Why the Problem of Evil is a Problem

by Aaron Brake

Why the Problem of Evil is a ProblemThe so-called problem of evil is one of the most common objections raised against the Christian faith. Perhaps no one has more succinctly stated the apparent contradiction between an all-loving, all-powerful God and the existence of evil as the eighteenth-century Scottish skeptic David Hume:

"Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?"[1]

More modern skeptics have sometimes posed the logical problem this way:

1. If God is all-good (omnibenevolent), He would prevent evil.

2. If God is all-powerful (omnipotent), He could prevent evil.

3. If God is all-knowing (omniscient), He knows how to prevent evil.

4. But evil exists.

5. Therefore, either God is not all-good, all-powerful, or all-knowing (or maybe He doesn’t exist!)

But why is the problem of evil a problem? In answering this question it is important to earnestly think through the following points, points which often are not reflected upon or not contemplated deeply enough. These considerations must be taken into account when addressing the problem of evil, especially from within the Christian worldview. When they are, I believe the problem of evil (POE) largely resolves itself.

#1 The POE is a problem because we fail to differentiate between the problems of evil and their respective solutions.

John Feinberg begins his book The Many Faces of Evil by laying out two very helpful and essential ground rules that must be understood by anyone attempting to discuss God and the problem of evil. These two ground rules are as follows: (1) there is no such thing as the problem of evil and (2) the problem of evil in its logical form is about the internal consistency of any given theological position.[2]

First, we need to realize that there are several problems of evil, not just one. The phrase “problem of evil” can be used to refer to a host of different dilemmas arising over the issue of God and evil. For example, someone who raises the problem of evil may be referring to the religious/emotional problem of evil, the logical problem of evil, the evidential problem of evil, moral evil, or natural evil, just to name a few. That there is not just one problem of evil necessitates that any discussion about God and evil must first begin by clarifying what problem is under discussion.[3] Each problem is separate and therefore has its own solution. In addition, the skeptic cannot reject a defense for a particular problem of evil by arguing that it does not solve every problem of evil. No one defense addresses every problem of evil, nor was it intended to do so. As Feinberg notes, “It is wrongheaded at a very fundamental level to think that because a given defense or theodicy doesn’t solve every problem of evil, it doesn’t solve any problem of evil.”[4]

Second, the problem of evil in its logical form is about the internal consistency of any given theological position. In other words, the critic is claiming there is a contradiction in the theist’s system and is therefore obligated to show a specific problem within the system they are attacking…


Apologetic Junkie: Why the Problem of Evil is a Problem



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