Moral evil refers to the morally wrong intentions, choices, and actions of rational agents. Think of stuff that happens because of human wickedness, perversity, aggression, greed, cruelty and all those other sins that probably sound great to you just right now but are actually pretty dim in the long run. Moral evils, the lot of them. Put that cigarette out!
If you sell life insurance you’ll refer to these as "Acts of God”. Natural evil is not caused by human beings, but instead refers to the operations of non-human nature. These natural events (well, natural disasters, really) arise independently of human activity: famines, floods, diseases, dangerous animals, earthquakes, lightning, pestilence and the many other horrid accidents of fate…
The evidential problem of evil
Does the evidence of evil cast doubt on the existence of God? The evidential problem is the problem of whether and (if so) to what extent the existence of evil constitutes evidence against the existence of God, that is to say, a being perfect in power, knowledge and goodness: ‘There’s evidence of evil – so God doesn’t exist.’
Evidential arguments from evil attempt to show that since gratuitous evils exist, it is highly unlikely that the world was created and is governed by an omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good being, on the basis that such gratuitous evils are incompatible with the existence of a god (omnipotent, omniscient, all-good).
The logical problem of evil
Is the existence of God logically incompatible with the existence of evil? The logical problem of evil is a more general challenge to a belief in a perfect God that is posed by the existence of evil and suffering in our world. According to this version of the problem, it is logically impossible for an omnipotent, omniscient, perfectly good God to co-exist with evil and suffering.
a) The deity is omnibenevolent or all-good.
b) The deity is omniscient or all-knowing.
c) The deity is omnipotent or all-powerful.
d1) Natural evil exists.
d2) Moral Evil exists.
Possible responses to the problem of evil
Can the apparent inconsistency be resolved in any manner that preserves all the characteristics of an All Perfect or Supreme Being? Theodicies (sing. Theodicy) try to explain how the traditional idea of the deity could be consistent with the existence of evil. They say: you can have a) + b) + c) + d) without a contradiction or inconsistency.
There are two main theodicies:
a) The Augustinian or Free-Will Theodicy
1. Evil is the result of human error
2. Human error results from free-will, since there is no way to have creatures with free will and not permit the possibility of someone choosing evil.
3. If we didn't have free-will we would be robots.
4. God prefers a world of free agents to a world of robots
5. Evil is therefore an unfortunate - although not unavoidable - outcome of free-will
6. God’s foreknowledge of our deeds does not deny our freedom. But for God to actually intervene would be to take away our free-will and make us into puppets.
7. Therefore, God is neither responsible for evil nor guilty of neglect for not intervening.
b) The Irenaean or Soul-Making Theodicy: a Developmental and Teleological view
You will recall that according to the Irenaean tradition, man is created in two steps, ‘Bios’ and ‘Zoe’ – or, firstly in the ‘image of God’ and then in the ‘likeness of God’. The first step, the creation of ‘Bios’, the physical universe and organic life, is ‘easy for divine omnipotence’. ‘Bios’ is ‘only the raw material for a further and more difficult stage of God’s creative work.’ This second phase of creation, in which we still are, is ‘the leading of men as relatively free and autonomous persons…towards that quality of personal existence that is the finite likeness of God’. Think of these two steps as creation then spiritualization, if you like. Hick refers to it as the ‘soul-making process’.
2. Transformation or ignorance: altering the meaning of evil
“ The best of all possible worlds”
The “Unknown Purpose” defence
The Privative theory of Evil
“ The best of all possible worlds”
What if evil is only a part of the overall good and does not exist in itself? Leibniz suggests that if God is all perfect then any universe created by God cannot be anything less than perfect. If this is so then evil is not really evil at all but some necessary part or feature of the best of all possible worlds. From God’s infinite viewpoint, “evil” is simply a necessary part of the beautiful and good creation that is the "best of all possible worlds". The idea of "evil" is merely a human concept and only seems to conflict with God’s goodness. It is not an objective property of the universe, but is a result of man's distorted and limited understanding, an illusion in our minds.
The “Unknown Purpose” defence
What if God permits apparently pointless suffering for reasons that we cannot understand? We cannot escape our finite human perceptions to get the ‘big picture’. This is sometimes known as the unknown purpose defence . If we could properly understand the nature of God and his creation, then there would be no conflict between evil and God’s putative goodness. Unfortunately we cannot comprehend ‘God’s Good Purposes’, being mere human beings, so the resolution of the problem of evil is (alas) firmly mysterious and beyond the realm of reason.
The Privative theory of Evil
What if evil is merely the absence of good? This is sometimes known as the privative theory of evil : evil just is the absence of some corresponding good. So we do not need to find a cause of the existence of evil, as only positive existences need causes. The only causal explanations here would have to consist in the non-existence of a cause of the corresponding good. Thus, we should not ask the question, ‘why did God cause or create evil?’ Since evil is only a privation, it is not the sort of thing that can be caused or created. A perfectly good being can cause a situation which involves evil, by simply not realising every potentiality for good in that situation.
3. Process Theology
Process Theology tries to deal with the problem of evil by admitting that the nature of God must be different, usually by redefining what is meant by his omnipotence.
Whitehead thinks that many of these problems can be solved if God is seen less as an entity than as a process. Nature itself is comprised of creative, experiential events. There are no “substances” or static independent realities. Instead, there are “actual entities”, seen as dynamic collections of events. With this view because all is in causal motion, there is also creativity. There are in addition to the actual entities “eternal objects” –patterns of events which permeate all reality – ‘universals’, if you like. Within the Process view, the reality of the deity has not been fixed and the being is still developing. God is simply a dynamic collection of events, the pattern of which permeates all of reality.
There is no Problem of Evil if there is no deity at all, let alone a perfect one. If all attempts at proving that there is a deity of any kind have failed because they are not psychologically convincing or logically compelling there is no Problem of Evil. For such thinkers the only conclusion that can be reached in light of the absence of evidence and logical compulsion would be atheism – the belief that there are no deities of any kind. For some thinkers, even agnosticism (uncertainty about whether God exists and what his nature is) is not a legitimate position.
The tendency of Hume's discussion of evil, in both the Enquiry and Dialogues , is to insist on the reality of evil and the doubts that this casts on any claim that the beauty, harmony and order of this world provides us with clear evidence that an infinitely powerful and good being created and governs it. As we have noted, Hume's argument falls short of categorically denying that God exists on the ground that there is unnecessary evil in this world. What Hume's arguments do show, however, is that while it is possible that the reality of evil is consistent with the existence of God this leaves theism with a large and significant problem that remains unanswered. The enormous degree of evil in this world, and the vast range of forms that it takes, are impossible to explain or justify from our human perspective (i.e., given the limits of human understanding). There is, therefore, no basis for inferring the existence of an infinitely powerful and good God in face of contrary evidence of this kind — evidence that provides us with considerable grounds for doubting this conjecture or hypothesis.
“ Evolution and the Problem of Evil” by Paul Draper
The moral randomness of pleasure and pain (i.e. good persons suffering intense pain and bad persons experiencing great pleasure) is much more likely if the cause of pleasure and pain is related to evolutionary naturalism than to a supernatural God. Although neither naturalism nor theism has been proven to be true or false, Draper argues that the ratio of the probability of naturalism is much greater than the ratio of the probability of theism. Since theism and naturalism are opposite hypotheses, they cannot both be true simultaneously. Therefore, all things considered, evolution and natural selection provides a powerful argument against theism.