The evolutionary need of suffering: A response to atheists

Umar Hayat, Student Jamia Ahmadiyya UK
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The problem of evil is a popularised yet unsubstantial attempt at defaming the divine grandeur of God Almighty. This erroneous notion poses there is a complete contradiction between God’s omnipotence and omnibenevolence. It is thought to have been introduced by the Greek philosopher Epicurus (341 – 270 BC), however, as there are no direct sources, his exact philosophy on this matter is obscure.

Nevertheless, David Hume attributes – to Epicurus – and argues this belief in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion: Volume X (1779). The trilemma he poses is:

“Is [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?” (

Hazrat Mirza Tahir Ahmadrh extensively explains in his book, Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge, and Truth. In light of this, Huzoorrh said: “Suffering in its causative role produces a wide spectrum of useful effects which amply justify its existence”. (Revelation Rationality Knowledge and Truth, p. 186)

Suffering as an evolutionary necessity

Throughout the evolution of life, the awareness of loss and gain has proven not only to be beneficial but necessary. To understand, we must revert to the earliest life forms, which were unicellular organisms. Upon observation, they always show kinesis or taxis responses to the external environment, which results in the organism being in a more favourable condition. But the question arises, what makes the organism want to be in a better condition for its existence? The awareness of loss, and suffering. It is therefore this very awareness that allows it to struggle for existence and then produce offspring, which can also reproduce. It is through this struggle to live and avoid harm that favourable alleles (types of genes) are passed along generations. It is these favourable alleles that ultimately provide more comfort for the organism. As humans evolved from such single-celled organisms, we see an evolution of consciousness. The greater the ability to experience and understand pain, the greater the ability to experience and understand happiness. If this capability were to be reduced, the ability to feel pleasure would proportionally drop. Both factors are wheels of the same carriage; remove one and there is no meaning. Therefore, “God did not create suffering as an independent entity in its own right, but only as an indispensable counterpart of pleasure and comfort.” (Ibid., p. 180)

From an Islamic perspective, evil or suffering, always corresponds with a sense of loss. Evil is therefore not a positive entity but merely the absence of something, as is darkness of light, death of life. Life and death are the two walls between which a living being struggles. It strives to move away from death into life and happiness, but the movement away from life into death produces suffering. Both are necessary for each other to exist.

“Who has created death and life that He might try you — which of you is best in deeds; and He is the Mighty, the Most Forgiving.” (Surah al-Mulk, Ch.67: V.3)

The impediment to absolute equality

For those who see no purpose or necessity in the element of suffering, let’s suppose a world of no suffering whatsoever and an equal distribution of happiness. This would have nothing but severe implications for the existence of humans. The suffering of the previously mentioned unicellular organisms, such as bacterial amoebas, would, hypothetically, be in a state free from harm or suffering. They would have no desire to propel themselves in any direction of betterment, as “there would be no competition for food or survival, because all are equally provided for.” (Revelation Rationality Knowledge and Truth, p.193) Consequently, the essence of evolution and its natural selection dies and human existence becomes impossible. The question left for atheists is whether to acknowledge the necessary play of suffering in nature and, thus, to exist, or to deny suffering completely, resulting in stagnant, pointless bacteria and never eventually existing. No one with sanity will choose the latter.

Another issue with absolute equality arises when discussing the innocent who suffer from diseases and disabilities that are not their doing. Is it valid to question why this particular person – let’s call him A – has this disease and not person B, or C, D, or anyone at all? This question would have to be repeated for every person. In that case, “the Creator is left with is either to create all babies equally healthy or equally unhealthy.” (Ibid., p. 187)
Or what about people feeling less attractive than others? Would God then have to create everyone with identical looks? This would surely create a monotonous existence with problems such as difficulty recognising people. Basic suffering, such as jealousy or an inferiority complex, may even arise from material or worldly status. Would God then have to create everyone on the same exact level? People would become incapable of surpassing others in anything unless everyone did it at the same time. This would be absurd! In such a case, basic development would become impossible and even one’s will would be limited. “Wherever there is variety and diversity, comparative suffering and happiness are bound to be generated.” (Ibid., p.88) Suffering has indeed been incorporated into nature so our reality can proceed seamlessly without imbalance.

“Allah it is Who has sent down the Book with truth and [also] the Balance.” (Surah ash-Shura, Ch.42: V.18)

Penultimate view of an atheist and believer

The question of suffering is typically raised by atheists. Though, upon closer examination, we find ourselves asking atheists: Why does it matter? Atheistically, everything is born out of chaos. Chance is their creator. If so, all suffering is the fault of chance. There is no god to blame, no god to owe their existence to. Thus, there is no question to be answered. If they acknowledge such arduous suffering to exist in their unsystematic nature, then their only relief would be death to put them out of their misery?

Conversely, believers know the wisdom behind creation; they are not scared to suffer for they know it is a test and necessary for their being. True believers know that innocent sufferers will move from a reality of finite pain to one of infinite reward, happiness and pleasure. They have such faith in their compensative reward that they would treat their ephemeral misery as if it were painless. For them, death is more beautiful than anything.

If this answer has no value for someone who doesn’t believe in a God and the reward of the hereafter, then the question of suffering should not be discussed at all. As the question itself assumes the existence of God. Due to this, the factor of an infinite compensational reward cannot be dismissed.

It must not be forgotten that much of the suffering in the world is the fault of Man. God has provided the resources and the instructions for their use. Yet it is the gift of free will that ultimately decides whether these resources are used for good or bad. For example, war can be stopped; however, due to the greed of power, racism and other wrongdoings, war continues. Similarly, there is enough food to eliminate the hunger of everyone on earth, yet people still starve. If all of Allah’s creation is used for its purpose, we find there is no morally unnecessary suffering.

“And whatever misfortune befalls you, is due to what your own hands have wrought. And He forgives many [of your sins].” (Surah ash-Shura, Ch.42: V.31)

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