Problem with the Problem Of Evil I've read here a few references to the Problem Of Evil and it brings to mind a small philosophical statement which I hold dear - Beauty in all things. To use the Katrina example for sake of continuity, is it not a short term and narrow view to say people have suffered? Let's assume anybody who has died in the event is not suffering. Those left behind probably are suffering but ultimately their life and those of onlookers may be bettered because of the experience; they may continue to lead more fulfilled lives than what they otherwise may have appreciated. Happiness comes from within and is not determined by what we have, what we've lost, or what we've been through. I concede that beauty in all things is partly just a psychological state, but I also believe rationally that positives can be found in the seemingly most negative situations. We have all experienced this in life first hand. Btw: wonderful website, thanks to all who contribute.

The response to the Problem of Evil that you mention has a long and distinguished history. You suggest that, out of suffering, some good will come. That echoes a Christian tradition in which suffering is regarded as redemptive and transformative. It also echoes Leibniz's famous doctrine that, despite evidence to the contrary, this world is the best possible.

My difficulty with these views is that they seem to fail to come to terms with the scope and magnitude of human suffering. I'm prepared to believe that some human suffering is redemptive and transformative, but is it all? As I write, children are buried under the rubble of their schoolhouses in Pakistan. Their legs are crushed. Some of them are bleeding to death. Some of them will suffocate, as the weight of the stone makes it impossible for them to breathe. Some of them will survive a long time and die of thirst. Much of their suffering will never be known, and there will be no acts of heroism where they are concerned. In some cases, there will not even be friends or family to bury the dead, since they too are dead.

Remember that I have barely scratched the surface. And now tell me: Do you really believe there is beauty in such horror? I know there are people who believe there must be. It is an article of faith for them. They think there must be beauty there: The Problem of Evil demands it. But remember that the Problem of Evil is set by a very particular conception of God, one that does not have to be accepted.

The problem of human suffering is indeed an instance of the problem of evil: it's the problem of physical evil (as opposed to the problem of moral evil, or sin, which arises from the fact that God allows agents to make bad choices and commit immoral acts). It is not clear to me that theists do respond to the problem by denying the reality of human suffering. Indeed, early modern philosophers, such as Leibniz and Malebranche, who grapple with the problem, admit the reality of human suffering, but deny that God is responsible for it.

Leibniz, for example, argues that although God creates the world, he does not will that suffering takes place, but he rather wills the existence of the best possible world, a world that includes suffering, which he does not directly will, but merely permits. According to Leibniz, the suffering that takes place in this world is a necessary component of this world, the best possible world, which God creates because it is the best world.

Sometimes this point is put in terms of beauty. It is said that just as shadows contribute to an artwork, and dissonance helps set off a musical harmony, so too is suffering a necessary part of the perfection of the world. I find the analogy with art somewhat dubious. The point, however, is simply that the suffering in this world is a necessary component of this world, and therefore is not something that God chooses as such when He chooses to create the best possible world.

So Leibniz need not admit that such suffering, as such, is beautiful, and he can fully admit the reality of human suffering. Yet he can explain why suffering is compatible with God's existence, thereby justifying the ways of God to man.

The question is, however, whether such an explanation is satisfying. Is this world the best possible world? Leibniz offers arguments for this claim, but they have satisfied few philosophers.

If one is interested in looking at a contemporary response to the problem of human suffering, Marilyn McCord Adams has written a very interesting work on this topic, Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God.

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