The Problem of Evil and
the Existence of God
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The Problem of Evil and the Existence of God
- How is it possible for there to be an all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-good God given that there is so much evil in the world?
- What evidence is there that such a God exists?
- Must we be created by God in order for our lives to be meaningful?
Types of Beliefs in God
- Theist—one who believes in a personal god who rules the world.
- Agnostic—one who neither believes nor disbelieves in god.
- Atheist—one who disbelieves in god.
- Deist—one who believes that god created the universe and then abandoned it.
- Pantheist—one who believes that the universe is god.
Thought Probe: Biblical Truths
- Modern archaeology has failed to find confirming evidence for many of the Bible’s historical claims.
- Does this undercut the credibility of its non-historical claims? Why or why not?
Thought Probe: Deluded Believers
- No major religion is believed by more than about 25% of the world’s population.
- That means that over 75% of the human population is mistaken about the true nature of God.
- How do you know you’re not in that 75%?
Thought Probe: Holy Scripture
- Suppose you’re a space explorer who lands on a planet where there are a number of different religions.
- Each religion is based on a holy book supposedly written by God.
- To determine which, if any, of these books was written by God, what would you look for?
- Do any of our holy books possess these characteristics?
The Mysterious Universe
God as Creator
Cosmological Arguments for the Existence of God
- Cosmological arguments for the existence of God attempt to derive the existence of God from the existence of the universe.
The Traditional Cosmological Argument
Some things are caused.
Nothing can cause itself.
Therefore, everything that is caused is caused by something other than itself.
The chain of causes cannot stretch infinitely backwards in time.
If the chain of causes cannot stretch infinitely backward in time, there must be a first cause.
Therefore, everything that is caused has a first cause, namely, God.
Problems with the Traditional Cosmological Argument
- Even if there is a first cause, it doesn’t have to be God.
- The notion of an infinite string of causes is no more self-contradictory than the notion of an infinite string of numbers.
- So the universe itself may be eternal.
The Kalam Cosmological Argument
Whatever begins to exist has a cause.
The universe began to exist.
Therefore, the universe had a cause, namely God.
Problems with the Kalam Cosmological Argument
- Modern physics recognizes that some events have no cause.
- The “big bang” could have been the result of a prior “big crunch” either in this universe or some other.
Thought Probe: Why a Universe?
- God is eternal, but the universe seems to be only about 15 billion years old.
- Why, after an eternity of time had passed, did God decide to create a universe?
Teleological Arguments for the Existence of God
- Teleological arguments for the existence of God try to derive the existence of God from the design or purpose of things.
Thought Experiment: Paley’s Watch
- Suppose you were walking across a meadow and came across a watch.
- Could you believe that the watch had always been there?
- Wouldn’t it be more reasonable to believe that someone had designed it for the purpose of keeping time?
The Analogical Design Argument
The universe resembles a watch.
Every watch has a designer.
Therefore, the universe probably has a designer, namely, God.
Problems with the Analogical Design Argument
- If God needs a universe to accomplish his ends, he is not omnipotent.
- Even if there is a designer, it need not have any of the other attributes traditionally associated with God, such as omniscience or omnibenevolence.
- The universe is as much like a living thing as a mechanism and living things reproduce without need of an external agent.
The Best-Explanation Design Argument
The universe exhibits apparent design.
The best explanation of this apparent design is that it was designed by a supernatural being.
Therefore it’s probable that the universe was designed by a supernatural being, namely, God.
Problems with the Best-explanation Design Argument
- Apparent design can also be explained by evolution.
- Evolution is a better explanation than the God-hypothesis because it is simpler, more conservative, has greater scope, and is more fruitful.
- A structure is irreducibly complex when it would cease to function if one of its components were removed.
- According to Michael Behe, irreducibly complex structures “cannot be produced directly” by the processes of evolution.
- Most biologists reject Behe’s claim.
- The process by which a structure that originally served one function comes to serve another.
- Darwin himself recognized that many systems are composed of parts that originally evolved for other purposes.
- Thus irreducibly complex systems can arise naturally.
- Structures that acquire structure without input from outside the system.
- Some self-organizing systems, like the Belousov-Zhabotinsky reaction, are irreducibly complex.
- Thus irreducibly complex systems can arise naturally.
Thought Probe: Intelligent Design
- Even if life on Earth is the result of intelligent design, the designer need not be God.
- The Raelians believe that life on Earth is the result of a science experiment that was conducted by advanced aliens.
- Which hypothesis – the God hypothesis or the extraterrestrial hypothesis – is the better explanation? Which does better with respect to the criteria of adequacy?
The Fine-Tuning Argument
The universe seems to be fine tuned for life.
If certain physical properties like the charge of the electron or the mass of the proton were slightly different, life couldn’t exist.
The probability of these properties arising by chance is infinitesimally small.
So they must be the product of a designer.
Problems with the Fine-Tuning Argument
- According to Hawking and Spinoza, it may be logically impossible for the universe to have different properties.
- According to Smolin, the laws of nature could be the result of natural selection.
- Many physicists have shown that life could exist in universes with very different properties.
Supernatural vs. Natural Explanations
- According to Duane Gish, “We do not know how the Creator created, what processes He used, for He used processes which are not now operating anywhere in the natural universe.”
- You can’t explain the unknown in terms of the incomprehensible.
Evolution, Freedom, and Meaning
- According to biologist Kenneth Miller, only if evolution is true can we have a meaningful relationship with God.
- “Always in control, such a Creator would deny his creatures any real opportunity to know and worship him—authentic love requires freedom, no manipulation.”
Thought Probe: Human Design Flaws
- From an engineering point of view, human beings do not seem to be very well-designed—we get bulging disks, fragile bones, torn ligaments, varicose veins, cataracts, hearing loss, etc.
- Is this evidence against an intelligent designer?
- Miracles are a violation of natural law by a supernatural being.
The Argument from Miracles
There are events that seem to be miracles.
The best explanation of these events is that they were performed by a miracle worker.
Therefore, there probably is a miracle worker, namely, God.
Thought Probe: Parting the Red Sea
- An oceanographer and a meteorologist have shown that the Red Sea could have parted naturally as a result of a wind of the sort described in the Bible.
- Does this undercut the notion that it was parted by God? Why or why not?
Problems with the Argument from Miracles
- The miracle worker may not have any of the properties traditionally associated with God.
- Something may seem to be a miracle simply because we are unaware of the natural laws at work.
Thought Probe: Jesus’s Miracles
- Many of the “miracles” associated with Jesus were of the same kind performed by magicians of his day.
- Origen claimed that they would have been fraudulent if used to make money but since Jesus used them to inspire religious awe, they must be real.
- Is Origen’s reasoning cogent? Why or why not?
Thought Probe: The Fivefold Challenge
- Five miraculous events recorded in the Bible are unconfirmed by archaeology:
- (1) the parting of the Red Sea, (2) the stopping of the Sun, (3) the reversal of the sun’s course, (4) the feeding of thousands, (5) the resurrection of saints.
- Is the fact that they are unconfirmed reason to believe that they didn’t occur?
The Argument from Religious Experience
People have experiences that seem to be of God.
The best explanation of these experiences is that they are of God.
Therefore, it’s probable that God exists.
- Michael Persinger has discovered that religious experience can be generated by activating the temporal lobes of the brain.
- Does the fact that religious experience can be produced electronically undercut the claim that they are produced supernaturally? Why or why not?
Problems with the Argument from Religious Experiences
- Religious experiences can be explained as the result of abnormal states of consciousness brought on by drugs, meditation, sensory deprivation, etc.
- These explanations are better than the God hypothesis because they are simpler, more conservative, more fruitful, and have more scope.
Anselm’s Ontological Argument
God, by definition, is the greatest being possible.
If God exists only in our minds, then it is possible for there to be a being greater than God, namely a being like God that exists in reality.
But it is not possible for there to be a being greater than God.
Therefore, God must exist in reality.
Thought Experiment: Gaunilo’s Lost Island
- Consider the most perfect island imaginable.
- If it only existed in our minds, it wouldn’t be the most perfect island imaginable.
- Therefore, the perfect island must exist in reality.
Existing in the Understanding
- To say that something exists only in the understanding is to say that the concept of the thing doesn’t apply to anything in reality.
- Contrary to what Anselm would have us believe, this doesn’t involve a logical contradiction.
Descartes’s Ontological Argument
God, by definition, possesses all possible perfections.
Existence is a perfection.
Therefore, God exists.
Problems with Descartes’ Ontological Argument
- The argument is circular because premise 1 assumes that God exists.
- Premises 1 can be rewritten:
- 1’. If God exists, then He possesses all possible perfections.
- But then the conclusion becomes:
- 3’. If God exists, then He exists
Thought Experiment: Edward’s Gangle
- Suppose someone discovers a new animal—a gangle—that has eleven noses, seven blue eyes, bristly hair, sharp teeth and wheels in the place of feet.
- Suppose now that someone says that, in addition, gangles exist.
- Do we learn something new about the nature of gangles?
Problems with the Ontological Argument
- Existence is not a property of things.
- Existence is not always a perfection. (It’s not always better to exist than not to exist.)
One More God
- By some estimates, humans have worshipped more than three thousand different gods.
- So monotheists disbelieve in many gods.
- The difference between atheists and monotheists, then, is not that great: atheists believe in one less god than monotheists.
- If monotheists are rationally justified in not believing in thousands of other gods, are atheists equally justified in not believing in the god of the monotheists? Why or why not?
Thought Experiment: Pascal’s Wager
- If you wager that God exists, and He does, you win everything.
- If He doesn’t, you lose nothing.
- So you should wager that God exists.
Problems with Pascal’s Wager
- God may not care whether people believe in Him.
- God may punish those who believe on purely selfish grounds.
- God may not like gamblers.
- It may not be true that we lose nothing by believing in God.
The Best Bet
- Herb Silverman claims that if God exists, He would prefer to be with intelligent, honest, rational people who base their beliefs on evidence rather than faith.
- So he proposes Silverman’s wager: “If God does not exist, one will lose nothing by not believing in Him, while if He does exist, one will lose everything by believing.”
- Is this a better bet than Pascal’s?
- Suppose that we are visited by aliens from outer space and find that they have no religion and have never heard of any of our gods.
- Would this undermine the credibility of our religions?
- Would it be appropriate to try to try to evangelize the aliens and convert them to one of our religious? Why or why not?
God and Science
- The traditional arguments for the existence of God invoke God to explain various natural phenomena.
- St. Augustine claims that’s a mistake: the Bible is a guide for our salvation, not a science text.
- To acquire salvation, all that is needed is faith, not science.
Gould’s Non-overlapping Magisteria
- Harvard biologist, Stephen J. Gould, agrees with Augustine: science and religion are non-overlapping magisteria.
- Science is in the business of explaining the natural world, religion is in the business of providing meaning and value to life.
- Thus, religion and science should not be in conflict.
Thought Probe: Goulder vs. Augustine
- Anglican Priest and Professor of Biblical Studies, Michael Goulder, became an atheist because “God no longer has any real work to do,” meaning that He is no longer needed to explain anything.
- Goulder, contrary to Augustine and Gould, believes that religion should be in the business of explaining the world, but that the explanations it offers are not worthy of belief.
- Do you agree? Why or why not?