>A problem with the problem of evil

Posted: 21/12/2008 in problem of evil

>One of my favorite classes this first semester of grad school was “God and the Problem of Evil.” In short, philosophers ask how a God who is all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing can co-exist with all the evil that we see in the world. I came to the conclusion, and argued in a long paper, that much of the problem is how the term “God” is understood in this question. It often seems that non-theists and Christians have a different understanding of the term and both seem to miss this miscommunication. I will outline the problem and give a suggestion as to how the problem of evil changes given the specific definition of “God.”

A fellow by the name of William Rowe demonstrated the non-theist’s definition of God. He argued for “restricted theism.” This meant that there exists an all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing (otherwise known as the three omni’s) being, but with nothing beyond this simple definition. No sacred scriptures. No special revelations. No prophets. No Jesus. God, so defined by restricted theism, is a being with the three-omni’s and nothing else.
From here Rowe explained the problem as he sees it. He first gives vivid examples of the kind of evil we see, such as a little girl who is raped and murdered. He then argues that it is not reasonable to believe that God exists. Theists usually answer that God has reasons that are far beyond our comprehension (“noseeum” reasons) for allowing evil, but Rowe finds this inadequate for two reasons. First, by being beyond our comprehension these reasons are irrational. Secondly, God seems apathetic and distant from our suffering.

The problem with Rowe’s argument, and those non-theists like him, is they insist on working with a definition of “God” that is far to restricted. It is so restricted that very few theists actually believe in such a god. In a way, people like Rowe are batting at position that doesn’t exist, or that exists only their minds.
If Christians are going to respond to the problem of evil, we do so with our definition of God. The Christian God became man in the person of Jesus, otherwise known as the incarnation. What is properly said about Jesus, can also be said about God. This cannot be abstracted or removed without changing the definition of god as “restricted theism” wants us to. Christians do believe in the three omni’s, but not merely the three omnis.

This changes the problem of evil significantly. Rowe asks why humans suffer so much evil while God is sitting around doing nothing. Christians point to something else. According to Christianity, God himself was human and suffered evil at the hands of his enemies during the crucifixion. Now instead of the question being, “why do humans suffer so much evil?” we now have to ask, “why do humans, and God, suffer so much evil?”

The implications of this go beyond this blog, but I think it is important to sum up the correct starting point. Non-theists often define god as “a being with the three omi’s and nothing else.” Christians, in contrast, will say “God is a being who took on human flesh in the person of Jesus Christ and has the three omnis as well.” The problem of evil simply cannot be looked in the same way in light of this. The non-theists, as well as Christian apologists, need to keep this in mind when responding to the evil we see in the world.

Thanks for reading.

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Comments
  1. Adam Goyer says:

    >Thank You Joel, well put. Your concise insight increased my understanding and practical wisdom ever so slightly, which is more then most conversations.”Why Do Humans and God suffer so much Evil.” We need to talk about this more in depth next time we talk, it’s kind of mind warping, but in a good way.

  2. luke says:

    >Hey there, I followed you over from Chris Sayler’s blog. I just wanted to say “hi” and let you know that I really appreciated this post. Thanks for making this point. We’ll never be able to have constructive discussions with people who we disagree with until we get an understanding of how different our conclusions are and how those affect the way we interpret everything. I’d love to hear more of your thoughts on this topic in the future. Thanks!

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