The Beast Rises: The Deductive Problem Of Evil


In this first part of two series-articles I introduced, what I called Epicurus’ beast, the deductive problem of evil as presented by Hume and Mackie. In the second part I presented analytical Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s response, reception and status of logical problem evil in contemporary philosophy of religion. My aim is to show the contribution of  Plantinga’s work since the mid-1960’s that is believed by majority of philosophers both theists and nontheists’, to have provided the answer to Epicurus’ beast.

In 3rd century A.D. Diogenes Laertius’ De Reum Natura brought to light Epicurus’ (341-270 B.C.), who is believed to be the architecture of the logical problem of evil, beast that challenged the existence of an all powerful (omnipotent) and all loving (omni-benevolent) God.

The “Epicurean paradox” beast claimed that if God existed, He is a benevolent and omnipotent being. If God were benevolent and omnipotent, then there would be no evil. But there is evil, therefore a benevolent and omnipotent God does not exist. Evil, according to this beast, is logically incompatible with existence of an omniscient, omnipotent and benevolent God. If true, this beast would tear down all who believe in the existence of such a God.

David Hume invoked the voice of the beast when he remained his readers that  “Epicurus’ old questions are yet unanswered”. He wrote about God,

“Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then is he impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then is he malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”(Hume 1779: 186)

“In its simplest form the problem is this:” wrote J. L. Mackie, “God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; and yet evil exists. There seems to be some contradiction between these three propositions, so that if any two of them were true, the third would be false.” (Mackie 1971:92)

  1. God exists
  2. God is omnipotent
  3. God is whole good
  4. Evil exists

Plantinga began by challenging logical problem of evil’s defenders to clarify where, they believe, lays a contradiction. He wrote “to make good his claim the atheologian must provide some proposition which is either necessarily true, or essential to theism, or a logical consequence of such propositions”(Plantinga 1967:117) to show that existence of God and evil are in logical contradiction since proposition 1-4 does not contain explicit contradiction.

Mackie agreed with Plantinga and he provided those missing propositions. He wrote,

“According to traditional theism, there is a god who is both omnipotent (and omniscient) and wholly good, and yet there is evil in the world. How can this be? It is true that there is no explicit contradiction between the statements that there is an omnipotent and wholly good god and that there is evil. But if we add the at least initially plausible premisses that good is opposed to evil in such a way that a being who is wholly good eliminates evil as far as he can, and that there are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do, then we do have a contradiction. A wholly good omnipotent being would eliminate evil completely; if there really are evils, then there cannot be any such being.”(Mackie 1982: 150)

3a. A wholly good omnipotent being would eliminate evil completely.

If 3a. is true, then Mackie is correct that theologians do have a contradiction(3a and 4) in their belief and thus necessarily false. But is it true that God being wholly good omnipotent being would eliminate evil completely?

Next: The Beast Falls: The Cold Death Of Deductive Problem Of Evil

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40 thoughts on “The Beast Rises: The Deductive Problem Of Evil

  1. Dave, is there a way you could change the viewing of comments at least to show much more, there is no need to repeat a comment that had been said earlier. I can’t seem to be able to see the earlier comments in most of the posts. Thanks

  2. I allow all forms of inquiry to shape my worldview. I admire the pursuit of science, as well as historical record, philosophical weight of claims, and proper use of logic. The type of scientism that claims that the only things we can believe in (or use as evidence) come from empirically verifiable evidence, is self defeating, as the belief itself is not empirically verifiable.
    I’ve seen you state numerous times that there’s no evidence for God. This statement is simply wrong, much in the way that people who are in the theistic community say there is no evidence for atheism – which there is.
    If that is your view, then you’re left with either ignorance: not knowing the vast amount of arguments that are out there for theism, or close-mindedness: ignoring the arguments based on your own biases, or narrow epistemology.
    So yes, I am saying that you are being close-minded. Your worldview allows for absolutely no discussion of the topic that doesn’t devolve into senseless drivel – which is really unfortunate, because this topic is a fun one to discuss with people on both sides of the issue; or at least those who enjoy rational discourse.

    • Oh, I do enjoy discussing it, Peter… but you seem to be of the (close-minded) opinion that i have arrived at the logical conclusions of atheism without first going on quite a detailed and convoluted search for a god. It terrifies you to know i have searched, honestly searched, and found nothing. It terrifies you because you too suspect (perhaps even know) that same realisation awaits you if you ever bothered to look honestly at the reality of nature. Should you ever do so you’ll surely find a greater reason (and corresponding solace) in life than could ever be dreamed up by illiterate goat herders incapable of explaining clouds, let along thunder. To arrive at such a point requires an open and honest mind…. the two things feared most by dogmatic evangelicals like yourself.

      • Oh, so you have looked into things, that’s great. Then you know there is evidence for God. You may not find it convincing evidence, but if you actually claim to have looked and found absolutely nothing, your search was a very poor one.
        And no, I don’t suspect the same as you. As I stated, I searched and came to a different conclusion than others. I don’t claim that everyone who looks at all the evidence will become a theist, but I do posit that people who look will be able to realize there is at least something there to chew on. If you feel that I, after looking at the evidence, must acknowledge your worldview as truth (“the same realization awaits you if you ever bothered to look honestly…”), then you simply prove my point of how narrow-minded the worldview you possess is.

        Good day.

  3. Using the Problem of Evil to deny the existence of God is a self destructive argument. The logic is like this:

    If there is evil then there must be good
    If there is good then there must be a way to distinguish between good and evil
    If there is a way to distinguish between good and evil then there must be a moral law
    If there is a moral law then there must be a moral law giver

    This moral law giver is a personified being because the objects of concern are people.

    The alternative for non-theists is to come up with way to measure good and evil that will transcend race, culture and socio economic background. This is impossible. Any attempt will be selfish and ethnocentric.

    The other alternative for non-theists in this post-modern world is to then say that right and wrong is relative. But this is impossible too because relativism cannot be true. Or in other words it’s illogical to say that all truth is relative. If the set of all things to be considered includes relativism itself then it just cancelled itself saying relativism itself is relative. If it doesn’t include itself then you are saying it’s absolutely true that all things are relative except relativism, which is contradictory because you can’t claim absolutes with relativism.

    So it’s very difficult to use the Problem of Evil to deny the existence of God.

    • Thanks Zania. I heard a similar maneuver from William L. Craig. He contended,

      1. If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
      2. Evil exist
      3. Thus objective moral values and duties do exist
      4. Therefore God exists.

      Thank you for your input Zania.

      • Daniel, in your post about Nietzsche where you discuss the issue of morality I did show that there can be no absolute moral laws and also that if something necessarily exists then it doesn’t need a creator. The question I would then be asking is is something good because a god commands it or god commands it because it is good?

        • I believe this has nothing to do with the problem of evil, but since it is indirect related to the goodness of God. I will offer a response.

          I will agree there are no absolute moral laws, and none I believe contented for that. I hold to objective morality, not absolute morality.

          It is absurd to think that objective morality, if exists, exist necessarily. As you know prescription cannot exists without a prescriber.

          To your last question, I think you offer a false dilemma. A third alternative could be Something is good because it reflects God’s own nature. Plato called it the Good. God commands according to his own nature.

    • Zanspence, how is it difficult to use the problem of evil against the evidence of god?

      Your logic is specious. It isn’t far removed from the First Cause argument, where does the moral law giver gets his/hers/its laws? It must be moral and capable of immorality too so as to decide what is moral and immoral.

      The alternative for non-theists is to come up with way to measure good and evil that will transcend race, culture and socio economic background. This is impossible. Any attempt will be selfish and ethnocentric.

      How is this impossible. You have said it transcends race, culture and socio-ecomnic background how then do you again say it is ethnocentric?

      • Zans, don’t you think this is a moot question unless you have a different definition for morals. Humans agree, if we leave psychopaths out of the consideration, that it is immoral to kill another man. This single consideration transcends all races at least now though this may not have been so in different epochs.

  4. Rationally you can’t believe in evil if you believe in an omnipotent creator god. There can only be degrees of nastiness, nothing perfectly ‘evil’ or else your god is not omnipotent. It’s a bit of an ugly snag for the concept of the personal god Jews, Christians and Muslims believe in.

    • Thanks John.

      You would have found support before 1960s, John, but, as I showed in the second part, that position is dying in academia. Almost all philosophers who dealt with this problem concluded that it is not irrational to believe in omnipotent God who has just reason to allow such evil.

      If you think it is possibly true, John, that an omnipotent God may have good reason to permit such evil, then I don’t see why it is not rational to believe in evil and omnipotent creator God.

      If you think it is impossible, John, then show how?

      • Well, without any evidence to even begin to say a god even exists i think the whole matter of evil is moot. Where nastiness happens a good person will confront it and deal with it. Debating it serves no one any good, and it certainly doesn’t advance our species.

        • The case does not claim God exists, but if God exists. So that objection does not have weight and the whole matter of evil is not moot, John.

          We can not simply assert: “Rationally you can’t believe in evil if you believe in an omnipotent creator god.” without giving reasons to defend your own position John. When we make claims, we defend them.

          Why, John, is it rationally true that one cannot rationally believe in evil and an omnipotent creator God? :)

          • Well, it is moot to me because i see no evidence for your god. From that point on i take action like a good, rational humanist, whereas it appears many evangelicals like to just talk (and pray).

          • My question John is not why you think God does not exist but what rational reasons do you have for your claim that one cannot rationally believe in evil and an omnipotent creator God.

            Can you offer reasons that led you to that conclusion John?

          • Well, from a purely aesthetic perspective it negates all meaning of a “loving” god. Sure, you could still have an omnipotent god (a god ‘capable’ of defeating evil) but that god just gets redefined as a cunt. Excuse my language. If you’re suggesting your god exists, is omnipotent, but does nothing to defeat evil (which evidently your god created, or allowed to be created in full knowledge of the suffering it’d being) then that god of yours isn’t worth shit. Again, excuse my language.

          • Not if you include the “all loving.” What you’re describing here is an asshole. An indifferent asshole (god) is however far more believable than some pure sky being evangelicals like to believe in. That’s why i’m ok with Deism. At least Deists don’t try to paint some lovely but entirely foolish picture. The higher force they believe exists isn’t in the slightest bit interested in us. That’s at least mildly rational.

          • John, I will be very grateful if we use proper language that would be acceptable in scholarly pursuit of knowledge.

            Why do you think that an all loving and omnipotent creator God would possibly have no justified reason to permit/allow such evil John?

          • Ok, no more swearing. It’s your blog… although a recent study did find that people who swear a lot are more creative and genuinely brighter. Just saying :)

            Now, i don’t think i have to explain myself. If you’re serious in your question then you’re not as bright as i’d given you credit for.

          • John I do not mind being thought as not as bright as you would give me credit for.

            I just want to know how you came to a conclusion that: “Rationally you can’t believe in evil if you believe in an omnipotent creator god.” and why do you think that an all loving and omnipotent God, if exists, can not possibly have justified reason to allow such evil.

            Instead of attacking my status of less bright, John, could you instead provide intellectual reasons for how you came to hold the positions you are holding?

          • I wasn’t attacking you. I was giving you credit for being brighter than your question. You know i don’t read your posts to attack.

            Anyway, this isn’t going anywhere. You have a great day. Hope its not too cold where you are. We’re just finishing up Carnaval here. Last night tonight :(

          • It is snowing here in Copenhagen, Denmark and my daughter, Eloise and I were about to fall down from our bicycle on the way to her daycare. She thought it was fun riding in heavy snow.

            Thank you for everything John. You are the best.

      • Daniel I think to deal with this problem we just can’t look at one aspect of god that is omnipotence. Our first problem is to define what god is coherently. The attribute omnipotent and benevolent are contradictory and leads to a paradox, is there something so great god can’t undo?
        The problem of evil can’t be wished away as Platinga is trying to do. If we posit that a god exists who is all loving, then whence come evil. Can being all loving be reconciled with presence of evil? This problem as raised by Epiricus hasn’t been answered and Platinga does not even scratch the surface and I think me and you are in agreement that very few believers even know of the specious arguments Platinga and WLC advance.

    • If debating the topic serves no one any good, why do you continue, week after week, to come online an expound the same close-minded verificationism?

      • If you’re addressing me, Peter B, then i can say i like to read Prayson’s posts. My comment really didn’t require a follow up question, but Prayson obviously thought otherwise.

        Now, are you calling me close-minded? That’s interesting. I’m assuming you’re a theist, correct? Care to demonstrate to me how you’re “open-minded”?

    • I have seen the second aspect of the post and I still contend Plantinga does not deal with the problem as you are wont to think. He talks about evil caused by humans to others, he doesn’t deal with evil that exists on its own.
      How do you explain evil that isn’t caused through human action but still exists. Was god incapable of dealing with that?

      • I am not alone in thinking that Plantinga solved the case. Both atheists and theists leading philosophers in this field think he did. From your question, I noted that you are not familiar with this literature in philosophy of religion, sorry if I am wrong.

        Plantinga presented two proposition: one that deal with moral evil, and the other with general evil.

        The latter answers evils that are not caused by moral creatures.

        a. God is omni-X
        b. God create a universe containing evil(of all sort) and has justified reason for doing so.
        4. Evil exists.

        For your objection to stand, you need to offer a case that state that: It is not possible that God had justified reason to create universe containing evil. That burden of proof, according to atheist philosopher William Rowe, none has being able to bear.

        • Totally. I would recommend the work atheist philosopher Rowe pointed to, God, Freedom and Evil. It is short but changed the course of literature on this topic in academia.

      • Dave, hope you have been well. I didn’t read Plantinga or Rowe but don’t you think it absurd that a loving and good god would create a world not devoid of evil? Don’t you think this makes your god capricious and a fiend?
        I don’t think there is agreement in the Atheist community on Plantinga’s solution since you only mention one philosopher and I don’t think the argument Plantinga makes rescues your god from the accusation of being a fiend, cruel and evil!
        As long as you can conceive of your god being infinitely good and abundant in love, any one person who suffers from evil no matter the cause indicts your god and there is no running away from this problem.

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