Date :Tuesday, July 2nd, 2019 | Time : 19:31 |ID: 100916 | Print

God, Evil, Sin and Freewill

SHAFAQNA-

The greatest challenge to theism is what is known as the ‘problem of evil’. That is to say, that the existence of an omnipotent (all powerful) and omni-benevolent (all Good) God is not possible, given the existence of evil in the world.  It is important to note here that such an argument does not demonstrate that God does not exist, but that a God by nature ‘Good’ and all powerful, cannot co-exist with evil in the world. Since, Islam’s concept of God is also defined in these terms; the problem of evil would seem to be a contentious topic for someone embracing the Islamic faith.

The story of creation in the Quran teaches us that the angels at the moment of Adam’s creation asked God why He would bring about a creature (human beings) that would cause so much mischief on the earth. In return, God’s reply was that he knows what they do not, expressing his supreme judgment.[1] As, Muslims we believe that God is the Most Wise and we trust in his ultimate judgment in all matters. However, since the problem of evil can be an obstacle in believing in the existence of God and consequently embracing Islam, then it is imperative that we present good arguments in response to the problem of evil for non-believers.

The problem of evil takes the form of the logical and the probabilistic version. The logical version consists of two premises that are presented as being logically incompatible. They are as follows:

  1. An omnipotent, omni-benevolent God exists.

and

  1. Evil exists.

The proponent of the logical version of the problem of evil presents these two premises as contradictory. However, there is no explicit contradiction here. A contradiction would be to accept P and ¬P, for example “All basketball players are tall” and “All basketball players are not tall.” In order for there to be a contradiction, the negative form of either proposition 1 or 2 must be one of the premises of the argument. Since this is not the case with the said premises, there is no explicit contradiction in this sense. In order for there to be a contradiction, the proponents must be assuming some hidden premises, such as the following[2]:

  1. If God is omnipotent, then He can create any world that He desires.

and

  1. If God is omni-benevolent, then He prefers a world without evil over a world with evil.

Now, these two premises imply that an omnipotent God can create any world he wishes and that an omni-benevolent God would chose a world without sin over a world with sin, i.e. that He would create beings that would always choose Good over evil. This would mean that people would not have the potentiality to decide to act on Evil.According to proponents of the problem of evil, if God is omni-benevolent and omnipotent then the actual world would be the said desirable, evil-free world. Since we do not live in such a world then it follows that an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God does not exist.

David Hume summarized the logical version of the internal problem of evil nicely when he asked concerning God, ‘Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?'[3]

However, premise 3 and 4 make some flawed assumptions. Firstly, it is true that God could have created a world without sin; theists would not contest this fact since it would undermine the omnipotence of God. However, that does not include, logically, impossible worlds.

Before I address the first premise, it is essential to clarify what exactly God’s omnipotence means. Typically, God’s omnipotence is defined as the ability to do all things that are logically possible.Now, some may view this as a concern as it can be perceived to be limiting God’s power. However, this would be a misunderstanding.Take for example the proposition “Can God create a squared circle?” The nature of the question is illogical, as something is square if and only if, it has exactly four sides. Similarly, something is a circle if and only if it has exactly one side. No object can have both exactly four sides and exactly one side. The idea of a square circle is thus self-contradictory, and so the act of creating a square circle is a logically impossible act. Now, can God create a logically impossible act? We can answer no and still have a coherent concept of an omnipotent God. Why? Because the very question or notion of an impossible act is nonsensical, it does not make sense to begin with a request that is meaningless, we can only follow requests if they are intelligible. For example, it would not make sense to lose marks in an exam for not answering a question that was a contradiction in terms. Similarly, for God not to be able to perform an illogical action, in no way undermines the omnipotence of God.

Now, let me proceed to the third premise. Alvin Plantinga provides a cogent response which he calls the Free Will Defence. [4] The flaw with this first premise is that an essential component is over looked, namely free will. If the proponent of the problem of evil is suggesting that these premises are true, and assumes libertarian freewill, then we effectively have a contradiction in the argument. In order to have an absence of evil in the world, God would have to create beings whom he freely made chose Good over Evil. Nevertheless, if he made them do anything, it logically follows that personal agency is negated. To make someone freely do anything is a contradiction in terms, equal to God creating a squared circle. It makes no sense to argue that God could make us freely choose Good over Evil. If God did cause people to choose Good over Evil, then they would no longer be free, since the concept of free will then loses its meaning. So, the proponents of the problem of evil are essentially asking God to create a logically impossible world, which is a meaningless proposition and as discussed, logical impossibilities in no way undermine God’s omnipotence, since the very request is nonsensical. Hence, a world where beings are freely made to choose good over evil is an impossible one, and is therefore not a world that can exist even if God can create any world that he desires.

That now leaves us with premise 4, that: if God is omni-benevolent, then He prefers a world without evil over a world with evil. Could not the proponent of the problem of evil then argue that an omnipotent and omni-benevolent God would have created a world where beings only performed Good at the expense of freewill over the actual world, where free agents exist with the prospect of them performing Good and Evil? The answer would be no, since creating a world where people only performed good deeds i.e. beings lacking in libertian freewill, would not be a world where people would act morally. We can think of it like this, if Mr Jenkins is forced to give charity. Could we praise Mr Jenkins for giving charity? The answer would obviously be no, why? Simply because praise and blame only make sense when one can chose either way.We could only praise Mr Jenkins, if he choose to act charitably over not acting charitably. Since he did not have a choice, it is unwarranted to praise him. Therefore, freewill is a necessary condition for morality, essential to sustain its meaning; otherwise morality loses its significance. What then follows from this is that a world where people are made to only choose Good, would be a world void of moral agents who were morally praiseworthy. In comparison, the world does have actual moral agents, beings who freely chose acts of generosity, kindness, compassion over acts of greed, selfishness and cruelty. Since God is omni-benevolent, he would not prefer a world without freewill as it would imply a lack of moral agents. Rather, he would prefer our actual world.

[1] Quran, Sûrah al-Baqarah: 31

[2] J.P. Moreland and William Lane Craig. Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, p 538.

[3] David Hume. Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, part 10.

[4] Avin Plantinga. God, Freedom and Evil, p 7.

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