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Problem of evil

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Preach to the choir
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Crux of the matter
Speak of the devil
An act of faith
Why did He not answer the prayers of the imprisoned, of the helpless? And when He heard the lash upon the naked back of the slave, why did He not also hear the prayer of the slave? And when children were sold from the breasts of mothers, why was He deaf to the mother's cry?
—Robert G. Ingersoll[1]
There is evil in the world, yet God claims he loves us. If he could remove that evil but chooses not to, then he is not all-loving as we're told he is. If he wants to remove that evil from the world but cannot, then why do we call him all-powerful? In any case, he's not truly God and there's nothing to be frightened of. Chin up.

The problem of evil (also argument from evil or POE) attempts to prove that the existence of evil or suffering contradicts the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent (OO) entity, such as the Abrahamic God. Omniscience is often factored into the issue as well.

The earliest writing about the problem of evil dates back to the Akkadian-language tablets Ludlul bēl nēmeqiWikipedia ("The Poem of the Righteous Sufferer") from c. 1307-1282 BCE. The poem is regarded as a precursor to the Book of Job.[3]

The problem of evil has two branches. The logical problem of evil (LPOE) attempts to prove that the existence of any evil contradicts the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent entity.[note 1] The evidential problem of evil (EPOE) attempts to prove that the existence of certain amounts and/or types of evil contradicts the existence of an entity that is, to some degree, potent and benevolent.

Of course, not all gods are believed to be omnipotent and omnibenevolent, or either of the two. The gods of many religions are morally flawed, actively evil, or merely indifferent, and many are not all-powerful. The logical problem of evil doesn't apply to these gods, though the evidential problem of evil may still apply. This agrees with the point of the problem of evil, that the existence of a flawed, evil, indifferent, or non-omnipotent entity would be compatible with reality, while the existence of an omnipotent and omnibenevolent entity would not.

There are some people who outright reject the existence of evil.[4][5] If such a person believed in God, the problem of evil would not apply.


At some point, mankind is gonna have to shed this skin if he's gonna move forward. I do have a serious intellectual problem with it, and on another level, it just ticks me off — it's just the ultimate hustle. It's just; "Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain". I asked [the actor playing] Jesus, in Religulous, at Holy Land; why can't God just defeat the devil and get rid of evil? You know? And it's the same reason a comic book character can't get rid of his nemesis — then there's no story. If God gets rid of the devil — and he could, he's all powerful — well, then there's no fear, there's no reason to come to church, there's no reason to pass the plate, we're all out of a job
Bill Maher, Larry King Live[6]

The problem of evil is unusual among objections to religion in that many apologists accept that it is a persuasive and rational criticism of theism.[7] As a result, the problem of evil is often regarded as one of the greatest threats to religious belief,[8] causing many religious writers to scramble to find a solution.[9][10][11]

Even so, other theists have rejected the validity of the argument outright, asserting that it involves a number of logical fallacies.[12]


The problem of evil has many logical proofs, all of which attempt to show a contradiction between the existence of an omnipotent, benevolent entity and the existence of evil.

Logical problem of evil[edit]

The logical problem of evil, or LPOE, attempts to show a contradiction between the existence of an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient entity and the existence of any evil.

P1: An omnipotent entity can prevent all evil (by definition).
P2: A benevolent entity would prevent all evil if it could (A reasonable assumption given our interaction with suffering and caring for others).
C1: An omnipotent and benevolent entity would therefore remove all evil (P1, P2).
P3: An omnipotent and benevolent entity exists (stipulation).
C2: There should be no evil (C1, P3).
P4: There is evil (empirical fact).
C3: There is no entity that is omnipotent and benevolent (C2, P4, by contradiction).

The above example does not deal with omniscience. The significance of omniscience is in the objection to the above, that a benevolent, omnipotent entity might not know about the evil in the world, and so do nothing to stop it. Minor modifications can be made to the above argument to account for omniscience. Avoiding the problem of evil then requires rejecting one of the premises. The existence of evil is typically granted. Most believers in God are also inclined to reject that God is incapable of removing evil from the world or that God is ignorant of His own creation, so that perhaps the most frequent reply is to reject the premise that a benevolent entity would eliminate all evil if it could. This, of course, raises questions as to what exactly those making this reply mean by benevolent, and justifications for this reply (and others) are a substantial part of theodicy.

It should be noted, however, that P2 and C1 have some assumptions built in. eg. There is the assumption that the only way to benevolently deal with evil is to prevent it; if there are other ways to benevolently deal with evil, then, by definition, an omnipotent being (P1) would be able to execute any of those other ways (and an omniscient being would know of those other ways).[note 2]

Evidential problem of evil[edit]

If a tenth part of the pains taken in finding signs of an all-powerful benevolent God had been employed in collecting evidence to blacken the creator's character, what scope would not have been found in the animal kingdom? It is divided into devourers and devoured, most creatures being lavishly fitted with instruments to torment their prey.
John Stuart Mill[13]

The evidential problem of evil, or EPOE, attempts to show a contradiction between the existence of an omnibenevolent entity (sometimes omnipotent, sometimes merely potent) and certain types and/or certain amounts of evil. Because an EPOE accepts an apologist's argument that some types or amounts of evil aren't disproof of an omnibenevolent entity, there are specific responses to apologist claims. In general, any EPOE will follow the format:

P1: If Godn does exist, is potent to degree x, and is benevolent to degree y, then evil of type z does not exist.
C1: (Contrapositive of P1) If evil of type z does exist, then Godn does not exist, is not potent to degree x, and/or is not benevolent to degree y.
P2: Evil of type z does exist.
C2: (From C1 and P2) Godn does not exist, is not potent to degree x, and/or is not benevolent to degree y.

Where x would specify how powerful the god is, y how nice the god is, and z what kind of evil said god would not allow to exist.

Natural evil: Some apologists argue that human-caused evil (or "moral evil") is justified, because removing moral evil would remove free will. Even if we accept this, not all evil is caused by humans; earthquakes and hurricanes do not seem to be direct products of human free will, although human negligence can often result in these disasters causing unnecessary damage.

P1: If an OO entity exists, then no evil that isn't caused by human free will exists.
P2: Evil that isn't caused by human free will exists.
C: An OO entity does not exist.

Unnecessary suffering: Some apologists argue that evil is justified, because some evil helps work towards a greater goal, like creating better souls or warning people of Hell. Even if we accept this, not all evil appears to help achieve any greater goals, such as the death of babies before they reach sentience or the death of innocents.

P1: If an OO entity exists, then evil that does not achieve a greater purpose does not exist.
P2: Evil that does not achieve a greater purpose exists.
C: An OO entity does not exist.

Different gods[edit]

Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?
Epicurus, ca 300 BCE (attributed)[14]

One way to avoid the POE is to believe in a god that is unable and/or unwilling to stop evil.

Able, Willing[edit]

I wanna be evil, I wanna spit tacks

I wanna be evil and cheat at jacks
I wanna be wicked, I wanna tell lies

I wanna be mean and throw mud pies
—Eartha Kitt, "Want To Be Evil"[15]

If a god is able and willing to prevent evil, then evil should not exist. Since it does exist, this belief does not avoid the problem of evil.

Unable, Willing[edit]

If a god is unable, but willing to prevent evil, then they cannot be omnipotent, but can be omnibenevolent.

This solves the logical problem of evil, but does not solve the evidential problem of evil. While a god of this nature might exist, assuming it is always preventing some evil, we can never know how powerful this god is; we would first need to know how much evil would exist in the absence of this god. This leaves a believer with a god too weak to stop all suffering, a possibility that most believers would reject.

Able, Unwilling[edit]

If a god is able but unwilling to prevent evil, then they cannot be omnibenevolent but can be omnipotent.

This answer is far more disturbing, as it indicates that an all-powerful being wanted inhabitants of the universe to suffer, or at least didn't care enough to stop said suffering (one notable example of a being that won't stop evil would be an omnimalevolent god, who would have its own Problem of Good). A god who has intentionally stepped back from the material universe would also be compatible with deism, but also with the ideas of Maltheism and dystheism, which question the whole "goodness" of God and ascribes certain evil properties to God.

Unable, Unwilling[edit]

If a god is unable and unwilling to prevent evil, then they do avoid the problem of evil. However, they're not much of a god; not only do they not have any real power, they're also kind of an asshat.


I think that if there were a God, there would be less evil on this earth. I believe that if evil exists here below, then either it was willed by God or it was beyond His powers to prevent it. Now I cannot bring myself to fear a God who is either spiteful or weak. I defy Him without fear and care not a fig for his thunderbolts.
Marquis de SadeWikipedia[16]

Philosophers have given the problem of evil an entire branch of theology called theodicy (spelling similarity to idiocy, though perhaps apt, is coincidental) which attempts to respond to the problem of evil in religious terms. (The word stems from Greek theos (god) and dikē (judgement or trial) — thus "justifying God".) Related to theodicy are anthropodicy — the attempt to justify humanity as good despite the evils it has caused — and cosmodicy — the attempt to justify the universe despite the evils it contains.[17]

A theist's typical response to the problem of evil involves challenging the existence of unnecessary evil by explaining that God has purposes for every instance of evil and suffering, be it to punish sinners, to test the faithful, or to make a point about something. This, however, does not explain God's tendency to punish innocents as well as sometimes killing Christians instead of trying to prove a point to them, nor God's tendency not to punish evildoers.[note 3] For some unfathomable reason, geologists don't use maps of incidences of depravity to predict earthquakes or volcanic eruptions... A more extreme view suggests everything is the result of sin, whether the original one or the ones later added. Either argument simply sidesteps the question at issue, of course.

Another interesting theist response asserts that God, although all-loving and all-knowing, is not omnipotent in himself (or herself), but relies on humanity to get things done (e.g., see the Drowning Christian story). This leads to the question whether God is worthy of worship at all, if mankind can get their things done on their own anyway. The all-lovingness of God can also be doubted (per the paragraph above).

A third response suggests that while "dark" is the comparative lack of light, so "evil" is the comparative lack of God.[18] This simply rewords the issue, as it does not explain why God would allow Himself to be absent from a situation to such a degree that suffering or evil occurs.

When challenged about specific cases, theists will often say that God has a plan for everyone and everything, but his ways are mysterious and his reasons may be unclear to us (or words to that effect). This does not resolve the problem of evil; it only tells us that we do not understand, therefore shifting the focus from logic to faith. Without the faith-based presupposition that God is good, it becomes clear that the same reasoning could be used to argue that God is evil: any apparent instances of goodness could be chalked up to his mysterious ways of bringing about more evil.

Mysterious ways theodicy[edit]

Religious people will forgive God for fucking anything. In their mind, he does good things — rainbows, children's laughter, shit like that. Right? But when he does bad things — like hurricanes, AIDS, cancer, children's slaughter, child molestation, then we just go "Oh, well… God works in mysterious ways." What type of an excuse is that?! What is mysterious about acting like a fucking arsehole?! That is like the least mysterious activity since the dawn of time! If I ever date a religious girl, she's gonna come home and I'm gonna be raping her mum, right? And she's gonna look at me and go "What are you doing?!" and I'm gonna go "I'm mysterious! I've always been mysterious!"
—Jim Jeffries[19]
If God were small enough to be understood, He would not be big enough to be worshipped.
—Evelyn Underhill (not a hobbit, unfortunately)


Some theists argue that mankind is unable to comprehend God's infinite power and perspective, which works in a mysterious way after our deaths to somehow transform previous suffering. Specifically, they suggest that Heaven (or whatever flavor of salvation they subscribe to) is so radically transformative that our entire preceding existence (including experiences of suffering) is changed into a thing of wonder and beauty. This transformation of all our suffering that will ultimately occur is supposedly mirrored (though on a vastly different scale and magnitude) by the way some of our suffering is presently transformed (i.e., by the way in which, even within our lifetimes, some of our present experiences of suffering, after the fact, are transformed into something fondly remembered and appreciated; we sometimes don't wish we had achieved some good end result without having had experienced the suffering to get there). We would advise adherents of this belief, when consoling a grieving parent, not to compare the suffering said parent is no doubt going through against the suffering experienced trying to complete a marathon or to learn algebra or to woo a spouse.

You just don't get it[edit]

Then there are those theists who just toss it all in a black box and say "Somehow God will work it out." We have less ability to understand how this is good for us than an infant has to understand why it is getting vaccine shots. The reason that God allows suffering is so far beyond our limited thinking that it will always be a mystery to us! So quit asking!

The shots analogy certainly doesn't completely explain things, since one would think an omnipotent being would be able to "inoculate" us children (so to speak) without the pain of shots. Still, the analogy is not meant to say how God (or parents) should address vaccines and illnesses; instead, the analogy merely highlights how a toddler cannot understand what the parent is doing or why they are doing it (regardless of whether they should be doing it [20]). Besides, the ultimate answer, here, is (by definition of this theodicy) mYsTeRiOuS.

I know what it ain't[edit]

Many Christians ultimately acknowledge the futility of trying to fully comprehend an entity infinitely more knowledgeable and able than they are. They instead approach from a different perspective. When addressing the reason why God would allow evil and suffering at all, they basically believe evil and suffering will be redeemed in the end and, instead of dwelling on what the reason is, they ground themselves in what (they believe) the reason isn't.

According to their belief, Jesus was God incarnate as a man, having divested himself of his power, glory and holiness. The Gospels are replete with examples of Christ enduring various forms of suffering — deprivation, torture, ostracism, betrayal, abandonment by the one thing he grounded his life on, etc. — in order to open a path for mankind to be with God.

Christians infer from this story that, whatever the reason God allows evil and suffering, it is not that God does not care (since he was willing to put himself through all that just to grant salvation), nor that he just sits in his ivory tower telling us to buck up (since he was willing to put his money where his mouth is, so to speak, and endure the same stuff he allows us to go through), nor that he abandons us (since he is willing to travel side-by-side with humanity, down here in the trenches).

However, this does not really offer an explanation of evil, but mollify it by telling people God suffers with them. While that's what you would expect from an all-good and all-knowing God, it doesn't explain why evil exists at all. Being redeemed eventually isn't an explanation either, but a reassurance, which doesn't itself explain anything. God voluntarily experiencing suffering is also radically different from humans having to endure this no matter what (Although this could cut both ways -- "Greater love hath no man . . ." and such)

Evil being the absence of God[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Evil is the absence of God

This argument claims that evil exists only in the negative space surrounding God, analogous to how darkness is just the comparative lack of light, or how cold is really just the comparative lack of heat. However, the argument fails to explain why God does not simply include himself sufficiently in all situations, if all it would take to banish evil is enough of his presence; this seems to contradict the tenets of omnibenevolence.

I'll make it up to you, I promise[edit]

Now, let's take a case of someone who's been "dealt a bad hand". What about Fräulein Fritzl,Wikipedia in Austria? Whose father, unwilling to get out of the way, kept her in a dungeon, where she didn't see daylight for 24 years. And came down most nights to rape and to sodomize her, often in front of the children who were the victims of the previous attacks and offenses. And it's only purely by accident that Herr Fritzl is now in custody. And it's a shame he's 76, because his life imprisonment isn't going to feel enough like that to him. I want you to just take a moment, since [religious apologists] are so interested in the downtrodden and the helpless — imagine how she must have begged Him. Imagine how she must have pleaded. Imagine for how long. Imagine how she must have prayed, every day — how she must have beseeched heaven. Imagine. For 24 years. And no, no answer at all — nothing, NOTHING! Imagine how those children must've felt. Imagine what they felt when they saw one of their number, the dead twin, being borne away from neglect, on top of everything else. Now, [religious apologists] say; "That's allright, that she went through that, because she'll get a better deal in another life?" Are you — I have to ask you if you can be morally or ethically serious and postulate such a question!? "No, that had to happen! And heaven did watch it with indifference, because it knows that that score will later be settled. So it was well worth her going through it, she'll have a better time next time." I don't see how you can look anyone, ANYONE in the face — or live with yourself — and say anything so hideously, wickedly immoral as that. Or even imply it.
Christopher Hitchens[21]

Other theists believe that, somehow, God can make up for all the pain and suffering we experience (including that which is beyond our control) with rewards after death. This seems at odds with the teachings of the Gospel, which tells us that we cannot make up for our sin by behaving properly; that we receive salvation, if we so choose, purely by God's grace. If evil acts cannot be balanced out by good acts, one would think that evil experiences cannot be balanced out by good experiences.

The theist philosopher, Maryland McCord Adams, has argued that God can "defeat" the evils we experience in this life by giving us access to goods that are possible only if we've experienced the relevant kind of suffering. She argues, for instance, that many experiences of bodily suffering give us access to a small portion of the suffering that Jesus endured to save humans. In getting this knowledge we come to better understand God's love for humans. She argues that many experiences of rejection or neglect give us access to a small part of God's inner life when we reject or neglect our relationship with him, and so on. The point is that God is justified in allowing some kinds of evil because such evils give us access to goods we could not otherwise experience. However, this theodicy falls afoul since an omnipotent God should be able to give us such access without making us suffer in order to get it.

Sinners get screwed theodicy[edit]

Now, the classic defense of God against the problem of evil is that it's not logically possible to have free will and no possibility of moral evil. … Built into the situation of God deciding to create human beings is the chance of evil and, consequently, the suffering that results. … The source of evil is not God's power but mankind's freedom. … The overwhelming majority of pain in the world is caused by our choices to kill, to slander to be selfish, to stray sexually, to break our promises, to be reckless.
—Catholic apologist theologian Peter Kreeft[22]
I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can't You choose someone else?
—Tevye the Milkman[23]

In the Old Testament period, there was an attempt to create a tight one-for-one relationship between sin and death, righteousness and life. Unfortunately, this rarely panned out. The wicked often flourished, became rich and lived long, happy lives while the virtuous and poor often fell sick and were cut short from the blessings of life. This flawed theodicy was applied on the national scale regarding Israel. When the nation failed in battle with the Canaanites or was conquered by the Assyrians and Babylonians and Greeks, prophets arose to offer an explanation in terms of a failure to correctly observe the Law. Jeremiah even said the Jews were exiled to allow the land to observe the sabbaths for 70 years to make up for their collective failure to keep the sabbaths. When you get out to the Holocaust, with six million Jews slain, the people began to wonder if maybe Yahweh was a little bit too focused on how his sabbaths were to be observed (yet some Orthodox Jews have still blamed this on failure to keep the Jewish law, usually in regard to kosher diet nowadays).

Free will theodicy[edit]

If God has made men such that in their free choices they sometimes prefer what is good and sometimes what is evil, why could he not have made men such that they always freely choose the good?
—John Mackie

Under the Free Will Defense (FWD), an OO entity wouldn't remove all evil because the existence of free will[note 4] is more valuable than the removal of all evil.[citation needed] The FWD is the most common theist response to the LPOE. It was first used by Augustine of Hippo,[24] and later repackaged by Alvin Plantinga. Some theists claim that Plantinga's version of the FWD is the definitive and unrebutted answer to the LPOE, ignoring that Plantinga's arguments have been criticized by both philosophers and theologians, such as John Mackie, Antony Flew, David Lewis, and Michael Tooley, among many others.

The free will defense is as follows:

  1. Maintaining free will is more important than removing evil.
  2. Altering someone's ability to impact others, in any way, removes their free will.
  3. Thus, an OO entity cannot prevent evil without also removing free will.

Note that the "cannot" in #3 is a problem for the claimed omnipotence of God. If He really is omnipotent, why did He set things up such that the existence of free will prohibits removing evil?

One might question exactly what makes "free will" so good. Proponents of divine command theory might argue that free will is good because it is a part of God's nature or beliefs, while others might try to make the claim that total freedom really is good. One might wonder why most theists then support any attempts by people or governments to prevent the crimes which God apparently doesn't want to.[25] If free will is so important, why does God allow brainwashing? More importantly, why would he require a form of it in order for one to maintain an uncritical belief in him throughout one's natural lifetime, and thus avoid an eternity of pain and burning for ironically using said free will? This should also count for those who believe in demonic possession, especially if the demons doing the possessing have free will themselves. Why does the free will of the brainwasher or demonic possessor matter more than the free will of the victim? Furthermore, "free will" is merely the ability to choose among available options. The ability to have all options available is not free will but omnipotence. Humans are not able to kill each other by simply wishing it; does the lack of this ability mean that humans do not have free will? There are already restrictions on humans' ability to kill each other. So, is the current level of ability somehow "optimal"? Having free will to decide on accomplishing an action deemed evil is not the same as being able to accomplish it.

Additionally, the free will defense seems to be at odds with the narrative in Exodus. According to the myth in the Bible, Pharaoh was ready to free the Jews, until God hardened Pharaoh's heart to force Pharaoh to change his mind. So the God of the Torah/Bible is willing to revoke free will in order to cause evil, but not to prevent evil.

Furthermore, one may argue that omniscience and free will are mutually exclusive:

  1. A truly all-knowing being will know everything that will ever occur in the future before it occurs.
  2. An all-knowing being's knowledge cannot be flawed. (This can be defended through reduction to absurdity; if an omniscient entity's knowledge is flawed, it could "know" falsehoods like 1 + 1 = 4, where all the symbols retain their common meanings.)
  3. From Items 1 and 2, an all-knowing being will know, in advance, what decisions will be made before a decision is made. From Item 2, this knowledge must be true.
  4. From Item 3, all decisions have already been made in the all-knowing entity's knowledge before they occur.
  5. From Item 4, nobody can freely make a decision because its result is known in advance. Therefore, free will is mutually exclusive with an omniscient entity.[26]

A moral flaw in human free will and the omniscience of an omnibenevolent god coexisting, especially according to the Double predestination view, is that God knowingly paved the way for some humans to be born for the purpose of being eternally tortured for their predetermined choices.

Also, similar to the Omnipotence paradox problem, one could argue: how can a fully omniscient deity itself have free will? If said deity already knows what its future actions are, how can it have free will to choose what to do? If it chose to do something it didn't predict would happen, its omniscience becomes null. If it only executes specific actions according to what it already knows will happen, it doesn't exactly have free will.

One of the more effective rebuttals to the free will defense is to ask whether there is free will in heaven. If the answer is "yes", then the next logical question to ask would be "If God can create Heaven with free will AND no sin, why didn't he just do it with this life?", which brings us back to questioning the theist idea of omnibenevolence. If the answer is "no", that naturally raises the question of "why then is free will so valuable?"

Soul-making theodicy[edit]

Injustice upon Earth renders the justice of heaven impossible.
—Robert G. Ingersoll

The soul-making or Irenaean theodicy is a lesser-known theodicy which argues that God is justified in allowing evils because such evils are necessary for the moral development of humans' souls. For example, defenders of soul-making theodicies claim that one cannot exhibit courage unless there is danger, compassion unless there is suffering, temperance unless there is the possibility of excessive indulgence, honesty unless there is a possibility of deceit, and so on. In other words, humans can develop virtue only if they encounter difficulty, hardship, and suffering — that is, evil. On this view, God is interested, not only in humans believing that he exists, but also in their becoming virtuous, or holy, or in some other way having excellent souls. These theists believe that the amount of evil in the world is exactly the amount necessary for the creation of human souls capable of going to heaven. This was once very popular, but in modern times has seldom been used in debate in part because two world wars, the Holocaust, and the threat of nuclear obliteration have made many skeptical that they would be soulless in a happier world.[27] John Hick, an evangelical theologian who later became a Quaker, is a notable proponent of this theodicy. Modern neuroscience easily shows that pain and pleasure and love have different origins in the brain and don't require each other.

Love of particular persons theodicy[edit]

This explanation argues that, although people in general could exist without evil, the particular people who now exist could not and even an omnipotent God could not create them. The lives of all who now live are so deeply entwined with the evils of the past, that without all of those evils, or the bulk of them, everyone now alive would never have existed. If God loves people in general, the best thing he could have done for people in general would have been to create a perfect world for them to live in. But if God loves particular people — the particular people who now exist — the best thing he could have done for those particular people is to create a world filled with all the evils necessary for their existence — in other words, the best thing God could do for us is to create the very world which now exists. God could have done better; but God could not have done better for us, only for other people. (God certainly could have made the world differently so one particular person's life was better, and almost everyone else's the same — but God cannot create a world in which all of our lives are better, for in such a world none of us would have ever been born.) So, in other words, this kind of god has no problems with allowing wars, genocides and plagues to ravage humanity, as long as the end product is just right for its tastes.

This can be seen in a sense as a Nietzschean theodicy, in that it is an application to theodicy of what Nietzsche says in Thus Spake Zarathustra:

Have you ever said Yes to a single joy? O my friends, then you have said Yes too to all woe. All things are entangled, ensnared, enamored; if ever you wanted one thing twice, if ever you said, 'You please me, happiness! Abide moment!' then you wanted all back. All anew, all eternally, all entangled, ensnared, enamored — oh then you loved the world. Eternal ones, love it eternally and evermore; and to woe too, you say: go, but return! For all joy wants — eternity.

Another version of this objection might be that we as created creatures really have no right to complain about God creating evil, for without evil we would not exist — in other words, when we are complaining about God creating evil, what we are really objecting to is our own existence, for the evil God creates is necessary to our own existence. In this view, we ought to be thankful to God for all the evil that he has ever made.

Of course, this kind of theodicy is deeply embarrassing because it contradicts what it's trying to establish, namely omnipotence itself. Clearly an omnipotent God could have simply created a set of humans in exactly the way he or she wanted them to be, without exposing past generations to needless suffering. And if past evils were necessary for our existence, no human would have a right to complain about any injustice that might benefit future generations — after all, it's just as likely that the set of humans God really wants to exist is not the current generation, but some future one.

This formulation of theodicy also runs into some problems when it comes to daily application by anyone other than God. When you steal someone's television, it does no good to tell them that you only did it because you have a special love for the person he would be without a television.

At this point, you may hear the more fundamentalist sorts fall back on original sin. See that article for more.

Warning theodicy[edit]

Why do earthquakes, forest fires, hurricanes, tsunamis exist? Surely an all-powerful God could have created a nice Earth for his 'precious creations' without all this nonsense going on. Without God creating the United States Army Corps of Engineers, New Orleans would still be going strong. Did God have something against New Orleans?

According to the warning theodicy, evil exists because God is being nice and warning us about Hell, as the 'esteemed' philosopher Ray Comfort articulates.[28] Despite being omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, God is apparently unable or unwilling to give a clear warning. Instead, he just continuously hurts random people in cute little ways, like toe stubbings and mass shootings, and hopes we get the message about the even worse suffering he will inflict later. This argument also implies that god doesn't really value human life.

Because I'm God, Darn it![edit]

Some people just say humans are inferior beings and have no right to question God's acts. This is often a satisfactory answer for the doublethink required when trying to meld God's stated actions with His stated Commandments, but remains intellectually problematic when carried out to its logical conclusions. Consider the following neatly laid out set of points that you must think to accept the "mysterious ways" argument:

  1. Morality comes from God and God alone.
    This seems obvious, but it is essential in order for God to be the source of morality. Otherwise morality is actually higher power than even God, and God is reduced to being a messenger.[note 5] If reduced to being a messenger, God ceases to be a supreme authority and is effectively removed as a requirement to be moral, becoming a redundant entity in people's lives. Naturally, theism, as it is, doesn't want this idea, so God must be the source of morality. Any violation of this concept must be detrimental.
  2. God's actions are therefore a reflection of the preached morality.
    If this wasn't true we'd violate the first premise here. Ignoring, for a moment, the tautology of "God is Good, and Good is to be like God," if God's behaviour and character didn't reflect the preached moral standards then these standards must be external to God.
  3. God seems to violate his own morality quite often in the Bible. However, any violations of God's commandments by God are just Him working in his mysterious ways.
    I.e., an action (such as killing) is "immoral" if performed by man, but "moral" if performed by God. It challenges us to know the mind of God in explaining discrepancies in practicing what the Almighty preaches and claims that we cannot, with certainty, understand God. (The contradiction that people say this on the one hand and then, with absolute certainty, declare God to be good, loving and caring on the other hand shouldn't need pointing out.)

However, the problem lies in the fact that third point violates the second or requires yet another shout-out to mYsTeRiOuS wAyS with the claim that we mere mortals cannot hope to understand how such actions could be moral. The justification is just some sort of "appeal to audacity" if such a fallacy exists. If we can judge God to be inconsistent with and within his own morality then he is not a reflection of that morality (point 2, which follows neatly from the essential point 1) and so that morality must be external to him. With this the first point is thrown out of the window and we're back to a case where a morality derived from God is either a) non-existent or b) arbitrary and meaningless.

The obvious response to this is to say that God does not violate His own morality. ie. We simply lack the understanding to see how God's actions are consistent with the absolute moral laws that He has laid down on the universe along with its physical laws. People wil twist themselves into knots trying to excuse some action or situation. Allowing the inability to understand God's actions as an escape hatch for God's own actions makes the tautology "God is Good, and being Good is being like God" worse. It conveys no special information about how to be good or how to be like God. It is like saying "<insert name here> is Good, and being Good is being like <insert name here>." On its own, this tautology is both useless and arbitrary.

Satandidit theodicy[edit]

See the main article on this topic: Satandidit

Many believers will assert that it isn't God who causes evil, but Satan. This is ridiculous. In mainstream theology, Satan is not omnipotent, while God is. If God is omnipotent, then God should easily be able to either destroy Satan or at least overpower him and bring about a totally good universe. Thus, if evil exists, then either God chooses to allow Satan to exist at least in the short term (and appears not fully good) or cannot overpower Satan (and is not omnipotent). And if not Satan, then where does evil come from? Fortunately, Isaiah informs us on that point… (see below).

Goddidit theodicy[edit]

I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
Isaiah 45:7, KJV

Some believers hold that God is inherently good and so whatever God does is inherently good. If God created the universe as it is, then the universe as it is is good.[29]

Or, together, John Joseph Haldane's Wittgenstinian-Thomistic account of concept formation[30] and Martin Heidegger's observation of temporality's thrown nature[31] imply that God's act of creation and God's act of judgment are the same act. God's condemnation of evil is subsequently believed to be executed and expressed in his created world: a judgement that is unstoppable due to God's all-powerful will, a constant and eternal judgement that becomes announced and communicated to other people on Judgment Day. In this explanation, God's condemnation of evil is declared to be a good judgement.

This argument falls to the Euthyphro dilemma. If what God does is good simply because Goddidit, then "good" is arbitrary and not worth following. If what God does is good because certain things are "good" externally to God's actions, then what God does isn't inherently moral.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. As a corollary, it can also be argued that the existence of any good contradicts the existence of an omnipotent and omnimalevolent entity.
  2. See the nirvana fallacy (rejection of non-perfect solutions).
  3. It's also worth noting that lightning destroying a church is rarely taken as a sign of the Lord's displeasure with the church's doctrine or activities, which is exactly the sign you'd expect if He were trying to make a point.
  4. See also determinism.
  5. No comment yet from the angels, who are being reduced to the messengers of the messenger.


  1. Why Am I Agnostic by Robert Green Ingersoll, 1899
  2. The Prince Of Milk by Exurb1a (2018) CreateSpace. ISBN 1983699748.
  3. The Problem of Evil in Philosophy and Popular Culture by Trip McCrossin, Rutgers University.
  6. Larry King: Bill Maher On His Movie Religulous (7:15)
  7. See Dr. Kreeft's argument here.
  8. Groothius, Douglas. "Addressing the Problem of Evil". The Christian Research Institute. n.d. Web. 11 April 2014.
  9. Responses to the Problem of Evil. All About God.
  10. William Lane Craig's justification
  11. Some of the most common are here.
  12. Amley, J. D., "What Does Evil Prove about God?", Maitland: Xulon, 2014.
  13. God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Christopher Hitchens, page 78.
  14. See the Wikipedia article on Problem of evil § Epicurus.
  15. Eartha Kitt, I Want to be Evil (Nov 16, 2008) YouTube.
  16. WikiQuote on Marquis de Sade
  17. J. Matthew Ashley, "Reading the universe story theologically: the contribution of a biblical narrative imagination", Theological studies, 2010, vol. 71, no. 4, pp. 870—902 — In classical terms, this is to broach the problem of theodicy: how to think about God in the face of the presence of suffering in God's creation. After God's dethronement as the subject of history, the question rebounds to the new subject of history: the human being. As a consequence, theodicy becomes anthropodicy — justifications of our faith in humanity as the subject of history, in the face of the suffering that is so inextricably woven into the history that humanity makes. Mutatis mutandis, the universe story, brings with it the need for a "cosmodicy." How do we think about the presence of suffering, on a massive scale, in the story of the cosmos, particularly when the cosmos itself is understood to be the subject of history? How do we justify our faith in the cosmos?
  20. RFK, anybody?
  21. Christopher Hitchens on the immorality of Christianity
  22. The Case for Christ, the Case for Faith by Lee Strobel (2006) Zondervan. ISBN 0310608821.
  23. "Fiddler on the Roof"
  24. See his The Happy Life; Answer to Sceptics; Divine Providence and the Problem of Evil, Soliloquies.
  25. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Section: 4c 2
  26. Freewill argument for the nonexistence of God
  27. IEP: 4c 1
  29. See the six web pages of
  30. J.J. Haldane Atheism & Theism,(Second Edition, 2003) pp. 102-105
  31. Heidegger, Martin, Being and Time, Translated by John Macquarrie and Edward Robinson, 1962, reprint 2003, Blackwell Oxford UK & Cambridge USA, pp. 426-427 (H 374) and pp. 458-472 (H406-421)