Tuesday, August 14, 2018

A quick and dirty response to the problem of evil

I've written about this elsewhere in more detail (see my Conversations with Angie series), but I thought it would be handy to condense a lot of it into something that's succinct since I've been doing that with other subjects. I just wrote this today in response to somebody raising the problem of evil on a discussion forum.

This argument hinges on there being a contradiction between these two claims.

1. God exists (and God is being defined as being all powerful, all knowing, and wholly good).

2. Evil exists.

If these two claims contradict each other, then they can't both be true. So, if evil exists, then God does not exist. Or if God exists, then evil would not exist.

There are three different ways that two claims can contradiction each other.


An explicit contradiction is when one claim is the negation of another. For example, "My cat is hairy," explicitly contradicts, "My cat is not hairy." Obviously, 1 and 2 do not contain an explicit contradiction.


A formal contradiction is when you have a set of claims, none of the claims explicit contradict any of the other claims, but using the laws of deductive inference, you can deduce from some of the claims, another claim that explicitly contradicts one of the other claims. Here's an example of a set of claims that are formally contraditory:

All men are mortal.
Socrates is a man.
Socrates is not mortal.

None of the claims explicitly contradict the others. However, from the first two claims, you can deduce another claim, namely. . .

Socrates is mortal.

Now we have an explicit contradiction since "Socrates is not mortal," is the negation of "Socrates is mortal." Since we were able to deduce an explicit contradiction, then the original set is formally contradictory.

However, 1 and 2 are not formally contradictory either because you cannot deduce anything from 1 and 2 that would be the explicit negation of one of them.


That bring us to the third way a set of statements or claims can contradict each other. A set of statements are implicitly contradictory as long as there is a necessarily true statement (or statements) that when added to the set produces a formal contradiction. Here's an example.

Socrates is a man.
Socrates is not mortal.

These two claims are neither explicitly nor formally contradictory. However, the statement, "All men are mortal," is true, and when added to the set, it produces a formal contradiction. But the statement that "All men are mortal," must necessarily be true or else it can't do any work for us to show that the original statements are implicitly contradictory. If it's possible for a man to be immortal, then the two claims are not implicitly contradictory. So, if 1 and 2 are inconsistent with each other in any way, then it must be implicit. That means that to show they are contradictory, you must add statements that are necessarily true to them in order to render them formally contradictory. I'll leave it to you to do that. In the mean time, I'll give you some reasons to think they are not contradictory.

If two statements are contradictory, then they cannot both be true under any possible state of affairs. So if there is a possible state of affairs in which both could be true, then they are not contradictory. So here's a suggestion.

God created a world containing evil, and he had a morally justified reason for doing so.

We need not know if that claim is true or not. It only needs to be possible to do its work. If God were wholly good, then we should expect that whatever he does, he has a morally justifiable reason for doing it. So this claim, if it were true, would preserve God's perfect goodness even though he created a world containing evil.

Theists need not know what God's reason is. Nor should we be expected to know what his reason is. As long as it's possible that he has a good reason, a theist is not being inconsistent in believing in both God and evil. So evil does not disprove God.

But there's more. Before evil could disprove the existence of God, evil would have to first exist. But evil can't exist unless there's a moral law to distinguish between good and evil. If there is no transcendent moral law, then whether a state of affairs is good or evil would reduce to cultural or individual preferences or values. If good and evil were merely cultural or individual preferences, it would have no bearing on whether or not God exists since God would not be obligated to live according to the made up preferences and values of his creatures.

But since good and evil are value judgements, they cannot exist independently of somebody valuing something. Morality is necessarily subjective in a sense. It may not be up to the subjective values and preferences of human beings, but if it is an objective thing, as far as we are concerned, then it must originate from the subjective values and preferences of a transcendent personal being, like a god.

But what could a personal god have that we don't have that makes his subjective values objective for everybody else? Well, here's an analogy. Let's say you have a second grade classroom with 20 students and one teacher. And let's say one of the students comes up with 10 classroom rules of do's and don't's. Would any of the other students have any obligation to obey these rules? Of course not. But suppose the teacher came up with 10 rules. Now, suddenly, everybody else is obligated to obey them. It's the authority of the teacher that makes the difference.

As creatures, we're kind of all on the same level. We do have heirarchies among ourselves, but nothing sufficient for morality. We have employer/employee relationships, parent/child, commander/soldier, etc. In all of these cases, one person has authority over another person. But in each of these cases, a person's authority can be trumped by morality. A government can pass a law that is immoral for anybody to obey. Laws can be unjust. So morality is the highest sort of law that cannot be trumped by any human institution. So the authority behind the moral law must transcend humanity.

But what could possibly give this god-like being that kind of absolute authority? It's hard for me to come up with a list of necessary and sufficient conditions, but I think I can come up with a few things that make sense. Here's a list of things that would make sense of morality if they were true.

God is sovereign and autonomous. That means god has no peers, no authorities above him, and nobody to tell him what to do.

God is a necessary being who created everything else. That means god does not owe his existence to anything else, but everything else owes its existence to god. God is the being for whom and by whom everything else exists. Everything revolves around god. Everything derives its purpose from god because god made it for a purpose.

I think these things, together, make a lot of sense of morality. So let's suppose that's how it is. We have a god who exists necessarily, who created everything else, who invests everything else with purpose, and rules autonomously and sovereignly. That sounds a lot like the Christian God.

What all this means is that if there is no such god, then there can't be evil either. So any argument you make against God from evil is incoherent since you need evil to exist before you can even begin to make the argument. So the argument against God from evil is incoherent. In fact, evil is evidence for God since the existence of evil presupposes the existence of a moral law, and the existence of a moral law presupposes the existence of God.

I have one more thing to say before I finish. If God is the source of the moral law that allows there to be a distinction between good and evil, we can deduce that God is wholly good from the meaning of good and evil. By their very meanings, good is what is to be done, and evil is what is to be avoided. That is, you should always do good, and you should never do evil. If God's values and preferences are the ground for this distinction, it follows that God always values and prefers good and never values and prefers evil. That means God is wholly good.

From God's perfect goodness, we can deduce that God does, in fact, have a good reason for creating a world containing evil, even without knowing what that reason is. I suggested earlier in this post that it was a mere possibility. But now I'm making a stronger claim. It is an actuality, which we can deduce like so.

If God is wholly good, then whatever God does, he has a morally good reason for doing so.
God is wholly good.
Therefore, whatever God does, he has a morally good reason for doing so.
God created a world containing evil.
Therefore, God has a morally good reason for creating a world containing evil.

And that solves the logical/deductive problem of evil.

I could go on to offer theodicies, but this is long enough.


At 8/16/2018 10:45 PM , Blogger Ben Wallis said...

Hey Sam,

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I truly enjoy reading them. This post has me thinking. You said in here that we don’t know the reason that God created a world with evil in it and that we don’t need to know. I would like to suggest that he has told us or at least that he has made it possible for us to assume his motive.

Assuming that God is Christ his laws are designed to be chosen by the individual. The compulsion of another individual by anyone is prohibited by Gods law. Christ himself refused to compel anyone to do his will. The closest he came was in throwing the money changers out of the temple and that was not forcing them to comply with Gods law but stopping them in the moment from defiling it.
I would suggest that the reason God made a world that contains evil is precisely so that we can make the choices to follow him. He will accept any of us that choose him but wants to make it possible for us to make that choice. If we could see him and know that he exists or if there was no other choice to make we could not choose him. The choice would be made for us.

It is also evident in evil itself. All things that are evil have to do with one person taking a choice from another. There are things that a person can do to him or herself that are immoral and can be considered evil but true evil that is considered evil by almost all people are committed one person to another or one group to another. Also, an act of evil perpetrated against one’s self entails the removal or reduction of their own future choices. (i.e. suicide, addiction, self-harm…)

God’s law when followed always allows for more choice not less not only by the person who follows it but by the people they interact with.


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home