The Logical And Probability Problems Of Evil

Stephen Fry's Theodicy

The Logical and probability problems of evil. In earlier posts I described the problem of evil and also explained what evil is.  Evil isn’t a thing per say, it’s the absence of good. There can be no evil without an ultimate source of good that sets the standard. In this post we will discuss what is known as the logical problem of evil.

Before I go any further, I’d like to make a disclaimer.  If you know someone that is struggling with a specific evil act in their life, PLEASE don’t share this post with them!  I am making a logical argument that God and evil can coexists.  If someone is suffering with the effects of evil in their life, this post will come off as very clinical and unhelpful.  A proper response to someone that is hurting is pastoral in nature. We should be there as a source of comfort.  We should listen to them and reassure them of God’s grace and love.  This is not the time to present a logical argument against evil, this is a time to comfort the afflicted.

The ancient Greek Philosopher Epicurus(341–270 BC) stated the logical problem of evil this way:

“God”, he says, “either wishes to take away evils, and is unable; or He is able, and is unwilling; or He is neither willing nor able, or He is both willing and able. If He is willing and is unable, He is feeble, which is not in accordance with the character of God; if He is able and unwilling, He is envious, which is equally at variance with God; if He is neither willing nor able, He is both envious and feeble, and therefore not God; if He is both willing and able, which alone is suitable to God, from what source then are evils? Or why does He not remove them?”

 In short Epicurus is saying that it is not possible for both God and evil to exist together. And since we know that evil does exist, God must not.

Most philosophers today do not believe this logical problem of evil is valid.  According to philosopher William P. Alston “It is now acknowledged on (almost) all sides that he logical argument is bankrupt.” The simple reason being that there is no logical contradiction between evil existing and a good God existing.  A logical contradiction would be if I were to say that my brother is an only child.  Because being a brother naturally entails having a sibling, it is impossible to be both a brother and an only child.  But this type of contradiction does not present itself in the case of God and evil existing together.

With the logical problem of evil answered, a second objection is often raised, “Well”, they will say, “while it might not be a logical contradiction that both God and evil exist, you have to admit that its extremely improbable that both God and evil exist”. This is known as the probability version of the problem of evil.  Notice though that this is more of a complaint than an actual argument. Surly God could have made a world with less suffering, right?  Doesn’t God want us all to be happy and live pain free lives?

I think it is a false assumption that God has designed the world with the desire that we live a life free of pain and suffering.  But what is God’s desire for us in this life?  What if Gods desire is to create a world in which the largest number of people will come to know and trust in Him. That would alter our thinking on what God does and does not allow to happen wouldn’t it? Might God have a good reason to allow evil and suffering to occur?  In my next post, we’ll examine 3 reasons why God might allow evil to exist.

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