Problem of Evil: The Internal Problem (cont.)

EvilPart4Part 4 of a 5 part series on the problem of evil. Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

At the end of Part 3, we began to reconsider the premises in the internal problem of evil. Recall the four premises of the argument.

(1)  God exists and is wholly good, all-powerful and all-knowing.
(2)  Evil exists.
(3)  There are no limits to what an all-powerful, all-knowing being can do.
(4)  A good being always prevents evil as far as it can.

Since the conclusion that logically followed from these premises led to a contradiction, we started to reconsider these premises to see if any, as written above, are false. If one or more of these can be re-written then hopefully the contradiction can be resolved. In Part 3, we looked at (1) and (2), in this post we will reconsider (3) and (4).

Premise (3), as it is written here, is not true. There are limits to what God can do. These limits are not in God’s power; they are in the realm of logic. God cannot do something that is logically impossible. God cannot create a square circle or a married bachelor. These limits are grounded in the reason, rationality, and the way we communicate in language. A Christian college student asked me last year if it is appropriate to think of limiting God in this way. Indeed some believe that logic itself is merely a creation of God’s mind, the result of an arbitrary choice to think a certain way. I don’t agree with that assessment of logic, but I cannot refute it. What I can offer is simply the observation that the laws of logic are, in the opinion of every philosopher I have read, a brute fact of reality. To put it another way, we cannot escape reason and logic. It is self-refuting to imagine we can. In order to make an argument, denying the necessity of reason and logic, one must use them to make the argument.

The existence of reason and logic also impacts our understanding of God. He has revealed Himself to humanity through the Bible. God wants humanity to trust and obey Him based on that revelation. Our comprehension of the Bible and trust in God hinges on our ability to trust reality, as we perceive it through things like reason and logic. If God, in His interactions with creation, and us were not “bound” by reason and logic, our ability to trust God would be seriously undermined.

If there are logical limits to what God can do, what bearing does that have on the problem of evil? Simply put, God could not create free creatures that would not sin. If God created a world without the possibility of sin, it would not have freedom. Based on these observations, we can modify premise (3) to read as follows:

(3*) There are logical limits to what an all-powerful, all-knowing being can do.

Moving on to premise (4) we must ask the question, “Is it possible for God to have morally sufficient reasons to allow evil?” The answers to this question fall into two broad categories. First there is the importance God has placed on human freedom. Free will is at the core of our dignity as sentient beings. Moral responsibility, creativity, love, all flow out of our capacity for libertarian freedom.[1] C. S. Lewis answers the “why” question of human freedom this way.

“Because free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having. A world of automata—of creatures that worked like machines—would hardly be worth creating. The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they must be free.”[2]

A second category of answers could be filed under how God can use “evil” for His purposes and for the benefit of humanity.[3] Consider one of the greatest obstacles to our relationship with God, pride. Everyone, Christian or non-Christian, is susceptible to the desire to be self-sufficient, to deny our need for help. An unexpected, tragic, or even malicious event can quickly shatter our inflated view of our independence. Another example can be found in the metaphor of being a parent. There are times when one must allow something unpleasant in a child’s life (like a vaccination or medical procedure) for the long-term well-being of the child. A third and final example is in our reaction to evil. The suffering we experience in the world is a reminder of the presence of sin. The reaction that we have to suffering is a reaction to the sin that is in the world. The revulsion we experience when confronting evil is a vestige of the image of God. We know, deep in our being, that something is wrong. Perhaps the only significant difference between Christians and everyone else, is that Christians recognize the brokenness in themselves. We suffer with sin as much as anyone else, but we rejoice in the knowledge of our savior.

Let’s modify premise (4) to read as follows:

(4*) A good being always prevents evil as far as it can unless it has a good reason to allow it.

Reconsidering the Argument

The internal or logical problem of evil we have been considering has four premises.

(1)  God exists and is wholly good, all-powerful and all-knowing.

(2)  Evil exists.

(3)  There are no limits to what an all-powerful, all-knowing being can do.

(4)  A good being always prevents evil as far as it can.

We have been reconsidering these to see if any of them might be false. We now have alternate versions of (3) and (4).

(3) * There are logical limits to what an all-powerful, all-knowing being can do.

(4) * A good being always prevents evil as far as it can unless it has a good reason to allow it.

Now we will reconsider the entire argument with these modified premises.

(1)  God exists and is wholly good, all-powerful and all-knowing.

(2)  Evil exists.

(3)  * There are logical limits to what an all-powerful, all-knowing being can do.

(4)  * A good being always prevents evil as far as it can unless it has a good reason to allow it.

(5)  If (1) and (4) then God prevents all the evil He does not have a reason for

(6)  If (1) and (3) then God can prevent all of the evil that it is logically possible to prevent.

(7)  If (5) and (6) then God prevents all evil where logically possible and that he has no good reason to allow.

(8)  If (2) and (7) then evil exists but there is no evil unless it is logically necessary or God has a good reason to allow it.

Our conclusion (8) is no longer a contradiction. Instead we have an argument that explains that the coexistence of God and evil. Further, the discussion surrounding how and why premise (3) and (4) were modified offers some necessary background material about the nature of evil and the nature of God.

In the next and final installment of this series, we will consider the external or evidential problem of evil.

(Originally published 5/1/2013)


[1] See Chapter 20 of Gregory E. Ganssle, Thinking About God: First Steps in Philosophy (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2004).

[2] C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York, NY: HarperSanFrancisco, 2001), 47.

[3] Moreland and Craig, Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview, 544–548.

 


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