The problem of evil is an issue that has been around for a very long time, and has yet to be debunked, so it remains on the table as an unanswered challenge. Perhaps one of the most famous and often quoted example of this is as follows:
Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?
The above is attributed to Epicurus, however this argument was a type favoured by the ancient Greek skeptics, and may have been wrongly attributed to Epicurus by Lactantius, who, from his Christian perspective, regarded Epicurus as an atheist. It has been suggested that it may actually be the work of another early skeptic writer, possibly Carneades.
Anyway, regardless of who the author is, it expresses the issue very well. The core of the problem is that God is supposed to have specific characteristics, and it is these that conflict with what we see in the world around us. God is apparently all-knowing (omniscience), he can do anything at all (omnipotence), and he is all loving (benevolence).
Terrible things happen, earthquakes, cancer, plagues, wars, genocide, slavery, murders, starvation, etc… and so if God is all loving then why all the suffering? He is all-knowing, so we don’t need to tell him about any of this. He is also apparently all-powerful, so there is nothing to prevent him from stepping in and sorting it all out, yet he does not. He is also supposed to be the ultimate form of benevolence, yet it still all happens. So quite clearly the concept of God is not compatible with reality as we know it.
Since this observation was made a very long time ago by an ancient Greek skeptic and pre-dates Christianity, an almost countless number of very smart believing humans have had thousands of years to ponder over this, so perhaps there is a reasonable reply; we can take a look.
It is all a Punishment: Humans have done bad things, so just as we punish a child who breaks the rules, God will punish us when we break his rules.
This is quite frankly a truly outrageous claim; in what way is an earthquake or a flood that slaughters all in a totally indiscriminate manner a punishment? I even recall some Islamic cleric recently claiming that woman wearing loose clothing causes earthquakes, yet when such tragic events occur it results in the death of Burka wearing adherents as well. No sorry, an entity that punishes the innocent along with the guilty would be a hideously immoral bastard, and not in any way benevolent, this is not a credible answer.
God has granted us free will: all evil is a consequence of human choices.
If all suffering and evil in the world could be traced back to human choice, then this might indeed be a credible response, however this is just not the reality of the world we live within. Humans do indeed start wars, but there are also many events that are not in any way the result of human decisions – earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, storms are all natural events. If god was indeed both truly benevolent and also omnipotent, he could have placed us into a universe in which such things did not happen.
It is all a Test: The claim is that we need to suffer so that we can be purified and turned into better people.
Playing this “God does mysterious things” card and suggesting that we simply do not understand his higher purpose is simply acknowledging that the problem of evil is a real problem and that there is no answer for it. So either God is in fact not real, or we suffer for our own good, but don’t understand why. This is not a rational answer at all, it simply assumes God is real without offering one single jot of evidence for making such an assumption. It is far more rational and a lot simpler to acknowledge the evidence we have – that we live in a universe where bad things randomly happen for no reason at all.
Inventing a god is not only daft, but also presents those that embrace such beliefs with insurmountable philosophical challenges such as this. Sweeping it all under the carpet with a bit of religious hand-waving does not address it in a credible manner.
You can read more about it all here.
On a related note, Philosopher Stephen Law has an evil God challenge …
The challenge is to explain why the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and all-good god should be considered significantly more reasonable than the hypothesis that there exists an omnipotent, omniscient and all-evil god. Theists typically dismiss the evil-god hypothesis out of hand because of the problem of good – there is surely too much good in the world for it to be the creation of such a being. But then why doesn’t the problem of evil provide equally good grounds for dismissing belief in a good god?
There is also a YouTube clip based upon this paper here … (it is only about 4 minutes long)