Richard Swinburne

’s “The Problem Of Evil”: God’s Existence Essay, Research Paper

Richard Swinburne’s “The Problem of Evil”: God’s Existence

Philosophers have looked for ways to explain God’s existence for centuries.

One such argment that the believer must justify in order to maintain the

possibility of God’s existence is the problem of evil. In his essay, “The

Problem of Evil,” by Richard Swinburne, the author attempts to explain how evil

can exist in a world created by an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent Being,

namely God. Swinburne uses to free-will defense and says that God gave us a

choice between doing good and doing evil. If someone chooses to do good over

evil, then that Good is greater than if one had no choice at all but to do good.

This is a weak argument and in order to clarify those weaknesses one can look

at Steven M. Cahn’s essay entitled “Cacodaemony.” This essay parallels

Swineburne’s, but states that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnimalevolent Demon

created the world. By looking at how weak the argument for cacodaemony is, one

can see how unlikely it is that the Demon exists and then can see that the

existence of God is just as unlikely.

In “The Problem of Evil”, Swinburne says that an omniscient, omnipotent,

omnibenevolent Being created the world. If this were true, how can evil exist

in this world? If God consciously knew He was creating a world in which there

is evil, then He would not be omnibenevolent. If God did not know He was

creating a world in which evil exists, then He would not be omniscient. If God

is omnipotent then He would be able to stop any evil from occurring. Either way,

God would not be what Christianity makes him out to be. Swinburne argues that

the theodicist, one who believes that it is not wrong for God to create a world

in which there is evil, can logically explain the existence of evil in the world.

The main argument that the theodicist uses is the free-will defense, which

claims that God gave humans the freedom to choose between doing acts of good and

acts of evil. The theodicist argues that the good person could do is greater if

it is chosen instead of doing evil. It is better to choose to walk an elderly

person across the road instead of deciding to push the elderly person in front

of an oncoming car. The theodicist believes that it is better for a person to

have that choice, though nearly everyone would naturally choose to help the

person across the street, than to have no choice at all and be forced to help

that person. Swinburne writes that giving people a moral responsibility to do

the right thing is good. “But if He did so by imposing a full character on a

humanly free creature, this would be giving him a character which he had not in

any way chosen or adopted for himself” (9). Swinburne believes that the freedom

to choose and develop ones own character is a very important thing and each

person deserves to have the ability to choose between Good and evil.

This, however, does not justify the amount of pain and suffering in the

world. If someone were to consciously choose to do an evil act over a good one,

the suffering caused to the innocent people involved would not be right. There

are some people with mental disorders or those born with retardation that do not

have the ability to distinguish between right and wrong, or who sometimes suffer

from lack of proper judgement. These people cannot make a choice between good

and evil, so sometimes they do evil acts, and sometimes they do good ones.

Would it not be better for these people not to have the choice, a choice that

they may not be fit to make? For example, a man who is schizophrenic may hear

voices that tell him to do something that he knows is morally wrong, such as

kill somebody. Would it not be better for God to intervene and make this

person’s judgement better? It most certainly would be better for God to

intervene and give this person a proper sense of right and wrong and the ability

to do the right thing. It would have been a better world if God had created

Hitler so that he would not feel the need to order the massacre of millions of

Jews. Swinburne, however, thinks that it is better for these people to have a

choice to do wrong or to do right.

Swinburne argues that, although evils are bad, their existence is necessary

for the existence of some types of goods. Certain evils that occur, such as the

suffering of others, cause us to be compassionate, courageous, self-sacrificing,

etc. Swinburne says that these are goods that exist because of the existence

of evil. “Evils give men an opportunity to perform the acts which show men at

their best” (10). Someone who sees a woman getting raped may show courage and

compassion by trying to stop the rapist. It is illogical, however, to say, that

it is a good thing that woman was getting raped so that the kindhearted citizen

could intervene. This woman, would still suffer from the mentl tortures of

being violated. Even though it was a courageous thing that the person stopped

the rape, the woman would be better off if the rape had not even happened at all.

Women as a whole would feel a lot safer if rape did not exist. Yet it is an

evil, and it does exist, and the compassion ane may feel towards a victim of

this evil does not make the victim better off than if there never existed such

a thing as rape.

If no one were in pain, then it is true that goods such as compassion would

not exist. How can it be justified, however, that it is good that some suffer

so that others can exhibit good traits? Those people can try and bring others

who are in pain happiness and relief, but many others will still experience pain

both physical and mental. The woman who is getting raped will still feel mental

pain after the good person stopped the rapist. It is illogical to say that it

is good for evil to exist so that others will exhibit good traits. It is good

that people come together and try to improve and perfect this world, but it is

not good that people have to suffer in order for others to try and improve the


Swinburne also mentions the other types of evils that are not caused by

humans, such as natural disasters. The theodicist argues that “God ties the

goodness of man to the well-being of the world and that afailure of one leads

to a failure of the other” (12). Earthquakes and volcanoes are a way to punish

humanity for misbehaving. This does not explain why earthquakes happen, and why

so many die as a result of them. The west coast cannot be at fault for the

earthquaks that plague them constantly. Many law-abiding, good citizens died in

the Earthquakes that rocked San Francisco and Los Angeles a few years ago. God

would not have allowed all those innocent people to die. Nor can the thousands

of people who lost their homes because of Hurricane Andrew be blamed. All one

needs to do is to take a class about Geology or Meteorology to know why these

and other natural disasters happen. It would be illogical for God, if He is

omnibenevolent, to make many good people suffer because of natural disasters.

Earthquakes and volcanoes have existed on this planet long before humans were

around. The world was plagued with earthquakes and volcanoes during and before

the time of the dinosaurs, hundreds of millions of years before humans evolved

and Christianity came about. The theodicist cannot explain why God would allow

so much pain to be caused to humans by natural disasters. This presents a

serious hole in the compatibility of God with evil in this world.

Swinburne also discusses the different types of goods that exist in the

world. These goods are instrumental and intrinsic. An intrinsic good is

something that is good by itself, such as love or happiness. An instrumental

good is something that may not be good by itself, but it can be used to achieve

a greater good. An example of an instrumental good would be modern medicine.

The existence of the Black Plague in medieval Europe caused suffering and death

to millions. It also resulted in the bettering of living conditions. The death

of one third of the population of Europe cannot be justified by the compassion

felt by those that lived towards those that die. Another example of an

instrumental good is penicillin. It was discovered and helped to cure polio and

saved many lives. The suffering of the many that contracted, suffered and died

from this disease cannot be justified by the few that fought to conquer this

disease. It is not a good thing that Polio existed.

Even if the theodicist still believes that the existence of God and the

existence of evil are compatible, by looking at Steven M. Cahn’s essay

“Cacodaemony,” one will see that they are not. In his essay, Cahn parallels

Swinburne’s situation of the problem of evil with the problem of goodness. Cahn

states that it is equally likely that if an omniscient, omnipotent,

omnibenevolent Being created the world, then an omniscient omnipotent,

omnimalevolent Demon could have done the same. The problem that arises in

Cahn’s essay is: how could a world containing goodness have been created by

this all-powerful Demon? It exactly parallels the problem in Swinburne’s essay,

how could evil exist in a world created by God?

Cahn attacks this problem by using the same argument that Swinburne uses,

the free-will defense. Cahn also creates two types of good, just as Swinburne

categorized two types of evil. Cahn calls these goods moral goods, those humans

do for each other, and physical goods, those found in the human environment.

Cahn writes that the Demon could have created a world in which humans do not

have the ability to do good, but this Demon has. Cahn writes that the Demon has

given humans free-will to choose to do evil or good. If one chooses evil over

good, then that evil is greater than if one had no choice at all but to do evil.

“The Demon thus had to provide human beings with freedom, so that they might

perform their bad actions volunarily, thus maximizing evil”(23). Cahn writes

that the world wouldnot be as evil as it could be if the Demon made it so that

everyone was just evil.

These arguments are not very convincing. Too many people choose good over

evil for this to be the worst of all possible worlds, which is what it should

be if an omniscient, omnipotent, omnimalevolent Demon created it. This world

would be more evil if the Demon made us inherently evil and goodness did not

even exist. If we were all made with the same characteristics as the Demon then

we would be more evil than if we had to choose to come up with those evil traits

on our own. This world would be a worse place if everyone just fought and hated

each other, just like this world would be a better place if everyone was

peaceful and happy. This Demon could not exist because there is too much good

in the world, and that good does not get an adequate explanation. Since the

arguments for Cacodaemony is disproved, so is the one for the theodicist, since

these two arguments are equally likely and equally weak.

By looking at Cahn’s “Cacodaemony,” one can see how improbably it is that

an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnimalevolent Demon created the world. Cahn’s

argument, however, exactly parallels Swinburne’s in “The Problem of Evil.” Both

use the free-will defense to attempt to explain how evil or goodness could exist

in a world created by God or a Demon. Both arguments have the same strength, as

Cahn notes, and both are very weak arguments. If it seems unlikely that an

omniscient, omnipotent, omnimalevolent Demon created the world, then it is just

as unlikely that an omniscient, omnipotent, omnibenevolent being created the

world. It is likely that neither God nor the Demon exists, and the problem of

evil and the problem of goodness wind up supporting the position of the atheist.


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