The problem of evil does not exist

Thesis

The existence of evil does not constitute evidence against the existence of God. On the contrary, it constitutes a condition without which God could not be God, and hence could not exist.

Argument

The conditions necessary for the possibility of an object existing do not contradict those necessary for the possibility of understanding the concept of that object:

Therefore, the conditions necessary for the possibility of a god existing do not contradict those necessary for the possibility of understanding the concept ‘God’.

But a standard condition assumed necessary for the possibility of god’s existence, namely, a world in which there neither was nor can be any evil, is one in which it is impossible to grasp the concept ‘god’.

Therefore, a world in which there neither was nor can be evil is not a condition necessary for the possibility of god’s existence.

Exposition

The condition of a world in which in which there neither was nor can be any evil is one in which it is impossible to grasp the concept ‘God’. That is, a world in which it is possible to grasp the concept ‘god’ is one in which there was or can be evil.

Proof: I am not concerned here with more philosophical definitions of God, but with a simple one present in every popular theistic religion: by a god, I mean a being to which one should pray. The two chief forms of prayer are petition and gratitude. Petition presupposes the possibility of deprivation. Gratitude presupposes the avoidance of possible deprivation. Deprivation is evil. Without evil, there is thus no concept of prayer; without prayer, no concept of God. Thus, the existence of evil cannot constitute evidence against the existence of God, as a matter of principle.

Corollaries

Eternity is not, strictly speaking, a world distinct from this. If the saints give thanks, it is because they have known evil. If they petition, it is because evil is possible.

The formulation of problem of evil requires some distance from evil itself. This is empirically confirmed by the growth of atheism in proportion with material comfort, i.e. the existence of atheism as essentially a bourgeois phenomenon.

God is called a father, as one who supports and protects; one in heaven, for the altogether simple reason that that is whence the sun and rain come, without which there is no life.

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4 thoughts on “The problem of evil does not exist

  1. I don’t understand. Are you saying God couldn’t be God if we didn’t pray to him? And that we couldn’t pray to him unless there was the possibility of deprivation? What about God talking with us face to face? What about a world free from the possibility of deprivation?

    This is an article I like on the problem of evil:

    https://answersingenesis.org/suffering/why-does-gods-creation-include-death-and-suffering/

    I’d love to get your thoughts on the article.

    Congratulations on your doctorate by the way. 🙂 I’m just starting to study philosophy of religion on my own, I’ve got a long, long way to go.

    • Thanks for the comment, and for the congratulations. Here are my clarifications

      1. I am not claiming that God is not God if one does not pray to him.
      2. I am specifically claiming that a god must be, by definition, the kind of being to whom one can pray.
      3. I am generally claiming that there are certain characteristics that are constitutive of the concept of a god. Among these are not only intrinsic, but also relational characteristics.
      4. For example, a god can be prayed to; creates; sanctifies; saves.
      5. I am also presupposing that in our understanding of what ‘god’ means, we should privilege understanding that arises from religious life and practice, rather than more straightforwardly philosophical definitions, e.g. of God as an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent being. I do not deny the latter, but I think it less fundamental to our understanding of what a deity is than the former. In particular, the latter arguably presupposes monotheism, where theism as such does not.
      6. These constitutive relational characteristics have implications for the kind of world in which it is possible for a god exist as such.
      7. In particular, for God to actually have those constitutive relational characteristics we ascribe to him, it is necessary that privation, hence evil, exist. For example, a god cannot save if there is nothing to save from.
      8. This does not mean that god would not exist simpliciter if he were not creator, etc. But it does mean that God cannot exist as god without evil having existed or being able to exist.
      9. Hence, since the possibility of privation is necessary for our understanding of god as such, it cannot be seriously regarded as a reason against theism.

      A further implication here is that the characteristics constitutive of our understanding of god need not themselves be those characteristics most essential to god in himself. This accords well with the via negativa approach to the divine names dominant in patristic Christianity and found in figures like Pseudo-Dionysius; and with the intent behind statements like ‘whoever would say that God is good would be treating him as unjustly as if he were calling the sun black’ (Meister Eckhart).

      As for the problem of the fall, many earlier Christian authors appear to have had difficulty reconciling the account with something like the above suppositions. Hence, authors like St. Gregory of Nyssa and Maximus the Confessor regarded the fall as happening ‘at the instant of creation’. For further discussion, see my paper ‘Nature, Will, and the Fall in Augustine and Maximus the Confessor’ in Augustiniana, a version of which is available under the My Papers tab.

  2. Thanks so much for replying. Very interesting stuff.

    2. I am specifically claiming that a god must be, by definition, the kind of being to whom one can pray.
    3. I am generally claiming that there are certain characteristics that are constitutive of the concept of a god. Among these are not only intrinsic, but also relational characteristics.
    4. For example, a god can be prayed to; creates; sanctifies; saves.

    Maybe I’m not understanding you, but it sounds like you’re saying we can’t pray to God unless there is deprivation, that deprivation is necessary for us to relate to God. You seem to now be adding the need for sanctification and salvation to the list of things required for us to relate to God. Is that correct? If so, how do you deal with the idea of a perfect Eden, and a perfect heaven in the afterlife? Do you just dismiss them as myth?

    Thanks for discussing! 🙂

    • I’m not saying that we can’t pray to God unless there is deprivation. I am saying that we cannot understand God as god unless deprivation is either past or possible. Both the modal qualification and the ‘as god’ are important here.

      My remarks about sanctification and saving as constitutive activities of a deity were meant to provide additional examples of divine characteristics that presuppose the possibility of privation. Whether you agree with me on these specific examples does not affect the general outline of the argument.

      I regard the story of the fall as a legend – i.e. grounded in a historical happening, but not to be read as a straightforward factual recording of a literal past event. As mentioned, this is not a novel reading, but is found in early church fathers such as Origen, Gregory of Nyssa, and Maximus the Confessor. The genre of historical non-fiction as we understand it simply did not exist at the time Genesis was written: assuming the stories in Genesis were meant to be understood by those who first heard, shared, and recorded them, it follows that reading it according to later understanding of history is anachronistic.

      That being said, the argument does not depend on this understanding of the fall narrative. In Eden, evil is possible. Proof:

      http://babylonbee.com/news/couple-follows-hearts-billions-dead/

      As for heaven, I address that in the corollaries. What follows is that one cannot, strictly speaking, regard the afterlife as a world wholly separate from this one.

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