The No-Problemo of Evil

Question from Adam:
I was recently debating the problem of evil and I am stuck trying to answer this question. Solutions to the problem of evil are most often found in the form of theodicies, arguing solutions for the problem to reconcile it with religion. What exactly are the atheists’ solution to the problem of evil? Is it simply only a problem for the theist?

Answer by SmartLX:
Exactly right. Evil can of course be a problem for anyone on the receiving end of an evil act, but the existence of evil in the world is only a philosophical problem for theists.

If you believe in an all-powerful, all-knowing and loving God who cares for every one of us, the fact that horrible things happen to people all the time requires an explanation. Of course there are explanations aplenty, such as that we’re being tested, or that it’s a necessary effect of free will, or that Satan is at work. There’s no consensus on which if any is the right one, though, which means no one really has a reliable answer.

If on the other hand you don’t believe that any such being is supervising the world, then it’s only to be expected that among the countless happenings in this great wide world, some of them will be awful, and therefore the world is just as we would expect. The essential conflict is between the existence of evil and the existence of an agent who’s willing and able to prevent evil, so dismissing the idea of the latter agent solves it nicely. Deists are free of this particular conflict as well, because the gods they believe in do not intervene in human affairs.

There’s a separate philosophical discussion about whether there’s really such a thing as evil, but there are certainly acts and events that are harmful enough that we’ll happily call them evil regardless. More importantly they’re evil according to theistic moral systems, hence the conflict with theistic religions and their need for theodicy.

One thought on “The No-Problemo of Evil”

  1. I’ve never heard an adequate defense of the problem of evil in any religious thought framework. Ideas like “we are being tested” or that “evil exists to help us appreciate good” etc. appear to me to be weak, insipid attempts at explanations.
    If god exists and allows us to operate on free will then there is no point in praying to such a god (in fact it may be counter productive) to avert evil. If god exists and can avert evil if we pray enough (he’s testing us etc) then that’s a pretty capricious sort of deity. If god exists and allows partial free will with minimal interventions and cannot intervene in some cases (the holocaust for e.g.) then that points to capriciousness or powerlessness.

    The problem is insurmountable, in my view, if you stick to a religious thought framework. In a more humanistic world-view there are explanations for “evil deeds”. An individual’s evil deeds could be due to psychological disturbances, brainwashing by propaganda, or just a lazy and greedy approach to life etc. A community’s evil deeds are usually due to propagandistic brainwashing and a blind following of idiotic leaders.
    These “evil deeds” then become real phenomena that can be addressed by addressing their roots. Instead of puzzling over “why god allows evil” as one would in a religious thought framework, in a godless framework you actually can move on and try to find explanations for crazy deeds and possible safeguards, preventive measures, cures etc.

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