The Problem of Evil, aka Theodicy and How to Avoid It: Or Understanding the Idea of a Deity with Limited Power/Ability.
Gary M. Jaron, May 4 2017
General background of the issue is simply summed up in common knowledge in the Wikipedia article on the topic.
The problem of evil refers to the question of how to reconcile the existence of evil with an omnibenevolent, omniscient, and omnipotent God (see theism). An argument from evil attempts to show that the co-existence of evil and such a God is unlikely or impossible. Attempts to show the contrary have traditionally been discussed under the heading of theodicy. Besides philosophy of religion, the problem of evil is also important to the field of theology and ethics.
The problem is in the end a product and result of the assumptions of a specific theology. By this, I mean that if a given theology defines its god as being all powerful and also as being the source of goodness, then this creates the problem since it raises the question of how can good and all powerful god allow evil to exist since evil acts are not good?
Now, to begin with let me start with a simple fact. No one has as of April 30 2017 proven and verified the existence of God, any god that you care to name and that any religion purports to believe in and says that their God is real and exists.
To state that another way, the verifiable existence of God has not been done as of April 30 2017. I state it this way, in case someone wants to claim that sometime in the future science will be able to have the technology to do such a thing. I am not concerned with what might happen tomorrow. I am concerned with what is verifiably factual as of the date I gave.
To verify God’s existence, any God you care to claim exists, would be to offer verifiable evidence in the form of, and similar to the way scientists can verify the speed of light, the distance of the earth to the sun. Another paradigm of verification is based on the model of the historian. Another method of verification is to do it modeled on the way historians can verify that Abraham Lincoln wrote the specific words that have been given the name of the ‘Gettysburg Address’. The same historians can document that he read those words to a crowd of people on November 19, 1863 at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Neither using the methods of science or the methods of history has anyone verified the existence of any god entity as of April 30 2017.
Lacking the verified evidence of any entity called God, I can then state that anything said and written about God prior to April 30 2017 is not based on any verifiable evidence.
Having established that fact I can then conclude that any and all statements about God’s existence and powers are not based on any verifiable evidence.
That means that all statements written or spoken concerning God made prior to April 30 2017 are simply records of what the author of those statement believes. The author of those statements is not describing a verifiable entity but is more like Arthur Conan Doyle when he described his creation Sherlock Holmes.
Therefore, all theology written before April 30 2017 is about an imaginary entity similar to the imaginary entity known as Sherlock Holmes.
The problem of evil for the imaginary entity of God in many theologies and religions is that they assume that their God is both all-powerful and the source of all goodness. They create the problem by imaging those two assumptions.
I will imagine and propose two ways of avoiding the whole problem. The solution is to assume a deity that has limited powers.
I favor the idea of a deity that meets the definition of pantheism. I also recognize that there is a related concept called panentheism. I will offer my definitions of those two terms and explain how they can avoid the problem of evil.
Pantheism is the idea that the physical universe is the equivalent of the Deity. There are not two different and separate entities but only one single entity. The usual idea and relationship of the Deity and the physical universe is based on the relationship of the human mind to a human body.
It is a fact that the complex system of matter and energy that makes of a human body gives rise to a phenomenon and experience that is described as a ‘mind’. It is a fact that human beings experience having a mind. The term mind points to a set of experience such as sensations, thoughts, feelings, memories, etc. How the human body actually creates those experiences of the ‘mind’ has not been fully verified. What has been verified is that people have written about, talked about, and believe in the experience called a mind.
Therefore, the model of a human being having a physical body and a mind associated with that body is the paradigm for my definition of pantheism.
Pantheism for me is the assumption that the Deity is modeled on the biological workings of a human being. It has a body that has the emergent property/ability that we can call a mind/soul/spirt. The deity is the mind/soul/spirit of the universe. (Henceforth for the sake of this discussion, I will refer to this attribute by the term ‘mind’.)
It is a fact that human beings cannot directly control all aspects and workings of their biological body processes. Humans have limited control over their bodies.
Human’s experience pain and their bodies decay, grow old, and can even have disruptive events such as heart attacks and cancerous cell growth. Growing old, having a heart attack, or having cancer are all things that can be described as negatively impacting the enjoy of life that a person has. Such events are for the sack of this discussion metaphors for evil.
Just as a person cannot their body from aging, or having cancer, these two factual situations verify and illustrate the limited control and power a human mind has over her own body.
My definition of pantheism states that the Deity is the ‘mind’ of the body that is called the universe. Just as a human mind cannot control its body, in that manner I assert that the Deity has only limited control over the workings of the universe. Hence demonstrating and illustrating the limits of divine power.
Now, the difference between pantheism and panentheism is similar to two different ways to describe and think about the mind. In pantheism, the mind and the body are one unit. The body and its normal and natural biological workings give rise to the experience of having a mind.
Panentheism is the belief that God and the universe are two different kinds of entities. That God may relate to, fill or enliven the universe but ultimately God is outside of and separate from the universe. God is somehow intimately connected to the universe and yet still different from it and above or outside of it. If you recall the idea that Rene Descartes had concerning the relationship between a human mind and a human body, you will get to a metaphoric model of the relationship of God to the universe.
Panentheism creates and mimics the so called ‘mind-body problem’ that Descartes created.
Now we have a theology that suffers from Descartes mind-body problem on a cosmic scale. The only assumptions that describe how God, the cosmic mind, and the universe, the cosmic body, interact and interrelate are based upon the fundamental differences between the physicality of the universe body and the nonphysical mind God. This in and of itself does not create the problem of why evil exists.
We need to assert some other assumptions to get there. Therefore we need to assume next that the deity’s mind controls completely its body and all its workings. Another way to say ‘complete control’ is to say that this deity is/has omniscience and omnipotence.
Still an all-powerful being can do anything it wants and no one could question its power. So there is no puzzle as to why there can’t be evil.
It is only when you add the final necessary assumption that you have a problem explaining why there is evil. You must assert and assume that the deity is the source of Goodness, Kindness, Justice, Love, etc. As in the deity as described by Christianity, Islam, or Judaism.
It is only by assuming an all-powerful God and assuming a supremely beneficent God of all Goodness, Justice, Kindness, Love, etc., that finally create the seeming paradox of why such a God allows there to be evil.
Therefore the way to resolve the problem of why there is evil, is to avoid it from happening by not assuming that God is all powerful. If God has only limited powers than that entity, even if it was supremely beneficent would not have the ability to prevent evil events from occurring.
Therefore, to avoid the whole problem of why evil things happen, you posit either the Pantheistic deity modeled on the biology of the human body or you posit the Panentheistic limited deity.