The logical problem of evil is dead. This is the general status of the once loved argument against the existence of an omnicompetent God in academia. The idea that existence of evil is incompatible with the existence of God is dying.
This page collects verdicts of prominent philosophers who deem that the logical problem of evil dead, after the contribution of Nelson Pike and Alvin Plantinga. The aim is to bring awareness to those who are not familiar with philosophical status of the deductive argument from evil in academia.
J. L. Mackie On Plantinga’s Free Will Defense:
“[S]ince this defence is formally possible, and its principle involves no real abandonment of our ordinary view of the opposition between good and evil, we can concede that the problem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another.”(Mackie 1982: 154)
Robert Pargetter On Evil as Evidence
“Many philosophers now accept that Pike and Plantinga have successfully refuted the claim that there is a logical inconsistency involved in asserting both the existence of God and evil, and hence that there cannot be a deductive proof that God does not exist based on the existence of evil. We will take it that this is correct. But many atheists who concede this point nonetheless claim that the argument from evil can be reconstructed as a good non-deductive argument. For it is claimed by many that the existence of evil, pain and suffering counts, prima facie, as strong evidence against the existence of God.” (1976: 242)
After presenting and examining non-deductive argument from evil Pargetter concluded:
“To sum up, the claim that the existence of evil is strong evidence against the existence of God has not been justified, and the argument from evil seems as unsuccessful in its role as a non-deductive argument to justify atheism as it is as a deductive proof.” (1976: 244-245)
Michael L. Martin in Response to Pargetter’s verdict
“It is generally agreed that the following statements are logically compatible:
(1) God is all powerful.
(2) God is all good.
(3) Evil exists in great abundance.”(Martin 1978:429)
Though Martin agreed with Pargetter on the status of deductive problem of evil, he deemed Pargetter as not fairly presenting the best of non-deductive argument from evil. The rest of his paper undertook the task to build what he believed to be a best non-deductive argument.
Pargetter Response to Martin’s Response
“I wish to suggest that Martin’s new argument does not provide the secure foundation for which he had hoped, and that the problems are, hopefully, of as much interest to the theist as to the atheist. The main thrust of Martin’s argument rests on his proffered account of prima facie evidence. It is to this account that we shall first turn as it seems problematic. In addition, after establishing that Martin has failed to show that evil does constitute prima facie evidence against God’s existence” (1982: 11)
“So even if Martin’s argument is inductively ‘valid’ it would establish nothing as it violates the principle of total evidence, and when the total evidence is considered no such inductively ‘valid’ argument remains. […] Could any evidence show that God does not exist? I think probably not for the claim that God could have a reason for whatever happens is a very powerful retort. By contrast one could easily imagine circumstance where it would be generally agreed that there was very strong evidence to point to God’s existence.”(ibid. 15)
William Rowe On Plantinga Free Will Defense
“The logical form of the problem is not much of a problem for theistic belief; for the efforts to establish the inconsistency between (1) [God is omnipotent, omniscient, and all good] and (2) [there is evil] have been notoriously unsuccessful. And if we accept Plantinga’s assumption of incompatibalism, we must, I think, accept Plantinga’s argument as showing that (1) and (2) are not inconsistent.” (Rowe 1973: 555 )
“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. Indeed, granted incompatibilism, there is a fairly compelling argument for the view that the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God.” (Rowe 1979: 335 fn1)
Paul Draper’s Verdict on Logic Problem of Evil
“I agree with most philosophers of religion that theists face no serious logical problem of evil”(Draper 1989: 349 fn1)
T. J. Mawson’s Verdict on Both Deductive and Inductive Problem of Evil
After examining both the deductive and inductive problem of evil for non-existence of God (Mawson 2005:198-216), Mawson resolved:
“I conclude then that the argument from the existence of evil to the non- existence of God cannot be rendered as a good deductive argument; nor can it be rendered as a good inductive argument; nor again does evil inductively support the claim that there is no God. The occurrence of evil in the world provides us with no reason whatsoever to think that there’s not a God.” (Mawson 2005: 216)
William P. Alston: Bankruptcy of Logical Problem of Evil
“The recent outpouring of literature on the problem of evil has materially advanced the subject in several ways. In particular, a clear distinction has been made between the “logical” argument against the existence of God (“atheological argument”) from evil, which attempts to show that evil is logically incompatible with the existence of God, and the “inductive” (“empirical”, “probabilistic”) argument, which contents itself with the claim that evil constitutes (sufficient) empirical evidence against the existence of God. It is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides that the logical argument is bankrupt, but the inductive argument is still very much alive and kicking.” (Alston 1991: 29)
The rest of the paper Alston offered criticism of the inductive problem of evil based on human cognitive limitation. Alston closed his paper with the conclusion that “we are simply not in a position to justifiably assert, with respect to [Rowe’s specific cases of suffering], that God, if He exists, would have no sufficient reason for permitting it. And if that is right, the inductive argument from evil is in no better shape that its late lamented deductive cousin.”(1991: 61)
Robert M. Adams On Plantinga’s Free Will Defense
“I think it is fair to say that Plantinga has solved this problem. That is, he has argued convincingly for the consistency of (1)[God is omnipotent, omniscient, and wholly good] and (2)[There is evil in the world]. His argument attacks the assumption that a wholly good being would (necessarily) prevent evil if he knew that he could. For a wholly good being might not prevent some evil if he had a morally sufficient reason for not preventing it. And Plantinga argues that it is possible (in the broadly logical sense) for even an omnipotent and omniscient being to have a morally sufficient reason for not preventing all evils.”(Adams 1985: 226)
Delmas Lewis on Classical Formulation of Problem of Evil
“The charge of contradiction on which the argument rests cannot be sustained. Consider the following set of propositions:
(1) The world contains instance of evil.
(2) God exists – and is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfectly good.
(3) God has a morally sufficient reason for allowing every instance of evil that occurs.
This is a perfectly consistence set of propositions.[…] Therefore, since the set (1), (2), (3), is consistent, so is the set (1), (2). In other words, there is no contradiction in the assertion that God exists and evil exists.” (Lewis 1983: 26-27)
Lewis believes that theists are committed to the truth of (3). This is not the case though. Theists could simply propose a possibility that is not necessarily true: (3’) God possibly has a morally sufficient reason for allowing every instance of evil that occurs. To show that (1) and (2) are consistence, (3’) needs only be possible.
Lewis added: “In sum: the strong version of the problem of evil fails to secure the result it promises.”(27). He then proceeded to examine the Rowe’s inductive problem of evil. According to Lewis Rowe’s argument “cannot legitimately function as an independent argument fro the non-existence of God”(Lewis 1983: 34)
Peter van Inwagen: Philosophical Failure of Problem of Evil
In 8 lectures delivered in the University of St Andrews (April-May 2013) van Inwagen defended “the conclusion that the argument from evil is to be judged a failure” (2006: 49, cf: xi,xii, 2, 12, 25, 36, 38)
Here is a first approximation to a statement of my conclusion: the argument from evil is a failure. I call this a first approximation because there are many things one could mean by saying that an argument is a failure.(van Inwagen 2006: 2)
An argument, presented to an ideal audience who has not yet made up their minds in neither direction, is judged as a failure by van Inwagen when the proponent is unable to use that argument to convince the ideal audience to accept its conclusion, namely to make up their minds in her direction (2006: xii cf 38-55)
Bruce R. Reichenbach On The Inductive Argument from Evil
“It is generally conceded that the theist has been successful in showing that there is no logical inconsistency between the existence of a good omnipotent, omniscient God and the existence of evil[fn1: William Rowe, Philosophy of Religion (1978), pp. 80-86. The alleged inconsistency has been refuted most recently in Alvin Plantinga, The Nature of Necessity (Oxford, 1974), ch. IX ]. Rebuffed with his deductive argument, the atheologian has turned to the inductive argument from evil. Rowe calls it “the evidential form of the problem of evil: the form of the problem which holds that the variety and profusion of evil in our world, although perhaps not logically inconsistent with the existence of [God], provides, nevertheless, rational support for the belief that the theistic God does not exist.”[fn2: Rowe, op. cit., p.86.]”(Reichenbach 1980: 221)
Reichenbach proceeded to formulate and refute Bayes’ Theorem construction of inductive argument from evil. He concluded,
In conclusion, it seems that the atheologian is no more successful with his evidential or inductive argument than with his deductive one. His inductive argument from evil does not disconfirm God’s existence, nor has he presented relevant evidence to show that evil tends to disconfirm God’s existence. Nor do the prospects appear bright that he can produce the relevant evidence. This it remains to be shown that the existence and profusion of evil makes it irrational to believe in the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient, good and loving personal God.”(ibid. 227)
More to come …
You are welcome to drop a journal article(s) from leading philosophers that you would want me to explore on this topic.
Adams, R. M. (1985) ‘Plantinga on the Problem of Evil,’ p. 225-255 in van Inwagen & Tomberlin 1985 (eds.) Alvin Plantinga. D. Reidel Publishing Company
Alston, W. P. (1991) ‘The Inductive Argument From Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition,’ Philosophical Perspectives, Philosophy of Religion Vol. 5:29-67
Draper, Paul (1989) ‘Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem For Theists,’Noûs 23:331-350.
Lewis, Delmas (1983) ‘ The Problem with the Problem of Evil,’ Sophia Vol. 22 No.1:26-35
Mackie, J. L. (1982) The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Martin, Michael (1978) ‘Is Evil Evidence Against the Existence of God?,’ Mind, New Series, Vol. 87, No. 347: 429-432
Mawson, T. J. (2005) Belief in God: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Pargetter, Robert (1976) ‘Evil as Evidence against the Existence of God,’ Mind, New Series, Vol. 85, No. 338 (Apr., 1976), 242-245. Oxford University Press
_________________(1982) ‘Evil as Evidence,’ Sophia Volume 21 No.2 11-15
Reinchenback, Bruce R. (1980) ‘The Inductive Argument From Evil,’ American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 17, 3:221-227
Rowe, William L, (1973) ‘Plantinga on Possible Worlds and Evil,, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol 70, No. 17: 554-555
__________________ (1979) ‘The Problem Of Evil And Some Varieties Of Atheism,’ American Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 16. 4:335-341
van Inwagen, Peter (2006) The Problem of Evil. Oxford: Oxford University Press