the argument from evil
Letter to the editor of Philosophy Now (sent under one of my pseudonyms)
Published in Issue 110
Part way through his criticism of the stance of atheists (Issue 109), Stephen Anderson says: “This makes the famous ‘Argument from Evil’ so beloved by New Atheists simply off topic: the existence of evil or injustice does not count as evidence against gods of every possible kind, and leaves harsh, judgemental or indifferent gods as possible.”. Well of course such deities are theoretically possible, although not seriously proposed by any theists I have heard from recently. But for my part I would still want the assertion of the existence of a nasty or indifferent god to pass a threshold test such as would persuade me to spend the time looking at whether this made any sense. The more so bearing in mind that we now have perfectly good non-supernatural explanations for the world's ills. The temptation to apply Occam's razor at a very early stage would be very strong.
But Mr Anderson goes on to say: “Though maybe it can even be answered with some explanation that allows for a benevolent God, such as the argument from free human will”. Oh dear. Let's leave the debate about what free-will means, if anything, to one side and get to the main point. Theists keep saying that there is a benevolent god and that war and famine could all be solved by the better exercise of our free-will. They quite deliberately fail to notice, however, that the evidence for a lack of god's benevolence is all around us. We see it in volcanoes and earthquakes, tsunamis, pathogenic microbes and defects in the genetic code of new-born babies, not to mention the merciless process of evolution. And none of those are down to our actions, whether free or not. We are simply left to pick up the pieces out of our common humanity.