Why Does God Permit Evil?
Keme asked*: If there is
God and he is almighty why then do we suffer evil in the world?
accept Keme’s factual assumption. We do suffer evil in this world.
(Perhaps some philosophers would argue that evil is an illusion. But
their allegedly veri-dical grasp of that illusion—an
evil—makes me wonder if their
perception of other evil is illusory.)
factual assumption Keme links a moral pre-supposition, which we can
explicate as follows. All things being equal, a moral agent who is able to
pre-vent excessive suffering from befalling another—suf-fering from which
good is neither expected to come nor can conceivably come—is morally
obligated to prevent it if he can.
of this obligation varies with circum-stances. They include the risk to
himself, his loved ones, or his property that the prospective preventive
act may expose them to. (This does not hold for those who profession it
is to incur risk in order to res-cue others in danger.) Generally,
however, as risk rises, obligation weakens. (We regard as heroes those
who perform their rescue obligations without regard to risk, especially
when risk is significant.) Ob-ligation is strongest where ability is great
and risk is minimal.
In the case
of God—at least the deity of classical theism (that of Eastern and Western
Christian ortho-dox theology)—ability is infinite and risk is zero.
thus Keme’s implicit problem. For the exis-tence of great power alone does
not by itself make the occurrence of excessive suffering a puzzle. Many
powerful men have made people suffer greatly, but their victims never
wondered how it could be so. What would have made them wonder, and curse,
was that anyone would praise their tormentors for being morally good. Keme omitted to mention God’s moral character.
Keme specified what he means by “al-mighty” or even by “God.” We may
ascribe to God great creative power without ascribing to him a mo-nopoly of
power, as does classical theism. In the latter philosophy, beings other
than God do have power, but only by his leave. They have no power
in-dependently of God’s decreeing that they have it, which power God can
withdraw at will.
There is an
alternative theism, however, wherein God exercises the power of
persuasion. God “lures” (Whitehead’s term) other subjects of experience
into arrangements that afford more intense experiences for them and for
God. God does that, according to this alternative scheme, by providing
each subor-dinate agent with an initial aim, which the agent may accept or
replace with its own. In such an alternative theism, God is not
unilaterally responsible for the metaphysical situation in which each
agent (including God) finds himself. Neither is God unilaterally
res-ponsible for the actual cosmic order that results from the decisions
and actions of all agents. God is a ne-cessary, but by no means a
sufficient factor in the actual world order.
alternative theism, whose ultimate cohe-rence and adequacy to experience we
cannot assess here, evil results from the collision of subjective aims.
Collision is perfectly compatible with the exis-tence of a universal
end-coordinating God. Without God, there would not be any coordination of
aims. There would, therefore, be no intelligible world with someone in it
asking how evil is possible. Given a world that God can shape but not
unilaterally deter-mine, God cannot obliterate evil any time God wishes
to. The classical theistic God can. But classical the-ism cannot
satisfactorily explain why God apparently wishes to so rarely and
selectively, especially when the demand for God to do so is so
our moral presupposition, then, the God of classical theism cannot be
morally good. Yet classi-cal theism affirms God to be precisely that.
Classical theism is therefore incoherent. The reasonable per-son rules out
the incoherent. One theism’s incohe-rence, however, does not necessarily
rule out every other. The God of the alternative theism we have been
entertaining, in so far as this God is the uni-versal lure to the better,
does all within God’s power to promote the realizable good in every
situation. This God is therefore morally good.
cannot do, however, is push gross matter around, as we can.
Such pushing is, however, often what pre-venting excessive and pointless
evil requires. God cannot be morally blamed for that inability.
If some kind of being
recognizable as God is neces-sary for there to be a world, then the
occurrence of excessive, pointless suffering does not disconfirm the
existence of that God. On the supposition of the latter, however, we see
how there can be “exces-sive,” “pointless” beauty.
*This was first posted