“Mama, he says himself that all troubles and pains and miseries and rotten diseases and horrors and villainies are sent to us in mercy and kindness to discipline us; and he says it is the duty of every father and mother to help Providence, every way they can; and says they can’t do it by just scolding and whipping, for that won’t answer, it is weak and no good — Providence’s way is best, and it is every parent’s duty and every person’s duty to help discipline everybody, and cripple them and kill them, and starve them, and freeze them, and rot them with diseases, and lead them into murder and theft and dishonor and disgrace; and he says Providence’s invention for disciplining us and the animals is the very brightest idea that ever was, and not even an idiot could get up anything shinier. Mamma, brother Eddie needs disciplining, right away: and I know where you can get the smallpox for him, and the itch, and the diphtheria, and bone-rot, and heart disease, and consumption, and — Dear mamma, have you fainted! I will run and bring help! Now this comes of staying in town this hot weather.”
-Mark Twain, Little Bessie Would Assist Providence
Is the “Problem of Evil” really compatible with omniscience and omnipotence? Let’s consider the options:
1. The omniscient, omnipotent deity allows evil to happen because he doesn’t really care about it, or is, in fact, evil. A possible answer, but not one that’s compatible with most religion.
2. It’s all for a higher purpose, to punish us. I can’t help but think Twain’s satire is all the refutation of that needed.
3. It’s all to test our faith. This would make said omniscient, omnipotent being a sadist. Anyway, wouldn’t he already know the result if he was omniscient under most definitions of the term?
4. It’s all unknowable. Why?
5. Free will. There are several sub-possibilities
5a. When combined with the standard “he creates us individually” arguement, this means that the deity is creating people he knows will turn out to be evil. This again hits the problem of the sadist god.
5b. If the deity doesn’t create people individually, then we still run into problems: Do diseases have free will? If not, why does the deity allow them? Are accidents important parts of free will? Is it restricting free will to prevent a car hitting an icy patch that sends it careening off the road? There’s a lot of suffering out there that has nothing whatsoever to do with free will.
5c. Looking at willful acts, we still hit problems. At the Columbine High School Massacre, several bombs failed to explode, which prevented the massacre being even worse. Isn’t this, and any other event that prevents anything being even worse than it is, an implicit restriction on free will? And if it’s acceptable, why shouldn’t all human-led acts of that sort be similarly restricted? Why shouldn’t acts of great evil be blocked at every turn, with, say, passports of the 9/11 hijackers having gone missing, so they couldn’t board? Hitler having a sudden heart attack?
6. In the manner of Krishna, the universe is merely the biological processes of a giant being. I’m actually rather enamoured by this option, but it’s hard to see why a specific actin fibre, even a single neuron should expect the body to care about it than any other protein or cell.
7. Any higher beings that have any real interaction with us are not omnipotent, and have extremely limited omniscience, if any. I honestly can’t see any other option than this, and thus am forced to reject most of the glib assumptions of standard religious faiths.