“The whole earth” contended Philo, one of the three characters, together with Demea and Cleanthes in David Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, “is cursed and polluted. A perpetual war is kindle among all living creatures.”
In part 10, Philo and Demea contended against Cleanthes’ idea of God. They laid out the problem from undeniable pain and suffering. Philo listed fear, anxiety, terror, hunger, distress, agony and horror among other similar bad things that we face from the moment we enter into this world. He said,
Consider that innumerable race of insects, which either are bred on the body of each animal, or flying about infix their stings on him. These insects have others still less than themselves, which torment them. And thus on each hand, before and behind, above and below, every animal is surrounded by enemies, which incessantly seek his misery and destruction.(Hume 1991, 153)
On top of natural evils, the misery and destruction inflected by animals to man, Philo unceasingly pressed on to add moral evils; “Man is the greatest enemy of man. Oppression, injustice, contempt, contumely, violence, sedition, war, calumny, treachery, fraud; by these they mutually torment each other”(ibid 154) Demea joined Philo, as he too fired a list of horrors we face. He said,
Were a stranger to drop, on a sudden, into the world, I would show him a specimen of its ills, an hospital full of diseases, a prison crowded with malefactors and debtors, a field of battle strowed with carcasses, a fleet foundering in the ocean, a nation languishing under tyranny, famine, or pestilence. To turn the gay side of life to him, and give him a notion of its pleasures; whither should I conduct him? to a ball, to an opera, to court? He might justly think, that I was only showing him a diversity of distress and sorrow. (ibid 155)
According to Philo and Demea, Cleanthes’ concept of God, namely a God resembling morally good human beings, seems very unlikely to be true, since good human beings would want to stop or prevent such amount of pain and suffering. Philo reminded Cleanthes what he judged to be unanswered Epicurus’(ca. 342- 270 BC.) old questions. He asked Cleanthes,
Is he[God] willing to prevent evil, but not able? then is he impotent. Is he able, but, not willing? then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? whence then is evil?(ibid 157)
According to Hume qua Philo, pain and suffering cast doubt that a wholly loving and maximal perfect being with respect to power exists.
How could Cleanthes have responded? He was probably familiar with Epicurus’ questions as quoted in Lactantius’ (ca. 260 – ca. 349) Patrologia Latina, 7, 121:
God either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or he is able, and unwilling; or he is neither willing nor able; or he is both willing and able. If he is willing and able, he is feeble, which is not in accordance with character of God; if he is able and unwilling he is malicious, which is equally at variance with God; if he is neither willing nor able, he is both malicious and feeble and therefore not God; if he is both willing and able, which is alone suitable to God, from what source then are evils? Or why does he not remove them? (Aherm 1971, 2)
Since Hume did not give him the last words, I pondered how, if I were Cleanthes, would I have began my answer to Demea’s and Philo’s objection. Unlike, Cleanthes, I hold to a revised Anselmian concept of God, viz., “a person who is aliquid quo nihil maius aut aequaliter magnum cogitari possit. ” (Inwagen 2006: 158)
God, if exists, is a morally perfect being with maximal excellence with respect to power, thus able and willing to remove pain and suffering. Why He does not remove them, I do not know. But what I know is that it is possible that God has morally good reason(s) not to remove them.
If it is possible, not necessarily true, that God have morally good reason(s) not to remove them, then pain and suffering do not necessarily cast doubts that a wholly loving and maximal perfect being with respect to power exists.
On behalf of Cleanthes, I would have asked Demea and Philo: Is it possible that God could have morally good reason(s) not to remove this copious amount of pain and suffering?
Ahern, M. B.(1971) The, Problem of Evil. Routledge & Kegan Paul: London.
Hume, David (1991) Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, publish first in 1779. I used Standely Tweyman’s ed. Routledge: London and New York.
Inwagen, Peter van (2006) The Problem of Evil. Oxford Press Inc., New York.