Philosophers have presented numerous arguments throughout history in attempts to either prove or disprove God’s existence.1 A common challenge to God’s existence is the perpetual problem of evil. But does the existence of evil in the world logically defeat God’s existence? I hope this brief blog post will help you to discuss the argument and reason through the issue.

defeater in logic is a belief which, if proved to be true, would logically imply that another belief is false. Let’s look at a common attempt to use the existence of evil as a possible defeater for God’s existence.

Chain of Reasoning
If the traditional God of theism exists, then:

1. God is omnipotent (all-powerful).
2. God is omnibenevolent (wholly good).
3. God is omniscient (all-knowing).

But:
4. If a divine being is omnipotent, it can do anything.
5. If a divine being is omnibenevolent, it always eliminates as much evil as possible.
6. If a divine being is omniscient, it knows how to eliminate evil.

Yet, evil conspicuously exists.

Deductive Argument from Evil against God Explained
An argument consists of a central claim (the conclusion) and premises (support for the conclusion in the form of evidence, facts, or reasons). The chain of reasoning above reflects the following argument.

Premise #1: The traditional theistic God possesses the “omnis” (all power, all goodness, all knowledge).
Premise #2: An all-powerful God would be able to remove evil.
Premise #3: An all-good God would want to remove evil.
Premise #4: An all-knowing God would know how to remove evil.
Conclusion: Therefore, God and evil cannot coexist and since evil does exist then God cannot exist.

This reasoning concludes that evil is a defeater for belief in an omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient God. It is known as the deductive argument from evil because, if the reasoning is valid (the conclusion follows inferentially from the premises) and all the premises are true, then the conclusion is certainly true.

Analyzing the Argument
The conclusion follows inferentially from the premises; therefore, the reasoning of the argument seems to be logically correct. But the truth of premises #2 and #3, respectively, is clearly debatable. Concerning premise #2, God may not be able to remove evil without removing the free agency granted to angels and human beings. Concerning premise #3, God may not want to remove evil, at least not right away, for it may serve a greater purpose. That is, evil may be the result of granting creatures free agency and/or evil may allow creatures to grow in moral character.

Thus, it follows that the deductive argument from evil against God logically fails. It is not certainly true that the existence of evil disproves God’s existence.

Theodicy as an Explanation for Evil
A theodicy is an attempt to justify or vindicate God in the face of evil. Here’s the basic argument that has come from various theists (Jews, Christians, Muslims) for how evil can be compatible with God:

Premise #1: God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent, and omniscient.
Premise #2: God created a world that now contains evil and he had a good reason for doing so (for purposes of a greater good).
Conclusion: Therefore, the world contains evil, but evil is consistent with God’s unlimited power, goodness, and knowledge.

Christian philosophers have proposed different theodicies, as illustrated by the following quotes, that show the failure of the deductive argument from evil against God.

Greater Good: St. Augustine & Richard Swinburne
“For the Almighty God, who, as even the heathen acknowledge, has supreme power over all things, being Himself supremely good, would never permit the existence of anything evil among His works, if He were not so omnipotent and good that He can bring good even out of evil.” 2

“The basic solution is that all the evils we find around us are logically necessary conditions of greater goods, that is to say that greater good couldn’t come about without the evil or at any rate the natural possibility of evil.”3

Free Will Defense: Alvin Plantinga
“To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He [God] must create creatures capable of moral evil.”4

Even some skeptical or atheistic philosophers recognize the conclusion that the deductive argument from evil against God fails.

Atheist William Rowe notes: “Some philosophers have contended that the existence of evil is logically inconsistent with the existence of the theistic God. No one, I think, has succeeded in establishing such an extravagant claim . . .”5

And skeptic Paul Draper concurs: “I do not see how it is possible to construct a convincing logical argument from evil against theism.”6

Takeaway
While evil is a perplexing and troubling reality, the actual existence of evil does not serve as a logical disproof of the God of traditional theism. For God may have a good reason for allowing evil to exist. And Scripture reveals that God will eliminate all evil, pain, and suffering for his people in the eschatological future (Revelation 21:4).

Reflections: Your Turn
Have you ever struggled with the question of God’s relationship to evil? Visit Reflections on WordPress to comment.

Resources

Check out more from Reasons to Believe @Reasons.org

Endnotes

  1. For a discussion of the traditional arguments for the existence of God, see my article How to Respond to the Challenge That God Is Hidden.
  2. St. Augustine, The Enchiridion, ch. 11, Logos Virtual Library, trans. J. F. Shaw.
  3. Richard Swinburne, quoted in “The Problem of Evil,” in Great Thinkers on Great Questions, ed. Roy Abraham Varghese (Oxford, UK: Oneworld Publications, 2009), 191.
  4. Alvin C. Plantinga, God, Freedom, and Evil (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 30.
  5. Richard Rowe, William L. Rowe, “IX. The Problem of Evil and Some Varieties of Atheism,” American Philosophical Quarterly 16 (October 1979): 335, n. 1.
  6. Paul Draper, “The Argument from Evil,” in Philosophy of Religion: Classic and Contemporary Issues, ed. Paul Copan and Chad Meister (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2008), 146.

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.



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