David Bruce (born 1954): The Problem of Evil

Let’s say you are walking along the sidewalk and suddenly you hear a scream for help from the other side of the street. You look and you see a gang of men has started raping a woman. What do you do?

You have several options:

1) You could run over and try to stop the rape.

2) You could stay on your side of the sidewalk but start yelling for help, hoping that the men will stop raping the woman.

3) If the situation seems sufficiently dangerous, you could pretend you don’t see anything, keep walking past the scene of the crime, then call the police.

4) Or you could pretend you don’t see anything, keep walking past the scene of the crime, then keep walking and not call the police.

5) Finally, and some people have probably done this, you could walk across the street and join in the rape.

Of these options, I hope that I would at leastcall the police. (In the infamous case of the rape and murder of Kitty Genovese in New York City in 1964, lots of eyewitnesses did not bother to call the police, although these eyewitnesses were safe at home in their apartments.)

But now let’s ask what God does in a situation such as this. God is omniscient (all-knowing), so presumably He knows that the rape is occurring. God is omnibenevolent (all-good), so presumably He wants to help the woman and stop the rape. And God is omnipotent (all-powerful), so presumably He can help the woman and stop the rape.

But what does God actually do in a situation such as this? Rapes occur every day, and based on our experience, I think we can say that God acts most like the person who keeps walking past the rape and doesn’t even bother to call the police.

Something definitely seems wrong here.

For many people, the main reason they don’t believe in God is that evil exists. The ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus put the problem of evil in a dilemma:

P1: If God is omnipotent (all-powerful), then he could prevent evil.

P2: If God is omnibenevolent (all-good), then he would prevent evil.

P3: Evil exists.

C: Either God is not omnipotent, or God is not omnibenevolent.

If this dilemma cannot be refuted, then it seems the omnipotent, omnibenevolent God of the Judeo-Christian religions has to go. After all, I personally cannot doubt the existence of evil after reading books concerning the Holocaust and slavery. Certainly, one visit to a Children’s Hospital should convince anyone that evil exists. The sight of bald-headed children dying of incurable cancer is definitely convincing to me. And we all know that rapes occur every day.

Of course, some philosophers mention free will when speaking about the problem of evil. God does not commit rape; human beings do. And human beings can choose not to rape, or they can choose to prevent rape. For example, when Ohio University student Haley Butler visited London, she saw and enjoyed the musical Wicked, although she attended the musical alone despite having promised her parents that she would not go out alone at night. On her way back to her hotel, she noticed that a strange man was following her. She tried to get away from him, but he kept on following her. In the subway, she needed to take an elevator to get to ground level, but she thought, “There is no way in hell I’m getting in the elevator with that man. He’s going to rape me. He’s going to rape me, and then he’s going to kill me.” She was making a major effort not to cry when the elevator door opened, and a man in the elevator looked at her, saw how frightened she was, and even though he had never seen her before, said, “Oh my gosh! How are you? I can’t believe I ran into you!” Haley knew that she had never seen this new man before, but she replied, “I’m great! It’s so good to see you!” The strange man who had been following Haley left, and Haley said, “You saved me. That guy was following me, and I didn’t know what to do!” The new man responded, “I know. I could tell by the look on your face! You seemed so frightened.” The new man even walked her to her hotel just to ensure that she would be safe.

(Some men can be very helpful in situations like this. Comedian Jay Leno once noticed a woman being harassed by a man, so he went over and pretended to be the woman’s boyfriend and chased the harasser away.)


Public Domain. Feel free to reprint.


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