Wednesday, February 02, 2005

More on the problem of evil

Yesterday, I posted about Alvin Plantinga's solution to the deductive problem of evil (DPE). The first premise in the DPE states that "If God exists, evil does not exist," which is based on the idea that "God exists," is somehow imcompatible with "Evil exists." There's an implicit contradiction that needs to be made explicit by adding some true premise such that when it is added, and when the set is taken to its logical conclusion, it results in an explicit contradiction.

Plantinga said that so far nobody has come up with the necessary premise to demonstrate that "God exists" is incompatible with "Evil exists." But I thought it just wouldn't be right if I didn't say something about how this conclusion was arrived at.

Remember that God is being understood as a being who is all knowing, all powerful, and all good. The argument is that if he's all knowing, then he knows how to create a world without evil. If he's all powerful, then he is able to create a world without evil. If he's all good, then he has a desire to create a world without evil. With the know-how, the power, and the desire to create a world without evil, God's existence is said to be incompatible with evil. Since evil exists, either God lacks the ability, the know-how, or the desire. In either case, the God described as being all knowing, all powerful, and all good does not exist.

I don't have a problem with the idea that if God is all good then God has a desire to create a world without evil. But the God of the Bible is revealed as having both a sovereign will and a moral will, and they are not always the same. For example, in Ezekiel 33:11, God says, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live." God doesn't want the wicked to die, and yet he is the one who judges them for their wickedness. Clearly, then, the Bible reveals a God whose sovereign acts are sometimes contrary to his desires.

But why is that? Well, in the case of not choosing to creating a world free of evil, it's because he either lacks the power or he lacks the know-how, according to the DPE.

While I don't have a problem with the idea that God being all good implies that God has a desire to create a world free of evil, I do have a problem with the second two positions. I don't think God being all powerful implies that God is able to create a world free of evil, nor that God being all knowing implies that God knows how to create a world free of evil. I'll explain why.

First, let's look at the all powerful part. I asked a guy in school one time if he could draw me a four-sided triangle on a sheet of paper. He said he couldn't do it. I said, "Well, do you think you could do it if you worked out, lifted weights, and got a lot stronger?" He said, "No." You see, lack of power has nothing to do with his inability to draw a four-sided triangle. It isn't strength that prevents him from doing it. It's because a four-sided triangle is a contradiction in terms. If a shape is four-sided, then it's not a triangle, and if it's a triangle, then it doesn't have four sides.

In the same way, God can't accomplish meaningless tasks. God can't be completely honest and tell lies at the same time. That's why the Bible says "it is impossible for God to lie" (Hebrews 6:18). Likewise, God can't make square triangles, exist and not exist at the same time, know things he doesn't know, or create rocks too heavy for an all powerful God to lift. All of these describe meaningless tasks, because they entail logical contradictions.

I say all that to say this. It isn't necessarily the case that if God is all powerful that he could therefore create a world without evil. The reason is that doing so may be inconsistent with some other purpose God has which entails evil. Plantinga suggested that perhaps God has a good reason for evil. If there is a good reason for evil, then it would be impossible for God to be all good and all powerful and not create a world with evil in it. To do so would entail a logical contradiction. God would have to be good and not good at the same time.

Now let's look at the all knowing part. Supposedly if God is all knowing, then he knows how to create a world with evil in it. Let's think carefully about this, now. What does it mean to know something? Knowledge has traditionally been defined as "justified true belief." Not that God needs anything proved to him or anything, but at a bare minimum, before you can know something, that thing first has to be true, right? You can't know that the earth is flat, can you? Does God know that the earth is flat? No, because the earth is not flat. Basically what I'm getting at is that God only knows things that are true.

The reason I make such a banal point is so that I can make this point. God can only know how to create a world without evil in it if there is a way to create a world without evil in it that is consistent with his good character. Now if there really is a good reason for evil, and if God is good, then it is inconsistent with God's goodness to create a world without evil in it. In that case, God doesn't know how to create a world without evil in it for the simple reason that there is no way for him to create a world without evil in it. You can't know something if there's nothing to know, but that doesn't mean God isn't all knowing. To be all knowing means to know everything there is to know.

I think that's about all I have to say for now.

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