Omnipotence, etc

The problem of evil
Philosophy of Religion 2008
Lecture 5
Procedural work
Draft exam answers: complete in an hour!
Handwritten is fine, but do give references …
Does the ‘soul-making’ theodicy provide an satisfactory
answer to the problem of evil?
Is divine hiddenness essential to human freedom?
Is there a logical problem of evil for the theist?
If the universe shows evidence of design, does this prove
the existence of God?
Hand in by 4pm Friday Week 8.
 A forgotten proof? Franklin’s ‘beer proof’ (!)
 Two problems of evil:
The logical problem
The evidential problem
…the coherence of theism and the existence of God
 Selected theistic responses
 Opposition to theodicy
Problems of evil: 1
 The logical problem: a problem of consistency:
 If God is good; and omnipotent; and omniscient
 There shouldn’t be human and animal suffering
 But there is – inconsistency?
 Which premise will the theist give up … ?
 (See Hume DCNR Part X)
The logical problem
 Mackie (‘Evil and omnipotence’): ‘God is
omnipotent, God is wholly good, yet evil exists
… the theologian it seems at once must adhere,
and yet cannot consistently adhere to all three’
 Strictly, to produce inconsistency, need added
premise(s). E.g.:
An omnipotent God can do anything
Good must always seek to eliminate evil
Pause for clarification
 Suffering as evil, or as the result of evil … so
evils/suffering interchangeable
 Evils:
Moral: resulting from human action/inaction
Natural: resulting from other causes
 God as good or God as loving?
 These last two may affect the sort of defence the
theist can mount
The logical problem
Possible defences for the theist?
The theist may simply deny one of the
premises (unattractive) …
More likely to point out that:
a) These premises need to be understood in a certain
way, or
b) The hidden premises (omnipotence all powerful,
goodness must oppose evil) are wrong
Possible defences
 So: perhaps
God is not good in our sense of morally good
Evil does not exist …
 Or:
God has reasons for allowing evil (goodness will not
always seek to overcome evil)
God has created the world in such a way that he
cannot intervene …
God not good?
 Does calling God ‘good’ mean morally good …
Goodness is not always a moral property
It may be a expression of gratitude..?
 Can God be subject to moral judgment?
 ‘God can no more be part of a moral community
[with his creatures] than he can be part of a
political community with them …’ (Kenny, What
is Faith?)
 Does the same apply to ‘loving’ …?
Evil doesn’t exist?
 Aquinas: evil is not a positive quality
 It is ‘a certain absence of a good’ (Summa
Theologiae - cf. discussion of omnipotence)
 So God cannot cause evil … but does he
therefore permit this absence to occur?
 Augustine: evil as ‘the name for nothing but the
want of good’ (City of God Bk XI)
 And this want arises from the fall, original sin …
The free will defence
 And note, the fall arises from human choice …
 Allowing choice seems to limit God’s power
 Challenges the hidden assumptions:
An omnipotent God can do anything
Good must always seek to eliminate evil
 ‘Greater good’ defences – goods which cannot
be achieved without allowing (possibility of) evil
The free will defence
 It is good to have free agents, and so it is good
to allow agents freedom
 God cannot let us be free and ensure we chose
good (incompatibilism)
 And so God must allow us to do evil …
 Plantinga: ‘thus is the power of an omnipotent
God limited by the freedom he confers upon his
The free will defence
 But what relationship between God and
 Is God still responsible for the actions of free
Since he created them, and sustains them
(Aquinas) God is not a worldly cause, so he can
bring human actions without limiting freedom
But is this plausible?
The free will defence
 General problem: is the good worth the evil?
Maybe if the free creatures do more good than evil?
 Can our free will account for natural evils?
As they affect both us and other creatures…
Should they be laid at God’s door?
Or the fall/original sin (Augustine, van Inwagen)
Free will and natural evils
 Maybe being able to enjoy free will depends on
the existence of natural laws, that will not always
work in our interests …
 We cannot all get what we want: what decides
the matter will be certain natural facts (Mawson)
 But what can this say about other creatures’
suffering – the fawn in the forest fire (Rowe)
 Do all creatures have free will?
Overcoming evils
 ‘The worst evils demand to be defeated by the
best goods. Horrendous evils can be overcome
only by the goodness of God’ (Marilyn Adams).
 We may not fathom the reasons for evil …
 … but God’s ensures that each person’s life is a
good to them, by ‘engulfing’ evils.
 God is still good, despite evils …
 Transcendent goods: relations with God; God’s
gratitude; identification with Christ …
Problems of evil: 2
 Or an evidential problem (Mackie MoT, Rowe):
 If there were an omni – God …
 There would not be evil/suffering
 But there is …
 So there cannot be such a God (modus tollens)
 Suffering as evidence for atheism - not proof,
but supports a ‘strong presumption’ (Mackie)
The evidential problem
 A Bayesian approach (e.g Draper in Copan and
 This evidence may increase the balance of
probability of God’s non-existence
 By increasing the ‘antecedent probability’ of
atheism, prior to our considering any further
Some responses
 We know that God exists for some other reason
… so while this presents a problem, it cannot count
as evidence against His existence
 We don’t see the whole picture
Not having God’s omniscience, all the evidence is
not available to us
Relies on first point? Otherwise we can judge only
on evidence we have …
Combines with ‘greater good’ theodicies?
Defences and theodicies
 Defences: challenging one of the premises of the
 Theodicy (after Leibniz): explaining why God
might act in a certain way
 Not always an easy distinction to draw …
 And defences may work against both forms of
argument, or only against one: careful!
Greater good arguments
 Is the existence of evil necessary to bring about
a greater good (cf free-will)? No ‘gratuitous evil?
 Hick: soul-making/Iranean theodicy:
God intends to bring us to moral/spiritual maturity
This must be a free choice: epistemic distance
‘A world without problems … would be morally static’
So to grow, we must live in a world with evil
But … could we not learn virtues in a good world?
Greater good arguments
 Swinburne: if we are to become morally mature
 … we must act freely, and have knowledge of
the consequences of actions, both good and evil
 Again, we cannot be force-fed this: we must
work it out inductively
 … and this means both bringing about moral evil
and having experience of natural evils
Against theodicy
 Are greater good arguments too anthropocentric
 Or not respectful of suffering humans, animals?
 Responses:
Acknowledge our lack of understanding: ‘if [God] is
there, he is surely something bigger and more
mysterious than a corrupt or stupid official’ (Midgley;
see also DZ Phillips)
God as human love and effort (Soelle)
 Are theodicies besides the point …?
References/additional reading
Seminar readings
 Davies Introduction Ch3 (2nd edn) or 10 (3rd edn)
 Davies Guide Part V
 Mackie: ‘Evil and omnipotence’ (Mind 64, Peterson)
 Mackie: Miracle of Theism Ch.9
 Rowe: ‘The problem of evil and some varieties of
atheism’ (Taliaferro & Griffiths)
 Augustine: City of God Bk XI (or passages in Peterson,
Davies, Hick Ch.2)
References/additional reading
Hume Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion Part X
 Swinburne: Existence of God Ch.11, or Stump & Murray
 Hick: ‘An Iranean theodicy’ (in Hick, Peterson)
 Adams: ‘Horrendous evils and the goodness of God’ (in
Stump & Murray, Taliaferro & Griffiths)
 Midgley: Wickedness (extracts in Taliaferro & Griffiths)
 Against theodicy: see Clack and Clack Chapter 3.
 Can you distinguish the various defences and
 Which do you think are the strongest?
 Can we combine approaches to give a complete
defence of God’s existence in the face of both
moral and natural evils?