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The Omnipotent God And The Problem Of Evil

Updated on May 4, 2011

Can We Rationalize Theology?

There are two basic statements that Christian theology puts forward that run into trouble in terms of a rational analysis of the creation of evil. 

1) God is supreme (omnipotent) without equal. 

2) God is holy or wholly and completely good. 

Catholic theology teaches that God had created the angels.  One of those angels Lucifer tried at one point to be God or to take God's position as ruler.  As a result, Lucifer was banished from heaven and put into hell. 

All that is evil is associated with Lucifer and all that is good is attributed to God.  Which leads us to the questions - Who created evil?  God or Lucifer?  Was evil created or was it always there?

Going back to our first two statements - God is omnipotent and God is good, we run into the problem of evil.  Most Catholics will tell you intuitively that God did not create evil since God is of only goodness.  However, then what does that say about God's omnipotence?

When Lucifer was created, who presented the choice to do evil?  Did Lucifer create evil out of nothing?  If he did, again, this would go against the omnipotence and good will of God.  Someone had to have presented that door of evil - which is part of free will.  Most Christians will go along with God creating free will for us.

If God invented free will, then it goes to say that He invented the choice of evil.  That free will must have been presented to Lucifer in order to do evil against God.  Talk about your classic case of enabling!

By this rational thought, God must have created evil first before creating Lucifer to allow Lucifer to choose the evil course.  Therefore we deduce that God cannot possibly be 2) wholly good.  He must be more. 

If we can agree by this logic that God had created evil, then what purpose did God have to send His only son Jesus Christ to die for us, when in fact our evil is a direct result of His own creation? 

God not creating evil means that He does not possess the omnipotence and that Satan must at least share albeit in an inferior way, the power to create.  Such a scenario would mean that God could not have created Satan (Lucifer) but shares power  in which case He has no authority over the dark one.  That scenario would entail that God will never extinguish evil because if He had not created evil, He would be incapable of destroying it. 

God creating evil skewers the whole dynamic between God, Lucifer and Jesus.  To send Jesus down to rescue us from evil (sin), is bizarre if God Himself created evil. 

In conclusion, the Christian religion pits the Kingdom of God against the dark hell of Satan.  However, an omnipotent God would be needed to have Satan's Hell to keep running.  God is in fact rallying against something that He Himself has created and that it had originated from Him who is supposed to be wholesomely good.  I have heard some Catholics say that evil is just the absence of good much like cold is the absence of heat.  An interesting point, however an absence of God still precludes Him from being omnipotent and everywhere.  Maybe I am wrong and there can be voids in omnipotence?


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      Daniel 6 years ago

      God created the possibility of 'subjective' evil (pain, suffering, etc.) in order to discourage/prevent sentient creatures from committing spiritual-epistemological evil.

      A too-simple case of epistemological evil is to assert, in utter ignorance, that omnipotence must be the power to do not only any thing which IS a thing, but any thing which is NOT a thing.

      Let ‘A’ be an ontologically, and therefore epistemologically, necessary thing.

      Let ‘z’ be the negation of ‘A’.

      Therefore, not only is ‘z’ not a thing, ‘z=A’ is not a thing.

      Therefore, ‘the ability to do any thing’ does not include doing either ‘z’, or ‘z=A’.

      Omnipotence is not a paradox. Only a certain formulation of omnipotence is a paradox. This paradoxical formulation is based on a certain three precedents, or premises. One of these precedents is the most ignorant possible formulation of 'thing' or 'state of affairs'. The second precedent is the most ignorant possible formulation of 'power'. The third precedent is the very spirit of adversariality.

      Now, about that most ignorant formulation of power.

      Power can 'generally' be defined as the ability to 'bring about a particular state of affairs' that does not obtain prior to the act of bringing it about. This idea of power is a fully generalized abstraction from actual kinds of powers. We abstract it similar to how we abstract generalizations in math. Whether we add two pair of shoes, or one pair of shoes and one of socks, there is a particular sense that stays the same: four objects. Similarly, whether we observe a hammer as it strikes a nail, or the nail as it goes into wood, the most singular sense is always the same: something brings something about: ‘simply power'.

      But, ‘simply power' is the fully ambiguated, or logically indifferent, sense of the idea of power. It doesn't say anything that we don't already know: It can't tell us that tornados cannot blow 2+2 up into 5, nor that human wishful-ness cannot cause tornadoes to cease. In fact, ‘simply power' says much less than we already know if we think that it is sufficient to understanding any act of power: It can't tell us that the logical potential to accidentally trip and hit your head is not strictly an example of power, but of a lack of the cognitive power to coordinate a less-than-perfectly-coordinated body sufficient to prevent accidents. Moreover, ‘simply power' cannot tell us that the ontology, the concrete essence, of power is concretely neither the idea of 'potential' or the concreteness of action; so, it can't tell us what we most implicitly know about power: that power is an agent, and that there is, in fact, nothing which is not an agent. So, simple 'power' cannot tell us that the kind of agent that a particular agent is is what determines what powers it has, or, rather, is.

      So, to use the idea of ‘simply power' as the singular metric for identifying potentials and actions of power, while being consistent on its own terms, nevertheless is 'epistemologically adverse': it is logically indifferent to the nature of the relations between results and their causes. It then becomes nothing but the idea of 'effect'. So, to say that 'power is defined in terms of its effects' is to define power essentially as an adversarial relationship to the constitution of entities, rather than as a kind of entity in itself. In fact, if the ontology of power were ‘simply power', then power would not be anything in itself, but would consist purely in the fact that something changes. This, in turn, would mean that nothing could be held a priori exempt from being changed, including mathematical sums and other kinds of logical entailment.

      So, the idea that power is ‘simply power' is the idea that power is identified purely by empirical observation that something has changed. This idea of power is, in effect, the idea that power is merely the IDEA of power, or blind change of (mis)fortune, with no real source.

    • Robertj64 profile image

      Robertj64 7 years ago from Burlington, Ontario, Canada


      I think Anton is trying to point out that free will with punishable consequences is not free will. If I give you the choice to kiss or slap me and you decide to slap me. I have no right to slap you back because I gave you "free" choice.

      Humans have varied ability with mixed results to choose wisely but the freedom to choose is our own.

      Question: How can evil be morally wrong if you need it to be "good"? You said if we were only created to do good we would be robots. What does that say about immoral act of killing someone. The argument is an entrapment and is circular in logic.

      When you look at it, we were not given the choice of having free will were we? All of us have it whether we want it or not and therefore in that sense, we did not have any input into this as Anton has stated.

    • aslanlight profile image

      aslanlight 7 years ago from England

      'If god values free will, god has to value all of it, not just the parts that love him. By giving us free will, he created the possibility. We did not have any input into this.'

      Anton if God gave freewill he/she also gave the ability to use it wisely and well. If we'd been created to only do good we'd be robots and the good we do wouldn't be good at all, simply a programme.

      How can you say we don't have input into what we do? That's what choice is all about isn't it?

      People can blame God all they like for this and that but we're responsible. If I killed you would that make God evil? Would it mean he/she made me evil or did I choose to be like that?

      And I think God does value the whole of us. I mean overcoming the badness in us is one of the hardest things we ever have to do, and it's commendable when we do it. If we were born perfect there wouldn't be those struggles and victories.

    • Robertj64 profile image

      Robertj64 7 years ago from Burlington, Ontario, Canada

      AKA Winston

      I get your point about time being a measuring process and not anything of an object.

      Cameras and technology can measure the results of velocity.

      The point I was trying to make is the forward movement of how we use time as a scaler, may not be consistent throughout the universe.

    • profile image

      AKA Winston 7 years ago

      (Film and photography capture moments in time and therefore memory which has an element of subjectivity to it can be replaced)


      Time is one of the more difficult concepts to graps as it is so firmly embedded in our understandings. But think about what it is and what you are saying.

      First off, what is time? It is a measurement, i.e., a scaler. We humans use seconds, minutes, hours, etc. to mark the passage of what we call time.

      Second, take your photograph claim. Now, imagine you are looking at a photo of the sun just above the horizon, but it is noon and you have no memory or any way of knowing that the picture was taken at a different time. For all you would know, that picture could be of a different planet - because without your imperfect memory, all you would know and understand is now. It would always be simply now. The picture is different than now, so it must be of another place where now is different.

      The sun is always simply there - you would have no way of knowing that it was in a different position at other times unless you had some memory knowledge, no matter how imperfect that memory.

      Third, because time is an abstraction, a concept, it cannot slow down, speed up, or be traveled through. When I say abstract concept, think idea - can the idea be slowed down, sped up, or travelled through?

      All time does is compare static locations by means of a human-based scaling system. That is all it can do, as it is not a thing but an idea conceived by man.

      To say time can be stretched is to reify time from a concept into an object. Your socks can stretch, but time cannot.

    • Beverly Stevens profile image

      Beverly Stevens 7 years ago from College Station

      AKA--I did think that you thought there is a creator because of your comments in your very first post about god. Sorry if I misunderstood.

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      AKA Winston 7 years ago

      (AKA Winston--Your arguments assume that all was "created.")


      I'm sorry, but I do not see how it is possible for you to come to your "created" conclusion about what I said when what I said was this: "creation ex nihilo is a rational impossibility."

      I will make this very clear. There is no creator as creation from nothing is impossible. Therefore, the only possible explanation is that matter is eternal - it has always been.

    • Robertj64 profile image

      Robertj64 7 years ago from Burlington, Ontario, Canada

      AKA Winston,

      I agree with most of your arguments however I would like to question your idea that time requires memory. I do not believe this to be true. We have everyday technology such as cameras that capture specific time frames which confirm our memory. Film and photography capture moments in time and therefore memory which has an element of subjectivity to it can be replaced with a more non-biased object which captures information objectively.

      Your statements that time cannot be slowed down may soon be proven to be false if it is found that time is not a constant throughout the universe.

    • profile image

      AKA Winston 7 years ago


      Rational and irrational are words, and all words are concepts. Some of these concepts resolve to objects (real things with a physical presence, shape and location) and other must be defined. Defined concepts are abstractions: love, hope, morality, energy, mass, etc.

      Rational is an abstract concept that I define as that which adheres to known physical laws and has no ontological contradictions.

      Irrationality simply separates the understanding among A) what is known to be real (things) and B) what is imagined to possible be real (ghosts, spirits, gods, quanta, photons) and C) what is conceptualized and defined (space, time, mass, logics).

      The reason to do this is that the natural world is binary: it doesn't matter what we think or guess or hope or pray, reality is as it is. It is black/white, exists/doesn't exist.

      My points have always been that it may be fun to postulate about the improbable, but ultimately it is of no useful purpose other than to amuse ourselves. Regardless of what we think, reality is going to be reality.

      What we are left with is rational thought - dealing with the known physical laws and those things explainable by those laws.

      Basically my point is this: if it is unknowable, it is useless to ponder over as it is ultimately meaningless.

      To clarify, physics began with a study of physical objects - it was later stolen by mathematicians who used their logics to show irrational claims could be "proved".

      Proving by way of mathematics and logic has no bearing on the reality of physics. Either dark matter exists or it doesn't exist, regardless of what our mathematics tell us.

      Nature is 100% objective.

      As for time - it is man's abstraction of a scaler to measure changes of locations. Time requires memory. From the perspective of a rock, the sun is always "right there" - it wasn't lower in the sky this morning. The only way we know that it was lower this morning is because of human memory. We mark the location change by the scaler we label time.

      Because it is a construct of man that requires definition to have meaning, time cannot be a "thing", an object. Only objects can be shaped, twisted, bent, sped up, or slowed down. To same that time can be slowed down is like saying your morals can be slowed down.

      From nature's perspective, everything is static. It is only the series of static pictures - the event - that we label with a concept to give a simplified meaning to the event that has occured.

      It is simpler to say that when dynamite explodes that it releases energy. But in truth, energy is not a "thing" and thus cannot be released like a whale is released from capture and swims off. Explosive energy is a description of the event that propels air molecules at a high rate of speed that then collide with other objects that are thus distorted and have their shape altered. The blast we feel is not "energy" but rapidly moving molecules. Those rapidly moving molecules can be harnessed to do a specific task, work, and it is this ability to do word we label "energy".

      That is the rational explanation of energy. But try to argue that with a mathematical pysicist and they will swear that energy is a "thing" that resides in static objects (potential energy) and can be released by altering the "mass" of an object (kinetic energy). Funny thing is that both mass and energy are abstract concepts that require definitions for meaning, so they represent nothing in the real sense (other than the event does occur) - what they represent are ideas, and those ideas capture events, movies, not static pictures.

      The reality of nature is that a rock is real and energy is an idea developed by the mind of man. But the neo-scientist will try to tell you that the rock and the energy are the same thing, only in different form.

      I submit they are not.

    • Beverly Stevens profile image

      Beverly Stevens 7 years ago from College Station

      AKA Winston--Your arguments assume that all was "created." You're using the god-of-the-gaps mentality. No, science hasn't found answers for everything and not always correct answers. There is no black and white. But, there is no empirical evidence that a god--any god--exists. Anyone can rationalize how this man-made creator may have done things or why. Just because you are good at fabricating possible scenerios and finding that science isn't always perfect, does not mean that an imaginary god exists.

    • Robertj64 profile image

      Robertj64 7 years ago from Burlington, Ontario, Canada

      AKA Winston,

      I am also fascinated by your thoughts on time. It is true that time is measured by our concept of velocity most specifically our velocity around the sun.

      What does an infinite universe really entail? Its very contents are a cauldron of creation and destruction. Can there have been a very beginning and then a very end as we would understand it?

      By being born, I have ended an almost infinite streak of inexistance. What are the chances of defying those odds again after this life?

    • Robertj64 profile image

      Robertj64 7 years ago from Burlington, Ontario, Canada

      AKA Winston,

      Are "rational" and "irrational" merely labels that we as humans can understand through solely our limited existence?

      Would our mortal existence inside an infinite universe constitute another paradox? There are some amoeba organisms (I am not sure which ones) that scientists have officially labeled immortal meaning they are immune to aging and can go on self-sustaining forever.

      If I understand you right, from the basis of your last post, you say that science (you use mathematics here) can best explain the nature of the universe but which ultimately may be proven false.

      Therefore we through our limited knowledge and existence could very well live in a bubble of rationality which could be a small subset of a very much larger sphere of irrationality. Irrationality here would mean way beyond the scope of any of our limited know-how and postulation.

    • profile image

      AKA Winston 7 years ago

      (Question - is the universe a mix of rational and irrational? If so, what would that say about the character of its creator?)

      By my definition, an irrational universe would be an impossible universe so the answer to #1 is no.

      As to a creator, creation ex nihilo is a rational impossibility. The only totally rational position is that matter, and the space that gives matter separation, is eternal. This means the concepts of modern cosmology are incorrect as to their measurements of the age of the universe.

      This doesn't bother me as the geocentric ideology lasted 2000 years. Any knowledgeable physicists will tell you that the Big Bang has flaws - it is only the best model that fits the observations.

      Two problems there: observations are subjective and subjectively interpreted. Redshift and the cosmic background radiation both have alternative explanations. We do not hear about these because they don't fit orthodox scientific belief systems. Scientific heresy disputes Big Bang.

      I can understand this dispute. Having to create dark matter and dark energy in order to validate the equations that Big Bang results in is no different to me that Ptolemy's epicycles that were created to explain retrograde planetary motion in the geocentric universe model the church insisted upon.

      The same basics apply to relativity. Time is not a thing, but a human concept that describes change. Time cannot stand still or move more rapidly. Space is an absence of matter, a void, and thus space cannot warp. Only things - objects - can warp.

      Therefore, it cannot be that Mercury revolves around the sun because space is warped like a black curtain and the planet's mass acts like a bowling ball causing a curviture in "space". How can you curve nothing?

      Mathematics can show how all that is possible. But mathematics relies on logic, which relies on axioms. It is an artificial system. Plug in the right axioms and symbols and the impossible can be shown possible.

      That does not make it so, though.

      Hope that answers your questions. Thanks.

    • Robertj64 profile image

      Robertj64 7 years ago from Burlington, Ontario, Canada

      Aka Winston,

      Whether evil is abstract or not, an omnipotent God would have had to have created it. I was simply using Catholic theology which attempts to explain evil's creation and scrutinize its rational.

      I have read your hubs and you have arrived at the same arguments via a slightly different route. You have pointed out the same flaws and termed them "paradoxes".

      Question - is the universe a mix of rational and irrational? If so, what would that say about the character of its creator?

    • Beverly Stevens profile image

      Beverly Stevens 7 years ago from College Station

      AntonOfTheNorth, what a vivid imagination you have. Your imaginary God lives outside of all of our known and logical reason. Wonderful, imaginative comments here. If God really existed, why would he leave us all so confused so that there is no real or logical interpretation for things like good and evil? How wonderful is your God if he can't even give us a clear picture of who he is or how he works--as evidenced by all of the many interpretations and rationalizations seen in each and every church. Of course, "believers" don't use real-world logic and evidence.

    • profile image

      AKA Winston 7 years ago


      I enjoyed the hub. I agree in principle with your conclusions but have some disagreement with how you arrived. Number 1 problem is that you do not define evil and write about it as if it were an object, a noun. Evil is an abstract concept. I realize you are paraphrasing Catholic concepts, but still, evil cannot be "created" like a coffee table can be created out of wood and screws.

      (God gave free will so we're to blame.)


      (For the sake of simplifying the argument, I will use evil as a noun, representing an idea of some action rather than a thing)

      P1: God is omnipotent and omniscient.

      P2: God could have actualized any number of worlds, including a world without evil. (from P1)

      P3: The fact that this particular world is the one actualized makes god responsible for choosing this particular world. (from P1, P2)

      P4: God would have known that this chosen world would contain evil, regardless of the direct cause of that evil.(from P1, P3)

      Therefore, god is responsible for evil, even if that evil is performed outside his will or direct control.

      So you see, even with the free will defense, god cannot be let off the hook for the responsibility of evil in the world. In the same way that Hitler did not have to personally kill a single Jew in order to be held responsible for the murder of each of the 6 million Jews who perished in the holocaust, as he had the power to prevent those deaths from occuring, so, too, is god responsible for evil in this world.

    • profile image

      AntonOfTheNorth 7 years ago

      "God gave free will so we're to blame."

      If god values free will, god has to value all of it, not just the parts that love him. By giving us free will, he created the possibility. We did not have any input into this.

      And it is not free will when there's a gun to your head

      'You are free to choose, but choose wrong and there goes your eternal life? Oh and here's a collection of stories written by some other humans who think they have it right, but they don't agree with each other. I'm not going to directly intervene. Its your choice. Good luck.'

      I don't feel all that free somehow...


    • aslanlight profile image

      aslanlight 7 years ago from England

      Speaking hypothetically, of course, perhapa Lucifer loved God more than all of the other angels. He must have admired him a great deal in order to want to be like him. We only try to emulate those we worship in some way.

      So God hasn't created any evil. And what if his banishment from heaven is simply that he can no longer stand to be in God's holy presence because his longing to be like him is so great? Or because the desire to be something other than himself puts him in turmoil.

      Applying this to humans, in my opinion 'evil' stems from the survival instinct and fear. Early man started killing people because they admired what the other had and wanted it.

      It's generally to do with seeing something desirable and wanting it or wanting to be like it.

      Christians say we should try to be like Christ, whom they assume is God incarnate. Isn't that exactly what Lucifer wanted to do; to be like God, omnipotent ruler?

      I doubt we could categorise admiring someone so much that we want to be like them, or following the survival instinct evil. Therefore God didn't create evil. Things only becomes evil when the basic human nature is taken to extremes and becomes greed, and as you say God gave free will so we're to blame.

    • Robertj64 profile image

      Robertj64 7 years ago from Burlington, Ontario, Canada

      Thanks for your note, Anton. The purpose of my writing was to examine the theology within the context of the limitations. I agree with you that outside our sphere of existence, we have no knowledge of the nature of good and evil. It was my purpose to point out obvious flaws within our boundaries.

    • profile image

      AntonOfTheNorth 7 years ago

      The nature of good and evil seems to be the heart of theological debate.

      Good and Evil are concepts of humanity. They (my opinion) have nothing to do with anything outside of our own experience.

      The same is true of omnipotence. What does that mean?

      We are constantly using our own limitations to define god, or reality.

      We can observe that death is a necessary element of life on earth. Death therefore cannot be wrong as without it there could be no life.

      The causes of death are many and varied. As death is necessary, how are its causes good or evil, outside of how we individually experience those causes? (I know there are many that think Bin Laden's death was good. I doubt that Bin Laden thought so, but I suspect he would prefer dying to standing trial, given his published beliefs)

      Suffering is a mechanism developed in the body to warn us of harm and cause a survival reaction.

      Morality is ,among other rationalities, a known extension of the survival instinct.

      Meaningful discussion of a creator becomes more useful if we step outside our own definitions of good and evil and try to picture what is beyond our experience, as, if there is a god, the god's experience must be outside our experience. If there is no god, then our experience will suffice, but then the discussion is unnecessary.

      But to ascribe objectivity to good and evil and then attempt to define god by our parameters is a bit like a flea holding meaningful discourse about the dog on which it is feeding.

      just my opinion. Thanks for the hub



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