Category Archives: Problem of Evil

The problem of evil strikes back

We’ve probably had enough discussion of the problem of evil on this blog, but I can’t help pointing out it’s appearance in the news. Apparently one world leader, upon visiting Auschwitz, had the following reaction:

“In a place like this, words fail. In the end, there can only be a dread silence, a silence which is a heartfelt cry to God — Why, Lord, did you remain silent? How could you tolerate all this?
“Where was God in those days? Why was he silent? How could he permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil?”

Indeed, these are questions any religious skeptic might ask, but it’s surprising to hear them from Pope Benedict. It seems like the sort of thing a guy in his position should have the answer to. (Via Majikthise.)
In a slightly parallel story, Mark at Cosmic Variance watches as Billy Graham comes very close to endorsing a skeptical outlook on religious claims. I must say this is a promising trend among major religious figures toward inquiry and empiricism, but somehow I don’t see it lasting very long.

But I still… haven’t found… a solution to the problem of evil.

Slacktivist has excerpts from U2 frontman Bono’s remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast. Mostly, it’s good stuff, in which he chastises George W. Bush for not doing more to fight poverty around the world. But there’s one section that I thought was very self-defeating, because while Bono wants to make this a religious mission, he runs right into the problem of evil (which I’ve written about before). I have to wonder if Bono is really thinking about what he’s saying here:

I mean, God may well be with us in our mansions on the hill … I hope so. He may well be with us as in all manner of controversial stuff — maybe, maybe not. But the one thing we can all agree, all faiths and ideologies, is that God is with the vulnerable and poor.
God is in the slums, in the cardboard boxes where the poor play house. God is in the silence of a mother who has infected her child with a virus that will end both their lives. God is in the cries heard under the rubble of war. God is in the debris of wasted opportunity and lives, and God is with us if we are with them.

Bono is describing people who live in abject misery, and if we are to assume that God exists, the obvious question to ask is, why does God permit such suffering at all? It seems to me that one of the following statements has to be true:
1. God doesn’t know about the suffering of the poor.
2. God knows about the poor but does not care.
3. God knows about the poor and cares about their suffering, but is powerless to help them.
Now religious people generally try to obscure the issue rather than admit that one of these things is true. But Bono in the above remarks has just ruled out statements 1 and 2, so we are left with the disturbing fact that Bono believe in a god who has less power to help the poor than George W. Bush, or Bono himself. Why even refer to such a being as a god? Seems more like sort of a concerned spirit, or something.
One could argue that God works his will through the charitable actions of humans. This doesn’t reflect well on God’s character: basically, he’s the lazy manager who gets his subordinates to do all the work, and then takes all the credit at the end.
Or one could argue that the charitable impulse itself comes from God. This, in addition to resembling a common and vicious slander against atheists, argues for a very weak god indeed, as (by Bono’s own admission) there is not nearly enough charity in the world.
So what good is it to the poor if God is with them? If man living in a cardboard box could trade the presence of God for a roof over his head, shouldn’t he do it?