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 Problem of Evil
Natural Evil such as Earthquakes: Evidence That God is Not Good: Why would a good God design the Universe in such a violent and destructive way?Theological Problems with Heaven, Paradise and Nirvana: If there is free will in heaven but no suffering then it negates any reason for there being suffering on EarthInfanticide and Heaven: Killing Babies for God: If dead babies go straight to heaven, doesn’t that invalidate any reason for the existence of evil?God Must Be Evil (If It Exists)
Is Free Will the Reason God Allows Evil and Suffering?The Experience of Evil TheodicyWhy God Created Evil: The Absence of Good?The Validity of Love Theodicy: God, Humans, Free Will and EvilGod Never Needs to Test Us: God knows who will attain heaven and who won’t so why doesn’t it just create those people straight into heaven and therefore avoid suffering?
On this page:
- Introduction to the Problem of Theodicy: A Fundamental Contradiction Between a Good God and Reality
- The Inhumane Effects of the Justifications of Evil
- The Illusion of Good and Evil as Opposites
- A Venn Diagram: Absolute Good vs. Apparent Evil
- Theodicy Deferred (It is all a mystery!) – the Story of Job
- The Creator of the Best of All Possible Worlds: Or the Evil Creator of the Worst?
- Hinduism and Buddhism
1. Introduction to the Problem of Theodicy: A Fundamental Contradiction Between a Good God and Reality
“The presence of evil and suffering in the world has even been argued by some philosophers from Epicurus (341-270BCE) to David Hume (1711-76CE) to cast doubt on the existence of God. Other more modern writers such as Freud and Marx sought to show that religion’s explanations of the presence of evil and suffering were based on delusions.”
“If God has a plan for the universe, which is implemented as part of his will, why does he not simply create a deterministic universe in which the goal of the plan is inevitable? Or better still create it with the plan achieved? […] Is God free to prevent evil? If he is omnipotent, yes. Why then does he fail to do so? This devastating argument was deployed by David Hume: if the evil in the world is the intention of the Deity, then he is not benevolent. If the evil is contrary to his intention, he is not omnipotent. He cannot be both omnipotent and benevolent (as most religions claim).”
This problem is specific to the type of monotheism where God is said to be omnipotent and benevolent. Gods were not always quite so capable as that, for example in Zoroastrianism good and evil really were fighting against each other and neither was all-powerful.
Primitive gods could literally and physically fight against evil. But as philosophy and science taught us the true depth of words like ‘creator god’ and ‘creation’, and we understood more and more of the psychological, incidental and mechanistic causes of apparent ‘evil’, it became quite obvious that the whole system was designed with the possibility for ‘evil’ in its very fabric. “To increase the power of an anthropomorphic deity until it is absolute is to increase his responsibility until he is amoral”4. Omnipotency is incompatible with benevolence.
The reasons that such contradictions appear between the existence of god and the existence of aspects of reality is because the whole idea of god is problematic. If there is no god and if suffering and pain result from purely biological effects and the physical laws of the universe, with no underlying divine cause, then the problem of evil disappears. There is no real “good” and “evil”, there is just evolved life, struggling to survive in an uncaring universe. It happens that this atheistic state appears to match perfectly with the truth of the matter.
2. The Inhumane Effects of the Justifications of Evil5
There has been a long Christian history of horrible explanations of evil, wherein all blame is put on the victims. Disabled people, stillborn babies, the suffering of children and adults alike has all, from time to time, been explained as punishment for their sins. If not actual behaviour, then for thought crime, and, sometimes, the punishment itself is in order to prevent some serious sin happening in the future. The theory goes that God never punishes people through random bouts of suffering by accident: everything is part of God’s plan. If suffering seems unjust and unfair, then, it is merely the case that God is judging and punishing people for reasons that their fellow Humans do not comprehend. Thoughts like these kill all sense of compassion and caring, and scupper any chance of granting relief to the victim. Everything is our fault: there is no suffering of innocents, for there are no innocents. It is not our job to try and alleviate the pain that God has seen fit to bring upon us!
I am sure that most modern, moral, readers, must react in horror to such an inhumane dismissal of evil. Many may even, through wishful thinking and ignorance, disclaim that no-one has held to such a monstrous justification. But you’d be wrong. We’ve seen it in the Jewish Story of Job in the Bible, where poor job has done nothing wrong, and God itself blasts down a warning that no-one may question God’s judgements and methods. In the Jewish spiritual book, The Talmud, it said that ‘if a man sees that painful suffering visits him, let him examine his conduct’ and that ‘there is no suffering without sin’6. In other words: blame the victim.
“Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes humans objects in a cruel experiment whereby we are created to be sick and commanded to be well.”
Lawrence Krauss (2012)7
Christianity followed suit, and embraced the idea of original sin. That is, we all deserve punishment simply for being human, until such a time as we are saved, if we ever are. This was not mere philosophizing – the Christian church in the dark ages really did ban medicine and physicians on the grounds that our bodies deserve their pains and diseases. The same went for childbirth – it is painful and dangerous for women, because God made it that way as a punishment for all women8 (Genesis 3:14-19). Midwifery was banned. Their activities were seen as a “direct affront to the divinely ordained pain of childbirth” and, according to a Scottish clergyman, “vitiating the primal curse of women”9. For the same reasons, “when the great American discovery of anaesthetics was applied in obstetrical cases, it was discouraged [because] it was an impious attempt to escape from the curse denounced against all women in Genesis iii. 16” – Draper (1881)10, also told by Stanton (1898)11. Martin Luther, the founder of Protestantism, taught the same: The following statement epitomizes the Christian approach to female welfare: “If they become tired or even die”, Luther wrote, “that does not matter. Let them die in childbirth – that is why they are there”12.
This outright dismissal of pain and suffering arises because religious theology cannot answer the fundamental question as to why there is evil and suffering in the world. The result is a morality that can have a profoundly negative effect on human compassion.
3. The Illusion of Good and Evil as Opposites13
Good and evil are to many an ‘obvious’ reality but with thought, the concept of these opposites makes little sense. What is good for one being is frequently bad for another. For example in nature the whole cycle of biological life is based on death and recycling. Hence why major religions have historically been based around these themes, especially vegetation gods who are reborn every Winter Solstice. All predators find it good that prey is available; if you protect the prey you harm the predators, and whilst it is bad from the prey’s point of view to be eaten, it is necessary from the predator’s point of view. In nature, survival is violent and competitive.
Bacteria14 feed on biological chemicals to survive and breed. What is good for them is bad for us. While antibiotics are good for us and reduce our suffering, their usage creates suffering and death for countless other minor species. What is good for one species is bad for others. While one culture may consider multiple marriage to be a virtue of love and positivity, another considers it an evil sin. What is good in one culture is bad in another. What was good in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible is bad in the New, what is good in the Buddhist Pali scriptures is wrong in the Therevada, what is considered an ethic by one group in society is considered wrong in another. Contraception may be evil according to Catholic doctrine, but, overpopulation causes suffering for all. What the homeless rightly do to survive is a “social evil” to those with homes, and how governments collect tax is evil to the poor person but a social necessity. Good and Evil are impossibly complex, inherently subjective.
Moral subjectivism is not limited to the human concern for other humans. A nuclear attack is bad for billions of people but may well be good for undersea creatures who suffer from our pollutants. Eliminating environmental toxins from our waste may make industry less efficient and slow the economy, but is good for other species. A life-saving vaccine may be good for many people but could be atrocious for the environment and create suffering due to overpopulation.
There are no actions that are “good” or “bad” from the point of view of all peoples, cultures, societies, species and interests. There are no actions that are absolutely good for life, and there are no actions that are bad for all species. There is no “opposite” to good or evil; there is no scale with “good” on one side and “evil” on the other: There are only conflicting subjective interests. It is all personal opinion, compromise and discord. “Good” is not the opposite of “evil” as both concepts are too personal, too subjective and too elusive to warrant definition or resolution as opposites.
4. A Venn Diagram: Absolute Good vs. Apparent Evil15
If we, as fallible Human beings, are to attempt to be “good”, and also what is good for God is not always what is good for us, it means God is not “absolutely good”. If God is absolutely good, it cannot be that what is good for God is evil for us. It would then make evil good for us.
What is the point of us trying to judge evil from good, if the glorification of God is good, and yet it is also, sometimes, anti-Human? Violent, murderous events in the Christian Old Testament and Islamic Qur’an provide many occasions of the contradictory goodness of God’s will. Isn’t this the reasoning of evil itself – turning something good into something evil? Isn’t that ultimate sin?
If the Bible appears to condone evil, the Bible is wrong. Otherwise we are inspired to do evil ourselves like so many before us. If something is Evil for us, we have to oppose it, whether it comes from God or not.
If God has created an area of crossover where evil for us is good for itself, why do we presume heaven will be any better? It could be far, far worse!
5. Theodicy Deferred (It is all a mystery!) – the Story of Job16
“The Encyclopedia of Religion” by Eliade Mircea (1987) described theodicy deferred as the response that the entire problem of evil is a “mystery”, beyond human logic, and us mere mortals can’t possibly understand why God created evil17. Therefore, it is an attempt not to answer alongside a pretence of spirituality. But the only spirituality accompanying this answer is its common bedfellow: irrationality. The greatest human minds, both secular philosophers and spiritual theologians, have spent their lives on this problem and between them have written a library on the subject. The fact that no answer has yet been found is too significant to simply ignore by dismissing the problem as a “mystery”.
“Is it good for Thee that Thou dost oppress? That Thou despisest the labour of Thy hands, And on the counsel of the wicked hast shone?”
Job speaking to God in Job 10:3
“4Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? […] 33Knowest thou the ordinances of heaven? canst thou set the dominion thereof in the earth?”
God’s response in Job 38:4,33
“8Wilt thou also disannul my judgment? wilt thou condemn me, that thou mayest be righteous? 9Hast thou an arm like God? or canst thou thunder with a voice like him?”
God’s response continued; Job 40:8-9
The Book of Job of the Hebrew Scriptures/Old Testament describes God and Satan conspire together to destroy the life of the successful and holy man, Job and reduce him to destitution and despair (Job 1:1-22, partially repeated in Job 2:1-13) – although Satan itself does not actually have to do anything in the agreement. Job then bemoans his own existence for many chapters of that book, depressed, confused and hurt. The existence of suffering and pain is put before God, and from Job 38:1-4 onwards, it answers. The author has God monologue at length about the great power that God has (Job chapters 38, 39, 40 and 41); and how small and insignificant any little human is. What right does a mere created being have to ask these questions? thunders God mightily at Job, the poor and suffering victim. This is a case of theodicy deferred. The Bible provides only the answer that we do not have the right to ask the question why did God create evil and suffering?.
The reason that this problem has to be engaged from the standpoint of monotheism, is because it has to do with which spirit you are worshipping. If you are tricked by Satan into worshipping Satan, then, the results are surely truly bad for you. If you are tricked into worshipping an evil god, then it is at your own peril. If the problem of evil cannot be answered from within the framework of the god you believe in, then, you are seriously running the risk that you have fallen for the tricks of the dark side!
“Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.”
“Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light.”
Any powerful spirit can pretend to be good. Even a being of complete evil, like Satan in the Christian Bible, is said to be able to appear ‘as an angel of light’ (2 Cor. 11:14). And in Islam, the Satanic verses were sneaked into the Qur’an by the devil, without Muhammad noticing that they were from the most evil being rather than angel Gabriel. That a being of complete evil can hide its true nature and appear as good is a genuine warning from world religions; how much easier must it be for lesser demons and naughty spirits to hide their lesser quantities of evil (e.g. 1 John 4:1). Some groups of early Christians thought that the entire Old Testament was written by an interloper; an evil god, that ought to be overthrown. Such dualistic battles are common in gnostic and mystery religions. We poor Human beings have little chance of determining who are the good, and who are the bad, in the world of gods, angels, demons and spirits.
If there is no way to escape the contradiction between the existence of suffering, pain and evil, and the existence of an all-powerful God, it surely leaves only two possibilities: (1) The god you believe in is actually evil, or (2) there is no god.
6. The Creator of the Best of All Possible Worlds: Or the Evil Creator of the Worst?
Some theologians state that this world – complete with suffering – is the “best of all possible worlds” that God could have created. Plato made this argument in 360BCE, and it has also been propounded by the Islamic Hamid al-Ghazali (1058-1111) and Christian theologian Gottfried Leibniz (1646-1716)18. They all argued that some evil is necessary in order to attain a greater amount of good. But with the existence of heaven – where angels sit, free of sin and never having existed on the Earth – it is clear that there is no necessary reason why beings with free will have to exist on earth and suffer before going to heaven. The very design of the life cycle, natural disasters and the cataclysms of the violent universe prove an opposite conclusion: creation is the worst of all possible worlds. The idea of the existence of a good creator god is refuted by the facts of the universe.
The main piece of evidence here is biological matter and the food chain. All life dies – all biological life decays, erodes, fades, becomes diseased and ill if it does not sustain itself. To sustain itself nearly all life, except the least living elements of life, kills and eats other life. If not this, then it consumes biological matter at the expense of other living beings; the fight for food is also a case of living beings being required to outdo each other merely to survive.
If life was created, and not simply the result of undirected unconscious evolution (as seems sensible), this is surely the worst possible way to have created life. It appears very much that life cannot survive without causing suffering for other life. A god could not have created a more vicious cycle if it tried: Tying the very existence of life with the necessary killing of other life is the work of an evil genius, not of an all-powerful and all-loving god, that could choose if it wanted to sustain all life immediately and forever with manna from heaven. But it seems such an all-powerful good god doesn’t exist.
The creation of quite so much suffering, disease and despair in life is a main indicator that god is not good. The very design of life itself seems evil. This is the conclusion of my page on the food chain and forms part of an argument used on my Satanism website:
The existence of such large quantities of suffering, despair, pain, of natural disasters such as earthquakes, of the death of the unborn and the immense suffering of lovers & kind-hearted people means that god is evil and intentionally creates life in order to create suffering. That all life exists in a food chain means that life is completely tied to death, and such a barbaric biological cycle could only have been made by an evil god. Also, that such a god appears not to exist, or actively hides itself, is a source of confusion, conflict, war and stress and is again more likely the antics of an evil god. Given the state of the natural world, it is impossible that a good god exists. It is more likely that an evil god exists, but, it is sensible to assume that there is no god of either type. Even if there is not a god of either type, as the dominance of death and violence in the natural world, a result of nature being abused by life and not being designed for life, I think the evil symbol of Satan is the best representative of the state of reality and the universe, whether or not an actual evil god exists.
If God did exist and was evil, it would undoubtedly lie and tell everyone it was a good god and that it loved them. It would create maximum confusion by preaching multiple conflicting religions. It would create heaven and make it hard to get to in order to tease and torture people into making their own lives hell. As all of those things happen, if there is a God, it is doing the things an evil God would do!
Once I recognized and accepted this state of affairs and adequately called myself a Satanist, I could concentrate my life on happiness, love, stability and peace. Because I know and understand that death always wins, that life is temporary, I waste no time on short-term whims that reduce my quality of life, or of those around me, and I waste no time with spiritual pipe dreams. Recognizing Satan as the personified meta-figure of reality is self-affirming, life-affirming, positive, honest and clarifying.”
“Anyone who thinks of Satan as evil should consider all the men, women, children, and animals who have died because it was “God’s will”.”
Christianity has always struggled with the problem of evil. The most ancient forms of Christianity in the first century, before the Pauline Christianity that we known today became dominant, held a multitude of beliefs on why evil existed. Prof Bart Ehrman is one of the most qualified historians of early Christianity. In “Lost Christianities” he summarizes a few major different beliefs that the original Christians had about the source of evil:
- Some believed that there were two gods, a good god (Jehovah) and an evil one (Satan), and they were equal (like in Zoroastrianism, a slightly earlier religion).
- “Others believed that this world had been created by a subordinate, ignorant divinity. (Why else would the world be filled with such misery and hardship?)”19.
- “Yet other Christians thought it was worse than that, that this world was a cosmic mistake created by a malevolent divinity as a place of imprisonment, to trap humans and subject them to pain and suffering”19.
8. Hinduism and Buddhism5
- Hinduism and Buddhism explain evil as the result of karma. Our actions affect our stations in future lives, and therefore, karma acts to serve justice in the long-run, even if suffering now seems unfair. It’s not unfair – it’s just a delayed punishment. Although the operation of karma can be seen as a free-will explanation of evil, the problem of evil does not really exist in such belief systems. There’s no fundamental contradiction between the concept of the divine or universal laws, and the existence of suffering. See: Is Free Will the Reason God Allows Evil and Suffering?.
- Hinduism and Buddhism also embrace the experience theodicy. They hold that our ignorance of the truth is the cause of present situation on the samsaric cycle: if we could enlighten ourselves and see the bigger picture, we would break free from the system, and our suffering would end. See: The Experience of Evil Theodicy.
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.