B.C. Johnson and John Hick each provide an explanation of evil which either supports or refutes the existence of God, however neither argument is satisfying. There is no acknowledgement of relativism or subjectivity in either essay; in fact, good and evil are treated as absolutes. Good and evil cannot be absolutes, as they are relative to the subject. What is evil for one is good for another; for the rabbit caught by a wolf, the result is seemingly evil; for the wolf that eats the rabbit, it is a necessity of survival, and therefore good. While there are many things that we as humankind agree were absolutely immoral acts, such as the holocaust, this does not reduce the argument that neither Johnson nor Hick manage to deal with the bulk of good and evil, which is morally relative.
Johnson illustrates his point that there cannot be a God by listing the evil that has occurred throughout history. He begins by describing how people may be more moral than God is, as a person would rescue a baby from a burning building if it did not involve harm to oneself, however the all-powerful God does not intervene. Worse, Johnson states that God tolerates terrible natural disasters that cause untold pain and suffering, just to create the moral urgency which continues his position of power. Johnson believes that if there is a God, we should hold Him to the same standard as a mortal human, and on that count God fails to be moral. He gives the reader two options; either there is no God, and hence this has allowed evil, or there is a God, however He is evil. Johnson also addresses the traditional argument made by theists regarding the need for free will by detailing the absurdity of the immoral actions of God to create the morality of the people.
Overall Johnson’s focus is very narrow, and it includes only that which is horrifyingly evil, thereby leaving out the bulk of moral action on Earth. Johnson shows no relativism, nor does he acknowledge that what seems to be evil may be necessary in the world. All that lives dies, and contributes to the ecological circle of life, for example. While I do not necessarily dispute Johnson’s conclusions, it is not because of his argument.
Hick points out that evil has been a feature of human life on Earth. God, although all powerful, allows it at the cause of free will. Free will was given solely for the purpose of giving all individuals the opportunity to choose good, and to choose God. It is this process that creates and develops our eternal soul. Hick continues his argument by describing a world without evil. In this utopia there is no need for work, there is no sickness, and there is no death. According to Hick, there is also no soul creation. In this utopia, the individual has no free will, as this could leave room for evil. Without evil, we never learn to distinguish that which is morally right from that which is morally wrong. We would therefore not have the capacity to go to heaven or to choose God.
Hick’s argument is painfully devoid of supporting evidence. The idea of soul creation, for example, is one that can only be sold through charismatic persuasion; there is not only no proof, but there is nothing at all which supports it. Hick’s argument therefore only makes sense if one already believes in the Christian tenets of the soul. Hick is preaching to the converted. While I do not necessarily dispute his conclusion, as with Johnson it is not at the cause of Hick’s argument.
Neither Johnson nor Hick provides a compelling explanation of whether there is a God based on the existence of evil. That which is lacking is an understanding of God and the relationship to evil in light of moral relativity and subjectivity. It is possible to develop a more logical case for or against the existence of God, but evil is not the best foundation on which to base such an argument. A better approach is to perhaps first define and defend the existence of evil. Philosophers and theologians alike might find that this exercise is just as difficult as proving the existence of God.
If we begin with the idea that evil is not an absolute but relative to the perceiver, and we accept that we have free will within the constraints of context (regardless of the source), then a new idea begins to develop; that evil is not created by God, or a Godless universe, but that it is a necessary outcome of living processes. Life involves death; it involves death with omnivores and carnivores need to eat, and it involves death as ultimate outcome. There is no capacity for God to interfere with that death, as it is required by life. This is analogous to God’s inability to deal with evil; it is not an absolute, so in dealing with the evil outcomes for one group, God might just be creating evil for another group. If there is no God, then evil is the outcome of natural processes, as life waxes and wanes in a complex interrelationship between living creatures and processes.
Neither Johnson nor Hick has convinced me with regard to the question of the existence of God; however they have created for me compelling reasons to questions the existence of evil.