Fr. Michael Smith, a former philosophy professor and current pastor in Temiscaming, Qc (my next-door-neighbor... even though he's almost 60 miles distant) has offered the following in response to my previous post on Epicurus' dilemma on the existence of evil. I thank Fr. Mike for the kindness of his response and trust that it might serve to prompt further comment on this subject. The italicized (not) is my addition to his message as I believe that it was omitted in error when he sent me his post.
I include my response to him at the end of his post.
I have read your appeal for help with the problem of evil. The whole argument is subject to a number of limitations:
1. If one grants, as Augustine does, that God would not permit evil unless a proportionate good could come out of it, the problem is that we have such limited knowledge that we cannot possibly know what good can come from some forms of evil (e.g., the Holocaust). Quite bluntly, we do not know why the earthquake occurred in Haiti, other than the natural causes at work (tectonic plates moving).
One thing is clear: Augustine’s argument does not mean that God uses evil as a means to an end.
2. If one grants the argument that a world where there is free choice, but moral evil, is better than a world where we are all good, but programmed to be so, this has nothing to say about natural evils such as earthquakes.
3. Another thing is clear: This life on earth does (not) give us any guarantees of safety from accidents, tragedies, and natural disasters. Miracles exist, but they are exceptional.
4. No explanation of evil could ever come to the point of a scenario where evil fits perfectly into the picture. As radical nonbeing, evil is that which, in principle, does not fit in.
5. To paraphrase Albert Nolan, to believe in God means to believe that good will ultimately triumph over evil. The problem, for each individual, is this: Given my necessarily limited knowledge of the grand scheme of things, can I trust God? Each of us spends his or her life living out the answer.
With regards to your 2nd point, can we not say that creation suffers from the imperfection of sin (Romans 8:22) and that such events as an earthquake is a manifestation of this imperfection? After all, when creation is renewed with the coming of Christ at the end of time, could we still expect that this new existence will still be prone to such events? If we can assume that there will not be earthquakes etc. in the renewed world, is it also not logical that we could find what exists (or is lacking) now which would explain the existence of natural disasters?
Further, if can conclude that what is different is the presence of sin, and if I can say that sin is a direct result of the misuse of the gift of free will, can it not be said that then that it is sin which is responsible for the death and suffering of an earthquake?
Perhaps I am using at least one of my terms in an analogous fashion for I am tying this entire schema into our Catholic understanding of the preternatural gifts (with its perfect understanding of death as a normal phase of life by which we leave time and enter into eternity), gifts that were lost to us via the "original" sin.
I does seem to me that the key to comprehending of all of this is to understand "free will" as the penultimate gift of God - the freedom God gave us to chose Him (presence of God = grace) or not to (privation of God = evil).
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