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The problem of evil is ubiquitous in philosophy of religion:

Here is a decent version of the argument:

  1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  3. (Therefore) There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

In my “God on Trial” talk I use the argument about carnivorousness to look at the evidential problem.

It is better because it talks about evil as being gratuitous or not. The evil in the world can still logically exist, as long as it is not gratuitous (i.e. serves a purpose). With regards to the question about photosynthesis, the idea is that eating meat and causing animal pain and death must be necessary for some other, greater good.

The Christian is in the position of being able to say, as they always do, that this is logically possible. This, however, is not good enough. It falls into the fallacy of what Richard Carrier calls possibiliter ergo probabiliter. In other words, something is possible, and so therefore it becomes probable. This is not, for me at any rate, an epistemologically good method. If I went through my life believing things because they were possible and not probable, I would get into some serious trouble.

The Christian would no doubt claim that the rest of the evidence for God means that the evidence for it not being gratuitous is good and makes the conclusion that there is a greater good probable. Again, this is not good enough for me. And if this is the case, then God could surely communicate that there is a greater good, not least what that greater good is. Many Christians argue that we cannot know the mind of God and we might not understand what the greater good might be. I think this is vastly underrating human understanding and is effectively laughable.

In sum, the fact that a vast number of animals eat other animals in order to survive, meaning that there is an incredible amount  of pain and suffering on earth just so that animals can merely survive, raises some really difficult questions for the theist, and ones which are only ever answered with get-out-of-jail free cards employing the omniscience escape clause. And I just don’t think that’s good enough.

Taking it a step further

Actually, I would go one step further than that. Why create beings who needed energy at all? Why make this requirement which entails such finitude and associated problems?

Even that can be bettered, surely. Why not create non-corporeal entities at all? Why not just go for ethereal creation?

And then there’s heaven

The next step, though, is a point which I have never seen any remotely decent defence of:

Why not just take all those people who would freely come to love him (God) and create them in heaven?

In other words, let’s imagine 100 people were created. Let’s then imagine (and accept the incoherent notion of libertarian free will for the point of this argument) that only 20 of these 100 freely came to love God. Now it seems that God creates all 100 in the knowledge that most will go to hell, or at least ~heaven. Assuming that some purpose of creation, as is often asserted (as it was at my last talk on this by someone in the Christian Union), is relational between God and humanity, then God’s purpose or want or need appears to be something like testing those to see if they would freely come to love him and rewarding them with heaven (let us ignore the torrent of issues associated with an all-perfect being having wants, desires or needs).

But since he apparently already knows the outcome, he has no need of testing them. Indeed, he can insert memories into these beings such that they think they have really experienced life’s tests, except they haven’t and no suffering takes place.

None of this is logically impossible, it would seem. God could create those 20 people who would freely come to love him on earth, and just bypass the earth testing bit and create them in the reward that is heaven, using his indubitable knowledge. The other 80 people, condemned to an eternity of torment, or as more liberal Christians find more palatable, an eternity away from God or some such thing, are simply not created at all (though God would know the counterfactuals of what would happen if he did create them).

This then means that there would be no actual suffering in creation. It also means that the people who were going to get the reward in the actualised world would get it anyway, sans suffering of anyone else as a by-product of such testing,

This is marginally different to creating a world with just those who freely come to love God, which William Lane Craig tries to sidestep by introducing  incoherent ideas of feasibility. This is going straight for the honey, and there is no decent reason that I, or anyone I have spoken to about this (including theologians), have ever come up with to make this argument invalid.

On this argument alone, I think God is shown either not to exist or not to be all-loving. Especially since any appeal to something akin to a journey or really anything necessary in this world for some kind of outcome can easily be invalidated by memory creation or some such other technique. There is even the idea of philosophical zombies which can be brought in.

No, God could and should have just created heaven with those lucky enough to have warranted entry therein.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...