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?
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.
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
"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.
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
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.
...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.
"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.”
“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.
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].
"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.