If one believes in the 'supernatural' and some Supreme Being affecting our lives in various ways; if you believe we have free will and free choice and this Being allows us to have and use this 'free choice' and do whatever we wish then we 'create' any evil, if some people do in fact do 'bad things'.

So why does evil exist if there is a benevolent Superior Being - because (if one believes in this Being and the possibility of free will) this Being allows us to have free will and create situations where we might initiate 'good' or 'bad' events relative to ourselves or others.

If one doesn't believe in the possibility of free will then we are just puppets and puppets can't do evil (except in horror movies). If one doesn't believe in a Superior Being then the 'problem of evil' does not exist ( and can not be used as an argument against the possibility of a Supreme Being).

So why is this 'problem of evil' used as evidence against the supernatural? And why is this problem of evil considered so hard for western religious apologists to solve?

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    The 'problem of evil' only exists in western theology. What is thought of as evil in one place, time, and circumstance is not necessarily evil in another. There is no problem of evil in Eastern philosophy. Feb 15, 2015 at 16:48
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    Creating two newlines after a paragraph should create a empty line between those paragraphs. Or, end a sentence with two spaces and a single newline should move the next sentence to the next line.
    – stoicfury
    Feb 15, 2015 at 18:42
  • If a nutty scientist isolated on an island in his lab made a lot of different robots ,all self-sustaining and self controlling ; all able to 'set-up' their own goals and 'work towards' them ; all capable of reprogramming themselves ( without any disfunction) , the question arises what might these robots end up doing? Competing for resources or cooperating ; maybe they would behave a lot like people have done. The scientist might not have had any thought of any inevitable behavior . He might have wanted to make robots that could 'behave' for themselves with no strings attached.
    – 201044
    Mar 19, 2015 at 3:42
  • Interesting that the core text in Judeo-Cristian thought begins with a story of Adam and Eve. They were commanded to not eat from the "Tree of knowledge of good and evil." Does than mean we are not to make judgements on what is good and evil? After all, unless we have atleast an understanding of what is evil, how can we recognize it? May 18, 2015 at 21:17
  • Adam and Eve were not supposed to eat from the Tree of Knowledge but they did doing a basic sin of disobedience. But this shows they had free will and were not robots even though they were influenced by evil suggestions that they did not have to follow. This of course is all if you believe in the Bible.
    – 201044
    May 22, 2015 at 8:04

7 Answers 7


I think why you're not seeing the problem is in what you're eliding with "superior Being". The (traditional) "problem of evil" only arises if we describe a being that is omniscient, omnipotent, and good. (See http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/evil/#RelConGod -- added due to Swami's comment)

Without omnipotence, this being would not necessarily be capable of effecting what it wants in the world -- thus making evil possible.

Without omniscience, this being cannot know whether it's actions will prevent evil or not.

Without being good (and probably infinitely good), this being has no motive to prevent all evil.

The traditional definition of God in Christian theology is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good. What you are suggesting as an answer is usually called the "free will defense" or "free will theodicy". It states much as you do that the source of evil is in the wills of the creatures God has created as free.

But this does not get God completely off the hook. Given the three perfections, it seems at least conceivably possible that God could create a world where no evil occurs and this at the very least seems better than a world with evil, and there's plenty of corners of the world where free will doesn't seem to outweigh this good (holocausts, grotesque sex crimes, atrocities), and where such free will seems to be curtailable.

Or to put it another way, a God with perfect foreknowledge, power, and goodness creates free beings who then commit these atrocities. If you drop any of the three, this seems hypothetically possible. With all three, then free will seems kind of flimsy for precisely the reason that it's one thing if you back your car into a child accidentally and kill them and its another altogether to knowingly back your car into a child even though you didn't see them at that immediate moment. The challenge for classical theism is to explain how God creating is good when God creates with at a minimum full knowledge of the evil that will be in the world and the maximal set of powers and foresight to minimize evil.

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    A Neo-Platonist argues that evil is integral to creation and without it there could be no creation. Otherwise creation would be identical to God. You are either God and infinitely good or are among creation with varying degrees of good and evil.
    – infatuated
    Feb 14, 2015 at 15:09
  • @infatuated - I agree. The neo-Platonic is not perfectly powerful being equalled by a kind of negative force of equal power.
    – virmaior
    Feb 15, 2015 at 0:33
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    I am not sure which brand of Neo-Platonism you're referring to but Plotinus as the founder of this tradition holds that evil emanates from non-existence or deficit of existence, and since only "the One" is infinitely rich in existence He is infinitely good, other beings incarnate evil in proportion to their lack of existence. This is also the view held by muslim philosophers who expanded on the Neo-Platonist tradition.
    – infatuated
    Feb 15, 2015 at 4:16
  • I'm referring specifically to Manichean neo-Plationsim. But there are several groups of neo-Platonists who posit the active principle and chaos as equal and opposite -- with neither being infinite. I'm not sufficiently familiar with Islam to know for certain but I don't believe that feature was accepted by most Islamic philosophers (though I do believe some held heretical views on the nature of God vis-a-vis islamic theology)
    – virmaior
    Feb 15, 2015 at 5:28
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    @infatuated you are correct about Plotinus and Neo-Platoinism Feb 15, 2015 at 16:50

Mystical spiritual minds and traditions would say that both good and evil are merely elements of the cosmic drama, and each has something to teach the evolving soul in its journey toward perfection. Western minds and traditions tend not to look so philosophically on life.

What leads us to refer to something as "evil" ? Because it causes shock and pain ? Isn't it a bit high and mighty for us to judge a cosmic deity as having created "evil" just because we don't like it ? It seems like the grown-up version of an outraged infant throwing a tantrum because they don't get ice cream for dinner. If you believe there is no afterlife, then life is over in a blink and what does it matter? If you believe that the virtuous go to heaven, then all's well that ends well and what does it matter. If you believe in reincarnation, then everything presumably will work itself out in the long long run.

  • This answer has nothing to do with the problem of evil as normally understood...
    – virmaior
    Feb 15, 2015 at 5:47
  • An alternative, then. Solution via transcendence. Feb 15, 2015 at 12:00
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    @JonathanDunn You are correct. There is no problem of evil in the Eastern tradition. 'the problem of evil normally understood' is where 'normal' means only in an acceptable Western context. Feb 15, 2015 at 16:58
  • The problem of evil does not prove ANY concept of a Supreme Being is false.
    – 201044
    Feb 16, 2015 at 5:39
  • @virmaior This might not be the answer I would choose, but it seems perfectly on topic to me --I'm not sure why you see it as non-relevant. Feb 16, 2015 at 14:42

Well, the problem of evil is technically only "difficult" with reference to certain attributes which the God of classical theism has.

So why is this 'problem of evil' used as evidence against the idea of a superior Being?

Since you have mentioned evidence, I believe that the evidential problem of evil is what you are talking about, as opposed to logical problems.

Here is one such evidential argument:

The Argument from the Flourishing and Languishing of Sentient Beings (AFL)

Only a fraction of living things, including the majority of sentient beings, thrive. In other words, very few living things have an adequate supply of food and water, are able to reproduce, avoid predators, and remain healthy. An even smaller fraction of organisms thrive for most of their lives, and almost no organisms thrive for all of their lives. If naturalistic evolution is true, this is what we would expect. If all living things are in competition for limited resources, then the majority of those organisms will not survive long enough to thrive. Moreover, even those organisms that do thrive for much of their lives will, if they live long enough, deteriorate. However, if theism is true, why would God create a world in which all sentient beings savagely compete with one another for survival? Does anyone really believe that this could be morally justified? The fact that so few sentient beings ever flourish is more likely on naturalism than on theism.

The above is an informal statement of the argument.

See :http://www.patheos.com/blogs/secularoutpost/2012/06/08/the-argument-from-the-flourishing-and-languishing-of-sentient-beings-afl/

for the logical form.

  • If theism is true, why would God create a world in which all sentient beings were able to do anything each of them wanted to do with NO restriction put on them by ANY 'outside' source? If this didn't happen and each sentient being had behavioral limitations put on them like strings from a puppeteer, so they wouldn't act with intense greed or competition they wouldn't really be 'self-controlling' sentient beings..
    – 201044
    Mar 24, 2015 at 4:51

I believe strongly that the belief that God allows evil to exist is a false dichotomy. Who is to say he does not partake in many actions to stop evil from being?

Who is to say that the pure chance event of the lady who saw the ticket in the car that led directly to David Berkowitz's arrest was not led there as result of a pure act of God?

Who is to say that God did not use the American military to exact his judgment on the wicked Nazis?

I think that at least in the revelation that the Christians hold this is not a deist styled creator that thinks it good to not intervene in the actions of his creations.

He uses his own people the Jews to exact his judgment on the wicked. He uses floods and all manner of other methods to stop those who he knows will only do bad.

I see no reason to think why a Bible adhering Christian would think that type of intervention that happened in Biblical times would not continue to modern times.

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    Your answer is prejudiced especially on the political examples. Not only it is based on the Allied narrative of WWII which pains US as the good side and the Axis as the evil side, but it also fails to appreciate the evil admitted by US even according to standards history: nuclear bombing of Japan! The theological arguments are also more rhetorical than reasonable.
    – infatuated
    Feb 14, 2015 at 15:12
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    The holocaust must have made them the goodies how unreasonable of me for not realising that.
    – Neil Meyer
    Feb 14, 2015 at 15:18
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    But God isn't letting us "figure out" anything if he created us, he knows exactly how we will act, and on top of that he can see into the future to double-check his perfect creation skills. So God from the moment he designs each and every one of us, he knows what we will do, knows Hilter will kill millions. To suggest he does that to make the rest of us stronger, or the world otherwise better in some way, is sadistic to say the least. The argument is strong because there is no reasonable way someone could argue in an all-loving God with the power to stop evil, but chooses not too.
    – stoicfury
    Feb 15, 2015 at 18:32
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    @NeilMeyer This doesn't address the problem of why evil exists. Feb 16, 2015 at 14:44
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    @NeilMeyer - Yes, but the problem is why is there evil in the first place, if God is all-powerful? Some people conceptualize God as fighting eternally with the devil, but that's a bit too Manichean for me. I could see your answer as acting together with the free-will defense (or a different argument), but not by itself... Feb 16, 2015 at 19:59

Your question - "So why is this 'problem of evil' used as evidence against the idea of a superior Being?"

This problem of evil as evidence against a superior Being only arises in the western monotheistic traditions. It does not arise in the Eastern traditions. In an Eastern context, there is no good or evil, both are illusions. There is only God, the non-dualistic Brahman. Good and evil are illusions that can be seen only from a relative standpoint, not an absolute standpoint.

Good and evil are relative terms, there are no absolute good or evils. What is considered evil in one location at one time is not necessarily evil at another time or place. Example: Several hundred years ago it was a common accepted practice in Europe to put a deformed or crippled newborn outside the dwelling and put them "in the hands of God". Of course what happened was they froze to death, starved to death, or were eaten by wandering animals. This was not considered evil. Today such an action would be considered evil. Even today, what may be considered good in one culture is evil in another.

From the standpoint of the Godhead, all the worlds and their objects are reduced to an illusory appearance. Does the water in a mirage make the earth wet? Likewise, how can illusory evil affect the One Reality? How can illusory good affect the One Reality? (Pancadasi II. 97.)

There is no free will. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita (XVIII. 60-61.) "Bound by your own karma, O Son of Kunti, which is born of your very nature, what through delusion you seek not to do, you shall do even against your own nature. The Lord dwells in the hearts of all beings, O Arjuna, and by His maya causes them all to revolve as though mounted on a machine."

David Loy in his book Nonduality: A Study in Comparative Philosophy quotes William Blake's Vision of the Last Judgment:

Men are admitted into Heaven not because they have curbed & govern'd their Passions or have No Passions, but becuase they have Cultivated their Understandings. The Treasures of Heaven are not Negations of Passion, but Realities of Intellect, from which All the Passions Emanate Uncurbed in their Eternal Glory.

The Combats of Good & Evil is Eating of the Tree of Knowledge. The Combats of Truth & Error is Eating of the Tree of Life...Satan thinks that Sin is displeasing to God; he ought to know that Nothing is displeasing to God but Unbelief & Eating of the Tree of Knowledge of Good & Evil.

I do not consider either the Just or the Wicked to be in a Supreme State, but to every one of them States of the Sleep which the Soul may fall into in its deadly dreams of Good & Evil when it leaves paradise following the serpent.

  • That's very interesting but I'm only thinking about why the western philosophers use this problem so much. I read C.S.Lewis used to use the problem of evil as evidence against the Christian God when he was an atheist but he later changed his mind..
    – 201044
    Feb 16, 2015 at 5:50

Intellectually, there are ways to address this problem (I'm personally much in line with the neo-Platonist line of thought described in some of the comments above), but it remains a living problem for any of us who have actual belief in an all-powerful God who is good and who loves us, because some of the atrocities that happen in the world are so horrible and so needless that they are difficult to reconcile with the experience of God.

There is also the problem for the free will defense of natural disasters --catastrophic things unrelated (typically) to human agency, such as storms and so forth. For the neo-Platonist defense (defects in existence are necessary because otherwise creation would be perfect and thus identical with God) the problem switches to how a perfect being could be capable of creating something even slightly less than perfect.

For at least these reasons --and I say this as a person of faith --the problem of evil remains a significant one for anyone who takes faith seriously.


Most religions, particularly Islam and Christianity, claim that God is ofcourse, omnipotent and is aware of the future. He has already decided your days in advance, and he has already decided how, when, where will you die. He has also decided everything you'll ever do. From an Islamic/Christian point of view, you're asking this question because God decided for you to do so! He has a "supreme plan" for everybody, as it is finely stated in The Quran and The Bible, and this is where religion shot itself in the head without even thinking about it first. If God has a "plan for everybody" and if he has already "decided our days in advance", then aren't we some puppets fulfilling his plan? Let's suppose that Jack, on a rainy day, takes a walk around some garden for leisure and he sees some woman dressed in a black coat and now guess what, Jack is a notorious serial killer! Later on, he murders the woman and throws her body in a river nearby. Should Jack pay for his crimes? Ofcourse he should, you might say. But the truth is, that according to Islam and Christianity, Jack is sinless. It's God who wanted the woman dead and used Jack to get his plan done. After all, hasn't he already decided everything for everybody? If God has a "supreme plan" for everybody, then he must have had a "supreme plan" for Hitler. In this case, Hitler is absolutely innocent. God himself planned for all those people to die in the Holocaust, God just used Adolf to get his work done. If I ever murder somebody tomorrow, it's only because God decided for me to do so. When a woman orders the abortion of her child and lets her doctor do it, the woman and the doctor are absolutely innocent because God decided for that child to be aborted. God, in simple words, is responsible for every abortion in the world! (According to Islam and Christianity, ofcourse). Islam/Christianity claims that God has a plan for everybody, even every atheist in the world. God, according to them, is absolutely fine with people being atheist because he decided for them to be so. And this is why, my friend, the problem of evil is difficult. (and agonising to a religious scholar)

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    There are many different christianities (from a sociological point of view) and definitely not all of them would agree with this.
    – user2953
    Feb 17, 2015 at 22:35
  • I'd agree with Keelan but go a step further: Christians who believe as the above claims are decidedly in the minority. This is one of the worst answers I've seen on PSE, because it claims that a particular school of thought believes the exact opposite of what it actually believes. Mar 11, 2015 at 14:45
  • The problem of evil might be altered to say ; If a Supreme benevolent Being exists why would this Being allow any form of evil to exist, including us humans. If one believes in what the Bible says , the part where it says '..you who are evil know how to give good gifts to your children , how much better you're Father in Heaven knows how to give good gifts to you..'; in other words even though we are regarded as evil by Heavenly standards our Father is willing to give good gifts to us. So if one believes in the Bible we are 'evil' but the Lord wants to help us..
    – 201044
    Mar 16, 2015 at 3:54
  • As I said the Bible ,(if one believes what it says) indicates 'we' are evil and obviously capable of evil actions. The Lord is 'perfectly good' and made us as we are yet The Lord is willing to help us not be evil. So this answers the problem of evil from the point of view of the Bible ( if one believes what the bible says might be true). A benevolent Supreme Being that 'caused' this reality and we humans to exist yet even though we are capable of evil actions this Being is willing to help us.
    – 201044
    Mar 24, 2015 at 4:44

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