Thinking Carefully about the Problem of Evil

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Author Brett Kunkle Published on 03/06/2013

Some key distinctions are critical when thinking about this problem.

When approaching the problem of evil it is important to begin by making some key distinctions. Distinctions help us to define the issues more precisely, which leads to greater clarity of the problem as well as the solution. This is just one reason philosophy is such an important tool for believers. Here are some of the key distinctions.

First, it is important to distinguish between the intellectual problem and the existential problem. The intellectual problem requires a tough-minded philosophical response while the existential problem requires a tender-hearted pastoral response. If you attempt to answer the existential problem merely with philosophical abstractions or Christian clichés, you may as well keep your mouth shut.

This distinction needs to be considered on a personal level as well. You may have answered the intellectual problem with careful philosophical analysis but another question remains: Is your soul prepared for suffering? This question haunts me a bit, particularly since my wife and I have had kids. Sometimes I think about how I would respond to God if something tragic were to happen to one of my kids and I must confess, I am a little pessimistic about my response. I think it reveals my need to put a greater amount of trust in God and not in just having good intellectual answers.

Second, we need to make a distinction between different kinds of evil. There is moral evil, done by human beings (think 9/11), and there is natural evil, caused by physical events (think Hurricane Katrina). This distinction is important because our response to each may be different, careful to address the relevant features of these different kinds of evil.

Third, we need to distinguish the logical (deductive) problem from the evidential (inductive) problem. The logical argument claims the existence of God is logically impossible given evil and therefore, belief in God is necessarily false. If the logical argument succeeds, it would spell the end of Christianity in particular and theism in general. The evidential argument attempts to show the existence of evil makes it unlikely that God exists. It claims the evidence of evil against God’s existence makes it more probable that He does not exist rather than that He does exist. Again, this distinction is vital as our response to the logical and evidential problems will be different.