By Dr. Owen Anderson, Research Director
Like so many organizations, COVID-19 has unfortunately pushed Clarity Fund to reschedule our second annual conference. But it also provides us with a good opportunity to begin regular blog posts. And reflections on COVID-19 are a good place to start. In the following weeks, keep an eye out for the Clarity Fund Fellows to post on themes that we focus on.
One of my areas of study is the problem of evil. The problem of evil is a problem about meaning. How do we make sense of the reality of evil? What meaning does it have? How can we understand it? This is not merely a practical problem, because it is not enough to overcome evil. Even when there is a solution to a given instance of natural evil, there is still the fact that it had occurred. The human need is to find meaning.
The problem of evil is a universal problem. All persons wrestle with the need to make sense of their lives in the face of suffering. But the problem of evil is often aimed at belief in God. Hume quotes Epicurus as saying,
“Epicurus’s old questions have still not been answered. •Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. •Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. •Is he both able and willing? Then where does evil come from?”
How can we say that God is perfect in goodness and power if there is evil? For some, the solution is to deny that God is perfect in goodness or power—God must be limited in some way. Perhaps there is evil because we have free will or because God doesn’t know the future. But this isn’t a solution; it instead bypasses the problem. A solution requires showing how these attributes are true of God and explaining why there is evil.
The problem of evil requires us to give a more coherent definition of good and evil. What is the good? Often when a person raises the problem of evil as an excuse for unbelief they are relying on an intuitive and imprecise definition of “evil.” In following posts I will look more closely at the good.
For now we should distinguish between moral evil and natural evil. Natural evil (old age, sickness, death, toil, strife, famine, war, plague) has the effect of getting us to stop and think. It makes us question, “why?” And this has been one of the effects of the current shutdown: the largest shutdown in human history. I’ve seen people asking each other what they are doing with their time. “Are you spending it well; as in, learning a new hobby?”
Learning new hobbies is fun. I’ve been doing that as well. But the shutdown has also made us ask about our values. What do we value? And what is our highest value? Have we actually been pursuing this with our lives, or have we stopped seeking it and pursued something else? This is a question about what we love. Do we know what is good and do we love the Good?
The worldwide shutdown is an opportune time to ask ourselves if what we believe is good. Do we know and have we been seeking it above all else?
Dr. Owen Anderson