Problem of evil and religion’s double standard

There is no “solution” to the problem of evil.

Q: Many have criticized Pat Robertson’s suggestion that the catastrophic earthquake in Haiti was the work of the devil or a form of divine punishment. But if one believes God is good and intervenes in the world, why does God allow innocents to suffer? What is the best scriptural text or explanation of that problem you’ve ever read?

One of the striking differences between modern, “organized” religion and tribal or folk religions–religions without seminaries and theologians and official books–is that in tribal religions they have no double standard! They thank their gods for the good stuff that happens and blame them for the bad. The idea that God is a worthy recipient of our gratitude for the blessings of life but should not be held accountable for the disasters is a transparently disingenuous innovation of the theologians. And of course it doesn’t work all that well. The Problem of Evil, capital letters and all, is the central enigma confronting theists. There is no solution. Isn’t that obvious? All the holy texts and interpretations that contrive ways of getting around the problem read like the fine print in a fraudulent contract–and for the same reason: they are desperate attempts to conceal the implications of the double standard they have invented.

Photo courtesy of Flickr, San Jose Library.

Daniel C. Dennett
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  • Usama1

    There is NOT a confusion about Evil in Islamic doctrine. God gives life and takes it as He so wishes. God honors a people, and then debases them when He so wishes. God has 99 attributes according to His revelation and they include the Giver of Life al Muhaymin, and the Taker of Life al Mumit. He is the Destroyer, and the Loving, the All Powerful,and the Subtle.He is the Author of Justice and Goodness. He takes life when and how only HE so chooses. Mankind can only pray to Him and ask for forgiveness and for Him to be Merciful to them in this life. Evil is as men do. It is NOT evil that babies are crushed by debris in the earthquake Haiti. It is as God so chooses. And the Next Life is the meaningful life. The children who God takes do not have to suffer in this world, nor do they engage in evil acts to which God may condemn them. What’s EVIL are the acts of men that defy God’s revelation. Haiti was a natural disaster which God willed, because no act occurs except as God wills. But what God wills is not the same as what God commands, as in His revelation. Mankind becomes lost when he attempts to determine his path by speculating on God’s Will meaning His path. The animists and polytheists go astray by following omens, superstitions, and signs in nature and fortunetelling while ignoring God’s revelation. To know what is Evil in the world, humanity must know God’s revelation and determine how he defies it to gain God’s displeasure.

  • Navin1

    It is an important question to first stop and ask what we mean by god. Usama suggests that god is revealed in a book. That the superstition of the animists and polytheists is less than the superstition of the muslim. The basis of such a claim can only be “I am right, you are wrong because my book says so.” But if, as the polytheists suggest, god is the totality of truth (which some monotheists seem all to excited to deny), then the question of Evil becomes a question of our moral projections on the nature of reality. We should recognize that projection as an element created by our evolutionary biology (group chosiveness, empathy, etc) But to worship Truth As IT IS, one has to see beyond the categories of the biological mind. This is difficult if one can gain the displeasure of a god – does that not make that god hateful for no adult would be displeased at the raving speech of a 2 month old (and God’s wisdom so beyond human). For a displeased god is one that enforces fear and thus hatred of the other (as the other might be more “right” or “pleasing” in the eyes of such a cruel god). Once Truth itself is worshiped, then we can see the relationship of life and death, of love and suffering, and the other dualities of our evolutionary cogitation. And then, transcend the very category of good and evil as does god – in the language of the mystics – to become closer / one with god. Naturally, the first step in overcoming our own psychological hangups is to set aside books and ideas that tell us the truth can hate us – foster in ourselves an ideology of polytheism / pantheism – Truth is all around us and thusly is God and ALL this is worthy of worship. hariam

  • barferio

    why should we worship anything, anybody ?Grow up already. Stop worshiping.

  • cornbread_r2

    “God honors a people, and then debases them when He so wishes.” — Usama1———-How is possible then to distinguish godly acts from pure, random chance?

  • timmy2

    Dan is right. They all sound like the cheesiest snake oil salesman of all time when they try to explain how the manufacturer is not responsible for the flaws of his product. The product was made perfect and became flawed on it’s own. Why? Because it hates having a manufacturer. Makes perfect sense.

  • DanielintheLionsDen

    Usama1 Wow! You have really got to have alot of guts to lay out this kind of belief system in public. You can’t possibly believe any of that can you? You have centuries and centuries of catching up to do, so you had better get started now.

  • Navin1

    One reason to worship, a secular one, is to control the projection of the highest good within yourself. You define (subconsciously or consciously) your relationship with reality. What is that relationship? How do you talk about it? Worship does not have to be idiots doing superstition. But creating rituals makes the relationship with Truth more concrete and one is reminded to keep that relationship alive in yourself. Now, you can project onto that relationship an idea of objective truth, an idea of randomness, an idea of deterministic balls banging around (pun intended) etc. But the force of projection, of naming your god, is that it directs you to explore / live that better. Is randomness worth living better? Is determinism worth living better? What is worthy of an ideology? That recognition of the worthiness of the highest good you defined is the source of worship. The action of expressing that worthiness in this world is worship. (karma is action, bhakti is worship, satya is truth)(But you may not believe in truth nor act based on that belief -I suppose.)hariaum

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Navin1,Re: My earlier postI don’t think I explained it as well as I might have. The obligation, as it were, is outside of us. I emanates, in a non-numinous sense, from the deity.

  • Farnaz1Mansouri1

    Navin1:One reason to worship, a secular one, is to control the projection of the highest good within yourself.

  • timmy2

    “Observance in Judaism reminds believers that they are born with ethical obligations to one another and to the world”Observance in common sense (which we’re all born with) and natural guidance from our parents and community does the same thing. No divisive religion necessary.

  • dangeroustalk

    Dr. Dennett, that was the best answer to this topic. Short, to the point, and accurate.

  • grashnak

    Prof Dennett very neatly addresses the problem of Theodicy and pointlessness of theists trying to avoid it.By far the best response on this topic.

  • volkmare

    Usama1 God didn’t cause the Haiti quake. Anyone who thinks he did doens’t know his scriputres very well.Mark

  • daniel12

    Short, sweet and true.

  • steve44122

    I find it interesting that a small county of Israel was able to land 2 planes containing a field hospital with modern medical supplies enough to treat hundreds of people within 72 hours of the earthquake. While most of our friends in the Arab world sent nothing…. A Jew says to save one life is to save the world….

  • Navin1

    Farnaz,As a mystic I can agree entirely with an origin outside of “us” so long as I believe in an I outside of the Being (which as a practicing mystic I have reason to doubt). As a person who understand that angst of people who have given up faith due to the maligning of faith and god by the christo-islamists, the philosophical existence of a deity is insufficient justification of our understanding of the phenomenal world.And yes, the Torah has much to teach the seeking world once we know that it is a tool in a process not the end result. hariaum

  • clearthinking1

    I agree with Christians’ & Muslims’ basic commandments: 1. One should exploit others suffering to spread one’s own religion. 2. Charity should be done with an ulterior motive to gain power.3. One should identify weakness in another country and culture. Then, instead of letting them correct problems, one should exploit.4. Divide and conquer.5. Always pretend to do charity. This provides the perfect cover for the true agenda.6. Always remember that my god is better than the other’s god. Use this belief to justify and rationalize acts of deception & destruction.7. Religion is about winning and expanding, not about spiritual development.8. Might is right.9. If the whole world can be converted to Islam or Christianity, we will win. Then we will destroy the other inferior religion.10. Peace on Earth and goodwill to mankind – NOT.

  • persiflage

    ‘God didn’t cause the earthquake. Anyone who thinks he did doens’t know his scriputres very well.’Hmmmmm – and the scriptural cause would be?? Oh, I get it – humans brought it on themselves. That whole free will, sinning, and divine retribution scheme. God has nothing to do with human suffering because we choose to do it to ourselves through wrong choices. Consider the raw imaginative power it takes to influence planetary dynamics – to a degree sufficient to cause an earthquake. Humans apparently possess considerable occult power, perverse and dark though it may be! The ignorance inspired by religion is appalling…….

  • persiflage

    ‘God didn’t cause the earthquake. Anyone who thinks he did doens’t know his scriputres very well.’Hmmmmm – and the scriptural cause would be?? Oh, I get it – humans brought it on themselves. That whole free will, sinning, and divine retribution scheme. God has nothing to do with human suffering because we choose to do it to ourselves through wrong choices. Consider the raw imaginative power it takes to influence planetary dynamics – to a degree sufficient to cause an earthquake. Humans apparently possess considerable occult power, perverse and dark though it may be! The ignorance inspired by religion is appalling…….

  • dangeroustalk

    Admittedly, the philosophical problem of evil was the catalyst for my break from religion. However, as I learned more about the Abrahamic religions, I started to dismiss the problem of evil in favor of more compelling arguments.However, after listening to Christians attempt to respond to the problem of evil, their responses seem incomplete at best and quite possibly just plain silly. As such, I have gained a new found respect for the problem of evil.You can read the rest of my response to this topic: I will be responding to every issue posted in the ‘On Faith’ section. If you would like to be notified when my new response is up, please subscribe.