Saturday, March 18, 2006

The Problem of Evil.

I thought that for a good first substantial post on this new foray into the wilderness of the internets I would turn to a carnival being hosted on one of my favorite sites, Buridan's Ass. To be a little less vague, Buridan is putting together a link collection for the God or Not blog carnival focusing around the topic of the problem of evil.

Now I must first admit that I'm not a theologian, it's pretty difficult to be a good theologian when one's an unabashed heathen. Indeed, I'm even particularly well versed in the philosophy of religion (which one can succeed at despite a predisposition towards atheism). That said, I have had the pleasure in my life of knowing some very interesting people who were theologians and/or philosophers of religion whom I have had at least one or two conversations with about the issue. That and I'm fairly familiar with the history of logic, which oddly enough has many intersections with religion. So I thought I might take a stab (albeit probably a rather weak one) at this topic. So without further ado, here we go:

Now, it strikes that evil simpliciter isn't really that much of an issue for the religious type folk who believe that we're all watched over by a deity that is omnibenevolent, omniscient, omnipotent, and allows evil to occur. There are some fairly easy outs for them. They can argue that evil is the result of freewill which is a greater good that offsets the evil or they could argue that some evil in the world serves to bring out the best in us, which too is a perhaps a greater good to offset the bad.

So I don't think that the interesting debate is about how theologically minded types can account for evil, it seems that they can, what I think they might have a greater problem with is, to paraphrase the words of some smart person (the identity of whom I forget at the moment), is how much evil is in the world. Or perhaps, to be more accurate, not evil as in intentionally malevolent acts by agents, but random nasty in nature.

When you consider things like plagues, earthquakes, tsunamis, wildfires, hurricanes, wild animal attacks, cancer, roof collapses, land-slides, schizophrenia, nuclear meltdowns, drought, famine, floods, blizzards, ice storms, and erectile dysfunction it really does seem like God has it out against us. These are things that aren't the result of human actions and as such aren't the result of free will. Moreover, these things might in moderate doses provide opportunities for people to shine but they happen with such regularity that, at least as far as it strikes me, we've been more than tested. Indeed, if I were to believe in an omnipotent deity, from all the nasty random things that happen to people who surely don't deserve it, I would be forced to conclude that such a deity didn't like us very much and was doing the most it could to keep us down.

Now granted this isn't a sophisticated argument by any means, nor is it one that is unquestionably convincing. Yet, I would contend that given that it is the pro-religious folk that are trying to expand our ontology, the onus is upon them to argue for the existence of a god that has the properties they claim it has. As such, I would be quite interested in hearing their explanation of how or why an omnibenevolent omnimax God allows such terrible things to happen to his "children".


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