Richard Swinburne’s “The Problem of Evil”: God’s ExistencePhilosophers have looked for ways to explain God’s existence for centuries.
One such argment that the believer must justify in order to maintain the
possibility of God’s existence is the problem of evil. In his essay, “The
Problem of Evil,” by Richard Swinburne, the author attempts to explain how evil
can exist in a world created by an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent Being,
namely God. Swinburne uses to free-will defense and says that God gave us a
choice between doing good and doing evil. If someone chooses to do good over
evil, then that Good is greater than if one had no choice at all but to do good.
This is a weak argument and in order to clarify those weaknesses one can look
at Steven M. Cahn’s essay entitled “Cacodaemony.” This essay parallels
Swineburne’s, but states that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnimalevolent Demon
created the world. By looking at how weak the argument for cacodaemony is, one
can see how unlikely it is that the Demon exists and then can see that the
existence of God is just as unlikely.
In “The Problem of Evil”, Swinburne says that an omniscient, omnipotent,
omnibenevolent Being created the world. If this were true, how can evil exist
in this world? If God consciously knew He was creating a world in which there
is evil, then He would not be omnibenevolent. If God did not know He was
creating a world in which evil exists, then He would not be omniscient. If God
is omnipotent then He would be able to stop any evil from occurring. Either way,
God would not be what Christianity makes him out to be. Swinburne argues that
the theodicist, one who believes that it is not wrong for God to create a world
in which there is evil, can logically explain the existence of evil in the world.
The main argument that the theodicist uses is the free-will defense, which
claims that God gave humans the freedom to choose between doing acts of good and
acts of evil. The theodicist argues that the good person could do is greater if
it is chosen instead of doing evil. It is better to choose to walk an elderly
person across the road instead of deciding to push the elderly person in front
of an oncoming car. The theodicist believes that it is better for a person to
have that choice, though nearly everyone would naturally choose to help the
person across the street, than to have no choice at all and be forced to help
that person. Swinburne writes that giving people a moral responsibility to do
the right thing is good. “But if He did so by imposing a full character on a
humanly free creature, this would be giving him a character which he had not in
any way chosen or adopted for himself” (9). Swinburne believes that the freedom
to choose and develop ones own character is a very important thing and each
person deserves to have the ability to choose between Good and evil.
This, however, does not justify the amount of pain and suffering in the
world. If someone were to consciously choose to do an evil act over a good one,
the suffering caused to the innocent people involved would not be right. There
are some people with mental disorders or those born with retardation that do not
have the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, or who sometimes suffer
from lack of proper judgement. These people cannot make a choice between good
and evil, so sometimes they do evil acts, and sometimes they do good ones.
Would it not be better for these people not to have the choice, a choice that
they may not be fit to make? For example, a man who is schizophrenic may hear
voices that tell him to do something that he knows is morally wrong, such as
kill somebody. Would it not be better for God to intervene and make this
person’s judgement better? It most certainly would be better for God to
intervene and give this person a proper sense of right and wrong and the ability
to do the right thing. It would have been a better world if God had created
Hitler so that he would not feel the need to order the massacre of millions of
Jews. Swinburne, however, thinks that it is better for these people to have a
choice to do wrong or to do right.
Swinburne argues that, although evils are bad, their existence is necessary
for the existence of some types of goods. Certain evils that occur, such as the
suffering of others, cause us to be compassionate, courageous, self-sacrificing,
etc. Swinburne says that these are goods that exist because of the existence
of evil. “Evils give men an opportunity to perform the acts which show men at
their best” (10). Someone who sees a woman getting raped may show courage and
compassion by trying to stop the rapist. It is illogical, however, to say, that
it is a good thing that woman was getting raped so that the kindhearted citizen
could intervene. This woman, would still suffer from the mentl tortures of
being violated. Even though it was a courageous thing that the person stopped
the rape, the woman would be better off if the rape had not even happened at all.
Women as a whole would feel a lot safer if rape did not exist. Yet it is an
evil, and it does exist, and the compassion ane may feel towards a victim of
this evil does not make the victim better off than if there never existed such
a thing as rape.
If no one were in pain, then it is true that goods such as compassion would
not exist. How can it be justified, however, that it is good that some suffer
so that others can exhibit good traits? Those people can try and bring others
who are in pain happiness and relief, but many others will still experience pain
both physical and mental. The woman who is getting raped will still feel mental
pain after the good person stopped the rapist. It is illogical to say that it
is good for evil to exist so that others will exhibit good traits. It is good
that people come together and try to improve and perfect this world, but it is
not good that people have to suffer in order for others to try and improve the
Swinburne also mentions the other types of evils that are not caused by
humans, such as natural disasters. The theodicist argues that “God ties the
goodness of man to the well-being of the world and that afailure of one leads
to a failure of the other” (12). Earthquakes and volcanoes are a way to punish
humanity for misbehaving. This does not explain why earthquakes happen, and why
so many die as a result of them. The west coast cannot be at fault for the
earthquaks that plague them constantly. Many law-abiding, good citizens died in
the Earthquakes that rocked San Francisco and Los Angeles a few years ago. God
would not have allowed all those innocent people to die. Nor can the thousands
of people who lost their homes because of Hurricane Andrew be blamed. All one
needs to do is to take a class about Geology or Meteorology to know why these
and other natural disasters happen. It would be illogical for God, if He is
omnibenevolent, to make many good people suffer because of natural disasters.
Earthquakes and volcanoes have existed on this planet long before humans were
around. The world was plagued with earthquakes and volcanoes during and before
the time of the dinosaurs, hundreds of millions of years before humans evolved
and Christianity came about. The theodicist cannot explain why God would allow
so much pain to be caused to humans by natural disasters. This presents a
serious hole in the compatibility of God with evil in this world.
Swinburne also discusses the different types of goods that exist in the
world. These goods are instrumental and intrinsic. An intrinsic good is
something that is good by itself, such as love or happiness. An instrumental
good is something that may not be good by itself, but it can be used to achieve
a greater good. An example of an instrumental good would be modern medicine.
The existence of the Black Plague in medieval Europe caused suffering and death
to millions. It also resulted in the bettering of living conditions. The death
of one third of the population of Europe cannot be justified by the compassion
felt by those that lived towards those that die. Another example of an
instrumental good is penicillin. It was discovered and helped to cure polio and
saved many lives. The suffering of the many that contracted, suffered and died
from this disease cannot be justified by the few that fought to conquer this
disease. It is not a good thing that Polio existed.
Even if the theodicist still believes that the existence of God and the
existence of evil are compatible, by looking at Steven M. Cahn’s essay
“Cacodaemony,” one will see that they are not. In his essay, Cahn parallels
Swinburne’s situation of the problem of evil with the problem of goodness. Cahn
states that it is equally likely that if an omniscient, omnipotent,
omnibenevolent Being created the world, then an omniscient omnipotent,
omnimalevolent Demon could have done the same. The problem that arises in
Cahn’s essay is: how could a world containing goodness have been created by
this all-powerful Demon? It exactly parallels the problem in Swinburne’s essay,
how could evil exist in a world created by God?
Cahn attacks this problem by using the same argument that Swinburne uses,
the free-will defense. Cahn also creates two types of good, just as Swinburne
categorized two types of evil. Cahn calls these goods moral goods, those humans
do for each other, and physical goods, those found in the human environment.
Cahn writes that the Demon could have created a world in which humans do not
have the ability to do good, but this Demon has. Cahn writes that the Demon has
given humans free-will to choose to do evil or good. If one chooses evil over
good, then that evil is greater than if one had no choice at all but to do evil.
“The Demon thus had to provide human beings with freedom, so that they might
perform their bad actions volunarily, thus maximizing evil”(23). Cahn writes
that the world wouldnot be as evil as it could be if the Demon made it so that
everyone was just evil.
These arguments are not very convincing. Too many people choose good over
evil for this to be the worst of all possible worlds, which is what it should
be if an omniscient, omnipotent, omnimalevolent Demon created it. This world
would be more evil if the Demon made us inherently evil and goodness did not
even exist. If we were all made with the same characteristics as the Demon then
we would be more evil than if we had to choose to come up with those evil traits
on our own. This world would be a worse place if everyone just fought and hated
each other, just like this world would be a better place if everyone was
peaceful and happy. This Demon could not exist because there is too much good
in the world, and that good does not get an adequate explanation. Since the
arguments for Cacodaemony is disproved, so is the one for the theodicist, since
these two arguments are equally likely and equally weak.
By looking at Cahn’s “Cacodaemony,” one can see how improbably it is that
an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnimalevolent Demon created the world. Cahn’s
argument, however, exactly parallels Swinburne’s in “The Problem of Evil.” Both
use the free-will defense to attempt to explain how evil or goodness could exist
in a world created by God or a Demon. Both arguments have the same strength, as
Cahn notes, and both are very weak arguments. If it seems unlikely that an
omniscient, omnipotent, omnimalevolent Demon created the world, then it is just
as unlikely that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being created the
world. It is likely that neither God nor the Demon exists, and the problem of
evil and the problem of goodness wind up supporting the position of the atheist.