Micah Redding — humanity, technology & the future

In this series:

The Problem of Evil is the Problem of Humanity

The Problem of Evil contrasts three ideas:

  1. Evil, suffering, and pain exist.
  2. We believe that God is all powerful.
  3. We believe that God is completely benevolent.

For our purposes, let’s define “all powerful” as “having the ability to create any possible world”. Christians and other theists don’t necessarily assert that God actually has that power (these sorts of discussions are never brought up in the Jewish or Christian scriptures, for example), but I think we can say that this is the most power that any reasonably conceived God could have.

Many people would understand “all powerful” to mean the ability to intervene in our world. But for our purposes, we can say that for God to intervene is the same as creating a logically distinct world. For example, if God was to intervene to prevent a particular murder, this would be the same as having created a universe in which that particular murder was never a possibility. Or, more obviously, if God was to intervene to set the entire world to rights, that would be the same as destroying this world, and creating a new world in its place.

So, rephrased:

  1. This world has evil, suffering, and pain.
  2. We believe that God could have created any possible world.
  3. We believe that God is completely benevolent.

But the focus of this argument is on living beings who suffer. Worlds which do not contain living beings are irrelevant. So,

  1. This world has evil, suffering, and pain.
  2. We believe that God could have created living beings in any possible world.
  3. We believe that God is completely benevolent.

Importantly, the fact that God could have created beings in other worlds is a logically distinct issue from the fact that he created beings in this one. Since there is no reason to presume that creating one world prevents creating another, we can reason that these are distinct and independent decisions on God’s part. He may have created another world with very little suffering, for example, but that doesn’t say anything about his choice to create this one.

To see that this is so, consider someone building houses. When we buy a house, we typically only buy one, and so we compare and contrast, determining which one we prefer. But the house builder will build hundreds of houses in his career, and so determines which houses to build based on their own intrinsic merits. Just because he may decide that a three-story house is better than a ranch-style house, this does not mean that he won’t build a ranch-style house on a particular piece of property. He may choose to do so or not, but that is an independent question from whether or not he builds a three-story house in the city.

So, given that fact, we can rephrase the argument again:

  1. This world has evil, suffering, and pain.
  2. We believe that God had the choice to create living beings in this world, or not.
  3. We believe that God’s choice was benevolent.

This argument can now be understood in a way much more relevant to the choices we human beings face.

  1. This world has evil, suffering, and pain.
  2. God had the choice to bring beings into it, or not.
  3. We believe that God’s choice was benevolent.

When seen this way, God’s choice and our choice is the same: whether or not to bring beings into this particular, suffering-prone world.

God made the decision to do so.
Our ancestors made the decision to do so.

We are only here because of that choice. To the extent that we uphold the choices of our ancestors, we defend the choices of God. To the extent that we make the choice to invest in the continuing existence of the human species, we are justifying God as benevolent. To the extent that we reject God as benevolent, we reject the human enterprise.


Next: The Human Race & The Problem of Evil

Chiefy:

Of course, "having the ability to create any possible world" could have two meanings, either the ability to create any imaginable (or unimaginable) world, or the ability to create any world that can exist. The later would mean that creation is limited by things like the laws of nature, for instance. That would mean that God is not infinitely powerful, which I don't think the Bible claims, anyway. It does raise the question of whether God had the power to create a world without suffering. Perhaps that is an impossibility, like 2+2=7. In that case, I could see that God would be in the same boat as humans. Our choices are to bring life into an imperfect world, or not. There is no perfect world. The other possibility is that God did not create the world and/or life. That's the one I lean toward.