Smith’s Probabilistic Argument From Evil


“Cries of terror and extreme agony rent the night, intermingled with the sounds of jaws snapping bones and flesh being torn from limbs” vividly described Quentin Smith his dark night cabin in the woods experience. “One animal was being savagely attacked, killed and then devoured by another”(Smith 1991, 159).

Self-evidence  of this instances of the law of predation, “the natural law that animals must savagely kill and devour each other in order to survive”, according to Smith, is a sufficient evidence that God does not exist.

Smith outlined his probabilistic argument as follows:

(1) God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent.

(2) If God exists, then there exist no instances of an ultimately evil natural law.

(3) It is probable that the law of predation is ultimately evil.

(4) It is probable that there exist instances of the law of predation.

Therefore, it is probable that

(5) God does not exist. (ibid, 160)

Smith robustly defended only premise (3). He deemed, I believe, that if true, this case gives justification to his intuition that God cannot co-exist with such gruesome and horrific evil.

Let us grant, for argument sake, that premises (3) and (4) are true, would Smith be justified in his intuition that it is probable that God does not exist?  Is this a sufficient evidence that God does not exist? I don’t think so. It might be true that the existence of God is very unlikely  given Smith’s-like background data, but this, by itself, is not a sufficient evidence that God does not exist.

A just-so example to explain why I find Smith’s case unconvincing:

Think of following background data B of a 24 years old Saudi-Arabian man, Hassan: 99% of Saudi-Arabians’ men are Moslem. Hassan’s entire family is Moslem. Considering only B, the probability that Hassan is a Moslem is, unquestionably, very high. Am I, then, justified in holding the intuition that Hassan is a Moslem? Is B a sufficient evidence that Hassan is a Moslem? No. There could be other background data OB, that I am ignorant about, that could reduce the probability of Hassan being a Moslem to nearly zero. If that could be the case, then B is not a sufficient evidence that Hassan is a Moslem. Example: Hassan working with C1 Christian’s Insider Movement. Given OB, though we grant B, it is very unlikely that Hassan is a Moslem.

Theist could, for the argument sake, bite Smith’s bullet, and accept that it is probable, given evil natural laws, that God does not exist, but this, by itself, is not a sufficient evidence that God does not exist.


Smith, Quentin (1991) An atheological argument from evil natural laws. Philosophy of Religion 29: 156-174, 1991 Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Cover image: Miguel’s Illustration

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

Harry Potter

In part I, The Beast Rises: The Deductive Problem of Evil, I introduced the logical problem of evil as defended by Hume and Mackie. In this second part I presented analytical Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga’s response, reception and status of logical problem evil in contemporary philosophy of religion.

Unlike the traditional responses of the problem of evil, theodicies, which attempted to give specific reasons that would justify a wholly good omnipotent God to permit evil, Plantinga offered a defense that does not provide any specific reasons but a possible, not necessarily true, proposition that will show that God and evil are logically compatible.

Plantinga produced his proposition as follows:

A world containing creatures who are significantly free (and freely
perform more good than evil actions) is more valuable, all else being
equal, than a world containing no free creatures at all. Now God can create free creatures, but He can’t cause or determine them to do only what is right. For if He does so, then they aren’t significantly free after all; they do not do what is right freely. To create creatures capable of moral good, therefore, He must create creatures capable of moral evil; and He can’t give these creatures the freedom to perform evil and at the same time prevent them from doing so. As it turned out, sadly enough, some of the free creatures God created went wrong in the exercise of their freedom; this is the source of moral evil. The fact that free creatures sometimes go wrong, however, counts neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness; for He could have forestalled the occurrence of moral evil only by removing the possibility of moral good. (Plantinga 1974: 30)

Adding Plantinga’s propositions:

3b. It was not within God’s power to create a world containing moral good without creating one containing moral evil.

3c. God created a world containing moral good.

Proposition 4. Evil exist follows logically from 1-3, 3b and 3c showing that Mackie’s claim that the existence of God and evil are in logical contradiction, is false. Simply put, Plantinga showed that:

a. God is omniscient, omnipotent, and wholly good.

b. God creates a world containing evil and has a good reason for doing so. (Plantinga 1974: 26)

After Plantinga’s case Mackie admitted and surrendered the logical problem of evil. He acknowledged,

[P]roblem of evil does not, after all, show that the central doctrines of theism are logically inconsistent with one another [… God] might not eliminate evils, even though it was logically possible to do so and though he was able to do whatever is logically possible, and was limited only by the logical impossibility of having the second-order good without the first-order evil. (Mackie 1982: 145)

William L. Rowe, in American Philosophy Quarterly, not only confessed but also pointed to Alvin Plantinga’s God, Freedom and Evil 1974 work p. 29-59. He wrote,

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 fro the view that the existence of evil is logically consistent with the existence of the theistic God. (Rowe 1979: 335 fn1)

Paul Draper, in a premier philosophy journal Noûs, also “agree[s] with most philosophers of religion that theists face no serious logical problem of evil”(Draper 1989: 349 fn1 )

William P. Alston declared that Plantinga “has established the possibility that God could not actualize a world containing free creatures that always do the right thing”(Alston 1991:49) and thus “it is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides that the logical argument is bankrupt, […]”(Alston 1996: 97)

Remarking Philo’s logical argument from evil echoed by Hume, Stephen J. Wystra, wrote,

In our day the work of Plantinga and others has made much clearer the import of such broadly logical constraints, making this talk by Philo (or, only a few decades ago, by Mackie) of ‘decisive disproof’ look like naïve bluster. (Wystra 1990: 158).

James Beebe, Peter van Inwagen and Robert M. Adams gave the same verdict that Plantinga succeeded in answering the logical problem of evil.

Standing against atheists’ and theists’ philosophers, a Christian philosopher Richard G. Swinburne does not agree that Plantinga killed the logical problem of evil’s beast. He wrote,

It seems to be generally agreed by atheists as well as theists that what is called ‘the logical problem of evil’ has been eliminated, and all that remains is ‘the evidential problem’. See e.g. Paul Draper, who writes that he ‘agrees with most philosophers of religion that theists face no serious logical problem of evil’ (‘Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem for Theists’, Nous, 23 (1989), 331-50: 349). But whether that is so depends on what we understand by ‘the logical problem’. It has not been shown to the satisfaction of atheists that there is no valid deductive argument from the existence of certain evident bad states E (via some necessary moral truths) to the non-existence of God. It has been shown merely that there is no such valid deductive argument evident to theists, who dispute the validity of any such argument by disputing the necessity of the relevant purported necessary moral truths (Swinburne 1998: 20 fn. 13).

The swift in philosophy of religion literature’s focus from the logical problem of evil to the evidential problem of evil by both atheists and theists’ philosophers shows that Swinburne is incorrect. The logical problem of evil’s beast is dying a cold death in academia. Plantinga’s dagger went to deep.

Question: Can the logical problem of evil be rescued?

Previous: The Beast Rises: The Deductive Problem Of Evil


Alston, William P. (1991) The Inductive Argument from Evil and the Human Cognitive Condition, in Philosophical Perspectives 6: 29-67. Reprinted in Howard-Snyder 1996.

________________ (1996) Reprint in Daniel Howard-Snyder, The Evidential Argument From Evil. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press. 97-125.

Draper, Paul (1989) Pain and Pleasure: An Evidential Problem For Theists. In Noûs 23:331-350.

Hume, David (1779) Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion. 2d ed. London.

Mackie, J. L (1971) “Evil and Omnipotence” in The Philosophy of Religion. ed. Basil Mitchell. Oxford University Press. Mackie’s case from Mind journal vol. 64 in 1955.

_______________ (1982) The Miracle of Theism. Oxford: Clarendon Press. See also p. 155

Plantinga, Alvin (1967) God and Other Minds: A Study of the Rational Justification of Belief in God. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

____________________(1974). God, Freedom and Evil. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Richard Swinburne (1998) Providence and the Problem of Evil Oxford University Press.

Rowe, William L. (1979) The Problem Of Evil And Some Varieties Of Atheism. In American Philosophical Quarterly Vol. 16. 4:335-341, October 1979

Stephen J. Wykstra (1990) The Humean Objection to Evidential Arguments from Suffering: On Avoiding the Evils of ‘Appearance’, International Journal for Philosophy of Religion, 16 (1984), 73-93. Reprinted in (ed.) Marilyn M. & Robert M. Adams (1990), The Problem of Evil Oxford University Press. 138-60

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

Atheism: Insufficient Evidence For Belief in God?

Andrew David's Russell

A belief that atheism is true because of insufficient evidence for belief in God is feeble and unwarranted. Kai Nielsen, an atheist philosopher, correctly explained that “[t]o show that an argument is invalid or unsound is not to show that the conclusion of the argument is false”(Nielsen 1971: 143-4).

Even if an atheist succeed in showing that the theist’s case for existence of God is a failure, this by itself does not confirm the truthfulness of atheism. “All the proofs of God’s existence may fail,” explained Nielsen, “but it still may be the case that God exists”(ibid)

If all proofs of God’s existence fail, and there are no evidence for the belief in God, then agnosticism, not atheism, is a warranted position unless a successive case is give against the existence of God.

The sum total of the probability that God does exist, P(T) with that of God does not exist, P(not-T) must equal 1.  An agnostic gives both P(T) and P(not-T) the values .5. When theist C offer evidences for the existence of God, C increases the value of P(T) thus, decreasing  P(not-T). So if say, the probability that God exists given background information viz., cosmological, teleological, ontological, moral and resurrection of Jesus  argument is .7, (thus P(not-T) = .3), and an atheist A succeed in showing that all C arguments for P(T) fails, then A reduced P(T) back to .5. A needs to offer a case against the existence of God to increase P(not-T), which will decrease P(T), to be justified in believing that God does not exist.

Redefining atheism as “lack of belief in God” fails, I believe, because “lack of belief in God”, by itself, only shows a psychological state of a subject and not the reality of outside world. It does not show whether God exist or not. This redefinition fails because it shifts the discussion’s focus away from ontology of an object(i.e. God) to epistemology of a subject.(i.e an atheist). Example: John Doe may have a lack of belief that Jane Doe is having an affair, but that does not show if Jane Doe is having an affair or not. She may be having an affair even though John Does lacks a belief that she is having an affair.

Question: When is absence of evidence evidence of absence?


Nielsen Kai (1971) Reason and Practice. New York: Harper & Row

Cover photo-credit: Andrew David