An Engineering Perspective on Suffering

The Problem of Evil and Suffering from an Engineering Perspective

Jessica Fitzgerald and Dominic Halsmer (Oral Roberts University)

One of the most challenging arguments against the existence of a God of the Christian faith that skeptics and atheists put forward today raises the issue of evil and suffering. Richard Swinburne states their reasoning as:

  1. If there is a God, he is omnipotent and perfectly good.
  2. A perfectly good being will never allow any morally bad state to occur if he can prevent it.
  3. An omnipotent being can prevent the occurrence of all morally bad states.
  4. The actual state of the world includes a great deal of suffering, pain, and evil.
  5. Therefore, God does not exist. (1,2)

This paper aims to address this logic by presenting examples and reasoning that attempt to explain the state of the world today, and why these bad things exist. The existence of two types of “evil,” natural evil, such as natural disasters, disease, etc., as well as evil induced by human free will, such as murder, abuse, and wrong choices, are dissected and examined for the affects they have on human life and life on Earth in general.

In Hidden Treasures in the Book of Job, author Hugh Ross addresses many of the questions that skeptics have today. He states that God is not only completely and continuously sovereign, but that his plan for each individual’s life is perfect, and that the trials and tribulations each of us face is ultimately to serve a greater purpose than we may realize. Both natural evil and the expression of sin can be seen to result in engineering design affordances that are ultimately beneficial to life on this planet, and perhaps even more so in the afterlife. Ross also uses the existence of free will as an argument for the existence of God’s sovereign design. If God sheltered us from the ability to rebel against Him—ultimately resulting in evil—then our free will would be jeopardized and we would be severely limited in our ability to experience goodness and love. C.S. Lewis echoes this idea, stating, “Exclude the possibility of suffering which the order of nature and the existence of free will involve, and you find that you have excluded life itself.” (3)

Humans are limited in their capacity to fully understand things outside life on earth. Ross argues that though we as humans may not be able to identify the purpose in our own physical understanding, it does not mean that the purpose does not exist. God ultimately designed a universe and world in which the presence of pain and suffering works toward a higher purpose. Because we are unable to survive this life and its trials without the intervention of God’s grace in our lives, the trials we face provide us with an opportunity to have closer fellowship with Him and work toward wholeness.

(1) Swinburne, R.  1988.  Providence and the Problem of Evil.  Oxford University Press.
(2) Koons, R. C.  2010.  What Does God Aim at Maximizing?  University of Texas at San Antonio Philosophy of Religion Conference, April 9, 2010.
(3) Lewis, C.S.  1940.  The Problem of Pain.