The Newtown, Connecticut shooting that happened the other day has sparked the blogosphere—or at least the part of the blogosphere that I frequent—into a frenzy of conversation about God, Heaven and evil. I don’t want to talk about the shooting; I find it disrespectful to tie the shooting up in a theological discussion. The only thing I want to say about the shooting is to paraphrase President Obama: “[m]ay America bless the memory of the victims and, with the love of the American people, heal the brokenhearted and bind up their wounds.”
And I am paraphrasing, because Obama actually talked about God and Scripture. I changed it to America and American people. In this internet world, it doesn’t have to be limited to America, and as a British person my thoughts are with those affected. As I said in a comment I left here, I don’t believe religion is true, so when a person finds strength from religion I firmly believe that strength comes from the person, not a god. And now is a time for people to find their own, human strength.
But the conversation has brought up an old discussion: the problem of evil. This comes in many forms, but the most commonly quoted one is this:
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent.
Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent.
Is He both able, and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God.”
There is an answer to this dilemma: God may have moral reason to allow some evil. Imagine a hostage situation where the kidnapper takes 10 people hostage and says he will release all 10 hostages if he can shoot and kill one person. Assuming there are no other ways out, what do you do? You can take the “we do not negotiate with terrorists” approach, but then 10 hostages die. You can try to neutralise the kidnapper, but I’m setting the parameters of this thought experiment, and if you take that option the hostages will die. Or, you can let the kidnapper shoot someone and save all 10 hostages.
This is the world that some theists imagine we live in, except we don’t see the saved hostages. We only see the person that got shot, we call that evil and we don’t recognise that the evil actually brought more goodness to the world.
But this is the act of negotiation. What is God negotiating with that He cannot perfectly circumnavigate? Any non-perfect outcome from a negotiation means that both sides were not omnipotent. An omnipotent (and moral) being would have saved all 10 hostages, rehabilitated the kidnapper and no one would have been shot.
That God has to accept some evil to get more goodness means that there is an obstacle in the way of God’s perfect plan. And that means that God is not omnipotent. Epicurus is still right.