Assume that after a rigorous and exhaustive analysis we finally proved beyond all doubt that some event was a gratuitous evil. Just so we can use an example already out there, we’ll use William Rowe’s example of a fawn that dies after being trapped by a forest fire. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll say it was a particular four-month-old fawn who died in Voyageurs National Park after campers left a campfire unattended in mid July 2007.
After considering the story thoroughly, all theologians and philosophers agree that this is undoubtedly a gratuitous evil. Plantinga, Hasker, and all the luminaries of the philosophy of religion concede that there is in fact a contradiction in assuming that this action could ever lead to a good and/or that any good it led to could have been just as easily attained without the evil. Working from our sufficient understanding of the possible modalities of providence, we conclude that none of them could contain this event, and so that the God described by the major religions of the West could not exist.
It would take all of ten minutes before the fawn was on a t-shirt somewhere. Fawn bumper stickers would soon dwarf all the sales of “coexist” and “=” and Darwinfish as in-group signs. The fawn would get a hallowed status of an object at once omnipresent and not cliche. We’d get a cataract of popular and scholarly literature referencing the fawn. Voyageurs National park would become a worldwide spot of pilgrimage – the three resorts at the site would find it all but impossible to keep up with the demand for food, lodging, and boat rentals. The number of babies named “Fawn” would skyrocket. Finally, we’d think, after thousands of years of fumbling around in the dark with confused questions and disputes over gods and providence, we found definitive proof that there are no such things, thanks to the fawn.
But this leaves the atheist with a paradox. The death of the fawn is at once a gratuitous evil – and so by definition incapable or of leading to a greater good – and at the same time the event definitively establishes what is perhaps the most significant truth and advance of human knowledge in the history of thought. To think: all it took to rid the world of the greatest lie it has ever fallen under was the death of a fawn! If someone had told us in advance that all we had to do to settle the truth of all Western religions was kill one fawn, even PETA would have volunteered to kill it. But then we’re stuck simultaneously claiming that the fawn died for nothing and that its death was one of the most significant events in the history of the world; an event that was not even worth the death of an anonymous animal turns out to be literally more significant than the death of Christ.