Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Logical Problem of Evil?

"Satan personifies evil
Judeo-Christian doctrines."
(Image and Statement from Wikipedia)

I'm not much of a philosopher, nor am I much of a theologian, so don't expect any great insights from me on this point, but allow me to comment on a discussion that Bill Keezer, Kevin Kim, and others have been having concerning the proposed contradiction between God's properties of omniscience, omnipotence, and omnibenevolence, on the one hand, and the fact of evil in the world, on the other hand.

The discussion was noted by my friend Malcolm Pollack on his blog, Waka Waka Waka, in a blog post titled "Evil: Still A Problem, Apparently," where he cites Bill Keezer:
In summary, the theodicic question arises from the belief that God is omnipotent, omniscient, and omni-benevolent. Once one shows that these are inherently contradictory, one must select one to be less than "omni." This paper argues that the resolution of the theodicic question is to limit God's omnipotence.
I commented on this position, though at Malcolm's blog rather than Bill's:
I've not looked at the link, but there's broad agreement among philosophers who argue this point that no one has proven that the three 'omnis' are contradictory since we might be ignorant of a good reason that God could have for allowing evil.
Kevin then posted a comment requesting specifics:
I'd be curious to know more about the broad agreement you describe.
I supplied a brief response:
Kevin, the point is a narrowly logical one. Some have claimed to find a logical contradiction between God's omnipotence, omniscience, and 'omni-benevolence', on the one hand, and the fact of evil, on the other hand.

But why is this a contradiction? The contradiction needs to be clearly demonstrated, but such a contradiction cannot be demonstratively shown, for God's omniscience and our epistemological situation of limited knowledge leave open the possibility that God has a good reason for allowing evil that we simply do not know and perhaps cannot even understand.

To prove a contradiction, one would need to demonstrate that God can have no good reason, not merely to demonstrate that one can think of no good reason.
That's about all that I'm qualified to say on this issue. For more adequate explanations, here's a good place to begin, for it states my point far more rigorously: William L. Rowe, God and the Problem of Evil.

Satan, of course, is no 'necessary being' in this argument, but I like the depiction above from the Codex Gigas, which makes for a lively personification of evil to lighten the seriousness of a discussion such as this one.

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At 4:23 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...

I'm currently finishing up a response to your comment over at Malcolm's. This is going to get confusing, what with all the blog-jumping that a reader will have to do in order to follow the discussion. Oy gevalt.

At 4:29 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Better just go via link to Rowe's book, Kevin, and not bother with me since I know little on this subject.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One cannot prove or disprove the existence of God or any aspect of him. Even logical reasoning won't work because it's based on human thinking. Atheists and agnostics have no need to consider or debate the nature of God. Either you believe or you don't. Unlike science, faith cannot be proven or disproven.


At 8:20 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...


In my reply to Jeff on my blog, I say roughly the same thing:

"I should step back for a second and note that the so-called "argument from evil" is generally used to "prove" that God doesn't exist. I agree with John Hick that the cosmos presents itself as "religiously ambiguous," as he puts it, thus making it impossible to prove or disprove God's existence through logic. For myself, the argument from evil strikes me as an argument about the self-contradictory ways in which God is conceived. At best, it's one argument in support of a more general argument about the incoherence of personalistic theism, but can't be counted as a forceful disproof of God's existence."

On his blog, Malcolm Pollack concisely affirms the other prong of your comment: "No God, no problem."

At 9:01 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I suppose that proving theism conclusively could be beyond us, but one could perhaps formulate better or worse arguments.

Bill Vallicella offers some intriguing arguments based on metaphysical reasoning about existence and the ground of existence, but when he goes deep into modal logic, I'm overmatched.

I wish that I had the knack for that sort of thing, but aside from being more or less a rational individual, I lack facility with abstract logic.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:24 AM, Blogger Kevin Kim said...


"...aside from being more or less a rational individual, I lack facility with abstract logic."

The same goes for me, which is why I could never be a rigorous philosopher. Given what I've read about the philosophical intricacies of Tibetan debate, I'd say that my lack of ability extends to at least two religious traditions.

At 11:46 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


You are a kindred soul.

I am wrapping up a week of visiting my mom in Michigan. It's always a little awkward when I accompany her to Mass, for every moment is a reminder of my nonbelief. For the most part, she doesn't try to proseltyze, but I know she feels deeply sad that most of her children are not active Catholics, and she has told me that she and her sisters pray that their wayward children will return to the Church. She does not understand why I don't believe any more than I understand why she, Jeffery, and other deists do.


At 11:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Eh . . . now, I'm a Deist? Ah, small "d" deist.

Still, I'd prefer to be called a "theist." But am I a "Theist" with a large "T"?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:48 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Oops, you are a theist, not a deist. Won't confuse those terms from now on. I don't see why "theist" is a proper noun, however.


At 3:57 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

It probably isn't a proper noun since there are all sorts of theists.

And for that matter, a Deist is a perfectly respectable position to hold.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:45 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just stumbled upon your discussion. I would like to recommend A. Plantinga's book God, Freedom and Evil which discusses at length this topic and comes up with some fairly convincing lines of discussion. The end of the book also discusses Anselm's very tricky Ontological argument which I find more elegant than the Kalam argument.

At 9:34 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Anonymous, thanks for the comment. I've read several of Plantinga's works, perhaps even that one.

But what was the reference to the Kalam argument? I mentioned it in passing on the post after this one (on Laurie Anderson), but only in a jocular vein. So far as I recall, the Kalam argument is an argument for first cause based upon the logical conclusion that the universe had a finite beginning.

Anyway, thanks again for visiting and leaving a comment.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:38 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Oh, now I get it. You were simply elaborating on Plantinga's book.

I was distracted by the term Kalam because I referred to it today in another post (as noted).

Jeffery Hodges

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At 3:37 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

Trying to understand a reference to Joshua, I did a brief search and got a synopsis of the book of Joshua and part of Hebrews. Reading that in the 21th century does not give me the view that evil is a part from God. It seems to be his nature when it suits his purposes. Satan only personifies the other; that is, not of God, not the total embodiment of evil.

My two cents, since I am little knowledgeable about the Bible or theology.

At 6:48 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, there's also that puzzling verse Isaiah 45:7, where the Lord is quoted as saying, "I create evil."

Jeffery Hodges

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