CADRE Comments

A Rational Look at Christianity; Basing Reason in Truth

As has often been suggested by atheists and theists alike, the argument from evil is probably the single greatest intellectual threat to the truth of Christian theism. In its most basic form the argument from evil derives from the following propositions:

1. God is all-powerful.
2. God is all-good.
3. Evil exists.

A reductio ad absurdum is said to result when one simply adds a fourth proposition, "God exists." That is, the set becomes logically inconsistent. Epicurus famously said it like this: "Is God willing but not able? Then he is not omnipotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?" This in a nutshell is the logical argument from evil.

The logical problem of evil has fallen on hard times. Ever since Alvin Plantinga published his "Free Will Defense," the burden of proof has shifted to the atheologian, to show the logical inconsistency of the set of premises constituting the problem of evil. Perhaps surprisingly to some, this has been done to almost no one's satisfaction. Plantinga points out that to derive a formal contradiction (as the logical argument must) would require additional premises, such as "God is not all powerful," or "Evil does not exist." It may seem counterintuitive that evil could coexist with an all-good, all-powerful God – all the more so during times of intense suffering – but it's not illogical, strictly speaking.

So long as it is possible for there to be an overriding justification for God to permit evil that creates a greater good, suggests Plantinga, it is possible for God and evil to coexist. Moral free will is one such possible justification. My fellow blogger here, Joe Hinman, has made a good case for the moral necessity of free will (see his "Soteriological Drama" post) as a valid justification for evil in the world (even if it necessarily entails risk of evil and suffering).

Now let's turn the tables for a moment and consider an argument from evil against naturalism:

1. Nature is all that exists.
2. Nature is amoral (neither good nor evil).
3. Evil exists.

Here we have another reductio. For nature to be all that exists, and nature to be non-evil, evil cannot exist. Alternatively, it may be that naturalism is not all that exists, or that nature is not amoral. Either way, given the reality of evil naturalism as commonly understood is false.

Or at least that's how it appears at a glance. Of course, naturalists can get around this by explaining how evil doesn’t really exist, how nature is not amoral, or how evil is a mere by-product or epiphenomenon of naturalistic evolution. But then that would clearly take the sting out of the atheistic argument from evil. For if moral evil can emerge as a by-product of a thoroughly amoral natural system, there's no reason to think it can't emerge as a by-product of a thoroughly good world, inhabited by free moral agents under the supervision of a thoroughly good God. So at worst evil is no more a threat to theism than it is to naturalism. 

7 comments:

LOL! nicely done. Cleaver. I would link to my piece but since it is the very previous post it seems unnecessary.

Thanks!

It's odd, but one of my first philosophical-theological insights came to me as an insecure young nonbeliever in high school. I saw a couple of bullies force a poor little Jewish kid into a trashcan simply for being Jewish. Even as I stood there and did nothing to help him myself, I thought, "How could God allow such evil?" But then my very next thought was, "If there is no God, how can there be any evil in the first place?"

Now that you mention it, I will go ahead and add the link. If a search pulls up just my post it will direct to yours.

ok great thanks man

Turns out Alexander Pruss posted a message with the same title a few years back at his blog:

http://christiancadre.blogspot.com/2016/01/an-argument-from-evil-against-naturalism.html.

But don't be fooled. Mine's better. LOL

Oops, that link should be

http://alexanderpruss.blogspot.com/2012/09/an-argument-from-evil-against-naturalism.html

The problem of evil doesn't apply merely to things caused by free will. Plantinga's suggested that natural disasters too might be caused by free willed agents like demons, but the burden of proof would fall on him to show this is the case. Therefore, it seems like his defense does not address a large part of the argument. Further it seems that Christian theology already posits a place that can have both free will and lack evil, namely heaven, making this even more of a thin defense.

In any case, the problem of evil applies only to a universe with an all-good, all-powerful, all-wise deity. One cannot expect any universe without such a deity (whether godless or not) to deal with it. A godless universe does not, for if the universe lacks such an entity who would we except to stop evil? Gods of a lesser character (impotent, malevolent, or whatever) also would not be expected to deal with this.

Hey mcc, I just noticed your comments here, thanks. Allow me to briefly address a couple:

The problem of evil doesn't apply merely to things caused by free will. Plantinga's suggested that natural disasters too might be caused by free willed agents like demons, but the burden of proof would fall on him to show this is the case.

That's a good point. If we're talking Christian theology, at least, this has been accounted for as a consequence of the fall of man – namely a curse upon the earth (Gen. 3:17-19; Mt. 24:6-8; Rom. 8:22). But given that the argument in question is an argument from evil against Christian theism, a defender of Christian theism would not bear a heavier burden of proof.

Therefore, it seems like his defense does not address a large part of the argument. Further it seems that Christian theology already posits a place that can have both free will and lack evil, namely heaven, making this even more of a thin defense.

That's an even better point. I think it can be answered, however, by reference to the same Christian theology that posits heaven. Per Christian theology, after all, our earthly existence is the arena in which our "knowledge of good and evil" has enabled us to decide what we really want, whether the goodness and presence of God or unrestricted personal autonomy apart from God altogether. We exercise our moral autonomy (to either sin or repent and believe God) in the temporal now to decide whether we want to continue to exercise it in the eternal future.

Use of Content

The contents of this blog may be reproduced or forwarded via e-mail without change and in its entirety for non-commercial purposes without prior permission from the Christian CADRE provided that the copyright information is included. We would appreciate notification of the use of our content. Please e-mail us at christiancadre@yahoo.com.