Our world runs rife with evil, companies profiting from the misery of others, children exploited in sweat shops to produce shoes, women forced to choose between destitution and selling their bodies. We live in a world full of crime, full of anger and injustice how can an omni benevolent being permit such atrocities to continue.
Before we dive head first into a topic that is very close to my heart and the hearts of other atheists / agnostics, the Problem of Evil; we need to explain certain terms and what is classed as evil….
Evil can exist in 2 forms. Moral evil and Natural evil.
Moral evil is the actions of men, the things that we do individually and collectively to each other and to other groups. Examples of these include theft, murder, rape, John Howard's IR laws, war, duct taping someone to a chair and making them listen to Celine Dion's greatest hits album for an entire day. Put simply the actions of people which lead to suffering of varying degrees.
Natural evil is what we have no control over which leads to suffering on the planet. Some examples are earthquakes, Tsunamis, horrible accidents (for example the derailment of the Spanish train last week), Celine Dion. All of which has happened without the intervention of man.
Why inaction is evil. Inaction is not inherently evil, for example; there is a house on fire, a man stands idly by while the occupants bash against a door blocked on the outside, the man could without risk to himself open the door but refuses to do so. These actions are not technically evil, it was not him who set the blaze, or he was not the man who blocked the door, he is absolved of guilt from the cause of the fire or the cause of death. However one could not say that he had acted in a fashion that one would call good. Is there truly and excuse for the inaction of god?
To take a reasonably current example... the 2004 Tsunami, which took a mind numbing toll of 186,983 dead . How could an omni benevolent stand idly by and watch such suffering?
"It is all part of god's plan" Possibly the biggest cop out to an actual answer that the church has ever put forward. In terms of moral evil, any successful action (an action which achieves it's aim) was right in happening, if it was not part of god's plan it would not have been permitted, men would be absolved of guilt from even the most heinous of actions. . By this excuse of god inaction we could actively, kill, maim, steal and all of the other horrible things we do to one another, safe in the knowledge that if it wasn't meant to happen god would not allow it...
"It's ok they all went to heaven" Christianity uses this when there is great suffering of an individual and the family is in need of some solace. This is ok for the individual, but misses/ misdirects the point of the argument. Not the reward of the individual but wether the suffering was necessary, and can god be justified in inaction. Does it excuse god when he could prevent the suffering yet does nothing.
Maybe god feels if he actively contributes we will loose faith. God says, "I don't need proof, proof denies faith and with out faith I am nothing"
Mental images begin to form as the hand of god sweeps the drowning victims from the water and back to the firmament. The people cheer, the church is vindicated, everyone buys an I heart god T shirt. For god to not be inactive it does not take an event of astronomical proportions. George bushes re election could have been avoided due to a small yet subtle heart attack. The suffering of the Iraqis under Saddam, a freak accident the people are saved no one suspects god. Faith continues the world is happy. God does not need to show himself to be active in the world.
"God uses suffering to produce a form of moral urgency/necessity" We do see some of the greatest moments of human achievement within the darkest hours of our time. Heroes, people risking their lives for others. Governments putting aside petty struggles for the "common good*" donations flooding in the help the people in need. Could this be done on a lesser scale, why the loss of life, why not the risk of loss of life, the same urgency is needed to avoid disaster. One would expect the same from a near miss as a hit for someone crossing the road, both will learn the lesson adequately with a lesser degree of suffering. A caring parent will allow a child to scrape it's knee to learn the dangers of riding a bike, however one could not say the same of a parent who tried o kill their child to teach the same lesson, or lesson to other children.
This also poses the problem. What happens when the levels of moral urgency drop below the desired levels, would we expect and omni benevolent being to take active part in causing evil, to bring us all together, to increase the level of moral urgency. Surely we could no longer see this as omni benevolence.
Free will: OK this is the knottiest of all topics, I do not actually believe in free will, this will discussed ad nauseum at a later date. This may excuse the actions of men.
*Yet even the bible takes a fatalistic view point that all fates are pre decided, that we are just part of gods plan. Moral evil and Judas. Without the betrayal of Judas of Jesus the church would not be as big as it is today. Jesus tells Judas of what his future actions will be it is predestined, how can an action in which you have no choice in be immoral, the overall cruel premeditation of the plan comes from the top. *
As for natural evil, free will has no impact on that’s outcome, there fore we shall move on.
This is quite a long topic and will be continued at a later date.