CAFE NOIR » Tales of an atheist, anarchist, wannabe filmmaker of sorts, and father of three lovable little beasties

An overview of the problem of evil | Introduction

I’ve been blogging here for over a year now, and I came out publicly as an atheist early on. And I’ve touched here and there on specific reasons for rejecting the God of traditional monotheism, but I haven’t yet handled that issue in a sustained, direct manner. So I think it’s time I attempt to do so, by offering a relatively brief but rigorous overview of the problem of evil.

I say “relatively brief” but in this case that means I’ll devote multiple lengthy essays to various facets of the topic. It is a huge topic after all, and although of course I can’t possibly cover it all or explore very many of the really fine-grained points (or even have personal familiarity with them all, for that matter), it’s actually not as bewitchingly complicated as it might appear. And none of what I’ll say will necessarily be original, but my primary reason for writing this series is that I don’t personally know of another resource assembled, focused, and streamlined along the lines I have in mind for these essays.

The basic problem is perhaps the oldest in the philosophy of religion. Grappled with in the Hebrew scriptures, particularly in the books of Job and Ecclesiastes. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus put it this way:

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

As I count them, there are four general approaches one might take to resolve the problem, which aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive:

1) Deny the problem in one way or another.

2) Re-define the theistic God in some form or fashion, to one degree or another.

3) Provide explanations for why we should expect the various evils we see around us. Otherwise known as theodicy.

4) Deny that we should expect to understand God’s reasons for allowing the various evils we see around us. Otherwise known as skeptical theism.

In my view, all four of these avenues–even in combination–fail quite dreadfully to adequately address the deep problems that evil poses for theism. And I plan to take them all in turn, over the course of the related essays to come. I can’t promise to bang these essays out in quick order, as I’m simply not a prolific enough blogger to do so. But hopefully before 2016 comes to a close. That’s a reasonable goal I think…

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