Meditations on the Existence of God: The Problem of Evil Part One
If you have to this blog, you have an interest in the existence of God. As I’m surrounded by this question on a daily basis, I hear both sides of the question. And one of the things that strikes me is how much logical fallacy and emotionally laden terms are applied to the question from both sides. I’m hoping we can all look the different sides of the question of whether or not God exists. Matt will be weighing on his take on the issue very soon. In doing so, I hope to avoid the half baked, sound bite statements that often happen when this question is discussed.
Before we start talking about the problem in depth, we have to understands what everyone presupposes about the world. On the theist side, we believe that probably God exists. I say probably because there is no way I can prove to anyone through objective, scientific means (if indeed such things exist) that God exists. It can’t be done and any attempt to do so is intellectually dishonest.
But, like it or not, that sword cuts the other way as well. Most atheists would most likely side with Richard Dawkins when he says that while he can’t prove that God doesn’t exist, he is about 98 percent sure about the question (if I got the quote wrong, feel free to correct). I realize that atheists would assert that the proof lies on their side or at least, the weight is entirely on the theists to prove their assertions. I hope in the coming months that I can challenge that statement to some degree, or at least, get atheists to see they bear some weight of proof responsiblity when it comes to the question. Too often, I see atheists confidently assert things in regards to this question when they take very little time to actually prove their assertions. Of course, theists aren’t immune to this by any means.
A great way to demonstrate some of this thinking on both sides when it comes to one of the great objections to God’s existence, the problem of evil.
The problem of evil can be stated in this simple form:
God is omnipotent
God is Good
I was recently talking a guy I met at the SSA conference who attends Harvard Divinity School. He told me that everyone has pretty much given up on the problem of evil thinking that it’s a fatal wound in the theist side. I think it would be safe to say this is the position for most atheists. The assertion is that this statement is explicitly contradictory and therefore makes God’s existence highly unlikely.
The problem for the atheist is that the above formulation is too simplistic. Whether they like this objection or not, an omnipotent and good being might allow evil. Indeed, He might have all sorts of reasons for doing so. Plus, the formulation as it stands is not obviously contradictory. What is? It goes like this
If all men are mortal, then PZ Myers is mortal.
ALL men are mortal
Therefore PZ Myers is not mortal.
Using the rules of logic, we can show this statement as contradictory, but the same can’t be said of the above statement about God. For it to be explicitly contradictory, it must be shown to be so. I would assert that it can’t be done as it stands.
So, therefore, the formulation has to be stronger to make it an explicit contradiction. And I’m hoping Matt and the atheists on this site will do so. I actually can make it stronger and will as we continue this discussion.
However, it can’t be denied this makes for some uncomfortable questions for us theists such as how such a God could allow evil. It’s a question that we theists can’t answer for the most part. I wish I knew why God allowed evil. I have some ideas I’ll put forward in the coming weeks. But in the end, I’m forced to admit that I don’t know.
But then, we start getting into the emotional realm, and not the logical one. And thus, getting away from the point. All I want to do here is to show that the above is not an explicit contradiction.
So, the assertion on my part is that the problem of evil is NOT an explicit contradiction and therefore it is in the realm of implicit contradiction the work of atheist must begin. It’s in that realm that the objection to God’s existence based on the problem of evil can be strongly made.
Of course, all of this is rather bloodless, but that’s the point. Most of the assertions of atheists about this problem usually comes from emotional statements rather than logical ones. That isn’t to say those questions have some intellecutal weight. I think they do. However, I do want to challege people to understand the problem of evil must be discussed in the implicit contradiction realm rather than the explicit.
Once again, this is only the begining of the discussion, but I thought we would get the preleminaries under way.