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Is the Existence of God Logically Consistent with the Existence of Evil?


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Is the existence of God logically consistent with the existence of evil?

The existence of evil is a seemingly irrefutable fact of life, one which Davies considers to be “the most discussed topic in the philosophy of religion.”1 This presents the theist with a dilemma, forcing them to make attempts at reconciling the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent and wholly good God with that of evil. Kreefy stresses the extent that this ‘problem of evil’ challenges theism, going so far as to claim that “more people have abandoned their faith because of this problem than for any other reason.”2 In the course of this essay, I intend to show that the existence of evil gives one sufficient cause to doubt traditional theism; and that one is rationally justified in doing so. In order to achieve this end, I shall identify the problem of evil, evaluating some of the major defences and theodicies proposed by theists and ultimately demonstrating that such attempts at accounting for the existence of evil are neither adequate nor convincing.
The problem of evil is presented in two distinct modes; these being the logical argument from evil and its evidential counterpart. The logical problem of evil stems from the “contradiction involved in the fact of evil, on the one hand, and the belief in the omnipotence and perfection of God on the other.”3 At first glance, this contradiction is merely implicit, being made explicit through the presupposition that if God were a wholly good being, then He would desire to destroy evil insofar that “a good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can.”4 Similarly, if God were both omniscient and omnipotent then one can suppose that He is consciously aware of evil’s existence and, in his infinite power, possesses the means of destroying it. Thus, if such a being were to exist, one which longs to destroy evil and possesses the power to do so, then it would logically follow that evil should not exist. The fact that it does exist, however, makes this contradiction apparent, and is one which Mackie considers sufficient in justifying disbelief in a deity, claiming that religious beliefs “are positively irrational” due to the inconsistencies which lie at the heart of theological doctrine.5

1 B. Davies, ‘An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion’ (Oxford 2004) pp. 209
2 P. Kreefy, ‘The Problem of Evil’ ( (13 Mar. 2013)
3 H.J. McCloskey, 'God and Evil' in Philosophical Quarterly, 10 (1960) pp. 97
4 J. L. Mackie, ‘Evil and Omnipotence’ in Mind, 64 (1955) pp. 201
5 J. L. Mackie, ‘Evil and Omnipotence’ pp. 200
If one were to reject the logical problem of evil, then one must deny one of two premises; refuting either God’s perfection, or evil’s existence. The majority of theists would be reluctant in conceding that their God is imperfect, leaving them with another available ‘defence’; that being the denial of evil’s existence. If one’s defence is to be viable, then it must demonstrate that the coexistence of God and evil is both logically sound and consistent. Aquinas’ denial of evil’s existence attempts to make this apparent, concluding that the coexistence of God and evil is non-contradictory as the latter, in a sense, does not exist. According to Kreefy, one tends to visualises evil as “a black cloud or a dangerous storm”6; Aquinas, however, proposes that evil is merely “a certain absence of good”7 rather than an independently existing entity, similarly to how darkness is purely the privation of light. Thus, if one were to have faith in Genesis, with its claim that “God saw everything that he had made, and, behold, it was very good”8 then one might conclude that God created nothing but goodness and that evil is merely the privation of such goodness.
Unlike its logical counterpart, the evidential argument from evil seeks to demonstrate that the coexistence of God and evil renders theistic belief improbable rather than logically inconsistent. The most influential formulation of this argument is, in my opinion, that which deals with the existence of gratuitous “human and animal suffering.”9 This argument stems from the theistic supposition that if a perfect and benevolent God were to exist, then He would be inclined to eliminate all instances of evil, with the exception of those which serve as means to a greater end that could be acquired by no other means. From this, one would be logically justified in asserting that if God were to exist, then instances of wanton suffering would not. Rowe, however, considers the world to be riddled with instances of such suffering, illustrating this through the example of a fawn trapped in a forest fire, succumbing to death after days of excruciating pain.10 According to Rowe, “the fawn’s intense suffering is pointless for there does not appear to be any greater good.”11 He concludes that, if an omnipotent and wholly good God were to exist, then this needless suffering would “have
6 P. Kreefy, ‘The Problem of Evil’ ( (13 Mar. 2013)
7 T. Aquinas, ‘Summa Theologiae’ (New York 2010) Ia, 48, 1 (Translated by Stephen Loughlin)
8 The Holy Bible, Genesis 1:31
9 W. L. Rowe, ‘The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism’ in American Philosophical Quarterly, 16 (1979), pp. 335
10 W. L. Rowe, ‘The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism’ pp. 337
11 W.L. Rowe, ‘The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism’ pp. 337 been prevented without thereby losing some greater good.”12
Theists have made attempts at devising theodicies which ambitiously seek to provide a morally justifiable reason for the existence of evil. These theodicies usually assert that gratuitous evil, in a sense, does not exist, as all instances of evil serve an intrinsic end, with a greater good attained consequentially. I consider there to be three main modes of argumentation; the first of these, known as ‘sceptical theism’, appeals to the epistemological limitations of human beings in discrediting Rowe’s evidential argument from evil. The proposed supposition is, according to Alston, that “our cognitions of the world acquaint us with only some indeterminable fraction of what there is to be known.”13 Alston is suggesting that given the epistemic distance between God and his human subjects, one’s cognitive limitations prevent one from reasonably inferring that certain instances of suffering are gratuitous; as the greater good that God, in his infinite wisdom, intends, is beyond our comprehension. Alston illustrates the extent of this epistemic distance, likening it to the gulf which exists between Einstein and one ignorant of physics.14 Wyksa similarly stresses the extent of man’s cognitive limitations, exemplifying this through the analogy of a parent and their child; the latter of which is subjected to a vaccination as a result of the love held by the former. The child, having no appreciation of this, fails to understand the motives of its parent and concludes that its brief suffering was needless; from this Wyksa proposes that “so too are humans unable to comprehend God’s will in their current physical and earthly state.”15 Rowe, however, rejects this analogy, asserting that a loving parent would “seek to comfort their child, giving special assurances of their love”16 whereas God, on the other hand, does not; with many “enduring horrendous suffering without any awareness of God’s love and concern.”17

12 W. L. Rowe, ‘The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism’ pp. 338
13 W. Alston, ‘The Inductive Argument from Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition’ in Philosophical Perspectives 5 (1991) pp. 41
14 W. Alston, ‘Some (Temporarily) Final Thoughts on the Evidential Arguments from Evil’ in D. Howard-Snyder (ed.), The Evidential Argument from Evil (Indiana 1996) pp. 318
15 S. J. Wykstra, ‘The Humean Obstacle to Evidential Arguments from Suffering: On Avoiding the Evils of ‘Appearance’ in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 16 (1984) pp. 87
16 W. Rowe, ‘Friendly Atheism, Skeptical Theism, and the Problem of Evil’ in International Journal for Philosophy of Religion 59 (2006) pp. 89
17 W. Rowe, ‘Friendly Atheism, Skeptical Theism, and the Problem of Evil’ pp. 89
The second of these, known as the ‘soul building’ theodicy, presupposes that such instances of gratuitous suffering are necessary means to an end; that end being, according to Davies, “a very great good.”18 Hick identifies this good as the development of one’s character, asserting that “moral and spiritual grown come through response to challenges”19 which thus justifies the existence of evil; for if the world were a hedonistic paradise then one’s character could not develop as, according to Hick, “there would be no challenges.”20 Kane rejects the notion that evil’s existence is a prerequisite for growth, instead considering one’s character to be capable of development through other, less sufferable, means. He proposes that one’s spiritual growth could have been equally achieved through “teaming together to win an athletic championship as by coming together to rescue a town levelled by a tornado or inundated by a flood.”21 I support Kane’s refutation of this theodicy due to the existence of evils so wanton that it cannot be justified. The torment endured by non-human animals or young children, for instance, is indefensible, for both instances fail in allowing the subject to develop spiritually or morally due to their limited cognitive capacities; rendering such instances of suffering utterly needless.
The third theodicy, known as ‘the free will defence’, similarly presupposes that evil’s existence is a means to a greater end; that end being one’s freedom. The free will defence makes attempts at reconciling the existence of God with instances of evil which do not explicitly appear to contribute to some greater good. This is achieved through the claim that the existence of moral evil is a necessity if one is to be free, Swinburne concurs with this idea, stating that “not even God could give us this choice without the possibility of resulting evil.”22 According to Plantinga, the suffering which arises from the existence of such evil is easily outweighed by the intrinsically good value of libertarian freedom, considering a world of free agents, with the potential for depravity, to be better than a world containing automata.23 Mackie rejects this claim, suggesting that God, in his omnipotence, could have

18 B. Davies, ‘An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion’ pp. 213
19 J. Hick, ‘Evil and the God of Love’ (Hampshire 1966) pp. 372
20 J. Hick, ‘Evil and the God of Love’ pp. 372
21 G. Stanley Kane, ‘The Failure of Soul Making Theodicy’ in International Journal for the Philosophy of Religion 6 (1975) pp. 2
22 R. Swinburne, ‘Is there a God?’ (Oxford 1996) pp. 100
23 A. Plantinga, ‘God, Freedom and Evil’ (Michigan 1974) pp. 166

created a world containing agents who “would act freely but always go right”24 which is reinforced by Flew’s suggestion that God could have made a world “inhabited by perfectly virtuous people.” Plantinga dismisses these objections, maintaining that God is limited by the logically impossible, and is thus unable to both coerce and allow one to be free.26 The existence of natural evil, such as earthquakes and disease, also acts as a means of criticising Plantinga’s free will defence. Theists attempt to account for their existence through the assumption that they provide one with the knowledge of evil, consequently allowing one to know the harm that one is capable of which “makes it possible for humans to have the kind of choice which the free-will defence extols.”27 Others, however, attempt to justify their existence through the presupposition that natural evil is intimately connected with one’s free will, acting as divine punishment for man’s sins. I consider this to be absurd, for natural evil, such as the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction, occurred twenty-five million years prior to man’s existence; thus alleviating him of any potential blame.
In conclusion, I believe that one is rationally justified in doubting the validly of theism due to ways in which it is altered through religious argumentation. God’s omnipotence is often restricted, for instance, requiring means to his ends or, according to Plantinga, being limited by the logically impossible. The argument which I find to be most plausible, however, in refuting God’s existence, is that which supposes that if an omnipotent and wholly good God were to exist, then He would long to destroy evil and possess the power to do so. The fact that evil exists, in my opinion, thus renders God’s existence improbably if not impossible as I can find no justifiable reason for it if God were to exist, remaining unconvinced by theistic attempts at accounting for this evil, such as the ‘soul building’ theodicy which I find to be the least convincing and most absurd of all.

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