Steve Jobs and the Problem of Evil

In Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography, we get a few paragraphs explaining Jobs’ thoughts about Christianity. Isaacson explains:

Even though they were not fervent about their faith, Jobs’s parents wanted him to have a religious upbringing, so they took him to the Lutheran church most Sundays. That came to an end when he was thirteen.

In July 1968 Life magazine published a shocking cover showing a pair of starving children in Biafra. Jobs took it to Sunday school and confronted the church’s pastor. “If I raise my finger, will God know which one I’m going to raise even before I do it?” The pastor answered, “Yes, God knows everything.” Jobs then pulled out the Life cover and asked, “Well, does God know about this and what’s going to happen to those children?” “Steve, I know you don’t understand, but yes, God knows about that.”

Jobs announced that he didn’t want to have anything to do with worshipping such a God, and he never went back to church. He did, however, spend years studying and trying to practice the tenets of Zen Buddhism. Reflecting years later on his spiritual feelings, he said that religion was at its best when it emphasized spiritual experiences rather than received dogma. “The juice goes out of Christianity when it becomes too based on faith rather than on living like Jesus or seeing the world as Jesus saw it,” he told me. “I think different religions are different doors to the same house. Sometimes I think the house exists, and sometimes I don’t. It’s the great mystery.”

From this brief report, it appears that Jobs was flummoxed by the problem of evil at the age of thirteen. He wanted to know how God could know that children were starving to death and not do anything about it.

Anyone who has read this blog or other Christian blogs knows that not only do Christians have reasonable solutions to the problem of evil, but that every other worldview fares much worse when dealing with this problem.

Buddhism, Jobs’ chosen religion, lays evil at the feet of human desire. If humans wouldn’t desire anything, then there would be no suffering. The goal of Buddhism is to teach its adherents to suppress all of their desires. That is what the Buddha attempted to do.

Jobs, like most Buddhists, doesn’t really get this. You could hardly imagine a person who had more desires than Jobs. His desires to change the world through technology, to perfect computer and phone designs, to control the user experience, are all what he’s known for.

It seems that for Jobs, Buddhism was a way for him to justify dropping acid and pursuing spiritual experiences. All of the more fundamental teachings of Buddhism were ignored by Jobs, as far as I can tell, and he certainly never came to grips with Buddhism’s answer to the problem of evil.

Sadly, it seems clear that Jobs never really gave Christianity a chance. That’s unfortunate.

6 thoughts on “Steve Jobs and the Problem of Evil”

  1. Every other one? I think a world that doesn’t contain all powerful entities has a much better explanation for why bad things happen. There doesn’t have to be a reason in the same sense as in your worldview.

    I would agree with you that Buddhism isn’t the answer. I think reality is, whatever that means. It’s not about whose story allows you to feel okay about the suffering that exists, suffering we in the first world can only begin to understand the depth of. It’s about coming to term with why things happen. That best enables us to combat that pain.

    I’m not saying what reality us here, though they obviously differ from yours. I’m just saying that your angle here doesn’t seen like it’s only focused on reality, and that should be the only thing that matters.

  2. Sean,
    Without a transcendent ground for good, evil simply reduces to physical feelings given to us by blind natural processes. Physics and chemistry know nothing of good and evil.

    So, the problem of evil is nonsense on a strictly naturalistic worldview. There isn’t a problem because there is no such thing as objective good and evil.

    How can it be “bad” that one molecule interacts with another? It just does because the laws of physics and chemistry just operate that way. We can’t “blame” the molecules. We can’t “praise” the molecules. They just do what they do.

    Bottom line: without a transcendent source of moral values, there is no evil and there is no good. There are just physical laws operating as they always do.

  3. As you said, it isn’t a problem. There is no intrinsic bad or good. We imbue the meaning. My claim was that it solves the problem, and it does.

  4. Funny he chooses a religion denounces desire. Yet,it is exactly desire for his material products that he promoted and championed, the very thing he would say causes evil. Sounds like a vicious cycle.

  5. The irony here being as a millionaire he faked being sterile to avoid paying child support for his daughter who had to starve and live off welfare.

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