The Problem of Evil: Not a Problem
How a good cat owner is a bad cat.
The existence of an all knowing (omniscient), all powerful (omnipotent), and all good (omnibenevolent) deity is often challenged due to the presence of evil. This challenge is “the problem of evil”, since it seems a problem that not only does evil exist, but it appears in abundance and unnecessarily so — from corrupt people to natural disasters, from predators to disease. “How can an all knowing and powerful God be all good if there is so much evil in the world?” That is the challenge.
A typical attempt to resolve the problem of evil are with theodicies, which are rather like excuses for why particular evils may be allowed to exist: no pain no gain, fall of man started it, good would be unrecognizable without evil, and so on. These still recognize the potential for evil as an invention by a good God by routing it through a good cause such as free will, bountiful variation, beauty, strength, excitement, and deeper meaning. It’s the defense card — playing in the turf of the question instead of destroying the question as having illogical or implausible premise.
I seek to undo the premise and play the offense. I believe the problem of evil can be dismissed, and while this may lead to more questions, those questions are much more worthy of being asked than nit picking why a good God would allow for terrible things. Theodicies are making excuses for God, when in fact we know very little the logic and motivation behind an all knowing, all powerful being.
The only acceptable answer to the challenge is the skeptical one: “I don’t know.” And I would argue, you literally can’t know. It’s the problem with identity and the reason for all misinterpretation — because we lack identical experience, we can only best approximate the reason for another’s behavior and the meaning of their words. Thus, the challenge is rigged, loaded, boobytrapped with an illusion of being able to answer simply when in fact, it is a trick.
The problem of evil is an apparent problem, not a logical problem. For it to be dismissed, it must be recognized as illogical, and, since it relies on a limited perspective to accurately judge an infinite being as being evil, is at least implausible for that reason alone. Next, the appearance of evil must be explained. While the Book of Job in the Bible is a demonstration of this idea that God cannot be put on trial for their perceived evils, a simpler analogy would be a pet judging its owner.
Mr. Dudley was walking along the street one day when he saw a stray cat hiding in a nearby bush. Calling it over to him, he made friends with the tomcat, gave him the name, “Mr. Fluffles”, and fed him bits of meat from his sandwich.
Mr. Dudley knocked on the door of the house where the bush was and asked the woman who answered the door if it was her cat. She replied, “No, but you can take him. If I catch him rummaging through my trash again, I’ll …” and continued to make unnecessary and empty threats towards the cat.
Being the upstanding citizen he was, Mr. Dudley took Mr. Fluffles to the pet store to get supplies and took him home. He fed Mr. Fluffles some real cat food from the can, to which Mr. Fluffles ate nearly an entire 3 servings. “Poor thing.” Mr. Dudley said, “Must be so hungry.” After that, he gave his new cat a flea bath and combed out his fur, cutting the knots out as needed. He called the vet to make an appointment, the earliest availability was in two months, and he took it.
He put up “is this your cat?” flyers around the neighborhood where he found the cat, but after several weeks, decided to take it down. The only calls he got were offers to take in the cat, not the previous owner.
Mr. Fluffles was growing in size every week, eating nearly two cans a day to be satisfied, meowing incessantly a half hour before his feeding time or after finishing his meal too quickly. He would always leave some food in the dish that had to be cleaned out before the next meal. Mr. Dudley commented out-loud to himself once, “Maybe he just wants the comfort of always having enough food.” Trying to make sense of the cat’s deliberate wastefulness.
While at the veterinarian’s office, Mr. Dudley inquired why Mr. Fluffles had gained weight so fast, nearly 5 pounds in two months. The veterinarian seemed shocked at first, then calmly replied, “I will run a test… Shouldn’t be anything too serious. I will let you know tomorrow.”
The next day, the veterinarian calls, “Hello Mr. Dudley. It appears Mr. Fluffles has hypothyroidism. It would explain the rapid weight gain. Please reduce his intake to two thirds of a can per day: one third in the morning and one in the evening. You will also have to add medicine to his food. Drop by and pick it up this afternoon if you can. It is $50.” Saddened that his cat could no longer have the amount of food he desired, Mr. Dudley gave him one last feast, picked up the medicine, and started him on the diet the next day.
Mr. Fluffles did not take to his new diet well. Not only did his owner not fill up his dish no matter how much he meowed, the food tasted bitter from the medicine. He began meowing incessantly an hour and a half before feeding time, often knocking things over on purpose to get his owner’s attention. He even knocked over the garbage and ate a few things he probably shouldn’t have, so his owner had to get a heavier garbage can. On a few occasions, Mr. Fluffles tried to escape the house, but the ground was cold, and he remembered how unforgiving the streets were, so he didn’t get very far before his hesitation allowed him to be caught by his owner and brought back inside.
Eventually, Mr. Fluffles stopped meowing as much, stopped knocking things over as much, and stopped trying to escape altogether. He lived a long healthy life under the care of Mr. Dudley. And for that, Mr. Fluffles only resented him, just more passively as time went on.
While the story of Job in the Bible puts Job as the character by which we most resonate, the story of Mr. Dudley and Mr. Fluffles puts the position of God into a more relatable position. While we may not be able to relate to being the creator and lord of all things, we can certainly understand taking care of an animal and the various hardships incurred.
In the analogy, humans are Mr. Fluffles, and Mr. Dudley represents a god. Even without the omniscience and omnipotence, we can see that Mr. Dudley only does the humane thing — rescuing the cat from a hostile lifestyle, tending to its well being, and making sure it doesn’t suffer from obesity. Judging from a human perspective, Mr. Dudley is a righteous cat owner. Furthermore, Mr. Fluffles has only been a naughty cat, trying to get its way the whole time, any way necessary at the demise of poor Mr. Dudley.
However, Mr. Dudley is not a righteous cat. According to Mr. Fluffles, Mr. Dudley has fallen short as a provider, even going so far as to taint the food — nevermind the horrors of being in a pet store or veterinarian’s office with potential hostile animals. According to cat law, Mr. Dudley is guilty of being a terrible cat god, constantly ignoring the pleas of his cat yet somehow keeping him trapped and docile with just enough comforts.
As such, our perspective of evil is limited. The problem with the problem of evil lies within our inability to judge a higher being with our standards. Just as a human and cat cannot be compared, even more does an elephant not play to the rules of the ant, no matter how guilty the elephant is in the courts of the ants. They’re too different to be compared, and one is clearly unaffected by the system of the other. The juxtaposition between a human and infinite being is even greater, and thus our definitions of good and evil for ourselves and each other will likely vary even greater.
So how is it that we can judge God for bringing a natural disaster if we have never been able to control the weather or allowing evil to exist if we can’t rid it from ourselves? We can imagine ourselves doing better for humanity, but then we assume humans know what is best for them. We are like the cat, being obnoxious and trying to get our way. More complicated than the cat, we encompass our ethics to include the well being of each other, animals, plants, even whole planets and the universe. Yes, we somehow think we know what is best for the universe!
In truth, only an omnipotent and omniscient being can define what it is to be all good. They are the only ones that can know with infinite accuracy, and they can redefine “good” any way they like that suits them, since they have the power to do so. We have zero right to define what makes a God good and can only assume if a good God says he is good, he has defined good and not himself.
A better question is…
Why would a good God allow for the perception of evil?
Just kidding. That’s a loaded question. Don’t fall for it.