By Vexen Crabtree 2004
If God is all-powerful and all-good, it would have created a universe in the same way it created heaven: with free will for all, no suffering and no evil. But evil and suffering exist. Therefore God does not exist, is not all-powerful or is not benevolent (good)1. Such arguments have been used by many philosophers as evidence against belief in god2,3. A theodicy is an attempt to explain why a good god would have created evil and suffering. The most popular defence is that it is so Humans could have free will. However the entire universe and the natural world is filled with suffering, violence and destruction so any Humanity-centric explanation does not seem to work.”
The Absence Theodicy is the argument that as God is "goodness", anything that is "not good" such as evil and suffering, is simply the result of the absence of God. Therefore, the absence theodicy (attempts) to excuse God's responsible for evil, by trying to discretely contradict the principal of God's all-powerful and omni-present nature. It is traceable to Augustine (354-430CE), and was also preached by Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274CE) and many other Catholic theologians4. There are serious flaws with the absence theodicy argument and it does not escape the fact that God, as the sole creator, was responsible for creating rules such as "if I'm not there, then there is suffering!". It didn't need to make such rules, and therefore, the absence theodicy doesn't answer the question of why God created (or allows) evil and suffering to exist.
We define many scales as part of our experience. From "hot" to "cold", from "rich" to "poor", we measure all kinds of things. What these have in common is that God created them. It created heat and cold, created the "ups" and "downs" and created every little in-between bit of all those scales. Likewise, God created the scale of good and evil. God could have created a scale of "amazing goodness" through to "medium goodness" down to "amateur goodness", and therefore let all beings experience no evil or suffering. That God decided to create evil, suffering and pain and put them on the scale is an inexplicable act for a supposedly all-good god. The explanation that suffering is the absence of good is not sufficient to explain why God created suffering in the first place. Either God is evil or it does not exist.
The absence theodicy does not explain why god created the scale of good and evil. We only experience any of these varying things because God created the scales in the first place, and created the extent of either end of the scale. By creating scales of heat and chill, good and evil, god makes it possible for us to experience them. If God chose not to create the scale of good and evil, then experience of evil would not be possible, only the experience of good. Not all experiences exist on scales; for example the Universe exists. Its existence and our experience of its existence is not on a scale, it absolutely exists. God could have made happiness or goodness an absolute, not part of a scale. But God instead created evil by creating the good/evil dichotomy.
All the various attempts to explain why God created evil do not make sense and we are therefore left with the truth that either God is evil or does not exist.
This page was written as an online response to an evangelizing Christian who sent me an email about the problem of evil. The following text is a standard text that some Christians insert into arguments, often not researching its legitimacy or analysing its logic.
“The professor of a university challenged his students with this question. "Did God create everything that exists?" A student answered bravely, "Yes, he did".
The professor then asked, "If God created everything, then he created evil, so God is evil. The student couldn't respond to that statement causing the professor to conclude that he had "proved" that "belief in God" was a fairy tale, and therefore worthless.
Another student raised his hand and asked the professor, "May I pose a question?" "Of course" answered the professor. The young student stood up and asked: "Professor does cold exist?" The professor answered, "What kind of question is that?...Of course the cold exists... haven't you ever been cold?" The young student answered, "In fact sir, cold does not exist. According to the laws of physics, what we consider cold, in fact is the absence of heat. Anything is able to be studied as long as it transmits energy (heat). Absolute Zero is the total absence of heat, but cold does not exist. What we have done is create a term to describe how we feel if we don't have body heat or we are not hot." "And, does dark exist?", he continued. The professor answered "Of course". This time the student responded, "Again you're wrong, Sir. Darkness does not exist either. Darkness is in fact simply the absence of light. Light can be studied, darkness can not. Darkness cannot be broken down. A simple ray of light tears the darkness and illuminates the surface where the! light beam finishes. Dark is a term that we humans have created to describe what happens when there's lack of light." Finally, the student asked the professor, "Sir, does evil exist?" The professor replied, "Of course it exists, as I mentioned at the beginning, we see violations, crimes and violence anywhere in the world, and those things are evil."
The student responded, "Sir, evil does not exist. Just as in the previous cases, evil is a term which man has created to describe the result of the absence of God's presence in the hearts of man."
After this, the professor bowed down his head, and didn't answer back.
The young man's name was ALBERT EINSTEIN.”
The absence-of-God theodicy doesn't work for reasons already discussed, and I am sure that from the knowledge of religion and philosophy that Einstein displayed during his life, he would also have known the historical reasons why the absence theodicy was abandoned. The words and comments of Einstein are highly documented and very well known. No historians of Einstein testify that the above quote is valid, Einstein's religious views were clearly written down by himself as we shall see later. So, was that really Albert Einstein? With this doubt in mind, I searched a few urban-myth websites to find out the source of the story.
“There is no evidence that this exchange ever took place. This eRumor has circulated without Einstein's name and someone added it to a version that started circulating in the summer of 2004. Also, it is not likely that young Einstein would have presented this argument. In his Autobiographical Notes, he states that even though his Jewish family was not religious, he developed a "deep religiosity" as Jewish child that came to an end when he was 12. He says he developed a skeptical attitude that never left him. He made reference to "God" on many occasions but also said he did not believe some of the stories in the Bible and did not believe in a personal God.”
www.snopes.com (Urban Legends Reference Pages © 1995-2004 ) states:
“Claim: While a student, Albert Einstein humiliated an atheist professor by using the "Evil is the absence of God" argument on him.
Although 2004 tellings of the legend name Albert Einstein as the faith-driven student, there is no reason to suppose the renowned physicist had anything to do with the fictive incident. Biographies of the man are silent on his having dealt one of his teachers such a comeuppance. Moreover, this famous scientist gets used in legends whose plots call for a smart person, one whom the audience will immediately recognize as such (i.e.; modern tellings of an ancient legend about a learned rabbi who switches places with his servant feature Albert Einstein in the role of esteemed scholar). This venerated cultural icon has, at least in the world of contemporary lore, become a stock character to be tossed into the fray wherever the script calls for a genius.”
This story of an atheist professor is old, but it has only recently had Einstein's name added to it. It is mythical.
To dispel myths, Einstein wrote the following in response to comments made about him during his lifetime:
“It was, of course, a lie what you read about my religious convictions, a lie which is being systematically repeated. I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
"The Human Side" by Albert Einstein (1981)
To the present day, all theodicies have failed to explain why a good god would create evil, meaning that the existence of evil is simply incompatible with the existence of a good god. After thousands of years of life-consuming passion, weary theologians have not formulated a new answer to the problem of evil for a long time. The violence of the natural world, disease, the major catastrophes and chaotic destruction seen across the universe and the unsuitability of the vastness of reality for life all indicate that god is not concerned with life, and might actually even be evil. Failure to answer the problem of evil sheds continual doubt on the very foundations of theistic religions.”
Current edition: 2004 Nov 09
Last Modified: 2012 Dec 05
Parent page: The Problem of Evil: Why Would a Good God Create Suffering?
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(1984) God And The New Physics. Paperback book. Penguin 2006 edition. Davies is a Professor in theoretical physics who has published ground-breaking research.
Einstein, Albert. (1879-1955)
(1981) The Human Side. Paperback book. Published by Princeton University Press. A series of previously unpublished essays and letters, edited by Helen Dukas and B. Hoffman.
"Evil and the God of Love" (1977). In "The Encyclopedia of Religion" by Eliade Mircea (1987) Volume 14 entry "Theodicy". Added to this page on 2012 Dec 05.
(2016) "A Biblical-Theological Response to the Problem of Theodicy in the Context of the Modem Criticism of Religion". Published in the Evangelical Review of Theology (2016) 40:3, 247-263.