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    Richard Swinburne’s The Problem of Evil: God’s E Essay

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    Richard Swinburne’s “The Problem of Evil”: God’s ExistencePhilosophers have looked for ways to explain God’s existence for centuries.

    One such argment that the believer must justify in order to maintain thepossibility of God’s existence is the problem of evil. In his essay, “TheProblem of Evil,” by Richard Swinburne, the author attempts to explain how evilcan exist in a world created by an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent Being,namely God. Swinburne uses to free-will defense and says that God gave us achoice between doing good and doing evil. If someone chooses to do good overevil, then that Good is greater than if one had no choice at all but to do good. This is a weak argument and in order to clarify those weaknesses one can lookat Steven M.

    Cahn’s essay entitled “Cacodaemony. ” This essay parallelsSwineburne’s, but states that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnimalevolent Demoncreated the world. By looking at how weak the argument for cacodaemony is, onecan see how unlikely it is that the Demon exists and then can see that theexistence of God is just as unlikely. In “The Problem of Evil”, Swinburne says that an omniscient, omnipotent,omnibenevolent Being created the world. If this were true, how can evil existin this world? If God consciously knew He was creating a world in which thereis evil, then He would not be omnibenevolent.

    If God did not know He wascreating a world in which evil exists, then He would not be omniscient. If Godis omnipotent then He would be able to stop any evil from occurring. Either way,God would not be what Christianity makes him out to be. Swinburne argues thatthe theodicist, one who believes that it is not wrong for God to create a worldin which there is evil, can logically explain the existence of evil in the world.

    The main argument that the theodicist uses is the free-will defense, whichclaims that God gave humans the freedom to choose between doing acts of good andacts of evil. The theodicist argues that the good person could do is greater ifit is chosen instead of doing evil. It is better to choose to walk an elderlyperson across the road instead of deciding to push the elderly person in frontof an oncoming car. The theodicist believes that it is better for a person tohave that choice, though nearly everyone would naturally choose to help theperson across the street, than to have no choice at all and be forced to helpthat person. Swinburne writes that giving people a moral responsibility to dothe right thing is good.

    “But if He did so by imposing a full character on ahumanly free creature, this would be giving him a character which he had not inany way chosen or adopted for himself” (9). Swinburne believes that the freedomto choose and develop ones own character is a very important thing and eachperson deserves to have the ability to choose between Good and evil. This, however, does not justify the amount of pain and suffering in theworld. If someone were to consciously choose to do an evil act over a good one,the suffering caused to the innocent people involved would not be right. Thereare some people with mental disorders or those born with retardation that do nothave the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, or who sometimes sufferfrom lack of proper judgement. These people cannot make a choice between goodand evil, so sometimes they do evil acts, and sometimes they do good ones.

    Would it not be better for these people not to have the choice, a choice thatthey may not be fit to make? For example, a man who is schizophrenic may hearvoices that tell him to do something that he knows is morally wrong, such askill somebody. Would it not be better for God to intervene and make thisperson’s judgement better? It most certainly would be better for God tointervene and give this person a proper sense of right and wrong and the abilityto do the right thing. It would have been a better world if God had createdHitler so that he would not feel the need to order the massacre of millions ofJews. Swinburne, however, thinks that it is better for these people to have achoice to do wrong or to do right. Swinburne argues that, although evils are bad, their existence is necessaryfor the existence of some types of goods. Certain evils that occur, such as thesuffering of others, cause us to be compassionate, courageous, self-sacrificing,etc.

    Swinburne says that these are goods that exist because of the existenceof evil. “Evils give men an opportunity to perform the acts which show men attheir best” (10). Someone who sees a woman getting raped may show courage andcompassion by trying to stop the rapist. It is illogical, however, to say, thatit is a good thing that woman was getting raped so that the kindhearted citizencould intervene. This woman, would still suffer from the mentl tortures ofbeing violated.

    Even though it was a courageous thing that the person stoppedthe rape, the woman would be better off if the rape had not even happened at all. Women as a whole would feel a lot safer if rape did not exist. Yet it is anevil, and it does exist, and the compassion ane may feel towards a victim ofthis evil does not make the victim better off than if there never existed sucha thing as rape. If no one were in pain, then it is true that goods such as compassion wouldnot exist.

    How can it be justified, however, that it is good that some sufferso that others can exhibit good traits? Those people can try and bring otherswho are in pain happiness and relief, but many others will still experience painboth physical and mental. The woman who is getting raped will still feel mentalpain after the good person stopped the rapist. It is illogical to say that itis good for evil to exist so that others will exhibit good traits. It is goodthat people come together and try to improve and perfect this world, but it isnot good that people have to suffer in order for others to try and improve theworld. Swinburne also mentions the other types of evils that are not caused byhumans, such as natural disasters.

    The theodicist argues that “God ties thegoodness of man to the well-being of the world and that afailure of one leadsto a failure of the other” (12). Earthquakes and volcanoes are a way to punishhumanity for misbehaving. This does not explain why earthquakes happen, and whyso many die as a result of them. The west coast cannot be at fault for theearthquaks that plague them constantly. Many law-abiding, good citizens died inthe Earthquakes that rocked San Francisco and Los Angeles a few years ago.

    Godwould not have allowed all those innocent people to die. Nor can the thousandsof people who lost their homes because of Hurricane Andrew be blamed. All oneneeds to do is to take a class about Geology or Meteorology to know why theseand other natural disasters happen. It would be illogical for God, if He isomnibenevolent, to make many good people suffer because of natural disasters.

    Earthquakes and volcanoes have existed on this planet long before humans werearound. The world was plagued with earthquakes and volcanoes during and beforethe time of the dinosaurs, hundreds of millions of years before humans evolvedand Christianity came about. The theodicist cannot explain why God would allowso much pain to be caused to humans by natural disasters. This presents aserious hole in the compatibility of God with evil in this world.

    Swinburne also discusses the different types of goods that exist in theworld. These goods are instrumental and intrinsic. An intrinsic good issomething that is good by itself, such as love or happiness. An instrumentalgood is something that may not be good by itself, but it can be used to achievea greater good. An example of an instrumental good would be modern medicine.

    The existence of the Black Plague in medieval Europe caused suffering and deathto millions. It also resulted in the bettering of living conditions. The deathof one third of the population of Europe cannot be justified by the compassionfelt by those that lived towards those that die. Another example of aninstrumental good is penicillin.

    It was discovered and helped to cure polio andsaved many lives. The suffering of the many that contracted, suffered and diedfrom this disease cannot be justified by the few that fought to conquer thisdisease. It is not a good thing that Polio existed. Even if the theodicist still believes that the existence of God and theexistence of evil are compatible, by looking at Steven M. Cahn’s essay”Cacodaemony,” one will see that they are not.

    In his essay, Cahn parallelsSwinburne’s situation of the problem of evil with the problem of goodness. Cahnstates that it is equally likely that if an omniscient, omnipotent,omnibenevolent Being created the world, then an omniscient omnipotent,omnimalevolent Demon could have done the same. The problem that arises inCahn’s essay is: how could a world containing goodness have been created bythis all-powerful Demon? It exactly parallels the problem in Swinburne’s essay,how could evil exist in a world created by God?Cahn attacks this problem by using the same argument that Swinburne uses,the free-will defense. Cahn also creates two types of good, just as Swinburnecategorized two types of evil.

    Cahn calls these goods moral goods, those humansdo for each other, and physical goods, those found in the human environment. Cahn writes that the Demon could have created a world in which humans do nothave the ability to do good, but this Demon has. Cahn writes that the Demon hasgiven humans free-will to choose to do evil or good. If one chooses evil overgood, then that evil is greater than if one had no choice at all but to do evil.

    “The Demon thus had to provide human beings with freedom, so that they mightperform their bad actions volunarily, thus maximizing evil”(23). Cahn writesthat the world wouldnot be as evil as it could be if the Demon made it so thateveryone was just evil. These arguments are not very convincing. Too many people choose good overevil for this to be the worst of all possible worlds, which is what it shouldbe if an omniscient, omnipotent, omnimalevolent Demon created it. This worldwould be more evil if the Demon made us inherently evil and goodness did noteven exist. If we were all made with the same characteristics as the Demon thenwe would be more evil than if we had to choose to come up with those evil traitson our own.

    This world would be a worse place if everyone just fought and hatedeach other, just like this world would be a better place if everyone waspeaceful and happy. This Demon could not exist because there is too much goodin the world, and that good does not get an adequate explanation. Since thearguments for Cacodaemony is disproved, so is the one for the theodicist, sincethese two arguments are equally likely and equally weak. By looking at Cahn’s “Cacodaemony,” one can see how improbably it is thatan omniscient, omnipotent, and omnimalevolent Demon created the world. Cahn’sargument, however, exactly parallels Swinburne’s in “The Problem of Evil. ” Bothuse the free-will defense to attempt to explain how evil or goodness could existin a world created by God or a Demon.

    Both arguments have the same strength, asCahn notes, and both are very weak arguments. If it seems unlikely that anomniscient, omnipotent, omnimalevolent Demon created the world, then it is justas unlikely that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being created theworld. It is likely that neither God nor the Demon exists, and the problem ofevil and the problem of goodness wind up supporting the position of the atheist.Category: Philosophy

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    Richard Swinburne’s The Problem of Evil: God’s E Essay. (2019, Jan 18). Retrieved from

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