The ‘Problem of Evil’ has been bothering religious believers for thousands of years. There are writings on the subject even as far back as the earliest civilizations of Mesopotamia, but the best known statement is by Epicurus, around 300 BC:
- Is He willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent.
- Is He able, but not willing? Then is He malevolent.
- Is He both able and willing? Whence then is evil?
- Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?
Of course, the religious have proposed many solutions. A common one is that apparent evil may lead to greater good. (In human affairs, we call that ‘the end justifies the means’). The modern, trendy resolution is that we mere humans can not expect to understand divinity, so it’s not an issue. Next question please.
Gnosticism was one part of early Christianity which lost out in the power struggle for control of the faithful, and was declared a heresy. But they had an answer. They said that evil occurred in the universe because the universe is evil: it was created by a malevolent entity called the Demiurge, not by the benign and eternal God.
Some groups with Gnostic beliefs, for example the Cathars, equated the Demiurge with ‘Jehovah’ from the Old Testament, which also provided an explanation for His inconsistency, anger, petulance and deliberate infliction of death and suffering. Of course, you then have to explain why the real God allowed the Evil One to create the world and why we all have to suffer, which is really back to the original question again.
It goes without saying that I have a smug, atheistic answer to the problem of evil. It’s all to do with the Second Law of Thermodynamics. And greed and stupidity. Lots of stupidity.