Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The problem of suffering and free will

There's a standard apologetic response to what's usually called "the problem of evil". That response is, basically, that evil is a consequence of free will.

However, that utterly fails to deal with suffering that has nothing to do with free will. Disasters, painful disease and so on have nothing whatever to do with free will, and so the apologetic response does not apply.

There's a second response I've seen (usually from the more fundamentally minded), which is that these things are either "caused by the devil" or "caused by the fall".

I could easily deal with both of these point by point, but they're directly covered by Epicurus' 33AD argument (slightly recast):

"Is God willing to prevent suffering, 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 suffering?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?

Either God is able to stop the devil or not. If not, "caused by the devil" is answered by the first pair of lines, but if God could stop the devil, it's answered by the second pair of lines. If it's caused by the fall, then (second pair) God is punishing the innocent because "hundreds of generations ago" someone didn't believe him when he lied (it's right there in the bible) about the fruit on the tree.

(Yep, the snake told the truth and God lied, and he condemns humans to floods and earthquakes and painful deaths forever - nice guy. Oh, and he pulls the legs off talking snakes that point out he's a big shifty fibber. Niice. And then yells at everyone to get the hell off his lawn.)

So we get stuck - the problem of suffering is not answered by free will. If it's the devil, God is either not omnipotent or malevolent, and if it's the fall, God is plainly malevolent. As well as a big fat liar.


Dana Hunter said...

You know, I always did like that serpent for being honest. That was one of the things that bothered me during that brief time I was Christian - the bad guys in the Bible seemed a lot more honest and upstanding than God, who seemed bipolar, wicked grouchy, and a lot histrionic. I mean, killing everybody in the world because they used their free will to act up like rebellious teens? Kicking people out of Eden and damning everybody who'd ever be born because they gave in to temptation? Overreact much?

I decided the bugger wasn't worth worshipping long before I realized he doesn't exist. That process would've been telescoped into three minutes if I'd had this post! ;-)

Blake Stacey said...

I rather liked George J. Leonard's take on the Fall story, on literary grounds at the very least.

Efrique said...

Blake - that stuff is great! Thanks for the pointer.