Johnson on the Problem of Evil
0. The setup:
1.1 A 6-month-old baby that dies painfully in a house fire.
1.2 God had the ability to save the baby, but didn’t
1.3 If God is good, then there is a legitimate excusing condition for his not saving the baby
1. First try: The baby will go to heaven.
1.1 First criticism: if it wasn’t necessary for the baby to suffer, then it was wrong to allow it – compensation in the afterlife for being wronged in this life is a separate issue
1.2 Second criticism: was it necessary then for the baby to suffer? If so, then we need an explanation for why it was necessary, as its necessity isn’t apparent
2. Second try: the baby’s painful death will have good results in the long run; so it is permissible to allow it (if it wasn’t, God wouldn’t have allowed it)
2.1 First criticism:
2.1.1 This answer assumes that whatever evils actually occur in the world have result in overall good in the long run
2.1.2 If so, then causing or permitting them is always right (otherwise God will stop them, since he won’t allow things to happen that don’t produce overall good in the long run)
2.1.3 It follows then that if we try to cause a great harm, and we actually succeed, then what we did is thereby good!
2.1.4 But this is absurd
2.2 Second criticism:
2.2.1 In any case, notice that the answer offered here doesn’t explain why God permitted the child to die a painful death.
2.2.2 It only tries to assure us that this horrible thing will result in good overall in the long run
2.2.3 But this only helps if we have some prior assurance that God is good
But notice that we wouldn’t accept this defense for wrongdoing in any other context (e.g., in a court case, where the defendant says that he’s innocent, and that even though the evidence looks to be against him now, the proof that will vindicate him will be discovered in the long run)
3. Third try: God has given us free will so that it’s our responsibility, not his.
3.1 In any other case in which a bystander knowingly allows some horrible thing to happen when he could’ve helped without the risk of injury, we wouldn’t call the bystander ‘good’.
3.2 Why, then, is it right to say that God is good in permitting the infant to burn to death?
4. Fourth try: It’s best to face disasters without help; otherwise we would become dependent on outside help
4.1 First criticism: This would seem to imply that we’re obligated to eliminate, e.g., the police departments, fire departments, etc., which is absurd.
4.2 Second criticism: But if it doesn’t, then notice that such a world doesn’t make everyone independent; rather, it makes the majority dependent upon a small minority of emergency and safety professionals, contrary to the supposed intention of God here.
5. Fifth try: If God interfered in disasters, he would eliminate a lot of the moral urgency we need to motivate us to the point of helping others
5.1 First criticism: emergency professions are a relatively new phenomenon
5.2 Second criticism: such professions function irrespective of whether the rest of us feel any urgency to help.
6. Sixth try: God needs to allow suffering in order to give us the opportunity to develop important virtues (patience, courage, sympathy, etc.).
6.1 First criticism: this may be right; but the amount of suffering in the real world isn’t required to achieve this aim
6.2 Second criticism: The world is constantly striving to make a world without these evils. Are we then making the world worse off for future generations, who will then be unable to cultivate these virtues?
7. Seventh try: God allows evil because without it we wouldn’t know what goodness is.
7.1 This may be true
7.2 However, this only requires that God permit a tiny amount of evil
8. Eighth try: God’s morality isn’t our morality; his is a “higher” morality.
8.1 If so, then it would seem to be an implausibly odd morality – one that calls “good” what we would call “bad”.
9.Ninth try: Maybe God isn’t powerful enough to prevent such evils
9.1 God should at least be as powerful as man, which is often all that’s required to stop a great many horrendous evils that actually occur
10. Tenth try: I don’t know why God permits evil, but I don’t need to have the answer in order to be justified in thinking that there is one. I have faith in God.
10.1 This is only justified if you have good evidence that he is good. Compare: appropriate faith in friends and family vs. faith in strangers or acquaintances.
10.2 But this doesn’t seem to be true of what we’re told of God