“The in the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent is inconsistent with the existence of human suffering.” Discuss.

“Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?” (Hume, 1907)

Normally incorrectly attributed to the eponymous Ancient Greek philosopher, this incorrect accreditation does not render the so-called ‘Riddle of Epicurus’ less contentious. This is indeed a cruel paradox. Assuming that the view of God traditionally held by the Abrahamic is correct, he is the Creator of everything and has the following attributes: - ; defined as “the property of having complete or maximal ”. (Wierenga, 2017) This would mean that if x is true, God would know it to be true, and if x was false, God would know it to be false. In addition, if x was falsely claimed to be true, God would not incorrectly believe x to be true. God’s omniscience would make him aware of all things at all times, and to know how they have been and how they will be, without Him having to think of something specifically to know all there is to know about it. - , which is “maximal power” (Hoffman & Rosencrantz, 2017). This has three possible variants. (Rosen, n.d.) The first of these is God’s power allowing Him to bring about anything, including the logically impossible. The second is that He can do anything which is logically possible. The third is that He can do anything which doesn’t violate the laws of nature or physics. The latter seems implausible, as if God is the omnipotent creator He would be the origin of these laws of the universe and thus surely be able to violate them if He so wished. The greater difficulty is to determine whether omnipotence is of the first or second variant. The first would suggest that God could create something which has two contradictory natures simultaneously, for example something both solid and liquid, whereas the second would imply that he cannot create something with such a contradiction. Intuitively, one might feel the second theory is more plausible. However, arguably the nature of something depends on one’s frame of reference, and since God has created the ‘rules’ which determine logic, and perception, which allows us to determine whether something is logical or not, we cannot say that actions God is taking are violating Françoise Nel Lloyd Davies Prize

logic as perhaps His action allows that ‘illogical’ thing to become logical since logic derives from Him. Thus we will settle on the first definition of God’s power being absolute and with no qualifications. - Benevolence, in this case meaning perfect goodness. This would mean that God would not cause any evil in the world, and (assuming His omnipotence) would act to prevent it. Evil is “morally bad; wicked.” (Allen, 1990) But what qualifies for this? There are two ‘types’ of evil, natural and moral, the former seemingly occurring from nature (such as tsunamis or illness) and the latter caused by free human action (such as deceit, murder). What both these types of evil have in common is that they cause human suffering. So we can define evil as something which causes human suffering. If God indeed has the above traits how then can we explain the immeasurable evil and suffering in the world? Those who have grappled with this have reached varied conclusions, from viewpoints defending the to others which see God and our immoral world as incompatible. So what conclusion can we draw, or are we as humans even capable of comprehending the truth? Two formulations which suggest the non-existence of God in the face of human suffering are the logical and the evidential arguments from evil. The first seeks to demonstrate that by logical deduction the existence of God is not possible since evil exists, whereas the second seeks to show that the probability of God's existence in the face of evil is increasingly low the more one considers the evidence. (van Inwagen, 2008) To suffer is to “undergo, experience or be subjected to (pain, loss, grief, defeat, change etc.)”. So suffering causes physical and emotional discomfort.

Mackie formulates the logical as follows: " God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; and yet evil exists. There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true the third would be false." (Mackie, 1955) The resulting logical contradiction theoretically disproves the existence of God. A common response to this is the defence of . This is an attempt to suggest why God may be omnipotent and yet fail to act to prevent suffering. Alvin Plantinga distinguishes between a free will (which states that free will is the that God does not prevent suffering) and a free will defence (which suggests that free will might be God’s reason for failing to prevent suffering). He defines free will as ‘being free with respect to an action’, which means that it is within an individual’s power to take or refrain from a given action without pre-existing conditions forcing them to make a specific choice. This does not mean that one cannot predict what someone (including oneself) is likely to do in a given situation. It simply means that one cannot do so with certainty. Furthermore, he defines morally significant actions as those which “it would be wrong… to perform… but right to refrain [from] or vice versa” and individuals who are “significantly free” as being “free with respect to a morally significant action.” We shall assume that something is ‘wrong’ if it intentionally violates the free will of or causes suffering to another human being. Françoise Nel Lloyd Davies Philosophy Prize

With these definitions in mind, Plantinga’s Free Will Defence is that a world inhabited by free beings is preferable to a world where there is no free will, and though God can create free beings he cannot restrict them to doing only what is moral. If he were to do this, they would not be “significantly free”, but rather obliged to do what is moral, and thus in creating beings capable of moral actions they must also be capable of moral transgressions. God cannot give beings the capacity for evil and then prevent them from committing evil acts (this would violate their free will), and it is then occurrence of these acts which are the source of moral evil. Moreover, Plantinga asserts that the fact that beings sometimes choose to act immorally is not a negative reflection on God’s omnipotence or benevolence, as he could only have prevented immoral actions by preventing beings from having a free choice to commit moral ones. (Plantinga, 1977) The questions one must ask to validate or disprove this argument are as follows: 1) Does free will exist? 2) Is a world with no free will but where there is no evil and thus suffering less desirable than a world where free will exists but there is suffering? In response to 1), we can first consider the fact that in theory if God has created beings with the freedom to act as they wish, each being can choose their actions. However, an important assumption is that there are no pre-existing conditions that restrict this, which gives rise to two issues. Firstly, it seems to preclude God’s omniscience, as if God knows what actions a being will take they are not free to choose to do something else. However, this brings into play the argument of selective omniscience, that is that God chooses to be unaware of our actions to allow free will. This argument seems flimsy at best - surely the Creator would want to observe his creation? And if he never observes it, why create it at all? The other option is that God, being omniscient, can see all the possible choices we could make and all the different avenues arising from them. Our choices are unlimited and God’s knowledge of what we could do does not limit the choices we can make. Let us call this God’s plurality of vision. The flaw with this argument is however that surely an omniscient God would know the future, as well as the past and the present? The only counter for this claim is that God is eternal and therefore has no ‘foreknowledge’ per se as time is of no consequence for Him. Secondly, it depends on how humans make decisions, and what constitutes the mind. If we assume that the mind and our decision making is determined by neurochemical means, it is possible to argue that we have no free will. Neurons in the brains of monkeys, to whom humans are closely related, have been observed to fire (indicating a decision has been made) before activity in the conscious regions of the monkey’s brain shows that it is consciously aware of its decision. Furthermore, activity of neurons will be determined by external stimuli and internal processes, so knowing what stimuli there will be and the exact functioning of the brain could theoretically allow one to determine a being’s future action. On the other hand, this assumes that neurons consistently “behave in the same way” and also precludes truly random events such as radioactive decay which could produce conditions that result in a different outcome to that predicted. This does not change the fact Françoise Nel Lloyd Davies Philosophy Prize

that humans are not making their own choices if they are determined in this way, however, but a question is raised of whether the mind is the sole source of decision making, or what the role of the ‘soul’, a non-biological, spiritual entity may be in free will. For if we assume the soul plays a role in decision making and it is not governed by these scientific principles then this specific issue with free will is inconsequential. For the second major question in response to Plantinga’s argument, let us assume that God’s plurality of vision and eternal nature, and the existence of the ‘soul’ permit free will. Is free will truly so important that its existence alongside evil is preferable to its absence without it? If one considers the extent of human suffering, it seems hard to justify that this should occur for the sake of having free will. But with a conception of an anthropomorphic God, we ought to consider the actions humans take to defend freedom. Humans have fought wars and continue to do so for the sake of freedom, at a price of great suffering to those involved. Granted, God is benevolent and morally perfect according to the original definition, whereas human beings are fallible. Furthermore, the argument that God leaves humans to their free will and errors so that they will learn from them, as a parent does their child, rings hollow as many humans do not learn from past evils and generally a human parent would intervene should their child’s actions be to the detriment of another, whereas in cosmic terms God does not prevent people taking evil actions against others. So ultimately the bottom line is how important is freedom? Perhaps, given humanity’s almost integral desire for it, we may make the leap to thinking that this inborn desire comes from our Creator’s endowment of free will and the importance that he Himself accords to it. But this certainly becomes a matter of conjecture and faith. This is perhaps even more the case when considering the evidential argument from evil. If we consider the multitude of evils in the world and resulting suffering, can we justify them or is the collective strongly suggestive of the traditional conception of God being a fallacy? One might firstly argue that it is necessary for there to be evil for good to exist, as if goodness was one’s only frame of reference one would be unaware that it was good. This can be countered by the fact that surely in a world where there was no evil, and thus no suffering, humans would always be happy, and thus whether they were aware of what goodness was or not it would not be important, as a benevolent God would always try to prevent suffering. In the same vein, perhaps suffering is necessary for spiritual development. But could a benevolent God truly justify making beings suffer for them to independently reach greater self-awareness and morality? This does not seem just and it would be hard to argue the old adage that the end justifies the means. Moreover, often suffering does not improve beings but rather stunts their spiritual growth as they reflect on the injustices heaped upon them and develop a cynical, world-weary attitude. Alternatively, one might say what would be the point in life if the world had been made with every being acting in a uniformly moral way, for in its current state one may argue that the point in life is to strive to aid the elimination of evil and thus suffering. But Françoise Nel Lloyd Davies Philosophy Prize

then one could say what is the point in this saga, to what end do people suffer, others cause suffering, and others still try to bring suffering to an end? Is it not unfair to create beings who suffer, that is would they not have been better off not being created at all? This comes down to whether one that a life with suffering is preferable to not living at all. Truly, and rather unsatisfactorily, there is no answer to this question. Perhaps it is for each being to determine for themselves why God has created life as he has, and indeed perhaps there is no single correct answer as each being perceives the world differently from their own unique frame of reference. Some would say that there is a hidden purpose beyond human comprehension. But this is not something which can refute the logical or evidential arguments, instead being based on belief and trust. So overall, when the evidence is considered it seems difficult from our present knowledge of the world and human frame of reference to believe in the coexistence of human suffering and a God who simultaneously has the attributes of omnipotence, omniscience and benevolence. Though perhaps one could argue that we cannot comprehend the complexities of God and the universe and thus we are not capable of coming to an undisputed, definitive conclusion against the traditional conception of God in the Abrahamic faiths, the fact remains that to continue to believe in such a being is indeed faith against the odds in the face of this glaring disparity between the nature of God and the world in which we live. Perhaps for those of us who continue to believe in God in this way, we trust in His motivations and respond to suffering not by losing faith in Him, but in humanity for their capacity for evil. As Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel wrote reflecting on the greatest evil in living memory, “After the Holocaust I did not lose faith in God. I lost faith in mankind.” (Lurie, 2012)

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Bibliography Allen, R. E. ed., 1990. The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Current English. 8th ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Hoffman, J. & Rosencrantz, G., 2017. Omnipotence (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). [Online] Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/omnipotence/ [Accessed June 2018]. Hume, D., 1907. Dialogues Concerning Natural . s.l.:William Blackwood. Lurie, A., 2012. How could God have allowed the Holocaust?. [Online] Available at: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/rabbi-alan-lurie/how-could-god-have- allowe_b_1207672.html?guccounter=1 [Accessed June 2018]. Mackie, J., 1955. Evil and Omnipotence. Mind , 64(254), pp. 200-212.

Françoise Nel Lloyd Davies Philosophy Prize

Plantinga, A., 1977. God, Freedom and Evil. reprint ed. s.l.:Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing. Rosen, G., n.d. The Problem of Evil. [Online] Available at: http://www.princeton.edu/~grosen/puc/phi203/evil.html [Accessed June 2018]. van Inwagen, P., 2008. The Problem of Evil. reprint ed. Oxford: OUP. Wierenga, E., 2017. Omniscience (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). [Online] Available at: https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/omniscience/ [Accessed June 2018].

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