Paul Copan explains the high points of the problems of evil and suffering in just under 18 minutes.
the question itself reveals that we are moral beings
the problem of evil is the great interrupter of human well-being
every philosophy of life has to address this question
is God required to give us a life that is easy and comfortable?
evil is a departure from good, i.e. – the way things ought to be
a way things ought to be implies a plan for what ought to be
human evil implies a plan for the way we ought to be
free creatures have the ability to deviate from the plan
where does this plan for the universe and us come from?
how can there be a way we ought to be come from?
evil is the flip side of good so where does good come from?
God’s own moral nature is the standard of good and evil
where does evil from natural disasters come from?
how dangerous natural phenomena preserve Earth’s habitability
there is a benefit from tectonic activity
similarly, God lets humans freely choose knowing harm may result
people are free to try to find meaning in something other than God
God is able to use negative things to bring about positive results
e.g. – when good people suffer, they can comfort and care for others
can people be good enough on their own without God?
If you want to read two good books for beginners on Christian Apologetics that cover a wide range of issues in philosophy of religion, get “Passion Conviction” and the companion “Contending With Christianity’s Critics”. Awesome, awesome resources.
This is one of the top 4 best debates that William Lane Craig has ever done in my opinion. (The other three are Craig-Millican debate and the first and second Craig-Dacey debates). If you’ve never seen Dr. Craig in a debate with a non-Christian, this one is probably the best introductory one out there. Dr. Craig is the foremost defender of Christian theism on the planet, and probably of all time.
Sinnott-Armstrong is very courteous, respectful and intelligent scholar and he is very good at defending his side. This is a very cordial and engaging debate, and because it was held in front of a church audience, it was targeted to laymen and not academics. So if you are looking for a good first debate to watch, this is it! Normally, Dr. Craig debates at major universities in front of students and faculty.
There is also a book based on this debate, published by Oxford University Press. I was actually able to find a PDF of it online. I should also remind people that you can get the wonderful Craig-Hitchens debate DVD from Amazon.com if you are looking for a debate to watch, or show in your church, this is the one to start with.
Evil is incompatible with the concept of God (three features all-powerful, all-god, all-knowing)
God’s additional attributes: eternal, effective and personal (a person)
He will be debating against the Christian God in this debate, specifically
Contention: no being has all of the three features of the concept of God
His argument: is not a deductive argument, but an inductive/probabilistic argument
Examples of pointless, unjustified suffering: a sick child who dies, earthquakes, famines
The inductive argument from evil:
If there were an all-powerful and all-good God, then there would not be any evil in the world unless that evil is logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
There is evil in the world.
Some of that evil is not logically necessary for some adequately compensating good.
Therefore, there can’t be a God who is all-powerful and all-good.
Evil: anything that all rational people avoid for themselves, unless they have some adequate reason to want that evil for themselves (e.g. – pain, disability, death)
Adequate reason: some evils do have an adequate reason, like going to the dentist – you avoid a worse evil by having a filling
God could prevent tooth decay with no pain
God can even change the laws of physics in order to make people not suffer
Responses by Christians:
Evil as a punishment for sin: but evil is not distributed in accordance with sin, like babies
Children who suffer will go straight to Heaven: but it would be better to go to Heaven and not suffer
Free will: this response doesn’t account for natural evil, like disease, earthquakes, lightning
Character formation theodicy: there are other ways for God to form character, by showing movies
Character formation theodicy: it’s not fair to let X suffer so that Y will know God
God allows evil to turn people towards him: God would be an egomaniac to do that
We are not in a position to know that any particular evil is pointless: if we don’t see a reason then there is no reason
Inductive evil is minor compared to the evidences for God: arguments for a Creator do not prove that God is good
WLC opening speech:
Summarizing Walter’s argument
If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
Gratuitous evil exists.
Therefore, God does not exist.
Gratuitous evil means evil that God has no morally sufficient reason to permit. WSA doesn’t think that all evil is incompatible with God’s existence, just gratuitous evil.
Everyone admits that there are instances of evil and suffering such that we cannot see the morally sufficient reason why God would allow it to occur.
The claim of the atheist is that if they cannot see that there is a moral justification for allowing some instance evil, then there is no moral justification for that instance of evil.
Here are three reasons why we should not expect to know the morally sufficient reasons why God permits apparently pointless evil.
the ripple effect: the morally sufficient reason for allowing some instance of evil may only be seen in another place or another time
Three Christian doctrines undermine the claim that specific evils really are gratuitous
Walter’s own premise 1 allows us to argue for God’s existence, which means that evil is not gratuitous
Christian doctrines from 2.:
The purpose of life is not happiness, and it is not God’s job to make us happy – we are here to know God. Many evils are gratuitous if we are concerned about being happy, but they are not gratuitous for producing the knowledge of God. What WSA has to show is that God could reduce the amount of suffering in the world while still retaining the same amount of knowledge of God’s existence and character.
Man is in rebellion, and many of the evils we see are caused by humans misusing their free will to harm others and cause suffering
For those who accept Christ, suffering is redeemed by eternal life with God, which is a benefit that far outweighs any sufferings and evils we experience in our earthly lives
Arguing for God in 3.
If God exists, gratuitous evil does not exist.
Therefore, gratuitous evil does not exist.
Four reasons to think that God exists (premise 2 from above):
The problem of evil is no doubt the most serious challenge to belief in God. Even religious believers find it troubling that evil exists in the world—and so much evil! It is puzzling, to say the least, that an all-powerful, absolutely good being would allow evil to exist in his creation. And yet it does. Evil and suffering exist and they are often overwhelming in their magnitude.
Now let’s find out what a noseeum is, and how it relates to the existence of evil and suffering:
However, perhaps God’s existence is incompatible with a certain kind of evil that exists. For example, the atheist William Rowe has argued that God’s existence is inconsistent with pointless or gratuitous evil. By “pointless evil,” Rowe means evil that does not and cannot serve a greater good. And Rowe believes that there is such pointless evil in the world. He thus concludes that God does not exist. Rowe’s argument may be simply stated as follows:
If God exists, there would be no pointless evil.
There is pointless evil.
Therefore, God does not exist.
[…]But, is there pointless evil in the world? Rowe thinks there is. To show that there is pointless evil, Rowe introduces what he calls the “noseeum inference.” Like the pesty little bugs that some readers may be familiar with, a “noseeum” is something that you cannot see—it is a “no-see-um.” And a noseeum inference is a conclusion drawn on the basis of what one does not see. The basic structure of all noseeum inferences looks like this:
I cannot see an x.
Therefore, there probably is no x.
We all make noseeum inferences everyday of our lives. Every time I go to cross a street, I look both ways and I step out into the street only after I “no-see-um” a car coming.
[…]Rowe applies this kind of noseeum reasoning to God and evil. Rowe suggests that if we cannot see a reason for a particular instance of evil, then there is probably not a reason. Suppose we hear about a very young child who is tortured to death to amuse some psychotic person. We think about this event and we examine all the circumstances surrounding it. No matter how hard we try, we cannot see any good reason why this child had to suffer the way she did. Since we cannot see a reason why God would allow this child to suffer, there probably is not a good reason—the child’s suffering was pointless. Of course, Rowe would be quick to point out that he is not speaking merely hypothetically. There are cases like this in the news every day—real-life cases in which we shake our heads in frustration, wondering why God would allow such a thing.
Is Rowe correct in his conclusion? Do such examples prove that there is pointless evil in the world? I don’t think so. To see why, we must recognize that noseeum inferences are not all created equal. Some noseeum inferences, as we have seen, are reasonable and appropriate. But, many are not. Suppose I look up at the night sky at the star Deneb and I do not see a planet orbiting that star. Would it be reasonable for me to conclude that there is no planet orbiting Deneb? Of course not. Suppose that using the best telescopes and other imaging equipment presently available, I still cannot see a planet around Deneb. I would still be unjustified in concluding that there was no such planet.
In that example, the planet is the noseeum. Just because you look really hard, you can’t be confident that the planet is not there. And similarly with the problem of evil and suffering, looking really hard and finding no reason does not mean that there is no reason. It just means that you are not in a good position to see the reason. You don’t know enough to to be sure that there is no reason, because of your limitations as a human being.
To know that any given instance of evil or suffering is gratuitous/pointless requires a high level of knowledge. How much knowledge? Well, consider this paper by the late William Alston of Syracuse University, who lists six problems with the idea that humans can know that any particular instance of evil and suffering is gratuitous. (You can get the PDF here)
According to the paper, human beings just do not have the capability to know for certain that God has NO morally sufficient reason for allowing any particular instance of evil and/or suffering. God’s morally sufficient reason is a noseeum. To know for sure that there is no reason, we would need to have more knowledge than we do.
Also, remember that on the Christian view, the good aim that God has is NOT to make humans have happy feelings in this life, regardless of their knowledge, wisdom and character. That’s what atheists think, though. They think that God, if he exists, is obligated to make them feel happy all the time. They don’t think that God’s goal is being actively involved in forming their knowledge, wisdom and character. God has a purpose – to work in the world so that everyone who can freely respond to him will respond to him. The Bible says that allowing pain and suffering is one of the ways that he gets that group of people who are willing to respond to respond to him – FREELY. To be able to claim that evil is gratuitous, the atheist has to show that God can achieve his goal of saving all the people he wants to save while permitting less suffering in the world. And that is a very difficult thing for an atheist to show, given our human cognitive limitations.