unversed holder of free-will could annihilate the whole system. So who is the source of evil here, the perfect system, the God who made it or the free-will holder? Does omnipotence not demand of God to make the free-will equally capable of doing the right and the wrong, fully capable to understand His message of success or to ignore it, and to deal misapprehensions with severity on account of their potential destruction, would all that not be just fair.

What does omniscience demand of God? Does it demand that He should apologize to the people for the evil He has made, because after all evil does exist! Or does it demand of Him that in order to prove at all that He exists He will have to nullify every effect of the evil that the atheist commits or is committed on him or else He will be automatically proven non-existent on account of His naivety. Or does omniscience demand that an Entity that has all knowledge of the working of a working system is bound to act to the pleasure of one of the working parts, or does it not demand that the one mischievous part be a subject of constant correction, rehabilitation and reminder.

Omni-benevolence similarly demands of God that He should not let the corruptor go away unpunished. But the question is, would He let the crimes of one become punishment of the other, is that fair? Or, is that the fairest thing to do, considering the wholesomeness of the universal working system.

From the high where God must be, is it not fair to take the whole body of humanity as one and taken to trial as a whole for its crime against the plant kingdom or the animal kingdom or the geography of the earth, in that case the punishment will go to the whole body of mankind and each part will suffer in one way or another. Coming down from there should not the crime of one nation against the other be rewarded as repercussions to that whole nation. Should that not be the way God would look at things i.e. outside in. Then, if a society commits a corruption by breaking the moral or bodily laws set inside the very nature and physic of mankind, would not the backlash come right upon this society. One must appreciate that corruption never ends in its own circle but crosses its own boundaries entering into others on all sides like waves.

So if one man sets a fire in the woods, he does not only harm his own livelihood, he is disrupting the whole ecosystem that is shared by all. This one act of lighting a matchstick, might have had a baby burn in its fire, and several households burnt to desolation, the economy of whole sectors of workforce might have gone extinguished, greenhouse gases would have grown higher, the air we all breath would have gone polluted – that is how cruel and big this little act of crime is. It is like the dominos; you flip one card and down come the whole line of events. This is the free-will, we as humans so much cherish and contend to use at our own willing, to the extent that they would not cease from willing God out of our worldview. But this free will has to have its consequences, it cannot be willed inside the mind, while all the external, real world goes on perfectly the way it was going on before the willing, that could be a possibility but it would not be really an act of free-will unless it could exercise itself fully inside-out of its body to wherever its five senses can operate. Unless the experiment is complete, the hypothesis cannot be rendered true or false. Unless the free will is executed it will not be free.

And its very execution is the coming out of its consequences; barricading the effects is equivalent to nullifying the cause. Therefore the wrongs that come upon mankind are of his own doings, a father’s crime will come onto his son because that’s how far-reaching that crime is, bad eating habits will come as irreversible illnesses in the babies because that is what the parents have inflicted upon their coming generations.

Another big problem in the ‘problem of evil’ is that its proponents have never come up decisively upon what ‘evil’ really is. This points, to the severe fragility, upon which the argument stands.  Some schools of thought assert that evil is ‘human sufferings’, some say it is ‘natural disasters’, some plea that ‘immorality’ is real evil and others propound that it is ‘sin’ which is the real evil. But all these types of evils turn out to be relative, it is difficult to identify them definitely. For instance, many human sufferings bring about desirous virtues, which would not have accrued without those sufferings. Many natural disasters become basis for further growth and balancing of nature. Whereas, the terms immorality and sin are subject to the evolution of human thought and cultural differences respectively.

So, how to have a definite definition of evil? And will that definition submit to the ‘problem of evil’? According to the thesis presented above, evil is all that goes against the working of the universal working-system. But surely man does not possess the intricate knowledge whereby he would know when and where he is disrupting the big system. Neither God the all-knowing has accessorized man with such big a brains that would accommodate all that knowledge. But one thing is clear that man being the only holder of free-will in God’s perfectly working creation ‘the universe’, is the only potential source of evil. That doesn’t say that man is essentially evil, no he is not, but he’s got a gun in his hand, so he better guard his sanity – with power comes responsibility.

So, what was the other logical possibility for God to prevent man from using the power he had been granted in a safe way? It was to make a simple code that is acceptable to the simple mind; like you would only expect the horse to do what it can do and the bullock to do what it can do, you would communicate with it in the language it understands. So too God would expect man to understand and act upon what fitted in his framework of intelligibility; ‘don’t lie’ He would ask of him, because that’s understandable, and that signal is to be integrated in the big web of happenings of the whole system. The given code would match the hidden code, this was the preplan; that was the way the system was laid down. Therefore negation of moral values that appeal to the infrastructure of the thought can be called evil, but we just found that they are subject to change, yes they are, unless they can be dealt with in more generalized ways and unless somehow affirmed by foreign agency.

But again the infrastructure of man’s thought system has two extremes, at one end it wants petty details and at the other end it wants the most generalized statement of all. God has made these extremes for purpose; the end where men seek detail, logic and lengths of meticulous indulgence is for an extra-ordinary minority that espouses the values of critical thinking and philosophizing. But the most generalized statements of reality are for the majority of the kind, they are the beauty of the whole canvas of the stars, the mountains, the clouds and the flowers, that the all will see and cherish – all will not turn over every leaf to find what dirt lies beneath it, they will just say, ‘who has made this beautiful earth’, so the generalized form of knowledge is the one which is the most shared one, the most intelligible and therefore the most important.

So, what is the most generalized statement of reality and truth, it is the simple assertion that, ‘I am your God, obey Me and you will succeed, disobey Me and you will be doomed’. This simple statement is the potential code that can fit in all situations, answer all queries and connect the small, the single with the big, the every, the whole and the One. Therefore, it is defined! Evil is the negation of this most general law of nature, breaking this law will inevitably make the dominos of events fall destructed, whereby the good will also be wasted in the sway of the bad. And affirmation of this universal generalization will mend all bad into the good, by virtue of the self-reconstructing, correcting forces complement in nature.

Lastly, the notorious case of the ‘lightening in the jungle’ which would ignite the fire and a baby fawn that would get trapped in it, burn to death, suffering in the event long hours perhaps days of painful agony – why did God let that happen, why did He remain a spectator, why did He not show the moral, that even a man with average morals would have shown?

This case is something of the ‘appeal to pity’ thing, the thinker is forced into a situation where he would surely feel pity for the fawn, and while in the moment of pity, he is told that God could have stopped this and He did not! But he is not told, where this incident really happened? For in real time situation, if there is a case where a man is observing such an incident, the moral to save the fawn would automatically fall on the man-observer. Even if not so, the matter between an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God, who has commit Himself to mercy and the dying fawn or the burning baby, is not required to be judged by man, rather only man is to be judged by God, therefore God can and most probably would have acted His promised mercy, by interference, miraculously, but without letting the tread of events getting disrupted, thus man would have no means to detect what has gone between the fawn and God.

To conclude, the Quranic stance, however bold, for a people who would strive and go to lengths in negating the very essence of sensibility and rationality, while boasting their knowledge and data-accumulation on the rest of humanity, as prized wisdom:

‘Their likeness is as the likeness of one who kindles fire, and when it sheds its light around him Allah takes away their light and leaves them in darkness, where they cannot see,’

‘Deaf, dumb and blind; and they return not’

‘Or like a rainstorm from the sky, wherein is darkness, thunder and the flash of lightning. They thrust their fingers in their ears by reason of the thunder-claps, for fear of death, Allah encompasses the disbelievers’

‘The lightning almost snatches away their sight from them. As often as it flashes forth for them they walk therein, and when it darkens against them they stand still. If Allah willed, He could destroy their hearing and their sight. Lo! Allah is able to do all things.’       (2:17-20)