In this post, I want to delve a little into the philosophy of religion and talk about the existence of God. Whether you are agnostic, theist, or an atheist, I believe this question is worth giving a thought. While we may never have knowledge (something like justified true belief but not exactly) about it, the best we can do is being able to rationally justify our beliefs wherever they may lie. And if you can’t completely justify them but still wish to hold them, then it seems that your belief has at least some influence and meaning in your life which may be worth exploring if not this question itself.
Stuck (or not) in the United States, with my family at the frontline in India, I have been hearing a lot of “Trust in God, everything happens for a reason” stuff these days. There used to be a time when I used to believe it when I had high credence in the existence of all good, powerful, and wise god (the 3 Omni). Then life and philosophy happened and now I am part of the ever-increasing category of an atheist. To be clear, this is not in contradiction with the existence of some higher power if it does exist. I just don’t believe in the existence of the 3 Omni god, or more precisely, the existence of any all good, or all-loving being and I want to defend this position and hopefully convince some theists through this post.
I’ll be using the famous evidential argument from evil for my purpose here which is inspired by the existence of so much evil around us. Rape, genocides, torture, extreme poverty, and the existence of Trump are just a few, to begin with. The problem, in a nutshell, is that the existence of so widespread and extreme evil seems contradictory to the existence of an all-good being. One might reply that since we need evil to bring about any good, and an all-good being wants to bring maximum good, he will allow evil for its sake. Keeping my belief aside that the balance of the world is certainly tipped off towards evil, I want to discuss other issues with such a reply.
Consider what I believe to be one of the worst atrocity prevalent in our society, rape. Is it justified for a woman to be raped to bring about whatever good its consequences can get? In other words, even if the overall good outweighs the evil of rape, why do we think it is justified for that woman to be treated as an object to bring about that good? Following along the lines of Kantian ethics, I don’t believe it’s moral for anyone to be treated as a mere means to anything, and that too in such an inhuman manner. If the action is just immoral irrespective of the consequences, then it’s nonsensical to claim that the most moral and all-loving being would allow it.
Another common reply to the problem of evil is the argument from free will provided by Plantinga. It goes as follows-
A world where creatures have free will is better than a world containing no free creatures at all. Since God has created free creatures, he can’t force us to always do the right thing; otherwise, we won’t be free after all. While exercising this free will, creatures pick the wrong choices and do evil deeds. These choices the source of all the moral evil in the world. Since the problem of evil can’t be blamed on the god as he granted us free will which is the highest good, Plantinga argues that this doesn’t count against God’s omnipotence or goodwill.
Now, there can be multiple possible replies to Plantinga’s objection, and given my limited space here, I want to provide the most obvious one. While animals, humans, and other beings qualify for the term “creatures”, nature does not. Then, various natural evils like hurricanes, floods, earthquakes are simply not accounted for by this reply. Some theists argue that these are caused by the free will of creatures like Satan. Although proving the existence of Satan doesn’t seem achievable, let’s suppose for the sake of argument that he existed. In that case, too, I can’t think of any plausible reason for god giving free will to creatures like him who would always go wrong. In mathematical terms, God would have considered it reasonable to grant living creatures like us free will because the probability that we’ll choose to do the right thing is strictly greater than zero, even with creatures like Hitler. But with Satan, since god is omniscient, he should have known that he will always do the wrong thing. Then there’s no good in giving rise to a creature like him or giving him free will. For a more concrete example, consider a deer suffering excruciating pain from a natural forest fire for days instead of dying immediately. This example not only refutes Plantinga’s argument but also questions the idea that the purpose of evil is to bring about good which wasn’t possible if God hadn’t allowed evil as no good can come of this situation which wasn’t possible otherwise.
To end, I’ll just say that I was pretty disheartened by the result of this possibly rational argument. I could either chose to believe in some higher power, who was extremely wise and powerful but who didn’t give fuck about the value of human life and could go to any extent to fulfill his purpose, or I could choose to be an atheist. For the sake of preserving my belief that I’m a free being who can’t be played by the hands of someone else, I chose the latter option.
Shourya Mohaniya is a student of Mathematics and Philosophy and also a friend 🙂