The Logical Problem of Evil (1)

Evil is a problem for everybody. Whatever worldview we may have, we all face it, and we all have to explain it. However, evil seems to be a much bigger problem in the Christian worldview, since we believe that a good, loving, perfect, and just God created the universe. If God is as good as we say, how can there be evil in this world? Why are we suffering so much?

Evil is an emotional problem for most people, but philosophers over the centuries have used the existence of evil as positive evidence against the existence of God as He is revealed in the Bible. David Hume, a Scottish philosopher in the 18th century, puts it this way.

“Is he willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”

You see our options here? We don’t want to affirm any of them, but it looks like we’re not given any other choices. This argument is called the logical problem of evil, because it seeks to show that there is a logical contradiction in the propositions 1) God is all powerful, 2) God is wholly good, 3) evil exists. If God is all-powerful, He should be able to stop evil.  If God is wholly good, He should have the desire to stop evil (there is the issue of omniscience as well, but for the sake of simplicity I will only focus on omnipotence and goodness since that is all that’s needed to show the possible contradiction). So if this God exists, there shouldn’t be any evil at all. Yet, evil exists. Therefore, there is no omniscient, omnipotent, loving God.

The late J.L. Mackie puts it concisely:

“. . . the problem is this: God is omnipotent; God is wholly good; 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. But at the same time all three are essential parts of most theological positions; the theologian, it seems, at once must adhere and cannot consistently adhere to all three.”

This is an extremely powerful argument against the existence of God. Does it work? How has it been responded to in the past? In part two I will draw from the work of Alvin Plantinga to show that there is no logical contradiction between the existence of God and evil.  Put your thinking caps on for these next two blogs.  They will be complicated.

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