7. “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then He is not omnipotent. Is He able, but not willing? Then He is malevolent. Is He both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil? Is He neither able nor willing? Then why call Him God?” – Epicurus
And it’s easy to see why; this is a classic challenge to theism. (At least, it is a challenge to monotheism. Most forms of theism claim neither omnipotence nor goodness of their gods.)
But, formidable as it seems, it is based on no less a misunderstanding of Christianity than Smalley’s earlier points. To start, I find that most of those repeating this argument don’t actually know what omnipotence is.
That is, omnipotence is the ability to do anything that actually is a thing. Self-contradictions aren’t things that could ever be done, no matter how much power one has. Creating a married bachelor or a square circle aren’t tasks. They are simply meaningless arrangements of words.
This is significant because it is a self-contradiction to make someone freely do something. God creates people to be free creatures, meaning that we choose whether or not to do evil. No amount of power, not even omnipotence, can make someone freely be good.
And, when one thinks about it, this is also misunderstanding of evil. Goodness requires freedom. An act taken by a machine isn’t good or evil; only the actions of people free to choose have a moral dimension to them. So, to rid the world of evil though forcing people to behave in certain ways is to simultaneously rid the world of good.
So, is a world with both good and evil in it (not to mention free will) superior to one with neither? I’d say so. And it definitely seems hard to prove that a good and omnipotent God would disagree.
There are many other answers that could be given to the problem of evil, but I’ll close with this:
If one agrees that evil does exist, and that it is something that a good God should stop (as opposed to simply being a matter of human opinion), how do we explain that? Really, if there is some absolute standard of morality, by which one presumes to indict God (who is neither human, nor a part of our culture), what is the basis of that morality? Answering that question, it has been shown, will lead one to postulate a good God.
Thus, it turns out that Smalley’s best reason to be an atheist is actually a reason to believe in God.