The Solution to the Problem of Evil

Christopher Lotito, Drew University, 12/11/01


            The Problem of Evil states that because evil exists the existence of a tri-omni being, which we typically refer to as God, is impossible.  This argument, if proved to be true, would refute the Cosmological Argument for God’s Existence.  The Cosmological Argument states that not every being can be a dependent being without infinite regress (which is believed to be impossible), so there exists a tri-omni self dependent being known as God which initiated the dependency of the universe.  The disproving of God and, thus, all theories proving the existence of God, would be disastrous to the philosophy of St. Thomas Aquinas and all people who believe in the existence of a tri-omni being.  Fortunately for these people, there are solutions to the Problem of Evil.  Below will be a discussion on various attempts to solve the Problem of Evil, specifically the Free Will Defense.

            Some argue that the Problem of Evil is unimportant because there is no such thing as evil.  The vital part of this argument is dependent upon the definition of evil.  In general, evil is defined as needless suffering.  In reality, suffering exists and there is not always a need for it.  So, needless suffering and thus evil do exist.  This argument does not refute the Problem of Evil.  Since God is the being to which the Problem of Evil poses the greatest problem, perhaps the definition of God can be altered to allow evil.  This does not work for several reasons.  First, the Cosmological Argument only proves one definition of God.  By changing the definition of God there is no longer any point to the matter because the Cosmological Argument and thus the Problem of Evil become irrelevant.  Second, one might note that changing the definition of God is not solving the problem, but is evading it instead; it’s rather similar to giving up.  Some people known as Fideists believe in the existence of God based on faith alone.  Believing in something based on faith alone by its nature does not require any evidence.  Under Fideism it is acceptable for a person to believe that the moon is made of cheese, that Santa Claus exists, or that there are mermaids.  It simply doesn’t make any sense.  Fideism does not solve the Problem of Evil for the simple fact that it does not address it or philosophy and reason in general.  Another possibility is that what appears to be evil to us actually has a divine reason which we cannot grasp.  This is the belief held by Theists.

            Natural evil is evil caused not by humans but by our environment around us; this includes hurricanes, earthquakes, volcanoes, etc.  This is considered a problem for the Free Will Defense because natural evil exists regardless of the existence of Free Will.  The answer to this problem is that it is possible that the naturally evil events are caused by demons, thus absolving both humanity and God from any moral responsibility.  Another possible answer is that at one point humans were able to avoid these natural evils through the use of psychic abilities and precognition; this theory speculates that these abilities were lost due to the fall from Eden.

The Free Will Defense provides a solution to the Problem of Evil.  It states that a world with free will and evil is better than a world with no free will and no evil.  Free will is the ability to choose whether or not to commit an action.  It is possible for Free Will to be either good or evil.  When free will is good it is known as Good Will.  Without free will, we would have no choice of action and everything we do would be predetermined; this is Determinism.

Determinism is considered to be incompatible with free will.  The argument for Determinism states that not only are our actions pre-determined by a chain of events stretching back to the beginning of time, but we still remain morally responsible for our actions.  Paul Holbach, a staunch Determinist, describes life from this viewpoint.

“Man’s life is a line that nature commands him to describe upon the surface of the earth, without his ever being able to swerve from it, even for an instant.”  (Holbach 462)

Holbach believes that all events are predetermined from previous events and that we have no free will because we could not have chosen differently than we did. This is a very disturbing point of view for the obvious reasons that it leaves us not only incapable of affecting our lives, but responsible for our actions, good or bad, as well.  Determinists believe that a man who murders is destined to murder, unable not to murder, and should be punished for it anyway.  Fortunately, Determinism is compatible with free will.

The Argument for Compatibility states that free will requires Determinism.  This is due to the fact that, subsequent from the Argument for Determinism, a choice is free only if it is determined.  Compatibilism states that since our actions of free will are influenced and thus determined by events around us, we cannot act differently than we do.  However, since we could have acted differently if the situation had been different we do have free will.  Ayer states it as follows:

“It may be said of the agent that he would have acted otherwise if the causes of his action had been different, but they being hat they were, it seems to follow that he was bound to act as he did.”  (Ayer 481)

Compatibilism proves that free will and Determinism are compatible and specifically that Determinism cannot be used to disprove free will because free will is inherently determined.

            Though there is some debate as to the existence of God, the matter has not been sufficiently proven one way or the other.  In the event that there is a God who is consistent with the traditional Western theory of a tri-omni being and whose existence is proved through use of the Cosmological Argument, its existence cannot be disproved by the Problem of Evil.  The Problem of Evil itself is disproved by the Free Will Defense and the compatibility of Determinism with the Free Will Defense.  Much to the relief of St. Thomas Aquinas, the existence of evil cannot in and of itself disprove the Cosmological Argument.