"If God Exists, then Why…":Understanding and Countering Certain "Proofs" of God's Non-Existence
The question of whether or not God exists is central to many modes of understanding and systems of knowledge, both theological and philosophical, and the implications of the answer to this question -- and of the question itself -- are quite far reaching indeed. The very fabric of reality depends upon the knowledge that this question seeks to obtain, and constructions of ethic, social interactions, metaphysics and epistemology all depend on how the question is answered and even how the question is asked. That is, the manner in which an investigation of God's existence (or non-existence) is conducted and the specific inquiries that are made in this regard have their own implications on understandings in all areas of human knowledge and action. The following presents an examination and refutation of one specific argument that has been raised as "proof" that God cannot exist, and though this argument is eventually rejected as evidence of God's non-existence the value of the argument and the proofs against it are demonstrated to be substantial.
Reconciling God and Evil
A very common argument used by some atheists -- and indeed a question raised in different tones amongst people of faith -- concerns the reconciliation of God with the fact that evil appears to exist in the world. An omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God could prevent all ill from happening, and no terrible occurrences would plague humanity; some atheists take the fact that terrible things do happen as evidence that God does not exist, and other might use this seeming dilemma to question God's existence or simply God's will and mechanism in this world. The fact that there are potential explanations and answers for these questions is direct evidence that this "dilemma" is not really a dilemma at all, and is certainly not proof that God does not exist. By describing several of the potential reasons as to why an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God would allow terrible things to happen, both a direct refutation of this premise as evidence for God's non-existence and a demonstration of the value of such inquiries to theological understanding can be made.
First, it is essential to note that there is no equivocating over the definition of God: the only definition or conception of God that is relevant from a theological or philosophical viewpoint is an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God, so there is no easy evasion of the argument by questioning the premise on which it is made. In order to defend and potentially shed light on (in small part) God's existence, there must be an explanation of why this all-seeing, all-powerful, and all-good God allows evil or terrible things to happen in the world, or for the sources of these terrible things to even exist. Different specifics can be substituted to ask more refined questions with interesting results, as, "Why does God allow greed to exist?" Or "Why does God allow hate to exist?," but the general construction of the question is a persistent one that demands a considered answer and not a quibble over definition. There are many good reasons why God as conceived and described above might allow terrible things to occur in the world, and it is important for the faithful to shore up their faith with an understanding of these reasons not for purposes of debate, but for their own edification and strength.
The most important and compelling argument that can be made for God's continued allowance of evil and terrible things to exist is the concept of free will, and indeed the necessity of free will of the universe is to make any sense or serve any purpose. Terrible things happen because people have the ability to choose how to act, and even natural or accidental occurrences serve to test people's will and to confront them with situations where they must make a real decision about how they are going to proceed in their lives. These points are inter-related but are somewhat separate, and they should be tackled independently beginning with the concept of initial choice and human-caused evil and terror. If human beings were not free to be greedy or to hate, for instance, many of the terrible things that have occurred would not have occurred, and the world would have been spared a great deal of pain. If humans had no choice other than to be good, however, there would be no way for them to demonstrate their faith or even their love and respect for their fellow man -- such behavior would be all that was available to them. This would be like setting up a race and then declaring everyone a first-place winner before the race has even begun -- there's no longer any point in running the race, and truly there was no point to the race in the first place. Life and faith are not a competition, of course, but the same basic premise remains relevant.
When it comes to terrible events that happen that have nothing to do with human choice, such as diseases and natural disasters, God's seeming silence is slightly harder to defend. As these events do not have anything to do, directly, with human choice, God could prevent them from happening without directly affecting or limiting free will. If humans were not faced with such uncertainties and terrible realities, though, free will would actually be significantly limited, however indirectly. People would have less to fear and less tragedy to overcome, and the path towards goodness and righteousness would be more convenient and more easily chosen. If nothing bad or terrible could occur in the world at large save what humans did to each other, there would also be no reason to band together, and to form communities -- if the only thing to fear was other people, then other people would be shunned. In order for free will to flourish and thus for people to be able to chose whether they will live morally or not, God must allow terrible and even evil things to occur.
This touches on another refutation of the argument that an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God would not allow terrible things to occur. As described above, the world is humanity's (and each individual human's) chance to exercise their free will and to choose a path of moral rectitude. Seeing the world as God's testing ground for human souls is far too simplistic and demeaning to both God and humanity; it is God's opportunity given to humanity for them to transcend themselves through choice, faith, and determination. Part of this transcendence comes through the coming together of individuals to form communities that work on each other's behalf, and of sacrificing for the benefit of others -- things that could not occur without free will, surely, but also things that would not occur if there were not terrible things to overcome. Tragic events, whether caused by humans or not, provide opportunities to bring out the best in human capabilities and perspectives, and thus give chances to show the same type of benevolence that is expected of God.
God's omnibenevolence would necessarily lead to the maximization of good -- this is the very premise of the argument against God's existence that this paper investigates. People choosing to be good in the face of tragedy and terrible events is much greater than any good that can be expressed in a world without pain, without suffering, and without terror. Because of this, God's omnibenevolence and omnipotence would not lead to the eradication of evil and terrible things and events as some atheists would argue, but would instead allow events to unfold as the established laws of nature and as human choice determine and thus to allow transcendence in the face of tragedy. The fact that evil exists gives people a chance to be truly good, and the fact that terrible things occur gives them an opportunity to sacrifice and to otherwise show benevolence, and these would be the necessary logical goals of an omnibenevolent, omnipotent, and omniscient God. It is not simply so human beings can express free will that terrible things exist, then, but so they can express this will and let it have true meaning that amplifies the worth of their (and our) actions, with the choice to be good and to do good in the face of terror and tragedy far more powerful than the same choice made in a world of comfort and ease. These are just some of the reasons why an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent God would allow terrible things to occur.
Other potential reasons for the existence of God to allow the occurrence of terrible things also exist, and any of these reasons serve to refute the argument that evil and tragedy are evidence of God's non-existence. It is important to understand the limitations of these arguments and the manner in which they refute the atheistic argument raised. None of the…