God of Love and the problem of Evil
The problem of evil, the argument that lead many people to atheism and the one that remains the most pressing source of doubt for many theists. Alternatively known as the problem of suffering, it is this argument that I want to talk about here. I have already made two threads on theism vs atheism debates a while back, both of which cover some popular atheist arguments and brief answers to them. (Check  and ) In concluding the triology, I want to go over the most powerful argument there is for atheism and briefly explain 3 possible alternatives a theist could take in answering it.
There are, however, many different forms of argument from evil and each form can be divided further. Here, I will focus on a broad sketch of the evidential argument from evil and will leave the various other versions such as the logical problem of evil and other topics like the Euthyphro Dilemma or the Evil God objections to the potential replies so feel free to further the discussion below. The short essay will contain the following:
- Presenting the Argument
- Theistic Answers
- Relation to Natural Theology
- Concluding Remarks
Presenting the Argument
The evidential argument goes (broadly) as follows:
1) There exists a terrible amount of evil
2) If God existed he would prevented this evil
3) He doesn't prevent this evil
4) Therefore, God doesn't exist
Now, let's clarify this (quite messy) sketch of the argument. Here, evil need not bear any form of theological meaning. You could substitute it with the word suffering and you wouldn't lose any strength. Also, when evil (or suffering) is mentioned, the focus is most on the special kind of evil called gratituous evil. Gratituous evil is a type of evil which happens for no good reason. It's a completely random, meaningless tragedy that could've easily been avoided but wasn't.
Also, this argument isn't to be confused with the logical problem of evil which states that since evil exists God cannot exist or God most certainly doesn't exist. The evidential arguments states that since there is such evil as gratutious evil, it constitutes good evidence against God's existence and as such we are to go along with it.
In a nutshell, the difference between the logical and evidential argument is that the logical says God cannot coexist with evil, while the evidential arguments says God can but it is highly unlikely that they coexist.
More commonly known as "The Free Will Defense", this will be the first position I'll explore here. Before explaining the position in itself, it is necessary to explain two things. First is Libertarianism which is a philosophical position that humans have free will. The second is Optimism which is that the world we live in is the best world of all Libertarian optimism combines the two above mentioned positions into a view that God's freedom in creating the world was limited by human free will.
It is because humans have free will to act in themselves that there is evil in the world and therefore suffering, both human and natural, in all it's measure is the result of humanity's misuse of their freedom. This is what libertarian optimism is. In a summed version the counter to the argument from evil is as follows:
1) Humanity misuses free will
2) The misuse of free will prevents God from creating an ideal world
3) God has chosen the world with least possible amount of evil in it
4) Therefore, an all-loving God and evil can plausibly co-exist
The argument's first premise is based on libertarianism while the third premise is based on philosophical optimism. Second premise relies on the fact that it is impossible to make someone freely do something (for example you cannot make someone freely do good when they desire to do evil) thus rendering an ideal world impossible as well. Given these three premises it follows that God could in all his omnibenevolence create the best possible world even though this world holds a great amount of evil in it. While gratituous evil does exist, it is the smallest possible amount.
When we go back to the argument from evil we see that the problem discounts the possibility of God not being able to stop this amount of gratituous evil. Given such a God it's not at all improbable that (all things same) the this God would coexist with evil. As such the argument fails.
The skeptical theist position goes as follows: given God's omniscience and our own cognitive limitations, it is impossible for us to know that God doesn't have a sufficient reason for permitting certain amount of suffering. The evil we consider pointless or gratitutious, the skeptical theist says, actually has a purpose which only God knows.
Unlike libertarian optimism which concedes that there is gratituous suffering (suffering which has no goal) but this suffering couldn't have been prevented even by God, the skeptical theist denies the claim that there is gratituous suffering at all. All there is, it is argued, is evil which God has a good reason to permit. The reasons, however, are only known to God, so humans in all their incapacity cannot understand them. The counter to the argument from evil would be:
1) God is omniscient and all-loving
2) All evil serves a purpose
3) Due to human limitations we cannot know this purpose
4) Therefore, there is no gratituous evil
This position insists that the atheist justifies the jump from „we cannot see the purpose“ to „there is no purpose“ and due to the inability of the atheist to do this the argument from evil fails because one of its premises is not justified.
The final position I will go over here is the one from theological probability. Namely, this argument says that given certain theological dogmas and truths about God the existence of evil (gratituous or not) isn't something we wouldn't expect to see, therefore it doesn't make sense to say that since evil exists, God's existence is improbable.
This position is, a lot more than the first two, dependant on the exact concept of God we're talking about. In the case of God I argue for (the christian God) this works quite well for there is an established set of dogmas that deal with the existence of evil such as the Fall according to which in there was originally no suffering, but after rejecting God humanity caused the ideal world to be impossible.
The point is, this side would say, since evil is an integral part of a certain worldview it doesn't make sense to say that the existence of evil provides evidence against that worldview. The argument here would go as follows:
1) If evil were something that doesn't fit with Christianity it would be evidence against it
2) Evil fits very well with Christianity
3) Therefore, evil doesn't make Christianity improbable
Relation to Natural Theology
After exploring some of the alternatives theist can take in answering the problem of evil, I'll now focus to a different aspect of the debate, one that actually doesn't deny any of the premises, but still denies that God's existence is improbable! This is done by looking at the full scope of evidence for the existence of God. Given that there are good arguments for God's existence which establish the existence of a transcendant intelligent, moral, powerful and free entity, the argument from evil, even if undermining the theistic beliefs is utterly twarfed by the positive evidence for the case of theism.
To put it simply, even if the existence of evil would make theism less likely to be true, the good probability of there being a transcendant cause (established by cosmological arguments), an intelligent designer (established by fine-tuning arguments) and a morally perfect being (established by the moral and ontological arguments) the probability of there being a God, even with the great amount of evil is still more than high enough to be reasonably accepted.
So long as any of the arguments from Natural Theology stand, the argument from evil cannot work at it's fullest potential, but considering how none of these arguments are a closed case and are all a matter of heated on-going discussion, the argument from evil will (for all it's worth) simply have to wait until these arguments are cleared up.
In conclusion, I went over a few ways of answering the broad evidential problem of evil which are all reasonable enough to be accepted even in abscence of any other arguments for God's existence because they reduce the strength of the defeater for the belief in God and the belief remains justified according to proper basicality of reformed epistemology. Still, in the event that these alternatives fail, we need not resort to atheism, for Natural Theology is a rich enough discipline to keep the belief justified despite the problem of evil.
While the argument from evil is the most powerful argument against theism, in and of itself it isn't enough to justify atheism and requires something more to back it up. Unfortunately, as far as I'm aware, there are no other arguments for atheism as good as it so the atheist side seems to have ran out of ammo.