The Drama of Evil

My most recent article in On Religion has been made freely available on their website:

The argument looks at the so-called problem of gratuitous evil and in arguing that this argument is unsuccessful I discuss how atheists and Christians have very different approaches to the problem.

The article is written for a popular audience, not an academic one.

Stephen J. Graham


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One response to “The Drama of Evil

  1. U wrote, “Some seemingly gratuitous evil could in time lead to some great good – perhaps even decades later and in a very different socio-cultural context than the one in which the evil occurred.” But does it appear probable or believable that that is exactly what is happening in the world when it comes to evil?

    And, how “great” is the “good” that allegedly will take place decades later, compared with the evil that took place already? Do we really need a tsunami that kills tens of thousands and leaves others homeless, starving, diseased, crippled, for some great good in the end? How great was that good compared with all that suffering?

    Also, in the example you posed from the movie where lots of little incidental events led to the woman meeting the movie’s protagonist, what about all the little incidental events that lead to people suffering?

    Continued… But letʼs not speak merely in generalities, letʼs look more carefully at some particulars [as you did when you cited the example from the movie “Benjamin B…”

    Letʼs start small with the question of how you in particular came to be born and became the person you are today. A study of nature tell us that men produce enough sperm on a daily basis to repopulate the earth in six months. However, many of those sperm are deformed, many have two heads, or two tails, or squiggly tails, or heads that are too large or two small, etc. Was that part of some design or fine-tuned plan to make you? And in the average human ejaculate there are two hundred million sperm. If God wanted specifically to make ‘you’ then only one sperm would have been required. Two to decide between a specific boy or girl. But two hundred million? Talk about a roll of the biological dice that made ‘you.’

    Sperm are also subjected to physical stresses during ejaculation and contractions of the female tract, and may sustain oxidative damage, or even encounter the defenses of the female immune system meant for infectious organisms.

    Also, in a 5 year study of 11 female volunteers Baker and Bellis (1993) examined the characteristics of sperm loss from the vagina following coitus (also called ‘flowback’). They found that flowback occurred in 94% of copulations with the median time to the emergence of ‘flowback’ of 30 min (range 5—120 min). Furthermore they estimated that a median of 35% of spermatozoa were lost through flowback but that in 12% of copulations almost 100% of the sperm inseminated were eliminated. Does the high flowback ratio sound like efficient design? This suggests that less than 1% of sperm might be retained in the female reproductive tract and this supports the notion that only a minority of sperm actually enter cervical mucus and ascend higher into the female reproductive tract.

    Even being the first sperm to reach the egg assures nothing, since the eggʼs wall is too thick at that point and has to be weakened first by a couple thousand sperm attempting to breach it. And on occasion two or more sperm enter the egg before it begins to reharden, in which case the fertilized egg divides a few times then stops, or it may grow to the point of early implantation, implant on the uterine wall and then result in a miscarriage. Sometimes after the sperm enters the egg it triggers a second set of female chromosomes to be produced, and the fertilized egg dies. Sometimes the sperm enters the egg but does not go on to form a pronucleus, leaving only the eggʼs chromosomes functional, and again the process of development shuts down.

    In short, your genetic compliment appears to be the result of trivial differences between hundreds of millions of dead sperm, i.e., purely statistical odds. SEE INFOGRAPHIC, “THE ODDS OF YOU BECOMING YOU”.

    Now letʼs talk about eggs. During childhood a girlʼs ovaries absorb almost half of the million immature eggs with which she was born. Of the four hundred thousand eggs present during her first menstrual period, only 300 to 500 of them will develop into mature eggs across her reproductive life span. Her body reabsorbs the rest before they complete development. Again, does that sound like efficient design, or a case of the roll of the dice?

    Even the circumstances by which oneʼs parents meet, and the time of year or day they make love, and the position they are in during coitus, along with a host of other circumstance, can affect which sperm reaches which egg. So it appears like a crap shoot. Also, what lessons can one be sure that God is teaching us when a baby dies in the womb, or dies during birth, or is born with defects? Up to the mid 1700s half of all children who were born died before reaching the age of eight (according to Buffonʼs estimate). So if we canʼt be sure of what God may be teaching us when lightning strikes one tree or power line rather than another, then what can one say with certainty concerning why one particular egg happened to become fertilized by one particular sperm, or why spontaneous abortions or birth defects occur?

    Now letʼs take our discussion to a highest level. If the conception of each individual seems like a crap shoot or toss of the genetic dice due to a plethora of circumstances that do not seem personally planned, then what about the evolution of a species? What if God lets evolution be evolution just as He lets sperm be sperm and eggs be eggs, and lightning strikes be lightning strikes? The human species constitutes one of a small number of extremely large-brained species of mammals on earth, including cetacea (whales, dolphins), elephants, early apes and upright hominids. All with larger brains than average. However many species of cetacea, elephants, early apes, and upright hominids, became extinct, rather like the aforementioned hundreds of millions of eggs and sperm with different compliments of genes that naturally perish during coitus leaving either nothing behind or a single fertilized zygote.

    Is our species the apex of creation, or a passing phase? Will future humans look back at our species like we look back at Homo habilis?

    Continued… I mention such matters because you mention the “Benjamin B…” movie in your post on the Drama of Evil. Actually most of life is not very dramatic, but quite banal, like the third of our lives we spend sleeping, most of the time in dreamless sleep. Even sleepwalkers are not dreaming by the way, but unconscious. No REM activity. Or all the times we have spent driving round obtaining supplies to keep us alive, or doing jobs to keep us alive, or waiting in lines, or making decisions about which product or thing to buy or eat, or job to apply for,

    Continued… Also, if this life is some sort of Drama involving evil and free will, then what does Christianity say about the next life? Kind of anti-climactic I’d say, compared with risking one’s eternal soul here in this life and in this cosmos. But once the smoke clears (well for some, not all, if you believe in eternal flames), everything is settled. No drama left, just eternal bliss and eternal punishment, and no one in hell can repent and no one in heaven can sin. Kind of like taking an eternal drag on a cigarette after all the action in bed is over. And as eternity drags on, who will even remember what happened back in that infinitely tiny blip of time where all the drama of evil once existed? Won’t we get bored staring at the nail holes in Jesus’s hands? Well, that was long long ago we’ll say in a trillion years, and that was also the last time I ever felt like sinning.

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