By Vexen Crabtree 2003 Apr 29
“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). 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.”
Some people say that God created suffering, pain and evil because we need to experience these things1. But there is no 'greater purpose' that can justify the existence of the amount of suffering and superfluous evil that exists for humankind or in the natural world. "What kind of education is it, some ask, that kills so many of the students?"1.
2 The Qur'an endorses the experience theodicy in Sura 6:39-43: the reason God punishes entire communities with poverty and hardship is to make them humble themselves before God. Surely though, there are better ways, like mass education and not creating people with such fickle and weak personalities that the only way to make them respect God is to pummel them.
There are a few major arguments against the experience theodicy.
Infanticide and Heaven: If the unborn go to heaven when they die prematurely, as is assumed by many, then it means that these babies have not yet experience the suffering of life. If they can enter heaven without experiencing suffering and evil, then, it cannot be true that God created suffering because it is necessarily good for us, and God should put everyone in heaven immediately.
Real suffering is not necessary: God could simply give us an innate knowledge of what evil is like without us having to experience it. We have a lot of instinctive emotional reactions to pain and suffering which are not learned yet very useful in guiding our behaviour. They are proof that innate understanding is valid and God can easily endow us with as much innate understanding about evil as is required. We would then know about it, and not need to experience it. We could all happily appreciate its absence.
We don't need an experience of suffering. Forgetting the fact that unborn babies don't seem to need it and that God could give us knowledge of it without us having to actually experience it, it seems that there is no particular reason why we need either knowledge or experience of suffering and pain. Any advantage that is gained from experiencing these things could simply be granted to us directly by God, therefore bypassing the need.
Some fluff up the discussion to talk about growth and development.
“An analogy [...] is that of the embryo in the womb, developing various organs such as arms or eyes which do not really benefit it there. Once the baby is born, it can use and appreciate what it has developed. If it has not developed these, it suffers.”
But the best outcome of life is to spend eternity in heaven. It doesn't matter if you are a limb or two short at the end of your life, the outcome is equally blissful for all people, it is an absolute good. But it is perfectly possible for God to grant these developmental advantages to people automatically, without the experience of suffering: Adam and Eve were created perfect, and complete with a full set of limbs. God could grant everyone whatever benefit is accrued from the experience of suffering, and put everyone in heaven immediately. This would prevent all suffering. But, God does not prevent all suffering. In addition, it seems that the only type of God that creates evil and suffering and designs life so that it needs these things, is either immoral, evil or plain insane.
Angels and God: If angels, and if god, exist in heaven then it clearly shows that it is possible for beings to be in heaven without first going through an experience of suffering in life. If it possible, then if God is good, it would immediately place everyone in heaven. However, god is not good, so it continues to let us suffer.
It is inadequate to say merely that knowledge or experience of suffering is requirement for us to enter heaven as a justification of why suffering exists. God can give us innate knowledge of evil, rather than let us experience it directly, and if babies or the unborn go to heaven then is clear that experience of the suffering of life is not actually required, after all. If angels or god exist in heaven then it shows that it is possible for beings to be in heaven without first experiencing suffering. The experience theodicy does not work.
“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.”
By Vexen Crabtree 2003 Apr 29
Last Updated: 2012 Dec 06
The Encyclopedia of Religion (1987, Ed.). 16 volumes. Eliade is editor-in-chief. Published by Macmillan Publishing Company, New York, USA.