Here is another guest post from Dana Horton; as ever, thanks!
Does Evil Disprove the Existence of God?
(Reading time 3-60 minutes)
Here’s a fun one on evil and suffering: One of the primary arguments against the existence of God (especially the ‘old man’ version of God) is the existence of suffering. Surely if there is a God, and he/she is omniscient and benevolent, then wars, riots, and bigotry would not exist. And JLo would never have met ARod.
This is completely logical.
But there are other considerations that might come into play as we examine this argument.
- Death. A benevolent God would eliminate death. But without death, the Earth would quickly become over-populated. Without death, the conventional wisdom stalwarts would stifle growth in new ideas. On a personal level, if we knew that we would live forever, some of us might be tempted to lay on the couch and watch Judge Judy in perpetuity, since she too would never die. Sooooo, maybe it’s not all death that is the problem with believing in a benevolent God … just early death.
- Misery. A benevolent God would eliminate all pain. But realistically, don’t all of us need to experience that hand-on-the-stove moment? Sadness, worry, and fear actually attune us to the world. Most parents (except for the helicopter ones) do not intentionally keep their children from experiencing Earthly challenges. A benevolent, non-helicopter God would likely act the same way. Further, can you imagine how boring life would be if the biggest issue we had to grapple with was what we might have for dessert?
- Wrongdoing. If there is a God, we would all live in perfect harmony, agreeing on everything and not ever doing anything harmful. But what would we have to talk about at happy hour? Disagreement feeds change, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. Just like death, maybe it is the degree of wrongdoing that is the issue with God. Maybe God should intervene only when mass shootings or genocides are about to take place. But like determining an early death, how does God draw the line on ‘excessive’ suffering? And why did God allow Adolph Hitler to exist (no good answer here)?
Do these arguments prove the existence of God? Not at all. Death, misery, and wrongdoing are always going to be prevalent whether God exists or not. Although we acknowledge they are really good arguments against the existence of the anthropomorphic God of Christianity. Bad things happen to good people. But when religious defenders write off bad things as being part of “God’s plan,” that is unsatisfying and ineffectual.
Charles Bowen, a mid-1800s barrister in England, struck the right balance in this little verse:
The rain it raineth on the just
And also on the unjust fella;
But chiefly on the just, because
The unjust hath the just’s umbrella.
Conspiracy theory: Maybe we are just a pre-trial experiment. Try this one on at the next Zoom get-together. Maybe Hume was right — our experience in this realm is a practice run by God, where he worked out the bugs in his design. Under this theory, there’s a parallel universe out there where he did better in the next iteration.
A Hypothetical Panel. Let’s say that instead of God making these big life decisions, we set up a Panel of philosophers and other good people to make decisions on the big suffering issues. In essence, The Panel would play God … but without all the mystical stuff.
Let’s say The Panel has the ability to eliminate bad people from the planet. It seems likely that The Panel would vote to eliminate Hitler (further debate would ensue on whether to kill baby Hitler, mid-life Hitler, or maybe even prevent Hitler’s parents from going to that picnic). That one is relatively easy. But also on the spectrum is Evelyn in Accounting, who is a pain in the a$$ to work with, but not a serial killer. Likewise, we’re pretty sure that each one of us would fall on the wrong side of ‘the elimination line’ in someone’s estimation. After the Hitler decision, even the elite personnel on The Panel would have a challenge determining the ‘right’ criteria.
And what if it got personal, and The Panel decided that the genetic composition of one of our children shows a predisposition to evil. Most of us would have a real problem with The Panel’s decision in that case. And what if The Panel decided it was time for Grandma to die because she is 95 years old and has lost control of her body and mind? It’s a little different when things get personal.
At least the theist has a backstop when bad things happen: God’s got it and we do not have to question it. Not so if the responsibility rests with The Panel.
Despite the theists’ belief system, it is unsatisfying to assign these decisions to an omniscient God. It is equally unsatisfying to turn these decisions over to The Panel. We are not going to convince one side or the other in this paper whether God exists or not. That is not the purpose here. But it might actually be practical to use our Earthly freedom to discuss and consult with the collective intelligence (but not The Panel) and make conscious decisions about how we might want to experience the big things of life, death, and everything in between. For example, maybe some of us would like a ‘death with dignity’ contingency plan in case we lose control of our mind and body when we are 95 years old (or older).
We cannot understand suffering. Realistically, we cannot understand most things in the universe. But no matter what science, art, or religion we humans develop, we need chaos and uncertainty to recognize the difference between what is and what we would like it to be … because that’s just what we do. Life without challenges would be boring.
Who did we steal this from? We’ve been devouring the book Seven Ways of Looking at Pointless Suffering by Scott Samuelson. It was one of Mark Manson’s (Subtle Art of Not Giving a F&#@) recommended books from 2020. Otherwise, there is no way we would have gravitated toward it. But we found that Samuelson is a good writer, and it is a surprisingly fun read (in a weird kind of way).
Dana Horton is from Ohio, United States and has recently retired as Director of Energy Markets a large utility company. In August 2019, he earned his ministerial license through a New Thought religious organization called Centers for Spiritual Living based in Denver, Colorado. He acted as interim minister at the Columbus Center for Spiritual Living for several months afterward, where he learned a lot more about religious and spiritual organizations. At this time has no interest in returning to any formal religious structure. But he enjoys investigating spiritual principles, how they originated, and how they might be applicable to everyday living.
[JP – for those of you interested in mythology, you can do no better than Dave Fletcher’s amazing book (on Onus Books) called Myth Education [UK] – please grab a copy and check out the fantastic reviews.]
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