Evil can be seen in many forms. From the spreading of hurtful gossip to the mass torture and execution of prisoners, from a common cold through to the most dreadful diseases, from homes being flooded to earthquakes causing the death of thousands.
For religious believers in the God of classical theism (Christianity, Islam and Judaism) the existence of evil has always been a significant problem.
Before reading any further, read the extract Reasons for the rise of atheism: the problem of evil and then continue reading.
St. Thomas Aquinas tackled this issue (as have many philosophers and theologians) by first acknowledging the problem.
His presentation of that problem focuses on the idea of two contrary statements, that is, a situation where if two statements contradict each other, only one can be true.
- If God is infinite goodness, then there would be no evil to be found anywhere in the world.
- If there is evil in the world, then God cannot be infinite goodness.
Therefore, only one of ‘God exists’ and ‘evil exists’ can be true. We know there is evil, so it is clear that God does not exist.
The problem of evil can also be presented by focussing on the following three key ideas:
- If God is the all-powerful creator of the universe, then God is responsible for what he created. God could have created a world with no evil and suffering. It also means that if there were evil and suffering in the world, God has power to stop it.
- If God is all-knowing, then he knows about evil and suffering, and knows how to stop it.
- If God is all-loving, then he would want to stop evil. It is a loving thing to stop suffering.
Putting all of these together leads us to a problem.
- If God can stop evil (1) and knows about evil (2), then maybe the reason there is evil is because God doesn’t want to stop it. (3)
- If God wants to stop evil (3) and knows how to (2), then maybe the reason there is evil is because God can’t stop it. (1)
- If God can stope evil (1) and wants to (3), then maybe the reason why there is evil is because God doesn’t know how to stop it.
Or, maybe the reason God does not do something about evil is because God does not exist.
The problem of evil not only raises the difficult issue of evil existing, but also the closely related issue of why there is so much evil and suffering. For atheists, the existence of evil and the existence of so much evil and suffering demonstrates either that there is no God, or if there is, it is not a God worthy of worship.