God, Rape, and the Problem of Evil

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This comic is from Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. I hope the last two panels were sarcastic!

The problem of evil, reconciling belief in God with natural and moral evil, is probably one of the most obvious and considered objections to belief in an omni-god. Theists typically believe in an all-loving, all-powerful, and all-knowing god [omni-god] and they hold this belief in the face of great natural evil (earthquakes, tsunamis, etc that have nothing to do with human action, but rather are the results of natural laws) and moral evil (humans murdering, raping, etc.). I’ve commented on this topic in various other posts, but would like to write another more updated post.

Some atheists like myself contend that the universe would not look like it does if it were created by an omni-god and such a being, if it were all loving, should have created humans with the desire to commit horrible actions (or at least should step in and stop it) and also should have created the universe in such a matter that did not guarantee natural disasters. It is awkward that God is held to a lesser standard than humans are, but he should be held to a higher standard. Since God does not stop gross moral evil, this should be good reason to assume that God does not exist.

When considering moral responsibility a person has or may have, several factors are important to think about including time, money, influence, power, age, and knowledge. The poor college student in America, for example, can’t be expected to give a significant portion of his/her income to charity, but one should expect people who are financially comfortable and stable to donate. The reason for this should be quite evident. Similarly, a person who sees a drowning baby, as the famous example from Peter Singer suggests, should be expected to save the baby if he/she has the ability to do so even if there is slight inconvenience such as being late for work or ruining a pair of shoes.

I would wager (and hopefully every reader here agrees) that if someone witnessed rape occurring and was able to stop the rape (assume that the person had a means of subduing the rapist and would not be harmed in the process, for example), this person should be obligated to do so. I mention rape here because it is typically referred to as one of the most heinous violations of a person imaginable, so if one were able to stop rape from happening, one should be obligated to do so. Mentioning other examples may make my argument much weaker.

If we knew that a person was able to stop a rape and would not be harmed in the process, yet he/she did not stop the rape, we would rightly be filled with rage and disgust. Suppose this person appears before a group of people to defend the reasons for not stopping the rape and offered the following defenses such as “Rape might inspire the victim to do great things in life,” “Without rape, people would not be compassionate,” “This life is really short. An afterlife will make up for all of this horror,” and “If I stop the rapist, it interferes with his free will.” Some of these defenses, hopefully all of you would reason, are absurd and unacceptable for humans to give. For some reason, though, theists offer these defenses for God, somehow absolving him of responsibility while God ought to have more moral responsibility than humans have.

Let’s explore some of the possible defenses that humans might give for not stopping rape and compare them with those theists give for God.

Rape might inspire the victim to do great things in life.

Some theists, when faced with instances of moral evil such as rape, basically argue that ‘every cloud has a silver lining’ and that good can come from horrible situations (such as rape). If they don’t think that good can come from rape, this argument simply does not work for them (thus this is no defense for God), but it is typically the case that all situations are considered. A theological view like this is utterly sickening. If it is the case that horrible actions might inspire victims to do great things in life, why should we bother helping anyone at all? Who can know what disasters might lead to great things? Should we interfere with others’ situations? Can a person possibly believe that we should help other people in times of need and, at the same time, believe that disastrous events can bring about good results? Where should we draw the line? Which situations should we ‘interfere’ with?

To be more charitable, perhaps, some theists might only use this defense for situations which appeared to be random or someone was not able to prevent. Perhaps that occurrence of rape was not able to be prevented. Perhaps nothing could have been done about that tsunami. This still, though, does not get God off the hook simply because he could have designed the universe in a different manner (he is all-powerful) or could have this supposed good come about in different ways (he is all-powerful) without people suffering gross harm and even death. While mentioning death, one has to realize that good can’t possibly come about for a dead person and even if good were to come about after someone had died, this good still could have come about in a different manner.

While it is the case that good can come from horrible situations (a rape victim might be inspired to, for instance, tell a story and educate others), horrible situations need not happen for this good to be had (God or not). People who weren’t raped, for example, are educating others. One would also expect more good to come about by people not being raped; rape surely deprives many of an otherwise ‘normal life’ by scarring people.

If we wouldn’t accept this defense from a person who is not an omni-god, why should we accept this defense for an omni-god? Again, God has the ability to stop rape (and every other instance of natural and moral evil), but he does not.

People would not be compassionate if it were not for rape.

This defense is quite repugnant. Why would this be the case? If there were no rape (or even no moral or natural evil), I would not suddenly lack compassion. I would still recognize that other human beings have needs and wants like me and would not suddenly turn into an individual with no compassion. I don’t need people getting raped in order to have compassion. If rape (or other natural or moral evils) is/are really the reason/s that people are compassionate [and this is part of God’s plan], God could have designed the universe in a different manner so that this were not the case (he is all-powerful).

If the rapist were stopped, that would interfere with his free will.

For purposes of this discussion, let’s just assume free will exists for the sake of this argument. The first response to this that comes to mind is “What about the free will of the rapist?” for obvious reasons. Why should the free will of the rapist be more important than the rape victim? Further, why would God ‘infuse’ the desire to rape into humans or design humans in such a manner that they would desire rape? At this point, a person might say that without desires to rape, people might lose other desires, but this does not work because God is all-powerful.

Theists may also try to offer other reasons for God not preventing evil.

If God revealed himself by stopping evil, people would be forced to believe in God, this would take away the free will of humans to choose to worship God, and people would behave radically different because they know God existed.

If God were to intervene to stop evil, he could make it such that his presence would be unknown and people would not view the intervention as some indisputable evidence of God (he is all-knowing and all-powerful). Besides that, many people actually do believe that God intervenes to stop evil and they point to examples of such…and many don’t believe this. Some theists believe that if God revealed himself, everyone would be ‘forced’ to believe that God exists, but this also is not the case [there were also many non-believers in Biblical times in which miracles were supposedly the order of the day!]. In a previous post, I argue that we can’t justifiably go from ‘this is a miracle’ [even if it really is] to ‘the Christian god exists.’ Why pick the Christian god and why go from ‘I can’t explain this’ to ‘the Christian god exists?’

The common thought process behind the ‘people would behave radically different’ defense is that if God revealed himself, everyone would never do evil…and that is a bad thing (for whatever reason), but that is false because many who now claim to ‘know’ God exists (whether today or in earlier times) are not immaculate individuals. Even if everyone believed that God existed does not entail that everyone would act in an immaculate fashion (many would rebel, not act differently, etc).

God has his own plan that we are unaware of/God is mysterious.

This defense is quite an awkward one because, to return back to my previous theme, we would never accept this defense from a human. Anyway, how can we know that God has some plan that we are unaware of…if we are unaware of what that is? Why must this plan include creating humans who have desires to rape or creating a universe with tremendous natural disasters? If this is the best plan from an omni-god, it is quite a bad one.

We just can’t detect the reason that God has for permitting evil because we have a limited understanding. Just because you can’t think of or detect the reason does not entail that there is no reason. We just can’t understand God.

If there really may be a reason for allowing evil that we might be unaware of, if all other reasons are really bad ones, it seems that this should entail total moral skepticism in which we can’t make any moral judgments. For all we know, there may have been some good reason for that person to be raped…or thousands of children who died this year from malaria. If such a good reason exists, can we really ascribe ‘evil’ to such happenings? We would then have to apply this to other areas of life saying that for all we know, the recent murderer in Norway might have had a good reason for what he did that we just can’t detect. This position is untenable, yet this seems to be the reductio ad absurdum of this theistic line of reasoning.


We have very good reason to suggest that an omni-god does not exist because the world is not designed in such a manner that one would expect from an omni-god. Theistic defenses offer no good reasons for why God would create a universe with so much natural and moral evil. It is important to note, here, that the atheist is not arguing or expecting a perfect universe, but rather is simply noting that the universe as we see it — in which natural laws supposedly created by God guarantee that, at the very least, massive natural disasters will occur and indiscriminately kill people — is not compatible with the idea of an omni-god.

If we would not accept defenses from humans like “I’m mysterious,” “There might be some good reason as to why I didn’t stop the rape from happening that you just can’t understand,” “The rape might lead this person to do great things,” etc., why should we accept these defenses when theists try to save God from responsibility? God, if he exists, as I noted, is able to prevent any evil he wills to prevent (he is all-powerful) and would not be bothered or harmed by doing so, but yet he does not. We hold humans who have a high capacity to stop ‘evils’ to a higher standard than those who do not, so why not hold a supposed being who is all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving to the highest standard possible?

As always, I welcome comments from those who agree and disagree with me. Please do so below. I would especially love to hear theists explain how they can believe in an omni-god in the presence of natural and moral evil. God, if he exists, is obviously different than humans and I am not claiming that they are same. I am not arguing from analogy here, but rather am saying that God should be placed at a higher standard than humans throughout this post.

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