A wholly good omnipotent being would eliminate evil completely; if there really are evils, then there cannot be any such being. (Mackie, 150, cited below)
Simply put, this statement and any like it seem fairly obviously false if made without any rather major qualifications. After all, it seems clear that the total elimination of evil is not actually a logically necessary end for a good being, even an all-good, all-powerful being.
C. Stephen Evans presented a case to show that Mackie’s statement (and those like it) are simply mistaken. He noted that the principle that good must eliminate evil seems to be blatantly false without a number of qualifications. He argued that there are some evils which good beings will allow in order to bring about a greater good. The analogy he used was that of parents not allowing their children to ride in automobiles. After all, this would ensure that they would never be involved in the evil of a car crash, but surely it would also prevent greater goods of interaction with friends, learning to drive and the responsibility that comes with, and more (127). However, Evans was quick to note that a deity is by no means directly analogous to a human parent. The resources God would have to prevent evil are infinitely greater than that of a human parent.
In the case of God, however, God cannot bring about the logically impossible. Rather than going for a full-on theodicy (an account of why evils exist), Evans argued that certain goods are impossible to achieve without some evil. Thus, courage necessitates some kind of suffering (128). He did not argue that this notion alone provides a comprehensive theodicy; but for our purposes it is enough. It seems clear that the notion that good must eliminate evil is not only unsupported by argument (it is an a priori assumption), but also patently false. That is, we have evidence that at least some evil must be allowed in order for some good to be brought about.
I want to be clear about my thesis in this post: I am not claiming to have a comprehensive explanation for all evil everywhere. My claim is rather that good does not, by necessity, eliminate evil. That’s all. I believe that I have established this thesis. If so, then Mackie’s argument (and those like it) fail.
*The logical problem of evil is basically an argument that there is a contradiction in theistic belief related to God’s power and goodness and the existence of evil.
C. Stephen Evans, Faith Beyond Reason: A Kierkegaardian Account (Reason & Religion) (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1998).
J.L. Mackie, The Miracle of Theism (New York: Oxford, 1982).
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from quotations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited; images are often freely available to the public and J.W. Wartick makes no claims of owning rights to the images unless he makes that explicit) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
Recently, the atheist Alex Rosenberg debated the theist William Lane Craig. The meat started to happen in the rebuttals, so I will focus on those. For a full review, check out Wintery Knight’s excellent summary.
Craig’s First Rebuttal
Craig pointed out the extreme implausibility of the naturalistic worldview in contrast to theism. He outlined several ways in which naturalism fails as an explanation of reality and cited Rosenberg’s work several times throughout this discussion. He argued that mental states have an “aboutness” which naturalism cannot explain.Then, he pointed out the profound difficulty naturalism has with locating truth and meaning within the worldview. He asserted that libertarian free will and purpose are incompatible with naturalism. Finally, the concept of the “self” and the first-person awareness cannot be explained by naturalism.
Rosenberg’s First Rebuttal
Alex Rosenberg: He focused on this question quite a bit in his rebuttal: “How is it possible for one chunk of manner to be ‘about’ some other piece of matter?” Yet after saying that this, he asserted that this debate over naturalism has nothing to do with the topic of the debate: “Is Faith in God Reasonable?”
He then turned to a discussion of the problem of evil. “If God is omnibenevolent, omniscience, and omnipotent, then the suffering of animals and humans needs desperately to be explained… Nobody has yet to offer a satisfactory explanation… Dr. Craig needs to tell us how [God] had to have the holocaust!”
He also argued that different religious books are false, so there is no reason to trust the New Testament.
Rosenberg said if Craig could provide an explanation for this, then he would become a Christian.
Craig 2nd Rebuttal
Craig immediately exclaimed his excitement over Rosenberg’s possibility of becoming a Christian, arguing that the logical problem of evil, which Rosenberg seemed to be using, has been largely abandoned due to its immense problems. In order to make this argument, the atheist assumes that if God is all powerful than he can create any world he wants, but this is not necessarily true. It is logically impossible for God to make someone freely do something. The atheist would have to prove that there is a world with as much free good in this world but without as much free evil. It seems this premise is impossible to prove. Thus, the logical problem of evil has largely been dropped.
Craig pointed out the fact that Rosenberg was simply mistaken about the importance of metaphysical naturalism. If metaphysical naturalism is false, then it seems clear that theism is that much more plausible.
Craig also once again pointed out that discrediting things like the Book of Mormon or the Qur’an does nothing to undermine the truth of the New Testament documents.
Rosenberg Final Rebuttal
Rosenberg continued to attack Craig as well as the format of the debate. He asserted that Craig was merely repeating himself. Then he commented that the format of a debate does not work to discuss questions like those at hand. One honestly is forced to wonder why Rosenberg chose to engage in the debate, if such were his opinions. Rosenberg attacked Craig’s arguments for “giving philosophy a bad name” and said he would be “embarrassed” to outline Craig’s defense of his arguments.
He did get into some actual comments on the arguments, however. He argued that some things can come into being from “nothing at all,” specifically alpha particles.
Finally, he got to the problem of evil. Here I continued to be confused over whether Rosenberg was sure which variety of the problem of evil he was presenting. He continued to utilize the evidential problem of evil as though it were the same as the logical problem of evil. He was confusing his arguments, mixing necessity with contingency. There is little to comment on here, because it was so confused.
Regarding the New Testament, Rosenberg essentially argued that we cannot know how corrupt the New Testament is.
Craig turned once more to Rosenberg’s construction of the problem of evil. He pointed out that Rosenberg was mistaken about free will as well as the nature of the God’s creation. He pointed out that the holocaust was not necessary. Instead, he noted that the onus is upon Rosenberg to show that God could have actualized a world with as much good as there is in this world while simultaneously showing there would be less evil, which is of course beyond the ken of the atheist (or the theist).
Craig pointed out that we can confirm that New Testament sources we have go back to within 5 years of the actual events. Furthermore, Rosenberg was mistaken in saying that the New Testament documents were written in Aramaic. They were written in Greek.
Rosenberg used his closing to present an “obvious” argument for atheism. He argued that science has no need of the God hypothesis and that there is no basis “to invoke God for explanatory or any other purpose” in science. Thus, science has no reason to accept the existence of God. I find it interesting that he chose to save this argument for the point when he couldn’t be rebutted on the argument. Perhaps that is due to the extreme weakness of the argument. Only be equating science with knowledge could this argument have any relevance. This is not to mention that he is mistaken on this, but to show that he is mistaken would take us too far afield. Interested readers can view the links at the end of this post.
Rosenberg closed with “advice from an atheist.” His advice was to tell theists to not demand that their faith be reasonable. He continued with a discussion saying that theists should say “I believe because it is absurd.” He essentially asserted that theists cannot be reasonable. Honestly, this was just an insult. I admit I was not surprised by this comment by the end of the debate, as Rosenberg’s general strategy had seemed to be to denigrate, rather than interact with, theism.
I was honestly stunned by Rosenberg’s assertion that substance dualism or a debate over naturalism had nothing to do with faith in God. It seems quite obvious that such things are indeed germane to the discussion. If substance dualism is true, then theism has a much better account than non-theistic worldviews. If naturalism is false, the plausibility of theism increases greatly.
In the Q+A following the debate, someone asked Rosenberg why they should believe anything he said in the debate if he himself doesn’t believe in true. Rosenberg basically answered by saying that he’s just rearranging the brain in a way to meet truth… but of course he already denied that we can know what truth is. It’s just a certain way of orienting the matter in one’s brain! Ridiculous. I’m sorry, but it is ridiculous.
Regarding the debate itself, there were a number of non-scientific ways that people voted on the results of the debate. A formal panel awarded Craig the victory 4-2. The local (Purdue) voting on the debate 303-1390 Craig won. Online vote favored Craig 734-59. In other words, Craig crushed Rosenberg. I agree wholeheartedly. Let me know your thoughts. Comment below!
One awesome line from the debate came from Craig: ”The purpose of life is not happiness. The purpose of life is knowledge of God.”
An awesome tweet: ”Rosenberg apparently knows not only what God could have done but what would have been best for us for all eternity.” @ThnkngChristian
Wintery Knight provided a simply fantastic summary of the debate.
Glenn Andrew Peoples has a post on quantum events in relation to the cosmological argument which is very relevant to this debate.
Shoulders of Giants?- Philosophy and Science in Context, or, “Lawrence Krauss Jumps off!”- I write on the relationship of science to philosophy as well as Christianity.
Science: “Thanks Christianity!”- Does Christianity say anything about science?
My contention is that Stephen Law’s epistemological approach to his “evil god challenge” to Christianity entails radical skepticism. Because his challenge entails radical skepticism, Law has forced his cohorts to choose between the seeming irrationality of that position or a denial of the power of the “evil God challenge.”
Entailment of Skepticism
Stephen Law’s “evil God challenge” presents the following:
Suppose the universe has a creator. Suppose also that this being is omnipotent and omniscient. But suppose he is not maximally good. Rather, imagine that he is maximally evil. His depravity is without limit. His cruelty knows no bounds. There is no other god or gods – just this supremely wicked being. Call this the evil-god hypothesis. (Law, “The Evil God Challenge,” 4, cited below)
Now, the point of this challenge is:
the challenge of explaining why the good-god hypothesis should be considered significantly
more reasonable than the evil-god hypothesis.
Law argues in his paper that any theodicy used for the “good god” can be equally used for the “evil god.” Therefore, the theist has yet to show why one should favor the good god over the evil god, and so cannot rationally hold to belief in the good god over the evil god.
Law’s primary support for this supposition is his symmetry thesis:
I shall call the suggestion that, in terms of reasonableness, there is indeed such a rough symmetry between the good-god and evil-god hypotheses, the symmetry thesis.
Nowhere does Law explain what “rough symmetry” means or how balanced the evidence really is between the good god and evil god. Rather, he just uses the phrase “rough symmetry” and argues as though this is enough to discredit the good god hypothesis.
Now notice that the very heart of Law’s argument is something similar to this:
1) If one has no reason to believe that hypothesis a is “significantly more reasonable” than hypothesis b, one cannot rationally hold a over b
It is exactly at this point that Law’s entire epistemology must collapse into radical skepticism. Why? Simply because I can construct parallel but contradictory accounts for nearly any object of knowledge that is not a necessary truth. Just because Law is able to [unsuccessfully, in my opinion] construct a “parallel” system of explanation to that of the ‘good god’ hypothesis does not mean that his parallel is on the same level or even a challenge to that hypothesis.
To see why constructing parallel explanation of reality does not somehow undermine reality, consider two scenarios I constructed to outline this exact point.
The 5 minutes ago challenge
Scenario 1: Our universe was created 5 minutes ago with all our memories and experiences implanted into us.
Those who are familiar with epistemology and philosophy of mind will recognize this as a very pervasive scenario throughout the literature. But how does one go about solving a problem like this? Consider a defense of what seems to be everyday experience.
a) it does not seem to me as though the universe was created 5 minutes ago. I have vivid memories of ten years ago and can interact with others about some of those memories.
The problem with a), of course, is that it exactly lines up with the notion that the universe was created 5 minutes ago with our memories and experiences implanted inside our heads.
Unless I’m very much mistaken, I think I could construct a similarly parallel account for any possible defense of experience of more than 5 minutes ago.
Therefore, I conclude with Law that because the “5 minutes ago” hypothesis is has “rough symmetry” with the hypothesis that our universe is 16 billion years old and the like, it is unreasonable to embrace either proposition. After all, the 5 minutes ago thesis seems extremely improbable, and it is roughly symmetric to the ‘everyday experience’ hypothesis. Law’s symmetry principle applies and undermines all of our experience.
Scenario 2: A Cartesian Demon (again, those familiar with philosophical literature will likely recognize this one) has us all under some kind of magic Matrix-like spell where we live our whole lives in our minds even though in reality our bodies are being tortured. The demon delights in our blissful ignorance of the horrible state of our souls and so he continues to implant memories as our lives continue on.
Again, I can’t think of any defense of everyday experience I can’t parallel. Therefore, we should not believe that our everyday experience is correct, according to Law.
I could continue with examples. The problem of other minds is another that immediately jumps out: how do we know there are actually minds in those walking people we see around us. They could just as easily be [philosophical, not pop-fiction] zombies walking around mechanically acting as though they have minds inside them. Again, parallels=>skepticism about whether other minds exist.
Ultimately, Law’s “symmetry thesis” leads us into radical skepticism and even solipsism. That seems to me enough to reject it.
Challenge to Christianity?
So how exactly does Law’s evil god challenge present any difficulties for Christianity? Honestly, I’m not sure. Unless one is convinced of the solipsistic scenarios outlined above, one should not be convinced of Law’s evil god challenge. His symmetry thesis is the only way he can press this challenge, and that same thesis undermines all knowledge of experience and induction. It doesn’t seem like much of a challenge to me.
Law’s Odd Conclusion and My Conclusion all at once
Law’s conclusion states that:
The problem facing defenders of classical monotheism is this: until they can provide good grounds for supposing the symmetry thesis is false,
they lack good grounds for supposing that the good-god hypothesis is any more reasonable than the evil-god hypothesis – the latter hypothesis being something that surely even they will admit is very unreasonable indeed.
Now, one again must see exactly where this is leading. Suppose, as a theist, I find the evidence for the existence of a god to be very convincing. Suppose further that I find the theodicies Law parodies to be sound. Suppose that I think that Law’s evil god hypothesis meets these theodicies equally. Now, according to Law, I am in the state of “symmetry”; I have no reason to prefer the good god over the evil. Law maintains that this means not just that I can’t rationally hold to either, but rather that because the evil god hypothesis is “very unreasonable indeed” I should also reject the good god.
But of course the theist we are supposing to exist believes that the good good hypothesis is extraordinarily reasonable. And because Law’s thesis works, according to them, following Law, they have no reason to believe the evil god is any less probable than the good god. Thus, according to this theist, the evil god hypothesis is not improbable but rather extraordinarily probable.
What Law has done is pretty simple. He’s argued that the good and evil gods must be on the same level of rationality. Because he (apparently) and others reject the evil god out-of-hand, he argues that they are on equal footing and so one should reject the good god. But again, what if the theist agrees that these hypotheses must be on equal footing and that it’s not that both are improbable but rather that both are extraordinarily probable?
All Law has said in response to such a person is that the evil god is “very unreasonable indeed” but why? Law has just spent over 20 pages arguing that the evil god is actually reasonable. Suddenly, the evil god is worthy of rejecting a priori? How does that work out? Law hasn’t done anything to dissuade the convinced believer. The only way his argument works is if one thinks that the good god hypothesis is barely rational. If one follows his conclusion and thinks god’s existence is very likely, then they must follow it all the way through: the evil god’s existence is very likely too. Law just imports this unreasonableness from his own a priori denial of the existence of God.
So what, at this point, does the believer do? Well, it seems we’re back to my first point. One can either believe the symmetry thesis and thus devolve into radical skepticism, or one can reject it and thus throw Law’s argument out the window where it belongs.
Finally, it’s worth noting that there are other reasons to reject the “evil god challenge.” First, it doesn’t take into account the whole range of theistic argument. For example, the ontological argument is based upon the notion of God as maximally great. Law would have to argue that an evil being could be maximally great. Good luck.
William Lane Craig and Stephen Law debated some time back. I wrote a review summarizing and analyzing the arguments.
Glenn Andrew Peoples presents Law with a formidable challenge on the Unbelievable? Podcast.
Edward Feser weighs in on the evil God challenge.
Glenn Andrew Peoples’ podcast on the evil God challenge is phenomenal.
Max Andrews weighs in, arguing that even though Law’s argument is much like the Cartesian demon, we should take it seriously.
Luke Nix at Faithful Thinker comments on the same argument from a different angle.
[Cited as directed here:] STEPHEN LAW The evil god challenge. Religious Studies, Available on CJO doi:10.1017/S0034412509990369
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners, and works of art as credited) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
Owl Post edition. If you get it, I like you even more. As usual, I don’t necessarily agree with everything in the posts I recommend, but I do think they are all worth reading (and probably agree with much of their content, so there!).
A very interesting video in which a pastor, Voddie Baucham, addresses the problem of evil.
Altar to a Well-Known God- One of my favorite apologetics sites, No Apologies Allowed is a site which largely features comics that draw out discussion about various issues. This one, I thought, was particularly striking.
Lawrence Krauss on God and Morality- an analysis of Krauss’ views on the moral argument with a thoughtful critique.
How to Refute Christianity: A Handy Guide- A tongue-in-cheek process to show how one could go about refuting Christianity. I found this very thought-provoking.
A young Christian comes out to talk about pornography and its addictive qualities. Not a victimless endeavor.
Reflections on a lyric by 3 Doors Down- very interesting cultural apologetics related to the 3 Doors Down song, “When I’m Gone.”
A Brief Word on Ken Ham, Stand To Reason, and the OEC/YEC Debate- Young Earth Creationist Ken Ham recently wrote a rant about the apologetics group Stand to Reason. This link discusses the strangeness of Ham’s litmus test method for theology. I have also posted my own reaction.
Anthony Weber’s work, Learning to Jump Again, is part memoir of a lost father, part philosophical treatise on the problem of suffering. The focus throughout is Weber’s father and the issues with mourning, suffering, and heroism his life and death brought up.
The book starts with “the Journal”–a series of entries from Weber’s journal during the time surrounding the death of his father. As one who is very close to his father, these entries truly struck home. There were many moments where this reader just lost it in tears. Weber does not hold back, at all. His father was suffering from jaundice due to cancer. He writes, “A friend stopped by that weekend to borrow some tools, and I stammered through an explanation of why my visiting father was yellow… He [the friend] knew that after the fall comes winter, and after the chill comes the cold, and he was mercifully silent” (2).
Weber does not restrict the period of mourning or the discussion thereof to the months immediately surrounding his father’s death; rather, the Journal contains entries as far as eight years (and later) after his father’s death. Christians reading the book are forced to the realization that it is not easy to struggle through these issues. When a beloved father dies, it is not something that passes with the seasons. Even eight years later, he wrote of his withholding himself from his wife and children, and the realization that came with it that he must trust in God, “even if I don’t always understand him” (76-78).
Yet the journal section is not merely a reflection. Weber shares lessons and thoughts he has on mourning, God, and the reality of pain in the world throughout his memoirs. He notes that too many people know about God without knowing God (72-73); refers to the experiences of wrestling God (45); and contrasts the ways and beliefs of “the flesh” with that of reality (33). Throughout this section, there is much for readers to take away.
The second part of the book focuses on the issues behind suffering and the Christian worldview. Weber’s discussion is an admirably easy-to-read introduction to many of the philosophical issues surrounding the problem of evil and other issues. In particular, his discussions of emotions, dreams, and prayer in particular offered a number of insights that readers will be interested in reading more about. Weber included a lot of resources for interested readers to explore, so the book serves as a valuable resource in that regard as well. His discussion of the problem of pain does an excellent job introducing difficult notions like distinguishing between types of the problem of evil (122ff). His discussion of the various possible routes theists can take to discuss the problem of evil is also brief but informative.
Throughout the book there are numerous quotes from various authors. Many of these are novelists such as J.R.R. Tolkien, Dean Koontz, Shakespeare, and C.S. Lewis. Others are from people like Helen Keller, Phillip Yancey, and Scripture. These quotes are often profound and fit the context perfectly. As a reader, this reviewer admits to frequently skimming past quotes when I see them in texts, particularly when they are out of context, but with Learning to Jump Again, the quotes all draw out new emotions, thoughts, and ideas very well. They add to, rather than distract from, the text.
Learning to Jump Again was a bit of a surprise for me. The section of the book that was a memoir served poignantly to draw readers into the heart of a mourning man. But it did not leave readers with that; rather, Weber constantly struggled with issues that Christians at all stages must deal with. Further, the philosophical section which encompassed the latter part of the book is an excellent survey of a number of issues. Many will benefit from the insights Weber provides. The book tugs at the heart strings and gets the mind working. Readers who have already extensively explored the issues of the latter part of the book will benefit from viewing the issues in the context of a memoir. Those who have not will benefit greatly from the discussion throughout the book. I recommend it very highly.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. If you’d like to repost a post, you may do so, provided you show less than half of the original post on your own site and link to the original post for the rest. You must also appropriately cite the post as noted above. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
There is a day that is burned into the memory of a generation–a day in which so many things we thought were harmless were turned against us. On September 11th, 2001, the United States was attacked by terrorists who flew planes into our buildings. The World Trade Center collapsed as we watched. We listened with pride about the men and women on United Airlines Flight 93 who died in order to prevent another attack.
We found out later box cutters were used to take over the airplanes. It was airplanes–a mere form of transportation–which were used to cause so much destruction. Harmless things became weapons.
But what does it all mean? How are we to come away from such an event unscathed? Something as simple as a box cutter was used against us. Can we trust anything? Is the person who invented the box cutter to blame? What about the manufacturer? What of the airplanes? Should we never fly again?
I can’t help but think about the ultimate when I am faced with the immediate. And the ultimate leads me to think of God. God created our universe, and as He created, He called each new creation “good” (see Genesis 1:4ff). But bad things started happening fairly quickly. Sin entered the world, and it wasn’t long before we had genocides, racism, hatred, terrorism, hunger, and you name it. The evils perpetuated by man would take too long to enumerate, and we can easily think of more.
Ultimately, God created the world as “good.” It was we who turned these good things against each other, it is we who actively seek to hurt, harm, and destroy each other. It is our free will that has turned things which are good into things used for evil.
On this 10th anniversary of 9/11… I sit back and ponder such things. It’s easy to throw blame around when we think about evil. It would be easiest to blame God. “Why don’t you prevent these evils, God?” But then we forget about the kinds of things God made, and how He only made them good.
The question is not: “Why did God create these things [free will, among others]?” The question is “Why have we used these things for evil?”
“Are We All Moral Monsters?” Clay Jones looks at how 9/11 has awakened us to mortality in new ways.
Simply Incoherent- Christopher Hitchens argues that 9/11 is evil. But on his ontology, evil makes no sense.
From Ground Zero to 10 Years Later–September 11, 2011- a reflection on 9/11
Did God Allow the Attacks on 9/11 for a “Greater Good”?- A post writing against ‘greater good’ theodicies. Not sure I agree entirely, but I think there are some great difficulties with the ‘greater good’ theodicy which Erik Manning draw out.
Where was God on 9/11?- A reflection on 9/11 along with a point-by-point critique of Rabbi Kushner’s response to 9/11.
Do all roads (and flights) lead to God?- A critique of religious pluralism.
Two Ground Zeros- From the horrors of 9/11 to the hope of Christ.
Suffering and the Cross of Christ- Christ helps us explain suffering.
Atheism, Evil, and Ultimate Justice- God will provide ultimate justice.
The preceding post is the property of J.W. Wartick (apart from citations, which are the property of their respective owners) and should not be reproduced in part or in whole without the expressed consent of the author. All content on this site is the property of J.W. Wartick and is made available for individual and personal usage. If you cite from these documents, whether for personal or professional purposes, please give appropriate citation with both the name of the author (J.W. Wartick) and a link to the original URL. This blog is protected by Creative Commons licensing. By viewing any part of this site, you are agreeing to this usage policy.
The problem of evil is one of the most commonly pushed objections to the existence of God.There have been, historically, two major ways this problem is presented. The first way is to suggest that evil and God are logically incompatible. The second way argues that evil reduces the probability of God’s existence.
The suggestion that evil and God are logically incompatible has been largely abandoned in recent scholarship due to the writings of theistic philosophers such as Alvin Plantinga. Atheistic philosophers who had pressed such a problem have largely abandoned such argumentation in favor of the second method–the probabilistic problem of evil (see Rowe, Draper, Mackie, etc. to see atheistic turnabout on this subject). It is widely acknowledged that there is no logical incompatibility (in the sense that it is a logical contradiction) for there to exist an omni-benevolent God and evil (Plantinga, 461).
Thus, the argument has turned to probabilistic arguments against the existence of God. These arguments often are something like, “Given the great amount of evil in the world, it seems unlikely that God [here meaning the God of Classical Theism] exists.” Given some amount of evil, E, it seems as though the probability that God exists is lower than .5 (50%). There are many problems with such arguments. I have argued this elsewhere (see here) , but there are further arguments I’d like to expand upon.
First, one major problem with such arguments is to figure out some way to measure evil (hereafter E). How do we objectively measure the amount of E in the world? But then this leads us to a second problem: if we can measure the amount of E in the world, what amount of E is such that the existence of God (call it “T” for theism) is unlikely? Where is the mark at which T is more likely than not, given E?
But apart from even these problems, there is the fact that some rather simple explanations or defenses can be used by theists. For example, the theist could assert that as long as there is any amount of good in the world, T is more likely than not. This doesn’t seem quite fair, so the theist could rather assert that given any E, there is the possibility that God utilizes E for good. But this may be unconvincing as well. There are still other “outs” for the theist.
Perhaps the most interesting and insightful defenses from this kind of problem of evil was made by Alvin Plantinga in the essential work, Warranted Christian Belief. He argues, utilizing a “multiverse” type of scenario:
“…a theist might agree that it is unlikely, given just what we know about our world that there is such a person as God. But perhaps God has created countless worlds, in fact, all the worlds… in which there is a substantial overall balance of good over evil. In some worlds there is no suffering and evil; in some a great deal; as it happens, we find ourselves in one of the worlds where there is a good deal. But the probability of theism, given the whole ensemble of worlds, isn’t particularly low” (Plantinga, 473).
This defense is almost joyfully simple, yet it reveals a looming problem for the anti-theist wielding the problem of evil. There are indeed countless scenarios just like this, or at least similar to it, in which theism has a “way out.” Plantinga mentions these throughout the same work (see pages 458-499).
There are other ways to defend against such arguments, however. The assertion is that the existence of some amount of E lowers T, given E. But of course the theist can easily grant this and simply argue that on the basis of their own background knowledge (hereafter “k”), the probability of T given E and k is quite high. Plantinga argues for the internal witness of the Holy Spirit, an assertion with which I stand in agreement (Plantinga, 290 and following). But we need not even appeal to a notion that will be as highly disputed as this.
For perhaps the theist has the belief that the cosmological argument seems plausible, or the ontological argument is quite convincing (as here), or perhaps they believe that the other alternatives (the other theistic religions, pantheism, naturalism, paganism, spiritualism, etc.) are even less likely than T. But then the theist has a high probability of T given k, even if the theist acknowledges that T’s probability given E is lower than before.
It then follows that the theist is justified in maintaining such theistic belief even in light of the problem of evil, for on k and E, they still believe there is a high probability that T is true.
Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. Oxford. 2000.
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