Is there any satisfactory way of reconciling the existence of an omnipotent and all-loving God with the existence of natural evil (i.e. evil not due to the misuse of human free will)? One of the central claims of the Judaeo-Christian tradition is the existence of an omnipotent and all-loving God. Against this is the observation that people and animals suffer evil. By common sense, we would infer from this observation that God, as conceived in this tradition, does not exist - for, if He did, He would prevent the evil. This inference is called the Problem of Evil by those who profess one of the religions in the Judaeo-Christian tradition, and their attempts to 'solve' the problem have given rise to a labyrinth of sophistry.
Put briefly, the solution most commonly espoused to the Problem of Evil is
* Some suffering is caused by others' misuse of their own free-will (as in murder).
* God does not intervene to stop people freely choosing evil because:
o people can be virtuous only if they freely choose between good and evil;
o having virtuous people in the world is a greater good than eradicating evil;
o therefore God must allow people to be free;
o therefore evil inflicted by other people is the price that God demands that we pay to enable some people to be virtuous.
* Some suffering is caused by natural phenomena (as in earthquakes). Such occurrences enable people to be virtuous through:
o heroics, such as rescuing those in danger;
o strong faith in God, as it is harder to believe in God in the midst of grief;
o humility, as people realise they are powerless against the whim of God.
* Again, God does not intervene because he is using the natural disasters to engender virtue.
I shall examine a number of such arguments, but first it is useful to clarify the nature of such debate.
The nature of theological debate
One difficulty that arises in writing about this subject is that the traditional view of God is ridiculous - as Hume's Philo says, it is fixed only "by the utmost licence of fancy and hypothesis", and the arguments put forward for it are transparently fallacious. In order to proceed with the debate at all, one must feign a deficit in the application of one's powers of reason, for if one relied exclusively on reason for deciding what to believe, then one would dismiss religion out of hand. It is well known that people hold their religious beliefs because they are emotionally bound to them, primarily through their upbringing, and not because they have arrived at them by reasoning. As Hume's Demea admits, "each man feels, in a manner, the truth of religion within his own breast". Arguments in defence of religion arise retrospectively to support convictions that have already been secured by emotional persuasion. In this respect, Palinor's undermining of Beneditx's religious beliefs, in Paton Walsh's "Knowledge of Angels", is unrealistic. Since religious beliefs are held on emotional rather than rational grounds,...