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4 comments | Saturday, February 11, 2006

In order to maintain a fruitful discussion when handling the problem of evil, several preliminary issues must be dealt with before one can effectively and honestly proceed. In this brief post, I will attempt to present these required clarifications. First, this is in no way and exhaustive attempt to address, or down play evil—if anything, this is for my own edification.

It’s pretty much a guarantee that some time during a conversation with a non-believer the “Evil exists; therefore, [the Christian] God cannot exist” objection will come up (or be thrown in your face). The objection can be genuine, but most of the time it’s used to dismiss whatever the current topic(s) that might be at hand.

In a slightly more formal formulation of this argument see below:

P1. If God exists, He is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent.
P2. If God is omniscient, He knows when any evil is occurring (or about to occur).
P3. If God is omnibenevolent, he would want to prevent all evil.P
4. If God is omnipotent, he could prevent all evil.

P5. So, if God existed, there would be no evil. (P1-P4)
P6. There is evil in the world.
C. Therefore, God cannot exist. (P5,P6)

There are several different ways to formulate this objection, but this is generally (in my experience) how it is presented, although in presentation—not as formalized.

Logical Possibilities

The non-believers objection seems to demand the logical impossibility of the existence of both an omnibenevolent God and evil. However, I don’t know that there is a good reason to think this is logically impossible. In fact, there is a logical possibility that it is the case that both exist. So, unless it can be explicitly shown that it is logically impossible, the very plausibly of evil and a benevolent God existing defeats the logical inconsistency.

Logical Probabilities

Though it’s not necessarily logically impossible for both God and evil to exist, one could argue that it’s not probable. Consider all the gratuitous pain and suffering that occurs in the world; millions of books could be filled with horrid accounts of disgusting torture and unnecessary suffering. As one accumulates the examples of these hideous things, it is easy to see why they measure the evils they see as an overshadowing to the possible existence of an omnibenevolent God.

I can not explain exactly why God does what he does, or allows what he allows, for I am not in the mind of God. Moreover, it’s difficult to give an all encompassing answer to the objector, because I don’t know exactly what is being put in play. I can say, however, that if the factors of evil are being relatively compared to the flavor of a good tasty bagel; surely the probability of God’s omnibenevolent existence will plummet. I am not saying that this is what is being done, I am just showing that depending of the variables that are in play; it will have a significant effect of the results of ones analysis.

Insofar as all the factors for the probability for Gods existence are appropriately applied, and compared to evil, one can confidently see that Gods existence is more probable than not—even when evil is taken into account (perhaps in the future, I can dedicate a complete blog post to this effect). When it is claimed that evil perils the probability of Gods existence, it can be asked, “What is evil relatively measure up to?”

Riddle Me This:

Without actually distinguishing between moral and natural evil, notice that P2 presumes that evil exists: “He knows when any evil is occurring.” This premise (along with P6) will only work if some objective form of “evil” actually exists. Bringing out this point can help isolate the issue. The best way to do this, it seems to me, is to ask a simple question:

(A) Is something evil because you say it’s evil? Or (B) Do you say something is evil because it IS evil?

The question is actually familiar to Christians, and often used (in one formulation or another) as a rejoinder to Gods moral nature (Euthyphro Dilemma). Nevertheless, the question helps get to the central point I want to discuss.

Evil is what I say it is:

Consider question (A) If something is evil because on says it’s evil; then it’s a matter of mere opinion. Question (A) makes evil a human convention that does not transcend the individual; thus, under question (A), evil does not exist. Therefore, P6 is effectively defeated if (A) is the standpoint. There’s really no way out of it; the argument against God due to evil only works if there is such thing as real objective “evil.”

It’s Evil for all people, all times, and all places:

This now leaves us with the latter, proposition (B): Do you say something is evil because it IS evil?

If (B) is true then evil is objective—or external to the individual; otherwise your stuck with proposition (A). Now, if evil can be identified as objective, a problem arises for the objector. Specifically, if evil is objective, then we must to give an account of its source. Insofar as we believe that real objective evil exists, we therefore have good grounds for believing that God exists. In fact, the very objection presupposes Gods existence.
Consider the following syllogism:

1. P presupposes Q
2. P
3. Therefore, Q

Or, we can also present this as logically equivalent to the following:
1. If P, then Q.
2. P
3. Therefore, Q.

Some will deviate from the propositions, or attempt to evade the question I pose by pointing out that the problem of evil is an internal inconsistency with Christianity itself, rather than a problem of their own (the objector). This is fine; however, the objector will have to effectively concede that the objection raised has nothing to do with their own dismissal of Gods existence, or has anything to do with their personal experience of evil in their own lives; because evil does not exist. However, even the charge of internal inconsistency fails to discredit Christianity, let alone the existence of God.

While one raises a problem of logical incoherence, or internal inconsistency they inadvertently argue for what they are arguing against. There is nothing internally inconsistent theologically with the “problem” of evil. However, it is not my intent in this post to argue for the theological consistency of Christianity and the way we observe the world today—including observations of evil.


I have attempted to point out that (1) The existence of both evil and an omnibenevolent God is logically plausible (2) The existence of evil does not necessarily surmount the probability of an omnibenevolent God (3) If evil is subjective the argument is immaterial (4) If evil is objective the objector has to give an account of it (5) There is no internal inconsistency with Christianity and the existence of evil.

In closure, the argument from evil can only be relevant if is meaningful, and it can only be meaningful if there is such thing as evil. What does this do for objector? It creates a dilemma—one that must be honestly examined. Though this could be much more developed, going through these key points is absolutely necessary to having a meaningful discussion about evil. There is really only one way to solve the problem of evil; we must stop trying to have God justify himself to us; but try to have ourselves justified before God. There is only one way to do this—through the Cross.

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Blogger Jim Jordan said...

Good arguments all. Very refreshing. I think in your subsequent, longer post you could even show how the OT bolstered the idea that evil (sin) must be taken seriously and foretold the coming sacrifice of Christ in extraordinary detail to free us from that sin. This "only way being through the Cross" could be a Part Two.
Another "argument" I hear all the time is "why doesn't God just come down here and 'Git Her Done'?" (justify Himself as you put it). I always respond that He wants sons and daughters, not slaves. He wants love, not deference. He's God, not Mike Tyson.

Good luck and take care,

2/11/2006 6:38 PM

Blogger exbeliever said...


The point of the POE is to take Christian presuppositions (e.g. God's nature and the existence of evil) and show that these are inconsistent. The non-theist is not required to justify his or her belief in the existence of evil because this is a Christian belief.

In other words, whether or not my atheistic worldview can account for universal morality is beside the point. My worldview does not hold to an "omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent" God either. These are points that are being conceded for the argument.

Perhaps, it is better to rephrase P6 to read, "Christians believe there is evil in the world."

So, the question to the Christian is "How do you reconcile your belief that God is omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent with your belief that evil exists?"

There really is, then, no dilemma for an atheist making an argument from evil. We don't have to believe in universal evil as long as you do. Therefore, your "Riddle Me This" section is not valid.

Your two other sections, Logical Possibilities and Logical Probabilities are much better. Many atheists have abandoned the POE as you stated it above because of Plantinga's very good work on the subject.

I have a new formulation that I think avoids all of Plantinga's concerns, but no time for that now.

2/14/2006 10:44 AM

Blogger Beowulf said...

Ex-believer, I agree with your analysis. My post was mainly for those “non-believers” who actually use the propositions for themselves as an argument (P1-P6). Therefore, I think the “Riddle Me This” Section is still valid (Also, I really wasn’t trying to be cute, but I thought it was appropriate).

As I pointed out in the post, there are those who don’t necessarily hold to P6, but will point out that Christians do; hence, an internal inconsistency. Then I followed with the assertion that the objector will have to concede that P1-P6 is not the reason why they reject Christianity (however, one could still hold to internal inconsistency).

Knowing that the latter objection still stands (the internal inconsistency objection), I stated: “However, it is not my intent in this post to argue for the theological consistency of Christianity and the way we observe the world today—including observations of evil.”

So, I see that the latter objection which you bring forth was not what I indented to address—and I now see that in your comments at Pressing the Antithesis.

Given the complexity of the subject, I really do not have the time to properly address the issue. Moreover, (and honestly) I probably could not do give the subject the adequate effort it really needs, given other responsibilities I have (some books even fall short).

Nevertheless, when you do get your blog rolling, I would be interested in reading your formulation that avoids Plantinga's horns.

Good Day,


2/14/2006 11:49 AM

Blogger exbeliever said...


You wrote, "when you do get your blog rolling, I would be interested in reading your formulation that avoids Plantinga's horns."

I'll certainly let you know.

Thanks for the dialogue.

2/14/2006 11:57 AM


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