The Philosophical Problem of Evil

The Philosophical
Problem of Evil
• The only effective argument against the
existence of a maximally perfect God is rooted
in the existence of evil.
• The existence of evil is thought by some to:
– Be logically inconsistent with the existence
of a maximally perfect God. (The Logical
Problem of Evil)
– Constitute conclusive evidence against the
existence of a maximally perfect God. (The
Evidential Problem of Evil)
Logical Problem of Evil
• Some believe the claims ‘A maximally
perfect God exists’ and ‘Evil exists’
canNOT both be true in the same
• Some believe these two claims cannot
both be true in the same reality just as
the claims ‘All the students in Mrs.
Smith’s class are girls’ and ‘The best
student is Mrs. Smith’s class is a boy’
cannot both be true in the same reality.
• The reason some believe these two
claims cannot both be true in the same
reality is succinctly stated by St.
Thomas Aquinas:
– “[I]f one of two contraries be infinite,
the other would be altogether
destroyed. But, the word ‘God’
means that He is infinite goodness.
If, therefore, God existed, there would
be no evil . . . .”
Summa Theologica, I, 3, iii (obj. 1)
Rebutting the Logical Problem of Evil
(The Free Will Defense)
• “A defense of X . . . need show only
[the] possibility that, given what we
definitely know, X is not ruled out.
Thus, unlike a traditional theodicy
purporting to explain evil, a defense of
God in the face of evil purports to show
only that it is possible that God be real
and there be the evil there is. If it can
be shown the supposition that
• “God is real is not strictly ruled out by
the evil we perceive, the the reality of
God is shown compatible with the evil
we perceive . . . . A defense need not
be likely, need not be supported by
evidence so that we ought to believe it.
A defense can be imaginative, indeed
wildly imaginative, so long as it is
conceivable given what we know.”
Stephen H. Phillips, Phillips Anthology, pp. 260261
• How to show that the two claims (‘A
maximally perfect God exists’ and ‘Evil
exists’) are not logically inconsistent:
– Show there is a possible reality in
which both claims are true.
– This reality need not be actual, nor
even plausible.
– The reality need only be possible and
be one in which both ‘A maximally
perfect God exists’ and ‘Evil exists’
are both true.
• The Absorption Principle
– “Since God is the Highest Good, He
would not allow any evil to exist in His
works, unless His Omnipotence and
Goodness were such as to bring good
even out of evil.”
Saint Augustine of Hippo, Enchiridion
– If God exists, then any evil that exists
is the logically unavoidable sideeffect(s) of the production of greater
• Plantagina
– A possible reality in which ‘A
maximally perfect God exists’ and
‘Evil exists’ are both true.
– All the evil that exits in Plantagina
results from the free, but immoral,
choices of moral creatures.
– Evils such as murders, thefts, and
rapes result from the free, but
immoral, choices of creatures like you
and me.
– Evils such as sickness, earthquakes,
and hurricanes result from the free,
but immoral, choices of fallen angels
– God cannot force any of the free
creatures in Plantagina to choose
• A “forced, free choice” is a logical
impossibility, just like a “square
circle.” Thus, God’s “inability” to
bring either about is not a blow
against His omnipotence.
– In Plantagina, all the evil produced
by the free, but immoral, choices of
moral creatures is outweighed by the
goodness of the creatures’ ability to
make free and moral choices.
• The moral creatures in Plantagina
cannot make free and moral
choices unless they can also make
free, but immoral, choices.
– Plantagina is a possible reality and,
in it, ‘A maximally perfect God exists’
and ‘Evil exists’ are both true.
– Consequentially, these two claims are
NOT logically inconsistent.
– What’s more it’s conceivable, if not
plausible, that Plantagina is the actual
– Thus, the Free Will Defense succeeds.
– A Possible Fly in the Ointment
• While the Free Will Defense succeeds
in establishing that God’s maximal
perfection is logically consistent with
the existence of evil, does it do this at
the cost of sacrificing God’s
sovereignty over His creation?
• God’s Sovereignty: “God, the
Divine Artisan, freely and knowingly
plans, orders, and provides for all
the effects that constitute His
artifact, the created universe with
its entire history, and executes His
chosen plan by playing an active
causal role sufficient to ensure its
exact realization . . . . [W]hatever
occurs is properly said to be
specifically degreed by God; more
precisely each effect . . .
• “is either specifically and knowingly
intended by Him or, in concession to
creaturely defectiveness, specifically
and knowingly permitted by Him,
only to be then ordered toward some
appropriate good”
Alfred J. Freddoso, Introduction to Luis de
Molina’s On Divine Foreknowledge
• But, asks the critic, how can
creatures be truly free, if God is thus
sovereign, or how can God be thus
sovereign, if creature are truly free?
• Prescinding from the Question of
Implications for God’s Sovereignty, our
Conclusion can be:
– The Logical Problem of Evil is easily
rebutted because it overreaches.
– It tries, as it were, to hit a grand slam
against theism.
– As a result it can be struck out by a
story as facile as Plantagina.
Evidential Problem of Evil
• Even though it is conceivable that
Plantagina is the actual world, given the
amount and type of evil that exists in the
actual world, isn’t it highly unlikely that a
maximally perfect God actually exists?
• If it is highly unlikely that a maximally perfect
God exists, then it is irrational to believe that
such God exists.
• In other words the amount and type of evil
that actually exists counts as conclusive
evidence, if not logical proof, against the
actual existence of a maximally perfect God.
• A Theist must admit that evil does count
as evidence against the existence of a
maximally perfect God, otherwise
theistic claims become vacuous.
– “A tornado destroys part of a
community and the qualification
process begins: ‘Our church and our
parishioners remained untouched,
witnessing to God’s protection of the
faithful;’ ‘The tornado destroyed our
church and killed several of our
– “‘displaying that God’s inscrutable plan
requires at times even the suffering of the
suffering of the faithful;’ ‘God has a plan
but . . . .’ Any statement that is compatible
with every conceivable situation does not
assert anything about any particular
situation and is, therefore, not even in
theory falsifiable. And, if a statement
cannot, even in principle be shown to be
false, then it cannot be shown to be true
either, which means that it has no [truth
value at all], which means it has no
cognitive value [at all] . . . .”
Ed L. Miller, God and Reason, p. 224
• A theist must concede that the
existence of gratuitous evil, i.e. evil that
is not the logically unavoidable sideeffects of greater good(s), would falsify
the claim ‘A maximally perfect God
• What’s more, a theist must admit that
much of the evil that exists in the actual
world appears, at least on the surface,
to be gratuitous.
• The theist, however, maintains that
appearances are often deceiving.
– “[T]he [believer] does recognize the
fact of pain as counting against
Christian doctrine. But, it is true that
he will not allow it – or anything [else]
– to count decisively against it; for he
is committed by his faith to trust in
God. His attitude is not that of the
detached observer, but of the
[committed] believer. Perhaps this
can be brought out by yet another
parable. In time of war in an
occupied country,
– “a member of the resistance meets
one night a stranger who deeply
impresses him. They spend that
night together in conversation. The
Stranger tells the partisan that he
himself is on the side of the
resistance--indeed that he is in
command of it, and urges the partisan
to have faith in him no matter what
happens. The partisan is utterly
convinced at that meeting of the
Stranger’s sincerity and constancy
– “and undertakes to trust him. They
never meet in conditions of intimacy
again. But, sometimes the Stranger
is seen helping members of the
resistance, and the partisan is
grateful and says to his friends, ‘He is
on our side.’ Sometimes he is seen
in the uniform of the police handing
over patriots to the occupying power.
On these occasions his friends
murmur against him: But, the
partisan still says, ‘He is on our side.’
– “He still believes that, in spite of
appearances, the Stranger did not
deceive him. Sometimes he asks the
Stranger for help and receives it. He
is then thankful. Sometimes he asks
and does not receive it. Then, he
says, ‘The Stranger knows best.’
Sometimes his friends, in
exasperation, say ‘Well, what would
he have to do for you to admit that
you were wrong and that he is not on
our side ?’
– “But, the partisan refuses to answer. He
will not consent to put the Stranger to the
test. The partisan of the parable does not
allow anything to count decisively against
the proposition ‘The Stranger is on our
side.’ This is because he has committed
himself to trust the Stranger. But, he, of
course, recognizes that the Stranger's
ambiguous behaviour does count against
what he believes about him. It is
precisely this situation which constitutes
the trial of his faith.”
Basil Mitchell, “University Discussion” in New Essays in
Philosophical Theology ed. by Antony Flew and Alasdair
• Still, lest his claims become what
Mitchell calls “vacuous formulae . . .
to which experience makes no
difference and which make no
difference to life,” a theist must have
some plausible response to the
appearance of gratuity possessed
by many of the evils that actually
exist, i.e. some plausible response
to the Evidential Problem of Evil.
Responses to the Evidential Problem of
• Direct Theodicy
– A plausible explanation, consistent
with theistic suppositions, for all the
evil that actually exists.
– Evil is the Privation (Corruption) of
• At root, goodness and being are the
• To lack goodness is, to some
degree, to lack being.
• To be evil is NOT to BE as one
• For example, a hammer without a
head is a bad hammer because it
lacks (suffers from a privation) of
what it should have.
• All created beings, by the very
fact they are created, lack some
degree of being and, therefore, of
• “If God cannot do what is logically
impossible, then He cannot create
something that possesses the full
power of being the He Himself
possesses, for anything that God
creates is by its conception
dependent [upon God] for its being
. . . . [S]ince the being of creation is
only [limited], not absolute, it is
lacking also in complete goodness;
in other words, it is imperfect.
• “This ‘metaphysical’ evil is, then,
necessarily attendant upon
[creatures] and is the ultimate
source of all natural and moral evil.”
Ed. L Miller, God and Reason, p. 164
• From the very fact that creatures
are creatures, they are limited in
both being and goodness.
• In other words, by their very
natures, creatures are incomplete.
• The fulfillment and completion of
creatures lie outside themselves
• St. Augustine, like all theists,
maintained that the fulfillment and
completion of creatures lie in God.
– “Our hearts, O Lord, are restless
until they rest in Thee.” (The
• Given their limitations in
knowledge, creatures may seek
fulfillment and completion in
something other than their true
fulfillment and completion – God.
– “The will . . . commits sin when it
turns away from [God] toward its
private good [or toward]
something external to itself or
lower than itself. It turns toward
to its own private good when it
desires to be its own master; it
turns to external goods when it
busies itself with the private
affairs of others or with whatever
is none of its concern; it turns to
goods lower than itself
– “when it loves the pleasures
of the body. Thus, a man
becomes proud, meddlesome,
and lustful.”
Saint Augustine of Hippo, On Free
Choice of the Will
• Take as an extreme example
– In Christian theology, Satan
started out as the archangel
– Instead of seeking his fulfillment
and completion in serving God,
Satan chose to corrupt himself in
the first of St. Augustine’s three
ways: He surrendered to pride
and sought to become his own
– In the words that John Milton
put on the lips of Satan in
Paradise Lost, “Better to reign in
Hell than serve in Heaven.”
– Despite what Satan might have
thought (or thinks), says St.
Augustine, he cannot find fulfillment
and completion by ruling in Hell.
– He could only find fulfillment and
completion by serving in Heaven.
– “It is not Satan’s bare existence
which is evil, but the bareness of his
existence . . . . Instead of fulfilling
the being God had given him, he, in
a sense, vacated that being,
emptied it of all of its once
scintillating possibilities.
– “There is an enormous emptiness
residing at the very core of Satan’s
being, a huge and tragic lack of
what-could-have-been, of what
should-have-been. He is evil, not
for what he is, but for what he is
D. Q. McInerny, “Evil” in Perennial
Wisdom for Daily Life
– Augustine claims it is this tragic
lack of what should-have-been at
the core of Satan that causes him
to inflict suffering on others.
» The only “happiness” Satan
can available to Satan is to
drag down into damnation with
him as many others as he can.
» This is the true origin of the old
adage “Misery loves company.”
• The Cosmic Effects of Original Sin
– As a consequence of the original
rebellion of Adam against God, all
of creation is fallen, i.e. less
perfect than it would have been.
– St. Augustine ultimately bases
this claim on the authority of
Christian revelation, e.g. Romans
5:12 – Wherefore as by one man
sin entered into this world, and by
sin death; and so death passed
upon all men, in whom all have
sinned. (Douay-Rheims Version)
» Miller points out than more
modern versions of the New
Testament dissent from this
traditional translation.
» Still, the traditional translation
captures the meaning of the
verse as interpreted by
traditional Christianity in its
Catholic, Protestant, and
Orthodox forms.
– The Fall extends to all of
creation: For creation awaits
with eager expectation the
revelation of the children of God;
for creation was made subject to
futility, not of its own accord
– but because of the one who
subjected it, in hope creation itself
would be set free from slavery to
corruption and share in the glorious
freedom of the children of God. We
know that all creation is groaning in
labor pains even until now . . . .
(Romans 8:19-22)
– “The generation and corruption of the
created order are now experienced
by fallen creatures in the form of
suffering: Plagues, famines, disease,
accidents, and hardships in general
– “Thus, God says to the fallen
Adam that its by the sweat of his
brow that he shall eat, and to the
Fallen Eve that she will have
pain in childbearing (Gen. 3:16 &
19). Quae causa infirmitatis nisi
iniquitas? ‘What is the cause of .
. . infirmity but iniquity?”
Ed L. Miller, God and Reason, p. 168
– Humans are incapable of
repairing the damage of Original
– Humans can attain sanctity only
by participating, through Grace,
in the saving death and
resurrection of Christ.
– “The crucifixion of God’s Son
was at once both the epitome of
evil and the occasion of God’s
greatest blessing. Even the Fall
turns out to be something over
which the believer may exult: O
felix culpa! ‘O happy fault!’
Ed L. Miller, God and Reason, pp. 168-69
– The phrase “O, happy fault!”
comes from an ancient Easter
hymn, “The Exultet”:
» O wondrous condescension
of Thy mercy . . . ! O
inestimable affection of love!
That Thou mightest redeem a
slave, Thou didst deliverer up
Thy Son! O happy fault! O
truly needful sin of Adam that
won for man so great a
– In the crucifixion, God suffers with
and for humans, instead of
standing off aloof.
» He was despised and rejected
by men; a man of sorrows, and
acquainted with grief; and as
one from whom men hide their
faces he was despised, and we
esteemed him not. Surely he
has borne our griefs and carried
our sorrows; yet we esteemed
him stricken, smitten by God,
and afflicted.
» But, he was wounded for our
transgressions, he was
bruised for our iniquities; upon
him was the chastisement that
made us whole, and with his
stripes we are healed. All we
like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned every one to
his own way; and the LORD
has laid on him the iniquity of
us all.
(Isaiah 53:3-6)
– Evaluation of St. Augustine’s “Evil as
the Privation (Corruption) of
Goodness” Theodicy
• It is plausible to Miller’s
“contemporary, non-biblically
oriented person?”
• Is it fair that “in Adam’s Fall fell we
all,” i.e. that all of Adam’s
descendents suffer for his rebellion
against God?
– St. Augustine maintains that
Adam’s sin brought about an
ontological change in, an essential
lessening of, the human race.
– Adam fell from the state of
blessedness and became subject
to suffering and death.
– Thus, every descendent of Adam,
perforce, inherits those liabilities,
much as person with a genetic
disorder passes that disorder on to
his/her children.
• St. Augustine’s Theodicy contradicts
modern, scientific evolutionary theory.
– When we examined the
teleological argument, we saw
many contemporary scientists have
called into question the explanatory
adequacy of purely naturalistic
– Is it entirely unreasonable to belief
that God directly intervened in
natural history to create the first
genuine humans?
– Perhaps God intervened in a way
not dissimilar from the mysterious
supernatural intelligence in 2001:
A Space Odyssey.
– If it is plausible that God directly
intervened in natural history to
create the first genuine humans,
then isn’t it also plausible that the
original humans enjoyed a state of
blessedness that their descendents
do not because of the original
humans’ rebellion against God?
– Also, is it unreasonable to believe
that the effects of this original
rebellion extend to all of creation?
– After all, human wars often have
disastrous effects on the
environment, sometime even
creating new diseases.
– If this is true when humans make
war on each other, is it
unreasonable to believe it’s even
more true when humans seek to
make war against God?
– St. Augustine, following the
scriptures, maintains that the
original harmony within creation will
eventually be restored.
» The wolf also shall dwell with
the lamb, and the leopard shall
lie down with the kid; and the
calf and the young lion and the
fatling together; and a little child
shall lead them. And, the cow
and the bear shall feed; their
young ones shall lie down
» And, the lion shall eat straw
like the ox. And, the sucking
child shall play on the hole of
the asp, and the weaned child
shall put his hand on the
cockatrice’s den. They shall
not hurt nor destroy in all my
holy mountain: For the earth
shall be full of the knowledge
of the LORD, as the waters
cover the sea.
(Isaiah 11:6-9)
• Perhaps the greatest challenge
posed by St. Augustine’s Theodicy
to the “contemporary, non-biblically
oriented person” is the remedy he
proposes for the Fall – the death
and resurrection of Christ.
– From the very beginning of
Christianity, many have been
scandalized by the thought that
redemption lies in participating in
the death and resurrection of
– But, we preach Christ crucified,
unto the Jews a stumbling block,
and unto the Greeks foolishness.
But, unto them which are called,
both Jews and Greeks, Christ the
power of God, and the wisdom of
God. (I Corth. 1:23-24)
– Perhaps the very negative
reactions of some to Mel Gibson’s
new movie, The Passion of the
Christ, are but a contemporary
manifestation of this ancient
• As the quote from First Corinthians
indicates, the acceptance of St.
Augustine’s Theodicy ultimately rests
on faith.
• Still, one may ask: Is such an act of
faith irrational?
• To borrow a phrase: “We report, you
• But to help one decide perhaps it is
well to pose another question: Where
does the deeper irrationality lie, in the
act of faith or in the skeptical mind
that has always been uneasy with it?
• Indirect Theodicy (The G. E. Moore
– G. E. Moore was a 19th Century
British Philosopher whose work with
Ethics has inspired a response to the
Evidential Problem of Evil.
– How it works.
• Gratuitous Evil: Evil that is not
the logically unavoidable side
effects of greater goods.
• Both theists and atheists agree that
this material implication is true:
– If gratuitous evil exists, then a
maximally perfect God does not
• Atheists maintain that it’s more
reasonable to argue this way.
– If gratuitous evil exists, then a
maximally perfect God does not
exist. Gratuitous evil exists.
Therefore, a maximally perfect
God does not exist.
• Theists maintain its more
reasonable to argue this way:
– If gratuitous evil exists, then
a maximally perfect God does
not exist. A maximally perfect
God does exist. Therefore,
gratuitous evil does not exist.
• Both of these arguments are
valid, but only one can be
• Atheists say it’s more reasonable to
believe in the existence of
gratuitous evil than it is to believe in
the existence of a maximally
perfect God.
• Theists say, given all the evidence
(for example, the theistic proofs
we’ve looked at) it’s more
reasonable to believe in the
existence of a maximally perfect
God than to believe in the
existence of gratuitous evil.
• Both the atheistic and theistic views
seem reasonable.
• It, therefore, in the end, once again
becomes a matter of faith.
• This leads us to the Existential
Problem of Evil.