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It's been argued that God doesn't exist because there is so much evil in the world. For example, suppose a person is violently murdered - an innocent child say. They argue, God could have prevented that but He didn't, therefore He does not exist. Are there any good counter arguments to this position?

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    No, there are no strong counter-arguments. But I'm sure that religious people offer a series of weak counter-arguments. – Jo Wehler Mar 15 '16 at 23:07
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    @Jo Wehler I take it you're not religious. – Michael Lee Mar 15 '16 at 23:09
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    @JoWehler Yes, that's a problem, too, and I love what Voltaire does with it in his Candide. – user19538 Mar 15 '16 at 23:43
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    As God transcends us and our knowledge, we cannot know. If we want something like good reasons for how He behaves, we ask for something transcending the very sphere of our understanding. Therefore, only faith could help. This is nothing different from the mantra "God moves in mysterious ways." If there is no faith, there's no good reason. Full stop. – Philip Klöcking Mar 15 '16 at 23:56
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    There's a huge misconception here about what is actually a strong or weak argument, since you all are analyzing it from the perspective of our skeptical model. For religious people, faith is an accepted truth, they choose it (Fides et Ratio, preamble), and so they establish an extended set of axioms (not actually axioms, but let's compare it to formal sciences since you argue about strength of an argument). From this new set of axioms (which only zombie-like people could blindly accept, but that's another topic), those arguments, even the most dumb-looking, are strong in most cases. – Luis Masuelli Mar 17 '16 at 16:08
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What you describe is called in theology and philosophy of religion "The problem of evil" and has been discussed by many theologians. A counter argument to the problem of evil is called a Theodicy. There have been many notable theodicies throughout history. A notable historical theodicy was presented by Augustine of Hippo (St Augustine), in his works "Confessions", "The Enchiridion" and "City of God".

St Augustine's theodicy can be broken down into two parts:

  • Men have freewill, and it is their actions that cause evil, not God.

  • Evil doesn't exist independently, evil is only the absence of good.

From the Enchiridion:

What is Called Evil in the Universe is But the Absence of Good. -- Enchiridion, Chapter 11.

Alvin Plantinga presented a modern version of the Augustinian theodicy, which he called the free will defense (Plantinga, Alvin. 1977. God, Freedom, and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.). It can be summarized in the following way:

  • People who are compelled to do only good do not have freewill.
  • Actions are not considered moral or good unless people have the freedom to behave otherwise.
  • For there to be good in the world, freewill is necessary.
  • In a world where freewill is possible, evil is possible.
  • Therefore a world where evil is possible is better than a world were evil is impossible.
  • Evil occurred because humans were free to commit it, and freewill was necessary for a better world, not because God willed it.
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    The two theodicies from your answer do not cover evils like catastrophies of nature (e.g., tsunami) which harm innocent people. – Jo Wehler Mar 16 '16 at 0:31
  • @Alexander S King Thank you kind Sir for posting this answer. I greatly appreciate it. – Michael Lee Mar 16 '16 at 0:40
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    @JoWehler I agree that they don't. But the OP was about whether a murder should have been prevented by God or not. A theodicy that includes natural catastrophes would be interesting indeed. – Alexander S King Mar 16 '16 at 1:23
  • @Jo Wehler Catastrophies like tsunamis are natural events. As far as we know, what we call "nature" is a very complex system of cause and effects. No one of his "parts" can choose to do what it does (sea cannot avoid to became a tsunami if the earth shake under it). "Good" and "evil" are moral attributes. Only being with free will can do good or evil actions, but natural events doesn't have free will, so we cannot give them any moral attributes. – Alberto Mar 18 '16 at 13:11
  • @Alberto I completely agree with you. Of course nature does not act according to free will. But the problem of harm do to evils of nature is the hard problem for theists. – Jo Wehler Mar 18 '16 at 15:54
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Yes, some Christian Apologists such as Ravi Zacharias assert that the question itself is self-defeating:

...Whenever a person raises the problem of evil, they are implicitly also positing the existence of good. When you say something is evil, you assume something is good. When you assume something is good, you assume there is a moral law by which to differentiate between good and evil; and if you assume a moral law, you must ultimately posit a moral law-giver. But that is often what the questioner is seeking to disprove and not prove; because if there is no moral law-giver, then there is no moral law. If there is no moral law, there's no good. If there's no good, there's no evil. The question self-destructs in terms of an objective rule by which to measure good and evil. It's very important to note that the question affirms that a moral framework exists in life... - Ravi Zacharias - Addressing the Problem of Evil

According to this argument, asserting the existence of evil in the world presents a much greater problem to an atheist than a theist.

Others such as William Lane Craig counter as follows:

...In terms of the intellectual problem of suffering I think that there you need to ask yourself "Is the atheist claiming, as Epicurus did, that the existence of God is logically incompatible with the evil and suffering in the world?" If that's what the atheist is claiming, then he's got to be presupposing some kind of hidden assumptions that would bring out that contradiction and make it explicit, because these statements are not explicitly contradictory. The problem is, no philosopher in the history of the world has ever been able to identify what those hidden assumptions would be that would bring out the contradiction and make it explicit. On the contrary, you can prove that these [ie an omnipotent, omnibenevolent God and the presence of evil] are logically compatible with each other by adding a third proposition - namely, That God has morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil in the world. As long as that statement is even possibly true, it proves that there is no logical incompatibility between God and the suffering in the world. So the atheist would have to show that it is logically impossible for God to have morally sufficient reasons for permitting the evil and suffering in the world, and no atheist has ever been able to do that. So the logical version of this problem has been widely recognized to have failed... - William Lane Craig on the Problem of Evil and Suffering

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    I don't understand Zacharias' argument. I would think it is perfectly reasonable to assume a truth proposition in order to show a contradiction or consequence within a framework being discussed, even if that proposition is ultimately rejected by the person making the argument. – firtydank Aug 11 '16 at 11:21
  • @firtydank That's not how the argument is actually used: the "problem of evil" argument is an argument about the real world; it's emotional force is that people feel deeply that there is evil in the real world. If there is an assumption that there is such a thing as evil, then it is legitmate to examine the implications of that assumption and whether it is consistent with other worldviews. – bruised reed Aug 11 '16 at 13:58
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    If "evil" seems to be a problem with Theism, are there other views where it isn't a problem? If not, then it should encourage us to look deeper - revisiting either "evil seems to be a problem with Theism" or the assumption that evil is actually real. – bruised reed Aug 11 '16 at 13:58
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    The way I see it is that the Problem of Evil attempts to show a logical inconsistency in a theistic framework. For this challenge to be successful, the atheist does not have to commit to any ontology of evil himself - he merely has to show that the theistic claims are inconsistent. – firtydank Aug 11 '16 at 14:30
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    @firtydank As I said, that isn't how it's used. To show a logical inconsistency in the framework would require an actual engagement with the framework - particularly that framework's explanations for the problem of evil. In practice, this simply isn't done. – bruised reed Aug 11 '16 at 14:41
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"It's been argued that God doesn't exist because there is so much evil in the world. For example, suppose a person is violently murdered - an innocent child say. They argue, God could have prevented that but He didn't, therefore He does not exist. Are there any good counter arguments to this position?"

That's a very wrong conclusion. "God could have prevented it but didn't" - you cannot conclude from this that god doesn't exist. You can conclude one of three possibilities: 1. God doesn't exist. 2. God exists but couldn't prevent it (unlikely for example with the Christian definition of "god"). 3. God decided that for whatever reason he or she didn't want to prevent it.

Number 3 is a perfectly fine explanation. With the Christian definition of "god" it is also quite possible that god could have reasons not to prevent it that are beyond our understanding, not just reasons that we were not told about.

In the end, if someone makes the assumption that there is an almighty god, then it is in principle impossible to give a valid proof that this is wrong. (Because an almighty god should have no problem creating a convincing and generally accepted incorrect "proof" that he or she doesn't exist while still existing).

Re-reading this: Fourth possible explanation is that god wasn't bothered / didn't care. Fifth possible explanation is that god isn't nice at all, but evil.

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    I like your answer, point 3 is also the basic response to this question in Islam. In that God in His Wisdom had a reason for allowing suffering and evil in the world and we are not always capable of understanding it (because our knowledge and intellect are so limited when compared with His). But I am not sure what you are saying in the last paragraph. – AbuMariam Mar 21 '16 at 13:57
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...God doesn't exist because there is so much evil in the world.

The implication being that if God is real and Righteous, it would prevent all unhappiness and grief by prohibiting evil from existence. But that doesn't make sense, because:

  • God didn't create evil, because the scriptures say both that God is not the author of confusion and that God quite literally hates evil.

  • God counteracts Evil, with Justice.

  • If God is evil or if God isn't even real -- there would be no justice against evil.

  • There would be no justice at all, and evil would forever have the upper hand in all things.

  • The power dynamics existing between evil and justice is the whole purpose of Freewill.

  • The conscientious and conscious exercise of freewill builds character, morals, and critical reasoning skills.

He that is unjust, let him be unjust still: and he which is filthy, let him be filthy still: and he that is righteous, let him be righteous still: and he that is holy, let him be holy still.

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city.

...[W]hosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.

From The True Intellectual System of the Universe..., by Ralph Cudworth, D.D. (quoting Origen of Alexandria both in the original latin and as translated here in English):

"There is no nature, which is not capable both of good and evil, excepting only the nature of God, who is the fountain of all good; and the wisdom of Christ, for he is the fountain of wisdom, and wisdom itself never can receive folly; he is also justice itself, which can never admit of injustice; and the reason and word itself, which can never become irrational; he is also the light itself, and it is certain that darkness cannot comprehend this light, nor insinuate itself with it. In like manner the nature of the Holy Ghost is such as can never receive pollution, it being substantially and essentially holy. But whatsoever other nature is holy, it is only such in way of participation and by the inspiration of this Holy Spirit; so that holiness is not its very nature and essence, but only an accident to it; and whatsoever is but accidental, may fail. All created beings therefore having but accidental goodness and wisdom may degenerate and fall into evil and folly.”

Also,

“God is the only being that is absolutely incapable of sin; but all other beings, having free will in them, may possibly turn their will to either way;” that is, to evil as well as to good. It is certain that God, in a sense of perfection, is the most free agent of all, neither is contingent liberty universally denied to him; but here it is made the only privilege of God, that is, of the Holy Trinity, to be devoid of liberum arbitrium, namely, as it implieth imperfection, that is, peccability and lapsibility in it.

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My belief's are as follows:

  • God wanted us to have a meaningful existence
  • For existence to be meaningful, free will was necessary
  • Free will implies the ability to make mistakes as well as the ability to purposefully cause harm (evil)
  • God wanted us to learn from mistakes so that we can eventually get on the right path
  • He thus gave us access to Himself via prayer for support and guidance
  • Those who corrected mistakes and asked for forgiveness for sins are rewarded

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

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    Noone has to comment votes. But this "answer" is just some personal thought of yours about the topic. We're here on Philosophy.SE. That means we are talking about philosophy in the sense as it is considered as an academic discipline and it is a SE, which means answers should be reliable and able to be validated, mostly by references and sources or in some cases (like programming) by proving to be functional. In the end it doesn't even answer the question wether there are any counter arguments. – Philip Klöcking Mar 17 '16 at 19:27
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    I provided counter arguments. They are my own counter arguments. What is wrong with that? After all, the various philosophers where just thinkers. So you can read, or you can think yourself. You have a problem with original thinking? – kns98 Mar 17 '16 at 19:46
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    First, there is not a single argument I can see. The last two sentences are statements with no argumentative strength against the point that if that were true, he could not ignore the amount of bad things happening. In the end, he intervened in the bible from time to time for much lesser things. Second, I have no problem at all with original thinking, otherwise I would not go for a research career in philosophy. But that is not what an SE is for. See: meta.philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/474/… – Philip Klöcking Mar 17 '16 at 20:04
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    the whole point of my argument was that evil is a necessary part of creation. so despite of the fact that some evil exists, we still know there is a God. evil can be portrayed in many ways, some of which are mistakes and not premeditated mal-intent. when it comes to questions like these which are really not provable, I don't see a point in quoting someone. But I appreciate your comments :) take care and have a good day. – kns98 Mar 17 '16 at 20:20
  • That's not a terrible argument to try to make after a certain sense. But can you make it in philosophical terms (you can still reference a theological explanation?) and can you do your best to make each step clear? (rather than needing to give us explanatory comments) – virmaior Mar 18 '16 at 13:20
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One of the most unique and influential responses to the problem of evil can be seen as underlying the Platonic and neo-Platonic philosophies. In essence, the concept is that only Good really exists, that what appears to us as evil is primarily the absence of Good, and to a secondary extent, imperfect and corrupted copies or images of the Good. You can picture the (neo-) Platonic cosmos as a solar system of increasingly imperfect and unreal images orbiting around a godlike and perfect singularity in the center, with our own "reality" at a fair distance from the center.

To the extent that this is compelling, it rests on the observation that Good is much more difficult to explain than evil. Evil can be explained as the absence of Good, but the existence of actual Good as originating from within an imperfect world is nearly impossible to explain or even comprehend.

However, this conception does nothing to explain why there would be imperfect copies in the first place, or how a perfect entity could ever give rise to a universe containing any imperfection. It's worth noting that in Plato's most direct treatment of the subject, the Timaeus, the universe is NOT created by the divine singularity, but only in imitation of it. Once the divine singularity is identified with the Creator God, the problem of evil becomes orders of magnitude more acute.

  • +1: I first read that evil being the absence of the good in Simone Weils work, I thought it was original to her, it's useful to see that's she's drawing upon a longer tradition. – Mozibur Ullah Aug 11 '16 at 8:59
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Here is, I think, a counter argument to God not existing because there is evil. It is that God does exist because there is evil. God exists. God has made all things. Evil exists. Therefore God had a holy motive for creating evil. When God created He made something different from Himself. He made something that was not eternal [existing before time] like Himself; that was not all-knowing, not all-powerful, not perfect,[though fit for purpose], not an Alpha [first cause], incapable of creating, [free will makes man a first cause of the actions of his will and therefore capable of creating], and incapable of obeying God's Law unless given the grace to do so. Is it God's will that we obey His Law? "Yes" if we are given the grace to do so and "no" if we are not given the grace to do so. For God to be preeminent in all things He decides what will be. Love does not grow out of free will it is a fruit of the spirit. He is preeminent in where He grows it. So, man knows he is incapable of himself because God has demonstrated this to man. He makes things to triumph over [Col 2v15] and some to show His mercy. But always our sin [evil] is there to remind us we are not Him, but His [for Him to use as He will].

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"It's been argued that God doesn't exist because there is so much evil in the world."

This however is not an argument against the existence of god(s). It is an argument against the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent god. And most counter-arguments that I have seen do not engage this discussion; instead they seek to demonstrate the existence of a generic, non-omnipotent or (most usually) non-omnibenevolent god, and then appeal to emotion - to hope, especifically, the hope that an omnipotent god is omnibenevolent, lest we are screwed.

The fact that no theists that I know have ever put forth an argument that doesn't suffer from this problem of trading apples for oranges seems to point out that, as an argument that specifically denies the possibility of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity, it cannot be countered with good arguments. Theists are intelligent, smart, logically gifted people; if they can't find a good argument, it is probably because there isn't one.

  • While this is both well written and on topic, the vast majority of it doesn't directly answer the question, which is seeking counter-arguments to the problem of evil, not counter- counter-arguments. The first sentence, not including the quote, could make the core of a strong answer, the rest might be better placed as a comment to the answer outlining Augustine's theodicy. – Chris Sunami Aug 11 '16 at 13:21
  • @ChrisSunami - I agree, and am removing the criticism of Augustine from the answer instating it in comment form. – Luís Henrique Aug 11 '16 at 14:07
  • Augustine's free will argument is no exception. The god he describes is a logically possible god - but then it is the god of a deist, who created the world, made it as supportive as possible for the development of moral good among his creatures, and then went absent, refraining from intervention in the material world. It is definitely not the God in which Augustine believed or purported to believe, an all-loving God who engages in personal relationships with his creatures. (continued) – Luís Henrique Aug 11 '16 at 14:08
  • (And, of course, Augustine's is an anthropocentric argument; non-human creatures have no free-will, and do no good nor evil, but Augustine's demonstrably non-omnibenevolent god created a world where the lion has to kill and eat the zebra, lest he starves.) – Luís Henrique Aug 11 '16 at 14:09

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