The Problem of Evil

The problem of evil assumes the existence of a world-purpose. What, we are really asking, is the purpose of suffering? It seems purposeless. Our question of the why of evil assumes the view that the world has a purpose, and what we want to know is how suffering fits into and advances this purpose. The modern view is that suffering has no purpose because nothing that happens has any purpose: the world is run by causes, not by purposes.

W. T. Stace (b. 1886), Religion and the Modern Mind [1953]


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6 Responses to The Problem of Evil

  1. So true. It has often been remarked that the so-called “problem of evil” is only a problem for theists. David Bentley Hart, in his beautiful treatise of the problem of evil, The Doors of the Sea (which I review here) makes this point. The problem of evil, he notes, is really only a problem to the believer in God. It is our preposterous presumption of a purposeful, loving, and good God that creates the problem in the first place. A universe sans such a God has so problem at all with evil!

  2. “The secret irony pervading these arguments is that they never would have occurred to consciences that had not in some profound way been shaped by the moral universe of a Christian culture.”
    ~ David Bentley Hart, The Doors of the Sea, page 15

  3. Tom

    Good quote, but this materialist doesn’t buy it. (And I especially don’t buy Hart’s quote, Cliff).

    There are causes that beget causes that beget causes, and the causes can feedback on each other into a network of activity. Throw a dash of randomness into the mix and meaning emerges. From an information theoretic viewpoint, the randomness, or surprisal, from the scripted plan (the difference from how the causal chain is expected to behave) adds meaning. Do this with organic compounds for 3.5 billion years and one day you have creatures building their own moral codes.

    Why limit the power of evolution to be unable to provide meaning to life when it has been the mechanism that builds complex life?

  4. Tom,

    The validity of Hart’s comment would be difficult for you or me to judge, wouldn’t it? Since we are both products of a predominately Christian culture, it would be difficult to rule out the possibility that the problem of evil is only a problem to those shaped by such a culture. The problem of evil matters to me. It matters to you. But does it matter to the typical Asian? Do aboriginal Australians or Africans philosophize about the problem of evil? I don’t know the answer to these questions. But somehow I suspect that the problem of evil is uniquely a “problem” in the western cultures shaped by Christianity. What do you think? And if so, how would this not validate Hart’s point?

  5. Tom

    I guess we need a clear definition of “evil”. If evil is the result of a supernatural, then you are right, a universe without a supernatural does not have a problem with evil because there is no evil! However, being raised in a culture that assumes evil is the result of a supernatural is not uniquely Christian, either.

    As you can probably guess, it is the use of the term “moral universe” that I disagree with and the presumption that morals are intrinsically Christian.

    Have you seen the hippo v croc video on youtube? What we see there, if I can be so bold, is a hippo having empathy for another species. Perhaps the hippo deemed the croc’s actions as bad, but why should he even care? Hmmm… I think I’ll continue this on my blog.

  6. Tom,

    Interesting discussion! But I don’t really have a problem with moral codes being developed through evolutionary processes, especially considering that I believe mankind attained to the “image of God” through those self-same evolutionary processes. To see something similar in nature, especially in lower life forms, wouldn’t surprise me and certainly doesn’t bother me.

    Who knows? Maybe somewhere down the line, after billions of years of additional evolutionary processes on earth, another previously non-sentient life form attains to the “image of God” and a new story of redemption unfolds …


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