Today I saw a video that disturbed, depressed, and angered me. It’s a clip showing starving, shriveled, polio-crippled children in Somalia who have been abandoned to die. It’s just as bad as it sounds.
If you really want to see it, go here. (Warning: that site has some very NSFW ads.) But be prepared to cry.
It’s a great example of the problem of evil. The problem of evil is familiar to most people, and can generally be summed up as “why does God allow bad things to happen?” Of course, so far as I can tell, there’s no god to blame. Bad things happen either because of nature of because of the actions of other living things (especially people). In this case, it’s a complicated geopolitical problem involving the failure of food aid programs, the lack of a functioning government, the greed of regional warlords, and so on. It’s a situation that desperately needs to be resolved, but we typically feel helpless to resolve it because there’s little any individual person can do other than call attention to it.
If god existed, he would be a maniac unworthy of our respect. The most charitable thing you can believe about him is that he doesn’t exist, which absolves him from all responsibility.
I’m pretty sure this is a quote from someone, though I can’t remember who it is. And I agree; a god who allows such things to happen can neither be called ‘good’ nor worthy of respect or worship. But apologists disagree (as they are wont to do). They’ve come up with several complicated (though rather pitiful) arguments in defense of the concept of god’s goodness in spite of the reality of the world in which we live. This area of ‘study’ is known as theodicy. In my own experience, I find theodicy to be one of the least convincing subjects of theology, simply because it’s founded entirely upon a combination of assertion and weasel-worded logical jumbles. For example, here’s the response the above comment received from Redditor shart_attack:
Or that he doesn’t like this situation any better than us and is doing the best that he can given all of the constraints, rules and promises he must abide by.
You read that right: God is bound by constraints, rules, and promises. If God broke his promises, he wouldn’t be God, because the Bible says he never breaks his promises. Oh, and God wrote the Bible, too, and he says he never lies. That sounds totally trustworthy.
So I responded:
A god that can’t fix this problem isn’t much of a god, is it? It can create a universe but not end a famine? What kind of useless deity is that? What kind of rules and constraints could possibly apply to a universe-creating being that would prevent it from solving this piddling little problem? And people call this fool their Father – what kind of sickening abusive relationship is that?
Someone else responded:
He’s GOD. He supposedly made the rules. Or are you saying God is powerless against himself?
Well, that’s a pretty pickle, isn’t it? God makes up rules that he then has to follow? Seems weird. Maybe true. Probably bullshit. Let’s go on. shart_attack continues:
Yes. The God under the Judeo-Christian religion is. The bible states that God can’t break his promises, and what he has declared will come to pass. God as he is presented in the Judeo-Christian bible must also be “good” by the definition set out by himself in order to continue to be God. Under this logical framework, God is indeed bound by rules. He may not be powerless to break them, but in order for him to continue to be who he claims he is, he must choose not to. If he chooses not to be who he says he is, then he is a liar and a hypocrite according to his own framework and so we need not concern ourselves with the whole matter.
For God to be God, he must abide by those rules. One of those was free will; that humans will live in the world they choose to, mostly without intervention. This creates the situation where God can hate a situation, but be essentially powerless to stop it. (There seems to be some logical exception for specific request prayers to God, perhaps because the choice to pray is an act of free will or because the forfeiture of free will in this way is considered an act of free will. I don’t know.)
I’m not saying this is good, or that you should believe in it. I’m saying that there is a way for this to occur and yet for God still to be all-powerful and good-intentioned.
Wow. So now not only is God subject to his own arbitrary rules, but simple human decisions can thwart his plans as well. It almost sounds like this guy’s arguing for a god that doesn’t intervene at all. But that can’t be right, because that’s definitely not the god of the bible. I’m glad he’s not saying it’s good or that I should believe in it, because it’s not and I don’t. But that conclusion? Hell no. I wouldn’t let him get away with that.
So I responded again:
I’m sorry, but this is the hugest, most mindless cop-out I’ve ever heard. You simultaneously said that there are things God is powerless to stop, but that he’s all-powerful. This is a logical contradiction. You’re also saying that there are forces more powerful than God (otherwise, nothing could prevent him from violating the rules you say he must abide by).
From your previous post:
God as he is presented in the Judeo-Christian bible must also be “good” by the definition set out by himself in order to continue to be God.
This is inane. Just by reading the bible we see him doing things that aren’t good by the standard he set out himself. Not to mention that this makes ‘good’ nothing but obedience to the dictates of God. By this logic, God’s goodness is absolutely unrelated to the outcome of his actions, and only a matter of following the rules he arbitrarily declared for himself. What kind of reasoning is that?
The whole concept of human free will being able to negate God’s ability to resolve situations is massively stupid. Jesus was ‘fully human’ as well as being fully God; can he decide to never return and never fulfill the bible’s prophecies about him? If he did, would God be able to do anything about it? Why does God prefer the free will of a rapist over the safety of his victims? And if God’s so damned concerned about free will, why does he directly intervene in human throughout the Bible, even (in the story of Moses and the escape from Egypt) forcing Pharaoh to do things he doesn’t want to do?
This is not a good god. A god that abandons his moral responsibility and ignores his ability to solve moral evil is not a good god. If he calls himself good while doing those things, ‘good’ becomes a word with absolutely no meaning. Remember that quote – “All that is required for evil to prevail is for good men to do nothing.” God, by ‘respecting’ free will over the prevention of suffering and moral evil, is creating evil – as he also said he does.
TL;DR If God really expects people to believe that he’s good, maybe he should stop sitting by with folded arms as children die, people are raped and murdered, etc., because that makes him a monster. As for good intentions… you probably know the maxim about those, too.
So here we see the essential problem with theodicy: people can say whatever the hell they want as long as they think it sounds good and appears (so long as you don’t look too closely) to solve the problem of evil. This is that “complicated, deeper” theology we atheists are always told that we just don’t understand. It’s easy, really: there’s nothing to understand. It’s smoke and mirrors.