The Problem of Evil: If God Exists, Why Aren’t We All in Heaven?

HAIAFE (Heaven Ab Initio Argument From Evil) is the name for a powerful argument against the existence of God. It provides proof that God does not exist.

Feb 21, 2024By Dr. Carlo Alvaro, PhD, MA, BA in Philosophy
problem evil god exists heaven


If God exists, why is there so much evil and suffering in the world? Numerous philosophers argue that the presence of evil counts against God’s existence. Theologians reply that God has morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil and suffering. This article describes a new argument known as HAIAFE, or Heaven Ab Initio Argument From Evil, which demonstrates that God does not have morally sufficient reasons for allowing evil and, therefore, proves that God does not exist.


The Traditional Problem of Evil and Its (Purported) Solutions

friar selling indulgences
Friar Johann Tetzel Selling Indulgences, painting by Johann Daniel Lebrecht Franz Wagner, 19th century. Source: MutualArt.


The Australian philosopher J. L. Mackie formulated a version of the argument from evil as follows:


“God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; and yet evil exists. There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true the third would be false”
(Mackie 1955, p. 200).


Therefore, Mackie concludes, “not that religious beliefs lack rational support, but that they are positively irrational. . . ” (p. 200).


American philosopher Alvin Plantinga formulated possibly one of the most famous refutations of Mackie’s argument. Plantinga writes,

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“A world containing creatures who are sometimes significantly free (and freely perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all.”
(Plantinga 1974, p. 166).


It is not God’s fault, Plantinga contends, that evil and suffering exist. After all, it is humans who murder, pillage, rape, and cause all sorts of evil. Plantinga notes that God could prevent evil, but only by preventing humans from freely committing evil deeds. However, preventing humans from freely sinning would require that God determine humans to be good, which would render humans no more than God’s string puppets.


Another important argument is that of John Hick, who writes: “I suggest, then, that it is an ethically reasonable judgment. . . that human goodness slowly built up through personal histories of moral effort has a value in the eyes of the Creator which justifies even the long travail of the soul-making process” (Hick 1977, pp. 255–56). The essence is that God allows evil as it offers humans an opportunity for moral growth. The idea is that it is more virtuous for a human being to attain a virtuous soul through suffering than to just get one by God’s decree.


Is The Problem of Evil Really Solved?

creation of adam michelangelo
The Creation of Adam, a panel of the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, by Michelangelo, 1508-12. Source: the Sistine Chapel.


The argument known as HAIAFE (Heaven Ab Initio Argument From Evil, which translates to “Heaven From the Outset Argument From Evil) refutes both of the above-stated arguments. It refutes Plantinga’s argument by demonstrating that God can create a possible world inhabited by free-willed creatures where evil does not exist. Additionally, it refutes Hick’s argument by presenting a plausible world where the attainment of virtuous souls need not be accomplished through evil and suffering.


The crux of HAIAFE is that God can and would want to create Heaven Ab Initio, i.e., heaven from the outset, thereby avoiding evil and suffering.


The argument goes like this. According to classical monotheism, God created the world in order to accomplish a specific goal, that is, to create free-willed creatures that freely choose to love God and forever live by His side in heaven. God would want to create heaven from the outset if He could and if evil and suffering were unnecessary. Because God is all-powerful and all-knowing, He is not required to create the universe. He can create only heaven in the first place and his children directly in heaven, in which case evil and suffering would be unnecessary. Because this is not the case, it follows that God does not exist.


Are Evil And Suffering Really Unnecessary And Avoidable? 

laocoon statue
Laocoön and his sons. Copy after a Hellenistic original from ca. 200 BC. Found in the Baths of Trajan, 1506. Photo by Marie-Lan Nguyen, 2009. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


Classical theism asserts that God’s goal is to create free-willed creatures that freely accept to live forever with their creator in a state of eternal bliss, i.e., heaven. Accordingly, the physical world is a temporary state that prepares humans, through a lifetime of travail, to know and love God.


But are evil and suffering really unnecessary? Consider that, according to classical monotheism, God is the paradigm of virtue, yet He (supposedly) never experienced evil and suffering. So to be good, one does not need to experience evil.


Evil and suffering can teach us wisdom, resilience, compassion, and other moral virtues. However, these are useful virtues for finite creatures, but irrelevant for unembodied creatures created directly in heaven. Once again, remember that God is regarded as a wholly loving being that never experienced evil and suffering.


Virtues enable us to understand and prevent suffering and help others during difficult situations. However, if God creates had created his children directly in heaven, then God’s creatures would never have suffered or experienced difficult situations, and virtues would be irrelevant. War, famine, and disease can teach us positive moral values. For example, war can teach us the futility of conflict and the importance of friendship. However, such lessons would be irrelevant if we existed in a realm where war cannot exist at all.


God can create creatures directly in heaven devoid of physical bodies or jobs or cars or drugs or schools or weapons, or any other finite objects. In other words, God can create heaven and heavenly creatures that inhabit heaven, because He is omnipotent (all-powerful).


Could Souls in Heaven do Evil?

paradise tintoretto
Paradise by Jacopo Tintoretto, 1588. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


The obvious objection is to say that creating free creatures directly in heaven might not necessarily guarantee the absence of evil. However, one can argue that this is impossible. Consider the nature of evil. According to St. Augustine, “All evildoings are evil precisely because they come about from lust, that is, from a blameworthy desire.” (1. 4. 10. 34–35). Augustine explains that evil is caused by the lustful behavior of finite creatures who experience carnal pleasures, such as wealth, greed, food, sex, and other such earthly goods. (I.4. 10. 32–36).


Augustine’s analysis of evil seems correct. What else could cause moral evil besides lust? Without physical bodies and physical objects, evil and suffering would not exist because the objects that cause lust do not exist.


Is it possible that heavenly creatures could cause moral evil that does not stem from material lust? It would seem impossible without a physical body in a nonphysical world. Even if these creatures are endowed with free will, what could possibly be a plausible explanation for the existence of evil in paradise? Recall that according to HAIAFE, God’s creatures would be created directly in heaven. Therefore, they would not experience or have knowledge of the material objects that humans possess and desire. They could not even be jealous of one another because God would give all equal affection and attention.


Thus, the challenge for those who argue that evil and suffering could exist in heaven is to give plausible examples of sinful or lustful behavior in heaven.


horsemen apocalypse vasnetsov
Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1887. Source: Wikimedia Commons.


One may suggest that there could be spiritual objects in heaven; but what sort of spiritual objects could there be that generate lust? Arguably, heaven would be devoid of adultery, murder, theft, grave desecration, money, drugs, food, and other such objects. If one believes that there are objects worthy of lust in heaven, one must give some plausible examples. In the absence of such examples, the conclusion is that without physical bodies, a physical world, and physical objects to be desired, heaven is a state of eternal bliss that contains no evil and no suffering—and yet heavenly creatures have free will.


Consider another objection. Perhaps, God’s creatures could freely disobey and reject God, which would be detrimental to God’s ultimate goal of bringing his children to him. Therefore, this is why God creates humans in a physical world where humans can learn to be free without sinning and, eventually, only those who demonstrate to be pure of heart will merit a place in heaven.


There are at least three responses to the above objection. The first involves the same line of reasoning considered above, i.e., there is no plausible reason to believe that nonphysical creatures that are created directly in heaven would disobey or reject God. Once again, the idea is that heaven is a state of eternal bliss. What could possibly be reason enough for a creature that exists in a state of eternal bliss to disobey God?  After all, the reason people sin is because they pursue pleasure, power, or success (or all of the above). However, the creatures described by HAIAFE exist in the highest possible state of good in the presence of God—what more could they possibly desire than the highest possible good?


The Possible Boycott of Heaven

creation world expulsion paradise
The Creation of the World and the Expulsion from Paradise by Giovanni di Paolo, 1445. Source: The Met Museum.


Let us contemplate the possibility that the creatures described by HAIAFE disobey God. Could it be the case that these creatures went on strike or just crossed their immaterial arms and boycott heaven? If that is the case, what could possibly be the purpose of striking? Or could it be the case that these nonphysical beings stole, or murdered or abused other nonphysical beings?


Once again, the behaviors just described are typical of human beings who desire some physical and/or psychological benefits. However, as already observed, the creatures described by HAIAFE exist in a state of eternal bliss from the start. Therefore, there is no plausible reason to believe that they would engage in lustful or criminal behavior.


A second response to people who might say that a boycott in heaven is possible is the following. Let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that the creatures described by HAIAFE disobeyed God. What could possibly be the advantage in creating human beings in the physical world in that case? Arguably, it would be much simpler for God to create the sort of world envisioned by HAIAFE than the present world we live in. After all, in the event that God’s creatures disobeyed (whatever that means), God could discipline them or, better yet, teach and rehabilitate the hypothetical insubordinates.


The third response is that an omniscient God, by definition, knows prior to His creating the material world which individuals will, in the exercise of their free wills, disobey or cause evil. Thus, God could create only the subset of free-willed beings that would not sin or disobey God or cause evil. That would lead to a material world free of evil.


Defending the Good in the Material World

rubens adam eve eden
The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man by Jan Brueghel the Elder & Peter Paul Rubens, 1615. Source: Mauritshuis.


To defend God’s creation of the material world, one could argue as follows. Although our (physical) existence encompasses evil and suffering, it also contains a great deal of good and joy and positive experiences. If humans were stripped of these experiences, would they not be wronged by God?


These experiences can be beneficial to human creatures in many ways, but it does not follow that they are essential and necessary in order for God to achieve His ultimate goal. It is not plausible to argue that without the experience of the physical world, God’s creatures would be wronged or disadvantaged.


Consider the first observation. Many experiences that humans have in the physical world can, indeed, be invaluable. However, earthly experiences do not seem to be relevant in Heaven. If heaven is a state of eternal bliss in the presence of God, it is hard to imagine how any moral lesson learned in the physical world would apply there, and whether the kinds of joy we experience in the material world would be relevant at all.


What about the idea that God might want to create humans in a physical world first in order to determine which of His creatures truly deserve to go to heaven? This implies a peculiar claim, that is, that people have to deserve something in order to get it. This claim applies earthly social norms to God. However, as God is an infinitely loving being, He can simply decide that all his creatures deserve heaven in the first place.


Would Heaven From the Outset Negate Free Will?

botticini assumption virgin
Assumption of the Virgin by Francesco Botticini, 1475. Source: National Gallery.


In the world imagined by HAIAFE, God’s creatures had no choice but to be created directly in heaven. Theists might argue that, as happy and joyful as heaven might be, had God created his children directly in heaven, God’s children would not have the freedom of choosing to be there.


In a sense, under the current state of affairs, humans do not have a choice, either. God created humans and, after a life on earth, it is either heaven or hell. HAIAFE merely takes one fewer step.


In any case, there are obvious advantages to the world that HAIAFE imagines. First of all, heaven from the start would avoid unnecessary evil, such as racism, war, disease, and any and all actions and factors that cause evil and suffering. Second, it would avoid doubt and, thereby, religious war and schism. Third, it is the most efficient way for God to accomplish his ultimate goal of bringing his creatures to a friendly relationship with their creator. Consider how many human beings are either agnostic or atheist or simply hate or resent God as a result of evil and suffering.


Does the New Argument from Evil Succeed in Disproving God’s Existence?

blake god judging adam
God Judging Adam by William Blake, ca.1795. Source: the Met Museum.


We have seen a defense of a variation of one of the most powerful arguments against the existence of God: the argument from evil. The value of the argument is to show that, given God’s ultimate goal of living with his children in his presence in a state of eternal bliss devoid of evil, God would have to create his children directly in heaven.


There seems to be no reason why God could not have created such a state; if created directly in heaven, God’s creatures would not be wronged and would not miss anything essential. In fact, life in heaven is so beautiful that human existence in the material world is, comparatively, not desirable at all.


HAIAFE poses a serious problem for the various refutations, defenses, and theodicies that attempt to show that God has morally good reasons for allowing evil. Eleonore Stump observed that, in order to show that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent God, “. . . one would need at least to demonstrate that this claim must be true: There is no morally sufficient reason for God to allow instances of evil.” (Stump 1985, p. 392).


Given the unnecessary and evil nature of the physical world, and given the futility of human morality once in heaven, HAIAFE demonstrates that God could and would have wanted to create heaven in the first place. Since God did not do this—otherwise, we’d all be in heaven right now—the classical theistic God does not exist.




Alvaro, C. (2023). The “Heaven Ab Initio” Argument from Evil. Religions14(2), 200. MDPI

AG. Retrieved from


Augustine, Saint and Williams T. (1993). On Free Choice of the Will”. New York: Hackett

Publishing Company.


Hick, J. (1977). Evil and the God of Love, revised ed. New York: Harper & Row.


Mackie, J. L. (1955). Evil and Omnipotence. Mind 64: 200–12.


Plantinga, A. (1974). The Nature of Necessary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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By Dr. Carlo AlvaroPhD, MA, BA in PhilosophyDoctor Alvaro is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at New York City College of Technology of the City University of New York. He is the author of Ethical Veganism, Virtue Ethics, and the Great Soul, Raw Veganism: The Philosophy of the Human Diet, Deism: A Rational Journey from Disbelief to the Existence of God, and The Book of Raw, as well as numerous peer-reviewed articles in international scientific and philosophical journals. Dr. Alvaro also is the Director of the Educational and Program Development for Global Development and Crisis Prevention Institute, USA.