The atheist “argument from evil“ seems to be strong evidence against the existence of God on its surface. William Rowe’s version of the argument -- based on suffering as the pertinent evil -- is as follows:

  1. There exist instances of intense suffering which an omnipotent, omniscient being could have prevented without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  2. An omniscient, wholly good being would prevent the occurrence of any intense suffering it could, unless it could not do so without thereby losing some greater good or permitting some evil equally bad or worse.
  3. Therefore, there does not exist an omnipotent, omniscient, wholly good being.

Since assertion (1) is not provable -- the causal chain of events for any instance of suffering cannot be fully ascertained -- this argument is not necessarily true, although it may be rational. Therefore, Rowe also mentions that a theist can perform the Moore shift on this argument: given that God exists and that the second assumption above is true, it must be so that there do not exist instances of unnecessary intense suffering. This resultant argument, while rational, assumes the existence of God -- an assumption which, to atheists and others, seems more presumptuous than that assumed by the argument from evil.

But is there some type of good, unrecognized by Rowe and other proponents of the argument from evil, that potentially outweighs instances of perceived unnecessary suffering? If so, it would reduce the credibility of Rowe’s assumption, and thus the argument from evil. I propose that there is such a good -- namely, the good inherent in the natural order of the universe.

Humans as a whole like the idea of causal relationships -- the idea that every event is caused by a confluence of previous events. This series of events is what I mean by the ‘natural order of things’. Most things happen for a natural reason, and humans can observe these reasons in some way. Assuming the existence of God, we’ve been created to accept this natural order as reality. Therefore, I suggest that the natural order of things is inherently good; ignoring for the moment the idea of an afterlife, it’s the way we’re intended to perceive the world.

God, on the other hand, is inherently supernatural. With the possible exception of logical restrictions, God is outside the natural order of things. Therefore when God interferes with the world, since the natural order of things is inherently good, the very interference can be seen as the lessening of a good thing. This provides a theistic explanation for those extreme sufferings which Rowe’s argument from evil assume to be unnecessary.

Take, for example, Rowe’s fawn:

Suppose in some distant forest lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire a fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering. So far as we can see, the fawn’s intense suffering is pointless.

The argument of natural order offers a point for the fawn’s suffering. There was a causal chain of events previous to the suffering: the death of a tree, the bolt of lightning, the forest fire, the trapping and burning of the fawn. There is similarly a causal chain of events after the suffering, though less evident. Any interference on the part of God disrupts the inherent good of this natural order. Therefore, the good of saving the fawn must be weighed against the reduction of the good of the natural order.

A possible counterargument lies in the idea that since we may never know of God’s interference in the causal chain in situations such as the fawn, there is nothing bad about interfering to save the fawn from intense suffering. Due to time constraints, I haven’t fully analyzed this assertion, but I’m inclined to reject it, since it seems to misunderstand the argument of natural order. My argument is that the natural order of things is inherently good, irrespective of the consequences of any individual action. Therefore, any interference on the part of God entails the reduction of this inherent good. The problem does not lie in any other possible evils caused farther down the causal chain; the problem is in the very disruption of the chain.

Another counterargument is that I’m underestimating the evil of intense suffering, and this evil trumps any reduction of goodness in the natural order caused by God’s interference. This may be true; honestly, I am unconvinced that suffering is inherently evil. Rowe assumes this to be true, and even calls intense suffering “a clear case of evil”, but it is unclear to me why this should be so. Even if suffering is inherently evil, however, I don’t think it greatly affects my argument. My intent with the argument of natural order is to present a possible good that can be applied to all instances of intense suffering as a possible explanation, so that no single instance can be called completely pointless.