The Two Evils: An Analysis of “Why God allows evil” and “Religion without God”

    Richard Swinburne’s “Why God allows evil” and Steven M. Cahn “Religion without God” explains how religion is interpreted and understood in Philosophy. Both have solid points with their stances on Theism and Atheism, and how God supposedly perpetrates the two evils of moral and natural. Both texts are very informative on the relation between Religion and Philosophy.

    Swinburne defends his views on how both evils moral and natural are connected and exist through the omnipotent perfectly good God. In order for good to be present in this world it requires that substantial evil to exist for it to be possible. He first describes the two evils in detail, and how God is associated with both. Moral evils are evils that are committed by humans through doing evil actions. These actions are seen as not moral in any sane society like murder, rape, stealing, adultery etc… These evils can bring extreme consequences to the perpetrator like if a person murders they’ll get sentenced to prison if they’re caught by authorities and found guilty. To understand why moral evils exist or why they’re even necessary, Swinburne wonders what kind of goods a generous God would give to humans. Some would say pleasure and happiness, but he believes that he should give us responsibility in determining how this world should operate.  This kind of responsibility requires that humans have free will. Swinburne suggests that if humans act badly that will be like a blueprint for opening up choices on either wanting to act good or evil.

grayscale photography of woman praying while holding prayer beads


    Equally important, Swinburne explains the second evil called “Natural Evils”. These evils even though are never created or controlled by humans can be understood more on how to approach them. People do have the ability and opportunities to show responsibility on how to solve these evils which are necessary for trying to live good lives. First, Natural evils allow humans to either exploit other humans or try to harm others or help and look to create a solution to fight for good. For example, if there is a contagious disease spreading around one’s country, humans have the choice to either help fight the disease or continuously spread it all over with no regard. Secondly, when Natural evils occur humans are made to think instantly about how to stop them before it gets out of hand. In addition humans have the opportunity to act in significant moral ways.  Pain and suffering come to mind when thinking about the emotions that are created from Natural evils, and it becomes difficult when humans do not know how to endure it. Feeling pain can help one overcome the adversities they are in, or they can show empathy and help those enduring the same pain. These feelings caused by Natural evils do have some positive aspects. The reason being, Swinburne believes that since both moral and natural evils require responsibility, it can bring good to the world if people are aware of the evils around them and not be so oblivious. This will thus cause them to act for the betterment of their lives. In addition, since God is believed to be benevolent and omnipotent, he provides the best possible life for humans and sees how humans would react through hardships and rejoicing moments. This kind of good would allow for evil to emerge because the opposite has to appear to see how people act in certain circumstances. In terms of free will, it seems to be a blessing and a curse. This is because people are blessed and fortunate they have the ability to choose how they want to live their lives and determine what choices they want to make. That’s the premise of free will. The reason it is a curse is that people may manipulate their given free will and use it to harm others or try to be infamous by committing moral evils.

grayscale photography of praying hands

    Furthermore, “Religion without God” by Steven M. Cahn, examines the views and understandings of Cahn’s beliefs that people can be believers without actually believing in the existence of a God or deity. He believes that one can be religious adherent, and actions such as rituals, prayers, metaphysics, and morality are independent of theism, and can be observed and practiced by those who are not super naturalistic believers.  Cahn explains the actions that are done by people who are devout believers in a supernatural God, and those who are not in greater detail. First, rituals are prescribed actions that are symbolic, and are in relation to that religion’s prescribed organization (Cahn 315). The act symbolizes aspects of that specific religion’s belief. For example, prayers are rituals in certain religions such as Islam. Muslims pray five times a day to Allah (God), and that connects them spiritually to their God, and this ritual is done routinely. In addition, these actions are not relevant to those who disregard a supernatural deity. They might see that rituals are irrational, if it’s done for the sake of pleasing or worshipping a God.  However, the practices of rituals are anything but irrational. Equally important, he distinguishes and explains naturalistic, and super naturalistic. Naturalistic or in other words a non-super naturalistic belief doesn’t utilize or need any type of ritual to please or anger a God (Cahn 316). Rituals are perceived as a means to help achieve goals, and it is “the enhancement of life through the dramatization of great ideals (Cahn 316). Additionally, there’s misconception when it comes to morality and how it’s solely based on believing in a supernatural God. It’s believed that people who reject God such as Atheists are immoral. This belief can be refuted and doesn’t make sense if one really thinks about. For instance, Plato’s teacher Socrates asked him if morality completely rests on belief then how can he know if what he’s doing is right and who can determine what’s right and wrong. “Are actions right because God says they are right, or does God say actions are because they are right”? To put it simply, as are actions made right or wrong because God decides that it is? Or are our actions independent regardless of God commands on what’s right. Naturalistic religion is reasonable and a possibility for people who are skeptical of religion. Naturalistic believers perform the same actions supernaturalistic believers do such as prayer, rituals, commit to following their moral principles, and there are little confusion and less doubt.  In summary, both readings seem to share one aspect from relativism, where all personal or societal opinions and options open. The reason being, it can apply to Cahn’s reading because people that believe in or view religion from a naturalistic stance, can have choices and options on ideas regarding religion and they can come to conclusion on how beneficial it will be if they introduce it into their life. 

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