Last time, in brief, we considered the logical problem of evil as a defeater for Christianity, and found that it cannot be sustained. Now, what about the probabilistic problem of evil?
This version of the problem of evil says, in so many words, that while it is not *impossible* for God and evil to exist simultaneously, it is at least highly improbable. That is, we see terrible manifestations of evil – rape, genocide, abuse of children – that we must come to see that an all-powerful God would (almost certainly) intervene to prevent these things. Since we see such things happening, it is highly probable that God does not exist.
For the sake of contrast, which has the quality of making things clearer, let’s note that this is simply a modest version of the logical problem of evil. The atheist (or skeptic, even if he is a Christian engaged in a thought experiment) sees that, logically, free will necessitates the ability to choose evil. Very well – but why so much evil? Why such extreme evil?
The preface to the next question is far too long to include here, but suffice to say: I am not being flippant about this.
The question: Who says we’ve seen extreme evil?
Let’s step back for just a moment. What, of the things humans have seen or imagined, is the worst fate that can befall a person? It seems safe – at least conventional, but I have to insist that it is also the best possible answer, by definition – to say that eternal damnation is the worst thing that can befall a human being.
We make heavy and light of this in the modern day – some are bent on the idea that everyone else is fated for Hell, while others simply dismiss Hell as a possibility (see my collegiate folly in the last post). For the sake of argument, let’s assume Hell is a real possibility for someone, if not everyone. Is Hell not the worst possible fate we can suffer?
If it is, then it stands to reason that anyone who can actually banish another person to Hell is capable of the greatest evil – that is, the banisher is capable of banishing someone to Hell who ought not to be banished to Hell. If Hell is real, and the summation of every terrible thing, then this is the most terrible evil that can be done. It is complete, and final, and real.
“Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
But it turns out (among people who take Hell seriously) that not just anyone can banish souls to Hell. Even God Himself does not claim to do this, but it is by a decision of each soul whether he or she will suffer Hell. But if anyone could, by sheer force, banish souls to Hell, of course it is God alone who can do this. (Matthew 10:28)
Whatever Hell actually is is not important, here. (It is, naturally and supernaturally, very important in almost every other context). My point is only that there are many* imaginable instances of evil which are not even possible in our world. It is clear that God has, in fact, restrained evil to some extent. And if He has restrained it at all, there must be some purpose in restraining it exactly where He did (wherever that is).
So, we begin to answer the probabilistic problem of evil by saying, at minimum, that no one doles out the most terrible form of evil. Even God, in a real sense, leaves that to our own free decision.
If we grant that much – that the most terrible evil is not even possible – then we begin to shake the earth upon which the probabilistic problem of evil is built. And how will we see it shaken to the ground? And how does the analogy of the author play into this?
*I take some license here by anticipating there are “many” but not endeavoring to name them. In fact, what seems to be license is more of a censure, for my part.