Traditional Problem of EvilOne of the most popular positive arguments for atheism is the problem of evil. The traditional form goes something like this. (My logic is not perfect but you get the idea).
1) God is perfectly loving.
2) God is perfectly powerful.
3) A perfectly loving being would stop suffering if he could.
4) A perfectly powerful being would be able to stop suffering if he wanted.
5) Therefore, there is no suffering in the world.
But 5) is evidently false. Therefore, God does not exist.
There are many logically possible escapes from this problem, so most philosophers don't use it anymore.
One can argue that given a God we would not see the amount of evil that we see in the world today. If God exists, there would be some evil, but not the amount we see today.
Another contemporary argument is that while its logically possible that God exists and there be evil in the world, it is an unlikely scenario.
I believe that 4 classic defenses adequately resolve these issues. Once we introduce the first defense, the other 3 seem to build on top of each of the others.
1) Free Will Defense for Moral Evil
If God exists and wants to make creatures who love him, it requires that they have the option to not love him. This is the classic free will defense. Furthermore, the option to not love God or to do evil must be a genuine option, or else freedom isn't significant. For example, if God stopped us every time we did something evil, we would give up trying. For example, you know that by jumping off of a bench you cannot fly. So why bother trying? Same with evil. If its physically impossible to punch my classmate, will I even try?
This also applies to the amount of evil a person does. If God wants to let people fully define their own character, that means he has to let them do as much good or as much evil as they want.
2) Aesthetic Disadvantages Necessary for Good
The above scenario is impossible without some sort of lack of good in the world, or limitations on resources or "happy-making" things. If we all had unlimited resources and always had what we always wanted without thinking about it, then there is no real love or sacrifice, and no moral good. So if nothing ever goes wrong in any significant way, there is no way for me to provide any sort of significant sacrifice. Free will is pretty useless in choosing between good and evil if evil has no appeal at all.
Therefore, the existence of major natural evils and minor inconveniences makes sense since it always for that much more moral sacrifice.
3) Afterlife Theodicy
Both of these raise immediate issues which also have to be addressed. If God wants to allow people to fully determine their character, that means he has to let them do whatever harm or good they want. This includes doing harm to completely helpless persons who have never committed any sin at all (such as infants). Furthermore, the existence of natural evil and inconveniences would also affect persons innocent and helpless people.
This brings us to one of God's actual resolutions to the problem of evil, which is found in the resurrection of Jesus. Christian theology maintains that since Jesus died and rose again to eternal life, those who have faith in him will also die and raise again to eternal life at the Second Coming. The Bible also maintains that our current sufferings are mere inconveniences compared to the glory we will experience later on. So, God will compensate innocent persons who suffer (such as infants) over 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 more than the pain they ever experienced. This makes God act justly towards innocent persons who suffer.This is God's primary resolution to the problem of evil: Complete restoration of physical existence for all eternity, which is an incomparable good.
This resolution not only applies to eternal life, but to God's justice at judgment day. After everyone has freely determined their own evil character, or freely allowed God to make them into good persons, there will be a day of judgment. God will finally defeat all evil, restore heaven and earth, and bring justice to the wicked, and vindication to the righteous. Furthermore, God gets justice against all the sins we commit in our lives through the sacrificial death of Jesus for sins. This way, God completely eliminates any pain people would have incurred due to deserving punishment, if they freely accept the gift.
4) The "Butterfly Effect" (Molinism)
The existence of God's resolution to the problem of evil (eternal life), requires that an all loving God would make sure that as many people as possible actually experienced that resolution. This is related to the problem of free will. Although God cannot coerce anyone, he can put them in situations which influence their behavior in a positive way. The same goes for convincing the person to do the highest good possible, which is to choose to worship God.
This is analogous to the refinement of tornado alert systems in the past 60 years. When a tornado comes, a loving government would try to save as many people as possible and get them to heed the warning. They are aware that if they test the siren too much, people will disregard the warning when a tornado actually comes. Furthermore, they have found that sounding the alarm more than 20 minutes before the tornado emergency that it is actually useless in making more people take cover.
This is the situation God is in. He knows what circumstances he has to place people into in order to convince them to "take cover" from incoming judgment and accept the gift of eternal life. However, he knows that its logically impossible to coerce all of his free creatures to do something, since part of the definition of being free is not being coerced into a decision. So God likely created the world so that it would turn out with the highest possible ratio of people who freely believed in Christ.
For example, imagine that God has a huge computer menu of all of the worlds he could possibly make. Obviously, God is going to create the one that saves the most people, ceteris paribus. However, imagine God clicks on world A. A message box pops up and says "Are you sure you want to create this world? All of the people in this world will be relatively happy, but only 1% of them will actually choose to worship you, and the rest will be condemned." Suppose then that God, dissatisfied with this solution, clicks on world B. A message box pops up and says "Are you sure you want to create this world? Hitler will kill 12 million people in this world and 70 million Christians will be martyred. However, the highest possible percentage of people will choose to worship you and will be saved for eternity." Regardless of the temporary agony in this life, the most loving God would select world B, since it saves the most for all eternity.
So, when God chooses the world in which most people are convinced to accept eternal life, there could easily be very agonizing collateral damage, such as Hitlers, Mao's, lots of starving children, etc.. However, it pales in comparison to the good that can be obtained, which is eternal life for the most possible people.
It is likely that this is the actual world in which we live. This website shows how Christianity spread, eventually becoming the dominant religion in most of the globe.
Furthermore, the existence of natural evil in death actually increases the likelihood that we will choose to worship God. Imagine how arrogant we would all be if we all lived until judgment day. We would feel no pressing need for God or salvation. However, in a world where death is a regular and pressing reality, we would be humbled and see how truly helpless we are without God. In fact, countries in poverty and difficult circumstances are most likely to accept Christianity. This does not at all mean that God likes poverty (certainly not!). Nor does it mean that God coerced them into believing in him by virtue of their situation (indeed there are certainly non-believers in poverty!). It merely influences their decision and increases the likelihood they will choose to worship God.
I believe this way of forming the resolution to the problem of evil is the most adequate way to solve the problem. If we have a perfectly loving and perfectly powerful God, the situation gets very complicated once we introduce free creatures who get to choose good or evil. If they get to choose good or evil, evil has to be a real option for them, and not something God stops them from doing at the last minute. Furthermore, for loving actions to be significant it would involve a sacrifice of some sort of temporal good. This is impossible without at least some natural evil or inconveniences. Furthermore, the injustice caused by these situations is resolved on judgment day where God punishes the wicked, and over-compensates the innocent with eternal life. Finally, God uses bad circumstances to influence the decisions of people to turn to him and be saved.