The Problem of Evil

Sometimes you just have to admit you’re starting from faulty premises…

When discussing the problem of evil it is very important to clearly define what is meant by the term “God.” God is used in a wide variety of ways depending on the context in which it is meant. There are the metaphysical interpretations of God which are meant more to provide explanatory value for why we are here or why there even is anything in the first place. In this vein God is often referred to as a prime mover, or a first cause, or necessary to existence, or identical to existence. God may be singular, multiple, or all-encompassing depending upon how the person weaves their tale.

Separate from these metaphysical concerns are interpretations of God that clearly try to connect the term in a straightforward way with religious attitudes and those people who are doing the worshiping. Here we see God defined in a way that, in some way or another, mimics human traits we observe in everyday interactions. Thus, God may be virtuous, moral, strong, nimble, intelligent, cunning, judging, and the like.

So the question now becomes what attributes are appropriately revered by humans and thus are applicable to God? Taken from the generally accepted standpoint of the three major monotheistic religions (i.e. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity) popular throughout the modern world, we find three specific attributes then when combined produce a logical inconsistency. First, God is a perfectly moral being who is incapable of committing morally reprehensible acts. Second, God is an Omniscient Being in the sense that in order for God to be able to create the universe and everything in it He needs to know everything about it. Third, God is an Omnipotent Being who possesses the seemingly infinite strength or power necessary in order to bring everything into existence.
But here a problem arises for if God is perfectly moral then nothing God does can lead to immoral results, and if God is Omniscient then God knows about every immoral event that occurs past, present and future, and if God is omnipotent the God possess the strength necessary to prevent those immoral event from occurring. From these statements we can formalize the argument accordingly:

1. If God exists, then God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect.
2. If God is omnipotent, then God has the power to eliminate all evil.
3. If God is omniscient, then God knows when evil exists.
4. If God is morally perfect, then God has the desire to eliminate all evil.
5. Evil exists.
6. If evil exists and God exists, then either God doesn’t have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn’t know when evil exists, or doesn’t have the desire to eliminate all evil.
7. Therefore, God doesn’t exist.

That this argument is valid is perhaps most easily seen by a reductio argument, in which one assumes that the conclusion—(7)—is false, and then shows that the denial of (7), along with premises (1) through (6), leads to a contradiction. Thus if, contrary to (7), God exists, it follows from (1) that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and morally perfect. This, together with (2), (3), and (4) then entails that God has the power to eliminate all evil, that God knows when evil exists, and that God has the desire to eliminate all evil. But when (5) is conjoined with the reductio assumption that God exists, it then follows via modus ponens from (6) that either God doesn’t have the power to eliminate all evil, or doesn’t know when evil exists, or doesn’t have the desire to eliminate all evil. Thus we have a contradiction, and so premises (1) through (6) do validly imply (7).

Whether the argument is sound is, of course, a further question, for it may be that one or more of the premises is false. The point here, however, is simply that when one conceives of God as unlimited with respect to power, knowledge, and moral goodness, the existence of evil quickly gives rise to potentially serious arguments against the existence of God.

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2 comments
  1. Kyle said:

    woah, woah, woah what is this evil you speak of?

    • Bill Liktor said:

      So much evil, so little time.

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