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Posted by on Mar 4, 2007 in problem of evil, religion | 15 comments

Problem of evil – “atheists face it too”

The problem of evil is a problem if you believe in an all-powerful, all-good God. Actually, there are two problems of evil:

1. The logical problem. Suffering exists. But the existence of any suffering at all is logically inconsistent with that of such a God. Therefore that God does not exist.

2. The evidential problem. The sheer quantity of suffering is powerful evidence against the existence of an all-powerful all-good God.

Problem 1 is not much of a problem perhaps. It would do to show that some suffering is the price that logically must be paid for a greater good, e.g. free will.

Problem 2 is the BIG problem. Unfortunately, some think that by showing an all-powerful all-good God would put some suffering in the world for a greater good, that deals with problem 2. But of course, it doesn’t. What needs explaining is not the existence of some suffering, but the sheer quantity – millions of years of unimaginable animal suffering etc. etc.

In his recent blog responding to this blog, Mark Vernon suggests, re. the sheer quantity of suffering there is in the world, that

good reasons for this state of affairs can be found in any intro to religion.

I think these “good reasons” are woefully inadequate. As do most atheists. And even quite a few theists. For a sketch of my worries see my The God of Eth.

But Vernon also says this:

I think that most believers would say that the problem of evil – which after all is something everyone faces in some form or other whether they believe in God or not – is the reason they believe in God, not a reason for not doing so: at least they have faith that good will finally triumph, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary!

The problem of evil is “something everyone faces… whether they believe in God or not”? Really? Vernon has here switched problems in fact, to that of how, pyschologically, to deal with suffering. Yes, that is a problem for everyone. How do we cope? But that is not the problem we are discussing here. Which is how on earth can we maintain that it is reasonable (or even not unreasonable) to believe in an all-powerful all-good God in the face of such seemingly overwhelming evidence to the contrary?

One way of coping psychologically is of course to believe in God. That’s a “reason” to believe, perhaps. But not the sort we are after. We are after the kind of “reasons” that make a belief more likely to be true.

After all, it might help me cope with my current financial nightmare if I believed I was going to win the lottery next week. But though it might help me psychologically cope now, this “reason to believe” doesn’t give me the slightest reason to suppose it’s true that I’ll win. In fact, it very obviously isn’t true.