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The Perennial Problem of Evil

There are few philosophical questions always confound the human mind. One of the major issues that had been especially problematic to theists has been the “problem of evil”.

Broadly stated the problem of evil consists of the supposed incompatibility and contradiction of the following 3 statements:

1.) God is all good.
2.) God is all-powerful
3.) Evil exists in a world where God is both all-powerful & all-good.

Hence, this leads to two assumptions
  1. God allows evil. (against our presumption that He’s all-good)
  2. He’s not willing to address it (against our presumption that he’s all powerful)
This is really a problem which religious men of all times have answered in various degrees. So why does evil exist at all on this marvellous wonderful creation by a benevolent God?

Why are we against our own genuine intentions of peace thrust against an evil world? Philosophers have given an explanation worth thousands of pages in an effort to answer this. Hence, we must not be discouraged if we’re unable to resolve this matter within few paragraphs.

Spinoza gives a fabulous explanation for this through a precise line: “Good and evil are human prejudice; irrelevant from the perspective of universe”..  He at length explains how a same thing can mean different things to people of different sensibilities.
Hence, when we all (humanity) can’t even reach at a consensus on what is good and evil, it is quite unjust to blame God for not controlling evil.

Leibniz goes beyond and states that we live “in the best of all worlds”. He states that the present world as it appears to us is the best possible of all living worlds. If a better world would have been possible, we would have lived in that and not present world. He says this is best possible system wherein “free-will” can be accommodated. And evil occurs because God has to provide us with “free-will”, as only then morality is of any concrete use.

Voltaire took Leibniz statement as the starting point and made a most remarkable parody of Leibniz’s philosophy through his fiction in Candide. Voltaire feels that Leibniz is na├»ve and one can’t look at the sufferings of humans from such a neutral perspective. He feels that world is full of problems and only through grace of Spirituality (it might be recalled that he was against dogmas of religion, he categorically differentiated them).

Schopenhauer the great pessimist philosopher feels that optimism is a bitter mockery of man’s woes. His summed up in his famous saying “Man can indeed do what he wants, but he cannot want what he wants".
In his “will to live” philosophy he notes that often without any slightest dishonest intention we do what eventually benefits us often at the peril of others too. He notes that such a desire comes deep from the unconscious and man is not really “free” as he feels.
Evil occurs because each live in their own world and each’s will is fiercely working to preserve its life at any cost. This “will” is responsible for all evil.

From the theistic framework it appears that there are certain problems in explaining this perennial problem. I’ve often noticed that most atheists are those who gave up their belief after having gone through events which bring them face to face with the evil in world. After all, we can say with Spinoza that there is nothing good or evil by universal definition, but then, most of us are not Spinozas and we’re compelled to look at the world not from neutral perspective but from the perspective of our sufferings and desires.

But if at all you think that this problem is resolved by giving up faith then nothing can be farther from truth. You would notice that this whole problem comes in because of our faith in God. The moment you give up that faith, the argument is self-cancelling. Why? Read on.

We feel that eruption of volcanoes, death of stars in galaxies and many such events are different from human’s tragedies. Why? This is mainly because we feel that human-being is the most special living organism and we have been created for some purpose.

But giving up theistic ground implies that we’re not special beings, we’re just another “combination of chemicals” devoid of inherent goodness or speciality. This naturally implies that there is no difference between death of stars and death of humans. Both were manifest at one point of time and un-manifest again. So what is it that we have against evil? Nothing but personal perception of our supposed greatness and apparent limitations.
It’s a ridiculous argument to say that because you’re not satisfied with world as you’re not born into Gandhi clan !!! :-)


  1. Madhav,
    You have really touched a very ambiguous philosophical question. Historically the perennial problem had been in the domain of rationalists. Empirical thinkers most of the time hesitate to answer the question as it concerns something that is immaterial to begin with. And Spinoza probably satisfies them and actually puts a period to the discussion.
    Well... purely my own perspective- I think the perennial question prevails because it is in the domain of rationalists. And they usually begin with trying to reason with initial hypothesis or proposition. So to begin with I think there are only two initial fundamental choices to be made before further reasoning.
    1. If- God created men (theist view)
    2. If men created god.(An atheist view)
    If you begin with the first hypothesis it is highly probable that most of the times you end up with the second proposition. And I can see, that is exactly what you would have ended up with initially.
    "we’re compelled to look at the world not from neutral perspective but from the perspective of our sufferings and desires."

    However you refute it with an empirical and simple logic (The moment you give up that faith, the argument is self-cancelling).
    Of course you definitely tried to include known historical views of great philosophers in the past. But I would say they have ended up with hardly any solution. You completed a full circle.
    Spinoza probably initiated the way you began with and ended up defining that God created Men and Men created Evil. But still the question remains, why god allowed men to create evil? He says god acts by his free will. He thereby nullifies the proposition that God is all good. He strongly believes god is necessarily existing , is the supreme being and is the reason for all existing and non-existing (Whatever is, is in God, and nothing can be or be conceived without God. He reasons this by saying "“That eternal and infinite being we call God, or Nature, acts from the same necessity from which he exists”.Overall he provides a reasonable answer to the question but hardly any solution to the perennial problem.

    From what you wrote I see that, Leibiniz undoubtedly tried to connect the world at present with the philosophy drawn from Spinoza. He fascinateingly introduces the concept of free will in men. Voltaire critically denies his view because he is simply nullifying what he began with.
    As empirical and simpler your logic was in refuting the probable inference that you would come up initially, there is another eccentric proposition worthwhile to examine, putforth by equally spectacular personality in the recent history- Karl Marx.
    He began as a believer in good God and was stronly religious most of his youth. He probably might have completed hundred circles just like you with out a satisfactory solution.
    As an economist, he actually envisioned an Utopia and therefore bent upon trying to actually solve the problem.

  2. Cont above..

    Unlike most people think, Marx according to some is not in perfect sense an atheist. He ofcourse believed in the existence of God. But more than that he believed in existence of Evil.
    Evil he personifies in Bourgeouise and therefore proposes, is the reason for all the existing class inequalities. He loathed such a system where the working class is exploited by the evil Bourgeois. He reasons that men evolved in the past, driven by material needs to create present society with only two classes- Bourgeois and Proletariat.
    According to him, Bouirgeois created God to keep the class system, from which it benefits, in existence. He said, "God is the Opium of Masses Created by Bourgeois". To solve the problem, he proposes to eliminate Bourgeois and the class sytem they created. There by he hopes to create a new world where there is no Bourgeois and no class inequalities and therefore no evil.
    Undoubtedly a revolutionary idea of his times, it spread like a religion in the world in the past century. However today we only find that his proposal hardly did provide the solution he intended.
    And what I feel is, until some one presents us with a solid evidence against god it is better we follow the age old tradition.

  3. Sravan:
    Marx in turn was influenced by Hegel.(I forgot to include his idea). Hegel's dialectic philosophy of history being composed of Thesis, Anti-thesis and Synthesis. This means that in longer run, evil is necessary for evolution. This leads to 2 radically different interpretations.
    1. sanction of status-quo
    2. rebellion and revolution against status quo.

    While Hegel himself in later years sanctioned German Monarchy (and got himself to be the philosophical dictator of Germany), other people remarkably Marx took the 2nd interpretation.

    Existence of God can neither be proved or disproved through human senses, logic and philosophy. We believe that we're striving towards truth by searching and contemplating...However,it is interesting to see what Nietzsche says “What we see is not the long sought truth, but the reflection of our own desires”.

    In retrospect, Communism has indeed revolutionized our thinking and its an idea whose time has gone. Likewise, after the recent recession, it is reasonable to assume that the age of crony capitalism without any regulations is also gone. Everything happens for a reason.

    Hence, despite the lure of airy metaphysical speculation we need to come back to earth and discuss real-occurrences.

    I more than believe in the Schopenhauer philosophy that we first decide what we need and then invent reasons to support it. Not other way round.

    And yet, it is this human tendency to reason out with others that separates us from brute force of animals.

    We (this generation) will find out truth that would rule the general perspective for this age.

    Thank you for your comments...Seriously you're too very knowledgeable..

  4. Madhav,
    Your posts really compel me to think beyond usual. I never thought about going through historical philosphers in the age of enlightment, but your post was really so interesting that I was forced to take a look.
    And adding from what I learnt to my own thoughts I shared them with you.
    Thanx for your compliment.
    I do look forward to more thought provoking posts from you.
    Indeed you are a talented thinker.

  5. Sravan:
    Thank you so much...Honestly I don't know how many people read my blog..Few friends read them and most of them say that what I write usually is too complex, boring and too long..Thus is not wrong if I say that I write for myself, to make my thoughts clear...(as elaborate as fox's sour grapes in fable :-) )

    You give me hope that one fine day others also will recognize what you have said...

  6. Madhav great work... i can find efforts required for a thesis being put in.... happy that a theory proposes similar to my thoughts... either man being good or bad nobody can stop a volconic eruption or the tectonic movements or the water displacements.... we contribute not much to it... just a bacteria element in this world.. but this doesnt mean we can go ahead polluting bcos not just tsunami,manmade hazards like the rising water levels in the ocean as a result of global warming is in our hands....
    Another theory i endorse is that there is nothing good or bad.... its ur perspective... good to good is good and bad to bad is also good.....
    To the end of all is..... GOD is GOOD.... good enough to let all the evil play.... GOD is good to ALL and that includes the EVIL too....

  7. @Nithya :

    good to good is good and bad to bad is also good

    What abt Gandhi's philosophy of good to bad also? I am infact asking you to question whats the definition of "good" or "bad". Whats good to you might be bad to me and vice-versa.. The point is that there is no concrete definition at all.

    BTW, are you telling me that those who died or lost property recently are "bad"?

    but this doesnt mean we can go ahead polluting

    To what extent is man responsible for his fate? Thats the whole question! Are you trying to tell that those affected deserved that fate? And if nothing can be done abt it, then why do ppl pray? The point belongs to a realm when you exhaust this argument and go higher.

    GOD is GOOD.... good enough to let all the evil play.... GOD is good to ALL and that includes the EVIL too...

    If God is good, then why is He allowing innocent ppl to suffer? So when He is good to evil doesn't that sometimes translate as being evil to other good ppl ?

    The evil that he sanctions is bad to others right?

  8. Fantastic thought Madhav....This comes at a time when I have been pondering about the existence of good. I loved your last paragraph. It's so true no body has seen or heard god and no one knows what is that he is expecting from us. All these values and beleifs have been set by our fore fathers and they have been set by what they think is right. As you rightly said what i good for me need not be good to you.
    Why did all these ppl have to suffer cos they were good or bad.
    Loved the reference you made about humans to galaxies and stars.
    It hit me real hard.

  9. Evil and good ... Why is there a proton for every electron.. But then there are neutrons as well arent there ?? Nothing is this world is beyond the realm of this world for this world and everything in it, tangible intangible, is ultimately manifested in the laws and characteristics prevalent at the minutest level. You have those electrons and protons for they then lend stability and neutrons provide the mass.. without them a neutron would have no energy ... hence would do nothing... he point madhav i am making is that why ask if evil exists why not ask why good exists?? why not let things be just things neither good nor bad..
    at a personal level and a social level can you imagine such a scenario such an order of the society? In the Dark Knight the Joker says.. " this is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable force" when true good meets true evil.. can you imagine that scenario?? it is one of perfect balance. evil exists coz it has to balance truth out .. protons exist coz they have to balance the elctrons out. Science does not tell us why an electron has negative charge or why proton has positive charge.. it tells what they have and hence what they give us the attributes that they have discovered they dont tell us why they have tht specific attribute.. further across the universe look at the consistency of this.. this here refrs to balancing forces.. gravitation that keeps all heavenly bodies in perfect sync.. everything madhav runs on tht principal "balance ...." lest nothing can be stable for it will never be neutralised but polarised.

  10. evil exists coz it has to balance GOOD* out.... btw madhav .. excellent article .. too good man really surprised I must say at the amount of progress You have shown .. I mean you were good before as well but now you are in a league of your own .. i really enjoyed this ...
    though i admit i din hv the time to go thru the comments ...

  11. @ Arjun:

    Hi yaar...been ages since we communicated ! How have you been ? Thank you for your comment.

  12. @ Siddharth:

    Thank you so much for your kind words of appreciation....

  13. I was looking for your view on wht i said .. :)

  14. @ Siddharth :

    Of course, I will comment on it at my earliest opportunity since it involves some more pondering..

  15. Why is there a proton for every electron.. But then there are neutrons as well arent there ??

    It depends on your perspective...The metaphors used do not make things easier. Are you trying to compare the "negative" charge of electron with our general sense of "negative"? Even in the same comparison you would observe that we humans arbitrarily gave electrons negative charge and the opp. one as positive..Its just a human arbitration or presumption at best...

    All the three categories exist...favourable, infavourable or neutral/indifferent....Carnatic music may sound great to interested, horrible to a rockster and a dumb person would be indifferent to it...

    " this is what happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable force" when true good meets true evil.. can you imagine that scenario??

    Unless and until its an outrageous act of cruelty like Nazi Germany's Holocaust.. or an overwhelming act of kindness like Mother Terasa....its highly impossible to take sides...For most part we come across instances that cannot be universally labelled as good or evil..One country's patriot is another country's enemy..

  16. evil exists coz it has to balance GOOD
    But why does good need to be balanced at all...The moot point is why does God allow evil to exist...From an atheist position, this is not a problem at all..However if one does believe in existence of God who is all-powerful and all-good...then evil should not be there in this world..How does suffering,misery and untimely death help in balancing world...?

  17. he he madhave you have answered your final questions on your own .. its right there in what u have said ..
    yes it is humans who said electron negative and proton positive .. and as u rightly put
    ~~ "Its just a human arbitration or presumption at best..."~~~~

    so are what you call misery and pleasure good and bad. When a lion gobbles up a gazelle what is it ? good or bad ? is the lion evil or un-evil?? there we say that is it's natiure it is built for that.. you see we are the ones who are judging and classifying things.. did god intend to do that??? i think not .. Gita says that .. does it not.? Krishna says : i do nothing. everything is done by the humans. i only have the law of action. karma .."" and theres a lot more on tht front and leads to a totally diff topic.... but in a nutshell Madhav what i am saying is ..
    " take what yopu just said "Its just a human arbitration or presumption at best..." and apply it to every logical conclusion you draw and then see that ultimately no such conclusion is universally non human. all knowledge and comprehension of it is human. Every feeling and it's essence is human... interpreted and defined by humans .... so when we question why God made evil .. i ask does God consider it evil... yet again from mahabharata .. dhuryodhan did get to go to heaven and not hell because he did his karma which was to do what he exactly did in the mahabharata... so did kamsa... and many others whom we consider demons ... surprised ??? so if i subscribe to gita then i understand tht it is not good or bad as god sees it .. it is just your action you have to do it...

    ever wondered why god could not be evil ? who created whom madhav ? god created man or man created God? understand the depths of this question. it's not catch 22 though it sounds like the chicken or egg ....

    if there is no death there cant be creation .. there cant be change ... something has to destroy something else and sometimes they have to collapse on their own for only then the cycle completes of life that is ...

    what say you ?


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