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Richard Swinburne's Arguments on Why God Allows Evil

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Religion
Wordcount: 2023 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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The Evil of God

 The presence of evil and suffering in our world seems to challenge to in the existence of a perfect God. If God were omniscient, it seems that God would know about all the terrible things that happen in our world. If God were omnipotent, God would be able to do something about all the evil and misery. Furthermore, if God were Good, then surely God would want to do something about it. And yet we find that our world is filled with immeasurable occurrences of evil and suffering. However, Richard Swinburne believes that he can justify evil on behalf of an all-good God.

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 In “Why God Allows Evil”, Swinburne argues that God cannot give us the gift to choose without giving us the power of free will, and for free will to really exist, the meaningful choices between good and evil must be present. Swinburne thus believes, God allows evil to give humans a greater meaning to free will and the world. However, Swinburne’s views contradict the depiction of evil by pop culture, as pop culture displays that allowing one man, such as an evil villain, to kill millions of people cannot be justified by the potential good of the “gift” of free choice, unless we know that good wins in the end.

 In “Why God Allows Evil,” Richard Swinburne explains why God allows evil to take place. He puts a case forward to defend theism and how evil cannot be used to dismiss the existence of God. The theism supported by Swinburne is the hypothesis that there is one God, who is the creator of the cosmos. According to Swinburne, good God, though having the power to benefit or to harm us, would provide significant freedom and responsibility to his creation, rather than expel evil (Swinburne 262). God logically cannot give us the goods of significant freedom, responsibility and usefulness without thereby allowing for the possibility of lots of evil. Specifically, Swinburne argues God has grounds to creates a world with two types of evil, each of which has a purpose. The first is moral evil, which is perpetrated by humans who do things they are not supposed to (Swinburne 263). The second is natural evil, which does not result from the actions of humans, such as suffering caused by hurricanes, forest fires, diseases, animal suffering, etc.

  According to Swinburne, Humans have the responsibility to make free choices, whereby they can choose to do either good or bad things. The mere fact that God decided to grant humans this responsibility instead of keeping it to Himself is an indication that He is a good and just God (Swinburne 264). Suffering can serve as a beacon to redirect humans into making good decisions and involves major responsibilities. Significant responsibility includes the ability to freely choose what kind of person you will become, including the character traits you will have, responsibility for the welfare of our own lives, the lives of others, and our world (Swinburne 264). For Example, Swinburne suggests that it is good to suffer for a belief that is true, such as dying for one’s country. Swinburne opines that suffering takes place so that good is possible. He states that God has a right to make humans suffer to lead them into making the right choices. This quality of God is akin to a parent punishing a child to ensure they have a better future. Parents give their children life, shelter, food, love and with the motive to give them a good life. This permits them the limited right to have their children to suffer to achieve a greater good either for the child’s sake, or for someone else’s. Although God is the supreme parent, still there are limits to even God’s rights to let us suffer. He can’t let us suffer immeasurably, and/or forever as he has created us with morals, physiological and psychological limit. “Still there must be limit to the amount of suffering…. there are number of in-built into our physiology and psychology” (Swinburne 266). Moreover, Swinburne argues that Moral evil allows people the opportunity to perform brave acts, and to suffer to benefit others. In his argument, Swinburne quotes Aristotle saying: “we become just by doing just acts, prudent by doing prudent acts, brave by doing brave acts”. That being said, bravery, justice, and valor can only arise from free will; none of them have meaning when nothing is on the line. Without free will, no virtue could exist. If there is no injustice in the world, the motif to bring justice would not exist. When people experience pain, there are various responses they can have towards that pain. The person in pain can be aggrieved or exercise patience. At the same time, those around the person have the choice of either acting compassionately or being oblivious to the person’s pain (Swinburne 264). The pain brings about the chance to make good choices. By disallowing humans, the freedom of choice between good and evil, God would remove the possibility for people to be virtuous.

 In addition, Swinburne argues that Natural evil is necessary for us to be of use in realizing a world with genuine moral good and responsibility. Precisely, Swinburne focuses on pain and suffering caused by natural evil. He claims that in a natural world natural evil is necessary for us to act ethically mature and to be able to choose our own path. It is necessary for the greater good. The opportunity of courage sacrifice etc. can only arise in a world that has natural evil. Therefore, the harm of natural evil is outweighed by the greater good.

Lastly, Swinburne clams that free will result in evil as it provides temptation to do evil and without the temptation to do evil, no significant evil would be done.

 However, Swinburne’s view on why God allows evil is only partially reflected in the pop culture. The pop culture tends to portrays evil only when good ultimately wins In pop culture, disasters reflected in films such as 12 Monkeys (2012), 28 Weeks Later (2007) and The Walking Dead are a result of the irresponsibility of humans. In these films, a virus developed by human escapes and causes either mass deaths or transforms the dead into rabid zombies. The whole world is affected and becomes evil against a tiny number

of people that have not yet been affected by the calamity. Other films depict

 disasters caused by nuclear holocausts, overexploitation of earth’s resources, and climate change. Climate change is poised to be the greatest threat to civilization, and it is entirely caused by the industrial activities of humans. Evil is also often personified in a dictator, a terrorist, or an alien. Notice, however, that the suffering caused by the evil in pop culture is not enduring but lasts only for a short time before it is resolved. Further, there is a growth in the number of heroes in the pop culture spheres. Humans with super abilities take on the personified evil and eradicate it for the good of humanity. This is seen in films such as The Avengers (2012), Dare Devil, Jessica Jones among others. In these films, the good that is represented by the superhero usually triumphs in the end. These movies portray that evil might score a few victories first, and maybe even almost win in the darkest hour before Good can save the day at the last minute. In other words, pop culture often shows that evil is “justified” if only good wins the day ultimately.

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 However, the feel-good factor in the pop culture of having good triumph over evil has been shaken by the films like Avengers: Infinity War (2018) and Alien: Covenant. In this film, evil in the form of Thanos triumphs by eliminating half of the life in the universe from existence. The argument of the superheroes in the film is that no one has a right to decide who is to die or live to preserve the resources of the universe. Thanos has the free choice to destroy millions of lives. In the movie, the villain considers killing half of the life in the universe to be the only way to save the universe from overstretching its resources due to overpopulation. Here, Pop Culture portrays that allowing one man to kill millions of people cannot be justified by the potential good of the “gift” of free choice no matter what the reason is. Additionally, Avengers: Infinity War poses a threat to the good as it wins at the end of the movie as a result the Avengers intends to go back in time to undo all the evil Thanos caused. This way the evil will win at last. This again shows how pop culture portrays evil through its movies.

 In addition, in Pop Culture Movies like Alien: Covenant, Se7en, Drag Me to Hell and The Vanishing portrays evil as far more powerful than good. In Alien: Covenant, David, the android is an enlightened monster. He is a far more powerful and complex than the heroes of the movie. David destroys the native life forms of a strange planet he lands on. This great perpetrator of evil kills thousands of innocent creatures and defeats the good with his power. The evil here signifies a demon that even his total defeat could not banish. These movies raise a question of the power of evil in this world. The argument can therefore be made that God has created unnecessary evil.

 Movies likeAlien: Covenant, Avengers: Infinity War give raise to some great philosophical argument against Swinburne’s theory. In such movies the audience feel that Allowing one man, such as Thanos or David, to kill millions of people cannot be justified by the potential good of the “gift” of free choice. To this, Swinburne might argue that without the ability to do evil cannot be separated with freedom of choice, and to take away freedom of choice would be to destroy that which is human. Furthermore, evil allows people the opportunity to perform brave acts, and to suffer to benefit others. Without free will, no virtue could exist. However, that could be refuted as the occurrence of evil in the world far surpasses the amount necessary to allow virtues to grow. Throughout history we have seen evil committed have been far more than the good that have created unnecessary suffering and misery. Take Hitler or Genghis Khan for example.

 This raises another argument to Swinburne and that is evil is far more prevalent and seems to win more often. How good can God be if the evil created by him wins in the end and causes suffering to the innocents? Evil takes over when there is power given to an individual. For example, in 1937, a soviet dictator Joseph Stalin murdered vast number of innocent and government officials to satisfy his paranoia that everyone is in his way. His regime is responsible for the death and suffering of millions of lives. Despite all the evil he committed Stalin got away with his crime for so many years. To this Swinburne would argue that without moral evil there would still be natural evil present. Natural evil is certainly prevalent outside of the realm of mankind, as living organisms must die to feed others who must die to feed others ad infinitum. Natural evils like tsunami, hurricane kills thousands of people each year. That is true indeed. However, without humans, there would be much less suffering on the earth, that much cannot be argued. Mankind has hunted with a proficiency never seen before. We are solely responsible for the extinction of thousands of species, maybe hundreds of thousands. Some of these extinctions came from a need to feed an ever-growing population, and creatures were hunted to extinction. Natural evil will exist without human but the much darker and much more intentionally bad form of evil, moral evil, would not.

Works Cited

  • Swinburne, Richard. “Why God Allows Evil?”, Exploring Philosophy. Oxford University Press, 2017. pp. 260-270


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