Last time, we discussed the fact that the problem of evil is only one of the factors we need to consider when were talking about the question of Gods existence. Our calculation of the probability of Gods existence needs to based on all the evidence, not just the presence of evil in the world. We closed though by reiterating the probability that an all-powerful and loving God would permit the evil we see is nevertheless part of that equation. So, the question is: can the existence of evil be squared with the existence of God?
Admittedly, on the surface, the two seem inconsistent. Most of us would assume a loving God would want to prevent all evil. However, as many scholars have noted, theres not necessarily a contradiction between the existence of evil and the existence of a loving God. If there were a greater good that could only be achieved by permitting evil, a loving God could consistently permit that evil in order to ensure the greatest good (Craig 2003 539-541).
Skeptics dont necessarily disagree with that logic. But, many would argue that while the existence of a loving God might be logically possible, it doesnt seem probable given the amount of evil in the world. In theory, the existence of some evil might be justified by a greater good. But, in reality, so much of the evil we see makes so little sense that its difficult to see how it could all be part of a larger plan to acquire some greater good.
The problem is our knowledge and experience is so limited that I’m not sure theres any way we could determine that. The relationship among the events in the world is so complex that its extremely difficult to assess if wed be better off if any of those events had been different. A classic example is the movie Its a Wonderful Life. The main character, George Bailey, reaches a low point in his life and thinks it would have been better if he had never been born. But, then he gets a look at what the world would have been like without him, and he realizes his life imapcted others for the better in ways he never knew.
What is true of life is also true of death. Im a fan of Star Trek: The Next Generation and in one episode the starship Enterprise encounters an earlier version of itself, the Enterprise C, which has come through a rift in time. At that moment, history changes. The Federation, which had been at peace, is now at war with the Klingons. It turns out, in the past, the crew of the Enterprise C gave their lives to save a Klingon ship that was under attack. The Klingons were moved by that sacrifice. As a result, their relationship with the Federation, which had been hostile, changed.
But, now that the Enterprise C has come through the rift, that sacrifice never happened. As a result, the relationship between the Klingons and the Federation never changed, and they are now locked in a war that has taken countless lives. When the crew realizes this, they decide to go back through the rift. Even though they know it means theyre going to die, they know their deaths will achieve a greater good.
Dont misunderstand me. Thats Hollywood. Im not suggesting all the evil in the world has such a simple straight-forward explanation. My point is simply the ultimate value of an event can only be determined by the ultimate consequences of that event. Unfortunately, were rarely in the position to see what the end result of any event will be. Because of our cognitive limitations, actions that appear disasterous in the short term may redound to the greatest good, while some short-term boon may issue in untold misery. Once we contemplate Gods providence over the whole of history, then it becomes evident how hopeless it is for limited observers to speculate on the probability of Gods having morally sufficient reasons for the evils we see (Craig 2003 545).
I can imagine someone at this point saying, But, that doesnt mean God actually has a good reason. Our cognitive limitations work both ways. They prevent us from saying for sure God doesnt have a good reason for evil. But, they also prevent us from saying for sure that He does. If we cant see how everything will work out in the end, the most we can say is God might have a good reason for all the evil we see. So, in our final post on the problem of evil, well ask whether theres any additional evidence that suggests we ought to trust God does have a good reason for permitting evil and is in fact working all things for good.