The Problem of Evil: What Can God Do?

Here's a redated post of mine from April '06:

It's time once again to discuss what is known as the bedrock of atheism, the problem of evil. As my springboard let's start with David Hume:
A deity who knows the secret springs of the universe might easily, by particular volitions, turn all accidents to the good of mankind and render the whole world happy, without discovering himself in any operation. A fleet whose purposes were salutary to society might always meet with a fair wind. Good princes enjoy sound health and long life. Persons born to power and authority be framed with good tempers and virtuous dispositions. A few such events as these, regularly and wisely conducted, would change the face of the world, and yet would no more seem to disturb the course of nature or confound human conduct than the present economy of things where the causes are secret and variable and compounded. One wave, a little higher than the rest, by burying Caesar and his fortune in the bottom of the ocean, might have restored liberty to a considerable part of mankind.” [Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Part XI].
Here are some more things God could’ve done: One childhood fatal disease like the Spanish Flu of 1918 could have killed Hitler and prevented WWII. One actual attempt on Hitler’s life by some people, including Dietrich Bonhoeffer, could have ended his reign after the war started. A different police officer could have discovered a naked boy who had briefly escaped Jeffrey Dahlmer’s clutches, and upon investigating further could’ve saved that boy’s life. Timothy McVeigh could have had a fatal vehicle crash while driving to Oklahoma, or a crash that would reveal what was inside his truck. McVeigh could also have been killed while in combat before coming back to the states.

A fatal heart attack could’ve been sent to Saddam Hussein before our war with Iraq, stopping it dead in its tracks. The poison that Saddam threw on the Kurds a decade ago could have simply “malfunctioned” by being miraculously neutralized. Sure it would puzzle Saddam, and it would not be explainable by science, but there are a great many things that take place in our world that are not explainable, so this wouldn’t necessarily lead him to believe that the laws of nature were suspended, revealing God behind it all. The same thing could have been done to the Zykon-B gas pellets dropped down into the Auschwitz gas chambers. Even if Nazi's did conclude that God performed a miracle here, what’s the harm done?

Why did God allow the earthquake that sent the tsunami that killed a quarter of a million people in Asia? Did he not have the power to restrain that earthquake? No one would know that he kept it from happening. The same goes for the predicted San Andreas Fault and the earthquake that will send Los Angeles into the Pacific Ocean. No seismic scientist would ever discover God as the reason why it doesn’t do this.

Why couldn’t something have happened to all nine hijackers of those planes on that fatal 9/11 day? One could trip and fall to his death, or a broken limb. Three others could’ve gotten in a car accident on the way. One other could’ve had a heart attack. Still another could have been robbed by a New York pair of thugs and killed (there’s utilitarianism at its best!). Another could have been reminded of something by God that would weaken his will, maybe intense doubts like those who walk down the wedding aisle. Another could have been spotted at security by a different officer, while another’s take-on-bag might have spilled open revealing his knife. And so on. These things would all occur on that morning stopping the terrorist attacks dead on. But none of these things happened, did they? God allowed the destruction of nearly 3500 lives that day even though there were means at his disposal to stop it.

And even if by changing these things in the world God would “eradicate the laws of nature,” which I seriously doubt, the Christian would still have to argue that these things are impossible for God to do. Who says that the laws of nature must be fixed and unalterable, anyway? David Hume first questioned this. The ordering of the world by general laws “seems nowise necessary” to God. If by changing something requires some adjustment that does not accord with any known laws of nature, so what? The Christian claims God can do miracles, then why not a perpetual one that doesn’t affect anything else in his creation?

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