Thursday, April 14, 2005

omnipotence and the problem of evil

Plantinga made a good point in his book, God, Freedom, and Evil. The logical problem of evil is the idea that the set of propositions including "God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good," and "Evil exists," are contradictory, and therefore cannot both be true. Most theists do not understand omnipotence to mean that there are no limits to what God can do. They usually understand it to mean there are no non-logical limits to what God can do. God cannot, for example, bring it about that he both exists and doesn't exist, or that necessarily true statements are false, or that there are square circles, etc. You see, part of J.L. Mackie's argument against God included the premise that "There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do," in order to argue that God could have created a world containing moral good, but no moral evil. The point Plantinga made that I thought was good was this: If theists agree with Mackie that there are absolutely no limits to what an omnipotent being can do, then the problem of evil poses no problem for them, because, as they say, God can do what is logically impossible. If being omnipotent means that God can bring about logically impossible states of affairs, then the fact that the problem of evil describes a logically impossible state of affairs is merely a curiosity, but not a problem.


At 4/14/2005 12:19 PM , Blogger Mike - said...

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At 4/14/2005 12:21 PM , Blogger Mike - said...

A good point.

The same topic from a different angle:

Let's say a Christian takes the position that possibly it is logically impossible to create a world containing moral good, yet no moral evil, and that that provides at least a possible answer to the problem of evil. But if that is indeed the answer, that it is indeed logically impossible to create a world containing moral good, yet no moral evil, doesn't that also preclude the Christian understanding of a heavenly afterlife where no evil exists?

I've had this question posed to me. I don't at this time have an answer for it. If you have any idea, I'd love to see you post them.

At 4/14/2005 5:54 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

A possible world is a maximal state of affairs. If there is actually an afterlife in heaven, it's not a completely different world. It's part of this world, because it's included in the sum total of reality.

At 4/14/2005 5:58 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Even if God can actualize a possible world with segements containing moral good but no moral evil, it doesn't follow that he can actualize the possible world without all of it containing moral good but no moral evil. By "segment" just mean part of the possible world. Heaven might be one example of a segment of the actual world where there is moral good but no moral evil.

At 4/15/2005 1:02 AM , Blogger Mike - said...

The explanations I've been exposed to seem to come from the perspective that a "segment" containing the possibility of moral good must, by the nature of the thing, have the possibility of moral violations (evil). Therefore, if God were to create a segment with moral good, moral evil would have to be a possibility. Therefore, the presence of evil does not by necessity originate from any aspect of God's character.

However, assuming that's correct, one would have to conclude that a segment comprising "heaven" would either (1) have the possibility of evil, or (2) not have the possibility of good.

I've heard this objection addressed with the speculation that the residents of heaven will have had their character transformed by God to such an extent that, even though evil is a theoretical possibility, no one will choose it. Yet, if that's possible, we’re back to the question of why would a morally perfect God not choose to create us that way in the first place? If He chose not to when he could have, does that place His moral character into question?

Now, don't misunderstand my comments. I'm a Christian. But it's for other compelling reasons. And the problem of evil is as much a burden for the atheist as it is for the theist, for the atheist has the challenge of finding some basis for even thinking moral categories tangibly exist. (Actually, I supose he could just deny morality himself, and stick to the point that the Christian concept of God, which includes God being morally perfect, is contradicted by a universe that logic dictates His character would not have allowed Him to create. But denying morality is a difficult thing to do. And finding a basis for morality is a difficult thing to do without an authoritative agent in the system.)

At 4/15/2005 2:36 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Mike, as long as people have free will, it's possible for them to do good or evil, whether in heaven or on earth. But God knows what they will do in any situation. God knows counterfactuals such as, "If Jim were in situation S, he would go wrong with respect to action A." The fact that Jim will go wrong with respect to A doesn't mean he can't do otherwise. It just means he won't do otherwise.

Maybe God, knowing what everybody would do in any situation, actualized a world in which the most amount of good would be done, and the least amount of evil. And maybe it just happens that he was able to actualize a world in which many people would never go wrong once they got to heaven. Not because they couldn't, but because they wouldn't.

Incidentally, heaven hasn't always been a place where only good is done. Some angels went wrong.

I think the solution you raised--about changing our characters--suffers from the problem you raised. If God prevents evil by changing our characters in heaven, then he could've prevented evil from ever entering the world at all. Notice that the solution only works if you assume that people always act according to their character. That assumption is inconsistent with libertarianism. In fact, it's the very definition of compatibalism, which libertarians think is inconsistent with moral virtue and vice.

If we assume compatibalism, then Plantinga's argument won't work. But that doesn't necessarily mean we have to call God's character into question. As long as it's possible that God had a good reason for creating a world containing moral evil, then we can't say that the existence of evil is inconsistent with God's goodness. We can't assume God has no good reason just because we don't happen to know what that reason is.

I don't think atheists necessarily have to believe in evil before they can raise the logical problem of evil. They aren't saying God's existence is incompatible with something else in their own worldview; they're saying the theistic worldview is inconsistent with itself, because it asserts both the existence of evil and the existence of a good God.

At 4/15/2005 11:41 AM , Blogger Mike - said...

Good comeback. I'll give it some thought.

Regarding your last paragraph, that's what I was trying to say in my last pargraph, so we're on the same page.

At 4/17/2005 8:21 PM , Blogger Safiyyah said...

So how would miracles be viewed in this conception of God? Are miracles (ie curing the leper, bringing the dead back to life, etc) logically impossible?

At 4/17/2005 9:31 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Safiyyah, I guess I don't really see the connection between miracles and what I've been saying, so I'm not sure how to answer the question. Most Christian philosphers have understood miracles to be events in the physical world whose causes are not part of the physical world (and usually the cause is God). I don't see any contradiction in that. What do you think?


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