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The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism


The question of the existence of a divine, omnipotent, and omniscient being interests and even worries many thinkers from ancient times, probably since the birth of philosophical thought. In this regard, philosophers are mainly divided into two philosophical camps, namely, theists, those who believe in divinity, and atheists, those who deny it, as unproven or as something that goes against common sense. In his article, The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism, William Rowe considers this controversial theme by simultaneously advancing and denying the rationally justified argument for atheism based on the existence of evil. This paper aims at summarizing and explaining the key points of this argument, as well as providing valid objections to it.

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According to William Rowe, the argument for atheism based on the existence of evil relies on three premises, where severe suffering is taken as the basis of evil. The first one states that an omniscient, omnipotent being could have prevented some examples of intense suffering without the loss of a greater good or allowing some evil, equally bad or worse (Rowe 336). In support of this premise, an instance is given of the senseless suffering of a burnt fawn caught in a forest fire caused by a lightning strike in a tree. Particularly, in this context, it is evident that fawn could not have such a greater good that could be lost in the case of the prevention of the suffering. At the same time, it can be reasonably assumed that equally bad or worse evil does not exist, which could appear if the fawn’s pain were averted. Thus, an omnipotent, omniscient being could have stopped the terrible fawn’s suffering since it seems to be visibly pointless. That is, this suffering neither removes a greater good nor produce equally bad or worse evil in case of prevention.

The second premise concerns the ethical side and moral principles, not only its reasonableness. Specifically, it supposes that a wholly good, herewith omniscient, being would prevent any acute misery if it could not produce a particular greater good and would not worsen suffering (Rowe 336). In our case, fawn’s suffering would not lead to something better or something worse in case of obviation; thus, a wholly good being could not permit that. The third premise is the most straightforward and self-evident since it asserts that “There does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being” (Rowe 336). Hence, fawn’s suffering could occur because no divinity exists to control or prevent the appearance of such or similar incidents.


While objecting to the first two premises, first of all, I should indicate that from a Christian’s point of view, divine omnipotence is primarily connected with the reasonableness of action, not only the ability to do everything. This reasonableness, in turn, necessarily implies a causal relationship, that is, a pattern that determines the phenomena and events taking place in the world, including terrible and mournful incidences. Thus, God cannot do whatever He wants, but only those things that are reasonable and beneficial.

For example, God cannot intrude in the will of people and force them to do something brazenly, using His power and man’s impotence or weakness. He can only influence an individuals’ decisions through surrounding circumstances, but the ultimate choice is always left for man. In our instance of fawn’s suffering, omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good God cannot prevent or interrupt fawn’s distress if they happened as a result of natural circumstances. He can, but it would mean violating the natural order of things.

However, He possesses the capability to arrange circumstances, even with seemingly adverse consequences, in such a way that eventually, the perceived benefit comes from them. To comprehend everything indicated above, I think it is necessary to set aside our discussed example and deliberate something much more concrete, tangible, and directly related to people. In particular, it is well-known that global warming is principally caused by the continuously expanding human activity that aims to satisfy the continued growing world consumption of earth resources. The roots of this mostly overconsumption lie in the sheer human insatiable greed, selfishness, and foolish self-love. The visible consequences of this phenomenon are the significantly increased occurrence of anomalies and catastrophes that affect almost all countries and nations. For example, Australia’s bushfires produced by exceptionally hot, dry, and windy weather have destroyed over 15 million acres of forest and killed 25 people and over 1 billion animals (DoSomething Editors). Due to its scale and magnitude of suffering and damage, the calamity shocked the entire world community and was even regarded as apocalyptic.

Consequently, the argument arises that if God exists, herewith, omnipotent and wholly good, He will stop this disaster since it is really inhuman in its destructive and suffering power. Nevertheless, the occurred calamity undoubtedly results from people’s actions and ambitions, which ignore all natural laws and signs given before. In addition, only such shocks and sufferings of people and animals can make or at least induce the global society to reflect on their behavior and attitude to nature and make appropriate measures. Finally, as a believer, I cannot admit that God will allow the death of even one creature if this does not directly benefit him or someone else. Moreover, from my own experience, I can judge that all the evil and suffering that happens in the world occur naturally, primarily because of the fault of a person himself.

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Work Cited

DoSomething Editors. “2020 Australian Bushfire Crisis: What’s Happening, and how You Can Take Action.” DoSomething, Web.

Rowe, William L. “The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism.” American Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 16, no. 4, 1979, pp. 335-341.

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