Not “God isn’t nice”, but “God isn’t there”

There is a common misconception in discussions surrounding evil and God: that when presenting the argument from evil, the conclusion sought is that God is failing to live up to his moral responsibilities – that God isn’t very nice. Yet this is nonsense: the God all standard arguments from evil have in their sights is a God who is morally perfect. It simply cannot be that this God would exist and yet do anything wrong. What the argument is trying to show is that the world with all its apparent evil could not be the the work of this morally perfect God. The conclusion is not God isn’t nice, but that God simply isn’t.

Yet this confusion is fairly common. Perhaps it is partly due to how one often discusses the argument from evil. Often God is ‘put on trial’ where various defenses for his seeming misconduct are offered and scrutinized, and this sort of trial-esque game seems to imply (like a defendant) that his character is in doubt, not his existence. Regardless, it needs to be emphasized that God is not on trial in the sense that he is being called to account for his deeds, but rather the question is whether the world-as-it-seems contradicts the idea of a being with the character and resources that God is meant to have. Not least, this distinction must be made because it is possible that some argumentative moves are licit for ‘trials’, but illicit here.

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