The Logical Problem of Evil Is Still Very Much Alive!

Of course, this is nothing new to educated people, but I still read where Christians proclaim the logical problem of evil is dead. What gives? In the future if someone says such an ignorant thing, refer them here, and to the books listed below.

The Logical (Deductive) Problem of Evil
is an argument whereby it is claimed that there is a logical (or deductive) inconsistency with the existence of evil and God’s omnipotence, omnibenelovence, and/or omniscience. J.L. Mackie’s argument was that God is either not good, not omnipotent, or evil doesn’t exist. He argues: 1) a good being always eliminates evil as far as it can; and 2) there are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do. Therefore such a God cannot exist--it is a logically impossibility. He asks: 1) “Why couldn’t God have made people such that they always freely choose the good?” And, 2) “Why should God refrain from controlling evil wills?” [“Evil and Omnipotence” Mind, Vol. LXIV, No. 254, April 1955.]

Planting’s Free Will Defense seeks to answer this problem in his book, God Freedom, and Evil (Eerdmans, 1974). He argues that it is logically possible that there is a state of affairs in which humans are free and always do what is right. But he argues that God cannot bring about any possible world he wishes that contain these free agents with significant choice making capabilities. He introduces the concept of transworld depravity: it is logically possible that every free agent makes a wrong choice, and that everyone suffers from it. This is crucial for the free will defense to work. But the whole notion of free will has many problems. Plantinga also suggests that it is logically possible that fallen angels cause all of the natural evil in our world! According Richard Swinburne, such an explanation for natural evil is an “ad hoc hypothesis,” [The Existence of God (Oxford, 1979), p. 202], and as such, according to J.L. Mackie, “tends to disconfirm the hypothesis that there is a god.” [The Miracle of Theism (Oxford, 1982), p. 162)].

Most Christians claim the logical problem has been solved, but there are still versions of the logical problem of evil that have not been sufficiently answered. There are those written by Quentin Smith, “A Sound Logical Argument From Evil;” Hugh LaFollette, “Plantinga on the Free Will Defense;” Richard La Croix, “Unjustified Evil and God’s Choice” [all to be found in The Impossibility of God, eds. Michael Martin and Ricki Monnier (Prometheus Books, 2003)], Richard Gale’s On the Nature and Existence of God (Cambridge, 1991), pp. 98-178, and Graham Oppy’s book Arguing About Gods (Cambridge University Press, 2006), pp. 262-268, who argues at length for the thesis that Plantinga's treatment of the logical problem of evil is inconsistent in several respects. See also A.M. Weisberger’s critique of Plantinga’s free will defense in her book Suffering Belief (Peter Lang, 1999), pp. 163-184. Just because Plantinga answered Mackie's formulation, and just because Mackie admitted it, doesn't mean that all formulations have been answered, or that others agree with Mackie’s admission.

Christian people like to tout any successes they have since they have so few. But it’s propaganda, plain and simple, and based on out of date information. Besides, even if there is no logical disproof of the existence of God because of intense suffering in this world, that doesn’t say much at all. The reason is that there are very few, if any logical disproofs of anything.

Consider this deductive argument from Richard R. La Croix: “If God is the greatest possible good then if God had not created there would be nothing but the greatest possible good. And since God didn’t need to create at all, then the fact that he did create produced less than the greatest possible good.” “Perhaps God could not, for some perfectly plausible reason, create a world without evil, but then it would seem that he ought not to have created at all.” “Prior to creation God knew that if he created there would be evil, so being wholly good he ought not to have created.” [The Impossibility of God, pp.119-124]. After analyzing La Croix’s argument, A.M. Weisberger argued that “contrary to popular theistic opinion, the logical form of the argument is still alive and beating.” [Suffering Belief, 1999, p. 39].

Why did God create something in the first place? Theists will typically defend the goodness of God by arguing he could not have created a world without some suffering and evil. But what reason is there for creating anything at all? Theists typically respond by saying creation was an expression of God’s love. But wasn’t God already complete in love? If love must be expressed, then God needed to create, and that means he lacked something. Besides, a perfectly good God should not have created anything at all, if by creating something, anything, it also brought about so much intense suffering. By doing so he actually reduced the amount of total goodness there is, since God alone purportedly has absolute goodness.

15 comments:

Hallq said...

Maybe the logical problem of evil is still alive, but frankly I don't care. There's no logical contradiction in saying that "all evidence indicates the world is round" and "the world is flat," but that doesn't make flat earthism reasonable. When a theist begins bragging that the logical problem of evil has been solved, it's best to point out how shallow a victory that is and move on.

Steven Carr said...

In the spirit of Alvin Plantinga, I present an ontological disproof of his 'maximally great being in very world'

1) God is a necessary being and exists in all logically possible
worlds.

2) God is supposedly omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent

3) Therefore , suppose a omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent
being exists in all possible worlds

4) Many logically possible worlds contain large amounts of suffering
with no redeeming features.

5) Therefore these logically possible worlds do not contain a being
who would alleviate pointless suffering

6) Therefore there are logically possible worlds that do not contain
an omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent being.

7) But this contradicts 3, showing that there is no necessary
omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent being

Daniel said...

Freedom of will and freedom of action and freedom of knowledge are all separate, and must be thought of as such.

i) The will cannot choose to act upon that which it does not know
ii) The knowledge of a creature is determined by God - experiences, senses, and revelation
iii) The limits of action are twofold -- a) what the will can choose among its options; b) and what the person can physically accomplish
iv) Apropos (b), God sets the limits of human physical freedom by their bodily functions, their environment, their resources, etc.
v) Therefore, from the top to bottom, we see the crucial consideration of how God limits "freedom", from the very knowledge that the will sifts through to choose, to the will itself choosing among options which are available to it, to the creature being able to act upon that which it has chosen

I would say that this makes the whole idea of "free will" more difficult to tease a solution from than it seems. As John pointed out, another point is that there was no necessity that God create free willed creatures, without even getting into the specifics of my argument above -- that the freedom that God "chose" for us, the abilities, knowledge, and physical natures that we have, were not necessary.

If God wanted the "highest good", and free willed creatures to love God, it is trivial to show that God can tweak human knowledge, the options available for the will to choose, the nature of the person's desires (which some may argue direct the will), and the physical ability to act upon that will such that evil is minimized.

The evidential argument destroys the idea that this is the "best of all possible worlds", or anywhere near it.

The Schwa said...

My question to Christians is this: "Is there free will in Heaven?"

Heaven is supposed to be a place of perfect happiness and goodness. How is this achieved? Are people prevented from choosing evil? If so there is no free will. If it is achieved AND allows free will somehow, why didn't God just do that on Earth as well?

Rich said...

"My question to Christians is this: "Is there free will in Heaven?"

I would say yes and the evidence from a scriptural standpoint is Satan. If heaven is where God resides, then Lucifer was in the presence of God when he rebeled, or in heaven. So he was not prevented from choosing to rebel/sin against God which would conclude that he had free will.

Daniel,
"The evidential argument destroys the idea that this is the "best of all possible worlds", or anywhere near it."
Is this a claim made of Christianity?

John W. Loftus said...

Hallq: Maybe the logical problem of evil is still alive, but frankly I don't care.

Hmmmm. Then you don't care about the facts? And you don't care about these arguments because you have better ones? Hmmmm.

Interesting. Isn't that like someone saying that he doesn't care about philosophical studies because historical studies provide a better argument against the theistic God? Why is it an ether/or? Why can't it be a both/and?

And since these philosophers have made their cases, are you saying that they are wasting their time, or what? Just because you don't care would you please explain to me why they shouldn't care? What exactly is wrong with arguing as they do? Have you read them?

Daniel said...

Rich,

It is a solution offered up (originally by Liebnitz) to answer the problem of evil.

The idea is that an all-good God would not make or allow this world to be any worse than it had to be, and thus, this is "the best of all possible worlds", factoring in free will or original sin or whatever doesn't change the premise: God would minimize evil, pain and suffering.

ochristian said...

Daniel said:

" As John pointed out, another point is that there was no necessity that God create free willed creatures....that the freedom that God "chose" for us, the abilities, knowledge, and physical natures that we have, were not necessary."

Absolutely necessary if the free exhange of love was his desire.

"...factoring in free will or original sin or whatever doesn't change the premise: God would minimize evil, pain and suffering."

Perhaps he has.

Rich said...

Actually the Free will defense may not be the best or even a good answer to the logical problem of evil, Which was I'm sure the idea behind the problem of evil, that is to get a good answer, it does show that there is a logical possibility for Evil and God to co-exsist. While it may not be accepted or plausible, it still is possible. In that regaurd the logical problem of evil was refuted.

David Wood said...

You guys should do a review of the discussion Carrier had with Habermas and Licona on the Infidel Guy Show. It's only $1.50. Here's my review:

Wood's Review

Keith said...

As a skeptic myself, still strongly compelled to rest in the existence of a biblical (though somewhat unorthodox) God, it seems to me that you are far too confident in the logical force of correctly identifying Christendom’s logical fallacies. On one hand you are denying anyone's ability to intuit the absolute meaning of "good," "best of all possible worlds," "evil." And on the other hand you're taking those exact presumed definitions, linking them together, and pointing out their inconsistencies. Congratulations! You have a knack for pointing out the obvious--people often don't make logical sense of their beliefs. Are Christians the only ones who fail in this regard? And isn't it amazing that even though they're inconsistent, they still go on breathing, eating and reproducing?

I don't pretend to have some transcendent grasp of "good" or "evil." I don't find the Bible to be a formulaic discourse on the absolute definitions of good and evil as most Christians admittedly seem to. I don't find it stating anywhere that "goodness is always compelled to do such and such, and any deviation is, by definition, evil." I just find myself loving and being loved--and hating and being hated, and ignoring and being ignored. I see the Bible as a set of ancient records of a people's often misguided struggle with the reliability of a partly-visible-partly-hidden God.

There is no logically deducible set of attributes a "God" must have for one to exist or not exist. If you don't like what has become of this world, that only proves that there is no God who is both omnipotent AND completely committed to creating a world to your liking. It says nothing of the possibility of a God who may be both omnipotent and completely committed to drawing us to himself THROUGH our current suffering (pointless as it may be) TO a future that more than makes up for that suffering.

Logically, God may or may not exist. To assume God does exist, means I have to struggle with why he doesn't behave the way I often wish he would. To assume God doesn't exist, means I have to wonder why things seem to matter to people. How did something so PERSONAL as caring evolve in an inherently IMPERSONAL universe? Why are you compelled to blog about the fallacies of Christianity? Why should it matter to you that Christians are being duped into guilt-driven, boring lives? Why isn't that just an interesting variation in the fabric of the vast, impersonal cosmos? And the same for the Holocaust? How can you blame all the bad things on the non-existence of a "good" God and at the same time assume that this "badness" somehow matters?

How did the first strand of DNA spontaneously assemble itself? I know the multiverse theory that suggests all possible universes do in fact exist in infinite dimensions, therefore, with such a postulate, the incredibly low probability would seem to be a moot point. On the other hand, I don't know how a multiverse, with all possible universes, could arbitrarily exclude the possibility of ones with vastly powerful supreme beings. How do we determine which is possible and which isn't? Why should I assume I'm lucky enough to be in the universe with self-assembled DNA rather than the one with deliberately crafted DNA?

I have plenty of problems with Christianity. I have plenty of problems with God, but I don't assume that means he can't exist. It still seems to me that the universe is far more personal than it is impersonal.

Jeff said...

Using the existance of evil to disprove the existance of God makes no sense at all. If there is not a God then what basis do you have for deciding what is "evil" in the first place? Isnt morality all "relative" and isnt that the whole point of denying the existance of God in the first place? Please explain exactly what you mean by the word "evil" and let me know if your definition is absolute or if it is really just relative to my own point of view.

Anduril919 said...

Personally, I find that Smith's attack on the free-will defense is both rigorous and rhetorically effective. As I see it, either God has free will or he doesn't. If he doesn't, then giving us free will is a conscious choice he made that led to great evil and suffering, in direct contradiction of his omnibenevolence. If he does, what KIND of free will does HE have? Smith argued effectively that we could have had God's very kind of free will without violating anything and at the same time avoid any moral evil in the universe that the free-will defense proponents assert as inevitable. Clearly, it is NOT inevitable, as Smith so effectively argues.

Anduril919 said...

"If he doesn't, then giving us free will is a conscious choice he made that led to great evil and suffering, in direct contradiction of his omnibenevolence."

Having read it, I recognized the contradiction. Rephrase it to say, "If he doesn't, that wouldn't make sense being that God is omnipotent, and free will becomes so over-valued that to justify suffering by pointing that the higher value of "free will" is preserved by it, would not work (if the omnipotent God himself doesn't have it...).

Anduril919 said...

Jeff: "Using the existance of evil to disprove the existance of God makes no sense at all. If there is not a God then what basis do you have for deciding what is "evil" in the first place? Isnt morality all "relative" and isnt that the whole point of denying the existance of God in the first place? Please explain exactly what you mean by the word "evil" and let me know if your definition is absolute or if it is really just relative to my own point of view."

It would make a lot more sense if you look at it as a criticism on consistency, i.e. since you believe in an objective morality and since you believe..... The atheist doesn't need to posit objective morality to argue the Problem of Evil.