By Vexen Crabtree 2003
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 most common explanation for why God created (and continues to allow) suffering and evil is the free will theodicy4. This is that God created evil so that we could then choose between good and evil, and make moral choices. If all choices result in good, there would be no moral choices. If love is acceptable, it must be chosen over hate and therefore evil and suffering result when we make morally poor choices. However this classical theodicy does not hold up, for many reasons. Although many believers adhere to the free will theodicy, it is not preached in the holy books of the main monotheistic religions. See: Monotheism and Free Will: God, Determinism and Fate: The Christian Bible and the Quran both teach strict determinism - that God decides all of our fates, and our own choices and decisions cannot change God's plan for everyone. Prominent historical Christian theologians who have rejected the free will theodicy include St Augustine, Martin Luther and John Calvin5. The arguments on this page are thousands of years old, but, many continue to believe in the simplicity of the free will theodicy, so, it does no harm to state the arguments against it again.
The fact that there is both free will and no evil in heaven tells us that evil and suffering are not a requirement of free will. If there is no reason for suffering in heaven, then, God should instantly put everyone in heaven, where we would all continue to have free will, but also not suffer.
Some theists argue that the reason there is suffering and pain is because of human free will. That we imperfect humans make imperfect choices. This reasoning must have seemed natural to pre-literate humankind in the days before we understood scientifically what the causes of natural disasters were. Natural disasters such as floods and volcanoes are caused by geological and physical processes, such as the movement of tectonic plates. Such things are far beyond the influence of human free will. Not only that, but natural disasters effect human beings indiscriminately - unborn babies lay amongst the victims, and have had no chance to exercise their free will. Animals and humans alike suffer as a result of natural evil. Such things have occurred for all of Earth's history. For example, the ten most catastrophic natural disasters caused by asteroid impacts all occurred before mankind was around6 and each one resulted in a massive loss of animal life, undoubtedly involving much animal suffering. Not only that, but the Moon, Mars and most other planets and large moons are covered in craters too. The entire universe has always been steeped in large-scale destruction and violence, right from the beginning. It is not true that such natural disasters have anything to do with mankind's endeavours. There is no 'good' design behind it all, and the existence of universal natural evil and indiscriminate suffering indicates that there is no good god.”
God not only created the possibility of suffering, pain and sin, but it appears that it made us with a strong inclination towards it. Life being "unfair" is a symptom of pain or suffering, of inadequacy or feelings or even sinful emotions such as greed. God created these emotions, we do not choose to accept them, they are inherent in our nature. God could have created us so that we do not feel these emotions, that they simply don't exist. It would eliminate a lot of evil, and would not take away our free will - we'd just have a different range of emotions that we didn't choose to have. The fact that God has created our nature and instincts to be geared towards sin and imperfection means that it wants us to choose evil over good. It has created evil, and created us so that we will mostly "choose" it.
God sometimes creates people with (for example) genetic diseases that predispose them to paranoid schizophrenia, violent crime, sexual abuse and amorality and other inherited personality defects. Other people are born with a predisposition to calmness, subordination and pacifism. Both types of person have free will. God could easily create the majority of humanity so that our personality is much better and kinder in general and not just in outstanding individuals. It seems that the actual quantity and evil and suffering could be much less, and free will would still exist.
Suffering is not required for free will. When someone commits a crime or otherwise causes suffering, why does the victim suffer? The victim has not chosen evil, they are merely the unfortunate victims of someone else's choice. If justice or morality exist, and come from God, then only those acts that are evil should be punished. When someone is a victim, God itself should put the crime right, and avoid the innocent suffering. The person responsible for the evil may still suffer punishment or retribution, but why does the victim need to suffer? If suffering and evil are the result of free will, then, why is it that much suffering is caused by outside agencies?
This transmission of the effects of one person's bad choices to another's experience is unnecessary for free will. In a society where there are no victims, punishment would be unnecessary. If our nature was geared towards good, there would be no need for punishment to be used as a terror tactic to reduce crime. That punishment is necessary means that God cannot be all-powerful. It is not an effect of free will that we should suffer the consequences of each other's bad choices, it is an effect of a universe operating under a different, amoral sense of justice, and not under the care of an all-powerful, just God.
Free will is the ability to make choices. This means, we must have options. What these options are is irrelevant. A saint, Jesus, Muhammad, etc, had free will. These people also did not (perhaps) ever commit a sin. Nevertheless it is ludicrous to say that because a person does not choose evil that they have no free will. In other words, it is possible for a person never to accept evil, and still have free will. This means that we could have a nature that never wills transgression, and we could still have free will. There are many millions of choices and paths you can take in life, there is no requirement for "cause evil" to be an effect of them. Free will still exists without it.
If God was good, we would all exist (as those in heaven do) in a situation where we all continually have the free will to choose between different good courses of action. Evil simply isn't required for free will.
When a person chooses evil, God could rectify the real life effect of it, and simply let the perpetrator feel its effect. There is no need for evil to manifest outside of a person's own choices. Evil, in short, could be chosen, but not realized. There is no reason for evil to cause suffering. If we had a choice between doing something good or bad, if we chose bad, why does it cause suffering? Why must it? It seems we could chose bad, and for it to have no effect other than to prevent us feeling that we did good. That is enough for free will. A forgiving God would note that someone just chose badly, and rectify their mistake and forgive them. No suffering would result. If it means that those who choose badly fail to get to heaven then so be it, but, there is no need for actual suffering to occur. "Evil begets evil" is not the fruit of a good god; bad choices by us needn't result in the punishment of pain or suffering for anyone. The lack of separation of evil from its effects shows that God is not interested in preventing evil.
Some monotheistic religions such as Christianity and Islam preach that Adam and Eve were the beginning of mankind rather than our evolutionary predecessors (which was a whole species rather than two individuals). In these religions, Adam and Eve are said to have been created in paradise, but banished for committing the original sin.
The Original Sin is the reason Christians say that Human Beings experience suffering - as a result of Adam and Eve's actions. Humankind was created in, and was supposed to exist in, a state of immortal paradise. But as a result of Adam and Eve's original sin, we have all been punished with our earthly existence, completely with suffering, pain and death (Romans 5:12, 1 Corinthians 15:21). Genesis 3:14-19 describes some of the punishments in more detail. The reason there is any death at all is because Adam and Eve disobeyed God.
The story in the Qur'an, Sura 7:24-27, tells of when Adam and Eve are punished and banished from paradise, and must thereafter live on the Earth complete with its suffering, pain and death. This however, makes all their children and descendants suffer from the same punishment. This is despite the Qur'anic statement that "none shall bear the burden of another's sin" (35:18 and 53:38).
Before Augustine coined the phrase original sin it was known simply as ancestral sin. It is a feature of Christianity that been much criticized. Famed antagonist Richard Dawkins asks "What kind of ethical philosophy is it that condemns every child, even before it is born, to inherit the sin of a remote ancestor?"8.
Is it is really moral to punish someone for someone else's actions? All good parents teach their children that that is not fair and unjust. Hence, the story of Adam and Eve teaches us that God is unjust or at least, not always just, and therefore is not perfectly benevolent.
The story teaches us that it is divine will that sometimes the relatives of sinners can be punished for the guilty.
The story teaches us that free will is not the cause of the suffering of mankind. We are all born in a world of pain and death because someone-else committed a crime, which was nothing to do with our own free will to choose wrongly.
The free will justification for evil does not work. Free will does not require the existence of evil or suffering - Heaven is a place where there is free will, and no suffering. There is a lot of suffering and evil that is not the result of free will such as from natural disasters, so free will could not actually account for all suffering, only some of it. The question of why God creates additional suffering would still exist. Also, the free will of one person can cause suffering for another innocent person, God should not allow the moral choices of one being affect other beings as this goes against accountability, which is the whole point of free will. In short, it seems that the existence of pain and suffering contradicts the existence of a good god.
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: 2003 Apr 28
Last Modified: 2013 Jan 04
Parent page: The Problem of Evil: Why Would a Good God Create Suffering?
Monotheism and Free Will: God, Determinism and FateThe Validity of Love Theodicy: God, Humans, Free Will and EvilBiblical Christianity Denies Free WillThe Illusion of Choice: Free Will and DeterminismGod Has No Free Will: 2 ProofsIs Free Will the Reason God Allows Evil and Suffering?Theological Problems with Heaven, Paradise and Nirvana: The existence of free will in heaven is proof that evil is not necessary for free will
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(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.
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