The Logical Problem of Evil

The Logical Problem of Evil November 8, 2019

I have recently brought up the good ole problem of evil in a post concerning both religion and politics. Skl, a regular theistic commenter, was surprised by my remarks:

[JP – There is no logical inconsistency with OmniGod and the existence of suffering, given his
properties.
… I don’t deny that there could be a
reason why untold amounts of suffering might exist in the world. It’s not
logically impossible in the context of OmniGod.]

I had to read that more than once to make sure I read it
right. I’m still not sure I have. It seems to go against what I’ve read of
yours in the past on this subject. Perhaps you can clarify, or at least state
that the “I” is not you, Jonathan Pearce.

And:

So you actually do think that

1) there is no logical inconsistency with OmniGod and the existence of suffering, given his
properties, and
2) it’s not logically impossible that there could be a reason
why untold amounts of suffering might exist in the world, in the context of
OmniGod.

Life is full of surprises!

I didn’t realise that this would be remotely controversial and probably goes to show a layman’s understanding of the argument as a whole and a theist’s understanding of an atheist’s view.

Let me explain.

There is a difference between the Logical Problem of Evil (LPOE) and the Evidential Problem of Evil (EPOE). The LPOE looks to see whether what we might understand as OmniGod (all-powerful, -knowledgeable and -loving) is logically inconsistent with the existence of suffering. The simplest formulation, originally from Greek philosopher Epicurus, would go something like this:

  1. If an omnipotentomnibenevolent and omniscient god exists, then evil does not.
  2. There is evil in the world.
  3. Therefore, an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient god does not exist.

An expanded form something like this:

  1. God exists.
  2. God is omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient.
  3. An omnipotent being has the power to prevent that evil from coming into existence.
  4. An omnibenevolent being would want to prevent all evils.
  5. An omniscient being knows every way in which evils can come into existence, and knows every way in which those evils could be prevented.
  6. A being who knows every way in which an evil can come into existence, who is able to prevent that evil from coming into existence, and who wants to do so, would prevent the existence of that evil.
  7. If there exists an omnipotent, omnibenevolent and omniscient God, then no evil exists.
  8. Evil exists (logical contradiction).

Essentially, as I have set out countless times, if the assertion that OmniGod exists stands, then any theodicy (a reason for such suffering to exist given OmniGod), suffering must not be gratuitous and must be understood under some form of consequentialism. There is an irony here, of course, given that most theists rail against such a moral value system.

In other words, there would be no unit of pain or suffering that is not gratuitous, from stubbing my toe to mass genocide. Every unit is explicable, somehow, in terms of OmniGod, and that such suffering is trumped by other goods.

Rather like a tetanus injection, the pain you experience upfront is necessary to obtain the consequences of a greater good.

There is a huge amount of arguing to be done around this, but essentially, only taking into account the premises of OmniGod, and the existence of suffering, the argument logically allows for both to coexist. There could be some reason that, in light of his all-loving, -powerful and -knowing characteristics, God still allows cancer, genocide and toe-stubbing. You could contrive some weird and wonderful ad hoc rationalisation as to why God would allow this or design the world so. And even if you couldn’t actually think of a single argument that soundly does this, it doesn’t preclude the notion that might be a possible argument out there. It is not logically impossible for there to be a reason or theodicy for such suffering to coexist with OmniGod.

It is possible that anything from unicorns to fkanganaxes exist, of course, but not probable (without wanting to get into arguments about multiverses and all possible worlds). But such possibilities do not make them probable. Richard Carrier superbly coined the term for this fallacy possibiliter ergo probabiliter – it’s possible, therefore it’s probable. It’s so commonly utilised.

Now, there are further problems that exist, or ramifications perhaps. I will list a few:

  1. This appears to make God consequentialist and theists have to mentally gerrymander in order to cognitively dissonantly harmonise this. See “The Christian God Is a Consequentialist“.
  2. Possibiliter ergo probabiliter, as mentioned. See “The Nativity Census Challenge: Possibiliter ergo Probabiliter“.
  3. The reason why the EPOE exists is that, given what we know about the world, suffering, lack of good reasons for the suffering, disagreement amongst theistic philosophers and apologists, and our general background knowledge, OmniGod may not be logically impossible, but is evidentially highly improbable. See “Me, Justin Schieber and Counter Apologist: Evidential Problem of Evil“.
  4. Every single unit of suffering necessarily takes place. This is actually a very big point. For the stubbing of my toe in the morning not to be gratuitous (which is necessary to argue for the existence of OmniGod), that toe-stubbing must be necessary in order to achieve a greater good. See “Problem of Evil: Suffering as Necessary for Good“.
  5. Part of the reason why the previous point is a big one is the ramification that this means the world we live in is necessarily the most perfect world that God could have created. If he could have created another world whereby he could have achieved the same ends with slightly less suffering, then that means that some of the suffering in this world is gratuitous. Therefore, this world must contain the optimal amounts of suffering. In other words, this is the most perfect world that could be created and contains the minimal amount of necessary suffering. See “Is this the Best Possible World? Does God Have Free Will?” and “This World as Philosophically Necessary“.
  6. Of course, we have the classic other options that either God does not exist or that God is not OmniGod. Both positions cohere perfectly with the existence of suffering.
  7. Most of the defences of the theodicies that are offered by apologists invoke skeptical theism. Skeptical theism (that we do not or cannot know the mind of God and the reasons why such suffering exists) is one of those positions that works for the theist in this scenario but is incoherent with other claims that they make outside of the problem of evil. For example, they claim not to know the mind of God. In this context, but are very confident in saying what God wants and what God likes and what God desires in every other context of life, religion and theology.

There are many other problems involved with the LPOE and the POE in general, but you get the point. The LPOE sits in its own container, which acts as a vacuum devoid of context, evidence and background knowledge about the rest of the world and/or God, only concerned with mere possibility and those very narrow terms used within its premises.

I have written an awful lot about Omni God and the problems involved with such a concept. Indeed, my reasonably priced e-book, The Problem of “God”: Skeptical Theism under the Spotlight (UK), deals extensively with these ideas. Here are some further posts per you to peruse:

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