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The MOST Theological Collection: Catholic Apologetics Today: Answers to Modern Critics

"Chapter 5: A Good God vs. Great Evils"


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Some people, in spite of all evidence, say there cannot be a God because there are so many evils in the world. This is not a rational position because emotion is its foundation. For, once we have solid proof of something, such as the existence of God, objections, even unanswered ones, cannot destroy what is once solidly proved.

But we can begin studying this objection now, even though the full answer must wait until we have established by reason that we can and should believe Scripture.

We begin by noticing that there are two kinds of evil: physical and moral. Physical evils include such things as illness, poverty, and losses. Moral evils include all types of sins, i.e., evils purposely done by human beings.

It will be helpful to look at the unusual and inaccurate ideas some people have had about physical evils. In ancient times, the Zoroastrians and the Manichees believed errors which we call dualistic. They reasoned this way: There are good things in the world; therefore, there must be a good God who made them. But there are also evils in the world, therefore, there must be some other powerful being (not necessarily a god) who made the evils. Thus, in dualism there are two principles: one good, one evil.

Not only in ancient times, but also today, people continue to be fooled by the concept of dualism. To see the flaws in this theory, we must ask the question, "What is evil?" There are three possible answers. First, evil must be either positive or negative; that is, it must be a thing, or the absence of a thing. If evil is negative, if it is the absence of a thing, there are two further possibilities: it could be a simple, or a privative lack. A simple negative is the lack of something that is not really called for, like wings on a cat (the birds are relieved at this!). A privative negative is the lack of something that is called for, such as paws on a cat.

Now if we thought, as did the Manichees and the Zoroastrians and some other unfortunate groups, that evils were positive, then we could literally get a suitable container, fill it up with 100% pure evil, and hang out a danger sign. But there is no thing that is by substance or nature evil: evil is the absence of something that is necessary. Clearly, therefore, is no god or other powerful being needed to make it, for it is a nothing, a mere lack.

God does permit such evils. But what would He have to do to stop them? Here we must distinguish between physical and moral evils.

A world without physical evils, if a material world, would have to be comprised of one miracle after another, simply because material things can go to pieces, can come apart, can slip, as common sense testifies. Now it is not really rational for God to work miracles routinely, for a miracle is extraordinary, and the extraordinary cannot become ordinary.

What of moral evils, i.e., those coming from free decisions of men? The question contains the answer: they do come from the free decisions of men. In other words, let us imagine God considering creating a human race. The very decision to make human beings, having intellect and free will, entails freedom, and that leaves open the possibility for moral evil. But then moral evil comes from men misusing their freedom, not from God.

Of course, God permits moral evil. But to stop it, He would have either to multiply miracles indefinitely, which would be irrational—making the extraordinary ordinary—or He would have to withhold or at least reduce free will. But then He would be contradicting Himself, for then He should not have made a human race at all, for a race that is not free is not human. He judged that there was a great good—and there is—in making a race that is free. So He did, in fact create a human race.

Of course there is much, much more to say on this topic. But without the aid of Scripture to back up specific points, we can only speculate. You can see at this point in our discussion we have not proved, however, that one may and should accept Scripture.

Let us suppose for a moment, without help from Scripture, that this short life on earth is followed by an unending, happy life in Heaven—that the evil which we encounter in this earthly existence can be turned into pure gold for the future life, into happiness beyond our greatest dreams. Such a speculation would make a lot of sense. Now, further on, with the help of Scripture we will prove it is true!

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