Problem Of Evil Notes
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The Problem of Evil Evil and Omnipotence : Mackie
The Problem :
The problem is, most specifically, for the theist. While other criticism of the arguments for the existence of God can be
accepted, with the problem of evil, it shows that God's existence is positively irrational. The theist must be prepared
to believe not merely what cannot be proved, but what can be disproved from other beliefs that he also holds. It is a
problem for he who believes that there is a God who is both omnipotent and wholly good. It is a logical problem the
problem of clarifying and reconciling a number of beliefs, rather than a scientific problem that might be solved with
In its most simple form, the problem is this : God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; and yet evil exists. It seems
there is a contradiction between these three premises, so that if any two of them were true, the third would be false.
At the same time all three are essential parts of most theological positions.
In order to show the contradiction, we need additional premises, or perhaps some quasilogical rules connecting the
terms 'good', 'evil' and 'omnipotent'. These are that :
• Good is opposed to evil, in such a way that a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can.
• There are no limits to what an omnipotent thing can do.
• It follows from these that a good omnipotent thing eliminates evil completely, and then the propositions that a
good omnipotent thing exists, and that evil exists, are incompatible.
Once the problem has been fully stated, it is clear that it can be solved in the sense that the problem will not arise if
one gives up at least one of the propositions that constitute it:
• Some have been prepared to deny God's omnipotence more have been prepared to keep the term 'omnipotence' but restrict its meaning.
• Some have said that evil is an illusion perhaps because they held that the whole world of temporal, changing things
is an illusion, and that what we call evil belongs only to this world, or perhaps because they held that although
temporal things are much as we see them, those that we call evil are not really evil.
• Some agree with the Pope that disorder is harmony not understood, and that partial evil is universal good.
Those who restrict his power may reasonably be suspected thinking, in other contexts, that his power is really
unlimited. Those who say that evil is an illusion may also be thinking inconsistently, that this illusion itself is evil.
In addition to adequate solutions, we must recognise unsatisfactory inconsistent solutions : halfhearted or temporary
rejection The implicitly assert one of the constituent propositions.
II. Fallacious Solutions
The fallacious solutions explicitly maintain all the constituent propositions, but implicitly reject at least one of them in the course of the argument that explains away the problem of evil.
• They purport to remove the contradiction without abandoning any of its constituent propositions. We know that they must be fallacious from the very statement of the problem but it is not so easy to see where the fallacy lies.
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Mackie : 'I suggest that in all cases the fallacy has the general form suggested above : In order to solves the problem
one (or more ) of its constituent propositions is given up, but in such a way that it appears to have been retained,
and can therefore be asserted without qualification in other contexts. Sometimes there is a further complication : The supposed solution moves to and fro between, say, two of the constituent propositions, at one point asserting the
first of these but covertly abandoning the second, at another point asserting the second by covertly abandoning
the first.' Fallacious solutions : often turn upon some equivocation with the words 'good' and 'evil', or with some vagueness
about the way in which good and evil are opposed to one another.
1. 'Good cannot exist without evil' / 'Good is a necessary counterpart to good'
1. Sets a limit on what God can do God cannot create good without simultaneously creating evil either God
is not omnipotent, or that there are limits to what an omnipotent thing can do. It may be held that these limits
are logical ones, they were presupposed. Yet many theists have held that God can do what is logically
impossible, or that he laid down logic which is inconsistent with the view of logical limitation.
2. This solution denies that evil opposed to good in our original sense. If good and evil are counterparts, a good
thing will not 'eliminate evil as far as it can'. This view suggests that good and evil are not strictly qualities
of things at all. The solution seems to suggest that good and evil are related in much the same way as great
and small. This would be selfdefeating : Relative greatness can be promoted only by a simultaneous
promotion of relative smallness. No theist would be content to regard God's goodness as analogous to this
as if what he supports were not the good but the better, and as if he had the paradoxical aim that all things
should be better than other things.
1. Great and small also seem to have an absolute sense but neither the absolute nor the relative provide
an analogy of the sort that would be needed to support this solution of the problem of evil. In neither
case are greatness and smallness both necessary counterparts and mutually opposed forces or possible
objects for support and attack.
2. Only if evil is the privation of good are they logical opposites and some farther argument would be
needed to show that they are counterparts in the same way as genuine logical opposites.
3. The rule that good cannot exist without evil would not be an ontological principle the rule that good
cannot exist without evil would not state a logical necessity of a sort that God would just have to put
2. 'Evil as a necessary means to good'
1. This would be a severe restriction to God's power. It would be a causal : That you cannot have a certain end without a certain means, so that if God has to introduce evil as a means to good, he must be subject to at
least some causal laws. This is denying a constituent proposition of God.
3. 'The Universe is better with some evil in it'
1. This can be developed in either of two ways : Aesthetic analogy (contrast heightens beauty) / connexion
with the notion of progress (the best possible organisation of the universe will not be static, but progressive,
that the gradual overcoming of evil by good is really a finer thing than would be the eternal unchallenged
supremacy of good).
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2. In either case, the solution usually starts from the assumption that the evil, whose existence gives rise to the
problem of evil is primarily what is called physical evil pain. This view argues that the existence of pain
and disease make possible the existence of sympathy / benevolence / heroism.
3. Pain = 1st Order evil (evil (1)) / Happiness = 1st Order good (good(1)). Distinct from this is 'second order
good' / good 2 which emerges in a complex situation in which evil (1) is a necessary component logically,
not merely casually, necessary. It is assumed that the second order good is more important than the first
order good, or evil. This view defends God's goodness and omnipotence on the ground that this is the best of
all logically possible worlds, because it includes the important second order good, and admits that real evils
4. It does not, however, seem to hold that good and evil are still opposed in the original sense. Good does not
tend to eliminate evil in general. Instead, we have a modified more complex pattern. First order goods
contrast with first order evil and some second order goods try to maximise first order good and minimise first
order evil; but God's goodness is not this, it is rather the will to maximise second order good. God's goodness
might be good (3) then.
5. This is problematic because qualities such as benevolence and a third order goodness with promotes
benevolence have a merely derivative value, that they are not higher sorts of good, but merely means to
good (1), that is, to happiness, so that it would be absurd for God to keep misery in existence in order to make
possible the virtues of benevolence / heroism etc.
6. An attempt might be made to try and explain the occurrence of evil (2), but it seems this contrast will keep
going back we will be well on the way to infinite regress, where the solution of a problem of evil stated in
terms of evil (n), indicated the existence of an evil (n+1).
4. 'Evil is due to human free will'
1. To explain why a wholly good God gave men freewill although it would lead to some important evils, it must be argued that it is better on the whole that men should act freely, and sometimes err, than that they should
be innocent automata, acting rightly in a wholly determined way.
2. This solution is unsatisfactory primarily because of the incoherence of the notion of freedom of the will not discussed here.
3. First enquiry : We can ask, if God has made men such that in their free choices they sometimes prefer that is
good and sometimes what is evil, why could he not have made men such that they always freely? If there is
no logical impossibility in man's freely choosing the good on one, or on several, occasions, there cannot be a logical impossibility in his freely choosing the good on every occasion. Clearly, his failure to avail himself of this possibility is inconsistent with his being both omnipotent and wholly good.
4. If it is replied that this objection is absurd, that the making of some wrong choices is logically necessary for
freedom, it would seem that 'freedom' must here mean complete randomness or indeterminacy, including
randomness with regard to the alternatives good and evil, in other words that men's choice and consequent
action can be 'free' only if they are not determined by their characters.
5. Only on this assumption can God escape the responsibility for men's actions ; for it he made them as they are, but did not determine their wrong choice, this can only be because the wrong choices are not determined by
men as they are.
6. To make this solution plausible two different senses of 'freedom' must be confused :
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1. One sense will justify the view that freedom is a third order good, more valuable than other goods
would be without it.
2. The other as sheer randomness, to prevent us from ascribing to God a decision to make men such that
they sometimes go wrong when he might have made them such that they would always freely go right.
7. Criticism : There is a fundamental difficulty in the notion of an omnipotent God creating men with free
will, for if men's wills are really free this must mean that even God cannot control that God is no longer
omnipotent. If he can but he refrains, why does he refrain? The only explanation could be that even a wrong free act of will is not really evil, but this is utterly opposed to what theists say about sin in other contexts.
Paradox of Omnipotence : Can an omnipotent being make things which he cannot subsequently control? / Can an
omnipotent being make rules which then bind him?
• If we answer 'yes' it follows that if God actually makes things which he cannot control, he is not omnipotent
once he has made them.
• If we answer 'no' we are immediately asserting that there are things which he cannot do, that is to say that he is
already not omnipotent.
It cannot be replied the question is not a proper question It would make perfectly good sense to say that a human
mechanic has made a machine which he cannot control : if there is any difficulty about the question it lies in the
notion of omnipotence itself.
Paradox of Sovereignty : Can a legal sovereign make a law restricting its own future legislative power? If we
answer no, we should be admitting that there is a law, not logically absurd, which parliament cannot validly make
that is that parliament is not now a legal sovereign. The paradox can be solved by distinguishing between first order
laws ( that is laws governing the actions of individuals) and second order laws ( laws governing the actions of
We should distinguish two orders of sovereignty :
Sovereignty (1) : Unlimited authority to make first order laws Sovereignty (2) : Unlimited authority to make second order laws.
We cannot mean without contradiction both that the present parliament has sovereignty (2) and that every parliament
at every time has sovereignty (1), for the present parliament has sovereignty (2) it may use it to take away the
sovereignty (1) of later parliaments.
The analogy between omnipotence and sovereignty shows that the paradox of omnipotence can be solved in a similar way. We must distinguish between first order omnipotence (1), that is unlimited power to act, and second order
omnipotence (2), that is unlimited power to determine what powers to act things shall have. Then we could
consistently say that God all the time has omnipotence 1 but if so, no beings at any time have powers to act apart
from God. Or we could say that God at one time had omnipotence (2), and used it to assign certain powers to act to
certain things so that he did not thereafter have omnipotence (1).
The paradox shows we cannot consistently ascribe to any continuing being omnipotence in an inclusive sense. An
alternative solution of this paradox would be simply to deny that God is a continuing being, that any times can be
ascend to his actions at all.
• On this assumption no meaning can be given to the assertion that God made men with wills so free that he could
not control them. The paradox of omnipotence can be avoiding by putting God outside time, but the freewill solution 4 of 25
of the problem of evil cannot be saved in this way : remains impossible to hold that an omnipotent God binds himself
by causal or logical laws.
Paradox of Omnipotence : Shown that God's omnipotence must in any case be restricted in one way or another,
that unqualified omnipotence cannot be ascribed to any being that continues through time. And if God and his
actions are not in time, can omnipotence be meaningfully ascribed to him?
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Hilary Term 2016 : Philosophy of Religion Revision
The Problem of Evil Evil for Freedom's Sake : David Lewis Topic : Ask what freewill theodicy can accomplish singlehanded, not what it can contribute to a mixed theodicy that
combines several approaches.
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Theodicy Versus Defence
Plantinga : Taught us to distinguish 'theodicy' from 'defence' : Theodicy : An audacious claim to know the truth about why God permits evil. And not just a trivial bit of the truth
God permits evil for the sake of some good or other but something fairly substantive and detailed. One who claims
to know God's mind so well will seem both foolhardy and impudent. It tries to give a reason why God allows it This
is extremely ambitious.
Defence : This means just any hypothesis about why omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God permits evil. Its sole
purpose is to rebut the content that there is no possible way that such a thing could happen. To serve that purpose,
the hypothesis need not be put forward as true. It need not be at all plausible. Mere possibility is enough. It is just
any reason that God could have had.
Defence initially takes place for the logical argument, and you can just use any possible world for this. We could
even say that human beings just have a bad understanding of what Good is. The defence only needs to be possible,
and thus anything can do for the logical argument. Lewis thinks this is far too weak.
Plantinga aims only at a defence. This is an easy standard. A false value judgement, however preposterous, is
possibly true. A topic worth pursuing falls in between theodicy and defence It is a theodicy but not in the knowit
all theodicy that Plantinga wisely disowns. Rather, Lewis seeks a tentative / speculative theodicy. The Christian
needn't hope to end by knowing for sure why God permits evil, but he can hope to advance to a predicament of
indecision between several not toounbelievable hypotheses.
If freewill theodicy is to explain the evildoing that actually goes on, and if it is to be plausible that our freedom is of great value to be worth the evil that is its price, then we'd better suppose that God permits evil for the sake of
signifiant freedom : freedom in choices of matter.
Choice that matter needn't be between good and evil : they might be momentous choices between incommensurable goods. If freedom in such choices is signifiant enough, then God need not permit evil for freedom's sake. He can
lead us free to choose between goods, but not free to choose evil.
Plantinga defines a significant freedom as a freedom with respect to an action such that either its is wrong to
perform it and right to refrain, or else vice versa. That is too weak if we hope to explain all the evildoing that takes place. In Plantinga's sense, God could grant us plenty of significant freedom to the extent that we think wicked
thoughts, but controlled our behaviour.
• You have to say that this too is not freedom enough. We need to explain not only why God permits thought crime
but also He permits evil behaviour.
Why should we not do as God does, and leave victims to their fates so as not to make the freedom of evildoers less
• There are other considerations that enter into the decision, notably how we shall use our own significant freedom.
• Or, if the victims had been proceed by the power of God Almighty, that would have put the evildoer in altogether
too much of a playpen. But if we do our fallible best, the evildoer is in the very imperfect playpen and his
freedom remains signifiant enough.
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