The Logical Problem of Evil (2)

Alvin Plantinga (1932 – present), the most influential Christian philosopher of the 20th century, made a famous response to the logical problem of evil that is considered conclusive by many. He argued that there is no logical inconsistency in the existence of an omnipotent and wholly good God (which I’m just going to refer to as God from now on) and the existence of evil. Let’s take a look at how he did this in his book, God, Freedom, and Evil.

What is interesting about Plantinga’s argument is that it only attempts to show that it’s possible for the existence of God and evil to be reconciled.  His explanations may be unlikely or even untrue, but as long as they’re possible he’s refuted the accusation that it’s impossible to reconcile the existence of God and evil.  So Plantinga only needs to go as far as giving us a possible explanation without worrying about whether the explanation is true or likely.  His argument makes sense philosophically, but it might have theological implications that some people will disagree with, so it’s not theologically perfect, but it is powerful enough philosophically to refute the accusation.

First, he examined the propositions and noticed that they don’t explicitly negate each other (pg. 13). Take a look at this set:

  1. God is omnipotent
  2. God is wholly good
  3. Evil exists

An explicit contradiction results when one of these propositions negates another. For example, the negation of “God is omnipotent” is “God is not omnipotent” or “It is false that God is omnipotent.” Basically, whatever statement you make, a negation says the exact opposite. However, none of the members of the above set yields such negations, so no inconsistency is yet shown.

But as I stated in my previous blog post, objectors say that God’s omnipotence means He has the power to stop evil, and His goodness means He should want to do it. If we add these propositions to the above set, it will look like this:

  1. God is omnipotent
  2. God is wholly good
  3. Evil exists
  4. A good thing always eliminates evil as far as it can
  5. There are no limits to what an omnipotent being can do

This makes the argument more powerful, but Plantinga points out that in order for these extra propositions to work, they need to be necessarily true (pg. 17). Simply defined, something is necessarily true if it cannot be false. For example, if I am shorter than Jessi Wood, and Jessi Wood is shorter than Patrick Miller, then, necessarily, I am shorter than Patrick Miller. 2 + 2 = 4 and bachelors are unmarried are other examples of a necessary truths. So, are (4) and (5) necessarily true?

Let’s look at (5). It certainly is true that God is omnipotent, but what do most theologians and philosophers mean when they say God is omnipotent? It means that God has all power. He can do all things. But can He create four-cornered circles? Can He create a married bachelor? Can He make something both true and untrue at the same time? No, He cannot. The reason is because four-cornered circles or married bachelors are internally incoherent, and, therefore, are not things. Circles necessarily do not have corners, and bachelors are by definition unmarried, so a circle with corners or a bachelor with a wife cannot exist. Since they aren’t things, the fact that God can’t make them doesn’t diminish His omnipotence in any way. So here’s the question, can God make people freely choose only good? According to Plantinga, that’s impossible. God created free creatures so that they would choose to love, but if you have free creatures then there’s always the possibility that they will choose evil. If God were to make everyone always choose good to prevent evil, then no one would actually be free. Perhaps God thought giving people freedom was worth the risk of evil. So while (5) is true, it doesn’t seem to show what it sets out to show.

Continued in part 3.

This entry was posted in Apologetic Thursdays, Blog Series, Engaging Worldviews, Why I am a Christian. Bookmark the permalink.

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