The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus


Free will and the problem of evil

In Ken Ueda’s article last week, he addressed the problem of evil in relation to God’s omniscience, omnipotence and omni-benevolence. The article made arguments in the fifth and sixth paragraphs as well as a “Christians are apathetic and tolerate evil” quasi argument in the end of the seventh and eighth paragraphs.

First argument: Not all evils are caused by humans having free will (E.g. natural disasters and sickness). Would hurricanes, earthquakes or viruses be evil if there were no people in the way? Of course not. They are just parts of nature. Ueda’s point is that human suffering is evil, not that volcanoes and the flu are inherently evil. There are two kinds of evil then: Evil actions (sin) and human suffering (pain).

The question is, could human choice have introduced both kinds of evil into the world? The answer is yes if we understand the “free will” argument to mean that humans choose to rebel against God, and that the consequences of rebellion are twofold. Both the corruption of human nature and the corruption (or poisoning) of the natural world. Ueda did not address this standard formulation of the free will argument in his article.

Second argument: God doesn’t intervene to stop events like torture, rape or genocide.

A response to this argument requires an understanding of the nature of evil and a refutation of three hidden assumptions.

First, an understanding of the nature of evil. Christian and Jewish scriptures state that all things created by God are good and that God did not create evil. Evil is not a created thing; it is the result of a wrong choice. A standard analogy is that evil, like blindness, is not a thing, but the lack of a thing that ought to be. For example, darkness is only the absence of light. Likewise, evil is separation from the ultimate good, God. It is not an illusion, but is not a created thing. It is the absence of good. God is the source of all life and joy – to rebel against Him is to be removed from his goodness, which results in the spiritual evils of sin and selfishness, as well as physical pain.

But, why doesn’t God intervene? Why do bad things happen to good people? Three hidden assumptions:

1. We are good people. Is this necessarily so? If sin is failure to love and serve and surrender to God, and if sin puts distance between us and God, then it is quite possible that we deserve the evils we experience.

2. Suffering is bad. Truthfully, pain often produces character, wisdom, and compassion. It is not true that all things are good (E.g. being raped), but it is true that “all things work together for good to those who love God.” The most joyful people I’ve met are those who have experienced great pain.

3. We know (or deserve to know) God’s reasons. Animals don’t understand everything about humans, so how can you and I expect to know the motivations and reasons of God? It is not true that we must be able to understand and explain every evil in the world in order for us to rationally accept God’s goodness and power.

“Reason’s last step is the recognition that there are an infinite number of things that are beyond it. It is merely feeble if it does not go so far as to recognize that. If natural things are beyond it, what are we to say about supernatural things?” (Blaise Pascal, Pensee 188).

Third argument; a belief in God causes apathy and acceptance of evil.

This is untrue from a doctrinal, historical and experiential perspective. Christian, Jewish and Islamic theology command believers to resist evil and work for the cause of justice. Historically, religious groups have contributed tremendously to human rights causes. I could introduce you to Christians who serve in orphanages, homeless shelters, literacy programs and more because their faith motivates them to hate evil and love good.

Belief in God is actually what provides a sound foundation for the existence of good and evil. An atheist cannot point to an objective and universal standard of right and wrong, only to a subjective and personal one which can be imposed on others by persuasion or force, but is not, in the end, absolutely true.

As C.S. Lewis wrote:

“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it? A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: fish would not feel wet. Of course I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too-for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist-in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless-I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality-namely my idea of justice-was full of sense. Consequently atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.”

Nick Elledge is a sophomore political science, public policy, economics and Spanish quadruple major. He can be reached for comment at [email protected].

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