The Logical Problem of Evil

James Dew Jr. reviews the logical form of the problem of evil in his essay, “The Logical Problem of Evil.” In this essay he interacts with various attempts to demonstrate a logical contradiction within the classical theist doctrines of God’s omnibenevolence and omnipotence with the existence of evil.

The common theme among the various proponents of the argument that Dew identifies is the idea that if God were omnipotent then he could stop all evil and if he were omnibenevolent then he would want to do so. Since he has not done so, says the critic, then God cannot be both omnibenevolent and omnipotent.

Since there is no blatant contradiction among the concepts of omniscience, omnibenevolence, and evil, the critic must add a couple of premises to bring to light a contradiction. J.L. Mackie adds the two premises below, says Dew:

  1. A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can.
  2. There are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do.

Dew shows that Mackie must demonstrate that these statements are necessarily true in order for there to be a logical contradiction with God’s existence. One of the primary methods to undermine this task is the free will defense, as developed by Alvin Plantinga.  Since free will is a good, and those that are free may choose evil, then it may be that any world in which there is free will there may also be evil.  In this way it may not be feasible for God to create a world with as much good in it as this one (since free will is a good) and yet there be no evil, even if it is logically possible for him to do so.  This would undermine premise 5 as it would suggest that there are limits on what an omnipotent thing can do.

William Lane Craig offers a similar defense in his book, On Guard. [2] Craig also shows that God may have morally sufficient reasons for permitting any particular instance of suffering.  It may be the case that God, in order to achieve an overriding good, should allow a particular instance of evil.  The crucifixion of Jesus is just such an example.  While it was unquestionably evil for a man to be unjustly accused, unlawfully convicted, and then executed in brutal fashion, it was to accomplish redemption for all mankind that God allowed it.  In other words, the evil that was wrought on Jesus accomplished the ultimate good for mankind.  One can construct non-religious examples as well, especially if modern medicine is included.  The chemotherapy that makes the patient violently ill works to cure their cancer.  These examples undermine premise 4 above, that a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can.

An interesting topic raised is Plantinga’s concept of “transworld depravity”. This concept is used in conjunction with the free will defense described above and suggests that individuals may choose evil no matter what world God may put them in.  Plantinga uses it to suggest that it may not be as simple for God as creating a different world in which those that go wrong in this world would not go wrong.  One objection to this concept not entertained by Dew would be that God should simply refrain from creating people who fall into the category of transworld depravity.

One possible solution to this objection is “Traducianism”.  This doctrine was introduced by Tertullian and entails that not only one’s body, but also one’s soul is reproduced through the union of one’s parents.  This was introduced to resolve the problem of universal sinfulness in answering the question of whether God is in the business of creating fallen souls.  If our fallen parents produce our soul, then its fallen nature is attributable to them and not to God.  [3]

If this doctrine is correct, then God does not directly control which people are created in any given world. He certainly would have sovereign indirect control through choosing which world he should actualize, but he does not directly choose whether this or that person should come into existence.  In this way, it is not up to God to refrain from creating those that would be transworldly depraved since he does not create anyone’s individual soul.


[1] James K. Dew Jr., in God and Evil: The Case for God in a World Filled with Pain – Kindle Edition by Chad Meister and James K. Dew Jr. (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013).

[2] William Lane Craig, On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision (Colorado Springs: David C. Cook, 2010).

[3] Robert W. Myrant, “Whence Cometh Our Soul?” Central Bible Quarterly CENQ 06:1 (Spring 1963): 1-16.

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7 thoughts on “The Logical Problem of Evil

  1. Hi Matt!

    Really enjoyed reading your post and well done for attempting to tackle such a difficult subject.

    I’ve given the problem of evil a great deal of thought over the years, and in doing so, I’ve thought a lot about the nature of God. In my opinion, the idea of free will contradicts the idea of God’s omnipresence. If God is omnipresent, then every atom in existence is a part of God, and therefore must be under God’s control. If this is true, then free will is impossible; all will is God’s will. There are obviously implications that follow from this, in terms of the Christian faith and doctrines such as divine judgment and sin.

    Thanks again for an interesting and thought-provoking post, and I’ll be interested to read more of your writing in the future 🙂

    Best wishes,

    Steven

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hey Steven, thanks for your comments and for reading! God’s divine attributes are extremely difficult to wrap our heads around, and omnipresence is certainly toward the top of that list!

      It seems like you may be imagining omnipresence as God’s physical presence to be everywhere, which it seems that you take to mean that he is physically present in every atom. In that case this would be describing Panentheism, the belief that God is literally in creation everywhere. If you mean that the atoms that make up the universe are God or a part of God, then this would be Pantheism. Christianity would reject both of those positions. Christianity teaches that God is not a physical being at all. The scriptures teach that God is spirit (see John 4:24 and Acts 7:48-50). This is also philosophically necessary if God created matter, for he cannot be composed of matter and also the cause of matter coming into existence.

      This brings up another point that you seem to be making. You seem to state that if every atom is part of God then free will cannot be real. This seems to affirm materialism, the position that matter is all that exists. Christianity teaches mind-body dualism (that you have a material body and an immaterial soul). You can see this in Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians 5:8 where he talks about being “absent from the body”. Now even if we reject pantheism and panentheism, we are still left without free will if we affirm materialism. If matter is all that exists, then our mental states are nothing more than our brain states. The laws of physics, however, determine our brain chemistry. If there is no immaterial mind interacting with our brain to create brain states, then our brain states arise out of interactions with our environment. Since materialism is incompatible with free will, then our immediate experience of free will gives us good reason to reject materialism. The arguments for God’s existence also give us reason to reject materialism since God is immaterial.

      So what do we make of omnipresence? If we don’t want to affirm that God is physically present everywhere, then what can we mean by it? Geisler says, “[Omnipresence] means that all of God is everywhere at once. As an indivisible Being, God does not have one part here and another part there, for He has no parts,” (emphasis original). [1] He goes on to give the illustrations of beauty in a painting and thought in a sentence. Beauty is in the painting everywhere, but there isn’t anywhere that you can point to and say, “There it is!” The same is true for thought in a sentence and for God in our universe.

      Practically speaking, I tend to think of God’s omnipresence in terms of his awareness and causal activity in all points in space.

      I hope that helps, and thanks again for reading and for your comments!
      _______
      [1] Norman Geisler, Systematic Theology in One Volume (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 2011), 493.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi again Matt,

        Many thanks for your thoughtful response.

        What I believe is close to panentheism (there’s actually a panentheism category on my blog, which I mention just to show you I’ve explored the concept). I would say all material is a part of God and an expression of Him. I believe that material existence is contained ‘within God’ (so more panentheism than pantheism). But if there was no matter God would still exist as pure spirit, so I agree that God is essentially a spiritual being.

        I have also written about the idea of ‘all of God being everywhere at once’ – I think I described it as ‘God is wholly in the parts and wholly in the whole’. So God cannot be divided up – it is His nature to be everywhere.

        I don’t actually believe that our brains control our actions, I believe God controls our actions. This is tied to my understanding of God being everywhere (including in every cell of our bodies). It would be strange to pray to God for healing of physical illness if He wasn’t in every cell of our bodies. Also, a Christian might pray for God to plant him/her in a great church, for example, the implication being that God is fully in control of all our actions (and therefore that we don’t have free will).

        I don’t believe God is separate from and somehow dipping in and out of the physical world, which is what a lot of theists seem to believe. God is everywhere all of the time, not just some of the time – His being is without limits.

        I hope that helps you to understand where I’m coming from, whether you agree or disagree 🙂

        Have a wonderful day, and thank you for the opportunity to discuss these things.

        Blessings, Steven 🙏🏻

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks Steven! I appreciate how well you’ve thought through your beliefs, not just stopping at the metaphysical concepts but also working out the practical implications (such as prayer).

          I’d like to respond, but I’d like to read your article on Panentheism and re-read some things from my own library first. Could you post a link to the article(s) you described?

          Thanks!

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Matt,

    Many thanks, I’m grateful for the conversation 🙂

    Actually, the best way for you to understand my beliefs and all their implications would be to read my paper entitled ‘An Almighty Predicament’, which is available as a free PDF download from the Essays page on my blog (http://perfectchaos.org/essays). It’s not too long but goes into more depth than my blog posts, and I think that as a deep thinker yourself you would appreciate that.

    If you get a chance to read the paper and would like to give me your thoughts, they would be very welcome (you could either leave a comment or email me via my Contact page).

    God bless you and have a wonderful day.

    Steven

    Like

    1. Thanks for the link, I have started going through it. It may take me a little while to get back to you. You are right that it is not terribly long, but it does touch on a number of technical matters and so it calls for careful reading. Any response would need to be technical as well, which will take time.

      I will more than likely contact you directly through your site once I’ve been able to go through it properly.

      Thanks for linking it, I am looking forward to discussing it further with you.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Matt!

        Thank you so much. One of the main reasons I wrote the essay was in order to engage in thoughtful discussion with people, so I’m really grateful that you’re planning to look over it and respond. It will no doubt be helpful for both of us.

        You are welcome to contact me any time – I’ll look forward to reading your thoughts.

        Best wishes,

        Steven

        Like

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