“Epicurus’ old questions are yet unanswered.” Said Philo, David Hume’s skeptical character, in Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion (1779). “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?”(D 10.25)
In part 10 and 11 of the Dialogues, Hume explored the traditional problem of evil. He, quo Philo, argued that given the occurrence of pain and suffering, an omnicompetent Deity, believed by Cleanthes and Demea, cannot exist. The existence of instances of pain and suffering is logically incompatible with the existence of such a Deity.
Philo expounded more,
Why is there any misery at all in the world? Not by chance surely. From some cause then. Is it from the intention of the deity? But he is perfectly benevolent. Is it contrary to his intention? But he is almighty. Nothing can shake the solidity of this reasoning, so short, so clear, so decisive; except we assert, that these subjects exceed all human capacity, and that our common measures of truth and falsehood are not applicable to them (D 10.34)
Demea, Hume’s unbending and inflexible standard orthodox-theist character, offered a response to meet Epicurus’ old questions. This article explored Demea’s response and argued that it does shake the solidity of the classical problem of evil.
Demea’s Solution To The Problem Of Evil
Demea disagreed with Philo that Epicurus’ questions were yet to be answered. All pious divines and theologians who have indulged themselves in their rhetoric on this issue, according to Demea, have undoubtedly offered solutions. He then proceeded to offer the following solution:
This world is but a point in comparison of the universe: This life but a moment in comparison of eternity. The present evil phenomena, therefore, are rectified in other regions, and in some future period of existence. And the eyes of men, being then opened to larger views of things, see the whole connection of general laws, and trace, with adoration, the benevolence and rectitude of the deity, through all the mazes and intricacies of his providence (D 10.29).
Cleanthes hastily dismissed Demea’s solution as “arbitrary suppositions” in the same class with “conjectures and fictions”(D 10.30). Without any evidence in our present experiences, argued Cleanthes, holding Demea’s position “is to ascertain the bare possibility of our opinion; but never can we, upon such terms, establish its reality.” (ibid). Philo, on the other hand, had nothing to say about it.
Does Demea’s solution, viz., an omnicompetent and benevolent Deity rectifies whatever pain and suffering in some future period of existence, shake the solidity of the classical problem of evil? Treating Demea’s solution not as a theodicy but as a defense, I believe it does. Demea’s solution is an attempt not to postulate the Deity’s reason to permit such instances of pain and suffering but an attempt to show that existence of evil is compatible with the existence of an omnicompetent and benevolent Deity.
Unlike a theodicy, what is required for a successful defense is not its reality nor its plausibility nor its believability that it established, but only its possibility. The defense needs only to shows that the instance of evil is logically consistent with the existence of an omnicompetent and benevolent Deity.
To show this truth, I applied Demea’s solution in a following just-so Christian saga¹:
All things were created by benevolent and omnicompetent God good. In the whole creation God made higher sentient creatures to exemplify His essential moral perfect character. These beings were created to first and foremost love, adore and serve their Maker, and love and serve each other. For there to be a genuine love, these being were endowed with freedom of will which is a necessary condition for true acts of loving, adoration and service.
Some of these sentient creatures misused their freedom of will in choosing not to exemplify their Makers moral perfect character. As a consequence, pain and suffering entered into the things God once created good.
God is both able and willing to bring an end to pain and suffering at any given moment. The fact that the pain and suffering exists is because God has morally sufficient reason(s) to allow it for a specific duration of time. The time is coming where God will put an end to past and present instance of pain and suffering.
True or not, this just-so Christian saga captured Demea’s Deity who rectifies instances of pain and suffering in some future period of existence, either in this life or the next. God is willing and is able to prevent evil but has moral sufficient reasons to permit instance of evil for a given period of time.
Applying Demea’s solution in a just-so Christian saga, it appears that the problem of evil fails to establish the conclusion that God cannot existence. The temporary existence of pain and suffering in this world is not logically inconsistent with the existence of Cleanthes’ and Demea’s Deity.
 Just-so example is inspired by Peter van Iwangen (2006) The Problem of Evil. Oxford: Oxford University Press.